Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The April 12 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #26:  Ugh.  I put this issue on the bottom of my digital pile because I was dreading reading it, and my Terrible-Sense was right.  Slott just continues this series' downward spiral here.  First, he has serious issues staying consistent when it comes to the plot.  Last issue, it seemed the world was annoyed with Parker Industries over its use of Webware to defeat the Carrion virus, because it showed Webware was wonky.  Peter didn't want to reveal the truth for reasons that made no sense to me, as I described in my review of that issue.  But, in this issue, people do seem to know why he used the Webware, but it doesn't matter because they're still angry at him.  But, I don't have time to worry about nagging loose ends from the "Clone Conspiracy," because this arc presents its own set of nonsensical developments.  Silver Sable refuses to reveal how she's alive, but tells Peter that Norman Osborn is in cahoots with a Symkarian countess to produce all his new weapons there.  (We learn Norman's "expo" was a display of his new weapons, from Goblin gliders to a giant robot, for the criminal leaders he contacted last issue.  I'm still not 100% sure why they had to meet him at the Uncle Ben Foundation event and not just the warehouse where he was keeping the weapons, but, again, I've got to prioritize my complaints here.)  Sable wants Spidey's help in wresting control of Symkaria from the countess and Norman, and Peter agrees.  But, S.H.I.E.L.D. decides it makes him a terrorist.  S.H.I.E.L.D.!  Sharon Carter is invading Sokovia in "Captain America:  Steve Rogers" because HYDRA took over the country, but Nick Fury decides Norman -- of all fucking people -- is protected because Symkaria is a sovereign state.  Isn't Sokovia a sovereign state?  Shouldn't the Skull be covered by that logic?  Moreover, it doesn't just mean Fury won't let S.H.I.E.L.D. help Peter dethrone Osborn; he actively deploys S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop him.  Can we just stop and talk about how ridiculous this development is?  Norman is presumably wanted on any number of charges after he illegally tried to invade Asgard in "Siege."  He's wanted on probably even more charges after he declared himself in charge of, like, the world in "New Avengers."  S.H.I.E.L.D. deciding he's totally off-limits because he's now hiding behind a Symkarian countess makes no sense at all.  [Sigh.]  Slott is playing other games in the background, particularly when it comes to Doc Ock, but I just don't fucking care, to be honest.  I gave up reading Spider-Man when Slott went all "Superior Spider-Man," and I may just have to do it again.  Ugh.

Captain America:  Sam Wilson #21:  This series ends (assuming it's ending) the only way it could, with Sam giving up the shield because he doesn't believe in an America that can let what happened to Rage stand.  Spencer doesn't sugarcoat it:  Sam makes it pretty clear he feels like a failure, and he's worried young people will see his farewell video and lose hope.  But, how can they have hope if he doesn't have it?  Sam doesn't have an answer to that question, but Spencer may:  at one point, we see a young man planning out a Patriot costume, and Spencer implies that Sam highlighting the injustice African-Americans face has inspired young people to act.  It might not have been the message Sam thought he'd be sending as Captain America, but it's probably the one he ultimately needed to send.  Meanwhile, Steve wraps up a little bit of business as he has Hauser the muckraker help him murder the founder of Americorps.  Hauser is revealed to be a HYDRA agent, which means all the non-HYDRA agents involved in Steve's plan to undermine Sam have been eliminated.  I'm not sure where Sam goes next, but I have to give credit to Spencer at this point for telling a story that really captures the Zeitgeist.  I feel like this series has consistently been one of the best ones on the shelves, and I hope we don't see Sam disappear into obscurity post-"Secret Empire."

Detective Comics #954:  As I've previously mentioned, I haven't been thrilled with other DC authors embracing Scott Snyder's belief that Batman is incompetent and overconfident.  But, I have to admit Tynion uses it to great effect here.  It's pretty great to watch Batman and R'as al Ghul fumble with the reality that they don't know how to defeat Shiva.  Batman is distraught upon learning al Ghul only made him think the League of Shadows was a myth, and al Ghul is forced to admit he unleashed something he couldn't control when he put Shiva in charge of it.  (al Ghul doesn't reveal what the difference of opinion is between him and Shiva that set her on her own path; we only know she didn't approve of his goal for the League.)  The fact he's reduced to tricking Batman so he can deliver him to Shiva as part of a cease-fire says a lot about Shiva's bad-ass-ery.  At this stage, the only forces left standing to oppose Shiva are the Colony (after Colony Prime and Ulysses bust Jake and the other captives from the now-unguarded Belfry) and Orphan.  As you can imagine, the League should probably be more frightened by the latter than the former.

Dungeons & Dragons:  Frost Giant's Fury #2:  If "Shadows of the Vampire" was the trial, this arc is the reward.  Minsc is relieved to discover a chance at redemption by helping to protect the village of Fireshear from marauding frost giants trying to steal a dragon's horde.  (Krydle freed said dragon during the giants' attack on Fireshear, redirecting their attention from the village to the cave where the dragon fled.)  They're joined in this issue by Saarvin, the dragonkin ranger who saved them last issue, and Dasharra, a warrior retired from Waterdeep's Griffon Guards.  Zub largely keeps the tone of this issue light, after Saarvin leads the companions to Fireshear for healing, food, warmth, and gear.  But, he doesn't ignore character development, as it seems possible that Nerys has been infected with vampirism during the fight with Strahd and Minsc is uncharacteristically depressed about his loss of status as a butt-kicking hero.  It's good fun.

Spider-Man 2099 #22:  Honestly, this issue is one of the most brilliant ones I've ever read.  At this point in the story David has been telling, it's hard to feel that frisson of excitement, because we're still at the part where David is building the suspense.  But, Lyla tricking Electro into revealing the date when the Fist strikes New York City is so artfully done here I literally gasped when the truth was revealed.  I really did think Lyla had become sentient and turned against Miguel, throwing in her lot with Electro.  In the end, it's revealed she created that sequence in Electro's brain to trick him into revealing the date, but David sold it so well I went there, hook, line, and sinker.  The last few issues have been fine, but David reminds us here how innovative he can be when he puts his mind to it.

Star Wars:  Dr. Aphra #6:  April hasn't been the "Star Wars" franchise's strongest month in the Marvel Universe.  After the disappointing conclusion of the "Yoda's Secret War" arc in "Star Wars," Gillen delivers an equally confusing end to the opening arc of this title.  As far as I can tell, the Ordu Aspectu was some sort of cult within the Jedi Order and eventually went to war with it.  As part of the agreement to end the war, the Jedi could inspect the Ordu Aspectu to make sure they weren't doing anything too heretical.  At this point, the story gets less clear.  Gillen seems to let us chose which truth we want to believe.  On one hand, you can believe the story the computer -- Eternal Rur -- tells us when Aphra and her father activate him.  He was a member of the Ordu Aspectu and tried to copy his consciousness inside a computer to live forever.  However, he wound up transferring his consciousness, leaving an "evil ghost" to possess his body.  When the Jedi came to inspect the Ordu Aspectu under the terms of the agreement, Eternal Rur (the computer) "knew" he had to act because Immortal Rur (the "shell") would deny the "truth."  However, it's also possible Eternal Rur was really just the copy of Immortal Rur's consciousness and became sentient.  In this scenario, he believed himself to be the true Rur, but wasn't; Immortal Rur was the true Rur.  If Eternal Rur was the true Rur, I'm still not sure why the Jedi would pose a problem for him.  After all, if he really was the true Rur, wouldn't the Jedi discover that over the course of their investigation?  Wouldn't they help him deal with the "evil ghost" who controlled his body?  Did he just not trust them?  It makes more sense that he wasn't the true Rur and somehow knew it; then, it would make sense why he had to kill the Jedi before they discovered the truth.  Either way, Eternal Rur has his machines kill everyone, which seems like overkill.  What does it matter if the Jedi believe him if they're all dead?  Immortal Rur stops him only by using his Force powers to remove the crystal powering the control panel.  in other words, I don't really get it.  In the present, Aphra uses a light saber she pulled off a dead Jedi at the citadel to cut through Eternal Rur's systems before it can kill her and her father.  She uses the crystal in the control panel to power the bridge, escaping with her dad and the power core she cut from Rur.  She meets the Imperial captain as they flee and takes her hostage because she needs her ship to escape the self-destruct sequence removing the core activated.  (Black Krrsantan took her ship, the Ark Angel, at the end of last issue).  They escape on the captain's ship, and Gillen wraps up the loose ends in short order.  Aphra lets the captain live because she's "cute," her dad restores her doctorate per their agreement, and she sells the light sabers she pilfered at the Citadel to pay off her debt to the guy on the Cosmantic Steppes.  (I really only vaguely remembers this part of the story, and the time Gillen spends on it in this issue makes me feel like he was definitely writing for the trade.  I also had to Google the quarantine world where Aphra allegedly deposits the core for safe keeping, because I was pretty sure it was where she went to get Triple-Zero's personality matrix.)  All that said, I still smiled when Aphra revealed she kept the core and plans to sell it to pay off her debt to Black Krrsantan.)  It wasn't totally a bad story, but, like "Yoda's Secret War," we ultimately were missing some key pieces to understand the puzzle Gillen was assembling.  We'll see where we go from here.

Titans #10:  Abnett avoids the comic-book trope of the newbie doing better than the veterans when Karen pays a price for taking out four of the Fearsome Five:  Psimon removes the engram tied to her family from her mind, leaving her unable to remember them.  We learn Psimon likely sent the engram to his employer because it has value, though I'll admit I'm not sure what "value" it has.  (Blackmail?)  Trying to help get back Karen's memory, Dick tracks down the Five's employer:  H.I.V.E., the group that created Deathstroke.  I've been driven over the edge recently when it comes to cross-over events, but I have to admit Abnett really sets up the upcoming "Lazarus Effect" event nicely, as it feels like a natural progression of this story.  I'm almost excited about it.

Also Read:  X-Men Blue #1

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The April 5 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Uncanny Avengers #22:  Whoa.  Duggan throws a lot at us in this issue.  To start, Beast successfully removes Xavier's brain from the Skull and, in so doing, brings the team's crusade to an end.  Before Captain Nazi can get his mitts on the brain, Rogue has Johnny follow her above New York City and incinerate it.  Larraz has been on fire throughout this series, and he hits nova at several points in this issue.  But, his best panel so far comes here:  Johnny gives Rogue a moment to herself, and she contemplates this final nail in Charles' coffin while looking at the clouds above New York City.  It's really a touching moment.  Marvel has dragged out Charles' death, from the Red Skull stealing his brain in this series to his appearance in heaven in the opening arc of "Extraordinary X-Men."  But, Duggan gives us as close to a sense of finality as a comic-book death can have; it's hard not to feel like he's gone (at least for a while).  With their mission accomplished, the Avengers assemble for a "team breakup" party, where Deadpool opens up a bottle of whiskey he was saving for when Logan returned.  (Heh.)  However, Duggan takes us to an unexpected place as Wade sneaks from the party and Rogue follows him.  She asks if he hates her for breaking him (he's still walking with a cane), and Wade casually tells her that he's used to being hurt.  Rogue grabs him and flies above New York City again, kissing him and absorbing his "hurt."  Similar to Larraz, Duggan has been at the height of his game in this series when it comes to injecting humor at unexpected moments, and he did a great job doing so throughout this issue, like when Johnny told Synapse he was the Ringo of the Fantastic Four.  But, he saves the best moment for Wade:  when Rogue tells Wade his mind is like a palate cleanser after the Red Skull, he tells her it's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to him.  However, we go to an even more unexpected place:  instead of Cable returning in this issue, it's Simon!  Somehow, absorbing Wade's powers and psyche has brought out Simon but left Rogue comatose.  (By the way, I had no idea Wade was hot.)  Man, I hope this series doesn't end.  Duggan has really been the only person in recent memory to write a superhero comic that genuinely surprises me, and I'd love for him to keep this team together.  After all, someone's going to have to take down Captain Nazi.

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #15:  Speaking of the Devil, the Skull's loss of Xavier's brain has a very immediate impact here, as Steve is now able to confront the Skull directly without fear of him seeing through his facade.  The most interesting part of this action-packed issue is that Spencer strongly implies Steve is aware of the Skull's meddling in his past.  As Steve beats on him -- with the tacit support of Crossbones and Sin, who fail to intervene -- the Skull shouts out the truth.  Steve remains undeterred, saying he's only ever been loyal to the dream as he throws the Skull's broken body on the rocks below, killing him.  Throughout the confrontation, Steve refers to HYDRA as a mythic organization that prizes strength (something the Skull undermined during his tenure as leader), and Steve seems to view HYDRA as a way to make America stronger.  In the past, Steve is disillusioned as the Skull completes his take-over:  Baron Zemo père is dead, and Kraken is missing.  (We get confirmation Skull set up Zemo père, but I admit I don't totally remember that part being clear.  Did the Skull tip off the Allies to Zemo père's location in whatever issue it was where Bucky sent him to his death?)  Moreover, Spencer doesn't just play with Steve's history.  In this new history, HYDRA threw in its lot with the Nazis only because it saw them as a way to seize power.  But, it miscalculated, and Elisa's disapproval of the selection of the Nazis as partner appears to be why she was seen as a traitor to HYDRA.  But, Elisa approaches Steve after the Skull's coup d'état to tell him HYDRA still needs him, as the Americans are working on a weapon of mass destruction, the Cosmic Cube.  At this point, it's getting difficult to keep straight the ever-changing past.  Elisa is presumably a creation of Kobik, but she's sending Steve to get his hands on the Cosmic Cube (i.e., Kobik) before it's created.  Does Elisa use the Cube to create herself?  Talk about a paradox.  Moreover, if Baron Zemo père is the one who died on the experimental rocket, then how did Bucky lose his arm and become the Winter Soldier?  The longer Spencer draws out the story, the more questions like these we have.  It still seems like this new past is just affecting Steve (assuming Baron Zemo is lying about "remembering" their shared past), but I'm not sure how that's possible.  Anyway, in the present, Elisa's new High Council arrives to meet with Steve as he's now the undisputed head of HYDRA.  Meanwhile, in Steve's absence, Sharon defies the World Security Council's orders as she has S.H.I.E.L.D. strike against a HYDRA-controlled Sokovia.  (Sokovia fell to the Skull's forces in this issue, and he threatened the Council with a nuclear weapon if it didn't recognize his sovereignty.)  Spencer is really bringing everything to a head, even though it's hard to tell exactly what the denouement will be.  I guess we'll see.

Avengers #6:  I love Mark Waid most of the time, and I was thrilled when he launched "Avengers."  We were finally getting an old-school team again.  But, I've understood virtually nothing of this arc.  In the end, it seems the Avengers simply stole Kang's future using the same deus ex machina from last issue, the Sacniaa time-eating machine.  The only consequence of this arc appears to be the displacement of Avenger X's tomb from where we saw it in issue #5.1 to a sub-basement of Parker Industries, even though we're not told why anything we saw happen here would cause that to happen.  In other words, I'm done.  I'm thrilled other people are totally digging this run, but I'm not one of them.

Batman #20:  King takes us down memory lane here, as Bruce's mother (yes) narrates the developments of the last 19 issues for us and him.  According to Martha, Gotham and Gotham Girl offered him hope, opening the door to the possibility they could take over his role as defender of Gotham after he inevitably fell.  In other words, it all wouldn't end in flames when someone eventually defeated him.  But, Gotham (the city) got to them first, and now he's just trying to hang in there long enough to save Claire; she'll be the one to save him.  This "conversation" happens in Bruce's head as he starts to die from the beating he receives from Bane.  But, Bruce doesn't get a happy ending, living with his parents in a painless existence in the afterworld.  Bruce tells his mother he simply saved Claire because she needed saving; he's essentially beyond hoping for things like a secured legacy.  I buy that, but I have to say the dead-mother narration was a weird way of getting us there.  Moreover, Bruce delivers this position by way of a typical comic-book save:  he leaves his mother in the afterworld as he magically summons enough energy to defeat Bane, despite Bane having clearly overpowered him for most of the fight.  Combined, these two choice make the issue feel off-kilter, like it can't decide if it's an exploration of Bruce's motivations or a slugfest with his greatest opponent.  It unfortunately doesn't work as both.

Nightwing #18:  Seeley initially seems to give us a happy ending here, as Dollotron Robin inspires Dick and Damian to (wordlessly) accept how important the other one is to him and go after Shawn.  They travel to Pyg's studio in Paris, where they confront him as he's ready to cut out Shawn's supposed baby.  Seeley thankfully allows Shawn to escape from her fate as another victim of "Women in Refrigerators" syndrome as Damian frees her and she engages in ass-kicking of her own.  After defeating Pyg, Damian chases down Dollotron Robin, who he believes stole the Batmobile; instead, he finds himself enraged when he discovers Deathwing did it and killed Dollotron Robin.  Before we can reflect on Damian actually feeling something akin to grief for a child poorly treated at the hands of adults, Seeley kicks the story up a notch.  Actually, it's like 12 notches:  Pyg is revealed to be working for Dr. Simon Hurt, who engineered this entire ordeal so that Robin can die at dawn and Dick can realize his "true potential."  Color me impressed.  I thought our biggest concern in this arc was whether Shawn would lose the baby she was carrying.  But, Seeley has put a lot more on the table by resurrecting Hurt, possibly the Devil himself, in the DCnU.  Who knows where we go from here?

Nova #5:  Wow.  At first, I thought we were going to lose Rich briefly.  He returned, and the Cancerverse returned with him.  He realized he had been selfish when it threatened Sam's family, and he returned to the Cancerverse, closing the portal behind him.  I figured Sam and maybe the Guardians would go after him to save him, since Sam would now be able to locate the portal to the Cancerverse.  But, it gets even crazier.  It seems the Worldmind has become the Cancerverse in Rich's absence.  I don't understand either, but you bet your ass I'm coming back next issue to see what happens!

Pathfinder:  Worldscape #6:  I admit Mona lost me a little at the end here.  We learn that Fantomah has been planning for decades to lure Kulan Gath into the jungle and that she held the real Scepter all along.  (The one Gath took from Camilla's dead body at the end of last issue was a dupe, though we're not told exactly how or when Fantomah made the switch.)  But, Mona never really tells us why Fantomah was plotting against Gath.  If he and Camilla never actually had the Scepter, why would she care?  Allegedly Gath severed portions of the jungle from Fantomah and turned it against itself and her, but we never really saw that.  As a result, it feels like a ex post justification.  I only really remember Gath in Shareen or at the Pillars.  Why would he use the jungle to make an enemy of Fantomah?  Mona makes matters worse by using her as the deus ex machina to bring this series to a close.  With her controlling the Crown and the Scepter, most people opt to simply go home, and the Worldscape is left to deal with itself.  With Fantomah in charge of the Crown and Scepter, it seems like she could send home most people, leaving behind only a willing contingent to guard the indigenous fauna and flora from new invaders.  But, again, Mona doesn't get into that.  Everyone just has some mead (and, in Sonja and Valeros' case, some sexin') and goes home.  For an arc that spent so much time carefully spelling out everyone's history and relationships, it's a surprisingly abrupt send-off.

Spider-Man #15:  This issue isn't as emotional as you'd expect it to be, given Miles' mother learns both his and Jefferson's secrets.  But, Bendis make it clear Rio doesn't know how to process her fury right now and we'll return to it at a later point.  In the meantime, Bendis doesn't let off Miles easy.  A mysterious figure is furious after Miles stopped "Frogboy" from robbing a woman.  (He did so with a off-handed shot of Web-Line from the rooftop where he was talking to his dad.)  "Frogboy" apparently had more ambitious plans for the night to pay off said figure, and the figure decides he has to think about how he wants to handle the plethora of superheroes (and Spider-Men) that plague New York.  Separately, Bendis may be laying the groundwork for Miles' identity to be revealed:  Ganke says hi to the girl who runs the YouTube channel that supports Spider-Man, and Jefferson is concerned Rio is going to tell her mother Miles' secret.  Given what we've seen of Miles' grandmother, she's not going to keep that quiet.  Poor Miles.  He's already trying to make it work with an inter-dimensional love interest and now his grandmother is going to ruin his life and probably get herself killed in the process.

Star Wars #30:  I've tried really hard with this arc, re-reading previous issues with each new issue to understand the complicated story Aaron has been telling.  But, I admit he loses me here.  In the present, Luke learns Garro lives alone on the world Yoda visited all those years ago.  In the past, Yoda ended the feud between the Muckwhackers and Rockhawkers by resurrecting the giants they thought they had lost.  With giants and humans now peacefully co-existing, Yoda departs, thinking he saved the day.  But, Garro reveals the children of this world eventually left it, as Yoda's arrival showed them the galaxy had more to offer.  All these developments make sense to me.  But, the problem is Aaron pretty much stops explaining there.  Garro claims the departure of the children robbed the world of Stonepower, so the giants were eventually reduced to much smaller versions of themselves.  Garro wants to use Luke's connection with the Force to destroy them once and for all, though he doesn't really explain why he feels this way.  Why fear them if they're so small?  Why destroy them if they pose no threat?  Then, he suddenly has a change of heart (seemingly inspired by Yoda's teachings, but we're not told why) and merges with the stone.  The "giants" hustle Luke to the heart of the mountain to get it pumping again, but I don't understand why it would do any good.  How long can Garro's powers really sustain this world?  Even if him merging with the stone somehow gave the stone enough power for its heart to beat again, how will it sustain itself if the children are a key part of maintaining this energy?  After all, it stopped beating because the children left.  Seriously, for all the work I put into this arc, it's frustrating it could've ended two or three issues ago -- when Yoda first awakened the heart of the mountain -- with the same outcome.  It's a disappointment, to say the least.

X-Men Gold #1:  As I may have previously mentioned, Marvel is doing with the X-Men what I always dreamed of them doing.  I've always wanted a series that returned to the characters and dynamics that I remember fondly from the 1980s, and this team is exactly that.  (Moreover, "X-Men Blue" and its focus on the time-displaced original team is even analogous to the original "X-Factor" concept, another hallmark of the 1980s.)  Guggenheim hits us over the head with the refresh by naming this first arc "Back to Basics," and Marvel even throws in a multiple-page timeline summarizing the X-Men's history to boot.  The message is clear:  the basics, they are back.  Thankfully, it's not just high concept; Guggenheim does a great job of implementing this vision as well.  We've got the perpetually troubled Kitty/Peter romance, Logan as a cranky and seemingly forced participant, softball, a new anti-mutant organization, money troubles, a rookie leader talking to Xavier in her head, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants:  it all feels very familiar, in a good way.  In a conversation with Nightcrawler, Storm allows that Kitty's focus on the basics has helped her find hope again.  She sees them not just as the outcasts they've been ever since Scott took them to Utopia, but the heroes Kitty imagines them being.  To underline the point, Kitty places them in the middle of Central Park.  (We'll see if they can afford to stay!)  It's been eight years since Scott pulled the X-Men to Utopia, and Marvel is making it clear this era is over.  It's going to take work to keep the X-Men more grounded than they've been, but Guggenheim makes it clear he's committed to doing so in this issue, with all these winks and nods he gives us. The ten-year-old in me is very excited.

Also Read:  Champions #7; Hawkeye #5

Monday, April 17, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The March 29 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

All-New X-Men #19:  For possibly the first time in the 30+ years I've read comics, a time-travel story ends in a way that makes sense.  Hank uses his mystic powers to return the original X-Men to their timeline...and reveals they're actually still there.  As Hank says, the only way for the present to make sense is if they never left the past; or, to put it another way, the present only has one past.  As such, they can't go home again; they're essentially an unresolved paradox in time (though "X-Men Prime" #1 casts some doubt on that).  Hopeless wisely doesn't delve too much further into the exact mechanics of the paradox.  (Physically, if I had to guess, old Hank taking them from the "past" actually happened in old Hank's present, which means the "past" itself never changed.  It assumes in a way the past and the present happen simultaneously.  You see why it was smart not to go into the details?)  Instead, Hopeless focuses on the kids' reactions.  Bobby is obviously thrilled, as his present is going pretty well, with his handsome Inhuman boyfriend.  Scott is less thrilled, as he's now condemned to a present where he's a villain (if not quite the villain Emma Frost made everyone believe he was).  However, Jean makes a convincing argument to Scott it's as close to a happy ending as they're going to get.  Looking forward, I hope the new series delves further into the kids' emotional responses to this development, the reality they're definitively stuck in the present.  After all, they are just kids.  Doesn't Bobby want to see his parents in the present day?  Shouldn't Jean feel some sense of loss over the fact her parents are killed because of her destiny to become the Phoenix?  It's a lot to process, and neither Bendis on the previous series or Hopeless in this one have really explored these questions as much as I think they could have.  It seems a good place for the new series to start.

Black Widow #12:  Samnee and Waid deliver a solid ending here, as Nat convinces the girls to abandon Recluse because she only sees them as a means to an end.  That said, it is a deviation from the previous 11 issues, when it comes to Nat's characterization.  Nat has been coldly calculating throughout this series, from pushing away Bucky lest he interfere with her mission to forcing the Lion to join her pursuit of the Headmistress and Recluse.  She was never more cruel than her dismissal of Recluse as weak in issue #7.  In fact, it's this harsh treatment that drove Recluse to use the girls as a way to get her revenge.  As such, it's odd for Nat to suddenly go all soft here.  If she had offered a hand to Recluse in issue #7, these girls might not have been in the situation we see here in the first place.  Samnee and Waid never really explore Nat's culpability in the drama that unfolds or explains why her heart suddenly grew three sizes that day; even her role in the death of the Lions' father/uncle was never really held against her.  I think this series would've ended on a stronger note if we had seen Nat consider how her inability to trust anyone brought her to this point.  Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D. simply embraces her as the conquering hero, and we return to her status quo.

Mighty Captain Marvel #3:  I'll be honest that I'm a little lost.  I think I get the broad strokes of the story Stohl is telling.  If I had to guess, the energy released at the end of "Secret Wars" created a genetic marker in a subset of folks across the Universe, and this marker seems to portend some sort of evolutionary jump.  Carol doesn't have the marker, but "Bean" does and for some reason it interferes with Carol's powers.  Carol and one of Tony's employees jump to the conclusion that the ten blue Kree kids the bounty hunter is trying to collect all have this marker.  The bounty hunter later conveniently confirms that they do when he fights Carol to get his hands on Bean.  That said, all we know at this point is someone is using them (and presumably their markers) to build some sort of monster.  I think?  The problem isn't so much that I'm still not sure if that's the plot, but more that I only know what I know because the villain exposited it.  I get he's a bounty hunter but he should have enough professional ethics not to give up his client's plans.  Carol accepts his version of events as true, though I'm not sure why she would.  After all, we're assuming he even knows the real plans.  Hopefully Stohl does a little less telling and more showing next issue.

Thunderbolts #11:  Now we're getting somewhere!  Bucky learns the truth in this issue as Kobik tries to include him in the Red Skull's "secret club" by working him into her "secret history."  An appalled Bucky demands she change history to the way it was, stressing to her HYDRA is evil.  Upset, she seems to erase Bucky from history.  It's pretty clear it won't stick, but Zub significantly advances us toward the denouement.  If Kobik lets Bucky retain his memories of their conversation, the jig is up for Steve.

Titans Annual #1:  This issue isn't just solid on its own merits; it also introduces some intriguing new plot threads for the upcoming year.  A character called "The Key" kidnaps the four Justice League and Titan members with mentor/protégé relationships.  He hopes to cause enough conflict between them to create super-powered anguish and then use this emotional energy to open the door for someone in an unknown space (Dr. Manhattan?) to enter our Universe.  He almost succeeds when Wonder Woman is forced to reveal Donna Troy isn't an organic human; she was made from magical clay as a weapon to be used against Diana, though the Amazonians were able to implant her with false memories and prevent her from becoming said weapon.  Her anguish is real, but her friends are, too:  the guys not only rush to console her (denying the Key access to her energy), but her anguish also breaks through the Key's telepathic shield and allows Omen to locate her.  Abnett contrasts this warm friendship the Titans enjoy with the cold respect the League has for each other.  In so doing, he helps you feel the warm fuzzies when it comes to the Titans and why their stories have always been more compelling.  Abnett concludes by having the Key try to justify his failure to the aforementioned "someone," and it doesn't end well for him.  It also doesn't bode well for the Titans.

X-Men Prime #1:  Back in the day, an issue labeled "Prime" signified a new start for the X-Men.  It usually showed a series of unexpected developments that flowed from whatever catastrophe the X-Men had just managed to avoid.  It also usually involved the arrival or departure of Kitty Pryde.  The authors check that box here, as Kitty returns to lead the X-Men.  But, despite the title, nothing else really changes.  For all her protestations to the contrary, Storm stays with the team, even if she's not leading it.  Sure, the Mansion is moved to Central Park, but it's not exactly all that Earth-shattering as developments go.  (Moving it to Limbo was actually the unexpected development.)  The original X-Men "leave" the team, but they've never been "on" the team in the first place.  In fact, the X-Men have pretty much neglected them from the start.  As such, it's hard to embrace this launch as "all-different" or "all-new."  We're pretty much exactly where we were before Kitty left the X-Men to join the Guardians.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I can't say it merits the splashy launch we're getting here.

Also Read:  Avengers #5.1; Batgirl Annual #1; Occupy Avengers #5