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