Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 10 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Amazing Spider-Man #27:  I start every issue hoping Dan Slott has gotten a good night's sleep and woken up that next morning focused a little more on the story he's trying to tell.  Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have happened for this issue.  First, we have Sable's ridiculous explanation of how she survived the precarious scenario where we last saw her in "End of the Earth."  She apparently used her suit to turn invisible, which made Rhino think she vanished.  The problem with that explanation is Rhino had his hands around her neck at the time.  Rhino might not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but he's been around the block a few times:  he understands invisibility.  If Sable disappeared, but he still felt her, I find it unlikely he'd let go, scratch his head, and decide maybe he wasn't as suicidal as he appeared to be.  To make matters worse, everyone continues to take a leave of their senses in this issue.  Nick Fury tries to intimidate Harry and May to convince Peter not to invade Symkaria.  After all, Peter is obviously in the wrong for wanting to stop Norman Osborn from turning the country's population into slave labor for his war machine.  Sable is shocked - shocked! - that her people turned to the Countess during her "absence."  Who knew they'd actually believe her when she faked her on death?  The good news is the issue improves greatly when Slott puts behind the plot and focuses on the action.  Spidey is legitimately funny as he, Mockingbird, Sable, and the Wild Pack take on Norman's army of Goblins and machinery.  Slott even manages to give at least one of the Pack a personality!  He also makes clear Bobbi and Peter are getting closer and closer to a relationship, as Bobbi admits she left S.H.I.E.L.D. because she knows Pete always does the right thing.  (Of course, he ruins the moment by joking about her believing in him.)  Moreover, Slott continues his pattern of doing better with the grand sketches of a plot than the intimate details:  Norman's plan to turn everyone in Symkaria into a Goblin is legitimately scary.  However, Slott has demonstrated this trouble in sticking the landing, so we'll see how it goes next issue.  I feel like someone from editorial needs to step in here and help him do a better job connecting the dots.  You can't crank out the number of issues he has and not lose sight of the larger plot a bit.  Someone has to say, "Dan, that Sable explanation makes no sense," or, "At some point you have to show Nick understanding S.H.I.E.L.D. is being hypocritical."  The Zodiac arc is a great example of this problem.  Like this issue, we had a super-fun romp through the British Museum, but Slott dragged down that issue when he bumbled through explaining why Scorpio was there in the first place.  At this point, I'm trying to just enjoy the best art team this series has possibly ever had while hoping Dan takes a sabbatical at some point.

Detective Comics #956:  This issue wraps up the arc better than I thought it could, but Tynion still leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions (and not necessarily in a good way).  We learn Shiva left R'as al Ghul after she learned what his true intentions for the League of Shadows were, but we don't get told why it was necessary for the League of Shadows to exist separately from the League of Assassins in the first place.  We learn Bruce once walked a dark path of magic and he'll need to walk it again since it's what al Ghul used to make him forget about the League.  But, we still don't know why al Ghul wanted him to forget about the League.  Bruce also now realizes the Colony was more involved with the League than he thought, but we don't have any idea why.  Were they originally allies and the relationship went bad?  Does the Colony support al Ghul's original plans for the League?  As Bruce said, all we really do know is Shiva's defection from al Ghul forced him to reveal more than he intended.  This arc has felt like butter scraped over too much bread, as Tynion avoided giving us any answers to the mystery at the heart of it.  But, hopefully he can fill in the gaps now that Bruce is on the hunt.

Ms. Marvel #18:  Yup, I totally cried.  The cover implies we're going to see some sort of interaction between Bruno and Kamala (pet peeve #1), but Wilson actually focused solely on Bruno and his attempts to adjust to his new life in Wakanda.  Wilson grounds the story in reality in a way we don't usually see in comics:  Bruno isn't suddenly going to have a cybernetic hand and leg.  He doesn't get the deus ex machina superheroes get.  Bruno has to earn it, and he does, with the help of his classmates who he now realizes are his friends.  It's not hard to see a great lesson in perseverance in the face of obstacles here, the type of story we're often denied when the aforementioned deus ex machina magically makes a problem better.  (I'm looking at you, Cosmic Cube.)  Like the rest of us, Bruno will be facing the consequences of his actions for a long time.

Star Wars:  The Screaming Citadel #1:  OK, Gillen is definitely embracing the creepier side of the "Star Wars" Universe here.  (It's not a bad thing.)  In the wake of the opening arc of her own series, Aphra tracks down Luke (thanks to some assistance from Sana) and convinces him to help her unlock the core she swiped from the Ordu Aspectu.  Apparently it contains Rur's personality, so it's a win-win proposition:  Aphra gets an eyewitness to ancient history and Luke gets a Jedi Master to instruct him.  The only problem is she doesn't know how to open the core.  As such, they have to travel to the titular Screaming Citadel.  The ancient (and bored) queen of Ktath'atn holds a contest at the Citadel every year:  she swaps favors for the chance to meet "interesting people."  Not surprisingly, Aphra and Luke qualify after Luke uses his Jedi powers in front of the queen.  However, it appears the queen is a vampire:  her minions feed off the citizens' energy and then feed that energy to her.  Needless to say, she's...excited about the possibility of feeding off a Jedi, since she hasn't done so in a while.  Checchetto and Mossa do an amazing job of using "Alice in Wonderland" imagery when it comes to the queen, as she looks not dissimilar from a modern Queen of Hearts.  After the disappointing "Yoda's Secret War" arc in "Star Wars," I'm excited for this arc.  It reorients us around a cast of characters we recognize, but tells a story that we haven't seen before.  Gillen does a great job of reminding us how hungry Luke is for training in this period before he learns of Yoda's location, and filling in this sort of gap drives the excitement for this arc (something "Yoda's Secret War" lacked).  I'm not saying everything needs to advance the larger story we know from the movies, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Uncanny Avengers #23:  Honestly, this series is the best team book on the shelves.  Duggan does a great job of conveying honest-to-goodness emotions on almost every page, from Synapse learning Cable stayed with the team to be her mentor to Rogue wistfully looking at the photo of the team in happier days.  In fact, Rogue and Synapse have really been Duggan's signature characters, as much as you'd expect it to be Deadpool.  We learn Synapse eventually became the Shredded Man in the future Cable tried to prevent by returning to our time, and his words of encouragement to her -- about how that future is no longer possible and how she makes her own choices -- really shows how far she's come as a character.  Rogue's feelings about the team are also instructive.  She's lost a lot recently, as Duggan reminded us in the previous issue where she contemplates Xavier's death.  It's probably the first time we've seen Rogue committed to this team as a team and not just as the X-Men's plant on it.  It's a great moment, and it's made all the better when she, Johnny, and Synapse agree to travel with Brother Voodoo to New Orleans to take care of his brother and the Hand.  In so doing, Duggan shows how he's really made this series an integrated narrative, as past events aren't just conveniently forgotten when we move to the next arc.  I'm thrilled it's still going strong, if only because I'm hoping we get some sort of Deadpool and Wonder Man buddy-comedy arc as they try to get back Simon's money.  (Did I mention Deadpool lost all of it?  Apparently he had some cash flow problems and figured Simon was dead...)

Youngblood #1:  According to my comic-book database, I own issues #0-#4 of the original run of "Youngblood."  (I believe the only two Image comics I collected beyond ten issues were "Wild C.A.T.s" at 12 issues and then "Stormwatch," at ten issues exactly.)  Similar to my experience reading "The Wild Storm," I don't really remember much the original plot.  All I really remember is the ginger Hawkeye was hot.  (My recollection of "Wild C.A.T.s" similarly revoked around the hot ginger.)  Knowing Liefeld, I probably wasn't missing much.  The good news is Liefeld got someone else to write the story this time and, even better news, it's not too bad.  Bowers quickly establishes that Youngblood ended when a hacktivist group called the Bloodstream revealed the behind-the-scenes dirt about the team, "a litany of criminal activity, illicit sex scandals, assassinations, and government cover-ups."  In the present, superheroing appears to revolve entirely around an app called Help! operating like Task Rabbit, if you will.  However, one of its stars, Man-Up, has gone missing.  His friend, Gunner, is looking for him, but she doesn't know anything about the "real" him.  She eventually recognizes his photo on a missing poster and meets his aunt, learning his name is Horatio and he's a 19-year-old kid who got his powers after a chemical spill at work.  Gunner pledges to find him and comes to the attention of President Diehard and his wife, Vogue, when she (Gunner) starts using Vogue's look and name.  Diehard is in the process of negotiating a deal with Help!, essentially to replace Youngblood.  However, he decides to send Shaft and Badrock, both incarcerated, to arrest Gunner and her friends, because he disapproves of vigilantism (likely because the new Vogue and her friends are working outside Help!).  Bowers doesn't establish what motivates Gunner to leave Help! and become Vogue, but I'm sure we'll get there.  The challenge for Bowers is going to be not just wallowing in nostalgia.  Warren Ellis is doing amazing work in "The Wild Storm," and Bowers, whether he likes it or not, is competing with that.  The art is solid here, though, again, Jon Davis-Hunt is doing spectacular work over there.  (Also, is that supposed to be Shaft at the end?  He looks...12 years old.)  At any rate, it's a high bar for Bowers and Towe to clear, but it would be exciting if they did, to have life breathed into both these franchises.

Also Read:  Dragon Age:  Knight Errant #1; Titans #11; X-Men Blue #3

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The May 3 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Free Comic Book Day 2017 (Secret Empire) #1:  This issue doesn't really provide a lot of material to review.  At first I thought it was a preview of the heroes' final conflict with Captain Nazi and Hydra.  However, after reading "Secret Empire" #1, it's actually showing the heroes' initial conflict with them, setting up the establishment of the totalitarian state that we see fully formed in "Secret Empire" #1.  The most interesting part is Captain Nazi picking up Thor's hammer.  Spencer is clearly toying with us here, holding out the idea Steve is still Steve, as he's said all along.  I'll address that more directly in the next section, but it's staking out some pretty strong territory.

Secret Empire #1:  OK, here we go.

Before I read the issue, I thought about the task Spencer has before him.  Given the string of incredibly disappointing cross-over events Marvel has imposed upon us lately, I have to admit said task seems Herculean.  First, he can no longer avoid spelling out why Steve believes in Hydra.  So far, Steve has simply stated Hydra can make "us" stronger, but he hasn't ever explained why he thinks we're weak.  Is it because homosexuals and women have rights?  Is it because Black Lives Matter exists?  Does he think Mexicans are stealing our jobs?  After all, Spencer has to remember the public outrage over this heel turn comes because he's saying Steve has been Hydra all along.  If he was simply under the Cosmic Cube's influence, we could easily accept this cognitive dissidence.  But, Spencer has gone to pains to say he's always been a Hydra plant.  As such, Steve supported Hydra throwing in its lot with the Nazis, even though they were supporting a genocidal regime.  How can he still be worthy of lifting Thor's hammer?  Spencer has so far waved his hands in front of the blackboard on that point, but he really can no longer ignore it.  Second, Spencer has to improve upon recent history when it comes to cross-over events.  Even the likes of Matt Fraction and Jeff Lemire have been brought low by an event that spiraled beyond their control.  (Marvel invoking the memory of "Fear Itself" with Steve picking up Thor's hammer may not have been a great idea.)  We've already endured "Civil War II" and "Inhumans vs. X-Men" in the last year.  Both those events are good examples for Spencer on how not to run a cross-over event.  (To whit, if the central conflict could easily be resolved by a phone call, it's a problem.)  But, it's been so long since we had a good event that I can't even point to an example for how he should manage one.

The good news is Spencer starts strong, mirroring the excellent first issue of "Age of Ultron" by starting in media res.  Instead of Ultron destroying the world, Steve and Hydra taking over the United States is a fait accompli.  Steve's top priority is finding the Cosmic Cube to "correct" history, but, in the meantime, he uses his dictatorial powers to impose his version of history on the people.  Spencer starts the issue by showing us schoolchildren "learning" it was Arnim Zola, not Abraham Erskine, who created the Super-Soldier Serum; it's suitably chilling.  Spencer then goes a step further; when the teacher reminds the students to dime out anyone who could be a traitor, one of the students reports that another students' older brother is acting "weird."  It turns out the older brother is an Inhuman; Hydra forces storm his house almost immediately after the report, and he's sent to a detention center for Inhumans.

At this point, Spencer pulls back the camera and we get a better sense of the larger status quo.  The mutants have seemingly avoided the Inhumans' fate by creating a nation of their own in the Pacific Northwest; it's called New Tian and seems to be run by Zorn, of all people.  Meanwhile, Carol is still stuck outside the Shield trying to hold off the Chitauri, and Las Vegas has become the site of the resistance, led by Hawkeye and Black Widow.  Spencer does a solid job of conveying emotion despite this rushed tour of the situation, as Hawkeye starts to crack under the pressure of the war of attrition he's fighting with Hydra.  Our eyes and ears here is the new Patriot we saw in "Captain America:  Sam Wilson."  He has contacted the Champions with information Rick Jones somehow gave him (Spencer doesn't elaborate how).  He claims it can save Steve, but Iron Man (or, at least, A.I. Iron Man) is skeptical.  Tony exposits for us that they've tried many times to prove Steve was a clone or under Faustus' mind control or something.  After suffering many casualties in these efforts, they eventually had to accept reality:  Steve is Steve.  Meanwhile, the Hydra Council pushes Steve to be more evil than he wants to be, and Elisa puts her finger on the problem:  they'll think he's weak if he doesn't take a harder line on traitors, but they'll know he's weak if he does.  Ultimately, he does; he has Rick Jones executed, and he orders Hydra to destroy Las Vegas.

Overall, the actually pretty solid.  First, when Tony is talking about the various assaults on Steve, McNiven makes the "casualties" indistinct.  As far as I can tell, we never see, like, Iceman with a beam through his skull.  One of the problems with "Age of Ultron" was that it was pretty clear from the start this reality was going to get rewritten (as cool as it would've been for that not to happen).  Here, Marvel seems to hold out the possibility we're playing for keeps.  Rick Jones dying isn't that big of a deal; after all, we killed off Bruce Banner and (more or less) Tony Stark in "Civil War 2."  Even if we know -- as Marvel has repeatedly told us -- that Steve will be the freedom-lovin' hunk he's always been at the end of the event, it's not to say other parts of the Marvel Universe won't be a smoking crater of woe.  The longer Marvel can convince us of that, the more exciting this event will be.

Batman #22:  King really dives to the heart of the matter here, as Barry and Bruce find themselves in the "Flashpoint" Batcave and face-to-face with Thomas Wayne.  While Bruce and Thomas try to find a way to make sense of the reality in front of them, Flash struggles to rebuild the Cosmic Treadmill.  Based on his reading of the vibrational energy (just go with it), Flash realizes this "Flashpoint" isn't an alternate reality but an alternate history.  Someone (*cough*Dr. Manhattan*cough*) has kept this history in existence, essentially like a ghost haunting our world.  However, this mysterious person (*cough*Dr. Manhattan*cough*) suddenly stops doing so.  Flash realizes this history is crumbling and scrambles to fix the Treadmill, which starts fixing itself (I think).  Bruce tries to convince Thomas to come with him, but he declines:  he tells Bruce to give up being Batman and be happy.  As the "Flashpoint" history dissolves behind them, Barry and Bruce are again racing through the timestream.  A distraught Bruce wonders why someone would set up this scenario, placing the Button in the Batcave to lead Bruce to his father just in time to lose him.  Barry reminds us Wally said someone (*cough...OK, you get it) stole time from the DCnU to hurt them; it's possible he sent the Button simply to hurt Bruce.  Before they can ponder why he'd do that, they encounter Thawne on his way to confront the mysterious person.  This scene takes place before Thawne is killed, and Flash wonders aloud why the timestream brought them to that moment.  (Again, I'm just going to ignore the physics of the timestream consciously sending Barry and Bruce to that moment.)  It seems like Barry and Bruce might get a glimpse of Dr. Manhattan in "Flash" #22, which raises all sorts of questions about where we go from here.

Champions #8:  I love, love, love that Mark Waid gives Nova a win here by making him the only member of the team not gazing at his navel.  Everyone else was acting, well, adolescent, fretting about the Freelancers copywriting their name.  Only Nova realized the answer was simply telling people not to buy the stuff.  Bam, problem solved!  It seemed so simple, but Waid did a really great job of showing us why it was so hard for the rest of the team to get there.

Hawkeye #6:  I love everything about this issue.  The plot is almost irrelevant.  (Dahlia is an Inhuman; she emerged from her cocoon looking amazing, but she's also a dragon.  Brad promised her a new body but couldn't deliver.  He's an asshat.  Kate is going to put her in touch with the Inhumans.)  Thompson has given Kate such a very clear voice, it's a joy to spend time with her.  Also, Pizza Dog is back!  Hurrah!  The only thing I didn't understand is how Kate knew about the LMD angle.  Thompson shows us Kate's conspiracy board, where the acronym LMDs appear near her father's name.  I think we don't yet know why she made that connection; Thompson had to show it to us simply so we knew the connection existed.  It's a reminder how deep of a story Thompson is telling, because Kate knows a lot that we don't yet know.  But, we all know Brad is an asshat.  That part is clear.  

Nightwing #20:  ALL THE FEELS.  I had no idea how Seeley was going to wrap up this arc in an issue, but he really did it.  The "Hell of Hells" is revealed to be a telepathic reality Hurt created for Dick where he has become Deathwing.  But, Damian appears as Nightwing and reminds Dick what he told Damian when they first started working together:  unlike Batman, tragedy doesn't define Robin.  Dick breaks from Hurt's influence and rushes to Damian's side.  (Damian calmly explaining that he used his abdominal muscles to move his liver so Hurt's blade didn't damage it is classic Damian.)  Before Hurt can get revenge, Deathwing himself attacks, inspired by a conversation he had with Shawn about righting wrongs.  The two stab each other repeatedly as the temple collapses around them and our team flees.  But, the bestest part is the epilogue.  Damian is forced to admit he returned to Blüdhaven because he missed Dick.  Even more interestingly, Dick tells Damian he considered keeping him when Bruce returned, since he knew he'd be a better influence, but he didn't think he was ready to be a dad.  Seeley really nails this conversation, as not only are the boys honest with each other but they can't bring themselves to say the key words, like "I miss you" and "son."  They also are relieved when a bank robbery happens, leading to the perfect ending:  they leap into the night with Damian saying, "We're still the greatest."  Truer words, Damian, truer words.

Nova #6:  Ho, boy.  Loveness and Pérez reveal the truth about Richard's escape from the Cancerverse.  After years of dying at the hands of the Revengers in battle after battle, Rich eventually pours the entirety of the Nova Force into the Cosmic Cube he used to seal off the Cancerverse from our Universe.  He uses the revived Cube to open a portal to our Universe, inadvertently leaving behind the Worldmind as he escaped.  The Worldmind has now adapted, seemingly taken over all "life" in the Cancerverse.  As expected, Sam arrives to save Rich, but the Worldmind has already absorbed him.  Rich is in trouble, y'all.

Spider-Gwen #19:  With the conclusion of the pretty awesome cross-over event with "Spider-Man," Latour returns to this series' ongoing concern, namely restoring Gwen's powers.  The path he lays out here is...complicated.  If I'm following correctly, Matt Murdoch secretly recruited one of Norman Osborn's scientists, the foreshadowingly named Dr. Elsa Brock, to examine the radioactive isotope Frank Castle gave Osborn several issues ago.  (Latour reminds us Frank agreed to sweep Harry's crimes under the rug in exchange for Osborn unlocking the secrets of the isotope.  But, as Murdoch notes, Castle is now a fugitive, so Harry is still out there dangling in the wind.)  Brock informs us that Cindy Moon's research into the alien "spider parasites" that infected Jesse Drew (as seen in the "Spider-Women" event) led Curt Connors to develop his Lizard Formula.  (I'm not sure if we really have enough information about how Connors developed the Formula to make this connection on our own.  Was that also in "Spider-Women?"  I guess I should just assume it was.)  Given this connection between the radioactive isotope and the Formula, Brock thought she could use the former as a cure for the latter.  It worked, but not how she expected.  Instead of burning out the Formula's regenerative powers, the mixture created "venom."  (DUN-dun-DUN!)  It absorbs and amplifies the isotope, but unfortunately kills the host through the radiation it emits.  However, Gwen's body is immune to the radiation:  if she injects herself with the venom, she'll get back her powers, since its side effect is powers similar to the ones she had.  (That makes sense, given her powers and the venom come from the same source.)  Murdoch wants to infect Harry with the isotope, use the interaction between the formula in his bloodstream and the isotope to create the venom, and then draw out the venom in the process.  At this point, they can then inject Gwen with the venom and everyone's problems are solved:  Gwen gets back her powers, the venom has a home, Harry is cured, and Norman is happy.  Gwen asks what Murdoch gets from it, but he doesn't answer.  At any rate, feeling she has no choice but to help Harry, she agrees and heads to Madripoor, where Matt's Hand has located Harry.  In previous series, I feel like it's exactly this sort of complicated plot that made me dislike Latour, because it was rare that I understood all the steps that got us to the conclusion.  But, here, I get it, and I'm admittedly excited about it.  Latour could go a lot of different directions, building some genuine suspense.  Also, Wolverine!

Spider-Man 2009 #23:  David gets right to the point, as Miguel travels to May 15, 2019 to stop the disaster that sets the stage for the alternate future he's trying to prevent.  (That said, I still don't understand how it's connected to the actual future he's trying to resurrect, since someone clearly happened to turn New York into Nueva York.  But, I digress.)  He stumbles upon the cause:  a terminally ill Tyler Stone wants to release a virus that kills millions, though we're still not sure what his motivation is.  (I think it's just to be an asshole.)  Miguel tries to stop him, but the future Sinister Six get in his way.  However, Honey Bee -- i.e., Tempest in her insect form -- arrives and grabs the vial.  She's distracted when she sees Miguel, who she calls Spider-Man, and Tyler shoots her, regaining control over the vial.  However, seemingly the original version of Miguel -- in his original costume -- stabs him, and Tyler orders Aisa to release New York against the heroes.  It's now "our" Miguel, seemingly original Miguel, and Honey Bee against New York.  I'm not sure how the Fist got control over New Yorkers or where we go from here, but it seems like we're getting there soon.

X-Men Gold #3:  Guggenheim is really building momentum here.  First, Kitty is a bad-ass to the max, from coldly telling the students the rescue mission isn't a field trip (after Rockslide complains she only took him and Armor with the team) to using her powers to save Amara as the Brotherhood's HQ explodes.  But, she's at her best when she threatens Lydia Nance.  During their confrontation, Rachel gleaned from Mesmero's mind that  hired him to form the Brotherhood of "Evil" Mutants to further her own ends.  Professor X might've delivered some sort of speech about looking past their differences; Kitty threatens Nance and makes sure she knows she's being threatened.  We've got a new sheriff in town, folks.

Also Read:  Spider-Man #16

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The April 26 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batgirl #10:  [Sigh.]  We can never seem to get past issue #10 in a "Batgirl" series before the wheels come off the bus.  I feel like Larson just invents whatever event or tool she needs to get Babs from Point A to Point B.  For example, I've been a fan of Babs' new "hyperfocus" ability, where she essentially turns her eidetic memory into a computer.  But, Larson pushes us past the already fast-approaching point of believability here, as Babs is now suddenly able to see inside a woman's car before her auto-drive system crashes it.  Is the car recording her?  How is that even possible?  Similarly, Babs is in this situation because someone randomly took a photo of her and Dick together that made Ethan jealous.  Why did that guy take the photo?  No idea.  They're just a guy and a girl standing by a motorcycle at a gas station.  How did Ethan know the photo was taken?  Also no idea.  Moreover, Ethan becomes a full-on super-villain here.  He not only reveals his new costumed identity as the oddly named Blacksun, but he broke off his relationship with Babs by sending an intern to do the dirty work.  It makes even less sense when you consider he got jealous over Babs talking to Dick after he ended it.  I just don't know how much longer I can hang in here.

Ben Reilly:  Scarlet Spider #1:  This issue represents an enormous leap of faith for me.  After the character assassination Dan Slott committed on Ben Reilly, only the team of Peter David and Mark Bagley could convince me to give this series a try.  Thankfully, they go a long way to allay my fears.  First, David makes it much clearer than Slott did that Ben is actually insane.  I'm certainly not a fan of this development, but it's definitely the only way Ben is going to be able to find some form of redemption.  To drive home the point, David and Bagley give him his own shoulder angel and devil, the hoodied Scarlet Spider and the "Clone Saga" Jackal, respectively.  Ben insists he's not a bad guy.  He certainly has good guy impulses:  he saves a woman from getting mugged and prevents some guys from robbing a casino.  But, he's got some, shall we say, impulse problems.  He not only shoots the mugger in the leg, but shakes down his victim for money.  He asks for $100 and, when the woman only has $50 because she's unemployed, he tells her he'll find her if she doesn't honor her commitment for the remaining $50.  He's not exactly Mother Theresa.  Meanwhile, Kaine tricks Dr. Rita into confirming that Ben is alive and threatens her to get his location.  Just like the good ol' days!  I can't say I want to be reading this series; I'm still here from a sense of obligation.  But, if anyone can get Ben to a better place, it's this pair.

Detective Comics #955:  This issue is weirdly bad.  Tynion usually produces top-notch products, but this issue is well off the mark.  He employs a tedious and unnecessary narrator to move us through the issue.  To make it worse, the narrator is reading a children's story that mirrors every aspect of Cassandra's pretty unique life.  It inspires her to take on the League of Shadows by herself, and she miraculously manages to defeat all of them.  Yup.  It's important because her allies are indisposed:  Jean-Paul, Kate, and Luke are naked and chained in the same room as the nuclear bomb meant to detonate the fault line under Gotham City; Bruce is soon to join them, and Clayface's body is distributed over a dozen canisters.  But, suddenly, they're all free and in costumes in time to face Shiva with Cass.  Moreover, Tynion wastes a few pages on Ulysses' narrating to Jake his creation of new smart chemical weapons he wants to use on the League.  In other words, we just lurch from one poorly explained plot point to another.  As I said, it's a rare miss for Tynion, but a miss it is.

Flash #21:  We have a number of interesting developments here right at the start.  First, the Justice Society is somehow tied to this story; a 90-year-old Johnny Thunder appears at the start of the issue, and Flash talks about seeing Jay Garrick's Mercury Helmet in a vision.  Second, Barry discovers his own energy signature on Thawne's body, leading him to wonder if he kills Thawne.  He notably withholds this information from Bruce (who's now conscious).  Third, the Button is missing.  The plot gets rolling as Barry and Bruce use the Cosmic Treadmill to travel through time to identify Thawne's killer, using the radiation Barry found on the Button to calibrate their search.  Along the way, they see what they initially believe to be alternate universes showing the formation of various Justice Leagues, but then wonder if they're actually showing the period of time Dr. Manhattan stole.  But something goes wrong: they're struck by a bolt of lightning and find themselves in the "Flashpoint" Batcave, face-to-face with Thomas Wayne.  Williamson does a solid job of moving us through these numerous development without ignoring characterization.  Barry is struggling to come to grips with his emotions (or lack of them) as he realizes his mother's killer has come to justice, and Bruce obviously has all the feels when confronted with his father.  Maybe he'll even cry next issue!

Mighty Captain Marvel #4:  I've struggled with the last three issues of this series, and I have to say it's time to give up the ghost.  I legitimately have no idea what happens here. Someone named Dr. Eve has apparently used the Hala kids to...combine their HLA-12 energy...into some sort of hive mind?  I think?  The hive mind will then control Carol as a superweapon?  All this information is presented via leaded dialogue, with Dr. Eve all but twirling her mustache at one point.  Also, it turns out Mim is a robot.  (I think?)  I'm unfortunately going to have to put Carol in the same category as the Red Hood, someone whose series I'll get once the creative team changes.

Mighty Thor #18:  Perhaps the best sign of Jason Aaron's unique storytelling abilities is the fact he -- and possibly only he -- can make a Phoenix story feel organic.  Usually, we're supposed to believe various red-headed women on planet Earth summon this cosmic force of destruction essentially at will, without any real explanation for what the Phoenix gets in the deal.  Why limit itself to a human form when it could be eating teeming galaxies?  But, here, the arrival of the Phoenix actually flows from the story Aaron is telling:  K'ythri and Sharra call upon it in fury after losing their Challenge of the Gods to Thor.  They plan on burning down the Universe and making love in the ashes.  This act of insanity finally makes Gladiator snap, and he appeals to the Asgardians to put aside their difference to save the Universe.  Thankfully, Kid Gladiator knows a guy:  enter Quentin Quire!  Xavier School 4 Ever!

Occupy Avengers #6:  With Wheels becoming neurally bonded with the group's sentient van, I can tell Walker has clearly watched a lot of "A-Team" and "Knight Rider" episodes.  (I say that in whole-hearted approval.)  That vibe moves throughout this issue, as the Kree bounty hunters pin down the team and demand all the Skrulls in the town present themselves.  Except it turns out they're not Kree bounty hunters but Skrulls who believes the Skrulls in town are blasphemers.  As Hawkeye says, you have to wonder why the guy upstairs hates him.  Walker has struggled in previous issues with the pacing, setting up great stories only to speed through their resolutions.  But, he takes his time here, allowing us to feel sympathy for the Skrulls who just want to be left alone.  Look, Clint!  A wrong to right!

X-Men Blue #2:  I was sort of meh about this series after the first issue, but Bunn really sold me on it here.  It's a deeply emotional issue.  As I hoped, Bunn explores the pain everyone here has been feeling.  Beast appears lost in his quest to unlock the mysteries of magic, falling under the sway of an entity that clearly doesn't have his best interests at heart.  Bobby is struggling as Romeo has gone MIA.  In fact, perhaps the most touching moment of the issue is when Angel overhears Bobby leaving Romeo yet another voicemail; he was there to chastise Bobby for missing a Danger Room session, but instead leaves without saying a word.  (He appears to be giving him privacy, though I wonder if Bunn is implying something else.)  Jean acclimates quickly to her role as leader, but she's struggling to cope with the sadness she found in Magneto's mind when he allowed her to read it to prove his intentions.  It's all many sads.  When Scott and Warren seem to be the most emotionally grounded ones, you know it's difficult times indeed.  The kids are rightfully worried about Magneto's intentions, though his intentions are still unclear.  Bunn reveals he's building a time platform to send back the kids (and possibly himself, given the sixth spot) to their own time.  It's possible he's doing so for their benefit, but it's Magneto so it's not clear.  All this sturm und drang comes with beautiful imagery; Molina and Milla seem made to work together.

X-Men Gold #2:  Guggenheim spent the first issue winking and nodding to get us excited about the "back to basics" approach he's taking in this series.  It worked, but it means he has to kick the storytelling into overdrive to get us going.  The X-Men are facing two threats simultaneously.  First, they've got the direct threat of the reformed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  However, it's not as "direct" as Kitty would like.  Two of the members (Avalanche and Pyro) are supposedly dead and have different voices than they previously did, and Magma is a member of the Brotherhood for no clear reason.  They're also calling themselves the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants again, which Kitty notes is a little too on point.  Mesmero is revealed to be involved when he uses his mind-control powers to dismiss Kurt and kidnap Logan, leading Kitty to believe the Brotherhood (or, at least, Amara) is under his mental control.  However, he makes enough rookie mistakes here to call that into question.  (For example, he chains Logan to a wooden chair with adamantium chains, allowing Logan simply to destroy the chair to escape.  He also reveals himself to Kurt in capturing Logan, something you usually try to avoid if you're manipulating events from the shadows.)  The other threat is more existential.  Guggenheim is strongly implying someone other than Mesmero is manipulating events to provoke a race war, particularly as the Brotherhood kidnaps the Mayor of New York.  Plenty of humans are feeding into that war, including an Ann Coulter analogue named Lydia Nance who worked for the Heritage Initiative and calls for the deportation of all mutants.  (Guggenheim probably could've done a little better job hiding his politics here.)  We also see an armored figure execute a mutant running from him.  It helps underscore the anxiety Guggenheim shows spreading through the School as they watch Nance on TV.  With all these threats gathering at once, you understand why Captain Nazi wryly "congratulates" Kitty for taking over the X-Men.

Also Read:  Rebels:  These Free and Independent States #2

Friday, May 5, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The April 19 Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Batman #21:  Whoa, this issue is legitimately intense.  King and Fabok do an amazing job just grabbing you at the start and not letting go.  The issue begins with Bruce contemplating the Button, which he eventually places on a counter next to Psycho-Pirate's mask.  The two items unexpectedly interact, and Bruce momentarily comes face-to-face with the "Flashpoint" version of his father.  Bruce calls Flash and asks him to come discuss the phenomenon, and Flash promises to arrive in a minute, after he defeats the enemy he's fighting.  However, it seems the interaction of the two items has also revived Reverse-Flash, who attacks Bruce in the Cave.  Bruce tries to stall Reverse-Flash until Barry can arrive, but Barry takes longer than a minute and Reverse-Flash beats Bruce into unconsciousness.  He discovers the Button and disappears upon touching it, only to reappear seconds later missing the flesh on the left side of his body and muttering he met God.  Flash arrives shortly thereafter to discover both bodies.  By the time we get to this point, I'm pretty much holding my breath.  Fabok is as good as he's ever been in depicting the fight between Batman and Reverse-Flash; the countdown clock showing the minute passing was particularly clever.  He and King also brilliantly contrast it with a fight happening at a hockey match between Gotham and Metropolis, where one of the players beats another one to death.  It really adds to the atmosphere of this issue, as the violence escalates in both fights as we progress.  In terms of this series' ongoing story, the only disappointing part is we don't seem to have a clear resolution of Claire's story.  She appears in Arkham here, watching the aforementioned hockey match with other inmates.  She goes crazy at one point, prophesying the death of either the hockey player or Reverse-Flash.  Does that mean Psycho-Pirate didn't cure her?  It's a minor complaint at this point, given the focus on the cross-over story, but King is going to need to tie up that loose end at some point.  In the meantime, I feel like this event is actually the shot in the arm this title needs, after spending so much time on the extended Gotham/Gotham Girl/Bane story.  It even makes me want to re-read "Flashpoint," and, man, that's saying a lot!

Dark Knight III:  The Master Race #8:  If this series didn't have such celebrated talent on it, I wouldn't hesitate to say what I want to say:  that it stopped making sense several issues ago.  In fact, Azzarello doesn't even seem to be trying anymore, content simply to tell Kubert and Janson to go to town and call it a day.  This issue is basically just an extended war sequence as the Amazonians repel the Quarians, and I admit I can barely remember what the Quarians want with Jonathan.  Supes arrives after Diana has won the day, and he almost immediately flees somewhere else, where apparently Quar and his children have ingested nuclear bombs.  Yeah, I know, it sounds absurd.  It is absurd.  Rather than racing to the end of the $5.99 issue, as he does here, Azzarello could've spent some time reminding us why Lara has seemingly defected and who Bruno is (and why Commissioner Yindel would've dates a woman with Nazi tattoos on her breasts).  After all, it's been three months since the last issue.  Instead, we just get some pretty pictures and jump to the next nonsensical sequence of events.  I guess some part of me hopes the celebrated talent has some sort of plan.  But, after so much money spent on this story, I wonder if DC is just testing how much of a sucker I really am.

Ms. Marvel #17:  I've really enjoyed this arc, but I'm disappointed to say this ending isn't the strongest.  Based on where we were at the end of last issue, I expected Doc.X to force Kamala into revealing her secret identity (or, at least, show her willingness to do so) to defeat him.  However, that never really happens.  In fact, I have no idea how she beats him.  As expected, we start the issue with her getting her World of Battlecraft friends to help her make the Internet a nicer place, and it seems to be working, as Doc.X goes all Zen on Mike.  But, then, Kamala confronts him at a parade and...something happens.  Honestly, I have no idea; he's angry again and then he just sort of explodes.  I would still give this arc to any teenager or pre-teen I knew, with its message of rediscovering compassion for each other.  (The scene where everyone hugs Zoe after her love letters to Nakia are released is lovely.  Gabriel's reluctant feels also continue to make him my favorite.)  But, I feel like it would've been even more amazing if the ending had made sense.  At one point, Kamala comments on a parade being moved to the next day as said parade seemingly happens around her.  I don't know why it went down this way, but I'm disappointed it did.

Nightwing #19:  This issue really sets up the larger conflict between Dick and Dr. Hurt nicely.  Dick and Shawn track down Hurt to a temple in Egypt dedicated to Anubis, the God of Death.  Seeley portrays Hurt not as the Devil, but his prophet; he has been resurrected through a ceremony requiring blood, but we're not told who arranged the ceremony, who died to make it happen, or why someone wanted him to return.  The Devil sends the newly resurrected Hurt a vision of Nightwing, and Hurt believes it means he is to turn Dick into the Devil's new weapon.  To do so, he sacrifices Damian to run the ceremony in reverse:  rather than Hurt leaving the Hell of Hells, he sends Dick there.  Presumably, the goal is for Dick to fight his way through Hell to become this weapon, though it seems unlikely it's going to work the way Hurt wants.  This sort of story is a departure from the usual "Nightwing" story, but I have to say Seeley is giving us reason to have faith in him.  The story flows well, and I don't feel anywhere near as confused as I did by Morrison's Dr. Hurt.  We'll see where we go from here.

The Wild Storm #3:  Man, I love this series.  Ellis does an amazing job here of showing us the debut of the Wild C.A.T.s.  Cole, Kenesha, and Void arrive in Angie's bunker offering her sanctuary.  Angie reminds them she stole technology from International Operations (IO), the organization that runs "most of --- of everything."  She believes herself to be already dead and, on cue, the room explodes.  IO's Razors 3 team arrives to take Angie into custody.  Angie begins activating her flight suit as Cole and Kenesha activate their gear:  Cole puts on his Grifter mask, and Kenesha puts on a pair of sunglasses and pulls out a gun.  (Void is inactive with a shard of glass in her temple.)  Watching from a control room, Miles and someone I don't recognize realize Angie has also stolen micro-drones IO had created for search-and-rescue missions; her suit can apparently manufacture them, and she uses their flashlights to blind the Razors team.  Kenesha fires a bullet into one of the Razors that disintegrates him, taking even Cole by surprise.  Watching from the control room, Miles asks who these people are, and the person I don't recognize responds that it's an "unaffiliated covert action team," or "wild CAT," just as they always feared.  It's an awesome moment, really.  I don't remember the original series ever setting up the premise of the team so amazingly.  Meanwhile, Angie blows a hole through the ceiling and flees as Kenesha tries to revive Angie and Cole keeps on firing; Miles orders the remaining two Razors to demolish the room.  Beyond this amazing sequence, Ellis also adds a new character to the mix:  a woman who can walk through electronic devices (including fictional sequences).  As she moves through a comic book someone is reading on a tablet, she overhears someone in IO hypothesizing Skywatch is going to make Miles resign over the stolen technology.  She eventually returns home to add Angie to her map of secret organizations she's assembling.  I have no idea what it means, but it's all just remarkably awesome.

Also Read:  Moon Knight #13; Star Wars:  Poe Dameron #13

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Not-Very-Deep Thoughts: The April 19 "Secret Empire" Edition (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, here we go.  If you've been reading my posts as we built to this event, you know that I'm not as vehemently opposed to Captain Nazi as some other fans are.  I think it's mostly because Spencer isn't out there swearing to God that Steve will be Captain Nazi forever, as Steve Wacker and Dan Slott did when they subjected us to Spider-Ock.  Spencer is telling a story that feels limited in its ambition; after 75+ years, it was probably time for Cap to have his heel turn.  If you come to the issue that way (and I totally understand why you wouldn't), then Spencer has to be judged by whether it's actually a good story.  A lot of cross-over events have started as great ideas only for the execution to rob it of all greatness.  ("Age of Ultron" is probably the best example to me of a cross-over event with an awesome premise that rapidly devolved.)  As such, let's see how Spencer does.

Secret Empire #0:  I inadvertently read this issue first, even though it eventually became clear I should've read "Captain America:  Steve Rogers," "Thunderbolts," and "U.S.Avengers" first.  Oh, well.

As widely discussed in the media at this point, Spencer implies the "true" story is the one we've seen unfold over the course of the last few issues:  a mystically powered Elisa Sinclair identified Steve as the agent of change HYDRA needed to take over the world. In this issue, starting in 1945, Kraken has revealed himself to be alive as Steve arrives at the "source of all HYDRA's powers" in Japan.  It's the remains of Ashomia, "a lost city of the wicked and the abandoned."  Steve is introduced to a mysterious figure, and Kraken informs us he's the man who "birthed HYDRA from the spear" and made him Kraken.  Let's call him Father HYDRA.  Father HYDRA tells Steve that the Allies' Cosmic Cube will allow them to re-write history so they win the war; in other words, the history we used to think was the "true" story.  As the Cube begins to do exactly that, Father HYDRA has Steve enter a pool so his memories are preserved; we see him fade into the block of ice where the Avengers will find him in the now "fake" story.  As he escorts Steve into the pool, Father HYDRA warns Steve the Cube will eventually become Kobik and the Skull (called the "usurper" here) will use Kobik to rekindle Steve's memory of the "true" story.  This part answers one of my main questions, namely why no one else remembers the now "true" history.  Spencer has sent conflicting messages on this front, but at least he comes down firmly here on one side (some evidence in previous issues to the contrary).

In the present, we are at a moment of crisis as three separate events happen at once:  the Chitauri horde arrives; Baron Zemo is leading the villains imprisoned at Pleasant Hill on a rampage o' revenge in New York city; and the Crescent, the Helicarrier Sharon sent to Sokovia in "Captain America:  Steve Rogers" #15, has gone missing.  In terms of the Chitauri invasion, a HYDRA suicide bomber has apparently blown up the Shield.  Ironheart (a.k.a. Riri Williams) and Iron Man (who's apparently alive again) are frantically trying to fix the Shield as Alpha Flight, Quasar, and the Ultimates hold off the Chitauri.  In New York, Luke Cage leads an expanded Defenders line-up to protect civilians; meanwhile, Sharon and Steve are heading to Sokovia on the Iliad to try to find out what happened to the Crescent.  Spencer makes it immediately clear Steve has orchestrated these events so the President will put into action the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act.  With Steve now able to rule the United States by fiat, he activates his plan.  Ironheart realizes the Shield is somehow not as damaged as she thought it was; they're able to activate it, and the world watches as the Chitauri are unable to cross it.  Eventually, Ironheart and Iron Man discover the damage to the Shield's hardware was superficial; it was lowered not because of the bomb but because someone at command used the software to do so.  Meanwhile, Sharon and Steve come upon the Crescent, which rams into the Iliad.  As mind-controlled S.H.I.E.L.D. agents rush aboard.  Steve reveals himself to Sharon; Dr. Faustus' voice is broadcast throughout the Iliad, bringing more S.H.I.E.L.D. agents fully under Steve's control.  Steve then tells Carol he's locking her outside the planet (with the Chitauri horde).  Finally, Baron Zemo uses Blackout to plunge New York into the Darkforce Dimension, taking all New York's heroes off the board.  Steve then heads to Washington to complete his coup.

All in all, it's not terrible.  Again, if you go into it assuming Cap won't be evil forever, then it's easier to enjoy the story.  After all, it's clearly Spencer has carefully constructed this story; the only weakness I can identify is some ambiguity in previous issues about why people didn't remember the new "true" history.  At this stage, I think the question for me is how far we really go here.  As I mention below, "U.S.Avengers" #5 shows us where I hope we won't go, with Steve being reduced to a mentally unstable cliché of a super-villain.  This event will be scarier if Steve is just as calculating and strategic as we know he can be.  If he is, then it could even be great.

Thunderbolts #12:  Reading this issue after "Secret Empire" #0, it feels like Zub had to rush the ending so he could make sure the Masters of Evil (with Atlas) could be in place for Baron Zemo's attack on New York.  Events move more quickly than they probably should have as Zub is forced to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.  For example, I was surprised the main drama in this issue is Kobik apparently throwing such a temper tantrum that she threatened reality.  I get she's upset about Bucky not believing in HYDRA, but it feels like she's gone a little too far here, even for a child.  It would've helped to see more of Erik trying to calm her, since it would've established why she's so upset.  But, we move almost immediately to Fixer developing a device to strip Kobik of her personality (I think); instead, it shatters her into many pieces.  Zemo recruits Moonstone (easily) and Fixer to help him track down the pieces.  He also convinces Atlas to join them, a wink to Zub's characterization of Atlas as a follow at his core.  In the aftermath, Jolt is unconscious after Kobik's explosion (inexplicably) drained off her energy, and the Ghost swipes her.  (For some reason, she's also miniaturized by the blast, allowing Ghost to drop her into his pocket.)  After the team's now-abandoned headquarters collapses on them, Melissa emerges from the rubble, but Mach-X is missing.  Melissa trudges into the snow, and the series concludes behind her.  I have a feeling Marvel will revisit the team after "Secret Empire" concludes.  They had grown on me, and they deserve a better ending than they get here.

U.S.Avengers #5:  In terms of plot, this issue is solid.  Cap visit Roberto to remind him that he works for him, making sure Roberto is willing to follow orders he initially finds questionable.  Meanwhile, a HYDRA agent within A.I.M. convinces Red Hulk to allow him to override his safety protocol after he express frustration when he de-Hulks during a fight; Steve clearly plans to use a berserk Hulk at some point.  The most important development, though, seems to be Steve learning that Roberto has trained A.I.M. agents in Xavier's techniques to block telepathic incursions, meaning Dr. Faustus' mind-control techniques won't work on them.  (I know why that's important after reading "Secret Empire" #0.)  But, it's the characterization that leaves you scratching your head.  Steve acts like a cut-rate villain here, adopting various personas during his talk with Roberto.  First he's obsessed with people getting him coffee then he's berating Roberto for being elitist.  He seems totally insane; if his goal was not tipping off Roberto that something was wrong with him, it seems unlikely it worked.

Captain America:  Steve Rogers #16:  This issue completes setting up "Secret Empire" #0 in a number of ways.  First, the Masters of Evil (unexpectedly, to me) complete the search for the last fragment of Kobik.  I had initially thought their search for the Cube was going to occur throughout "Secret Empire;" after all, its reunification would clearly set up someone using it to rewrite history.  However, Spencer cleverly finds a way to delay this moment and take a major player off the board.  Dr. Selvig is disturbed by Zemo's insistence on reassembling the Cube and not letting Kobik pull herself together.  (Zemo wisely would rather a non-sentient Cube since it's easier to control.)  As such, Selvig sends the fragments to an unidentified place before killing himself.  Steve is furious when Zemo eventually tells him, since his plan was not only to conquer the world for HYDRA but use the Cube to "right" history.  However, Zemo is now free to lead the Masters of Evil on the assault of New York in "Secret Empire" #0.  Meanwhile, Maria Hill breaks into Taskmaster's computer and discovers the video of Steve saying "Hail HYDRA."  She tells Rick Jones Steve is an agent of HYDRA just before HYDRA captures her, but Cap calls Rick just in time, after Taskmaster alerted him to Maria's actions.  He tells Rick that Maria is off the reservation; in his story, she's going to use the override codes for the Shield as leverage to get back her old job.  Rick believes him and sends Steve the codes to the Shield.  Black Ant than knocks him unconscious, and we see the HYDRA suicide bomber seemingly blow up the Shield.  (However, we know from "Secret Empire" #0 that Steve uses the codes to take down the Shield; the damage to the Shield was purposefully superficial.)  Finally, Steve laments the loss of Xavier's brain to Elisa, but she reminds him of Dr. Faustus' powers; he takes control of the Cresent here.  The other big development is Steve allowing Zemo seemingly to kill Bucky in the same way his father died.  It seems unlikely Bucky is dead, but it's yet another player off the board for a while.  At this stage, the only people who know of Cap's treachery are Carol, who's stranded outside Earth, and Maria, Rick (to a certain extent), and Sharon, all of whom are in Steve's custody.

At this stage, Spencer has set up two main storylines.  We're going to have the struggle against Steve as he tries to impose his will on the United States.  But, I also imagine we're going to have the quest for the Cube, as both sides try to "right" history.  It feels like the story I thought we were going to get in "Age of Ultron," and I'll be a happy camper if Spencer accomplishes that.