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 just...so 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