Dark Days: The Forge #1: This issue reads mostly like a preview issue. The plot is solid, but you're really aware you're only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Overall, Snyder has a lot happening in different places. Batman is investigating a mysterious signal emanating from the Earth's core. One of the Guardians of the Universe sends Green Lantern to investigate an odd energy signature coming from Wayne Manor. A group called the Immortal Men discusses offering membership to Duke's mother years ago and implies Bruce is trying to get through her gas-induced insanity to obtain their secrets. Hawkman is dictating his memoirs. Again, it's a lot. But, Snyder does a good job of making it clear, by the end of the issue, how all these threads fit together.
- Mr. Terrific returns from Earth-Two, where apparently the same signal Bruce discovered on Earth is present; moreover, both signals are getting louder. Mr. Terrific suggests it's like a compass spinning wildly and only a cosmic entity could tune it. This comment leads Bruce to a tower he's secretly hidden under the Fortress of Solitude. (People reading DC Comics longer than I have probably recognize it, but I don't.) He uses the tower to get a reading, I think, but I'm not entirely sure.
- Upon arriving in the Batcave, Hal discovers Bruce told Duke no one could enter; Hal does anyway and discovers a secret cave within the Batcave. (Hal astutely comments only Bruce would have a secret cave.) In Secretcave, a disembodied voice fills in Duke and Hal on what Bruce is investigating. The voice tells them Bruce knew the electrum the Court of Owls used to resurrect their Talons shouldn't have worked in and of itself; when he investigated, he found a secret metal laced in it. This metal produces an energy signature similar to the one found in some of the most powerful artifacts on Earth, e.g., Deathstroke's mask, Aquaman's trident, etc. (These items are all inexplicably on display in the Secretcave.)
- In the past, Hawkman and Hawkwoman discover the ship that originally gave them eternal life, and we're left to assume the ship is made of this mysterious metal. In his research, Hawkman stumbles across information about the four original tribes of humanity. He originally says "three" tribes and then corrects himself as he places a stone with the image of a bat next to three stones with different animal images.
The issue concludes as Duke and Hal find the source of the voice: a resurrected Joker. The Joker seems to tell them dionesium was the mysterious metal. The creative team did an amazing job with this sequence: as Duke and Hal walk through the Secretcave, the text of the disembodied voice starts containing letters in the Joker's font. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Separately, Bruce decides to free the other prisoner he's been keeping, this time on his secret Batcave on the Moon. (Mooncave!) Is it Plastic Man? I couldn't tell. The person is apparently unstable, so it seems unlikely it's Plastic Man.
I haven't been a fan of Snyder's work on Batman, but he seems to hint here that the inconsistencies that drove me insane -- like the magic of dionesium from "Court of Owls" or the uncertainty of whether the Joker knew the Bat-family's identities in "Death of the Family" -- may have simply been bread crumbs to get us here. If that's the case, I'm willing to revise my opinion of him. In fact, it makes me want to read through all my old reviews and catalogue those inconsistencies, since it may provide clues to the upcoming event. At any rate, Snyder definitely piques my interest with this issue. He seems to promise a physical explanation to the extraordinary powers of the metahumans (as they're called in the DCnU), which also implies these powers could be eliminated if someone figures out a way to manipulate the dionesium. It's still unclear how it connects to the larger "Rebirth" story about Dr. Manhattan (assuming it does), and Snyder seems to have a number of options for where he wants to go with that. But, Snyder definitely has a vision, and I'm excited to see where we go with it.
Secret Empire #4: Spencer handles the Avengers' fucked up family dynamics and history so well here I hope they hand him the reins of that book after this event ends. I'll admit I can't quite remember where we left things with Hanktron after his arc in "Uncanny Avengers." But, it seems totally reasonable to me that his response to the current situation is to hide in a city full of his clones in Alaska and wait for everyone to kill each other.
Spencer does a great job of slowly building to the conflict as Tony and his team and Steve and his team make their respective ways to Alaska and the Cosmic Cube shard. When they unexpectedly encounter each other, we're all ready for a battle royale. But, instead, Ultron captures everyone and makes them suffer through an awkward family dinner. Just as I was wondering why Odinson, Scarlet Witch, and Vision were on Steve's side, Spencer uses the dinner as a vehicle to explain: Thor wants back the Hammer Steve took in "FCBD: Secret Empire #1," Wanda is possessed by Chthon, and the Vision has a virus. But, everything goes to Hell in a handbasket why Tony antagonizes Hank, realizing his raging inferiority complex means he might actually be Hank. Hank just wants everything to be like it was, but it can't be, Tony says, because no one ever forgave him for beating Jan. I mean, talk about dropping a bomb of truth!
I love Spencer using the Avengers' history as the catalyst for the fight here. It really heightens the sense I've had throughout this event that Marvel might actually make the developments stick (and not magically erase them with the Cosmic Cube.) By the second or third issue of most cross-over events -- I'm thinking particularly of "Age of Ultron" and "Avengers vs. X-Men" -- it's pretty clear some device (metaphorical or physical) is going to be used to undo the developments occurring in the event. But, you really get the sense this event is going to have consequences, as Spencer keeps it firmly rooted in the Marvel Universe's history. For example, Hank stresses how everyone is tired of Steve's strategizing and Tony's plotting, reminding them how disastrous "Civil War" was. In other words, everything we're seeing here has been a long time coming, not an artificially manufactured crisis to test our heroes.
In the end, it's Scott Lang who saves the day. He tells Hank he's his idol because he, too, screwed up his life in one moment, but he kept on going. Scott says he lives his life by asking what his daughter would do in difficult situations, and he asks Hank what Jan would want him to do. Hank gives Scott the shard and sends everyone on his way. But, Spencer has two aces up his sleeve. First, the destruction of the Atlantean temple in issue #3 sends Namor to Washington to surrender his shard, disillusioning Hawkeye's team. Mockingbird tries to rally them, reminding them they just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other one. But, Cap reveals to Dr. Faustus he has a mole on the team. It's hard to see how the heroes are going to win this one, and it's why this series so far is legitimately exciting.
Uncanny Avengers #24: This issue starts off oddly, since we ended last issue expecting the team to head to New Orleans to fight Brother Voodoo's brother. But, Zub makes it clear the team is as surprised as we are to find themselves suddenly trapped in New York. Spencer hasn't had a lot of time to focus on New York in the main "Secret Empire" title; we've only really seen Dagger lighting the city when she can and Kingpin planning for the post-bubble days. As such, I'm intrigued to get this insight into New York as it struggles with the isolation imposed by Blackout. The events in this issue happen right after "Secret Empire" #0, so the team is basically acting as first responders. Presumably, if we fast-forwarded to where we are in "Secret Empire" #4, they're connected with all the other heroes. But, right now, they're trying to save who they can. The weirdest part is Jan and Rogue fighting. Jan is trying to convince Rogue they need a strategy, and Rogue is just trying to punch stuff. It's like Zub hasn't read a comic with Rogue in it since 2008. But, hopefully it's just a weird blip, an attempt to illustrate how rattled they all are by the sudden turn of events. We'll see.
Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #3: I can't say it doesn't feel forced, but David at least puts Ben in his original costume in this issue, so I feel like I have some hope for the future.
Ms. Marvel #19: Willow doesn't pull any punches here, as HYDRA Chuck from the previous gentrification arc has somehow gotten himself made into Mayor Worthy and placed Basic Becky (a.k.a. Lockdown) in charge of the Gestapo. (They're actually called Keepers of Integration, Normalization, and Deference, or KIND.) Kamala puts two and two together pretty quickly when KIND "agents" accost her outside her house, revealing they're looking for someone with superpowers. Like any good bureaucrat, Becky delegates the fight with Kamala to her henchman, Discord. (I can't remember how Kamala connects KIND to Becky but she does.) When Discord neutralized Kamala with electricity, she realizes he's spent a lot of time studying her, since he knows it's her weakness. (We're obviously supposed to believe it's Bruno, but that seems too obvious.) He eventually zaps her into unconsciousness. Elsewhere, KIND winds up arresting Aamir, Kamala's brother, believing him to have the superpowers. Moreover, all these events take place against the backdrop of Eid al-Fitr celebrations. Although KIND takes in Aamir for allegedly possessing superpowers, it's not hard to see the larger point Willow is making. (She also has Zoe panic when she hears about KIND, revealing she's an illegal immigrant: she was born in France.) Willow makes it even more complicated as Discord gets Kamala to admit to herself the crowds who rallied to Worthy side's in the gentrification arc didn't do so simply because they were mesmerized: some people really believed what he was saying. By returning to this issue, Willow shows she's telling an ongoing story about the struggle between freedom and fear. She manages not to get preachy as she does it, keeping the story focused on the emotions people feel on both sides. I'm intrigued to see where she goes in the next three issues in this arc.
Star Wars #32: I have to admit, I'm really enjoying the Screaming Citadel arc. Aaron cleverly uses a rebooted Rur to exposit not only the regret Aphra feels for abandoning Luke but the fact she doesn't normally feel this way about someone she betrays. Rur correctly posits they understand each other because of their shared tragedies and all I have to say is I'm beyond excited if we're getting a buddy-comedy series featuring Aphra and Luke. Aphra reminds us why she's a survivor when she not only returns to save Luke but also infects him with the symbiote. I know it doesn't sound like doing Luke a solid, but it is: Aphra correctly figures the Hive is run by the strongest will, setting up a conflict between Luke and the Queen. Meanwhile, Triple-Zero (brilliantly called "Creepio" by Sana) essentially narrates their attempt to
Titans #12: Abnett has Omen shake down Psimon to get the location of where he sent Karen's engram, and it's super-fun to watch this match unfold. Psimon feels he's got the upper hand as he plums Karen's mind for memories to use against her. Given the drama happening behind the scenes at Titans Tower, he has ample ammunition. Omen encourages Roy to share his feelings with Donna, but, before he can, he sees her kissing Wally. (They kiss because they both feel adrift: Donna has learned she's not human, and Wally not only faces the loss of his identity as the Flash after the "Lazarus Contract" but also reveals his constant badgering of Linda has driven her from him.) Meanwhile, Mal rages at Dick for failing to find Karen's engram, and he mentions his deal with Deathstroke as a reason not to trust him. This part makes no sense to me, because I was pretty sure no one learned about Dick's deal with Deathstroke. In fact, I'm still not really sure what Dick's deal with Deathstroke was. But, the less said about the "Lazarus Contract," the better. Psimon tells Omen her codename is apt because she's the omen for a future event where a Titan will betray the team. Omen is rattled by Psimon showing her the vision she herself couldn't admit she was having. But, she also reveals she's been leading Psimon down this path. These revelations were all to cultivate a false sense of security so he'd let down his defenses. It works: she not only gets the name of the place where Psimon sent the engram, but she also psychically kicks his ass, revealing she's much more powerful than he thought. The issue ends with the team's assault on Alton Laboratories as Omen contemplates who's going to betray the team. I'm happy to say this issue really rights the ship after the somewhat disastrous "Lazarus Contract." We're returning to where we were going, testing the Titans' bonds to each other as a newly reformed team. I'm much more excited about that story.
X-Men Blue #5: First, I love Bunn adding Jimmy to the team as a way to make sure they always have some sort of Wolverine. Clever. Moreover, the fight sequence with the Marauders was really one of the best I've read in a while, exactly the sort of excellent match of opposing personalities and powers that makes for archenemies. But, Bunn raises the stakes when he reveals the Marauders are all displaced from other realities, presumably ones destroyed as part of "Secret Wars." They've had their memories wiped, and Miss Sinister reveals to Jean she's taken advantage of that situation to turn them into weapons. She allows Jean to keep Jimmy since his resistance to telepathy is too strong to make him useful to her, and Jean is left wondering about her agenda. Bunn doesn't stop the mystery there, though. First, we have no idea how many of these reality-displaced mutants there are (and how many Miss Sinister controls). Second, Jean, Magneto, and Miss Sinister all observe something "different' about these mutants: they're not "just" mutants, but it's unclear what that means. In other words, Bunn has given us enough questions to keep us interested for a good long while. Along the way, he's doing a great job with the characterization as well: Bobby and Quicksilver essentially compete in out-annoying the other one, and I could read that all day.
Also Read: Captain America: Sam Wilson #23; Detective Comics #958; Dragon Age: Knight Errant #2; Dungeons and Dragons: Frost Giant's Fury #3; Generation X #3; Secret Empire: United #1