Captain America: Steve Rogers #18: Some tie-in issues provide important off-panel insights to the event unfolding in the main series; if I remember correctly, a lot of important stuff happened in the tie-in issues related to "Avengers vs. X-Men." However, the same isn't true of this issue. Steve gives an uncharacteristically unhinged speech to the rump United Nations meeting in Brussels (as a result of their New York colleagues being trapped in the Darkforce Dimension), threatening governments that don't embrace HYDRA cells in their own countries. T'Challa ruins the fun by hijacking the meeting via video link and daring Steve to come to Wakanda himself; it's not an idle threat, as he informs the meeting he's killed three previous groups Steve sent to infiltrate Wakanda. This revelation undermines Steve's "stop spying on us" demand he made at the top of the speech, and he leaves in a huff. Based on the cover, you'd be forgiven if you thought this issue was going to be about Namor (pet peeve #2), but Namor only sulks at the start and end of the issue. In fact, I'm not sure why Spencer included him at all, since T'Challa's entry into the fray is a much more interesting development. After all, we've already seen HYDRA defeat Namor in "Secret Empire" #5. It makes for a confused narrative and a pretty easily skipable issue if you were only coming here because it's connected to "Secret Empire."
Batman #25: The "knock knock"/"who's there" exchange between Riddler and Joker is the best panel arrangement I've seen since Capullo's upside-down maze in "Batman" #5. Something about the segue from Riddler on one side of the room on one page to Joker on the other side of the room in the next one is chilling. Both characters command their respective page, making you viscerally aware they're at war for the same space. The War of Jokes and Riddles, indeed. King and Janín work so well together throughout this issue to convey this message, to a chilling effect.
To start, King's Riddler is completely unhinged, but in a sane way. This dichotomy is most obvious in the way he escapes Arkham, methodically learning the names of the guards' daughters so they're too scared to stop him. If he hadn't just stabbed a detective 26 times to get his escape started, it might've otherwise seemed like an empty threat. When it comes to Joker, the art again supplements the script: Janín's Joker appears similar to his "Killing Joke" incarnation, a reminder of how dangerous he is (as if you needed one). In other words, before the two characters even meet, King and Janín make it clear we're dealing with the characters at their most lethal.
But, come together they do, as Riddler solves the puzzle Joker is leaving for Batman. He tells Joker he knows he can't laugh anymore, because punchlines require a lack of predictability and Batman has made Gotham all predictability. Similarly, Riddler doesn't enjoy his riddles anymore, because Batman is the riddle he can't solve. Riddler suggests they kill Batman together, because it's the only way they'll know satisfaction; otherwise, they'll burn Gotham to the ground as they try to stop the other one from killing him first. Joker agrees...and then shoots Riddler, hoping maybe it will make him laugh. (It's a shocking moment and another reminder he's not a more patient incarnation of his character.) Unfortunately, it doesn't make him laugh, and he leaves Riddler bleeding on the floor.
Batman arrive seconds later, and Riddler tells him Joker stole his bomb. Bruce leaves Edward to chase down Joker because, given the wound, he assumes Riddle will die shortly. He doesn't, for a reason King doesn't explain. It perhaps has something to do with his riddle at that moment: "The smartest man alive will always overlook one thing: his own nose." I'm not sure how it's connected to him surviving a point-blank gunshot, but it isn't just a random line: Joker had been drawing the image of a clown nose on the map of Gotham with his crimes.
Speaking of unsolved riddles, the joke Joker used to lead Batman to the office building where Riddler finds him was: "Why did six fear seven? Because seven ate nine." Joker is on the 78th floor, so I get that part. But, we're not told how Joker brought this joke to Bruce's attention. (Did it have something to do with the clown nose?) Plus, I'm not sure how six and nine play into it. I believe it has something to do with another riddle Riddler told: the password to a club isn't half the number the bouncer gives (in other words, five if the number is ten) but the number of letters in the word (three if the number is ten). I make note of these unsolved riddles (at least unsolved for me) because I feel like they might be relevant later.
As the story ends, we learn Bruce is telling this story to Selena as they lie in bed, confessing to her what he had to do during the War of Jokes and Riddles so that she'll truly know him before they get married. He implies it'll explain him even better than Alfred, Gordon, and the boys understand him. He tells her they misunderstand him as a guy with pain saving who he can; allegedly something about his behavior during the war shows this interpretation is wrong.
King is swinging for the fences here, and he makes you believe he can hit the home run. Something about this arc already seems epic, a character-defining story you'd think we couldn't see anymore in Batman. But, King has hinted throughout his run he's willing to do something no one else -- not Morrison, not Snyder -- has allowed Bruce to do: he's going to let him become a real boy. Bruce's confession about his past to Selena is part of his commitment to Selena, and it's what grounds this story. I can't wait to see where we go.
Iceman #2: Grace accomplishes what he intended to do here, using Kitty and her anger over learning from Fabio Bobby was gay to press him to actually connect with people. She makes a solid point, stressing his family and friends want more from him than just jokes at inopportune moments. Bobby defends himself accurately, noting he didn't have a say in his coming out: he only did so because his younger self is running around town with a model boyfriend. But, something feels rushed here, and I hope Grace slows down. Grace only alludes to the fact Bobby's alone in the world, but I think it's worth exploring it more. After all, Jean, Scott, and Warren (at least the Warren he knew) are all dead, and he's estranged from Hank. He really doesn't have anyone in his corner except an ex-girlfriend. Moreover, Kitty may raise Bobby's hopes too high here that his parents are going to be in his corner, though the preview of next issue's cover implies we'll find out one way or another. But, at some point, Bobby needs someone, and it's probably hinting at the fact he could use a supporting case unique to this series. Finally, the art has some decent moments here, though it's hard to tell what penciler/inker combination is responsible, given four sets of hands are at play here. You get the feeling Marvel is doing this one on the cheap given the unsteady art situation, and it makes me unfortunately wonder how long this series has.
Mighty Thor #20: It seems clear the War of the Realms is going to kick into high gear. After all, at this point, we have three different Thors. The story of Volstagg becoming War Thor is devastating, though I'll admit I don't exactly understand how he survived the Muspelhiem fire that killed the elven children he was trying to protect. (Apparently fire-goblin blood is immune to the fire. If I had to guess, those creatures that appeared with the maggot bombs were fire goblins, and Volstagg coated himself with their blood when he murdered them in a rage. But, Aaron doesn't really make that part entirely clear.) At any rate, Odinson is pissed at Jane for becoming Thor, Jane is dying so she might not be Thor that much longer (or she might stay Thor forever, giving up Jane), and Volstagg is ready to kill everyone. It seems like something is going to happen, given that confluence of events. But, it's the death of the children that gives this issue its emotional weight. We obviously don't see that in comics often, but Aaron makes sure it's not gratuitous. Volstagg is someone different than he's always been, and it ups the ante here, making you wonder what other unexpected developments are in store for us.
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1: Teresa Parker! I can't say this issue is perfect: Peter recounting his origin story to Johnny Storm made absolutely no sense. Moreover, we're in pet peeve #3 territory here, where Peter acknowledging it makes no sense doesn't make it better. But, it's not the only problem. It makes even less sense Peter would agree to go on a date as Spider-Man. I get Zsardsky is going for an easy and fun vibe here, and, sure, hilarity may ensue. But, seriously, disbelief can be suspended only so much. But, I'm willing to put aside all that for the great art from Kubert (he can draw Johnny Storm whenever he wants) and the return of Teresa Parker from "Spider-Man: Family Business." Waid managed to make Teresa feel like an honest-to-goodness character (and not just a convenient plot device) in that graphic novel, and I've been waiting for her to return. A light-hearted series about Spidey's downtime doesn't necessarily seem the right place, but we'll see where Zsardsky goes.
Spider-Man 2099 #24: Honestly, only Peter David comes close to telling a time-travel story that remotely makes sense. Miguel, the other Spider-Man 2099 and Tempest manage to grab one of the members of the mob trying to attack them before fleeing somewhere safe to interrogate him. The other Spider-Man 2099 is able to control "arachnonauts" that force the man to tell the truth: his phone told him to attack them. They learn Aisa was using a popular app to control people's minds, and Lyla eventually figures out Aisa is the Fate Atropos. She's trying to kill off humanity because she's sick of humanity fucking up everything on its way to eventually annihilating itself. Honestly? It's a pretty solid motive. Miguel tries to defeat her, but she decides to off him, even though she usually likes to give her opponent a sporting chance. However, Miguel doesn't have a thread in this reality because...he's already dead. Aisa escapes, and Tempest later confirms Miguel did die. Miguel refuses to learn how he dies before May 15, 2019, because he's afraid that information will again screw up 2099. After all, at this point, he's got the hope he's managed to restore the 2099 he knew (even if, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, it's not necessarily the one we knew). Peter ends with the surprise that the mysterious Spider-Man 2099 is Gabriel...Miguel's son with Tempest. Dun-dun-DUN! It's hard to believe David wrapped up this story so well, but it is really solid. Aisa's motivation makes sense, her plan would've realized said motivation, and the team stops her in a believable way. All win! At this point, we have two loose ends. First, we have Miguel himself. It seems to me Miguel doesn't really have to die to recreate his 2099 timeline: he just has to leave the past timeline at exactly the point he would've died, returning to his present timeline at exactly the point he left. In so doing, you wouldn't encounter any paradoxes: he's where he's supposed to be at the time he's supposed to be. Second, we have Gabriel. Gabriel is a grown man here, something he wouldn't be on May 15, 2019. As such, two things clearly happen: 1) Gabriel is raised outside our timeline, possibly by Miguel and Tempest in the future, and 2) Tempest at some point becomes a superhero, possibly after Miguel dies. I have full faith Peter David will answer that question since, after all, it's Peter David.
Star Wars: Darth Vader #2: I've never been the biggest fan of Camuncoli's work (I know, I know), namely because his faces in "Amazing Spider-Man" always seemed...off to me. But, he's on fire here, capturing just how lethal Vader is, be it as a pilot or as a combatant. Soule is no slouch either. Vader invades an outpost cataloging Jedi effects to try to track down a living Jedi. The only one he finds is a warrior who took the "Barash vow," a sort of penance requiring isolation (meaning he survived implementation of Order 66). Soule reminds us this Vader isn't the Vader we know by allowing him to get winged by one of the Stormtroopers defending the outpost. I hope it means we'll see the internal emotional conflict I mentioned in my review of last issue. All told, we've got a good start here.
The Wild Storm #5: Zealot investigates Angela's base, discovering the remains of the IO Razor 3 team. She also encounters a "daemon" who looks like an extra from "Alien." It claims to be acting in a Watcher-type role and encourages her not to get involved with the important events unfolding. She doesn't believe it. It asks how she can have lived so long and understand so little before it disappears. (It seemingly puts her in the long-life club with Jacob Marlowe.) Meanwhile, Michael accepts Craven's offer to track down Angela to distract himself from his brain tumor. However, when he reads the hastily assembled file and watches the video recording of the Razor 3 team's engagement, he realizes she's a scared researcher in need of someone to listen. He asks Craven to rescind the order, but Craven refuses. Mike quits for fear he's suddenly discovered at the end of his life Craven has been playing him for years, and Craven essentially tells him he's not going to fund his treatment. Meanwhile, Void gets to Angela first, explaining her story in the hope Angela will trust her. She explains Skywatch controls everything that happens off Earth (as opposed to IO, which controls everything that happens on it) and tried to achieve interstellar travel by cutting into "underspace." (They called it "the Bleed," as if they were cutting below the surface of skin, where they hoped different physics would be at play.) All the crew died, including Adriana, but something that looks decidedly similar to a daemon saved her and returned her with her powers. Meanwhile, Christine Trelane arrives at Mike's apartment and offers him a job with "Executive Protection Services" as Craven's men knock on his door announcing they have his "effects."
X-Men Gold #6: OK, I'm not buying what Guggenheim is selling here when it comes to Rachel. I can think of any number of instances from the past where Rachel used power on the scale she uses here. I mean, she took on the Beyonder during "Secret Wars II," if I remember correctly. It's not like what we've seen with other characters, where they evolve over time, like Bobby eventually coming to realize his full potential or Spider-Man learning "Spider-Fu" when he temporarily lost his Spider-Sense. She suddenly just has a headache, talks to some folks in her mind, and then decides she's powerful enough to disable the A.I. Sentinel. It's not just overly convenient, but it doesn't do justice to a 36-year-old character. Guggenheim also includes smaller odd moments, like Ororo kissing Remy. All told, it makes for a bizarre ending to this once promising arc.
Also Read: Nightwing #23; Secret Empire: Underground #1; U.S.Avengers #7