Secret Empire #7: This issue is possibly the single best issue of an event -- possibly any comic -- ever. I was holding my breath as we moved step by step to the end. (I know I said that last issue, but who knew Spencer would top himself so quickly!)
Let's start at the beginning. First, I would really love Spencer to write "Captain Marvel," because he gets her better than anyone since Kelly Sue. Her monologue begging Quasar to awaken so she can redeem herself was a brilliant piece of characterization, as Carol realizes "Civil War II" put them on the path to this moment. She realizes she's exactly like Tony, desperately seeking for someone to tell her she's the hero she hopes she is. (It's clearly a bitter pill to swallow, and it really matches nicely what A.I. Tony said to Steve in issue #6). Spencer's gift here is making everything seem like it's the logical conclusion of past events: Carol's guilt from "Civil War II," Miles' destiny to kill Captain America from "IvX," Hank merging with Ultron in "Avengers: Rage of Ultron." They're important components of the tension Spencer builds throughout the issue. In fact, Spencer has made it clear from the start the events of this series are not only grounded in the past but are unlikely to be simply ret-conned at the end. It's really what has made it so enjoyable, to my mind.
Spencer also addresses the generational issues at hand as well. Natasha locks up Miles so he can't realize his destiny to kill Captain America: it's like she's saying she wants one more chance for her generation to clean up the mess it's made before the innocent get blood on their hands. But, she can't. Punisher stops her before she can pull the trigger, giving Miles time to escape. She defeats Frank (of course she does), and Sorrentino does an amazing job showing her panicked dash to the scene of the battle between Miles and Steve. He's equally adept at showing her death, as she leaps between them and Steve's shield shatters her skull. Natasha Romanova has always, always deserved to be the hero, and she gets to be here, at the cost of her life. (Sure, she's probably going to return. But, in the moment, I believed the story Spencer was telling here, unlike most times a character dies.) An enraged Miles attacks Steve with new vigor, but, picking up the theme of generation change, Wasp gets to him before he strikes the final blow. She tells him he's not a killer, and she begs him to respect Natasha's sacrifice: she died because she knew he wasn't a killer. Miles agrees, and the kids are arrested by HYDRA's security forces.
Later, Steve has his troops bring him to Sharon, where he laments the losses surrounding him. He whines it wasn't supposed to go this way; he was going to save everyone, not send Bucky, Rick, Elisa, and now Natasha to their deaths. Sharon then tries to kill him, and I cheered. Sharon fucking Carter, man. She never doesn't come to play. But, he stops her, and it's the last straw: totally alone, he promises war. The remaining members of the Underground are broken as they watch Natasha die, and Giant Man asks if it's over. A voice says it's not, and I teared up a bit as I saw Sam Wilson stand in that last panel wearing his Captain America costume and holding the shield. White nationalists paraded through Charlottesville the day before I wrote this review, and damn if I didn't feel better seeing Sam Wilson tell me to believe in America still.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #19 and Captain America: Sam Wilson #24: I'm reviewing these issues jointly because they're flipsides of the same coin, with Steve finally putting on his HYDRA Supreme Leader gear and Sam putting on the Captain America uniform (as seen at the end of "Secret Empire" #7). Steve's issue doesn't have that much emotional impact; Spencer is really just drawing a line under the sense at the end of "Secret Empire" #7 that Steve is putting away childish things. He's lost everyone -- Tony, Bucky, Rick, Elisa, Natasha, and Sharon -- and he seems to finally accept he doesn't get to be the hero anymore. I'd recommend reading that issue first, because Sam's issue is much more inspiring. Misty tries to convince him to put on his uniform, revealing she defied his request to return it to Steve. (She's right about how she made the right call.) In a fit of anger, Sam tells Misty he doesn't believe America deserves Captain America anymore, and it's Patriot who convinces him otherwise. He asks if you really just give up a war because you're outgunned and outnumbered, reminding Sam that giving up the uniform just gave his enemies what they wanted and left the vulnerable without a champion. It's hard work, Sam, but someone has to do it.
Detective Comics #961: The novelty of the DCnU has generally waned after six years, but every once in a while someone surprises you. Here, Tynion has Luke working to create a new suit to replace Azarel's Suit of Shadows. He's been trying to figure out a way to replace the Order of St. Dumas' dogma as the artificial intelligence powering the suit. After all, he can't just create a new moral code for the suit: it would be like creating a new religion. But, he realizes he actually has a moral code on hand when he realizes Ascalon wasn't able to take over Rookie like he was Luke's Batwing suits: after all, it was programmed with Batman's moral code. Enter the Batsuit Azrael wore when he took over the mantle of the Bat during "Knightfall." Honestly, I got shivers. Well played, James. Moreover, Tynion does a stellar job with the characterization throughout the issue, from Kate's wry commentary as she and Cassandra take on Azrael to Zatanna's heartfelt recounting of her heartbreak when her teenage self realized Bruce would never stay with her. It's a really stellar issue in a really stellar series.
Iceman #3: I really, really want to like this series, but, OMG, the art is so bad. It's hard to get past it. Grace does a great job of showing Bobby trying to be real with his parents in anticipation of telling them he's gay. He even gives us insight into why Bobby uses humor to deflect emotions, as his parents do the same thing during their ill-fated dinner. Actually, it's less "humor" and more "bitchiness." In that way, we get a good sense why Bobby is apprehensive about telling them the truth. But, Grace opens a door here as his mother admits they're not giving him a fair shot. In fact, I thought Grace does a great job of using mutants as a parallel for gays when he has Bobby's mother mention that society might be totally fine with mutants (gays) now, but it wasn't for a long time. They're having a hard time making that switch, and, frankly, I am, too (but from the other side, obviously). But, the art distracts from the story Grace is telling. It's almost like Vitti has been possessed by Rob Liefeld, with random lines populating all his figures. These sort of solo X-Men series don't typically last long, and I just hope they smooth out the art problems to give Grace some space to tell the story he wants to tell.
Rebels: These Free and Independent States #5: Wood gives John a happy ending I'm not entirely sure he deserves, but it's not an unrestricted one. His mentor gets James Madison to agree to release John from prison (where he lost an arm to an infection while serving his sentence for mutiny), but it has a catch: he can work in a shipyard building the Navy he loves, but he must be anonymous lest Madison be seen as supporting a mutineer. His mentor correctly assumes John doesn't care about fame, so the arrangement will suit him well. That part, I like. But, Wood gives John his love interest here, the woman he met in New York while playing in the rigging years earlier. She claims she didn't wait for him, but she was still unmarried at 40 years old so Wood isn't all that convincing. It's pretty hard to believe she fell for taciturn John so hard after just one night she waited for him for two decades (I think). But, it is what it is. Wood is on firmer ground when he has John return to his childhood home. Members of his mother's family are going to buy it, and he stands by his parents' graves with a real sense of loss. He also shows uncharacteristic emotions when he refuses to enter the house, so it's left to his wife to say good-bye to it, finding some of his childhood etchings. She tells him his parents would be proud of him, as he surpasses his father (an American yearning, Wood reminds us). It's probably true, since Seth Abbot wasn't really one for formality; mutiny probably wouldn't have bothered him too much, and he'd indeed be proud if he learned John took command to save lives. Wood also draws a parallel to today, as John leaves behind the woods his father so loved for the city. It's a wistful ending to this story, and I'm excited to see what else Wood has planned.
Spider-Gwen #22: After convincing Kitty to stop Logan from killing Harry, Gwen calls Reed to get a second opinion on whether the Lizard/Venom switcheroo will work. But, she's really calling for moral support, and Reed does her a solid by not giving it to her. She's convinced she's saving Harry, but Reed asks her what she really expects to happen here. It's not like Harry can just live a normal life once he's divested of his Lizard persona; he's made mistakes for which he'll have to pay. Moreover, he reminds Gwen she had numerous other options -- hiring a lawyer, calling in Captain America -- other than aligning aligning herself with the Kingpin. Left unsaid, Reed is basically saying Gwen is doing what suits her interests, getting back her powers and freeing her father. She's not really saving Harry for his sake; as we said, Harry is unlikely to walk into the sunset when he's cured. But, Gwen does it anyway, essentially proving Reed's point. I really have to give Latour credit here for allowing Gwen to be so morally ambiguous. It's a difficult road to hoe, but he really nails the landing (to mix metaphors) here.
Star Wars: Dr. Aphra #10: Gillen continues to remind us that somewhere under that tough exterior Aphra still seeks a certain level of approval. We saw her disappointment when Luke made it clear at the end of the "Screaming Citadel" arc that he couldn't forgive her for using him to get answers about Rur, and here Aphra selects a lower offer for Rur because the Shadow University promises to keep evidence of her cheating buried (allowing her to keep her doctorate) and even allow her access to Rur. Now she just has to survive Rur itself!
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