Barbatos first took notice of Bruce when Darkseid’s Omega Sanction sent him into the past (see "The Return of Bruce Wayne"), and Barbatos decided Bruce would be the perfect doorway to the Light Universe. (I'm not sure why he thought that, since it seems sort of inevitable Bruce would fight against Barbatos using him that way. But, let's just take it as a fact.) The Court of Owls is revealed to be the Judas Tribe, or the Tribe that betrayed the Bird Tribe. (Again, I'm not sure we learn why they betrayed the Bird Tribe, but I feel like it's pretty clear we're supposed to believe Barbatos himself corrupted them.) As devoted Bat Tribe members, the Court helped Barbatos prepare Bruce for serving as the doorway by treating him with four of the five metals necessary to open the portal. First, they exposed him to electrum in "Court of Owls" ("Batman" #5, I believe) and then dionesium in "Endgame" ("Batman" #40). Then, Bruce exposed himself to promethium in "Batman" #49, when he returned his memories, and the Nth metal in "Dark Days: The Casting" #1, when he activated the device Krona built to see into the Universe's origin. (When Krona did so, he apparently saw a black hand reaching toward him. Creepy.) I’ll admit, I don’t really remember any mention of Bruce using promethium to bring back his memories, but I’m willing to let it go, given everything else here is pretty tight (and gets tighter).
As Bruce frantically relates to Superman when he and Wonder Woman finally locate him, he realized he only needed coating with one more metal before Barbatos could enter our world. (Again, I'm not really sure how Bruce got all this information about the metals, but I'm assuming it has something to do with Carter's diary.) To prevent this possibility, Bruce heads to the Temple of Khufu where he intends to use baby Darkseid (really) to Omega Sanction himself into the past and take on Barbatos with Hawkman’s mace, which defeated him once. (I don't really remember us learning Hawkman defeated Barbatos, and I'm pretty sure he's trapped in the Dark Universe. But, bygones.) However, Bruce's plan goes awry when the Court reveals they knew Carter’s journal was in Wayne Manor (...though somehow don't know Bruce is Batman). As such, the Court altered the text to show the location not of the Temple of Khufu, but the Temple of Hath Set. Dun-dun-DUN! Barbatos’ minions seize Bruce, and they coat him with the fifth metal: Geri Powers' batmanium. (Like I said, the story got tighter.) The doorway opens and dark versions of Batman pour into our Universe.
In other words, so far, so good. Although Snyder might not connect all the dots for us, he leaves us enough dots for us to be able to draw our own conclusions. Where he does connect them, the picture makes perfect sense. Also, it's just sort of fun. I don't know how he manages that, given how grim of a topic it is, but I think it's mostly due to the art, as Glapion infuses everything with enough cartoon color to encourage you not to take it all too seriously. For a cross-over event, they're doing pretty well so far.
Secret Empire Omega #1: SO. MUCH. TALKING.
I didn’t really clock that Captain Nazi was still alive at the end of “Secret Empire.” It’s right there, but I had other things on my mind at the time. Here, Steve makes his way to the hole where they’re keeping Captain Nazi to confront the man who damaged his reputation so. If Spencer falters at all here, it’s in his portrayal of Captain Nazi as a more dedicated fascist than the one we saw over the course of the series. Captain Nazi has always been portrayed as having doubts about his path, though the man we see here is unrepentant. Maybe his failure and the death of Elisa have steeled his resolve and finally made him a firm believer in the darker side of the cause, but it's a notable shift in his attitude Spencer doesn't really explain.
At any rate, Steve half-heartedly calls Captain Nazi on his bullshit: Captain Nazi asserts he didn’t do anything the U.S. government didn't authorize him to do as part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act, but Steve dismisses this legalistic argument as hardly acceptable given his destruction of Las Vegas and murder of Jack Flag and Rick Jones. Captain Nazi more or less asks why Steve is there, and Steve tells the story of a young boy who hesitated in fear when Steve tried to help him from the rubble of Washington, DC. But, it’s not really that compelling of a reason, and Captain Nazi concludes Steve’s simply fascinated with the path untaken. Captain Nazi is at his most persuasive when he tells Steve he underestimates the millions of people who whole-heartedly embraced HYDRA. Spencer is at his best here, reminding us we can’t dismiss torch-bearing racists as easily as we’d like. Spencer wraps up the issue with a guard whispering “Hail HYDRA” in Captain Nazi’s ear, a promise to the reader we’ll hear from him again.
The problem is I'm not sure I care. This part of the story more or less mirrors "Captain America" #350, where the Red Skull embedded his consciousness in a cloned version of Steve’s body. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some accident burning away Captain Nazi's face, turning him into the new Skull. But, I hope Marvel doesn't go that route. Captain Nazi isn't wrong when he says HYDRA has changed: as he says, it will no longer see conquering the world as getting the chance to rule it, but regaining a rule HYDRA once had. Marvel has the opportunity to stop using HYDRA as just another incompetent terrorist organization, but a legitimate threat to the established political order. If Marvel does that, "Secret Empire" will have really changed the game, Captain Nazi's continued existence aside. That story would be a lot scary if we didn't have a warmed-over Red Skull redux leading the charge, but instead a new character (preferably a Millennial) who speaks to those people who embraced HYDRA.
Overall, is this issue necessary? No, not really. But, it does remind us Marvel has allowed "Secret Empire" to legitimately change the game (with the possibility of changing it even more). It's a rare cross-over event that does that, so I'll let Marvel have its victory lap.
Amazing Spider-Man #32: Every once in a while, Slott turns in an issue that reminds us what he can do when he focuses on the story in front of him and not whatever overarching drama he’s trying to sell us. In this one-and-done issue, we tour Norman Osborn’s soul. The nanites Peter injected into him are successfully preventing the Goblin Serum from bonding with Norman's DNA, and he’s desperate to solve that problem. An acupuncturist sends him to the Temple of No Name, and, in his first test, he’s revealed to possess great potential for the mystic arts. (His comment that he always tests well made me LOL.) Slott is uncharacteristically good at the details here. Rather than let the similarity to other characters’ journeys go unmentioned, Norman makes exactly this observation to one of his three masters. The master in turn observes certain patterns repeat themselves, but the details are specific to the person: Norman’s struggle might be similar to Dr. Strange’s or Baron Mordo’s, but how it manifests and resolves itself is uniquely his path. In the end, Norma rejects his totem animal (a tiger) and chooses the goblin instead. He summons Spider-Man and defeats him. But, when he kills him, he reveals himself to be a monster, appalling the three masters. It’s here where Slott unveils his cleverest trick: this entire sequence has actually been that first test, one that Norman failed. The masters expel him, noting they’ll warn all the other orders about him. But, Norman, in typical Norman fashion, is undeterred, since the test revealed the Goblin is still somewhere inside him. As I said, the copious details and thoughtful storybuilding are rare for Slott: no loose ends, no deus ex machina, no miracle save. If only we saw this Dan Slott more often...
Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #7: I’m not usually a fan of cosmic interference in storylines, but David’s literal deus ex machina here really works. Marlo is revealed to be Death, and she’s visiting Ben because he’s special: he’s died the most times of anyone in the Universe, and his soul is blackened and cracked. Death is interested in him since he seems to be on a path to redemption, and she’s intrigued by his journey to fix his soul. She assures him he can, but it will take time. (I really hope we get some sort of soul meter at the end of every issue.) Ben tries to convince her to bring back Abigail and Kaine, but she wants him to pick one. He chooses himself (to even the scales), but she refuses. He attacks her, and it’s clear he only wants her to kill him because he just can’t live with himself anymore. It’s an emotional moment, but it ends with Death laughing, something (as you can imagine) she had assured us she didn’t really do. Refreshed after this interaction with a mortal, she grants Ben’s wish. (It’s interesting to note here not even his seemingly altruistic push for Kaine to be resurrected is totally heroic: after all, he’s also somewhat suicidal. It’s a reminder that David may have put Ben on the path to repairing his soul, but the asshole he was as the Jackal is still in there somewhere.) Death even does him one better: his face is fully healed. This part is probably the most controversial one. In terms of the larger story David is telling, neither Abigail nor Kaine needed to die, so returning them to life doesn’t really affect it. But, I think most of us probably expected the degenerative disease Ben had to be more of a focus, a sort of race against time as Ben tried to cure it. But, whatever. I’m on board with David taking it off the board. It’s really the last hangover of “The Clone Conspiracy,” and I feel like we’re on secure footing now. Ben is Ben (if still a little damaged), and he’s on a quest to save his soul, with Kaine nipping at his heels. That’s a story I’m interested in reading.
Detective Comics #964: This issue feels like Tynion was told he had to wrap up the story three issues early. In fact, it’s even worse than that. On several occasions, developments just happen for no apparent reason: Batman suddenly (like, literally, he appears from nowhere) confronts Anarky, Anarky reveals he built his Utopia with the First Victim from the Victim’s Syndicate, Anarky kisses Spoiler, etc. It all just doesn’t make any sense. At one point, Spoiler complains Anarky is always mansplaining everything to her, but I’m pretty sure they’ve only known each other, like, an hour. I mean, sure, I’m totally on board with her kicking his ass for being an asshole, but I don’t understand the sense of familiarity she allegedly feels for him. Also, I don’t get why he’s such a threat to Batman. OK, the First Victim was sort of a terrorist. But, the only thing of which Anarky seems to be guilty is wanting his Utopia to conform with his vision. Um, isn’t that kind of OK? Like, yes, it makes him an egomaniac, but does it make him a terrorist? Batman arrests him and incarcerates him here, but I have absolutely no idea what the charges are. Monologuing? It's all just weird.
Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1: Why do I keep falling for Marvel’s tricks and buying these issues when I know they won’t be good? WHY?
The Realm #1: Holy shit, I can't remember being more excited about a comic after a first issue in ages! As one of the pull quotes says, it's like "Dungeons and Dragons" meeting "The Road." But, it's more than that. Peck and Haun manage to give us a raft of great characters, most notably Will Nolan, our protagonist. But, we'll get to that.
Starting first with the setting, we're witness to two new realities on Earth: some sort of apocalyptic event has largely destroyed it, and said event apparently involved dragons, orc, and sorcerers. We're given a peek at those forces when we see a sorcerer in a floating citadel engage in human sacrifice to commune with his dark god. But, it's a brief interlude. Mostly, our focus is on Nolan, who guides people through dangerous territory in the broken United States. Nolan's client, King, is killed by Sasha, the woman King hired Nolan to bring to him. King told Nolan that Sasha was his daughter, but it turns out she was really someone King traded for antibiotics that proved to be fake. It's unclear to me if Nolan knew Sasha was going to kill King or if she just took advantage of the situation when King had his men try to kill Nolan instead of paying him. If it's the former, I'm intrigued, since it implies Nolan is more than just a guide. In the end, Sasha says they're even, but I'm not sure if it's because she saved Nolan's life or if she paid off a debt to Nolan by killing King for him. Either way, she tells him he'll have to pay the toll like everyone else the next time he crosses her domain, and you get a good sense of the sort of place the Realm is.
Nolan returns to what seems to be home, where he meets with Marcus, his agent, if you will. They're close (maybe very close), and it's good to see. Often, in these sort of stories, the protagonist is a hardened loaner, but Peck and Haun make Nolan an even more interesting character by avoiding that trope. (On a side note, I can't wait to learn more about the toothbrushes that seem to be the Realm's currency.) At any rate, Marcus sends Nolan to meet with Molly and her colleague: they want to hire Nolan to escort them and two scientists to Kansas City. Here, we're introduced to Rook, a gimp-looking spy Nolan uses to make sure his clients are on the up and up. Finally, we're privy to a dream Nolan has, where the blackness that covers his arm starts spreading across his body, turning him into a demon. He awakens, shaken.
In other words, damn, this issue has a lot happening. But, it's all so well paced and scripted, it leaves you wanting more. I can't remember a series more clearly creating such fully realized characters in just one issue, not even "Reborn." Peck and Haun pay extra close attention to detail throughout the issue: the uneven lines Haun uses to create panels conveys how chaotic this world is. It conveys how carefully they've constructed this world and story, and I can't wait for the next issue.
Titans #15: I'm just not sure where Abnett is going here. Does he really think we're going to believe he's killing off Wally so soon after Wally returned? He must, because he keeps putting him in situations where he appears to die. But, since it's hard to believe it's going to stick, it doesn't have the impact he seems to want it to have. (Plus, he keeps doing it over and over again.) Then, you've got the fact that pretty much everyone on the team has been "the traitor" at one point. The tagline for next issue is yet again, "The traitor revealed!" It might as well add, "No, really, seriously, we mean it this time." At this stage, I'm not even sure what the traitor is allegedly doing. I mean, we have some sort of force taking control of Psimon, but it's apparently Lilith who'll ultimately be the threat? Does that mean the "force" will eventually take over her? Also, what does any of that have to do with H.I.V.E.? I can't even remember why H.I.V.E. is holding Psimon prisoner. Weren't they the ones who hired him? I just feel like we're seriously spinning our wheels here.
Uncanny Avengers #27: I don't know why Zub and Izaakse keep insisting on putting Johnny Storm in nothing but tight shorts, but I am not complaining. Talk about an incentive to keep reading! It helps that the story isn't half-bad either. The Avengers engage in some honest-to-goodness teamwork here: Voodoo provides Scarlet Witch an air elemental to help her survive in space, Rogue distracts Graviton so Wanda can return and wallop him, Rogue delivers the coup de grâce by stealing his powers, and Synapse helps her shake off the insanity that comes with said powers. It's solid teamwork from start to finish and fun to read to boot.
Youngblood #5: Man, Bowers is really just keeping up the heat. My only real complaint with this series at this point is his extensive use of flashbacks. I'm having problems remembering how the team came together, and I'm not sure if we would've lost anything in terms of suspense if Bowers had just assembled this story sequentially. For example, Rachel is thrilled to discover Badrock in her apartment, as if she hadn't seen him before that moment. I guess it could be true, but I was pretty sure she was with the team when it originally debuted and he and Shaft went after them. Maybe? Did this scene happen before they assembled the first time? I don't think so, but my confusion over it reveals why it's a problem. At any rate, I get the sense we'll be seeing less use of flashbacks as the story really kicks into gear here. All sorts of crazy stuff is happening with the Byrne brothers. They're not only revealed to be cyborgs, but cyborgs who can merge with one another to create a huge robot. Moreover, one of the "brothers" seems more dominant than the other. But, it's Diehard ripping off Shaft's arm that really reminds me why this series feels so fresh. Whereas Abnett unbelievably keeps threatening to kill off Wally in "Titans," I'm pretty sure Shaft's arm isn't going to miraculously grow back next issue. By giving us realistic stakes, the entire story feels more organic.
Also Read: Dragon Age: Knight Errant #5; Star Wars #36; Star Wars: Dr. Aphra #12; X-Men Blue #11