Bottom of the Pile: December 7th, 2016
Much as I hate to admit it, the second issue of this series isn't nearly as strong as the first. Last issue, in an attempt to take out his rage on the Avengers for kidnapping his infant self, Kang (and his alternate, paradoxical self the The Scarlet Centurion) went back in time and murdered all the Avengers in their cribs, wiping them out from time. Well...all except for Hercules, who Kang either considered beneath his notice or was unable to locate at birth.
This issue, we discover a future version of Kang who discovered the error of his ways basically snatched the Avengers out of time before they could be erased from time, leaving them stranded until a battle with a time-protected Hercules allows them to return for one final battle with Kang. One in which, despite being Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the group kind of gets smacked around like a bunch of chumps. They made such a big deal out of having the six of them be enough but honestly it really looks like they could use an Iron Man and maybe a Scarlet Witch or a Quicksilver.
In any case, it really just feels like not much happens this issue. Vision realizes they'll only be free of Kang if they return the baby back to his birthplace, but then that just raises the question of: why did we do this at all? Vision's plan just seems poorly thought out and not really worth the trouble of raising the ire of Kang since they weren't prepared to fight the guy in the first place. Except Hercules, who had Kang attempt to drain years from his life only to end up backhanding him so hard he got knocked outside reality.
Even the art has kinda lost its appeal to me--last issue it looked mythical, this time it just looks kind of "abstract". Which is almost certainly appealing to many readers, but given this is a story about on time travel and looks to be visiting the future very, very soon--I'd prefer something a little more concrete, with a sleek style that could embody the futuristic tone things have been going after the team took out that ice dragon in issue one.
Still, I'm onboard for the long haul. Mark Waid's a genius and I'm certain he's got a few tricks to surprise me before this story's done.
Random thought: Ever since I learned Cyborg's writer was the head writer for Spider-Man: TAS I've been imagining most of this book with the background music from the cartoon.
Anyway. I'm normally against posting the last image of a reveal, but I'm comfortable doing that this week because it's already Monday and if you haven't read it by now you either need to be convinced, have your spoiler game on lock and wouldn't be reading this anyway, or aren't going to read it regardless. And also because this was the most obvious reveal ever. This is to take nothing away from John Semper Jr. who wrote a great script that would've made an even better cartoon--it's just that it was too perfect.
Scarlett Taylor was a soldier who got caught in an explosion in Iraq--she had some important intel, so to save her life they decided to have her undergo the same experiment Cyborg did. But she's lost her memory due to the traumatic explosion and subsequent transformation, so in the meantime Cyborg decides to aid her in getting acclimated to being part-machine. Over the course of twenty two pages, we see Scarlett learn how to use her new body--how to move, how to fight, how to communicate via frequencies, even how to transform herself into a completely human looking form--all under the helpful, watchful eye of Cyborg. It goes so perfectly that you realize its TOO perfect, and the moment Scarlett (who codenames herself "Variant" to an appropriately hilarious "Meh" reaction from Vic) remembers what she "forgot" in Iraq you realize it's got to be a trap. The core sadness behind Cyborg's character is that it's so sad that he's unique in the world as a cyborg who's trying his best to do right by both humans and (now) artificial intelligence. If you create someone just like him who can fall in love with him and be his perfect partner then he's got very little struggle to deal with anymore and the comic's over (sorta).
So they reach Iraq and run into a bargain basement Bond villain, intent on using his resources to attack America, only for Vic to be knocked out before he can actually stop any of the guy's plans. How could this have happened, you want to ask...except you're not an idiot. Still, the crucial thing here isn't the destination, it's the journey--where's this story go next? Vic's captured and about to be killed until...? Does Scarlett have a change of heart? Did Vic's ex-gf Sarah follow behind and does she save him at the last second? Does Variant turn Vic's chest into a smoking crater chest, leaving the Justice League down a member? That last one's unlikely, but it does make you realize that a military trained version of Cyborg would make an excellent villain for him when all is said and done, doesn't it?
Death of Hawkman
Three issues in and I'm wishing this story was getting more traction with the rest of the comics world. It easily has the potential to grow into something like the 2007's Annihilation, Marvel's enormous space epic that eventually spawned an entire cosmic corner of Marvel's Universe for some of superhero's best sci-fi writers to play in. DC could easily manage something like this if they chose, and thus far this is the perfect foundation for it--there's no small amount of intrigue, one major mystery, and two really cool lead characters that don't get nearly enough spotlight.
This issue opens having shot forward an unspecified time in the future, where war has consumed Thanagar and Adam Strange and Hawkman are being forced to kill just to stay alive. Well, Hawkman is--Adam still remains understandably reluctant. Eventually, the book returns us to where we left off in issue two--with Adam rushing to meet Hawkman to make sense of Thanagar inexplicably attacking Rann, and the normally peaceful planet of Rann rushing headlong into war with their close neighbor. Eventually the two discover Despero, a villain they thought still captured, has escaped and is seemingly placing both sides at war for his own purposes...
I can only guess at what comes next, but I do wonder what this all leads to. DC has just as many noteworthy alien races at Marvel if not more: the Thanagarians, Rannians, Tamarnians, Dominators, the Daxamites, the Korugarians and so many more, including the Kaladorians--Despero's people. At a time where Rebirth is restoring so much of DC's legacy, now more than any other time would be perfect to finally flesh out DC's outer space planets and characters. But it all depends on where this mini-series goes--there's three more issues left.
The third installment of The Phantom Lantern has Simon and Jessica continue battling against our insane Lantern, while their true enemy remains hidden in the shadows. It's kind of great that Green Lanterns and Hal Jordan and the GLC are kind of emotionally opposites. Hal Jordan and the GLC takes advantage of being full of bad-ass Lantern vets who've been through the fire an come out the other side hardened and just generally excellent at their job. It's something desperately necessary after years of seeing them get steamrolled by threats both from within and outside the Corps.
At the same time, Green Lanterns provides the vulnerable version of the Green Lanterns. The combined inexperience of these two allows for doubt and worry to creep in and make these characters more relatable than the heroes who've weathered intergalactic wars and reality-altering threats. In this arc for example, Jessica makes a salient point about how Frank Laminski is kind of already mentally addled and this experimental ring that grants its user the ability to individually control all the colors of the spectrum is probably only wrecking his mind even further, drawing into question the need to attack him like a typical bad guy in the first place. It comes from a place of concern about what would happen if she were in his place, but it's actually a valid point. Thus far Frank's only been a threat when he's been provoked by them or Volthoom--otherwise he's kind of a harmless schmuck that's just got too much power.
On the flipside, Simon is (for whatever reason) concerned that the Green ring doesn't offer "enough" power. Which to me is quite strange--the Phantom Ring doesn't really appear to be stronger than any of the others, just more versatile because it can cycle emotional resources easily. In either case, though this issue had a hint of "filler" to it, I feel like it's going to be important going forward and stopping this whackjob by introducing the idea of convincing him to surrender his ring.
Mister Fanservice is back! I go back and forth on this comic--mostly because Raptor was such a unlikable character for me, but the past couple issues have just been excellent.
After last issue saw Dick Grayson introduced to Bludhaven, this issue sees him arrive there proper. The cool thing about Bludhaven is how it always highlights something Dick Grayson's known for but isn't always openly apparent: his tendency for excess. Everyone acts like Bruce is the guy with no "off" switch and Dick Grayson is the balanced, mentally adjusted one. But when Bruce DOES go out as Bruce, he's a billionaire playboy with a different woman for every day of the year and driving cars that cost more than a dozen people will make in a year. When Dick stops being Nightwing, he tends to do something that's basically more work as Nightwing--last time it was being a cop, this time he's helping sick kids--basically still charity/service-based work involved in helping people. Because Dick doesn't have an off-switch, he's just constantly helping people.
It also certainly seems like Tim Seeley is trying to give Dick a semblance of a "normal" life for superheroes, in that he's setting up what hopefully becomes a supporting cast. Tim Seeley also goes out of his way to explain what the new Bludhaven is actually like--basically an expy of Vegas, where the place's bright lights and casinos would make it an easy choice to visit or even stay, except for all the wanton violence and massive levels of corruption.
Also, at least for this arc, Marcus To is here! I swear this guy is constantly evolving as a creator and is like a sign of instant quality--from Red Robin to New Warriors he's never been anything less than excellent. This issue is filled with a bunch of neat tricks--from how reality just sort of "falls away" when Dick has a mental break where he explains the past events of his current ongoing, to how Dick styles his hair as Nightwing versus his civilian identity.
Of course, things are never easy in Bludhaven (though I certainly hope they end better than last time) and Dick's not even there a day before running into a former villain who claims he's being framed. So much for black and white.
The Clone Conspiracy
After several months of showing New U as this cloning facility run by the Jackal (who we thought to be Miles Warren) and giving us the potential problem of what could happen if Peter helps Miles perfect the formula--this issue sees Peter try working with Horizon Labs in an attempt to fight back against New U, only to discover New U's clutches run deep, and they've already gained control over police, military, and political officials. The end result of this is having the Gwen clone Kaine and Spider-Gwen kidnapped, "unkidnapped" along with Anna Maria--former girlfriend of Spider-Ock and current Parker Industries employee.
Tired of the games, Peter confronts Miles and tries to shut him down, only to discover Miles is just as fast and as strong as he is. Which is when we get this issue's reveal: this hasn't been Miles the entire time! It's been Ben Reilly, Peter Parker clone, last seen dissolving in Peter Parker's arms after Norman Osborn revealed he was still amongst the living.
My violently negative reaction to this is because Ben Reilly--as much as he's apart of one of the most hated on story arcs in comic book fiction--he WAS the one bright spot IN that arc. And the one thing we can say for sure is that Ben died a hero. This thing that's happening--bringing him back in order to be what looks like a MAJOR foe for Peter? I'm not okay with this. Especially since there's a 90% chance that EVERYONE revived in this story will be dead by the end of it, Ben included. And I can't help but feel that Ben was such a cool character that there was no point in bringing him back if he wasn't going to be brought back for good, and with a purpose.
Still, I trust Slott and I'm willing to let him finish his story before I go fully off the handle.
The Unworthy Thor
After months of waiting, we finally know where Thor's actually been all this time. After running into Beta Ray Bill in the last issue, who offers Thor his own hammer Stormbreaker--the two quickly end up in a fight with the people who stole Old Asgard. With the power of two god-like beings, it's a quick fight that's over in seconds--but ever the headstrong viking, Thor charges off after them and gets up close and personal with not only the person who stole Asgard, but the person who holds the Mjolnir from the Ultimate Universe: The Collector. A god himself, The Collector is basically Marvel's version of Brainiac, taking unique bits and bobs from the Marvel Universe and keeping a personal collection of them.
This time he's come across a version of Mjolnir, and is asking Thor how to use it...while Thor is still unable to even pick up his own hammer. After The Collector threatens the life of a helpless alien that was the last of his kind in an attempt to get answers, Thor manages to tap into a small part of the hammer's energy...but is knocked out before he can actually pick the hammer up himself, and the alien is killed anyway. Thor is dragged off and held prisoner, and has been trying to escape for weeks.
Even though this comic is a consistently great read, the one flaw is that the reveals in this series take longer than PS1 load screens. We still don't know why Thor considers himself unworthy in the first place, and that's a loose thread from 2014. At this point if whatever it is isn't HUGE then it'll turn the entire perception of Aaron's run on its head. Still, for now what we have for this mini-series is fascinating--an unworthy god versus the most unworthy god. Jason Aaron does a great job of making you want to punch the Collector in the face despite having known him for less than a full issue if you start with this mini-series. The pay off here is obviously Thor getting the hammer and wreaking all of the righteous justice upon these clowns, and if the downside is this mini only lasts three more issues, the upside is that we know for sure these jerks' reckoning is coming all the sooner.