Monday, May 22, 2017

DC's August previews reviewed

So, what kind of axes do you think those are that Batman is holding on the cover of Dark Days: Metal #1...? Me, I'm guessing they are BATtle axes.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

So DC released their solicitations for the comics they plan to publish in August. For the complete listings, I guess you can go to, even though they don't pay me to write for them anymore. For commentary and more jokes like the one above, but maybe not as funny, you can simply read on...

Written by ROB WILLIAMS • Art and cover by GUILLEM MARCH • Variant cover by MIKEL JANIN
“EVE OF DESTRUCTION” part one! Superman finds himself side by side with Lex Luthor once more, but is his former foe truly committed to being a hero, or is it just a ruse to gain the Man of Steel’s trust? As world events point to something dark on the horizon, the mysterious Mr. Oz makes his final move against the Man of Tomorrow.
On sale AUGUST 9 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Written by ROB WILLIAMS • Art and cover by GUILLEM MARCH • Variant cover by MIKEL JANIN
“EVE OF DESTRUCTION” part two! The inhumanities of Earth put even Superman’s trust to the test as he and Lex Luthor begin to see a pattern emerging that points to Mr. Oz and his agents. When Lex confronts Mr. Oz alone, one walks away changed forever.
On sale AUGUST 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

I think DC's recent comics have been far too Guillem March-less of late, so I'm glad to see he's getting the opportunity to do a big story for one of the publisher's bigger books, even if I don't think a Superman comic is the most natural fit for his particular design and rendering skills (Dude is so good at drawing Batman, and he draws some of the best gargoyles! He'd also be pretty great on the cheesecake-fueled fan-fiction-as-alternative history DC Comics Bombshells, but his style is so different than everyone who has previously drawn that title that it would result in some seriously severe whiplash).

Of course, when I say this is a "big" story, I mean relative to, like, most of the other stuff being solicited for this month. It features Mr. Oz, anyway, which seems to indicate that this will be the next in the Bataan death march towards The Doomsday Clock, and the inevitable re-reboot of DC Continuity.

I kinda hope this is where they finally reveal who the hell Mr. Oz is and what his whole deal is. The obvious answer, Ozymandius, seems so obvious as to be too obvious (and it wouldn't explain his eschewing purple and/or gold in favor of green), so I can't help but imagine it's someone non-Watchmen related, and then give up in frustration when trying to think of who it might be.

Written by HOPE LARSON • Art by CHRIS WILDGOOSE • Cover by DAN MORA • Variant cover by JOSHUA MIDDLETON
“SUMMER OF LIES” part one! Batgirl and Nightwing’s feelings for each other have always run deep…but is their bond built on more than Bat Family loyalty and a long-ago childhood crush? When an old villain comes back into Babs’ life, she and Dick will have to reopen painful wounds and remember a time they’d hoped would remain forgotten. This is an event no Batgirl or Nightwing fan will want to miss!
On sale AUGUST 23 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Among the many things I can't wait for a Doomsday Clock-related reboot to wipe away? Poor Dick Grayson's dumb-ass post-Flashpoint Robin costume.

Written by TOM KING • Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN • Variant cover by TIM SALE
“THE WAR OF JOKES AND RIDDLES” part four! War is hell. Unless it’s in Gotham City, where it’s so much worse. The clash between The Joker and the Riddler continues to escalate, with the rest of the city’s villains picking sides and joining in. In the midst of the battle, Batman must try to save whoever he can while knowing he will forever be haunted by those he can’t.
On sale AUGUST 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Written by TOM KING • Art and cover by MIKEL JANIN • Variant covers by TIM SALE
“THE WAR OF JOKES AND RIDDLES” part five! Batman has done his best to keep the peace, but with neither faction backing down, he may have to choose the lesser of two evils if he wants the violence to end. Will Batman embrace the murderous anarchy of The Joker or the bloody fascism of the Riddler? If he wants to win, he’ll have to choose a side—and either way, he loses.
On sale AUGUST 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Scott Snyder has done a pretty good job of elevating The Riddler into a truly menacing threat to Batman during the course of his run on the character, but he hasn't done so thorough a job that The Riddler seems to be in The Joker's weight-class to me. Ra's al Ghul? Bane? Two-Face? Maybe even The Penguin or, of late, The Scarecrow? They seem like legitimate rivals to The Joker, but I just can't quite picture The Riddler posing a threat to Batman's archenemy. I guess that is one of the functions of this story, though, and I am rather eager to see what King does with it...especially since he'll be working with his "I Am Suicide" artistic partner, rather than his "I Am Gotham" or "I Am Bane" partner.

I've been reading Batman in single issues ever since the "Rebirth" relaunch and renumbering, but I've got to say, knowing Tim Sale is doing variants and that this arc will feature a huge swathe of Batman's rogues gallery really rather makes me wish I was trade-waiting Batman. Sale's versions of many of these characters are among my favorites, and I like his designs of all of them...

Shilo Norman has taken up the mantle of Mister Miracle, following the example of Scott Free by cheating death on a daily basis. But when he pushes himself to the limit, the Black Racer comes calling. Now Shilo is literally running from death itself and a cosmic chase leads both target and hunter across the universe. Also featuring a Fourth-World era reprint!
ONE-SHOT • On sale AUGUST 30 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

This is one of several specials featuring Kirby-created characters that is solicited for August, all of which look to be somewhere between rather dreadful and quite promising, depending on the creative teams involved (this looks closer to promising than dreadful, in my estimation; I mean, it's hard not to enjoy anything that Cowan and Sienkiewicz draw). The idea seems to be a continuity-free (or at least continuity-lite) comic by top talent (and/or Dan DiDio) paired with a reprint of a classic Kirby comic. I'm curious if this will continue into the fall, as there are a handful of Kirby characters that I might have expected to get their own specials that didn't.

Anyway, this one is former Black Panther writer Reginald Hudlin (whose run I managed to read more of than that of Ta'nehesi Coates'!) and the aforementioned Cowan and Sienkiewicz. It also features two of the most prominent black characters Kirby created while working for DC, and it never really occurred to me until just now that it was Jack Kirby that created some of the publisher's earlier black super-people (Black Lightning debuted in 1977, while Norman appeared in 1973 and The Black Racer in 1971).

At last, DC collects Catwoman’s 1990s adventures! Gotham City’s Feline Fatale has turned a new leaf as she faces off with Bane, takes on thugs and includes Knightquest, Knightsend and Zero Hour crossovers!
Collects Catwoman #0-14.
On sale SEPTEMBER 6 • 328 pg, FC, $29.99 US

Ha ha, I was wondering if and when DC would start collecting this series, given how much attention they have paid to various Batman-related books of the '90s recently.

Say what you will about Balent's rendering of the female form in the pages of Catwoman, the man could draw, and I remember him doing a pretty great Batman. And Robin. And Azrael as Batman. And Two-Face. And Scarecrow. He also displayed a rather remarkable stick-to-it-ivness that was rather rare for an Big Two artist back then, and only more so now. I haven't seen much of Balent's post-Catwoman artwork, aside from what Chris Sims used to post on his Invincible Super-Blog to make fun of, but I don't really care for his current style as much as his Catwoman-era art, some of which might be attributable to his having worked with some truly great inkers back then, and some of which is due to the fact that I just prefer the way they used to make comics back then, when computers were less omnipresent.

I personally didn't care for this initial chunk of the what would end up ultimately being an eight-year, 96-issue series...which Balent stuck around for the first 77-issues of. Of the issues included in this trade, Duffy wrote the first fourteen, while Doug Moench wrote the #0 issue. I think the strongest runs on this particular book were those written by Chuck Dixon and, later and especially, Devin Grayson. As Dixon comes on with issue #15, I suspect the second volume of this will be a bit more enjoyable than this first one for most Batman and/or Catwoman fans, but, in the mean time, here's about 330-pages of Balent's Catwoman, including encounters with the Jean-Paul Valley version of Batman.

In this final issue, will Power Girl join Faora in creating a new Krypton? When given the chance to avenge her family on Hugo Strange, will Lois Lane take the shot? Then, find out which side Lex Luthor has truly been on, and what this means for the future of the Bombshells!
Watch for the return of the Bombshells in an all-new series coming soon!
On sale AUGUST 16 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST

What? "Final issue"...? Nooooooooooooooooooooo-- Oh, wait. I didn't read far enough. There's an "all-new series" coming soon. Well, hopefully they just keep on keeping on, only with a new #1, as there's relatively little I would change about the series, and that which I would might not be feasible if they want to keep their current publishing schedule. That is, I'd rather it be drawn by a single artist, rather than changing artists every ten pages or so.

Well, I'd change that, and I'd definitely put President Eleanor Roosevelt on-panel.

And maybe make it "Rated M," so it could be naughtier...

“LONGER CHAINS” part one! Having exiled herself from Batman’s world, Spoiler has nearly destroyed herself trying to expose the corruption of Gotham City’s vigilantes. Fortunately for her, help has arrived…but unfortunately for the city, it’s in the form of the mysterious Anarky! Is he truly on the side of the people, or is he a dangerous lunatic?
On sale AUGUST 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Anarky...? I love Anarky! And this book already has or had Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain and The General in it...! This book really has all the makings of a dream Batman book for me personally...if it weren't set on the wrong side of Flashpoint, and the versions of all of those characters appearing in its pages weren't all mangled beyond (almost) all recognition and (almost) all affection.

I was kinda hoping Anarky wouldn't appear again in The New 52-isverse, as I've managed to avoid reading the Detective Comics arc (from the previous volume of the series, not this third volume) because I was afraid to see what DC did to him. All I know for sure is that his costume is terrible now.

Written by JOSHUA WILLIAMSON • Art and cover by CARMINE DI GIANDOMENICO • Variant cover by HOWARD PORTER
“NEGATIVE” part one! It’s a bleak new day as the citizens of Central City meet Negative-Flash! He’s got a terrible attitude and volatile powers that leave a wake of destruction wherever he goes. Exactly the kind of person you’d want The Flash to put behind bars. There’s just one problem: he is The Flash! Can Barry Allen get his new powers under control before they kill him?
On sale AUGUST 9 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T

Negative-Flash, huh? Well I guess at this point they have so damn many Reverse-Flashes they had to come up with something new to call evil opposites of The Flash.

The original Kid Flash's original costume always freaked me out.

Written by JEFF PARKER • Art and cover by ARIEL OLIVETTI • Variant cover by STEVE RUDE
After the thrilling events of FUTURE QUEST, a new age of adventure begins! First up, Space Ghost and his young wards Jan and Jace team up with the Herculoids to rebuild the mighty Space Force. Will they rise again to become defenders of the galaxy? Or is there something lurking in the shadows ready to stop them for good?
On sale AUGUST 16 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Space Ghost, Future Quest, Green Lantern/Space Ghost and now this. Come on, DC: Just go ahead and introduce Space Ghost into the DC Universe proper already. Have him join the Justice League. It will be awesome.

For the first time, DC collects the complete run of Jack Kirby’s MISTER MIRACLE in one stand-alone color volume! Traded as an infant as part of a peace pact between the twin worlds New Genesis and Apokolips, Scott Free grew up in the cruel care of Granny Goodness to become a super escape artist who fights for freedom. Along the way, he battles Darkseid’s forces, including Dr. Bedlam, Kanto the assassin, the Female Furies and more, with the help of his assistant, Oberon, and former Apokoliptean enforcer Big Barda.
Collects MISTER MIRACLE #1-18.
On sale SEPTEMBER 20 • 448 pg, FC, $29.99 US

No lie, this is one of the all-around best superhero comics I've ever read.

Written by TOM KING • Art by MITCH GERADS • Cover by NICK DERINGTON • Variant cover by MITCH GERADS
From the team behind THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON and the Hugo Award-nominated writer of Vision comes a unique new take on one of Jack Kirby’s most beloved New Gods.
Scott Free is the greatest escape artist that ever lived. So great that he escaped Granny Goodness’ gruesome orphanage and the dangers of Apokolips to travel across galaxies and set up a new life on Earth with his wife, the former female fury known as Big Barda. Using the stage alter ego of Mister Miracle, he has made a career for himself showing off his acrobatic escape techniques. He even caught the attention of the Justice League, which counted him among its ranks.
You might say Scott Free has everything…so why isn’t it enough? Mister Miracle has mastered every illusion, achieved every stunt, pulled off every trick—except one. He has never escaped death. Is it even possible? Our hero is going to have to kill himself if he wants to find out.
Written by Tom King (BATMAN) and illustrated by Mitch Gerads (The Punisher), this is a MISTER MIRACLE unlike any you’ve read before.
On sale AUGUST 9 • 32 pg, 1 of 12, FC, $3.99 US • MATURE READERS

I mentioned my excitement and reservations about this book in the previous post, as last week's issue of Batman served in some ways as a preview of what this particular creative team can do with a DC superhero. I really like the cover by Nick Derington, and it kind of makes me wish he was handling the interiors as well, but I'm definitely interested in giving this book a shot. I really like this character, who I think should--along with Captain Marvel and Plastic Man--be pretty much a permanent fixture on the Justice League roster, along with the Big Seven.

Written by HOWARD CHAYKIN • Art and cover by HOWARD CHAYKIN
Jack Kirby’s two wartime kid gangs share their first adventure together in a novel-length tale written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin! When the Boy Commandos arrive in New York on the trail of a secret Axis agent, they’re greeted as turf invaders by the crime-fighting Newsboys! Can these kids put aside their rivalry and join forces to protect the home front? Also features a Kirby reprint!
ONE-SHOT • On sale AUGUST 9 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

I have no idea what Chaykin is going to do with these two groups of characters, but I love the idea of smashing them both into a single story.

Don’t miss two new tales starring Jack Kirby’s costumed Master of Nightmares from the 1970s. Sandman, Brute and Glob battle an onslaught of dreams so powerful that they are invading the dreams of other people! Then, a grown-up Jed Walker returns to his childhood home, only to find himself haunted by dreams from the past. Plus: a seldom-seen Sandman story from the 1970s!
ONE-SHOT • On sale AUGUST 16 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T

An unfortunate side-effect of the success of Neil Gaiman's reinvention of Kirby's 1970s Sandman for DC Comics in the early '90s in the pages of The Sandman was the fact that Gaiman's series included just enough of the source material that it made any future use of the character more-or-less undesirable (And when DC did publish other comics starring a Sandman, they went with the Golden Age version, rather than this superhero who patrols the dreams of children version). In fact, this version of Sandman was so scarce for so long that I remember thinking it genuinely scandalous when the Geoff Johns-written JSA incorporated elements of it into the "Waking The Sandman" arc.
I wasn't the only one who clutched my pearls when I first saw this cover, was I?
(If I recall correctly, Sandy Hawkins went by the codename "Sand" during most of the JSA/Justice Society of America run because DC wouldn't let them call him The Sandman. Is that correct? Or did I dream that?)

Anyway, he's back! Dan Jurgens' writing is...well, it's reliable, and that's probably good enough for a one-shot homage comic like this. And I'm genuinely eager to see Jon Bogdanove's art again, as I see it so rarely these days.

For any fans of Kirby's seventies Sandman who might have missed it, do check out The Allred Family's Bug!: The Adventures of Forager #1, as he is rather prominently featured in that issue (Also that comic is awesome).

Written by ROB WILLIAMS • Art and cover by CLAY MANN • Variant cover by BILL SIENKIEWICZ
“DARK DESTINY” part one! Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman must turn to the mystic trinity of Dead Man, Zatanna and John Constantine when Red Hood, Artemis and Bizarro are sacrificed into the depths of the Pandora Pits by Circe and Ra’s al Ghul.
On sale AUGUST 16 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Okay, let me get this straight. There's the title trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, who turn to the "mystic trinity" of Deadman (it's all one word, DC Comics Solicitation Writer!), Zatanna and John Constantine in order to help them rescue the dark trinity of Red HOod, Artemis and Bizarro? That's three trinities! A trinity of trinities!

I don't know if I should groan or applaud. I will go with a slow clap. I will need both hands to do it though, so I will have to stop typing for the night now.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: May 17th

Archie #20 (Archie Comics) Well this series got serious fast! Writer Mark Waid, again working with Pete Woods, starts in his usual comedy mode, and, indeed, for much of the issue tells the usual jokes about how clumsy Archie is, but the ending involves a terrible car crash in which three vehicles get totaled, and three of the characters on the cover are involved. It's a cliffhanger--in fact, at least one car goes over a cliff--so we don't know exactly who is in jeopardy at this point, but what whiplash. I suppose that's the point, of course, and Waid managed to make it feel dramatic precisely because it was such a sudden change of tone.

It strikes me as a little less dramatic than the fate of Reggie's newly acqured Vader at the end of Reggie and Me, however, as there's no way any of these three are actually going to be killed off.

The reason that Archie is so easily goaded by Reggie felt a little unconvincing to me, as this was literally the first time it came up, and was probably something Waid could have/should have laid the groundwork for in earlier issues. I was also a little surprised to hear Archie talking about the fact that he hates Reggie, which is a pretty damn strong word for Archie. I mean, Reggie's a jerk, but he's always been more of Archie's frenemy and rival than someone good-natured doofus Archie would use the h-word about, right?

Of course, there's a TV show in which Archie had sex with Ms. Grundy airing these days, so it's not like the rules of Riverdale aren't more malleable than ever.

This issue, by the way, is labeled on the cover as "Over The Edge Part 1." Waid has worked in arcs throughout the previous 19 issues, and this has been one big ongoing storyline, but this is the first time that an issue has been specifically labeled as part of a multi-part story arc.

Batman #23 (DC Comics) Writer Tom King takes a break from his ongoing "I Am ____" story arcs for a done-in-one "The Brave and The Mold" with guest-artist Mitch Gerards (King's partner on Vertigo's The Sheriff of Babylon, which is heavily promoted with a house ad within this very issue). The cover bills it as "The STRANGEST Team-Up in History!" which is just...weird, no matter how you parse it. It's not like Batman is teaming up with the center-fielder for The Gotham Knights or the ghost of Emily Bronte or my grandfather; it's just Swamp Thing, a character who Batman has teamed-up with plenty of times before and who is, in fact, in Batman's regular team-up rotation, along with the likes of Deadman and Zatanna (In fact, I'm fairly certain there are enough Batman/Swamp Thing team-ups that DC could fill-out a trade paperback entitled The Greatest Batman/Swamp Thing Team-Ups Ever, and maybe even a big, fat Batman: Arkham--Swamp Thing collection. Only Mike Sterling knows for sure! Well, Mike Sterling and some other people, I guess).

What is perhaps slightly strange about this issue is that it is a murder mystery involving a character incredibly close to Swamp Thing--Alec Holland's birth father--who is found shot twice in the head in an apartment on the 84th floor of a building in Gotham City. Swamp Thing arrives at the scene of the crime, and he and Batman spend the majority of the issue trying to figure out who the killer might be and how to find him. They do.

There's a pretty great two-page spread in the middle of the issue, in which Swamp Thing visits Wayne Manor, and in general the interplay between the two characters is a lot of fun. It's nice to see a character who towers over Batman, for a change, and to see Swampy crammed into Robin's seat in the Batmobile.

I was a little unconvinced by the high-drama here, which ultimately involved two ways of looking at death, each articulated by Swamp Thing, and then reacted to rather fiercely by Batman. One way involves a sort of acceptance, the other a sort of rage tinged-with-acceptance, but both involve ways of looking at death as part of the natural world, neither of which would be too terribly comforting to most human beings, Batman, I would guess, included. (The gist of it is that Batman would prefer the way of looking at death that is more positive, but, like I said, this is basically an argument over whether his parents are tree food or dust; a more convincing take on this came at the end of the Spectre team-up in 1997's Batman #540-#541, as at least that big guy in green dealt in souls, and with Heaven and Hell...more traditional human concepts of what might happen after death).

I liked seeing Ace, introduced in that Eisner-nominated* short-story from Detective Comics, curled up on the two-page spread, even though it did make me wonder about Titus. Do the two dogs get along? Does Titus leave in San Francisco now? Or is Wayne Manor big enough that the two hardly ever even run into one another...?

Also, King manages to work Kite-Man in again. At this point I think King is just including Kite-Man in ever script just to see how long DC will let him do so.

I was a little disappointed in Gerads' artwork, which only really alarmed me because I had heard the very exciting news that there would be a new Mister Miracle series soon, and it was going to be by King...and Gerads. I'm not personally crazy about this sort of super-realistic style, as anyone reading this blog for long probably knows (I would have preferred, for example, to see variant cover artist Tim Sale draw the interiors of this issue, instead of the 20 or so variants he's probably done at this point).
Gerads still sells what needs to be sold; I really liked the monstrous quality he invests a big, ape-like Swamp Thing with (particularly his entrance into the museum), for example, and the sight gags of the awkward pairing of heroes all work well.

On the other hand, I have no idea how Swamp Thing made his entrance; specifically, what he made his entrance out of. It looks like a paperweight, or rot. Based on the title, I'm assuming a hunk of bread gone moldy, but I honestly don't know.

I'm still looking forward to Mister Miracle, but not as much as I was before reading this...

DC Comics Bombshells #27 (DC) Wait, I don't think I like whichever artist drew the middle section of this issue...! There's a scene where a bunch of monsters and creatures of folklore attack a circus, and it's just as confusing as all get-out. If the narration wasn't explaining what on Earth was going on, I surely wouldn't have been able to find, like "sides" in the conflict, or figure out who or what was doing what to who or what...

The first two-thirds of the book involve Raven running away with Harley and Ivy for Russia, while the final third picks up with Supergirl, Steve Trevor and Lex Luthor on the train. Nice cover, and I Mirka Andolfo's character work was as fun as always, but this was overall a bit of a disappointment, I'm afraid, as the art too rarely effectively sold what the script called for (There's some stuff with the flying manta ray too that it's easy to imagine looking really cool if drawn differently, but which just looks confusing here).

Flash #22 (DC) This is it! The conclusion of Batman/Flash/Watchmen pin crossover "The Button," in which our heroes finally figure out the true nature of the button and solve the mysterious murder of The Reverse-Flash!

Or at least that's what I thought it would be. Instead, the story ends with Batman, apparently acting on the advice of his father from the Flashpoint reality to not be Batman, decides to give up. See November's The Doomsday Clock, advertised on a two-page spread in the back of this issue, for more. (Batman will presumably go back to being Batman, however, given all the Batman comics DC needs to put out between now and November.)

In retrospect, not a whole hell of a lot happened in this story arc, at least not a whole hell of a lot that you didn't already know from reading DC Universe: Rebirth. My main takeaways were that DC continuity is confusing and is still in a very, very long state of flux, in addition to a handful of refugees from the previous continuity (Johnny Thunder, Saturn Girl) there's a Justice League storage room full of objects from the previous continuity, and Wally West wasn't the only Flash bouncing around the Speed Force, seeking to break back into reality (see the cover). As for Jay Garrick, unlike Wally he doesn't make it into the current DCU, but disappears shortly after rescuing the marooned Barry Allen and Batman.

I had fun reading these four issues while I was reading them, but now that I've finished the fourth and final chapter, I can't say that it was necessarily worthwhile, if that makes sense. (Well, in retrospect, the Batman/Reverse-Flash fight scene was still pretty cool, and...yeah, that's all that really holds up.)

Pretty nice cover here, though.

Jughead #15 (Archie) With writer Ryan North gone, and with pre-Ryan North writer Chip Zdarsky not returning, this would have probably been a good time to drop Jughead, save for two factors. One, artist Derek Charm, who I maintain is the best of Archie's current line-up of artists, is still here and two, this issue guest-stars not only Sabrina The Teenage Witch (and Salem, who Charm's version of is the best version of of all time) but also Josie and The Pussycats, and really, how could i not read that?

The writing team is Mark Waid, joined by Ian Flynn; Waid's done okay by Jughead in the main Archie title, but his forte isn't exactly comedy, and I was unsure of how well he would be able to handle the current Jughead book, which isn't just funny, but also ridiculously dense with gags (I'm actually having trouble thinking of any comedic comic writer whose scripts are as gag-dense as North's) and often wildly absurd. Waid and Flynn definitely get the absurdity part down just fine: Jughead misses an opportunity to get a ticket to The Pussycats' Riverdale show, so Sabrina tries to help, casting a spell that accidentally makes Josie, Valerie and Melody all fall madly in love with Jughead Jones, whoever that is, and, later, all of the girls in Riverdale.

What would be a dream come true for Archie or Reggie is, of course, Jughead's worst nightmare, as established by North and Charm in their Sabrina-centric arc.

This is a premise with a lot of potential, so Waid and Flynn are off to a good start.

Also, Charm draws some epic eye-rolls on his darling version of Salem.

Justice League/Power Rangers #4 (Boom Studios) After figuring out a way to punch through to the Power Rangers' home universe, Batman suits the kids up with costumes and weapons from the Justice League armory (So that Trini is dressed like Katana, Billy wears Prometheus' helmet and has Blue Devil's trident and so on) and they all go after Brainiac, who has already shrunk Angel Grove and added it to his collection.

There's a scene where The Flash tries to explain Green Arrow's boxing glove arrow to Kimberly, and she cuts him off:
No. I get it. It's for when you want to punch someone who's a long way away. It makes perfect sense.
I re-read that panel twice, and was about to accuse the writer of this issue of stealing that from the writer of Injustice, where Green Arrow and Harley Quinn first bonded over a boxing glove arrow with pretty much those exact same words, when I realized that Justice League/Power Rangers is written by Tom Taylor...who also wrote that scene in Injustice. And I guess it's not really stealing if you're stealing from yourself.

This series, like that first Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover, remains fine, but somewhat disappointing in that it's not everything I want it to be, nor everything I think it could be.

Nightwing #21 (DC) After the rather rocky first story arc ("Better Than Batman") introducing Raptor, I felt like Tim Seeley really found his footing with Nightwing, and the last two story arcs were so solid that I finally added the book to my pull-list last week. And...Seeley's not writing this issue. Rather, a Michael McMillian is, with Christian Duce providing the artwork.

Despite my initial disappointment, McMillian did a pretty fine job here. It's a done-in-one, superfirends-hang out issue, in which a bored Wally West speeds to Bludhaven in order to visit his life-long friend Nightwing (this is a little awkward at the moment, given the uncertainty of DCU continuity, as Wally hasn't existed in the current continuity until DC Comics: Rebirth, and his history with various characters is subjective, but I think it works here, as Nightwing and the other Titans from Titans seem to have recovered their memories of Wally West, even though they don't really line-up with either the old continuity or the current continuity.

Anyway, Nightwing and The Flash hang out for 20-pages, inevitably fighting a supervillain with the kind of comic book-science high-tech gizmo that a classic one-off Flash villain might have.

Superman #23 (DC) Fair warning, I'm going to spoil the last pages of this issue, which explains why this story arc is called "Black Dawn." As you likely know, I don't generally worry much about spoilers in these posts, but given that there are only two events in this issue that are of any real interest and/or likely to be picked up on in the future, and the reveal is one of them, I guess knowledge of it could actually ruin the reading experience of this issue, so, um, "spoiler alert," okay?

As it turns out, this issue reveals that the current "Black Dawn" arc, which in itself is a bit of a culmination of the Kents' lives in Hamilton County up until this point, is yet another riff on the modern classic Joe Kelly-written story from 2001's Action Comics #775, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and The American Way?", which pitted the classic superheroics of Superman against the cynical, amoral super-combat represented by WildStorm's then-popular The Authority, by having Superman meet The Elite, a DCU analogue to The Authority, lead by Manchester Black.

It was a very good story, and popular enough that DC riffed on it repeatedly, with Manchester Black becoming a recurring Superman villain, and Kelly even writing a Justice League spin-off title for a time called Justice League Elite. I'm abut 90% sure I remember seeing Manchester Black in the New 52, I want to say in some dumb Teen Titans arc, but I honestly don't know. It may not matter at this point anyway, as "Superman Reborn" restored Superman's pre-New 52 continuity, which presumably effects the characters that participated in it to some level of indeterminate degree. So this might be the first time we've seen this new version of Manchester Black since...I don't know when, actually.

The Elite, here referred to as The Super Elite and made up entirely of new members, are a curious thing in the post-Flashpoint DCU, now that the WildStorm characters are fully integrated into the DCU. That is, there's no real reason for an Authority analogue when you have easy access to The Authority itself, and there's no real reason for a Jenny Sparks analogue when you have access to the real Jenny Sparks, right? (At the moment, however, I think the only WildStorm character still functioning in the DCU to any extent is The Midnighter, and his partner Apollo. But that's about it...? The current series The Wild Storm seems to be rebuilding the characters in a universe of their own, although who knows what that will ultimately mean for the status of the characters in the DCU.)

A DCU with both The Authority--or at least the characters from the pages of The Authority--and The Elite feels slightly redundant. But we'll see; at the moment, this is just a reveal, and we've no idea what they will be doing, exactly.

It's nice that this particular arc fell to Superman pencil artist Doug Mahnke, as he drew the original Elite story, and plenty of those that followed. He is here inked again by too many inkers, and this is one of the unfortunate issues where it is apparent from the art that there are too many inkers in the kitchen. Er, studio.

*Which totally doesn't deserve the nomination, by the way. That short story was drawn by David Finch, who did a literally incompetent job on the art. There's a panel where Batman finds Ace in a "pit" with the corpses of a few other dogs, where The Joke apparently left them all, and Finch draws the pit just a few inches deep, so that any or all of the dogs could easily have stepped out of it at any time, rather than having been forced to kill one another. Feh.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Civil War II: Choosing Sides

Ever since the first Marvel Civil War, the majority of the publisher's big, line-wide crossover events have been accompanied by a companion miniseries, generally showing the how the world-changing goings-on of that year's story is impacting the normal people of the Marvel Universe, or perhaps the many, many lower-tier characters who don't show up in the crossover event proper, or have books of their own that can be tied-in to the the event. Civil War had Civil War: Front Line, World War Hulk had World War Hulk: Front Line, Fear Itself had Fear Itself: The Home Front, and so on*. For last year's Civil War II, that companion series was Civil War II: Choosing Sides, a six-issue anthology miniseries, each featuring a chapter of a Nick Fury story written and drawn by Declan Shalvey entitled "Past Prologue," plus two short stories featuring various Marvel characters.

It is surprisingly quite good, with most of the stories being good ones, almost all of them being interesting ones, and only a few being neither.

It should be noted that the sub-title is more-or-less random. Few of the stories have anything at all to do with their stars deciding if they are Team Carol or Team Tony--as discussed though, there aren't really "sides" in this particular civil war, beyond the ones that exist for its sole battle in in #4 and #5--but rather with the characters reacting to various story beats from Civil War II, some quite personally, others in a more vague way.

It should furthermore noted that the cover doesn't really reflect the sides of the civil war. Aside from Captain Marvel and Tony Stark, and Medusa, Captain America and Black Panther, most of the characters dpeicted play relatively small roles in Civil War II...if they appear in the main series, or this companion series, at all. They certainly aren't pictured on the right "sides" here. Vision fights against Carol, for example, while Spider-Man sits that particular fight out. Star-Lord and Ms. America fight on Carol's side, while Daredevil sits it out. Not that comic book covers have ever been all that strictly reflective of their contents, but given the title of this particular series and the arrangement of the cover images, it sure seems to heavily imply that what we're looking at are Team Carol and Team Tony, and that the stories under this cover will show how the various heroes chose which side they would fight on.

In the trade paperback collection, the contents are slightly rearranged, so that all of the Nick Fury chapters run consecutively without break, making for a single, uninterrupted, 40-page story, the rest of the short stories following it.

Let's take them one by one...

Nick Fury in "Post Prologue" by Decan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

While SHIELD has long-since proliferated to the point that they serve as supporting characters in just about every Marvel Universe comic, one imagines this is exactly the sort of comic that would run in a SHIELD monthly, if such a thing existed, and the concept was kept rather tightly relegated to a single, super-spy series within the Marvel Universe.

The Nick Fury is not the original one, but the one who looks like Sam Jackson--not the original one that looks like Sam Jackson, but the other one. That is, not Ultimate Nick Fury from the Ultimate Universe, but Nick Fury Jr. from Earth-616. Isn't it cool how incredibly complicated the road can be to get to something presumably simple and "easier," like a degree of synergy between what the comic book, cartoon and movie versions of a particular character might look like...?

Shalvey's story is just barely related to the plot of Civil War II. SHIELD Commander Maria Hill sends Nick Fury on a mission based on intel from "The Inhumans' precog--Ulysses" to wipe out a particular Hydra cell that, if successful in its mission, could spell doom for SHIELD. A version of the specific prophecy is repeatedly voiced through a fight scene in the first chapter: "SHIELD must live! Fury must die!" and there's a double-cross involved. As far as the prophecy goes, like those in a lot of the Civil War II tie-ins, it's rather cryptic, and ultimately turns out to be true-ish; that is, true, but not in the way that the people acting upon it think it is, and their attempt to prevent it only fulfill it.

Fury, outfitted in a personalized version of the standard SHIELD uniform, with a big SHIELD eagle emblem on his chest and a trench coat, has to fake his own death and go solo to route out a rogue faction of SHIELD within SHIELD. It's a nice, straightforward story, featuring some neat gimmicks in Fury's souped-up super-suit (which has some neat visuals to accompany its functions) and a satisfyingly inevitable, expected conflict, all carried along by Shalvey's clean, elegant artwork and fleet storytelling. It reminded me a bit of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's Black Widow, which is quite appropriate given that it shares a specific genre and a few plot points with that book. Also, Black Widow shows up for a few pages to unknowingly fight Fury.

I can't imagine a Marvel getting a Nick Fury series to work at the moment, but this story sure works, and it's not hard to imagine the publisher getting a Declan Shalvey series to work.

"Night Thrasher" by Brandon Easton, Paul Davidson and Andrew Crossley

The first of the 10-page short stories stars Night Thrasher, the former New Warriors character whose "powers" revolved around his super-skateboard (He was one of the two black, super-skateboarding heroes of late '80s marvel that lead to the late, great Dwayne McDuffie's sarcastic proposal for a series entitled Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers). Set during the battle against The Celestial Destructor and its foot soldiers from Civil War II #1, the all hands on deck threat that was Ulysses' first prediction, it is basically just Night Thrasher Dwayne Taylor introducing himself to readers via narration, as he and the rest of the Marvel Universe fight off the invader. During the course of the battle, he crosses paths with both Iron Man Tony Stark, who he finds to be kind of an arrogant jerk (notably, the two have a lot in common), and Captain Marvel Carol Danvers.

To Easton's credit, he is able to craft an actual story out of this, accentuating the character's street-level focus and giving him an important side-quest. He also gets to the opportunity to point out that as dangerous as the fantasy land version of Marvel's New York City may seem during fantastical threats like this, it ain't got nothing on the fucked-up aspects of a lot of real American cities for real people. It's actually a bit of a sucker punch of an ending, but it is effective.

On the other hand, he has Night Thrasher seem a little too defensive about his skateboard, refusing to even call it a skateboard, and bristling when Tony does. Look Turner, you're the one calling yourself Night Thrasher. You're just gonna have to own that.

"Damage Control" by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, Leonardo Romero and Miroslav Mrva

This story starring the members of the Marvel Universe's post-superhero battle clean-up and reconstruction crew is set in the immediate aftermath of the Everyone Vs. The Celestial Destructor battle that readers of the first issue of this series would have just finished reading about through Night Thrasher's point-of-view.

The business is in a bit of trouble, made worse by the fact that someone seems to be vandalizing their equipment in the middle of their job cleaning up after this latest battle. That "someone" turns out to be Trull The Unhuman, an alien being in the form of a sentient steam shovel...and evil sentient steam shovel. (I had to look him up, but turns out he is not original to this story, and is an old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation).
How it is that a Kirby/Lee sentient steam shovel has never before appeared in a Damage Control story, I don't know, but writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims finally make it so. Romero's art is excellent, and of the same classy, classic aesthetic of the previously mentioned Samnee and a handful of other artist working for the publisher these days. His version of Trull makes the story, as does the fact that his realistic human beings contrast so sharply with the steam shovel with an angry face.

"War Machine" by Jeremy Whitley and Marguerite Sauvage

We're still not to the civil warring point in Civil War II, but this short story picks up on one of the plot-points from the first few issues of the event series: The death of War Machine James "Rhodey" Rhodes. Specifically, his funeral, and how a handful of female heroes of color process his death in snippets of two-pages apiece.

The eight-page story is book-ended by America (former Young Avenger and current member of The Ultimates, who was at the battle in which Rhodey died), tries to keep Hawkeye Kate Bishop at a distance, and explains how her ability to punch her way into different realities allows her a certain perspective on Rhodes' death, which she shares.

Between those two pages are a series of three, two-page vignettes starring Spectrum Monica Rambeau, Misty Knight and Storm, each narrated by each character.

There's so much telling in these rather wordy eight pages that it's easy to see how this comic could have been a bit of slog to read, but it's drawn by the incomparable Marguerite Sauvage, so every panel is beautiful, perfectly rendered and slightly radiant.

"Goliath" by Brandon Thomas and Marco Rudy

The original Civil War featured a single casualty, Goliath Bill Foster, who was essentially murdered for resisting arrest cyborg that his peers Mister Fantastic and Iron Man had created from the genetic material of their other colleague, Thor. Oops. So there's something that both of Marvel's Civil Wars have in common--both kill off a prominent hero of color.

Foster's legacy was later carried on by his nephew, Tom Foster. I lost track of the character shortly after he was introduced--around the time of World War Hulk, I believe--but apparently he did something at some point to land himself in jail. This short story is narrated by a prison guard working at the supervillain jail where Foster was serving time, in which the young hero-turned-villain regains the use of his powers and has the opportunity to do bad, do good or just get the heck out of there. He chooses to do good.

The story is mostly a little character sketch, the purpose of which seems to be the rehabilitation of Tom Foster, but it's presence in the closest of the Civil War II tie-in books is appreciated, as it provides a rather rare call back to the original Civil War story (For the most part, Bendis' invocations of the first Civil War only consist of things like Tony saying he's learned not to disagree with Captain America, or other characters mentioning that all the heroes are fighting "again").

Thomas also ties it to the death of Rhodes, with the narrator explicitly comparing the two heroes at the outset.

"Kate Bishop" by Ming Doyle and Stephen Byrne

So how does the other Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, feel about her sometimes crime-fighting partner and the guy she named herself after being on trail for shooting Bruce Banner in the forehead with a super, Hulk-killing arrow? That's what this story is for! She's...not happy. Most of the story focuses on her trying to shut out news that can't help but assault her, and writer Doyle probably over does it with Bishop's narration, as the scenes she lays out for artist Stephen Byrne to draw are pretty self-explanatory. But the resolution is a fun one, as most of her teammates from the last iteration of the Young Avengers--Wiccan, Hulkling, Ms. America and Prodigy--show up to be there for her. Also, Pizza Dog.

"J. Jonah Jameson" by Derek Landry and Filipe Andrade

So I guess Jonah runs some kind of Fox-esque news channel now, rather than a newspaper...? He was the mayor of New York City last time I saw him, I believe. There's not a whole lot to this story, which is essentially one big walk-and-talk scene between Jonah and a bespectacled, bow-tied Robbie Robertson type (That is, someone for Jonah to talk to in the office).

Mos of the talking part revolves around how they are covering the Barton trial, and it's not a whole lot clearer who is representing who here, but Matt Murdock does seem like maybe he's acting as the prosecutor (I still don't know why the case is being tried in New York City, though), as New Robertson refers to "Murdock's office" and "Barton's team" as if they are different entities.

Andrade's art is quite nice, and differs quite sharply stylistically from the more standard superhero art of Byrne in the story that preceded it, and pretty much everyone else's art in this book.

"The Punisher" by Chuck Brown and Chris Visions

So what is The Punisher's role in this here superhero civil war? He doesn't have one. He's just going around murdering criminals, as per usual. This story has so little to do with Civil War II, one wonders why it was even commissioned. The criminals/victims, who are attempting to steal a deadly virus from a lab, mention that there's a guy who can see the future now, and worry that maybe he's predicted the crime they are in the process of carrying out, and...that's about it, really. The Punisher arrives, and kills them.

Visions' art has a loose, sketchy look to it, and he draws big figures with big, thick lines, but aside from it's interesting look and some meta-commentary on casting Finn Jones as Danny Rand on Netflix's Iron Fist**, there's nothing to this.

"Power Pack" by John Allison and Rosi Kampe

The Power Pack's Jack, Julie and Katie visit Empire State University Campus, and briefly chat about current events, like Hawkeye having killed Bruce Banner, and the existence of Ulysses.

"If people are going to die, and you can stop it, then stop it before it happens!" Jack says. "Just do it!"

"Why does it hav eto be just one thing or another? It's stupid to take sides," Katie says. "Things are very complicated. Very very very complicated."

And that's it for Civil War II relevance! This story and The Punisher both ran in the fourth issue of Choosing Sides, which makes it the least relevant of the issues in this series, I think, as it has almost nothing at all to do with Civil War II (I guess we could qualify these as verbal red sky tie-ins), and the very idea of choosing sides is explicitly dismissed.

"Alpha Flight" by Chip Zdarsky and Ramon Perez

Now this one I actually found to be a valuable story in terms of understanding the greater Civil War II method, in addition to the other pleasures it promised, as it was the first time I had seen any explanation for what the hell the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight was doing working with Captain Marvel Carol Danvers out of the Triskelion in New York. Apparently, they--or at least Puck, Sasquatch and Aurora--are part of something called the Alpha Flight Space Program lead by Danvers, and its an international body focused on defending the entire planet from space invaders.

In the first half of this surprisingly full and Civil War II-centric story, the trio take down a couple of American citizens on intel gained from Ulysses in Michigan, and then get called into a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who gives them a good talking to, and makes it pretty clear that he thinks Team Carol is kinda dumb (The best part of this scene, I think, is that Puck is shown sipping from a Tim Horton's coffee cup. That is also the worst part, as it made me crave Tim Horton's, and the nearest one is almost two hours drive from me. What I'm saying is Tim Horton's should build a Tim Horton's in Mentor, Ohio, or somewhere nearby (Of course, that would be one less reason to visit Erie, Pennsylvania...Hmm...Maybe Tim Horton should just call me and we can discuss this further...)

The second half of the story is a surprisingly touching scene between Trudeau and his apparent bro, American billionaire millionaire industrialist and superhero Tony Stark, with whom he occasionally boxes. Here Trudeau says that while he does indeed think Alpha Flight is wrong, he doesn't think Tony is right, either. "There's a middle ground," he says "There always is." Well, I don't know about that, but I was really surprised at how emotional this story was, and how effectively conveyed those emotions were, given that it was written by a guy I know primarily from writing comics about Jughead Jones and a talking duck, and that it featured the Canadian Prime Minster and Bigfoot.

"Colleen Wing" by Enrique Carrion and Annapaola Martello

If I had to guess, I would guess that the only reason this story exists is that Colleen and Misty Knight are featured characters on some Netflix TV shows? Otherwise, there's nothing to it, and this is another story in the title that has pretty much nothing to do with Civil War II, save maybe some thematic business, as besties Colleen and Misty fight one another at one point.

Misty is hero-for-hired to act as an escort on a S.T.A.K.E. mission, transporting a prisoner along with Man-Thing. Then Colleen attacks, because she needs the prisoner's help finding a missing person. After a brief, forgettable sword fight with Man-Thing, Misty lets her take the guy and, um, that's it. That's the whole story. Dum Dum Duggan appears and says "Carol Danvers" once, but that's as close as it gets to having naything to do with Civil War II.

I'm usually down for any and all Man-Thing stories, but while Martello's art is fine, it doesn't do anything particularly special with the generic material.

"Jessica Jones" by Chelsea Cain and Alison Sampson

There's a little note saying that this issue takes place before Civil War II #3, which is all well and good, but I was more curious as to where it takes in relation to the Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2, as the Civil War II tie-in arc in that title has Jessica and Danielle on the run and separated from Luke, while Jessica's only real role in the main series comes at a point where Tony Star name-drops her, saying that he's hired her and Dakota North to dig up whatever they can on Ulysses.

That's this story, by Chelsea Cain, the prose fiction writer turned one of Marvel's best comics writers (in the too-quickly canceled Mockingbirds, the first volume of which I can't recommend enough). Cain is here paired with artist Alison Sampson. It's a very short story, as all of these are, but it's also very good, and the one thought I couldn't get out of my mind while reading it was that I liked Cain's writing of Jessica better than I liked Brian Michael Bendis', even though the latter created the character (I think the same goes for Alison Sampson's art vs. Michael Gaydos'; Sampson draws in a very realistic style like Gaydos, and this Jessica similarly looks like one you might run into at a grocery store or the library or the bank instead of a movie star pretty woman like Kristen Ritter, but there's a bit more life in Sampson's art than in Gaydos' stiffer lay-outs and photo-referenced settings).

Jessica is in Ohio--Point Pleasant, Ohio***, specifically--trying to dig up as much dirt as she can on Ulysses, the new Inhuman who is the maguffin of Civil War II. At the very least, she discovers why he's named Ulysses! As in Mockingbird, Cain writes sharp, fun, funny dialogue and comes up with some striking situations and characters (and, in the case of Jessica, characterizations), even if it is much more realistic and down-to-earth than her series about the super-spy-turned-superhero-turned-super-spy/superhero.

Chelsea Cain and Alison Sampson for Jessica Jones! Brian Michael Bendis has more than enough other stuff he can be writing...

"White Fox" by Christina Strain and Sana Takeda

So I've never heard of this White Fox person before. She is apparently a Korean super-person, who is maybe actually some kind of fox demon or fairy or spirit that poses as a human, and she can talk to animals and out-fight Abigail Brand (who now works for Captain Marvel, I guess? When did that happen?). Carol wants her to come work with them in "The Ulysses Initiative," White Fox thinks about it and declines. The end!

I still don't know a whole heck of a lot about this White Fox person, but now I've at least met her. Takeda's art is gorgeous, but this is another of those no-there-there stories, and it's a rather bum one to end the collection one. Heck, if they had only switched this one and the Jessica Jones short, then it would have ended on a high note.

Anyway, to recap: This is an overall pretty good collection, a much-better-than-expected companion series to a much-worse-than-expected crossover event series.

*The best--or should I say "best"...?--of these was probably the one that ran alongside 2012's Avengers Vs. X-Men,AVX: VS, which, of course, stood for "Avengers Vs. X-Men: Vs.", and consisted of extended fight scenes that there just wasn't quite room for in the main series, making it a comic book series that was the equivalent of deleted scenes from a movie that one might find available on the DVD.

**At least, that's how Iread the exchange. When someone mentions that Tombstone is the buyer for the thing they are stealing, one of them says "Word on the street is he's burning through cash to take out the bulletproof black dude and the Chinese karate guy." Another member of the gang corrects him: "It's kung fu, not karate, and he's a white guy." To which the original guy replies, "You're kidding?! Really?"

***Yeah, we've got one of those too.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: May 10th

All-Star Batman #10 (DC Comics) I was so surprised to find that this issue's back-up feature did not address the bizarre, cliffhanger ending of the Duke-starring story in the previous issue that I worried I might have somehow accidentally missed an issue of All-Star, and went back to check. It turns out, I did not miss an issue, and the last panel of last issue's back-up did say it would be continued in Dark Days: The Forge. Still, it was very weird to get to the back-up only to find a story written by Rafael Albuquerque and Rafael Scavone rather than Scott Snyder, and starring Batman rather than Duke.

This issue starts a new story arc, "The First Ally," and has writer Scott Snyder joined by a new all-star artist, Rafael Albuquerque. A sizable thread of the first chapter of "The First Ally" is told through Alfred's narration, so much so that the twist ending to the "before" segment isn't much of a surprise even if you didn't see it coming. In the present, Batman is tangling with Hush, who I'm fairly certain we've only seen briefly in the pages of Batman Eternal since the New 52boot. There's not a whole hell of a lot to him here--indeed, he's a character that lost a lot of cache once the original "Hush" story arc is stripped out of continuity, in the same way that Bane is with "Knightfall" and his other first few appearances no longer canonical--but Snyder has fun with the fact that Hush has given himself plastic surgery to exactly resemble Bruce Wayne (um, the circumstances that lead to that were also knocked out of continuity, but whatever). Essentially, it allows Batman to go undercover as someone who was masquerading as him.

Albuquerque's art, which he both pencils and inks while Jordie Bellaire colors, is fine, achieving the same basic baseline strength it always does. It's better than Jock's, not as distinct as John Roimta Jr's, and, in all cases, not as fresh, new or surprising when applied to Batman as theirs was; Albuquerque has been drawing for DC long enough over so many years that his presence here isn't thrilling either because of his stature or his style. (Er, I realize that sounds pretty negative; I really like Albuquerque's work, I would simply prefer to see more out-of-the-box choices on this book, if the whole idea is to draft artists for just a single Batman story arc with Snyder.)

The back-up is not drawn by Albuquerque, but by Sebastian Fiumara, as colored by Tish Mulvihill. It's an interesting artistic choice, as Fiumara's work looks enough like Albuquerque's that if you flipped through the issue quickly, you might not even notice the change. But if you read the issue,s it's quite distinct. The story "Killers-In-Law," involves Batman going undercover as a Russian brawler, traveling from Gotham to Moscow in the hopes of stopping a weapons shipment. We don't get to see Fiumara's Batman then, just a lot of drawings of shirtless men punching each other in a warehouse, and a panel featuring an attractive alt girl.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #6 (IDW Publishing) This is the completely frivolous final issue of Matthe K. Manning, Jon Sommariva and Sean Parsons' crossovers of the versions of the characters from Batman: The Animated Series and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012). The story actually wrapped up last issue, so this is really more of an epilogue, and seemingly only exists to include the TAS redesigns, and to squeeze some Kraang in, I guess.

That's really all there is to this issue: The Kraang invade Gotham City, and the Turtles show up to help Batman, Batgirl, Robin and Nightwing stop them. And that's it, basically. I liked the bits involving Michaelangelo's reaction to the changing of the Robins (at this point in TAS, Tim Drake had become Robin, while Dick had adopted the name Nightwing). As the Turtles leaves, Batman says "until next time," and I imagine there will be a next time.

What will they do next? Oh man, I have an idea...!

Although as long as it's not a crossover involving the 1980s/'90s movie versions of the franchises, I'm sure it will be interesting.

If there is a third one, I do hope that will be the one where they round up a bunch of classic Batman and Turtles artists to draw sections of it. I can't be the only one who wants to see Ninja Turtles drawn by Jim Balent, Kelley Jones, Graham Nolan, Tim Sale, Damion Scott and so on, and Batman and company drawn by Kevin Eastman (for more than a cover, anyway), A.C. Farley, Michael Dooney, Jim Lawson, Eric Talbot, Michael Zulli (again) and so on...

Detective Comics #956 (DC) Should I drop this...?

That's the thought that was rattling around my head the entire time I read this issue, which concludes the "League of Shadows" story arc, an incredibly disappointing arc made all the more disappointing by this final chapter, which is resolved via a semi-deus ex machina event that seems weirdly out-of-character for all of the participants. It's followed immediately by Batman agreeing to let his mortal enemey Ra's al Ghul take all of the League of Shadows hostage, take the corpse of Lady Shiva and defuse a nuclear bomb for him. If I was sick of seeing Ra's before this story even started, lackluster stories featuring the character don't do much to change that (this Batman vs. Ra's conflict was so much weaker than the one it overlapped in time with, from the pages of All-Star Batman, where Ra's at least had an unusual plan to take over and/or destroy parts of the world, and Batman had a unique plan to stop him. Here Batman and his allies are more or less beside the point of the League of Shadows vs. League of Assassins vs. The Colony conflict).

The main reason I tried the book out and stuck with it was that I liked the characters Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain. Two of those three have been (temporarily) written out of the book, and the third has been written so poorly, man, I just don't know...

I liked the way Marcio Takara's art a bit better this time around, although the action is still incredibly disappointing. I liked Kate's tuxedo on the last page, though...!

Gotham Academy: Second Semester #9 (DC) The possessed Olive Silverlock is loose in Gotham, using her pyrokinetic powers to exact revenge on the city's longest-lived families. Here she goes after the last of the Dents, and Adam Archer, "MSASSYK" and Sandra Hope's version of Two-Face is...wanting. He doesn't look all that much like the recent, dramatic redesign, and he doesn't even wear a half-and-half suit! I guess maybe he's undercover here, as he's really supposed to be in Arkham Asylum at the moment (or at least he was in Batman/The Shadow #1), but put some effort into your gimmick, man!

Meanwhile, the dwindling membership of Detective Club try to help her in a variety of ways, but it looks like they are being thwarted by the Academy's Terrible Trio, which, for reasons I can only guess at, have replaced The Vulture with The Raven. Wow, unable to even get the animals in The Terrible Trio right? This is a terrible trio!

Wonder Woman #22 (DC) DC Comics Bombshells alum Bilquis Evely, who has taken over the "past" half of this series from Nicola Scott, is joined by another Bombshells alum, Mirka Andolfo. This issue is something of a done-in-one, featuring the first official meeting of Wonder Woman and her arch-enemy Veronica Cale (at least, Cale's her arch-enemy whenever Greg Rucka is writing Wonder Woman). Interestingly, their meeting occurs when Cale outbids both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor at a celebrity date auction for charity. The girls spend a night on the town together, during which Cale tests Wonder Woman's powers as part of a sneaky attempt to find Themyscira. Wondy shows up at her office, Superman style, to menace her; when she does so, she's wearing her post-"Rebirth" costume, even though I thought this was taking place soon after "Year One" and I realized that I am now officially lost in terms of Wonder Woman's alternating-issues-set-in-alternating-points-of-her-history story.

I'm curious how the title will be formatted once a new, permanent creative team is found (I got the impression that the one announced to succeed Rucka and Liam Sharp was a temporary one).

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Too many words on Civil War II

Civil War was a seven-issue, 2006-2007 limited series by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines that attempted to capture the zeitgeist of post-9/11, Bush Era America by thrusting the debate over the proper balance between security and liberty into the fantasy world of the Marvel Universe, with the various superheroes and supervillains all lining up on one side or the other of the debate, and then proceeding to fight one another to the death over it. The series didn't really work, and Millar's themes fell apart if you looked too closely at them (or even just read the comic), but it had at least a patina of relevance about it, the story could be more-or-less understood by reading its seven issues (and/or its later collected edition) and, like so much of Millar's comics work, could be boiled down into a particularly simple pitch. In the case of Civil War, it was a pitch that Marvel used to market the book and its many, many tie-ins, a five-word tag-line: "Whose side are you on?"

Civil War II was a 10-issue, 2016-2017 limited series by Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez, Oliver Coipel, Jim Cheung and John Dell that dealt with thought crimes, or pre-emptive warfare, or judicial bias, or, implicit bias, or Minority Report or, perhaps, profiling, or various combinations of that list of those themes, depending on the scene and the issue.

If profiling is the main subject matter, which is something I suggest because at one point near the end of the series, Iron Man Tony Stark declares "It's profiling...profiling our future...profiling individuals. And in the last issue of the series, Dr. Henry McCoy, AKA The Beast, further underlines the theme as that of profiling being bad: "[Tony Stark] new once you made profiling--and that is what it was--the norm... long until it was used by someone less noble?" Then it is easy to see that Bendis was shooting for the sort of crypto-relevance of Millar's original series, attempting to address the mood in a post-Ferguson United States, where "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" are phrases of great power and import (although without any racial component in the pages of his comic, which kinds of defeats that purpose...although it might be worth pointing out that a few times Inhumans and mutants are raised as classes of Marvel Universe people might be prejudiced against and, well, the whole climax hinges on Captain Marvel suspecting a black teenager of killing the symbol of America).

It doesn't work at all, though, and Bendis' ostensible sequel lacks Millar's elegant distillation of a premise-cum-tagline, and even much in the way of the simple, primal pleasure of superheroes fighting superheroes, which the original at least provided more regularly.

Certainly, a decade after the original Civil War, readers are rightly sick of Marvel's superheroes fighting one another, as they've been doing pretty much constantly since then, but Bendis' "fights" are mostly arguments, with the various characters only choosing sides near the end of the fourth issue, spending much of the fifth on the series' one big battle, and then everyone more-or-less goes home to let the leaders of the two factions fight it out themselves...again, to the death.

Despite the title, it doesn't really function as a sequel to Civil War at all, actually. In the original, Iron Man lead a team consisting of Mister Fantastic, Hank Pym and other establishment-minded superheroes to work hand-in-hand with the Bush Administration to enforce a Superhero Registration Act, which functioned either as a mandatory registering of all super-people and/or an actual superhero military draft, depending on the issue or tie-in. Team Security were opposed by Captain America, Spider-Man and the others on Team Liberty, but they went to laughable heavy-handed extremes to enforce the will of the U.S. government, including using lethal force and extraordinary rendition of the non-compliant into a superehro Guantanamo Bay. The series only ended when Captain America surrendered in order to stop the fighting, when he realized that he was causing property damage and that New York City's first responders were opposed to him (Like I said, it didn't really work).

In this series, it is Captain Marvel Carol Danvers who serves as the tool of the government (artist Marquez, unlike Civil War's McNiven, doesn't draw the president and his cabinet on the page, but the president is presumably Obama; he only appears in silhouette or in darkened rooms, and so this is less explicitly tied to a particular presidential administration than the original). Danvers gets her hands on a new superhero named Ulysses whose power is the ability to foretell disasters, and she uses that knowledge to assemble teams of superheroes to prevent said disasters before they occur...more often than not, however, she actually just causes them to happen, or simply alters what happens slightly, with the visions coming "true" in vague senses. Relatively few heroes support her, particularly as the series progresses, and, just as Millar manipulated the reader by putting all the "cool" heroes on the Captain America side and the lamer ones on Iron Man's side, Bendis has Carol's allies consist only of those working with her already, and some of them only conditionally. Tony Stark eventually gets most of the cool heroes on his team, but, for the most part, this "war" isn't fought with armies. It's just Carol and Tony fighting, usually verbally rather than violently.

Though there aren't really any factions in this conflict, aside from in the aforementioned battle, and a great many of the publisher's more prominent characters quite pointedly sit it out--Spider-Man Peter Parker, Daredevil, Hawkeye Clint Barton--the essential conflict boils down to the use of Ulysses' visions to fight supervillains and various forms of super-crime. Is it right to arrest, fight or otherwise punish someone for something they haven't done yet? Despite how obvious the answer is there--innocent until proven guilty is pretty universally accepted precept of the American justice system--Bendis' focus on it is quite soft, as Ulysses' ability to even accurately predict the future is constantly called into question. The fight isn't about "Is it right to try and preemptively fight crime and disaster?" so much as "Is it right to try and preemptively fight crime and disaster based on a faulty data?" The source of the conflict isn't as solid, the line isn't as bright as in Civil War.

So with nothing in common with the original, why is it even called Civil War II? I've read a Bendis quote promoting the series where he said that as the storyline was taking shape, he turned to an editor or collaborator and asked if they realized that what they were really creating was another superhero civil war. It's far more likely that it had something to do with the strong sales of the original Civil War, which had a long, long life of doing gangbusters in its various trade-collections in bookstores and libraries. And it's more likely still it had something to do with the release of Marvel Studios' Captain America: Civil War, the feature film that took a few images and plot-points from the Civil War comic to extrapolate into an original storyline...but nevertheless marketed the hell out of the phrase "Civil War" as it related to Marvel super-comics.

In an attempt to add gravity to the series, several secondary characters are killed, and several others have their status quos radically changed. War Machine James "Rhodey" Rhodes, Tony's best friend and Carol's boyfriend, is killed (as the trailers for the Captain America movie implied he might be, although he survived in the film). The original Hulk, Bruce Banner, is also killed off, and by a fellow Avenger. She-Hulk is put in a coma, and comes out of it seriously changed into a Gray She-Hulk (Although they're just calling her new, serious series Hulk). And Stark himself ends up in something of a coma, interacting with a new Iron Man, operating under the codename "Ironheart," via a holographic operating system version of himself.

Additionally, in addition to the above, the visions of Ulysses lent themselves to essentially rolling out a long sequence of "coming attractions" in the final portion of the book, as he envisioned scenes from the next Marvel event Monsters Unleashed, Bendis' own upcoming Defenders series and so on.

But as a story unto itself, Civil War II just doesn't really work at all. That fact is both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. It's surprising because Bendis has more experience than anyone else when it comes to writing these sorts of series for Marvel, having previously written 2005's House of M, 2008's Secret Invasion, 2010's Siege and 2013's Age of Ultron, and one imagines that he would eventually get the hang of it (the best of Marvel's crossovers that he had a hand in was Avengers Vs. X-Men, in which he was one of several writers). It's not surprising because none of those stories really worked either, and, in fact, some of them didn't even qualify as stories in anyway other than the fact that Marvel published them as if the were.

This isn't because Bendis is a particularly bad writer, it's just that he does a very poor job with big stories of this sort, involving large casts, big events and "historical" changes (at least in so far as the word historical can be made to apply changes in the Marvel Universe's ever-fluid status quo). Part of that is because of his own atomized form of storytelling, which consists of large collections of sometimes loosely-tied scenes that may or may not lead into one another directly. There is a benefit to this approach, given the nature of company-wide crossover series in which there will be literally scores of chapters of varying degrees of relevance, and perhaps it is Bendis' (and Marvel's) intent that Civil War II be read either in its entirety (that is, all the crossovers), or that readers self-curate their reading experience, choosing the scenes they want to read and ignoring the rest.

The problem with that approach, of course, is who knows what the important parts are and which are unimportant until after they've actually read them? And, at the very least, the eight official chapters of Civil War II should all be important ones (they are not) and tell a complete story unto themselves, which can then either be expanded upon by reading more tie-ins voluntarily (They do not, hence the presence of two other comics, Civil War II # 0 and Free Comic Book Day Special 2016 in the hardcover collection of Civil War II.)

I can guess at what Bendis might have been attempting as a writer, then, but, as a reader, I have no choice to evaluate the comics by what is on the page, or, in the case of the collection, what is between the covers, which is what I'm doing here.

That atomized approach to event story-telling is particularly evident in the gradual, casual beginning of this story (which, as I mentioned previously did not spring organically from an ongoing storyline in any particular book or family of books in the way that, say, Secret Wars or Secret Empire grew out of Jonathan Hickman's Avengers books or Nick Spencer's Captain America books). Which actually has three different and distinct beginnings. (Did you read Abhay Khosla's series on Civil War II at The Savage Critics? Quoth Abhay: "I just figured 'I can't figure out how to buy the first issue of your comic book' was as good an omen as a person could ask for to avoid a thing.")

So let's look at the series three beginnings, one at a time, before we loo at the series as a whole.

First issue #1: Civil War II #0

This 23-page chapter is drawn by Olivier Coipel, with color artist Justin Ponsor, who colors every page of every issue in the hardcover collection I am reading. It introduces two major player in the story to come, Captain Marvel and Ulysess; two characters whose deaths or injuries will provide a catalyst to a stage of the civil warring, She-Hulk and War Machine; and one character who won't appear at all in the the rest of the series, Doc Samson.

She-Hulk is introduced in a New York City courtroom, where in her day job she is defending former (and apparently reformed) Daredevil villain The Jester from a case brought against him that she claims is entrapment. Her argument is that he is being prosecuted not for any actual crimes, but for his criminal history and his speech about that criminal activity. This is where thought crimes come up. We witness her closing statement, but will find out before the end of this issue/chapter that it was all for naught: The Jester is found guilty, is sent to prison and then gets accidentally killed by a prison guard ("He was innocent," She-Hulk says when hearing the news, "He went to jail before he did anything wrong.")

War Machine is introduced War Machine-ing in Latveria in his costume, and then we see him in the White House Situation Room, where President Obama spends two pages telling Rhodey that he wants him to be his successor (Surprise, Hilary Clinton!). He wants to appoint Rhodes as his new Secretary of Defense, as a stepping stone to being president. None of this dialogue sounds much like Obama at all, but presumably the point of this scene is to build Rhodey up as a Pretty Big Deal so that when he dies it will seem like a big deal.

Next stop is Ohio State University, where a couple of students get caught in the Terrigen Mist cloud (it is assumed one knows what that is; I am going to assume it to because this post is already destined to be long enough without getting into that nonsense) and they end up eveloped in Inhuman cocoons.

And then to The Triskelion, "Headquarters and Home of The Ultimates," where Captain Marvel is presented as a harried leader of, like, a bunch of superhero teams. SHIELD Agents do walk-and-talks with her, while she asks about Alpha Flight and A-Force. Doc Samson is there to visit, and he psychoanalyzes her during the course of their conversation. At one point, she mentions that the point of her Ultimates team is to try to stop disasters before they happen, and how she wishes there was just one thing that could help her in her mission of proactive defense of the world. (She also talks about how overwhelming her current life is, and I had a sinking feeling that Captain Marvel is going to end up being portrayed as a woman in way over her head, with so much going on in so many different parts of her life that she's totally going to fuck up the world for everyone by going to war against Iron Man over something stupid).

But funny she should mention that one thing that could change the whole game for them, because back in Columbus, the cocoons open--again, you're supposed to know how Inhumans work, and if you don't, well, maybe this isn't for you--and we find that one of the Inhumans has emerged as a scary, mindless monster lady, while the other one, Ulysses, looks unchanged. But then his eyes go red, he stumbles around and finds himself looking at a two-page spread of a ruined cityscape, with a red sky, clouds of smoke or dust or ash and smashed-up buildings.

No one tell Captain America Steve Rogers! There's nothing he hates more than smashed-up buildings!

First issue #2: Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Civil War II)

This second of the first issues is drawn by pencil artist Jim Cheung and inker John Dell. In retrospect--that is, after you read Civil War II #1--it will be clear that this issue consists of a key scene more-or-less taken out of #1 and presented as its own comic book. It's pretty integral to the plot, which makes it strange that Marvel decided to present it outside of anything entitled Civil War, but, on the other hand, at least they gave it away for free, so potential readers had little excuse to skip it...unless they just weren't sure they had to read it to make heads-or-tails of Civil War II #1.

War Machine lands at The Triskelion to be greeted by Captain Marvel, who it turns out he is in an "On-again, off-again long-distance thing" with (Huh. That was news to me.) He just showed up to visit because he missed her, but it turns out he's chosen an auspicious time to visit, as The Inhumans Medusa and Crystal Lockjaw themselves there, with new Inhuman Ulysses in tow. He has the power to see the future, but it's more than that, he says, he "experiences" it, as if his body itself visits the future during his episodes. Medusa brought him to the Triskelion where The Black Panther could run some tests, and hopefully help him figure out how to master his new power, but then--"AGH! NNNAAGH!"--Ulysses sees Thanos coming!

With this knowledge, Captain Marvel assembles a rag-tag group of heroes from her various super-teams and invites along the visiting War Machine and Inhumans to lay in wait for Thanos, who Ulysses predicts will appear at Project PEGASUS to steal the/a Cosmic Cube.

"Thanos, you are under arrest!" Captain Marvel shouts, as Ms. America, Medusa, Spectrum, Crystal, She-Hulk, The Human Torch, Black Panther, Blue Marvel, Dazzler (Dazzler?) and War Machine all dog-pile on him. The fight goes poorly for our heroes, in the main because Medusa is there at all (Captain Marvel didn't exactly pick an ideal Thanos-fighting squadron here). Medusa gets thrown into War Machine, one of his missiles goes off and hits She-Hulk in the sternum (which I wouldn't think would actually hurt her, let alone put her in a coma, but whatever, I guess Bendis and Marvel reasoned she was a bigger hero to have badly hurt than Dazzler or Spectrum). Distracted by having rocket-launched a rocket into the wrong person, War Machine isn't prepared for Thanos' sucker-punch. It is not clear from this issue, the last panel of which is Captain Marvel cradling him in her arms and sobbing, "Oh, God! Somebody help me!" but he's totally dead. Thanos punched death! With one blow!

First issue #3: Civil War II #1

Finally, it's the first issue of Civil War II, which comes 34 pages into the collection. David Marquez now assumes the art duties, and he will perform them the rest of the series, save for a handful of special guest-artists who get strategically deployed later in the series, mostly for the purposes of advertising future comics.

In this beginning of the series, the opening comes between #0 and FCBD 2016, with Ulysses running through the woods in Columbus until he stumbles upon a splash page of Inhumans...a "team" that now includes x-iled X-Man The Beast and former Fantastic Four member The Human Torch.

"Weeks later," we're in Manhattan, where The All-New, All-Different Avengers are facing what Ms. Marvel calls "a freaky, giant, big, giant celestial giant," and what Nova describes as its "little soldier things." Then Thor leads a splash page full of almost 40 heroes into the fight (She-Hulk and War Machine are among them, so this is still set before FCBD 2016...or they healed from it already. I guess it would be unclear at this point in the book). While the heroes distract the Celestial and its soldier guys, a team of sorcerers lead by Dr. Strange appear and send "The Celestial the dimension from which it came."

This leads to a 12-page after-party at Stark Tower, where Tony Stark and Carol Danvers toast The Inhumans for giving them the heads-up about the Celestial Destructor, with enough time to prepare pretty much the whole Marvel Universe to fight it. When they ask Medusa where she got that info, she calls a handful of the heroes into the darkened kitchen, and introduces them to Ulysses, the Inhuman who can see the future. When Tony and She-Hulk press him for how exactly he sees things, they call in "little Jean Grey" and she tries to set-up a limited hive mind or something between everyone there, but it turns out his mind is unreadable: It is a closed system.

Nevertheless, Carol tries to recruit him for The Ultimates, and Tony immediately starts throwing cold water on the idea, with logic. When it's pointed out that he correctly saw the Celestial Destructor, Tony shoots back that his vision "didn't happen because he stopped it wasn't the future he saw, it was a possible future." After telling Carol and the others to be careful with what they do with these visions, he walks off.

Then the book seems to catch-up to the events of FCBD 2016; Ulysses has his Thanos vision (in a different time and different place than in the previous comic, which, remember, Bendis also wrote), and then we skip that whole fight scene to deal with its aftermath (In retrospect, I do kinda wonder why the scene wasn't inserted in between scenes of this issue, so that the story could occur chronologically).

At that point, what began as a differing set of opinions becomes a heated argument, when Tony finds out the chain of events that lead to Rhodey's death, he accuses Carol of murdering him and yells at her a bunch. He demands to know where Thanos is, and then storms off...but not to kill the guy who killed his best friend, but rather, "Tom make sure none of you ever play God again!" by going after Ulysses.

Carol is about to go after him, when She-Hulk wakes up just long enough to say "Fight for it. It's out future, Carol. Not his. Fight for it."

I literally have no idea what this means in this context. The "his" refers to Tony Stark, I guess? But she was in a coma, did she hear any of that? Or was she talking about the future not being Ulysses? Seriously, no idea.

From this point on, with the many beginnings out of the way, the series devolves into a story-shaped series of big moments.

Civil War II #2: Everyone is mad at Tony!

Tony abducts Uylsses from his bed in New Atillan, despite The Inhumans attempting to stop him, with violence. No idea what the legal ramifications are here. Ulysses would have been a U.S. citizen, but Attillan is a foreign country. By virtue of being Inhuman does that make him a citizen of Inhumans-ville? Does he have dual citizenship? If he's not a U.S. citizen, I guess Tony has a little more wriggle room in terms of abducting him and taking hi to a secret science bunker to threaten him and run a brain scan on him, but since I don't know what Stark's status is with the U.S. government anymore, who knows? At any rate, the whole capture seems silly in retrospect, because presumably the very tests Tony runs on Ulysses' brain are the same ones, or the same kinds of ones that The Black Panther would have been talking about running earlier. Tony and T'Challa are science bros.

This leads to the Inhuman Royal Family and their hangers on storming Stark Tower, and then The Ultimates and Avengers arriving there to stop them, and then everyone finding Tony Stark and rescuing Ulysses from him. Despite some severe damage to a wall, there's no fighting yet, just some more arguing. If fighting was about to start, it is interrupted by Ulysses' latest vision, that of a gigantic, nude, drooling Hulk with glowing green eyes, standing over some kinda dead looking Steve Rogers, Thor and Hawkeye, with a limp Iron Man in one hand and a limper Captain Marvel in his other hand.

Civil War II #3: The death of Bruce Banner, and the trial of the century!

This is maybe the nadir of the series...up until it reaches a lower nadir at the end, I guess. Deciding all of a sudden to write this single chapter all artsy and out of sequence and shit, Bendis opens with a trial in a Manhattan federal court house, jumping between the trial to the events that lead to the trail, so there are flashbacks within flashbacks, and narration coming in the form of testimony from players like Carol, Tony, Hawkeye and others.

Matt Murdock is the only lawyer shown talking to anyone, and I guess he would be for the prosecution, since he works in the city's District Attorney's office, but then the thing they are talking about took place in Utah, so I don't see how a city ADA would get involved. If he's defending Hawkeye Clint Barton, well, that doesn't make sense, since Murdock's not allowed to practice law in New York anymore in such a capacity. If I had to guess, I would imagine there's only two lawyers in the whole Marvel Universe, and the other one is in and out of a coma, and Bendis doesn't have time to read Charles Soule's Daredevil, so who cares.

Here's what happened. Because Ulysses saw a giant Hulk killing some Avengers in a big city, Carol, an armor-less Tony and like all the super-heroes and SHIELD fly out to Doctor Bruce Banner's secret lab in a barn in rural Alpine, Utah and ask him to not freak out or anything. He says he's been experimenting on himself, but those experiments have kept him from becoming The Hulk for over a year now. How does this square with the events of The Totally Awesome Hulk Vol. 1? It doesn't, as far as I can tell!

And then Hawkeye shoots Banner to death with a special arrowhead given to him by Banner himself, who at some point in the past had asked Hawkeye to kill him if he ever Hulked-out again. He didn't, but Hawkeye said he was about to, and that was good enough: Hawkeye walks, since it was really more of an assisted suicide than it was a murder (Fun fact: Assisted suicide is illegal, but it's not like Bendis spent a lot of time in thinking about how trials or law works or anything. I don't even think he watched any Law & Order to research this issue). Tony is now super-pissed with Carol, as that's two superheroes who have gotten killed on account of her acting on Ulysses' visions, and doing so kind of stupidly (Like, this group would have been a good one to send after Thanos, while a smaller group of like, three or four people would have been a better one to send to visit Banner).

Civil War II #4: It's almost time to start to get ready to maybe rumble soon!

In an in-story ad for the new She-Hulk series, Hulk by writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Nico Leon, She-Hulk gets mad when Carol tells her that her cousin Bruce it totally dead now. In another jumbly timeline issue, a bunch of the grown-ups meet in a dark, dingy room to listen to Tony and Carol's "sides" of the arguments.

Tony's brain scans revealed that Ulysses, who is off having his face-painted by Karnak during this sequence, doesn't really have visions of the future, which are impossible to have, but his brain produces images of possible futures based on algorithms. Carol's argument is that if someone tells you there's a guy over there with a gun who said he's about to open fire, do you go over there and check it out, or do you wait until he opens fire? Tony counters that the percentage of the probability of him actually opening fire is relevant, and wouldn't you act differently if it were eighty percent or ten percent? Carol rolls her eyes.

Doing the mediating, sitting around what looks like one of the Illuminati's old tables, are Steve Rogers, Doctor Strange, Medusa, Blackbolt, Black Panther and Beast.

Carol doesn't sit around to talk with any of these folks, but just peaces out in the most dickish move possible: Flying straight up through the ceiling, leaving a huge pile of rubble in the middle of the floor.

She doesn't have time to talk; there are civil rights that need violating! One of Ulysses' recent visions was that some banker lady was a Hydra agent, so Carol has her in a freezing interrogation cell at the Triskelion, and is adamant on holding her without evidence forever. At this point, Maria Hill, the head of a super-CIA who like two crossovers ago was kidnapping villains and mind-wiping them with a reality warping device outside of any government mandate, and The Black Panther, an actual king of an actual monarchy, are like, "Carol, this is maybe going a little far, don't you think?"

And that's when Tony Stark sends Nightcrawler to Bamf! the woman out of the cell, and lands with his posse on the Triskelion roof, ready to fight Carol. Marquez and Bendis stack two long, horizontal panels that stretch across a two-page spread to reveal the "sides" (which, holy shit, it took until the fourth issue to get to?) in this so-called civil "war."

I'd scan the images, but they are too long to do so, so I'll just have to tell you who's in which panel.

Iron Man has got both Captains America, Doctor Strange, Luke Cage, Hawkeye Kate Bishop, codename-less Riri Williams, The Avengers (Ms. Marvel, Nova, Spider-Man Miles Morales, The Vision and the current Thor) and the cool X-Men (the cast of All-New X-Men: Teenage Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel, plus Genesis and Idie).

Captain Marvel has got SHIELD, Alpha Flight (Sasquatch, Aurora and Puck), The Ultimates (Blue Marvel, Black Panther, Spectrum and an Ant-Man, I think...?) and the lame X-Men (from Extraordinary X-Men: Forge, Magick, Little Jean Grey, Storm and Old Man Ice Man).

So, just looking at who's on who's side, the deck is pretty clearly stacked: Iron Man is right. He is now officially the good guy, if there were any doubts before. He's got the moral authority that comes with having two Captains America! Carol doesn't even get a Bucky! The best she's got is Black Panther, and he was just telling her to chill like a few panels ago.

But just to throw a monkey wrench in things, Carol says "I have friends all over the place" on a two-page splash, and out of the sky fall the Guardians of The Galaxy! These are the ones that were in the original movie, plus Kitty Pryde, Angela, Venom and Ben Grimm.

Finally, a fight! Next issue!

Civil War II #5: At long last, superheroes punching one another over moral differences!

There's a big, two-page splash-page showing the two sides running at one another, ready to engage in combat over the dubious principle that Carol Danvers can hold that banker lady without charging her indefinitely, or maybe that she should be allowed to keep prompting conflicts that get Avengers killed or...whatever.

I confess it's an interesting spread, as it invites readers to wonder about, imagine or perhaps just rationalize why each character is on each team. I can see this being very appealing to a certain kind of reader, like, say, the one I was as a teenager, when I would read very few comic books, and always had to wait a month between each issue, because trade-waiting wasn't yet an option.

For example, Extraordinary X-Man "Old Man" Logan shows up in this spread, on Tony's side. Why's a guy from a possible nightmare future siding against the lady trying to stop possible nightmare futures, and how did Tony get him (and Nightcrawler) away from the other X-Men, who are all on Team Carol?

What is the difference that makes two versions of the same guy, Iceman, take completely different positions on the issue, and to hold them so strongly they are literally willing to fight himself/themselvs over it?

Why did Peter Quill and his Guardians team choose to side with their space-faring pal Carol over their space-faring pal Tony? (Tony asks the same question, and it seems to amount to Peter likes Carol better...maybe it's a romantic/sexual thing, as there's one-panel later showing a pouting Kitty looking at Peter and Carol hug.)

Why did Ben Grimm, who pointedly sat out the first Civil War, going so far as to move to France to avoid having to take a side and potentially punch on some of his pals, decide he was cool fighting in this one, which doesn't even have something tangible to fight about (the Registration Act), and in which he has no personal stakes in (Reed was on Team Security, Sue and Johnny were on Team Liberty)?

Why do any X-Men really care about this nonsense, especially since they have spent so much time on the receiving end of things like the government taking pre-emptive action against super-powered people, based on their potential to cause disaster?

I suppose that is the, or at least a, function of the various tie-ins (Of the two I've read so far, All-New Wolverine Vol. 2 and Power Man and Iron Fist Vol. 2, the stars basically decided to announce Carol is dumb, this whole fight is dumb and they don't want to be in this crossover at all...although Luke and Danny do appear to be working with Carol earlier in the story, and in this fight, Luke at least is on Team Tony).

Of course given that the "war" really only amounts to this issue's fight scene, I don't know that the answers really justify whole issues of comic books about Iceman debating his teenage self or whatever.

As for the specifics of the fight, it is mostly very lame, and, at some points, difficult to even read or make sense of. The Miles Morales version of Spider-Man apparently meeting (a) Venom is kind of interesting, but for the most part the issue's main consequences seem to be only to show that Carol is increasingly willing to hit Iron Man super-hard and to destroy the Guardians' ship, essentially grounding them on Earth temporarily (the focus of a story arc in their own book/s that followed Civil War II).

It ends when another Ulysses vision shows a bloody-fisted Miles holding a limp and impaled Steve Rogers, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building. The sobering image gets everyone to stop fighting and turn to this Spidey and Cap. Carol immediately wants to arrest Miles, but that is more than enough action for one issue!

Civil War II #6: Everyone returns to their corners, to plot and/or cry!

Carol's decision to preemptively arrest teenage Spider-Man finally causes Black Panther to turn on Carol, and after he briefly tells her off, he and team Iron Man all teleport away to a safe house. The Inhumans to take their maguffin and go home. Spidey has Thor drop him off in the city, where he can have a proper panic attack.

Carol has something approaching a panic attack herself, sitting on the edge of the roof top, crying and cradling her hand while thinking about--or having flashbacks to?--the deaths of Rhodey and Banner. Starlord, Maria and some X-ladies come out to comfort her and tell them they found Spider-Man--standing on the steps of the Capitol building, just like in the vision!

Wow, hardly anything happened in this issue at all!

Civil War II #7: Carol and Tony war, civilly!

Ulysses continues to get weirder and weirder, having now completely tuned out his fellow weirdo Inhumans, and is growing glowing tentacles out of his back. He goes to visit Old Man Logan in the pages of Old Man Logan, which gives Old Man Logan artist Andrea Sorrentino a reason to appear and draw about a half-dozen pages, presumably to give Marquez a break as he tired near the finish line of this particular marathon (Otherwise, there's not really a reason to include the scene, as all that basically happens is that OML tells Ulysses that Tony Stark pushed someone with a feminine pronoun too far, and caused all the Old Man Logan sequels. That would also explain the decision to re-run the two-page spread of Miles over Captain Steve, so close on the heels of its initial usage.

Back in the real world, Captain America, like Spider-Man, for some reason decides the very best course of action to avoid Ulysses' vision of one of them killing the other is to meet at that place and have Spider-Man pointedly not kill him. This leads to a conversation, which only adds to the excitement of the Ulysses/Old Man Logan conversation. So much conversation!

Carol then decides the very best thing to do at this point, given that in two of the three visions she had tried to stop in this series have lead to the deaths of Avengers, is to swoop in and try to take Spider-Man into custody. That's when a force field appears over him and Tony swoops in wearing a huge, Hulkbuster-esque suit of armor bristling with missile launchers and painted gray, probably in memory of Rhodey. They fight...for a whole four pages! Of course, two of those pages are a spread consisting of only three panels, so it's not, like, a real fight or anything.

The most hilarious part of this is that Tony shoots a missile at Carol, and she bats it away...and it detonates right in front of Captain America, who is only saved by the fact that he has a shield and is, you know, Captain America! It took her like one minute on the ground to almost kill Captain America herself, when the whole reason for her coming there was, because as she told Starlord and her gal pals, that if the vision comes to pass "and we do nothing, we basically killed Captain America ourselves."

Then she punches the guy in the gun metal-gray super-armor in the abdomen super-hard, which is exactly how Thanos killed Rhodey! Irony?

Civil War II #8: The extra-length, ad-fortified conclusion!

This final chapter is 38-pages long, but don't worry too much about Marquez's drawing hand; there's less drawing involved than you might think, and a solid eight pages are devoted to ads for other Marvel comics, drawn by guest-artists. Plus, there are more repetitions of pages from previous issues of this very series, which a theoretical reader has already read and paid for (I can't decide what is more frustrating. If you read this in single issues, then you are paying for the same content twice, but there is at least likely a month between the time you read it originally, in case you forgot that Carol punched Tony really hard, and Cap and Spider-Man looked on. If you're reading it in a trade format, as I am, then it really calls attention to its laziness, because I just read that exact same series of three giant panels, like, seconds ago.)

So! Two-page spread of a longshot of Carol and Tony, locked in moral/mortal combat in the skies over Washington, D.C.! Carol is firing her power-blasts at Tony, and he's shooting a Robotech episode's worth of little shoulder-mounted missiles at Carol. It is a nice drawing. Then! The same two-page spread from the previous issue, completely unchanged!

The fight lasts a few pages, during which Captain America is almost killed by missiles for a second time, and then a whole bunch of people try to get involved to stop the fight. Maria Hill sends Team Carol down to stop the fight, The Inhumans appear and attempt to stop the fight (I guess this fight is what Ulysses thinks Old Man Logan was talking about when he said Tony and "her" caused the Old Man Logan-iverse?), and Nova, Spider-Man's teenage pal from All-New, All-Different Avengers, human-rockets onto the scene.

But after Tony lands one-more good punch on Carol, his systems shut down, and there's this montage in which Carol just seems like a maniac, pounding on Tony after he's stopped fighting back, repeatedly trying to peel off his helmet or armor and, eventually, in another two-page spread, she punches him so hard his armor explodes, he flies out of the back of it, and all of the various heroes who were flying or swinging to get to them in time are sent reeling by the shock waves of the hit.

As the bloodied Tony falls out of the sky, Ulysses sucks everyone into another weird vision, this one of "The Futures..." (plural). And so begins a sequence of silent splash pages, some single-page splashes, others double-page splashes, all by guest artists and revealing either a future Marvel comic or story (The first is apparently the events of Monsters Unleashed, the big Marvel event comic that immediately followed this one and is, in fact, already over, and there are similarly images showing Inhumans Vs. X-Men, the Miles and dead Cap image which may, in retrospect, be part of the in-progress Secret Empire, something having to do with Boy Thor and Loki) or past and/or standard Marvel futures (Age of Ultron, a Days of Future Past riff, Kilraven fighting the War of The Worlds' Martians).

And now it's time for the ending, or at least the denoument, which Brian Michael Bendis is notoriously terrible at writing!

Tony is not dead, but Beast, the only surviving Science Guy, puts him in some kind of weird iron lung thing and says he can't figure out exactly what Tony did to himself, but he doesn't wanna mess with it, as doing so might really kill him (He's a holographic AI in the rebooted and renumbered Invincible Iron Man that started coming out before this series was ever even finished, so that probably explains some of this). Beast tells Carol that Tony was her secret best friend all along, and he wasn't really fighting her to the death, because he trusted her; in actuality, he was fighting her to the death because he feared what the person who followed Carol might do with the powers she was already pretty severely abusing. This is pretty much the most unconvincing part of the whole book, but I guess Bendis wanted to take a stab at not making Carol look like one of the Marvel Universe's wort villains after months of doing the opposite...?

Ulysses just evolved into a Celestial and flew away or something. This was never his story; he was just a convenient maguffin, something to fight over that needed to be taken from the grasp of the victor at the end of the story.

Hawkeye confronts Carol and asks her not to read Occupy Avengers. Like most Marvel readers, she doesn't.

And, finally, the shadowy president who is totally Obama (this final issue was released after the election, but before Trump was sworn in and, anyway, as much as this guy doesn't sound at all like Obama, he does talk in complete sentences that conform to English standards). He asks Carol what up, she previews coming attractions--The Champions, The Hulk, The Defenders, etc--and then he asks her what he can do for her.

She makes a very serious face and has she has some ideas "about the future," which I don't think is meant to be a joke, but sounds like one.


And then there are 30 pages worth of variant covers, which remind one that something good did come out of this series: Michael Cho's great fight card-style variants.

Although, perusing those and the other variants, it's weird how many of them promise or depict fights that never actually happen in the story at all...