Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Impact - Douglas Preston

I was in the mood for some more fiction, and this was the most promising fare the local library had.

A meteorite hits Earth off the coast of Maine. Two ladies in their early 20s, Abbey and Jackie, take Abbey's father's lobster fishing boat and go hunting for it, hoping to get rich. A host of radioactive gemstones start coming out of Thailand and the U.S. government sends ex-CIA guy Wyman Ford to find the source, since the radioactive material could be ground up and turned in bombs. And Mark Corso inherits his mentor's job at the National Propulsion Facility, and becomes engrossed by some very odd gamma ray data their Mars Mapping Orbiter registered.

As it turns out, the gemstones are coming from, well, not an impact crater, but an exit wound. The rock that hit off the coast of Maine went all the way through the Earth and came out the other side. This ultimately leads Wyman into contact with Abbey, and eventually they get wind of Mark, which only succeeds in putting them in a hitman's crosshairs. And there's still the question of where the meteorite came from, and why it's made of strange matter, and what the deal is with the gamma ray source.

Honestly, the gamma ray source is a MacGuffin. People chase and kill for it without having a strong grasp of what it is. The answers are presented at the end, and neatly wrapped up to be deposited in the trash, unneeded. Preston seems much more interested in having Abbey and Wyman get chased by a hired killer. Abbey is a fairly smart character struggling with deciding on goals or motivation. She went to Princeton but dropped out for failing organic chem, and can't seem to decide what to do next. I think she seized on the meteorite hunt as either an escape back to earlier days, or a quick way to turn things around. It sort of worked for her.

The book as a whole is mediocre, at best. I didn't feel a lot of tension in the chase sequences, probably because I was more curious about the deal with the gamma rays. I didn't expect the book would actually invoke aliens directly, because it seemed at odds with so much of the rest of the story, which is a standard thriller, hunted/hunter situation. Someone had mentioned early in the book the U.S. was very nervous about China beating them to Mars, and so I thought either the Chinese had built something, or at most, they had found something and started fooling around with it. Nope.

I thought there was also a sort of recurring theme of Islamophobia, running through the book. It's the gemstones falling in Muslim terrorists' hands that has the U.S. government most concerned. Preston makes a point of mentioning at the end of the book that the worldwide reveal of the origins of these meteors has united almost everyone in the world in a quest to make preparations, except the Middle East. But then he makes certain to mention Israel is on board with helping to get ready, so he's really just singling out the Muslim part of the world. Maybe that's how it would go, though personally I highly doubt it would be so stark as everyone except adherents of the Islamic faith is ready to resist conquest. Like, no Christians or Hindus or atheists are refusing to get on board? It's just cheap fear-mongering, using them as a convenient punching bag.

Though I should mention it probably doesn't even matter, because in the final chapter we learn that the Earth's various equipment picked up a signal being sent from the gamma ray source to another star system entirely, one which seems to have been destroyed some time ago. So we're meant to take it as the aliens won't be showing up, because they blew themselves up already. See what I mean about the gamma rays being on no real importance?

My question is, are the authorities going to let the rest of the world know, so they can stand down, or just keep everyone in a panic? Wyman expressed the opinion that it's only when people panic that anything gets accomplished, so are they going to keep people scared to see if it causes a dramatic leap forward in technology or cooperation? Sure, they believe that alien threat to be gone, but now they know there have been other intelligent species out there, far more advanced than humanity's present level, so do they figure they might as well keep driving ahead, just in case?

Monday, September 15, 2014

What I Bought 9/5/2014 - Part 4

So, um, what's going on in the world? No, don't answer that, it'll only depress me. Wait, Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin is soon going to open his own comic book store. I'm always impressed with people who start their own businesses. Obviously somebody has to try, but it just seems like such a daunting idea to me. All the money and time you have to expend. Also, you need customers, which means dealing with people. Who wants to do that?

Avengers Undercover #8 & 9, by Dennis Hopeless (writer), Tigh Walker (artist, #8), Timothy Green II (artist, #9), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - So I should assume Zemo hurling himself into Pym's mouth is all part of his brilliant plan?

The story jumps three months ahead, though I'm unsure whether that was always Hopeless' plan, or he's merely kicking things into overdrive for a rushed conclusion. The kids have spent their summer vacation attacking SHIELD posts. Deathlocket's having a grand time, Hazmat and Anachronism are getting closer, but they're also ready to call in the big guns. So Hazmat manages to get a call out to Pym, and then tries to gather the troops. But Deathlocket's thrown in with the bad guys, and Anachrnoism's finding out Hellstrom is controlling Cullen. Oh, and the heroes showing up to attack Zemo's stronghold has been his plan all along. So as the Avengers are SHIELD charge in, Zemo and his crew teleport out, seize the Helicarrier, and seal up the entrance to Bargalia behind them. But hey, Cullen's out from under Hellstrom's control. That's good news. And Cammi got free somehow! Whoooo, best news ever! Stab Zemo right in the liver!

So yeah, it's very much rushed. It would have been nice to see how seriously each kid committed to the cover, or if they found ways to appear to carry out their missions, but not actually do so. Let the target escape, appear to blast the dead body into a river, but really you just stunned them and arranged for them to be recovered downstream, stuff like that. I'm still not clear on the Zemo's plot.  I get he wants the Helicarrier, especially now that they have the codes to use it, but he was really expecting that having the kids would accomplish the part where he lures a Helicarrier in close enough to steal? You would think the repeated attacks on SHIELD outposts would have been enough, kids or no kids. I suppose this has the added advantage of trapping all the super-heroes in Bargalia, so Zemo and his bunch can wreak havoc, though I can't imagine some tons of rock are going to stop freaking Hyperion.

When I saw Tigh Walker listed as artist, I thought it meant Kev Walker decided to go by a different name. Not unless he also decided to completely change his style. Some of it is good, Tigh's style is simplified, lot of thick lines, it worked well for the quiet moments in issue 8. But several of the faces look lopsided, and his fight scenes aren't anything spectacular. Tim Green's work is more energetic, though he still needs to work on diversifying his female characters' body types. But I like how he draws Cullen's soul monster thing.

I like how Hank Pym is instantly ready to help as soon as Hazmat contacts him. We know he was ticked Maria Hill wouldn't do anything, but it's nice to see how, when he hears from one of his old students for the first time in months, he wants to be there for them immediately. Besides that, it's a nice touch because it shows the adults haven't abandoned the kids, for all that we might be fooled into thinking so otherwise, what with their complete absence from their lives over the previous several months (Cammi's mom excepted).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Invisible Man 2.2 - The Camp

Plot: The Agency has rather abruptly been shuffled over to the Department of Health and Human Services. Even the Official is in the dark, until on Alexandra Monroe strides in and informs everyone she used her connections to have it done, that she is now a part of the Agency, and that she has an office on the next floor up. Fawkes goes up to schmooze, but is mostly stunned by how well furnished her office is, and then get shot down when he tries to be smooth. Eventually, after he and Hobbes are finished making fools of themselves, we find out why she did all this: she's running an investigation on a series of baby abductions (including her own child), and she needed an agency small enough she could move it into this department, where such a thing would fall within their purview.

Alex still hasn't found a connection between all of them, even with her totally awesome (by early 2000s) computer that she promises to hook Claire up with. Hobbes suggests looking into a connection between the dads, and there you go: All the parents went through a Stork Corporation fertility clinic. Alex and Hobbes pretend to be a couple as a pretext to visit, while Darien snoops around invisibly. For the record, while Alex refuses to react to Darien going invisible in front of the boys, she is amazed when they aren't looking. While snooping, Darien finds some room full of computers that monitors, the parents I guess, for when the mother goes into labor. So they can send a team to take the kid. Darien rounds up his partners, and they stake it out. That night, a nurse comes in and takes the baby. Darien follows to a waiting ambulance, goes visible, and gets beaten up by her two goons. Fortunately, Alex steps in and beats up both guys, and recovers the child, though the nurse is able to escape, being followed by Hobbes to a camp. Darien sneaks in and finds a camp full of kids being put through rigorous physical and mental training while adults patrol with automatic weapons. And who is behind all this? You guessed it, Chrysalis!

The Official says they can't do anything without a warrant, which they can't have without proving the kids were abducted. So Darien sneaks back in, steals some used tissues and swabs the babies (chrysalis has a huge room full of little cribs and apparently no video surveillance) and comes back out. The Keeper notices none of the kids DNA sequences have introns, which means maybe the kids won't age or something. Regardless, the DNA samples are evidence enough, and the warrant is acquired, so all hands on deck for a raid. Except someone inside noticed, and they're arming the kids. Well even the FBI is not ready to shoot a bunch of kids. So Darien sneaks in again, and holds the head counselor at gunpoint, telling him to contact Stark.

Stark arrives, and he and Darien shoot the breeze for a bit, after Fawkes makes him remove his coat, shirt, and pants. Just to mess with him, mostly. Stark argues the kids belong to Chrysalis, because it was actually DNA from Chrysalis employees that makes up the kids. I'm not clear on whether they swapped in their own egg and sperm for the parents, or did some DNA switcheroo thing, but whatever, the moms were unwitting surrogates. All of this is being recorded by Darien's sock cap camera (provided to him by Alex), but isn't producing results fast enough to suit her, so she sneaks into the camp, right as Fawkes tries to bluff Stark by saying the feds are ready to come in guns blazing. So Alex' impatience helps, because she trips an alarm, which convinces Stark the feds really are going to kill kids. So he agrees to tell them to stand down, and that Chrysalis will leave them alone until they reach adulthood. After, we learn none of the kids are Alex', which means Chrysalis has more than one of these camps, and Alex steps outside to cry alone for a bit.

Quote of the episode: Stark - 'You're really becoming a festering wound, Fawkes.' Fawkes - 'That's about the sweetest thing a grown man has ever said to me.'

The "oh crap" count: 0 (3 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Princess Diana, who observed that if men had to have babies, they'd only have one. Woody Allen, who said something about not knocking it until you try it. And a poet named, um, Jabron, I think, who said your children aren't your children, that they come through you, but not from you. Which is factually untrue, half their DNA comes from you. Stupid poets.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 0 (0 overall).

Other: I don't think the Official told Eberts to shut up this week. Kind of hard to tell, I'm not sure how well this Hulu experiment is going to go.

They changed the opening credits. Not sure I like the change, but at least Mike McCafferty (who plays Eberts) gets to have his name in them. Go Eberts!

Stark's suit seemed to fit a little better this week. At least until Darien made him take it off.

I have to admit, I like these plots they keep finding Chrysalis involved in, if only for how much they indicate longterm planning. It's going to be years before these kids are ready to do, whatever it is Chrysalis has planned for them. Likewise it would have been awhile before those kids they were going to vaccinate with nanobots were in positions of power (though they still might have provided valuable information on their parents). But if you're thinking decades ahead, then that's fine. Though I still don't understand the freezing the smart people plan, just because they said you couldn't safely unfreeze them after 3 days. Doesn't that mean you should wait until right before a cataclysm, freeze them, then thaw them out shortly thereafter? Also, I'm not sure if Chrysalis is expecting a disaster, or is planning to unleash one. Maybe it's either one, take advantage of events, or make something happening if nothing comes along of its own accord.

Though I still cannot believe a company with the resources of Chrysalis cheaps out and doesn't put monitoring devices in their room full of stolen babies. Darien went in there twice, not Quicksilvered either time, and no one noticed.

I don't think Stark and Fawkes are quite at the level of animosity of Arnaud and Fawkes, which makes sense. Arnaud is really only concerned with himself, Stark is taking a longer view, working towards a goal that will outlive him. He and his wife have placed their own son in one of the camps, believing it better prepares him for what's coming. So he can see Fawkes' interference as minor setbacks, nothing that really changes the end result, since he sees the collapse of global society as a given. The Agency isn't doing anything that will stop that, at most, they're making it so a few more people might die, because Chrysalis won't be able to adequately prepare them for whatever goes wrong.

That being said, there's still some hostility. Stark doesn't appreciate Fawkes popping up, and I think Fawkes would enjoy irritating someone like Stark, even if he were only run of the mill evil, rather than cartoonish supervillain evil. Stark likes insulting Fawkes, and Fawkes likes giving it right back. Stark enjoys flaunting his power and influence - see his line at the end about how he keeps his word, but even if he didn't, Fawkes couldn't touch him - and Darien enjoys any little thing he can do to take that away. Interesting Allianora didn't come up. If I were an unpleasant fellow, I'd say the writers swept her under the rug once she was dead and served their angst purpose. But I'll instead take it as a sign that Stark cared about her enough to not be happy he killed her, and Fawkes knows now isn't the time to confront Stark about it. Focus on the problem at hand. I feel like it's something that should come up at some point, though.

And so we have Alex Monroe, super-agent, sticking around for the foreseeable future. can't say I'm exactly thrilled so far. I thought the rest of the crew had a pretty good chemistry going, and I wonder if she's going to muck it up. Offhand, she seems like she's going to be lording how awesome she is over everyone (except maybe Claire, she seemed friendly enough to her). Now the Official likes to occasionally abuse his power over Darien, Claire, or Hobbes (especially Hobbes), but we aren't supposed to like him when he does that. Because he's being a jerk. Now, it could very well be that Alex has not received the proper respect for her skills in her career because of sexism, and she's trying to set the parameters early, recognize and respect her skills and experience. Darien tried to be smooth almost immediately, and so he got shot down in flames. But I didn't entirely understand the scene in the van, where she sort of toyed with Hobbes, seemingly just so she could shoot him down in flames. He had already issued his 'don't fish from the company pier' motto, and then she says that's too bad, and when he says she's playing with him, she responds, completely deadpan, 'oh yeah'. What was the point of that?

I guess maybe she's going to assume the role Hobbes and Claire shared early in Season 1, where each of them doubted Fawkes, either his professionalism or how much he could be trusted. And each of them withheld a lot of their inner selves from everyone else for a long time. Except Alex is going to extend that attitude to the lot of them. I guess if her opinion is gradually turned around on them, and she can learn to respect their skills (without making her look incompetent, since she's supposed to be a Five Star A agent), that will work. She just met them, trust takes time, maybe she's not the type to share, fine, great. But to try and be so manipulative and condescending from the start, from people whose assistance you require, and who would probably be glad to help if you just asked (other than the Fat Man), is not a great first impression.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #1 - Spider-Man

Character: Spider-Man (Peter Parker)

Creators: Steve Ditko and Stan Lee.

First appearance: Amazing Fantasy #15

First encounter: Amazing Spider-Man #273. It would have been concurrent with Spectacular Spider-Man #111, but Amazing was the first issue in a two-parter that concluded in Spectacular. Maybe it should be Web of Spider-Man #12. I received all three simultaneously, but that comes first storywise, as it starts immediately after some punks torch Parker's apartment, and by the time we get to the other two, MJ is helping him repaint it. Somehow, though it's always Amazing #273 that takes prominence in my mind.

Definitive writer: Well, when you boil it down, it all comes back to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, doesn't it? Although the Spidey I'm familiar with is probably more Lee/Romita. But if we're going to stick to writers I've read much of, then it's either Roger Stern or David Micheline, maybe DeFalco after those two.

Definitive artist: Either Mark Bagley or John Romita Jr. There's a lot of others who draw him well, too, but those are the ones who've drawn him the most for me, and their the ones whose version I see in my head.

Favorite moment or story: That's tough, there's a lot of good ones. Spidey taking it to the X-Men in Secret Wars. Peter getting through to Harry Osborn in Spectacular Spider-Man #200. The Firelord fight, the first Morlun battle. Making Loki sit on a rooftop with him and eat hot dogs. The whole saga with the Captain Universe powers - who didn't enjoy watching him punch surly, Mr. Fix-it Hulk into orbit? But if I'm gonna pick one, it's gotta be the fight with the Juggernaut. Spidey tried everything: webbing, dazzling him with speed and agility, thousands of volts of electricity, steel girders, wrecking balls, tanker trucks full of fuel. Nothing worked. With no other recourse, he did the last thing he could - he covered the eye holes on Juggy's helmet. And then he held on. And held on. And held on.

I love those stories where Spidey has to punch out of his weight class. I especially like that Stern followed up that story by spending two issues on Spider-Man having to fight Mr. Hyde.

What I like about him: You cannot possibly be surprised by this. I can't remember a time when I didn't know who Spider-Man was, though that must have been the case at some point. I have a vague sense I watched Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends when I was young, but I don't know if that preceded those comics I listed. However it came about, for me, he is the superhero, the one I compare all others to. I don't know whether it's because of Spider-Man that red and blue were my favorite colors for a long time, or if those were already my favorite colors and Spider-Man wearing them was another point in his favor with me. It seems a silly idea he might be the source of that, but I can't rule it out. And when I was introduced to comics, he wasn't even using the classic costume, he wore the cloth version of the symbiote costume in all three of those comics I listed above. Lucky for Spidey, even his alternate costume is pretty awesome.

I know I liked his array of powers, and the way he didn't seem overpowered. He was strong, but lots of other heroes and villains are stronger. He's fast, but others are faster. He's smart, but others are smarter. He has a spider-sense, and I know I thought the ability to sense a threat and dodge it instinctively was cool, but it wasn't quite precognition or telepathy. He wasn't the best in any one area, but he was good in almost all of them, so he could face a wide array of problems and have some sort of solution, but it wouldn't necessarily be easy.

Visually he was interesting. He could be this bright, colorful figure swinging gracefully through the skyline of New York City. Or he could be an imposing figure, lurking from the shadows in the corner of the ceiling. Or they'd show him moving like a blur, dodging a dozen attacks at once, be they metal tentacles, pumpkin bombs, or plain old bullets. I have always been a fan of those panels with all the after images of Spidey, showing precisely how he's avoiding the threats with a remarkable grace. They're maybe one of my favorite things in comics.

It's hard to describe the things about his character I like because it's probably all of it. I think he's the template for most of the others in some way or another. I like his quick remarks and silly insults, because I'm a bit of a smart aleck myself (I might owe that more to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes, but it'd be close). Peter Parker was a smart guy who liked to read and was interested in science, and I spent a lot of time with my nose in books, too. Peter got bullied as a teenager, and I had some trouble with that in elementary school. I said I thought a spider-sense sounded awesome, well yeah, the idea of being able to sense dangers and deftly avoid them held a lot of appeal to me.

But there were other things, too. In the first few years I was reading Spider-Man comics, he had a lot of guest appearances by former foes who had turned away from crime to become heroes. Some of them were people who made a bad decision under pressure and just needed a nudge to get back on track. Others were long time foes he'd tangled with for years, like Sandman. And yet, Spider-Man was accepting of and encouraged their attempts to go straight. He might not always want help, but he at least appreciated the fact they were trying to do the right thing. Even when they thought the right thing was arresting Spider-Man (see Web of Spider-Man #50). In those early comics, the Puma was not too far removed from trying to kill Spider-Man, and yet, while he and Parker aren't friends by any stretch, Peter doesn't lash out the second he sees Thomas Fireheart. He hears what the guy has to say (that he wants Spider-Man's help in killing the Beyonder), and tries to explain why that's a ludicrous proposition, even if Spider-Man were inclined to kill his foes. Which he isn't, or Fireheart wouldn't be there asking for a partnership.

Parker understands people can make bad choices sometimes. They do the selfish thing, or turn a blind eye to the plight of others, because he did it himself. But he also knows not only the potential cost, but that people can change, and can use their gifts for the benefit of others. So he's willing to give others the chance as well, because I think he believes people are mostly good at heart. He always believed Harry Osborn would overcome his demons. He stood up to Dr. Doom to protect the aged thief the Black Fox. He even trusted Dr. Octopus to help save him from some lethal virus. It takes a person with a very positive (also very desperate) outlook to trust someone who has tried to kill them as often as Octavius had tried to kill Spider-Man. In Web of Spider-Man #12, the ending is that Peter decides not to press charges against the 3 teens who torched his apartment. Through a series of circumstances, they'd learned their lessons, and he didn't want to ruin their lives, when they could hopefully go forward being better people. I'm not as hopeful about people as Spidey, but I like to think people are capable of not making the selfish choice, given the chance.

In Spider-Girl #81, Electro shows up at the Avengers' Mansion. He has a daughter who inherited his powers, that he hasn't been there for much (because he was in prison), and since her mom died she's been out robbing armored cars and such. Max wants to get her out of that life, but has an added problem that his electrical aura and hers don't mix, and any contact between the two causes both pain. He didn't come to the Avengers for help, though, he just wanted them to get in touch with Spider-Man. Because he knows the webhead will give him a fair shake. And Spidey recognizes it's a genuine request to help a guy connect with his child, and he works to find a solution. I also like that issue because of how all the current Avengers, themselves not much older than Mayday, get really excited at the chance to meet the Spider-Man.

One of the other things I may have learned from Spider-Man is the idea of not expecting any thanks for doing the job, or even wanting any, really. I make a lot of cracks about the stupidity and general poor attitude of your average Marvel citizen, even before New York City was getting destroyed twice a year in big events, but it rarely seemed to stop Spidey, so I guess that told me if the job was worth doing, who cares if people appreciate it? Right off the bat in Amazing #273, Spider-Man has to stop two cars that sideswiped each other from crashing into a bunch of pedestrians. He does it by webbing the end of each car, and nearly gets torn apart for his trouble. As he's laying there recuperating, one of the pedestrians says, 'Look, Spider-Man tried to run us down with that car!', to which Spidey thinks, 'Oh great.' It's an incredibly stupid reading of the situation - if he wanted to hit you with the car, he'd just throw it - but it doesn't stop him from trying to save people later.

During that Web of Spider-Man story, Peter's built up by folks around the neighborhood as a hero, because he showed hewon't be intimidated. But when he explains at the end how he thinks the boys learned their lesson, the neighbors turn on him. They think he's wishy-washy, and they cancel the "Peter Parker Patrol' they were setting up, because none of them understand why he did it (Mary Jane understands, though, and these early comics, where MJ is both a lightening and steadying influence on Peter did a lot to make me a fan of hers). Again, while Peter questions the point of all that he's doing, I never thought he seriously considered that he should have gone ahead and had the boys sent to jail. He understood what he hoped to accomplish, and if others don't, and it causes them to look at him askance, or costs him some celebrity, oh well.

For a time, Thomas Fireheart owned the Daily Bugle, because he felt he owed Spider-Man a debt of honor for thinking Spidey was a criminal worth killing. So he turned the Bugle into a massively pro-Spidey paper. What's interesting was Peter seemed more uncomfortable with that than he had dealing with Jonah's mudslinging. Maybe because for all those years he could laugh to himself about how Jonah's tirades and slanted journalism were paying Spider-Man's rent and tuition bills, or because he trusted Robbie Robertson to balance Jonah's excesses and get the truth out there. But also, I thought it was because he didn't want accolades for what he was doing. Peter felt being Spider-Man and saving lives was the right thing to do, and so he did it. It's frustrating to be blamed when all you're trying to do is help, but he kept going in spite of it. He doesn't enjoy being called a menace or having rocks thrown at him, but he doesn't need the key to the city. Action is his reward, after all.

I've always preferred the idea that he isn't solely motivated by guilt over Uncle Ben's death, that he helps because he knows it's a way he can make a difference, and he likes helping people. It's the same reason I liked the Spider-Girl universe's idea that he would become a forensic police scientist after his web-slinging career ended. Peter's a smart guy in terms of science, and his years of crimefighting have probably given him some experience dealing with criminals methods, and especially with some of the weird stuff super-crooks would utilize, in a way your more standard CSI wouldn't. Not that he couldn't still help the old-fashioned way.

Also, I think having Peter driven by a desire to help more readily explains some of those times where he decides to chuck the whole thing. It does make sense that at times he would get fed up with all the fearful citizenry and with the complications it brings to his personal life, but it could also be as simple as him not feeling he's make a difference. There are times when so many things are going wrong for the people around him, it would be understandable if he wondered if he was actually helping like this. People struggle with that in their own way, whether they matter or make a difference, and there's no reason it can't happen to Spider-Man as well.

Of course, something always comes up, and Peter always decides to step up. That's something I really love, that if there's a problem, Spider-Man is going to get involved and try to do something, even if he's completely outclassed. It isn't that he enjoys getting beat up, or that he doesn't understand how overmatched he is. When Madame Web asked him to protect her from the Juggernaut, Spidey fairly quickly figured out the size of the gap between his power and Marko's, and advised her to call in more heroes. The X-Men, the Avengers, the FF, somebody. But they were all busy. Likewise, when he tangled with the Firelord, he managed to divert the guy and hauled webs for the Baxter Building, only to remember when he got there that the place had been destroyed recently, and he had no idea where the Fantastic Four were. Which just left him.

But if Spider-Man is all there is, he will hold the line as best he can. Over the years I've seen him tangle with the Juggernaut, the Firelord, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, the Wrecking Crew, Graviton, the Hulk, the Tri-Sentinel. He didn't win all those fights - the Surfer nearly killed him, he only saved himself from Doom by playing to Doom's vanity, the Juggernaut reached Madame Web despite Spidey's best efforts - but reading the stories, you never doubted he gave it everything he had, even as he wonders what the heck he's thinking fighting these guys. But he kept swinging right to end. His diverse powers, smarts, and guts give him a puncher's chance against most any heavyweight.

But because he isn't overwhelmingly powerful in any one area, combined with his tendency to overexert himself and to get distracted by his personal life, he can lose to just about any lightweight chump if the conditions are right (or wrong, as the case may be). He can hold his own against an entire Sinister Six, then lose to just Electro later. I don't think he's ever beaten Daredevil (which is something I would immediately rectify if I somehow got writing duties on Amazing Spider-Man. First issue, 22, sorry, 20 pages of Spidey kicking Daredevil's butt. Explanation provided later, but rest assured Matt will deserve it somehow). He's lost to Stilt-Man. Twice! It makes it very interesting because you can't tell how things are going to go for him in any given fight.

Slightly related, there was an issue of New Excalibur, #13 I think, written by Frank Tieri, where the Wrecking Crew are beating up Cain Marko, who interrupted some crime of theirs. This is when he was trying to go straight and so Cyttorak was gradually taking back its power because Cain wasn't using it in accordance with Cyttorak's wishes. The Wrecker is sad about the whole thing, and mentions everyone loved Cain, because he was the one guy who could shut up Spider-Man. Someone else, Thunderball maybe, comments that he hates Spider-Man, and the Wrecker retorts that everyone hates Spider-Man. This might seem contradictory with that story I liked earlier about Electro, but I tend to think that even though Spidey irritates the hell out of all the villains he fights by making fun of them constantly, they know that if they went to him for help, he'd hear them out. You can recognize the good in someone while still being annoyed by him.

The flipside of his fighting everyone is he can't exactly be overconfident, but he can be used to the weird stuff that comes with superheroing. I know some people didn't like that bit from JMS' run where Spidey sat on a rooftop with Loki and ate hot dogs, but I did. If you figure Loki is just humoring Spidey because he's using him as bait for Morwen, it makes sense. What, Spider-Man is supposed to be impressed by the Asgardian God of Mischief, with his flashy light shows and stupid robes? Please. Spider-Man sees better effects when he fights a guy wearing a fishbowl on his head.

Spider-Man's had the Captain Universe powers. He's been dumped into weird Ditko dimensions while trying to help Dr. Strange, been shrunk to microscopic size alongside Ant-Man. He was nearly stepped on by Galactus during a battle on a patchwork planet created by a sentient universe. A sentient universe that later showed up at Peter's apartment with a jheri curl needing to learn how to use the bathroom. He has fought Thanos, not just on Thanos' ship for the fate of the Solar System, but alone in the realm of Death herself for the soul of a young child. And he did it without flinching. There is not much he hasn't seen at this point, and he's survived it all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What I Bought 9/5/2014 - Part 3

Was reminded last weekend that it really annoys me when people are getting ready to go somewhere, but they can't seem to get organized. They keep remembering something they need to bring they haven't packed, or they can't get everyone on the same page about when they're leaving, or who is driving. And so everyone dithers around and nobody goes anywhere. That drives me up the wall, even if I'm not going with them. Just watching such disorganized people is irritating.

Rocket Raccoon #2 & 3, by Skottie Young (writer/artist), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (color art), Jeff Eckleberry (lettering) - This is really strongly giving me the Earthworm Jim vibe, with the talking animal riding a rocket through space and all.

Rocket gets himself sent to the prison on Devin-9, then promptly escapes with the help of Groot, who regrows himself from a splinter Rocket grabbed from the wrestling ring the first issue. See, Rocket requested to be sent to this prison so he could find Macho Gomez (who Rocket sent to prison), and have him bring Rocket to Gomez' boss, Funtzel, in the hopes of tracking down this other raccoon. In space, they rather easily fend off an attack of the space armada of ex-girlfriends, and utilize guppy warp to reach Funtzel's towing company. Once there, Funtzel contends he looked into this other raccoon, but could only finds rumors of some bunch of loonies in a tower, which Rocket interprets as being about the Book of Halfworld. Then the other raccoon appears, having already subdued Groot, and ready to fight.

It doesn't sound like much when I put it that way, but I think the plot is less than relevant for its details, and more for what it weird stuff Skottie Young wants to draw. So Macho Gomez' spacecraft is a sedan crossed with a fish, complete with little squid like space helmets and squid missiles that make a SQUIIIDOOSH effect when fired. So the prison break is a two page sequence that sprawls across the pages like a hamster wheel. This is second set-up like that so far in this batch of comics, the other being in Ms. Marvel. In both cases, I found it difficult to follow, because each one starts in the lower left corner instead of the upper left. The one here works a little better because Young moves the dialogue balloons diagonally across the page with a series of brief exchanges between Rocket and Groot, but actually puts the first balloon at the top each time, whereas that wasn't the case with Caramagna in Ms. Marvel.

So it's still very pretty, and I'll admit I'm curious about both what's going on with Halfworld, and how Rocket's going to make things up to the jilted ex-girlfriends. It's my guess, though not confirmed, that rocket didn't break up with them so much as cheat on one with the next, in a string of sleazy moves. Which is the sort of thing that makes me not like the protagonist, if his tendency to just murder whoever wasn't enough reason. That's still the biggest problem, I don't particularly like this version of Rocket. He's too amoral. He's not someone jaded by experience, or who has lost his ideals, he acts like he never had any to begin with. I'm not sure how long I'll stick with it. Six issues, at least, I guess.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Felicia's Getting A Little Off-Course

One thing I've tried to do with the Favorite Character posts is not talk about things done with the characters I don't like. Because it's a series of posts about why I like certain characters, not a series of "Marvel and DC have dumb editors who let bad writers write things I hate" posts. That's what the "Civil War" label was for.  It hasn't always worked - trash fire that it was, War Games was an important part of three characters' stories - but I've spent less time ranting than I feared I would.

This, however, isn't a Favorite Character post, so I can discuss poor decisions by creative talent as much as I want. Which brings us to the current state of the Black Cat in Amazing Spider-Man. If you aren't up to date, here's the situation: While Octavius was still in Parker's body, he caught Felicia leaving a high-rise she was robbing, punched her in the face and left her webbed up for the cops. Now Felicia is back on the loose and hellbent on revenge against Spider-Man, unconcerned with his explanation that it was Octavius, teaming up with Electro to try and kill the web-slinger.

First, we'll set aside the fact Felicia can't tell the difference between the Spider-Man she'd known all that time, and one that is Otto Octavius playing at being Spider-Man. Never mind Felicia's had some bad run-ins with the good Doctor. Never mind the fact that she once met Ben Reilly during his stint as Spider-Man and immediately knew he wasn't the webhead she'd flirted with and fought beside for years. Sure, Ben was an exact clone of the guy she knew, but Otto is clearly a master thespian, and Felicia, like all the other heroes in the Marvel Universe, was brain-damaged as hell.

Setting that aside, though, here's the thing. If I accept that she couldn't tell the difference, and that she thinks that really the best excuse Spidey can make up for it now, I can see Felicia being outraged Spider-Man would turn her in to the cops. She thinks they have a sort of "gentleman's agreement", and he broke it. I can see her wanting revenge for that. It's not a mature response, it's not the best response, but Felicia doesn't always go for those, not right away. I just can't see her going about this way.

Like I said, she's attacking Spider-Man in broad daylight, teaming up with a schmuck like Electro to do it, while yelling about how Spidey ruined her rep and she's going to get it back. Last thing first, Felicia is a thief. She's not hired muscle, she's not an assassin. She's the person you hire when you want something stolen quietly that supposedly can't be stolen, and you have the good sense not to hire Gambit. How does killing Spider-Man in a series of dramatic, public battles, which endanger innocent people, reestablish that rep?

It's like that Cable/Deadpool issue where Wade - having been literally pantsed twice by Cable on worldwide TV in the last three issues - tries to drum up some work by kidnapping a bunch of generals and making them watch him fight Taskmaster (as a showcase for his skills). Wade wins, but afterward, the generals point out they already knew Wade was a remarkable instrument of violence. Just like they already knew he was an unreliable looney-toon you couldn't count on to handle things professionally, something he also reenforced when he kidnapped them.

If prospective employers had questions about whether the Black Cat was still the best thief around, her current course does nothing to assuage those concerns. If anything, it should heighten them because she's seemingly obsessed with revenge and can't even do that quietly. If she wants her rep as a thief back, here's an idea, go fucking steal something. The Wand of Watoomb. The key to Tony Stark's liquor cabinet. One of Elektra's sais. Galactus' underpants, I don't know, whatever would prove she was still a really awesome thief.

I have been entertaining the possibility that Felicia is testing him. Spider-Man says that was Octavius and he's back to his old self now? Let's see. She put him in a situation last week where he could leave Electro to die, or probably die trying to save Electro. Being Spider-Man, he jumped in, as Felicia even said she was testing to see who was inside his head. Except, it doesn't seem to have changed anything. Spidey was down there, doing his best to save Max, and he asked Felicia to try throwing her luck powers into the mix. Felicia turns him down cold, vowing to watch him burn. It was bad enough when she was hellbent on attacking him when he was trying to save people from a burning building, now, even after he should have seemingly answered her question, she's still content to watch people die.

It's a disappointing direction by Dan Slott. Felicia's just another villain now, focused on revenge against the hero for misfortunes stemming from her own choices (I like the Black Cat, but stealing is still a crime, and she chose to steal, so jail time is the risk she runs), completely unconcerned with who she hurts in pursuit of that goal. Because it isn't like Spider-Man doesn't already have 5,000 people like that in his rogue's gallery. Oh well, someone can fix it somewhere down the line. If Marvel can sit there with a straight face and try to portray Octavius as a hero while he parades around in a stolen body, they can rehab the Black Cat's image after this nonsense is over. It'll turn out to be some valuable lesson about not letting anger rule your life, they way Peter's apparently rolled with all the crap Octavius did without becoming an angry, dark hero over it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What I Bought 9/5/2014 - Part 2

Think I got heat exhaustion yesterday, or close to it. That really sucked. Continuing the reviews, looking in on Carol Danvers and her biggest fan.

Captain Marvel #6, by Kelly Sue DeConnick (writer), David Lopez (art), Lee Loughridge (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - That cover really suggests Carol has a space armada on her side, rather than she is fighting a space armada, doesn't it? Unless Lopez is taking advantage of the lack of sound in space to suggest the armada is sneaking up on Carol. Picture J'son of Spartax muttering, 'Be vewy, vewy quiet, we're hunting Avengers, hahahahah.'

Carol draws her line in the sand, J'son promptly sends his pirate fleet across it. Why not? He's not with it, so he's not in any danger. Carol's doing her best, but there are too many for her to hold them off indefinitely. But Bee has found the Vibranium mine, and Eleanides sends up the two functional space fighters Torfa has to hold the Spartax, while Carol dives into the mine and buries all the precious, precious Vibranium way down deep. Which pisses off J'son, but since Tic has led an uprising of her own and seized control of one of the ships, she's able to broadcast his vow of annihilation across the galaxy. Whoops.

I don't know if this is how J'son's been portrayed since he popped up, but damn he makes a good villain. All arrogant self-justification, while being sure to stay safely out of range of any blowback. All least Tony Stark got out there and let people punch him in the face. So we'll see if J'son becomes Carol's recurring nemesis in this series. Carol describes herself as not being a genius or much of a diplomat (though I thought she did quite well making a connection with the people of Torfa), so put her up against a ruler who hides behind an entire army and see how it stretches her.

David Lopez draws an outstanding evil grin. I said that last fall during the Battle of the Atom crossover, and I reiterate it now. J'son's envoy or whoever she was had an incredibly wicked smile on her face as she told Eleanides that no one would know or care if everyone on the planet was wiped out. Some of it was what she was saying, sure, but she wasn't saying it quietly, or with a sadness that suggests she disapproves of her lord's decision. No, she was on board with it and giddy to deliver the sentence of execution. So Carol needs to pause to punch her in the face before starting on J'son. Face punches for all Spartax! Yes, including Star-Lord. I'm sure he's done something to deserve it (and is probably used to it anyway).

Ms. Marvel #7, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Jacob Wyatt (art), Ian Herring (color art), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - Looks like 90% of the pictures I take with Alex. I'd be Wolverine in those situations.

Kamala keeps Wolverine from being eaten by a giant alligator, and tries to deal with the idea that helping people is going to require someone getting hurt. They continue through the sewers, only to have the Inventor try the old "crush you with moving walls" stunt. Figures a bird cloned from a 19th century inventor would go old-school. As it turns out, the Inventor was using Logan's runaway student as the power source for all this, and there are other kids being held, somewhere. Kamala says she'll track them down, and Logan, oddly enough, agrees. You would think with kids' lives at stake, he wouldn't be willing to wait while a rookie superhero pieces things together solo. But he does, though he at least clues in Captain America, and since they realized Kamala gained her powers from the Terrigen Bomb, Cap passes the info along to Medusa.

Here's my question, why didn't Logan explain the truth behind Kamala's powers to her? Would that have been such a big deal, compared to her thinking she's a mutant? I feel like this is going to lead to problems down the road, likely when Medusa or some other Inhuman tries to get Kamala to follow their orders, and it could mostly have been avoided if Logan was just upfront with her. Or maybe I'm paranoid.

That concern (which may come to nothing) aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Kamala trying to impress Logan, learn from him, and eventually protect him when she learns he's minus his healing factor. And the fact Logan goes along with most of it, because he knows his limitations these days, but he's still not entirely happy about those limitations. Having to ride piggyback on Kamala can't have been the most distinguished moment of his career.

I still don't think Wyatt has Wolverine right, but I also still think some that is Logan's current costume. But the proportions of his limbs and such seem kind of wonky, and how barrel-shaped his torso is seems to shift a lot. Sometimes he seems pretty skinny, others pretty chunky. But this is Kamala's book, and Wyatt draws her very well, especially when he gets to exaggerate expressions for her. The look when Logan climbs on her back. It's very cartoonish, but it works, fits the tone of the book well.