Friday, July 25, 2014

October's Shaking Things Up A Little

First things first, Avengers Undercover does end in September. Marvel might want to consider using the same sort of tag DC does in their announcements. "FINAL ISSUE" OR "LAST ISSUE", whichever. Case in point, Hawkeye is projected to ship in October, and it's described as the Final Round between Clint and the tracksuits. It's also listed as the final issue in the fourth trade paperback collection that's popped up in my Amazon recommendations. So maybe it's the last issue. 22 issues in 27 months. 23 if you count the annual. Seems like it's missed more months than that, though it remains to be seen if the book ships when it say it will.

Moving on, there's a few things of relevance. Superior Foes wants us to know it still hasn't been canceled, and neither has anything else I'm buying. Yet. However, as I mentioned earlier this week, I'm skipping the Axis tie-ins for Deadpool.

Deadpool: WHAT?! You're abandoning me?

Only until the Axis tie-ins are over. I'll be back afterwards, assuming the creative team doesn't change.

Deadpool: But Axis is going to change everything, and none of it will ever be the same again!

Yeah, that's why the Red Skull is running around in Onslaught's old clothes. And why the world is being covered in hate. I seem to recall it was being covered in fear just three years ago. Fear Itself ring a bell?

Deadpool: That was totally different. Now the Avengers and the X-Men are going to work together!

Hey, it's great the heroes will actually fight villains instead of each other, but your Original Sin tie-ins haven't convinced me there's going to be anything worth seeing.

Deadpool: Hater.

Scram would you? I think the birders are rifling through your pouches! The only other possible change of note is Ann Nocenti's going to be writing a Klarion series. I have no idea what to expect whatsoever, other than it probably won't resemble Klarion's Valentine's Day team-up with Stephanie Brown. Oh, and it'll probably be canceled in 8 issues. So I'll probably try it. Why not? I know, everybody's all giggly in anticipation over the new direction for Batgirl, and I hope it does well, if only because it might encourage DC to diversify the tone of their line a little more. But, Barbara's still not a Batgirl I'm particularly interested in, so it'll fall to the rest of you to make it a success.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wolverine's Causing Some Problems For Me

One problem I have with Avengers Undercover is this idea that the kids won't receive any benefit of the doubt for their actions, because they're considered damaged goods. That they were considered unstable after Murderworld, and now they straight up murdered Arcade, and that's it, they don't get to be good guys or make any excuses for their actions.

The problem with this, as he so often is in such matters, is Wolverine. The kids were put through Hell, and when given the opportunity to face their tormentor (who had in no way repented or attempted to make amends for his past actions) they killed him. How is this different from the relationship between Weapon X and Wolverine? They experimented and tortured him, and now he kills people connected to the project whenever he gets the chance, and has done so for quite some time.This isn't taking into account his typical slaughterings of the Hand, the Yakuza, random biker gangs or hate groups, etc., etc.

That Wolverine's done these things isn't the problem. It's that he's done them, and continues to do them, and it doesn't seem to hurt his standing with the rest of the costumed hero set at all that's the issue. If Wolverine can kill people for no greater offense than they stand between him and the guy he really wants to kill, and he can still be headmaster of a school, serve on 3 different X-teams, and be an Avengers, why can't Hazmat, Cammi, and the rest be cut a little slack for cutting Arcade? I'm not saying sign them up for the Avengers - frankly, you could hardly blame any of them if they never wanted to do the hero bit ever again - but they shouldn't be in a situation where they're being thrown into SHIELD lock-up and treated like super-villains.

I think sometimes the worst thing that happened in the Marvel Universe was Wolverine became popular. Say what you will about whether the Punisher fits in the Marvel Universe, at least he's still generally regarded with wariness or outright distrust by the heroes (his odd team-up with Dr. Strange in Original Sin aside). I don't know if Wolverine's reputation was ever that bad, but in the day, Spider-Man and Daredevil fought him as often as they worked with him, and Captain America told Logan the Avengers would never have him. Even the X-Men weren't quite sure of him. Most of the time he was a trusted friend and ally, but every so often, he'd lose his temper, lash out at them with his claws, storm off on his own, disregard somebody's orders. Even they couldn't entirely drop their guards around him. He was a bit of a wild card, because he wasn't as merciful as the other costumed do-gooders. If it had been him on top of the bridge watching Gwen Stacy be knocked off, the Spider-writers in the '90s would have had a heck of a time explaining how Norman Osborn engineered the Clone Saga when he'd been hacked into little bits.

Which might have been a blessing for all of us, as it would have spared us the next 15 years of attempts to make Norman more like the Kingpin or Lex Luthor, but I digress.

The key was despite Logan's penchant for bloody revenge, he still had enough kinder, more noble moments you could understand how the X-Men stuck by him, even if the rest of the heroes kept their distance. He was capable of warmth, bravery, sacrifice, compassion, all those good qualities. He didn't always default to them, but they were there.

The problem is, while those qualities haven't vanished over time, neither has all the killing. If anything, it's getting worse, as he grew overexposed and writers couldn't think of any better stories than to have Wolverine slice up 50 bad guys. No, 100 bad guys. No, 200 bad guys. And the bad guys all have laser chainsaws! Ahem. Until you get to Millar who has Logan setting out to kill everyone in HYDRA, which is apparently over 40,000 people. I don't know if he managed it or not (given HYDRA's continued existence, I'm guessing not), but that's ridiculous. Yet Logan only seems to grow more accepted. He and Spidey have breakfast at Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. He and Ben Grimm share brews and play cards. Everyone seems to have simply decided that's who Logan is and they'll just ignore that massive pile of bodies behind him. Which makes it kind of strange when they get bent out of shape about some teen heroes killing one guy, or they treat Deadpool like garbage because he kills people for money (but also saves the world sometimes), even though Wade has a legitimate mental illness.

I don't know what the solution is. Wolverine could stop killing people, or at least kill people much less frequently. Him being dead ought to help in that regard, at least until he comes back. Though I wouldn't put it past Logan to continue to kill people after he's dead. Or, go the other way, let him keep killing people, but make this an actual sticking point, where the Avengers aren't so happy to have him around, and making him headmaster of a school is not a good idea. All that ninja-killing has to be cutting into his time and availability to handle the administrative duties of the position in a timely fashion. Let him be a part-time history teacher, or something. Professor Howlett's Tour of Deaths of the 20th Century. The problem there is trying to explain the sudden about-face everyone would have to experience to put Logan back on the "not approved" list.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What I Bought 7/3/2014 - Part 5

All right, last pair of comics for a couple of weeks. One book has a guest penciler, the other one is getting back its usual artist.

She-Hulk #5, by Charles Soule (writer), Ron Wimberly (artist), Rico Renzi (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - I have never tried that "tape all the pieces of evidence on the wall" thing you see people do. It always looks too messy and disorganized for me. I'd just get distracted by it.

We're into the "let's split up, gang, and look for clues" portion of the investigation. So Jen visits the Shocker, who is both more and less pitiful than he is in the book we'll be discussing further down. But Jen manages to avoid a fight, and the Shocker manages to remember a few things after he zaps himself with his gauntlets. Patsy goes to visit Tigra and they have a pleasant chat until Patsy mentions the name of the guy who brought the case against them. Then Tigra tries to kill her, and herself, though Patsy narrowly averts both those things. Angie's up in North Dakota trying to find the original documents, which she does, but the person at the courthouse is about to shoot her. Which means it's probably a bad thing Jen wraps up the issue calling Wyatt Wingfoot to discuss the case with him.

So we have post-hypnotic implanted suggestions, a mysterious person was up to something and needed two villains with similar shticks to help, and the resultant effort by the heroes to stop it destroyed a town. I have no idea how all that pieces together. I also don't know if it's significant that Wimberly used the same spiral in the eyes thing for the country clerk when he's getting ready to shoot, and for Angie and the monkey when they saw whatever it was they saw in the ruins of that town. Is she (or the monkey) connected to all this?  Is there some sort of illusion cast over the town, and it requires a similar effect to the hypnotic suggestion to see through it?

Can't say I care for Wimberly's art. Everything's too wrinkled, and he draws things so I feel like I'm looking through a fish-eye lens, kind of like Tan Eng Huat does, which is not an effect I'm terribly fond of. He does good work with the sound effects, though. I especially like the SCREEEE when Angie hits the brakes, the way it follows her across the panel. Don't understand why he uses quote marks around them sometimes (like the THMMM when Jen lands on the fire escape. I like Renzi's colors. They're very, "Day-Glo" is the word that comes to mind, and maybe a little unusual, but they evoke the mood well and make sure things stand out. Angie's car against the frozen expanses of North Dakota, or that pink-purple sky over Tigra and Hellcat's heads. It's a good backdrop for their color scheme, and it looks odd enough to put the reader slightly on edge.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #12, by Nick Spencer (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer) - Hmm, I get that Wimberly is trying to make their costumes look like they fit as real clothes would, but no. He made the Shocker look even dumber than usual, like it's some common hood trying to pretend to be the Shocker with a custom made ski-mask.

After two issues of stupid time wasting crap, back to the actual storyline. I mean, jeez, did Lieber and Spencer think they were Fraction and Aja, going to stall for time with a bunch of stupid ancillary nonsense? Whatever. Boomerang manages to convince his team that it was really the Chameleon who screwed them over, which wouldn't have worked if the Owl wasn't there backing him up (because Spencer's Owl is about 1/100th as smart as Mark Waid's Owl). And the Owl wants them to help get back his painting from the Chameleon. He even went out and hired a bunch more super-villains for Boomerang to dupe, er I mean lead in an assault. Isn't this a little small-time for Bi-Beast, though? The others, sure, I could see them getting on board (maybe not Shriek), but I kind of thought Bi-Beast was into destroying humanity or taking over the world, stuff like that. Just being cannon fodder here, so I guess it doesn't matter. Boomerang suckers Overdrive into taking a fake of the painting (because Fred's such an expert on art he can detect forgeries now?), and that leaves Boomerang free to loot the safe. The other thread is that Hydro-Man told Hammerhead how Shocker has Silvermane's head, and now Hammerhead's guys are going to storm Hermann's apartment. Hmm, now would be a good time for She-Hulk to show up and ask more questions.

I'm still having a hard time buying Boomerang being smart enough to even come up with a scam like this, let alone keep it together this long. He's a putz. He's always been a putz. He couldn't out-maneuver the Beetle for leadership in the Sinister Syndicate, because he's a dope. Fortunately, everyone else in the book is an even bigger dope. It's like the Futurama episode where the giant brains make everyone except Fry complete idiots. But there are no giant brains to be seen. The book is still funny, but remember how I said a couple of weeks ago that I've grown really impatient waiting for fictional characters to get their comeuppance? I'm kind of itching to see his team kick his butt.

All that (extensive) complaining aside, credit to Spencer and Lieber for making me care about the Shocker. He's a chump, the guy who figures if you say you're a team or a gang, it means something, in spite of all evidence in his life to the contrary. I've always kind of liked the Shocker, because at his core, he's just a thief. He doesn't care about world conquest or bloody revenge. If he never saw Spider-Man again, I'm sure he'd be just fine with that. But he can't help himself being a thief. He either can't, or won't change, and so he's stuck. There's always going to be a hero there to ruin his day. Now he's got to deal with the fact the people in the same boat as him don't even treat him well. I'd really like to see him get a good moment here, just trounce Hammerhead and his guys, but it's probably not going to happen.

OK, that's weird. I was looking back over it, and the Owl says he hired more guys, and that Fred requested 11 more villains, Fred's response being that now they're the Sinister 16. Except with only 4 members (Boomerang, Overdrive, the Beetle, Speed Demon) to start with, that would only be the Sinister 15. But Lieber drew 12 villains, which would make 16. I'm confused. I also notice Speed Demons is nowhere to be seen during the attack on the Chamleon, so either he's got something planned with Fred, or he's hanging back, waiting to pounce when Fred tries his double-cross.

It's interesting how much more subdued Rosenberg's colors are here than on Nightcrawler. It fits; there's not weird magic, super-powered robots, or schools with training rooms that cost billions of dollars. It's a bunch of cheap crooks running around making fools of themselves. It's basic greed and stupidity, just dressed up a little.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Apparently I Don't Trust Anyone In The Marvel U Anymore

A few months back, I was complaining about how, in the pages of Avengers Undercover, Constrictor part of Zemo's little cabal, seemingly get to stand on the same level with what I see as much higher-quality villains. And then I noted that all four of the main villains - Constrictor, Zemo, Madame Masque, Hellstrom - have been heroes or helped heroes in the past. And since then, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that something about the whole situation feels off.

Both sides are trying to run scams, of course. The kids have their plan to go along with the baddies until they can find a way to bring Zemo down and rehabilitate their images. The villains are trying to snooker the kids by presenting being part of the gang as really cool and awesome. And Hellstrom's lying through his teeth when he tells Nico he hasn't done anything to Cullen. We know that's nonsense, because we saw Zemo asking if Hellstrom had Cullen under control at the end of the first issue.

Also, the whole situation with Arcade screamed "Set-Up!" The bad guy's plan to get Cullen his shot at Arcade just so happened to be ready to go right when the others came looking for Cullen. But at the same time, there was no opportunity to check if all the kids were on board with it. Nope, just chuck them into the middle of it. Then, there's how convenient it is that SHIELD just so happens to find Arcade's secret lair - which has presumably been up and running for awhile - right as the kids are trying to bail. This one could be explained as Deathlocket disabled whatever jamming or scrambling devices Murderworld had when she shut down Arcade's powers, but it seems questionable those systems were shut down (even though they're hardly related to Arcade's powers), but not the recording or transmitting equipment that would broadcast Hazmat killing him across the globe. And wasn't it convenient that SHIELD brought along some mages who could block Nico and Cullen's abilities, even though Arcade's never demonstrated mystical abilities? And rescuing them from lock-up makes it look like the kids pulled a jailbreak.

It's pretty obvious the whole thing with Arcade was Zemo's way of boxing them in, so his offer looks that much better, so maybe it's the only option, really. But I can't shake the feeling there's more to it than that. That conversation Zemo had with someone over the phone. The smart money is it's Techno/the Fixer, but what if it's Tony Stark or Hank Pym? I have this feeling the kids are being tested by the Avengers (or SHIELD) as part of some psychological evaluation. What's their decision-making process like, what direction does their moral compass point, how deeply affected are they by their time in Murderworld, how much of a potential threat are they, stuff like that.  It would be really messed up, but a lot of alleged good guys seem to be operating under a vague umbrella of the ends justifying some really awful means, so I could see it.

Now you say, why would these bad guys help with that? Who says they are? Constrictor and Hellstrom have both done the good guy thing before, they could easily be in one of their good phases, or else they're being paid well (or Constrictor could just be a dupe). Zemo and Madame Masque not as much, but by the nature of their outfits, there's no guarantee those are the real Zemo and Masque. We haven't seen their faces, it could be Winter Soldier and the Black Widow for all we know. If Kate Bishop can pretend to be Madame Masque through an auction, I'm pretty sure Natasha could pull it off in her sleep.

Maybe, instead of letting the bad guys infiltrate their peacekeeping organizations, the heroes decided to infiltrate the bad guys, take control, and try to limit the damage. What have we seen the bad guys do so far, besides beat each other up? The kids killed Arcade with an assist from Hellstrom, and a bunch of them attacked an A.I.M. installation. And only Captain America shows up to get involved? With roughly 5 million heroes as part of the Avengers these days? Uh-huh. Sure, the villains could theoretically use AIM stuff to cause all sorts of trouble, but given the structure of the organization they're in, it'll only happen if the top dogs tell them to. And in this scenario I've constructed, that won't happen because the head honchos are really good guys. There was the attack on a SHIELD base at the end of the first issue, but that could be a put-on, just to maintain appearances

I'd say the chance I'm right is 10% or less, that I'm jumping at shadows because the writers these days seem so inclined to have heroes do shitty things and try to justify it somehow. I'm not even sure I'd want to be right, because it would such a lousy trick for the good guys to pull on the kids, but it's an idea I've been mulling over for some time, so there you have it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What I Bought 7/3/2014 - Part 4

And now the weather is behaving as it normally does in July. Blerg.

Ms. Marvel #5, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (art), Ian Herring (color art), Joe Caramagna (lettering) - I noticed that on the credits page they screwed up and listed this as "Part Four Of Five". Getting so people can't even count to 5 anymore. Ah well, that's a nice cover, though. Quiet, reflective, pretty.

Kamala's initial rescue attempt fails miserably. She gets injured right off the bat, and only narrowly escapes. Then she falls asleep at her kitchen table surrounded by food (she's got to feed that metabolism if she's gonna heal), and gets caught by her mother, who is freaking out. Her dad steps in and calms things down, then turns the emotional thumbscrews. I'm sure it's not (totally) his intent, but I can't help reading those sort of touching parental confession moments as a bit of guilt tripping. I'm sure he's sincere, but it did make Kamala feel bad, so there you go. Anyway, she resolves that she has to be more prepared, so she and Bruno start testing her powers, and he's uses his experimental polymer to make her a stretchy costume. Hey, when you can't afford (or steal) unstable molecules, get super snot. Thus, her next attempt goes very well. She's shrinks down, rides in on one of the little robot things, gets it to zap Doyle, she grabs Vick, and they're out and gone. But Doyle's boss isn't happy, and Doyle's boss is. . . a Terrigen-evolved pigeon? Great, a giant rat with wings. I imagine that's going to produce a dumbfounded reaction when she meets him.

Nice touch by Caramagna altering the font size based on Kamala's size. I especially like the panel where the words get smaller as you go through the sentence because she's shrinking as she's talking. Alphona's still doing an lovely job on the artwork. I don't know if it's intentional, but when the Inventor leaves his message for her at the end of the issue, the way Kamala's holding her mouth mimics the way the mouth was drawn on the large stuffed version of her the Inventor left.  The range of expressions he gives Kamala and Bruno when she's convincing him to help on page 10. She's goes from this frustrated and determined look to being cheerful, to then sort of smugly pleased when Bruno agrees, and the whole time Bruno has this clearly pensive and uncertain look and posture. He really doesn't want to encourage her, but he cares about her, and his brother needs saving, so what can he do?

Three things about the writing. One, how long was the Inventor going to have Doyle watching Vick in that basement? Kamala and Bruno must have needed at least a couple of days to run all those tests on her powers and to make the costume. I guess the Inventor could just be very deliberate in his decision-making, though deliberation isn't a quality I tend to associate with pigeons. Two, I'm hoping Kamala and her mother get to have a reasonable discussion soon. So far, Kamala's only had those with her dad, while mom tends to freak out and start wailing about how her child is going astray. Maybe she's just like that, all histrionics and overreacting, but I hope to see another side soon. The other characters are getting more facets to them. Third, I like that when she manages the rescue, we see very little fighting. because Kamala isn't the sort to enjoy beating people up because she can, and she's there to rescue someone. Once she's got that someone, she's getting the heck out. She wants to help people, not necessarily beat up bad guys if she doesn't have to.

Nightcrawler #3, by Chris Claremont (writer), Todd Nauck (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (color artist), Cory Petit (letterer) - I wonder sometimes if I'd want a tail like Kurt's. Given all the things he can do with it, it seems handy. But then I'd have to cut holes in the back of all my pants. Plus, it would throw off my posture, probably mess up my back.

So the robot attacks again, and we find out it's called Trimega because it can split into three, each which seems to control a different element. Kurt and his friends from the circus aren't doing so well until Margali steps in and banishes the baddies. Kurt convinces her and Amanda to return to the school with him, where Margali receives a very cold welcome from Storm, and I am missing some backstory here. I have no idea what atrocities Margali's committed, though I can't help wondering if she's killed more people than Wolverine (a thought I have often these days). Kurt's a little peeved and goes to the Danger Room to contemplate the fact that he turned his back on Heaven (and I got to say Kurt, my experience reading GrimJack suggests this was a bad idea). It falls to Logan to bring beer and talk with him about accepting that he made the decision, and needs to make the best of it. Which is good. It's always a little odd those two are such close friends, but they are and Logan would definitely not want to see his buddy so down.

Unfortunately, that's the last good thing that happens because, in order: Amanda drops Rachel like a sack of potatoes, Margali does something awful to Storm and Beast (turns them into photos, extracts one from each, and lets the rest collapse into a pile), and then a whole lot of those Trimegas attack the school. I'm not sure how Margali figures Kurt will continue his new in life in peace after what she just did to his friends. Geez, between her, Mystique, and Maddy Pryor, do any of the X-Men have moms that aren't completely demented? All of them seem to be "I'll slaughter village full of babies for my child", which is just messed up.

Well, I don't have any idea what the robots are up to, but I'm pretty sure this arc is going to end with Claremont putting a his own final end on anything between Amanda and Kurt. It's becoming more and more apparent Amanda's claims that she doesn't know what's happening are a load of garbage, meaning she's lied to Kurt and put his friends in danger. That revelation will go over well, I'm sure.

Rachelle Rosenberg's doing a good job on the colors. Every setting had its own sort of palette, and they remembered that if it was near dusk in Germany, it would be much earlier in the day back in New York. So the skies are going orange at the circus, but it's all bright blue skies back at the school. It's a little thing, but I appreciate that they paid attention to that detail. The rosy pinks of Kurt's recreation of Heaven, versus that metallic blue of the regular Danger Room and the interrogation rooms. The deep purple in the school hallways when the attack begins. It's a nicely ominous color, though I wonder if it's a coincidence that the light coming in through the windows is similar to the color they use for Kurt's teleportation cloud effect.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Invisible Man 1.17 - Perchance to Dream

Plot: Darien shows up needing a shot of counteragent and notices the Keep looks tired and stressed. He asks her if she'd like to hang out with him and Hobbes sometime, she declines. As she gets ready to give him the shot, her watch goes of and she abruptly leaves. Darien purses her across town and finds her chasing after some guy out for a jog. Then has to tackle her so she doesn't kill the guy, even as Claire insists she has to kill him before he kills her. This despite the fact she has no idea who the guy is.

Back at the office, the Official orders Claire to stay in the building under watch/guard, while Fawkes and Hobbes investigate this Mr. Burton. Except Burton has no idea who Claire is, or why she'd be scared of him, and he's a busy man, with an insistent business partner who just lets himself into Burton's backyard to ask for some papers. That having proved to be a dead end, our boys turn to the FBI and oh god, it's Jones again (see episode 1.3, "Ralph"). Jones will not share info with these "bozos", which gives us Darien and Bobby irritating Jonesy by bantering about whether they've been insulted until he leaves.

So Darien breaks into the FBI's office, and we get a funny exchange where he admits he doesn't know how to use a copy machine. Hobbes manages to talk Darien through the mysteries of the copy machine, and they pull it off with only minor chaos. Going through the files reveals there have been 4 recent murders where the killer and victim were seemingly unconnected, and in case the killer offed themselves after. It's also noted all four killers were going to sleep clinics for sleeping disorders. The guys had better hurry up, because Claire is getting impatient and hurtful, telling Darien outright that her life is in his hands, and she doesn't trust him. Really? Where's all the trust and warm feelings of the last few weeks? Darien and Hobbes have a conversation, where Hobbes suggests they go bowling or play mini-golf since there's no point of breaking into a sleep clinic during the day. Fawkes doesn't seem inclined to go along with this. At any rate, the sneaking about the clinic reveals a guy sending impulses to one of the female patients to stimulate her pleasure centers, which he is waaaaay too into. Not sure about Darien basically threatening the guy with jail and prison rape if he doesn't quit and leave right now, but it's hard for me to feel bad for the technician, little creep that he is.

This does give Darien the idea that someone sent a message to Claire through similar impulses while she was at the clinic, which is not a theory that impresses Claire. She outright says there's another answer, and that Darien and Hobbes aren't smart enough to find it. And then, she mentions the nightmares she's been having, the ones that remind of the time a stranger nearly pulled her into his car as she was walking home from school. So, great, they added a run-in with a child predator to Claire's backstory. Booooooooo. Basically her nightmares were that predator coming after her again, and somehow, she's convinced Burton is that guy, even though she has no idea who Burton is. And then Wil Wheaton enters the picture. He's runs a computer software company, and works on the systems at the clinics. And yep, you guessed, he (and his partner) are using that access to send images to patients to make them serve as assassins. A drone strike, if you will. And having overheard the boys questioning people at one of the clinics, now he's ready to send someone after them.

At the Agency, Claire is in a near panic trying to get out, and has already knocked out her two guards somehow. Darien and Hobbes manage to restrain her, and set Eberts with the task of keeping an eye on her while they chase leads. Except now they're being followed by Wheaton's assassin, a guy on a bicycle. Then Hobbes just has to stop for a coffee, and Bike Guy gets his chance. Darien thwarts it, but can't stop the guy from killing himself. Jones arrives, extremely pissed because he's certain they broke into the FBI's office and stole files, they even saw the van outside. His mood isn't helped with Darien and Hobbes  taking bets on how long it would takes Jones to arrive, or Hobbes claiming he was there because he gets nostalgic for his time with the feds, and that it's like checking in on an ex-girlfriend. At this point, we learn that Burton's partner hired Wheaton to eliminate Burton, because the partner's been embezzling funds. We also learn Wheaton's partner is getting cold feet, but not soon enough, since Darien finally had the brainstorm to check into the people who maintain the clinic's systems. Catching the two nerds is easy enough, but bad news, you can't erase the impulse they've placed in Claire. And then Claire escapes again. Man, those guards are having a bad time of it. Well, you get what you barely pay for, I guess. She purses Burton on another jog, and this time succeeds in killing him and herself, in front of Darien and Bobby no less. But wait, it was all fake, which explains the guards getting dropped twice in one day. Since they couldn't remove the program, they had to let it run its course, so they somehow sent that into her head to accomplish this. Also, Claire doesn't remember any of it, though they are nice enough to explain it during a pleasant walk in the park. Oh, and Claire kisses Bobby on the cheek. That's very sweet.

Quote of the Episode: Hobbes - 'Fawkes, you don't know how to work a copy machine? It's a copy machine. Every American knows how to work a copy machine. You stick the paper in. what are you talking about?' Fawkes - 'Hey, you know, if I needed a copy of something, I just stole it.'

The "oh crap" Count: 2 (26 overall).

Who's getting quoted this week? Homer, who said sleep is the twin of death. Hobbes quotes Metallica as having said ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you. And then the Beatles, in that we all get by with a little help from our friends.

Times Fawkes Goes Into Quicksilver Madness: 0 (6 overall).

Other: I really enjoy watching Fawkes and Hobbes banter when there's a third party there. Especially Jones, because it bugs him, and he's a jerk, so it's good to annoy him. Also, they're starting to do synchronized handshakes, which is kind of cute. And I like how effectively Hobbes winds up Jones. Jones knows Hobbes' weak points, but the reverse is true, and I like to think Jones' insults are growing less effective because Hobbes is growing happier where he is. Well, happy by Hobbes' standards.

If Wheaton and his partner are just sending images of the target into their victim's brain, how do they find them so unerringly? I could maybe understand if Burton's partner told them he always goes for a jog along a certain route at a certain time, though I don't know how you convey that information in a way that sticks. But how the hell did Bike Guy find Fawkes and Hobbes? All Wheaton knows is a couple of government guys are after him. Don't tell me he managed to successfully tail Hobbes long enough to learn things about him. And how is it Darien turned invisible and knocked their would-be assassin off his bike, but was completely unable to get the gun away from the guy or at least stop him from killing himself? That makes no sense.

I forgot to mention this last week, but Claire telling Darien he's not smart enough to see the real answer jogged my memory. Kind of surprised Darien didn't ask super-intelligent Hobbes for a way to get the gland out of his head safely. Oh well, opportunity lost.

Have to say I'm disappointed in Claire not having more faith in the guys. I get she's scared, convinced this guy is after her, convinced she has to kill him, but I thought there was more trust there. This was like a flashback to episode 1.11, when she and everyone else seemed convinced Darien had beaten the hell out of the Official. Which OK, his body did it, but not Darien himself. Which is another thing. How can Claire be so sure Darien's theory about someone sending impulses into her brain is bunk? Set aside the fact he turned out to be right, and just look at recent history? Last week, Hobbes was infected with a retrovirus that made him the smartest guy on the planet. Before that, they ran into a woman who seems able to become water. Go back before that and you get a situation where Darien's being taken over by the memories of a dead man that are stored inside the invisibility gland. Why is "they sent an urge to kill someone to you through electrical signal while you slept" where the line has to be drawn? Is it just because it's happening to her that makes it difficult to accept?

This is a strange episode in general. The plot feels a little weak, Burton's got someone trying to kill him, but that's barely touched on. The killers only appear halfway through, there's not much to them. The story just seems to meander. There's a lot of joking, a lot of banter, from the stuff with Hobbes and Jones, to Hobbes wanting to go bowling, to the copy machine, to the Official and Eberts musing whether Hobbes might actually be more of an expert on mental issues than the doctors. But then you have the creepy tech who's basically sexually assaulting that lady by sending her impulses without consent, and then the writers dumped Claire's childhood encounter with a predator right in the middle of the episode like a giant turd. It bugs me, because it comes out of nowhere, we've never seen any indication of how it has affected Claire prior to this, and it doesn't come up again. It's just the particular trigger the writers decided Claire needed so she'd be scared enough she could be driven to kill Burton. It's just kind of a plot device here, so Fawkes can feel bad, and I don't know, make Claire seem vulnerable, which didn't seem necessary to me. The Keep's been pretty rock solid up to this point, her sorrow when she thought Hobbes died a notable exception. We've seen her happy, amused, angry quite a bit, worried, but she's still professional, while also having been allowed to show more compassion as the season progresses. But I don't know that we've seen fear so far.

 The episode just has a very uneven tone, where everyone's joking, then BAM! here's a lady being violated in some way. Pause for moment of somber reflection (or dude getting angry), then more joking.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Favorite Marvel Characters #5 - Nightcrawler

Character: Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner)

Creators: Dave Cockrum and Len Wein

First appearance: Giant Size X-Men #1

First encounter: Nightcrawler #4. I didn't pick up that reprint of the X-Men's run-in with Doom until sometime in the early '90s. The first X-Men comic I owned was Uncanny #202, but Kurt's not in that. But in the same batch of comics that landed me that book, I got the final issue of the four-issue mini-series Dave Cockrum did back in the '80s. So it must be that.

Definitive writer: Chris Claremont or Alan Davis. It probably ought to just be Claremont, but I really like Davis' portrayal of Kurt during his stint as writer on Excalibur.

Definitive artist: Alan Davis! That sleekness Davis gives almost all his characters works really well for Kurt. Also, Kurt's an expressive guy, and Davis is very good at conveying that.

Favorite moment or story: Kurt's got a lot of good moments, from single-handedly protecting the heir to the throne of some kingdom from Arcade, to just managing to stay alive against the Wendigo that one time. Hey, Wolverine barely managed any better, you have to grade on a curve a little. He punched Mephisto right in the chops once (that was in his previous ongoing series, Aguirre-Sacasa/Darick Robertson one). I'm fond of the brief period where Technet was stuck on Earth and Kurt, laid up with a busted leg (thanks Captain Britain), turns them into a cohesive team, and uses them to stop a creature stealing mystical artifacts for a big bad. It showed Kurt relying on his wits, leadership abilities, and his skill connecting with others. That's from roughly Excalibur #45.

Why I like him: For starters, teleportation is a really cool power. I've always been a fan of those powers that make it quicker, easier, or just cooler to get from one place to another. Super-speed, heightened agility, intangibility, flight obviously, and teleportation. Maybe because I'm one of those folks who struggles to embrace that idea about it being the journey, not the destination. If I'm going somewhere, I want to get there now, not later. Plus, it makes for a lot of fun in fight scenes, letting Kurt wreak havoc attacking all over, turning enemies' attack against each other.

Kurt's got a cool look, for another thing. With the yellow eyes, the fangs, the two toes, the three fingers, the tail, the blue fur, the red, white and black costume that contrasts nicely with the fur. Throw in the distinctive style of his teleportation, with the explosion of smoke and the "BAMF" effect, he's well-designed to get a kid's attention. I've said it previously, but I think it really helps a character's chances to get the reader's attention if they're eye-catching, then the reader pays attention long enough for their personality to shine through.

Beyond that, there's the fact that Kurt looks scary, but generally he isn't. Oh, he can get angry, just like anybody else. One moment I considered mentioning above is from Excalibur #62, when he has to defend an unconscious Cerise and Shadowcat from a host of "warpies", only his powers have been blocked. Kurt's already feeling down because the Phoenix Force has dashed off into deep space with Rachel Summers and he thinks he should have done something, and now two more friends (or more than friend in Cerise's case) are in danger. So he unloads on those poor suckers. Those periodic badass moments are always appreciated.

But really, Kurt's a pretty gentle guy. Yes, he's handy with a sword, and quite willing to sock someone in the jaw if he thinks he deserves it (that warpie storyline ends with Kurt satisfyingly uppercutting Britain's version of Peter Gyrich), but he's pretty restrained. It's what makes the moments where he cuts loose more noticeable and effective, because he normally turns the enemy's strength against them. Let one bad guy hit another with an attack intended for Kurt. Use a judo toss and turn their momentum against them. All else fails, grab 'em and 'port them around until the strain conks them out. Kurt enjoys fighting, and he's good at it - hardly surprising given his powers and training - but I think it's less about hurting people, and more about the physical challenge it presents.

And the opportunity for dashing heroics, of course. Because Kurt fancies himself a swashbuckler, in the fictionalized form, anyway. I thought it was a good idea of Cockrum in that '80s mini-series to let Kurt spend some time with real pirates, as kind of a reminder they aren't all "yo ho ho" and good times. Still, Kurt's more the dashing rouge than the scalawag, which is the best way to go. It means you get a character who enjoys the challenge, enjoys saving the day, certainly enjoys impressing pretty ladies, and isn't likely to turn into one of those grim heroes who is all about the job, and can't take any real positives from it.

That's maybe the best thing about Kurt, his largely positive attitude. Sure, he gets frustrated, doubts Xavier's mission, doubts himself. Who wouldn't? He's watched friends die, or lose their powers, watched he and the other X-Men scrabble and fight and struggle to protect this world that continues to hate and fear them, him in particular. But he eventually resolves to go on, even if he isn't sure why, he sticks by his friends and hopes the reason will present itself in time (I think it's interesting that even in Uncanny X-Men #188, when he seems incredibly frustrates and angry, he's still on-board with finding young mutants and helping them learn to control his powers. He hasn't given up on that, he's just tired of protecting assholes like Gyrich from the Blob or whomever).

And his appearance prompted a lot of ugly reactions for a long time. Xavier found him being pursued by the stereotypical torch and pitchfork wielding mob. When he was gravely injured fighting Nimrod in Central Park, the response of the dock workers was not, "hey, this guy needs medical attention, let's help," it was "Get that stinkin' mutie!" His mother threw him off a damn waterfall to save her own neck. She's been more of a mother to her adopted daughter than she's ever been to him, to the extent that when they did Age of Apocalypse, one of the things they did to show how different this world was from the normal Marvel Universe was give Kurt and Mystique a close relationship, where she actually seemed to care for him. Then again, given Mystique's shitty track record of parenting with Rogue, Kurt's probably better off without her in his life.

And yet, here's Kurt, still finding things to enjoy in the world, still hoping he can make things better. He's still charming, friendly, funny, drinking beers with Logan, sword-fighting skeletons alongside Rachel or Kitty in the Danger Room, and apparently charming practically every lady he meets. I will readily admit the fact that Kurt is a character with a, let's say "unusual" appearance (because he's probably quite conventionally attractive without the fur and tail), who still manages to be incredibly successful with the opposite sex in part because of his personality is part of his appeal. Anyway, Nightcrawler seems like someone who would be a lot of fun to hang out with. Shoot some pool, help me brush up on my German, entertain me when he brings Logan along and they inevitably end up fighting a bunch of ninjas on my front lawn (though Logan would surely try to leave without helping to clean up the mess).

I feel a certain amount of similarity with Kurt. He's a lot more outgoing than I am, but he frequently only shows his positive emotions. When he's around his friends, he's all too willing to share in any revelry, to play the jokester, the one who keeps things lighthearted. But his doubts, his concerns, his fears, those he tends to tamp down, keep to himself. I'm not sure if he's trying to deny them, or if he just wants to sort everything out on his own, but that's my tendency as well. When the Phoenix takes off into space with Rachel, Kurt gets a little more angry, a little more brusque. Kitty keeps trying to talk to him about Rachel, and he keeps changing the subject or teleporting away. Whatever his feelings (he blames himself), he doesn't want to confide in others.

Likewise, for a long time, Kurt isn't comfortable being a leader. He's forced into it for a time after Storm is depowered and leaves the team, but he isn't comfortable in it, and doubts himself constantly. He seems better by the time Alan Davis is writing Excalibur, but he still second-guesses himself every time a snag crops up. Rather than adjusting and moving ahead with a new plan, Kurt is spending time worried he's made a mistake. That's because he cares deeply about his teammates and doesn't want to have put them in danger, but it also shows a certain lack of trust in his judgment (not to mention his teammates' abilities and experience). Even so, if you need a leader, Nightcrawler's willing to step up and give it a try, which is my feeling. I'm OK if presented with something I can do solo, where I'm boss and crew, but I'll issue commands only if nobody else is taking charge and there are things that need doing.

I haven't mentioned Kurt being a religious fellow yet. In truth, the swashbuckler was much more interesting to me than the priest. Especially because when writers start delving into Kurt's religious beliefs, they have a tendency to write a mopey, navel-gazing Kurt. While appropriate in small doses, it's not the Kurt I really want to see. I do appreciate the idea that the Elf believes in helping others, in love and compassion for those different from him, in spite of the fact he's seen precious little of that directed his way in life. It's nice, the same way that Steve Rogers was the right guy to get the Super-Soldier Serum because the man without power understands its value and potential for abuse, the guy who receives mostly hatred and scorn for being different understands how valuable it is to offer love and forgiveness.