Monday, 29 April 2013

News: Peter David closes X-Factor Investigations

Since returning in 2004 with the acclaimed 'Madrox: Multiple Choice' mini-series, Peter David's X-Factor has gone from strength to strength, weathering numerous Mutant storms, carving out it's own noir niche in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, that comes to an end with September's issue 262, as the writer brings the series to a close.

Rather than facing cancellation or a relaunch, David himself has chosen to end the series. After completing the "Hell on Earth War" storyline, the writer believed he'd reached a natural conclusion.

"It was basically decided that the 'Hell on Earth War' was as major a storyline as we were going to do,"

"I'd been building toward it for so long that it simply seemed a logical culmination to the entire series. So we decided to wrap it up. It's been going for 10 years, after all."

I, for one, will be sad to see the series go. No matter which radical crossover was happening in the core X-Men titles, X-Factor provided a safe haven for casual readers. Off in it's own little corner, it told intelligent standalone tales, that weren't beholden to the rest of the line.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 9 #20

Writer: Andrew Chambliss
Artist: Karl Moline
Publisher: Dark Horse

Dawn is at death's door because of her Sister's decision to destroy the Seed of Magic in this world. To save his girlfriend from this terrible fate, Xander takes desperate measures.

Xander Harris has always had the short end of the stick when it comes to his role in the "Scooby Gang". He isn't a Slayer, he isn't a Witch, he isn't a Demon, he isn't a Werewolf, he isn't a Vampire, he isn't even a Watcher. Through nine years, the man has remained just that, a man. No different than any one of us reading this comic. In a way, he is us. Where everyone else has had fantastical stories, taking them further and further away from normality, Xander has been the character the audience can identify with. This detachment from the monstrous world around him is both a gift and a curse. While he gets to be their dependable rock in a crisis, their one lone island of sanity, he's powerless to help them. They live in a world that would be lethal to him. One lone moment with a villain and he literally loses an eye. Which makes stories like this one all the more impressive. When the average man isn't content to merely watch his loved ones suffer and steps up to the plate.

In seeing his girlfriend, Dawn, on the verge of death, Xander is compelled to take action. Throwing his hat in with some extremely questionable characters, with the best of intentions. This pair should be familiar to regular readers, being rogue Slayer Simone and power vacuum Severin. Two of the most dangerous original creations for the Buffy comic so far. This is them stepping up from Big Bads in waiting to full blown Mwah-ha-ha. The scariest thing is just how logical and convincing their pitch to Xander is. There's a distinct vibe of "sure, they're dicks, but this could actually be helpful". So I'm expecting it all to go horribly wrong in 3...2...1.

The plan itself is rather ingenious, assuming everyone is playing above board and telling the truth. Having usurped the visiting Illyria's time travel powers in a previous issue, Severin is now capable of going back and changing history however he sees fit. As all three of their problems started around the end of Season 8, they believe travelling back to before Twilight and ensuring the villain's rise never comes to pass, everything will be solved with a big bow on top. Giles won't die, Dawn won't die, Severin's girlfriend won't die, Simone can give being a Slayer one last try (yeah, right), etc. But that's just too easy. Not to mention, insulting to anyone who happens to have bought and read 40+ issues of this "Season" via Buffy, Angel & Faith, Spike, Willow. There's no way in hell they get to press that big red cosmic reset button, no matter how much they want to.

This issue also marks the return of one Williow Rosenberg, who has been absent for the best part of Season 9. Having struggled with losing her connection to Magic, Willow has spent the past few months travelling through various Demon dimensions in an attempt to harness their power and bring it back to our own world. This took her through a fair few issues of "Angel & Faith", as well as her own five issue mini-series. So she hasn't exactly been gone from us, just the usual suspects like Buffy and Xander (and boy did they screw up in her absence). Given the creepy addict vibe the television series reveled in towards the end, this quest of Willow's to bring Magic back to the world has always sat uneasily with me. She can dress it up however she wants, about how we're now lacking hope and inspiration, but I feel like she just couldn't cope without it. She's an addict and she needed her fix. When she gave up before, it was her choice and she knew it was still out there, should she ever need it. But this time, Magic was ripped away from her. It literally wasn't an option anymore and I would've loved a deeper exploration of those themes. This is more the light and fluffy version, where she turns up with Magic in tow and everyone's happy again.

With this issue, it feels as though Season 9 is gearing up for a big sprint to the finish. The villains are finally in play in a meaningful way, beloved characters lives are at risk and there are moral quandaries aplenty. If Andrew Chambliss can keep twisting that proverbial knife in their backs, we're in for a treat. Season 9 is most definitely living up to it's mantra of more personal, less fantastical. Xander being the living embodiment.

9 out of 10

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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Justice League #19

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ivan Reis
Publisher: DC Comics

While the heroes are distracted by the tragedies in their lives, a masked assailant breaks into the Batcave. Taking out the unsuspecting Jason Todd and Alfred Pennyworth, the thief proceeds directly to a vault, containing dangerous items Batman has gathered secretly, designed specifically to take down the Justice League!

Now, it's impossible to address this issue without first pointing out the striking similarities to the famous "Tower of Babel" (JLA #43 - 46) storyline. Back in 2000, Mark Waid wrote a story whereby Batman had secretly compiled contingency plans for taking down specific members of the Justice League, should they ever go rogue and need to be dealt with. The idea of the Dark Knight safeguarding the world against his own friends seems to be a popular trope, as it's been repeatedly re-used since then. Between 2005's "The OMAC Project" and 2012's "Justice League: Doom", Batman has defeated his teammates numerous times. So to see these very same ideas pop up yet again, in a Geoff Johns book no less, tells me Bruce really needs to stop plotting the downfall of everyone he cares about. When he sits down to write these plans, he shouldn't be anticipating having to use them himself, but figuring out which villain is going to make a beeline towards him and use that plan to their own ends!

Also, while I'm not adverse to opening up the Justice League's world and using some of the individual character's supporting casts, I was truly taken aback when I flipped to the first page to find Red Hood and Alfred the Butler. It felt so random to have them there, even though they have every right. You just don't expect them to be mourning the events of Batman Incorporated in a Justice League book. Even though they both feature the adventures of Batman, there's usually a huge degree of compartmentalisation and the two portrayals to have no real effect on one another. I was similarly surprised with last month's issue, when Nightwing turned down League membership because he was still pissed at Batman due to "Death of the Family. Geoff Johns is clearly trying to make the DC Universe one big cohesive whole, I guess I'm just not used to it yet.

Two characters who are definitely benefiting from a functional shared universe are Firestorm and the new female Atom. Neither hero has had much success since the New 52 began, so bringing them both into the fold of the core Justice League book gives them a nice boost, where previously readers could take them or leave them. Firestorm has had a particularly traumatic time of it lately with his troubled ongoing series, which could never truly find a workable status quo. The union of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch has had more than a few growing pains, so it's a joy to see them back to their more affable pre-Flashpoint selves. All the more credit to Johns for the creation of this new Atom. Where a typical fanboy may question his not using the original Atom, Ray Palmer, I didn't have much of an attachment to the character in the first place, he just happened to be the first attempt. So who is under the cowl is neither here nor there. For what it's worth, this new girl taking on the mantle seems like a lot of fun and is sure to find fans quickly.

The Superman/Wonder Woman romance continues to simmer in the background of the series. Where in the recent "Throne of Atlantis" crossover, Clark was attempting to soften Diana's view of humanity and potentially calm her warrior's instincts, the dynamic flips here. Rather than expose Clark to a noble trait of her own lifestyle, Diana shows him the worst humanity is capable of and has a speech that borders on a mustache-twirling supervillain, looking to impose her "just" will by any means necessary. Batman appears before she really puts her foot in her mouth, but it's clear that this incarnation of Wonder Woman isn't quite as friendly as she had been in the past. The Amazon could very easily lead Superman down the wrong path with the best of intentions, so I'm hoping their fling is short-lived before they do something they can't take back. After all, as we saw in the Justice League International Annual, one kiss between the pair was enough to erase Booster Gold from history. There's no telling what could go wrong the longer these two stay together.

Unlike the beginning of this volume, which tended towards big dumb fun, Johns is slowly returning to his traditional nuanced approach, preferring genuine character drama over the sight of muscly gods hitting one another. Every character in this book is working on several different levels, whether it be acting out, holding back suspicions, cracking wise, the works. There are genuine mysteries at play in this series and only now are we beginning to feel the ominous vibe sweeping across it's pages. Johns has finally found his feet on Justice League, I just wish it hadn't taken a year to get here.

9 out of 10

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Review: Nightwing #19

Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Brett Booth
Publisher: DC Comics

With last issue's revelation that his parent's killer (Tony Zucco) is still alive and loose on the streets of Chicago, Dick Grayson packs his bags and heads for the Windy City! A change in venue for any series can be risky, as that generally means uprooting an entire cast and trying to justify their presence in this new location. For some inexplicable reason, the one hero who seems to be friends with everyone, has zero ties to where he sets up shop. Just like when Chuck Dixon packed Dick up and sent him down the river to Bludhaven all those years ago, it really is as simple as hopping a bus. Nightwing has to be the most transient superhero in history!

To be fair, I think this latest volume has been blighted somewhat by it's reliance on the core Bat-books. While building the central mystery of Haley's Circus, the writer Higgins often got sucked into the crossover flavour of the month. Where Dick was meant to be reacting to his own problems, he instead had the consequences of "The Court of Owls", "Death of the Family" or "Batman Incorporated" to deal with. To any Nightwing fans not reading those other books, they must have been wondering just what the hell was going on. The move to Chicago and a healthy distance from the rest of the Bat-family will most likely solve these complaints, allowing Nightwing to be a hero in his own right.

Ironically, within these first few pages of being in Chicago,  I was struck by the similarity to Gotham. Not necessarily due to the style of building or even the people, but by Nightwing being chased across rooftops by the local Police. The sequence bore an uncanny resemblance to the opening pages of Geoff Johns' Justice League #1 from several years ago, wherein Batman was chased in identically framed panels by the GCPD. But the similarity ends quickly, as where Batman had the good luck to stumble across Green Lantern, who made short work of his pursuers, Nightwing is well and truly on his own. Taking two shots to the back for his troubles.

The story itself is mostly scene-setting, as Dick moves to this new city and attempts to set himself up in both his civilian and superhero guises. His hours as Nightwing are the relatively simple part, as hitting the criminal underworld where it hurts is what he does best. However, finding somewhere to stay in his off-hours is another trial entirely. Having made the journey to Chicago on such short notice, he's basically at the whim of whatever cheap listing he can find on the internet. Soon settling upon a simple sub-letting, future issues will inevitably show Dick having to deal with hiding his double life from a roommate. A genre staple if ever I heard one! Gail Simone's Batgirl has been dealing with a similar situation recently, but let's hope this roommate is as normal as they come, as I'm not sure we need another random transgender announcement any time soon.

The incoming artwork of Brett Booth is sure to be a major talking-point going forward. Up until this point, the series was anchored by Eddy Barrows' real world aesthetic, however if you've read an issue of Teen Titans recently, you'll know Booth is anything but. Don't fret though, as this isn't a bad change. Booth's art echos the vintage days of noted former Nightwing illustrator Scott McDaniel, who would always have the hero in mid-air, leaping over rooftops, pulling off daredevil acrobatic feats, even in his quieter moments. As such, Booth brings us our most athletic depiction of Nightwing since the New 52 began. He adds a few unnecessary flourishes to the uniform around the neck and waist, but I think that's just an effort to put his mark on the character.

The villain of the piece (and for the foreseeable future) appears to be the Prankster. We don't learn much about the new(?) rogue in this lone issue, merely how much of an inconvenience they've been to the Mayor of Chicago and his criminal cohorts. The costume doesn't do much for me and so far they're only pestering generic corrupt officials, ergo not the most revolutionary story ever told. I was hoping Higgins might've swung for the fences with these latest issues, having been freed from the constraints of Haley's Circus and essentially being gifted a new beginning. Nightwing's rogues gallery is especially in need of work, having been gutted over the course of several years worth of terrible DC editorial decisions. Not since the days of Blockbuster, Torque, Nitewing, Shrike, Brutale, Lady Vic, etc, has Dick actually faced a legitimate threat. But while Prankster may not be my cup of tea, I have high hopes for the returning Tony Zucco. You can't have a villain with more pathos than having murdered the heroes' parents in cold blood. If Higgins plays his cards right, he could have a Nightwing story for the ages.

7 out of 10

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Review: Age of Ultron #6

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Now the survivors have split into their respective teams, with their own unique ideas as to how to stop Ultron, it's backwards and forwards, as we travel to the far-flung future and back to the early days of the Marvel Universe itself. Continuity is officially swiss-cheese!

As mentioned in my last review, the far more linear side of things is handled by Captain America's team, who've elected to travel to the far future and attack Ultron at the source. But that's frustratingly narrow thinking for a team that includes a futurist like Tony Stark. They shouldn't be thinking about avenging the havoc already wrought, they should instead be focusing their efforts on making sure it never happened in the first place. But more on that later. The future team don't really have a lot to do, truth be told. They arrive at their destination, make a bolt for what's left of New York, are promptly attacked and most likely killed. Ultron isn't known for his mercy and he shows none here. Captain America takes an especially nasty hit, which may have outright vaporised his head, but that could just be awkward art, as it was a little unclear. I did however enjoy the Iron Man beats that came before the attack. As someone who deals in technology day in, day out, Tony Stark has a unique perspective on what Ultron has done with the world in their absence. It's beautiful. Completely devoid of life, but damn does the robot do machines justice.

While I'm loathe to agree with another of Wolverine's infamous "let's murder the threat, even if it's innocent" plans, the tiny Canuck definitely has a point with his plan to eliminate Hank Pym and it's this begrudging acceptance that leaves his time-travel partner, Sue Storm, conflicted for the whole of the issue. The Invisible Woman has just suffered the loss of her entire family at the hands of Ultron and despite initially being drafted to the future team, inexplicably finds herself drawn towards the assassination side of things. This is a Sue Storm unlike any one we've met before, as she's clearly stricken with grief and willing to entertain any notion that brings her loved ones back. There are shades of the moral woman we've been reading about for the past fifty years, but like all human beings, we're oh so flawed and that leads to our favourite heroine looking the other way at a vital juncture.

The consequences of Wolverine's murderous act are likely to be far-reaching, creating a Marvel Universe entirely unlike the one we've come to know and love. What does the world look like minus one Hank Pym? Numerous adventures over the course of five decades have hinged upon the quick thinking of this man. While Logan and Sue may have put an end to the Ultron threat for the moment, they've opened a whole new can of worms, which may be impossible to put back the way they were. Just in recent memory alone, the entire Skrull invasion hinged on his involvement, he deftly led the Mighty Avengers into battle multiple times and even mentored the next generation at Avengers Academy. There's no telling which one of those situations would have proved lethal to the world without Hank at the helm. For all the evil the man unleashed upon the world, he did just as much good trying to redeem himself.

The story itself remains consistent with the previous five issues, keeping the same decompressed pace that Bendis' Avengers comics are renowned for. However, with Bryan Hitch leaving the series with last week's issue 5, all visual continuity is out the window. Peterson and Pacheco are wonderful artists in their own right, but struggle to match the realism of Hitch's issues. To look at it, it feels less like an event and more like filler. Certainly not carrying the weight that the events involved deserved. If they had been the art team from the beginning, things probably would've been different, with the story coming together as a coherent whole. But in it's current form, it's as though three series were meshed as one. Comic book publishers are becoming far too concerned with the scheduling of their series, meaning the end product gets rushed in a effort to meet a certain date. It's clearly taken Hitch several years to complete the first five issues, yet Peterson and Pacheco could've knocked this one out in the past month. It's a change of pace that's difficult to ignore.

Don't get me wrong though, I enjoyed this issue far more than the others, simply due to the increased plot progression. The heroes have felt remarkably static for the past five issues, not truly taking any action against their mechanical menace. The actions they do take here, while flawed and sure to end badly, at least they're up off their asses and doing something. The time for wallowing in self-pity is over, now it's time to kick some ass!

7 out of 10

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Review: Uncanny X-Men #4

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Arriving at the doors of the Jean Grey School in Westchester, rebel leader Cyclops goes on a recruitment drive! Declaring "to me, my X-Men", the former Headmaster certainly has guts. But not for much longer if Wolverine has his way.

The divide between Cyclops and Wolverine has been the driving force of X-Men comics for the past three years. Ever since the "Schism" event led to half the team choosing to stay with Scott on the Mutant isle of Utopia and half choosing to leave with Logan, aspiring to restart the School in keeping with Professor Xavier's dream. There is a fundamental divide, straight down the middle of the Mutant community, neither side entirely sure of how best to proceed in a world that hates them. But where Wolverine preaches peaceful co-existence (yes, I know how ludicrous that sounds), Cyclops sees the reality of the world around him and wants Mutants to be a force to be reckoned with. If Humanity won't leave his people alone to live in peace, he'll fight them tooth and nail for every second of freedom. Not unlike the Magneto of old. Only younger, dashing, not ranting like a mad man and definitely not leading a team of self-proclaimed EVIL Mutants (yeah, dumb move there Erik).

Whereas the biased opinions featured in sister-series "All-New X-Men" would have you believe Cyclops to be a radical lunatic looking to incite full-blown war and Mutant Genocide ( exactly would that benefit him again?), "Uncanny X-Men" tends to feature the man himself and as such, a far more reasonable, grounded representation of the racial icon. The sad thing is, the worst insults come from people who used to call him a friend mere months ago. Honestly, you kill one mentor under the influence of a cosmic-being and suddenly you're a different person. Under those rules, half the Marvel Universe shouldn't be speaking to each other! Any scenes featuring Kitty, Storm, Wolverine or Beast are borderline insufferable with their inability to hold an adult conversation with a long-time friend like Scott. They'll teach forgiveness of Humanity to their pupils, just not forgiveness of their friends and colleagues. Real mature, guys.

Thankfully, the Cyclops character assassination takes a backseat, as Bendis examines the same scene that ended "All-New X-Men", only from the on-looking perspective of the Stepford Cuckoos (and Emma Frost, when she can get her powers to work). You see the same actions as before, taking place in the background, but this time with the true focus on the borderline torture of Frost at the hands of her former students. The Cuckoos are not happy to see their mentor again and aren't shy about showing it. Quickly realising that Emma's powers have been "broken" in the wake of the Phoenix disaster, the person that the Cuckoos once feared most, becomes little more than frightened prey, toyed with by a superior predator. Honestly, by the time the issue closes, you get the sense the Cuckoos have joined up with Scott's Uncanny team not out of any ingrained loyalty, but simply to mess with Emma some more.

With a book called "All-New X-Men" on the stands, it's ironically "Uncanny X-Men" that features the greatest wealth of new Mutant characters. While the adults are off having a pissing contest with their former friends, Scott's new recruits are making themselves at home in the former Weapon X facility turned Xavier School. It's only now dawning on them that this is their life and it's not simply a matter of "going home". Thankfully, Bendis doesn't wallow in the angst of their new situation, but instead has fun with it. As questionable as the leaders have become, these children are 100% goofballs and very quickly find themselves getting into japes in the Danger Room. Not to mention, something as simple as picking which room to sleep in.

An unfortunate side effect of Marvel's scheduling means that this issue of "Uncanny" unintentionally spoils the big reveal of which original X-Man joined the team in the wake of last week's "All-New" cliffhanger. I'm sure the consequences of this character's "defection" will be touched upon ad infinitum, but as far as shock and awe is concerned, the cat is out of the bag. The man of the hour is none other than Warren Worthington III aka Angel. After his failed attempt to bolt back to his own time (even if he can't remember it), it's really no surprise that he wants nothing more to do with the Jean Grey School. If he can't get home, getting away from those do-gooding nutjobs is the next best thing! As evidenced by the issue of "All-New" in question, these time-displaced original X-Men are beginning to ask the right questions, ones that are making the teachers at Wolverine's school all the more uncomfortable as they struggle to justify their own lies. Say what you want about Cyclops, the man is telling the truth.

8 out of 10

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News: Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier Concept Art

As you may have noticed over the past few days, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier has begun filming and as such, is leaking concept art like a sieve.

The most prominent pictures to have hit the net show Cap sporting yet another new costume, making this his third in as many movies. Admittedly, his Avengers garb had it's flaws and looked somewhat out of place in the context of the real-world heroes. I mean, when Thor comes out looking better, you know you've got a problem.

This particular model appears to be based upon Ed Brubaker's "Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier" costume, which the character wore once returned from the dead, only to find his partner Bucky filling the role of Captain America. Taking the position as Director of SHIELD, Steve opted for this paired down, basic look. Far less colour and pomp than the icon he was originally intended as.

Speaking of Bucky, the former sidekick appears to have made the transition from page to screen almost entirely intact. While I'd never personally envisaged Sebastian Stan in the role, even in the first film, Marvel have nailed the look. Metal arm, check. Long shaggy mane, check. All looks in order here.

Last but not least, we get a feel for Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson aka The Falcon. The character has long been a partner to Captain America, but has fallen into obscurity in recent years. I'm genuinely excited to see him dusted off for the big screen treatment. His costume, while not as colourful as his comic book counterpart, looks far more in keeping with the world of SHIELD. It's all about sleek leather jumpsuits with those guys. The wings themselves are appropriately high-tech and I expect to see him gliding gracefully throughout the film. Now, whether he'll talk to his pet falcon, that's another thing entirely.

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Review: Batman #19

Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Greg Capullo
Publisher: DC Comics

With the death of his son, Damian, fresh on his mind, Bruce Wayne may be about to lose himself, only not in the way you think!

While not strictly a "Requiem" issue for the recently fallen Robin, this issue holds another important piece of the grieving process for our favourite Dark Knight. Amid an outbreak of uncharacteristic robberies, Batman can be found locked away in the deep dark recesses of the Batcave, watching footage of recent missions with his dearly-departed partner from the comfort of his cowl-cam. After the relationship-breaking antics of "Death of the Family", seeing Bruce retreat into himself, with no one other than Alfred to fall back on, is heart-breaking. This is clearly a time for the entire Bat-family to pull together, but they're further apart than ever before. And if the cover wasn't clear enough, writer Scott Snyder even seeks to challenge Jim Gordon's faith in his long-time trusted friend.

Like most DC comics this month, it's all about the cover. The "surprising" gatefold covers were meant to be part of a promotion known as "WTF?", but two seconds after releasing the publicity for it, DC realised they'd put a popular swear word on the front cover of a supposed children's medium. Sufficed to say, the promotion was shot down almost immediately and now it's more of a theme than a branding. Unfortunately, these covers seem to be purely about the shock value, rather than any attempt at a genuinely intriguing plot. No matter how gorgeous a picture of Bruce Wayne pulling a gun on Jim Gordon that Capullo can draw, I don't think anyone in their right mind will put much faith in the story to genuinely feature that beat as it appears here. To Snyder's credit, he addresses it far more succinctly than his fellow DC writers, playing the mystery for fun just as much as for shock. I particularly enjoyed the beat where Bruce ran over Jim on his motorcycle, there's something morbidly funny about that panel.

It's difficult to address the story of the issue without touching upon the central mystery of why these upstanding citizens would commit such heinous crimes. But any Bat-fan worth a damn will probably figure out what's going on and who's causing it. There are only so many villains in Batman's rogues gallery that can bring about such behaviour in their victims and I'm genuinely happy to see them make their debut in the New 52, having been almost entirely absent since the line wide reboot several years ago.

Ultimately, I'm hugely impressed by Snyder's continued efforts on this series. While Grant Morrison's "Batman Incorporated" may steal all the headlines with it's Robin-killing shenanigans, that book has always felt disjointed and more of an experiment on Morrison's part to see what messed up things he can do to Batman and see if he'll spring back as an icon. Whereas, Snyder is far more interested in the person under the cowl. This core Batman series grounds the entire line more than I can say, piecing together the puzzle that is 10+ ongoing monthly series and still having the power to tell it's own story. It'd be easy for every Bat-book under the sun to get lost in a sea of Damian-related grieving *cough*Batman&Robin*cough*, but the far crueler realisation is that life goes on, even without that snobby murderous punk with a heart of gold. There will always be a case. There will always be a villain. There will always be Batman.

9 out of 10

Review: Age of Ultron #5

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics

We reach the halfway point of Marvel's 2013 summer event and the story that's been quietly simmering for four issues finally boils over, bringing us to the crux of the series - time travel. After last issue's big Vision-shaped discovery by Luke Cage, namely that big bad Ultron isn't even in the same time-frame as our heroes, the survivors weigh up their options from the comfort of Nick Fury's super-secret Savage Land hideaway.

Once arriving, the question isn't so much how the heroes will strike back against Ultron, but when. As it turns out, Fury has been stashing one of Doctor Doom's old time platforms for a rainy day and it doesn't get more rainy than a shower of shiny golden robots systematically destroying the world. If memory serves correct, said time platform doesn't affect the current timeline, merely create a new alternate one. I vaguely recall a Fantastic Four annual hinging on a future Johnny Storm coming back to avert a tragedy, but rather than save his own family, he merely created a world where they continued to live. But that might just be my fanboy mind picking holes in Bendis' chosen plot device.

With the method of the remaining heroes' kamikaze mission decided, they then have to choose the perfect moment to strike at Ultron and the survivors are of two minds on the matter. While the linear side of things is covered nicely by Nick Fury's strike team, heading off into the far-flung future to attack the Ultron directly responsible for this assault, the far more interesting approach comes in the final pages, as Wolverine declares his intention to travel back and kill Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man aka Ultron's creator), before he can birth this monstrous AI upon the world. The small hairy canuck aims to misbehave and there's no telling what affect he'll have on Marvel Universe continuity as a result.

As explored in the opening pages, to much wordier effect, Pym himself had even considered travelling back to a time before Ultron and warn his past self of the horrors his creation will inflict. But as correctly pointed out by his fellow scientists, Tony Stark and Reed Richards, where does one draw the line when "correcting" past mistakes? Do they leave it at Ultron or do they travel back even further and stop Hitler from kickstarting World War II or do they go back even further and knock that insidious apple out of Eve's hand. The message Bendis is trying to relay is that altering time is a slippery slope and there's no clear end in sight. As much as the ability may aid the heroes in this time of need, it's just as likely to be abused by the wrong people. Hell, in this case, the heroes ARE the wrong people. They want to murder a founding Avenger!

Age of Ultron #5 marks a profound turning point in the course of this series, not only with the changing stakes of the situation, but behind the scenes as well. The first half of this ten part story was written nearly three years ago at this point, making for numerous visual and character inconsistencies in the opening salvo. Wrong costumes for the most part, but wrong characterisation entirely in Spider-Man's case, who fails to reflect his new "Superior" attitude. Like most characters in the book, their current status quo's weren't even an inkling in their creator's eye while Bendis was writing and Hitch was illustrating way back in 2010. As such, issue five brings to a close Bryan Hitch's work on the series, gracefully departing with some fine work, before the story kicks into another gear entirely. I'll miss the consistency of his artwork on the book going forward, but I'll be grateful for an up-to-date artist who isn't trying to jam old ideas into present day continuity. It's Marvel NOW, not Marvel THEN.

The story itself continues to tick over, giving us enough to keep our interest, but not really engaging at the same time. There's an inherent flaw in time travel stories, whereby at the back of your mind, you know everything will snap back to "how it should be". Marvel have so many plates spinning at the moment, I can't believe they'd let a three year old pet project dictate their entire line's future. This is basically Bendis wrapping up a few loose ends from his legendary run on the Avengers franchise. It's more of an encore, than a beginning. Play the hits one last time, then respectfully leave the stage. After all, Jonathan Hickman's Avengers series has shot off in another direction entirely. So much so, Age of Ultron is squarely in the rear view mirror, even as it continues.

6 out of 10