Today, we check out War of Kings #6, War of Kings: Warriors #2, The Invincible Iron Man #16, Hulk #13, Dark Reign: Zodiac #2, and Blast to the Past with Amazing Spider-Man #5. Enjoy and spread the word!
It's a quiet, enjoyable week with the long awaited ending to War of Kings!
As always, you can easily check up on past articles of Super Reads. If you're reading this on The Outhouse, you'll see a link titled "Super Reads" under the "Features" button on the top of the page. Click on it and you can check out what happened in every issue dealing with Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and War of Kings (because I obviously have an addiction). If my directions are confusing, click here to catch up or remember back on all 62 previous articles. It's perfect for all your reading needs.
War of Kings ended quite a while ago and I'm finally getting to it. I know. Catch up, Super!
War of Kings #6
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Penciler: Paul Pelletier
In the last issue, the Inhuman Royal family considered ending this War with their disasterous Counter Plan, Vulcan learned that Talon might be an ally but the Raptor had his own ideas for the Shi'ar Imperium, Crystal and Ronan tried to talk sense to the Inhumans, Gladiator and the Starjammers took on Araki and the Shi'ar Death Commandos on Chandilar, and Black Bolt launched the T-Bomb... with himself powering it as a living sacrifice!
In this issue, it's Vulcan versus Black Bolt for all the marbles and we don't want Blackbolt to win! The Inhuman Royal Family (and Ronan the Accuser) discuss how stupid the T-Bomb plan is. On Chandilar, riots run through the throneworld and Havok and Polaris discuss getting the frak out of there while Gladiator finds himself in the uncomfortable position of leader. Of the Shi'ar. Vulcan and Blackbolt continue to swat eachother around the inside of the T-Bomb with back and forths happening all over the place.Crystal teleports in (with the help of Lockjaw), gets rid of the power in the Terigen Crystals, and grabs Black Bolt to teleport out only to lose Black Bolt at the last minute to a very angry Vulcan. The T-Bomb goes off without the Terrigen Crystals triggering universal upgrades but, instead, creating a hole in the universe. The Shi'ar end up surrending to the Inhuman/ Kree Alliance as the Inhuman Royal Family mourns the loss of Black Bolt.
Vulcan has entered Black Bolt's T-Bomb to find the ruler of the Kree and Inhumans and it's time to make this war very personal. The Magister of the Shi'ar takes on the King of the Kree. The twist? We want Vulcan to win. I know! It's messed up.
Y'see, the T-Bomb is charged (by the whispers of King Black Bolt) to sonically explode and spread Terrigen Crystals throughout the universe. This will upgrade everyone in the universe (except the evolutionarily stunted Kree) and make them Inhumans. This is a stupid plan. No, really. What it accomplishes is making your enemies more powerful while doing nothing for your Kree allies. We also learned, over in Guardians of the Galaxy #16, that Black Bolt will be responsible for the end of all that is: a expansion that consumes the entire universe. Because of this, Vulcan is our hope for a stable universe.
Not that Vulcan originally knows that's what this fight is about. He just sees his big bad enemy and starts hitting him. During the fight, he realizes that Black Bolt is holding back and that makes him further realize that this is a bomb with it's very own Inhuman sacrifice. Suddenly, Vulcan is fighting for more than just payback. He's fighting to save his people from having it's own Hiroshima.
There are a few people that realize how stupid the Inhuman's plan is. Crystal is the first. She doesn't like the massive death this could cause and is less than thrilled to lose her cousin in the detonation. Her husband, Ronan, is right by her side though he's probably a bit more concerned that this Uplifting Bomb will not upgrade his people. New to the side of logic is Medusa. For some reason, she was oblivious to the fact that she'd lose her husband to this manuever. She's just found out and now doesn't think it's worth it. She lashes out at Karnak who proclaims that her husband's sacrifice was obvious. Karnak wonders why Black Bolt never told her the particulars of the T-Bomb Counter-Measures. Medusa turns away, saying that her husband never tells her anything. Since she's Black Bolt's voice, that's telling.
The Inhumans have noticed that the T-Bomb is experiencing instablities caused by the fight between Vulcan and Black Bolt. The trigger mechanism of the T-Bomb may go off before they reach Shi'ar Space.
Ronan believes that this is as good as any time to stop the T-Bomb but, even knowing her husband will die during the explosion, Medusa refuses to alter the plan. Black Bolt was REALLY into uplifting everyone in the universe and nothing must interfere with that plan. Fortunately, there's a former Fantastic Four and Avenger member present who realizes this is the stupidest plan ever. Crystal grabs hold of Lockjaw and the giant Inhuman dog teleports them both away. You can imagine that one of Crystal's unseen hands is flipping her sister the bird.
Chandilar is burning. Just hours before, the former Majestrix of the Shi'ar, Lilandra, tried to regain her throne only to be assassinated by the Raptor, Razor. The riots were going on before Lilandra's death but have just escalated since. The best chance for peace has disappeared. That fact isn't lost on Havok and Polaris. The Starjammers know that even Vulcan doesn't have the strength to reunite the Shi'ar. If the Inhumans saw how fractured the Throneworld was, they probably wouldn't have even thought the T-Bomb necessary. Alex Summers believes it's time to cut losses and fly out. Ch'od is bringing the Starjammer (the ship) down for an escape.
One of the newest Starjammers, Gladiator, isn't going to get to run off. He backed Lilandra's attempt to regain the throne which was a first for the former Praetor. To see it all fall apart so magnificently has caused him to grieve. It doesn't help that he and Lilandra might possibly have been lovers.
Gladiator grabs Lilandra's scepter at the Temple of Sharra and Ky'thri and, cradling it close, walks out into the burning streets. Once outside, he finds the streets are far from empty. The people of Chandilar are out and they are begging for help. They see Gladiator holding the Imperial Scepter, notice he's outside the Temple of Sharra and Ky'thri, and one thing leads to another...
Back at the personal War of Kings, we debate who's more powerful: Vulcan or Black Bolt. Vulcan is turning out to be a hell of a powerhouse. He's kicking the Inhuman King all over the T-Bomb. All this time, he's berating the so-called "good guy" for sending this thing into Shi'ar Space. Now, it could be argued that Black Bolt's hands are sort of tied because he's concerned about prematurely setting off the bomb and not using his voice power. That's a point. Vulcan actually ticks Black Bolt off just enought that the king loses his temper and shouts right in the Majestor's face.
Vulcan's body falls, lifeless (and skinless... and he's missing an eye) to the ground. Black Bolt staggers to his feet just as Crystal makes her presense known. She's been using her powers to render the Terrigen Crystals inert. The T-Bomb's still a big sonic bomb but at least it won't evolve the entire universe. Since the bomb is going to go off prematurely (and soon), Crystal rushes to Black Bolt's side to bring the king closer to Lockjaw. She presents her argument against the Uplift program pretty succinctly while Black Bolt leans on her. It's not a good idea to evolve people against their will. Even kings don't have that right.
Just as the three are teleporting away, Vulcan lunges at Black Bolt, leaving Crystal and Lockjaw to teleport away without him. Vulcan is still just bones and meat. His left eye hasn't grown back and is just a spark of fire. He still knocks the weakened king around with a great deal of power. The third Summers brother threatens to turn this bomb around and send it back "return to sender." Black Bolt opens his mouth to reply.
The bomb goes off.
Admiral Ka'ardum and the Shi'ar Imperial Fleet are close by when the T-Bomb detonates. Ka'ardum sees the sky lighting up and orders up shields. When the sonic wave hits, he orders them up even further. As we pull back, we see the ships, space stations, planets, and moons being torn apart.
On Attilan, Maximus informs the Inhuman Royal Family that the T-Bomb has gone off and ripped a hole right in space and time. This is fabric of reality stuff and it's coming undone nicely. Yes, just as predicted in Guardians of the Galaxy. Medusa probably isn't even listening yet. She's more concerned about the fate of her husband. She's counting on her sister Crystal. While she waits for his husband's return, a message comes in from Admiral Ka'ardum. Having lost 87% of the Imperial Fleet, Ka'ardum has called for a ceasefire. The War of Kings is over.
Crystal and Lockjaw return but, as we already know, they weren't able to save Black Bolt. Crys tells Medusa all about what happened during the fight. Medusa, collapses in front of her sister. The woman just lost her husband. She's entitled. She asks Crystal what they've done.
They've won a war. You can't do it without some sacrifice.
War of Kings: Warriors #2
Writer: Jay Faerber
Penciler: Adriano Melo
In this story, Kree terrorists destroy a statue of the Inhuman Royal Family in response to their rule. Crystal tries to remind everyone that the terrorists aren't taking lives. They're just destroying property. Crystal asks for the opportunity to look into the incidents and is put on the case. Crystal's investigation leads right to the culprits. She uses her control of the elements in her fight with the terrorists before learning that a new bomb threatens the Kree Heritage Museum where Crystal's daughter is RIGHT NOW. Crystal races to the museum, finds the bomb located behind a model of Attilan, covers it in rock and lets it explode. Later on, she meets with the terrorist who told her where the bomb was and their kids play together.
Crystal is the sane one of the Inhuman Royal Family. She's also the one with the most contact with the human world so maybe that makes her more like us than the rest of her family. On the other end of the spectrum: she married Pietro Maximoff so she's not entirely understandable. This is a story with her as the star. It's set before the events of War of Kings.
We begin a little after the Inhumans have set up their city on the Kree Homeworld of Hala. While most of the Kree treated this event with begrudging acceptance (this is a race that has gone through more regime changes than your average South American country-- at one time, they were ruled by a guy with the name "Clumsy Foulup"), there's a small portion of the population that's a bit more violent in nature. They've taken time out of their busy day to blow up statues and stuff. In the case we're witnessing, it a statue representing every member of the Inhuman Royal Family. Yes, even Maximus.
That is vandalism, mister, and it's punishable by a fine or even jail time! It'll also get you the attention of the Inhuman Royal Family which should have better things to do that nitpick petty acts of violence that don't even have the decency to contain a body count. Crystal points out that, while vandalism is a crime, it's no where near a serious one. No one's been killed, after all. This is a matter for the local constabulatory, not the rulers of a galactic empire.
Medusa's all worried about escalation and makes a shot at her sister's time among human beings. That would be an excellent burn except Crys's husband to be, Ronan, chimes in explaining that Kree, like most people, will fight for their beliefs. Ronan's willing to conduct an investigation but Crystal decides that she wants this one herself. Once she marries the Accuser, she'll be seen as a sort of ambassador between peoples. She might as well start acting the part. Black Bolt gives her full charge of the matter and everyone else most likely gets along with much more important business.
Crystal investigates the bomb site and doesn't find much of anything in the way of evidence. The parts from the bomb have been entirely vaporized. All that's left is a sole footprint. For Crystal, who has control over the elements, this is a solid clue. Now, ASSUMING this isn't just a footprint from a random observer, this might possibly be from some sort of bomb planter. There's no evidence of this but, hello, comic. Crys uses her powers to isolate a specific ingredient in the footprint that didn't come from the local soil. She traces it back to it's source and finds herself a den of terrorists.
She knocks on the door all polite because she truly isn't here for a fight and, if they decide to fight her (and they will), she's a former Avenger. After the door has opened to allow one terrorist to greet her, she's already gained knowledge from her control of the air itself that there are five others in the room. From their breathing, she anticipated their attack. Seriously, Crystal's powerset is impressive and this is a nice use of it. Detective skills? Not so much. She sort of blindly stumbles onto these terrorists by dumb luck. Still, this isn't a Batman story. We'll forgive her.
During the fight, for which she has a severe advantage, Crystal explains that she's not here to fight. She was here to talk. The Inhuman wanted to make sure these explosive actions stopped and wanted to figure out how to make that happen. The Kree are terrorizing because they don't want to be ruled by an Inhuman and Crystal explains that Black Bolt isn't here to rule. He's here to lead. There's a subtle difference. Leaders make their people DO things and are rarely elected to office. Most people don't want to do things. Anyway, there's a bright future ahead for both the Kree and the Inhumans if they work together (you've got to remember this takes place BEFORE the events of War of Kings where that bright future is marred by a huge gaping hole in space time caused by this great leader).
One of the terrorists, the one who happened to bring her kid with her to the terrorist cell meeting (it's hard to get day care service!), wants to believe the Inhuman Royal. Clutching her child, she tells Crystal that there's another bomb planted at the Kree Heritage Museum. She'd disarm the thing except, during the earlier battle, the remote detonator was destroyed. Now, this wouldn't be a big deal normally. The Kree Heritage Museum is closed today and no one was supposed to get hurt. Unfortunately, it was closed so that it could play host to a special school tour. None of this was public knowledge and the school tour has the a very special member: Crystal's daughter, Luna.
Which makes this a quick race to the museum for Crystal. It's suddenly very personal.
Once she's gotten to the museum, Crys has a small fight with the security guard before flaring up her hand and demanding he respect her authority. Unfortunately, the school tour's is now in about the center of the museum and there's not enough time to evacuate them. Since the terrorist with a kid didn't know where the bomb was planted and no other terrorist had the decency to be less sore losers, Crystal has to guess at the bomb's placement. She finds an exibit being set up for the following week that focuses on the Inhuman Royal Family. Looks like we have our winner.
Crystal enters the exibit and, using her elemental control over the wind, she discovers that the bomb is placed behind the model of Attilan, the Inhuman's city. The bomb is huge-- large enough to destroy the entire museum. That means that people were probably going to die in the blast any way you look at it. Building like this may be closed but they are rarely empty. There's no time to disarm the bomb. There's only time to use her control of the earth to cover it in a rock shield.
The explosion rocks the building but no one is killed. The Inhuman Royal Family exibit might need to be postponed, however. The room took most of the damage. Crystal finds her daughter and gives Luna a big hug. Crisis averted. Still, it's never a good thing when the life of your child is put in dangers and Crys weeps openly at the sight of her kid unharmed. The female terrorist, Fenn-Ra, walks up to the two Inhumans with her daughter still in her arms. It turns out that the school tour had more members than just Luna. There were Kree children that would have been killed in the blast as well. Fenn-Ra thanks Crystal for saving their lives.
Crystal explains that she would have done it regardless. A life is a life to her and they're all worth saving. Fenn-Ra believes Crys is telling the truth and it's probably a good thing that Crystal was on this investigation instead of Medusa. They have different ideologies, after all.
Fenn-Ra chooses to try and change her fellow terrorist's stupid terrorist ways. This is satisfactory to Crystal.
Later on, in a meeting with Medusa, the Inhuman Queen demands a list of all the terrorists and is shut down. Crystal is working her own system here and it seems to be effective. Medusa doesn't like this plan but agrees to go along with it because there's little choice. They both better hope it pans out.
The next day, Crystal is having a conversation with Fenn-Ra. The Kree has had little progress with her terrorist friends in the last day but there HAS been progress. Considering it's only been a day, that's pretty cool. That makes the Inhuman Princess happy. Crystal shares an optimistic view of the future for the Inhumans and Kree with Fenn-Ra as the the two watch their daughters play.
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artist: Ramon Perez
In this story, the Starjammers are racing through the galaxy making plans against Vulcan and the Shi'ar as Lilandra recalls her academy days. It turns out she was quite the bookworm and didn't excel in fighting as she loses a fight to another student. One of her friends cheers her up after class only to have their time interrupted by an attack by the Brood. After their combat instructor is killed, Lilandra takes control of the situation and leads the Brood into a holodeck. She chooses an environment that is hostile to the Brood and then rushes out of the room before they kill her for it. Later on, the Brood threat is contained and Lilandra goes back to studying how to fight. Ending her flashback, Lilandra makes a speech about how they will fighter harder and smarter.
This story probably takes place directly after X-Men: Kingbreaker #4 and before War of Kings #1. The Starjammers are running from something and they're feeling demoralized. The fact that Raza isn't with them is pretty key to this being AFTER Kingbreaker. They're also heading towards Kree Space. It all fits. Anyway, this is a Lilandra Neramani tale. Since she's now dead, it's like a eulogy.
Havok is the leader of the Starjammers and is making plans and trying to psyche up his crew after the beating they've just taken. Ch'od recognizes everyone's dwindling spirits but it doesn't appear like he's all that upset. It's the permanent smile he's wearing that's throwing me off. Anyway, he tries getting Lilandra's attention but the former Majestrix is deep in thought. It's flashback time!
Our flashback begins fifteen years ago in a holodeck training center located on the grounds of the Chandilar Academy where two Shi'ar girls are mock fighting. One of them, Kren, is damn good at it. The other girl isn't named and ISN'T Lilandra. Lilandra is the girl more interested in reading off her Kindle than paying attention to the fighting class. This lack of interest is what ATTRACTS the interest of the instructor, Nassis. Lilandra tries to pass on the fight but Nassis isn't letting her off easy. She'll fight Kren and she'll lose. Horribly.
Kren is good. Lilandra isn't. The future ruler of the Shi'ar tries some tactical retreating but Kren is quick to follow and best her unwilling challenger. Nassis ends the fight and then gives Lilandra a lecture. Lilandra has studied all the moves but hasn't been willing to actually practice them. Everyone knows Lil is smart. Everyone knows she's royalty. More over, everyone knows that Lilandra can't fight and when you're part of the Neramani family, that lack of killer instinct could be costly.
After class, Lilandra sulks while her friend, Freena, tries to cheer her up. Freena brings up everything that Lilandra can do better than anyone else which boils down to being very good at facts and figures. Lilandra is heavily book smart but is she street smart?
We're all going to find out very soon. After Freena cheers Lilandra up, the Academy is attacked by the Brood. You know the Brood, right? The insect creatures based on the Alien movie that lay eggs inside you that slowly become you? Yeah, them.
They are not something to be trifled with. The Shi'ar Cadets are running away from them as fast as they can but the Brood are efficient killers. Instructor Nassis gives her life to buy her students the time to escape.
The cadets are left in the hands of another Instructor who is not very good under pressure. She probably teaches Art. This instructor's panic causes the the cadets to freak out. Well, everyone except Lilandra. She's devising a plan. She tells everyone that they aren't going to die. They're going to follow her instructions and live. She explains her plan while we cut to the next scene.
Lilandra is now getting the Broods' attention. The Brood is merely amused that they have to give chase and don't bother to noticing that Lilandra is leading them right into the Holodeck training center. Once inside, Lilandra calls up a special volcano training session which terrorizes the Brood. They don't like fire at all. Lilandra starts slicing into them with her lightsaber but her real intention is to get around them and to the door.
Lilandra makes it through and orders the door shut before any of the Brood can exit. Mission Accomplished.
Later on, Shi'ar soldiers are able to enter the Holodeck training center and take out the Brood in their very own containment units. Why they'd want to keep the Brood alive shouldn't surprise you. The Neramanis were probably just looking for a new biological weapon they could point at other empires.
Lilandra's classmates are seriously impressed with the young Neramani. She saved their lives and looked good doing it. While they sit around and wait for their instructors to be replaced, they wonder how Lilandra knew that lava would mess with the Broods' heads.
It's because she's smarter than the lot of you.
So where is Lilandra during this? She's busy training. She knows all the moves. Now, she's just got to learn to do them.
Lilandra's flashback is over. She comes back to her present and asks Ch'od to repeat what he was talking about. Ch'od obliges telling her how hopeless their future looks when they're facing down the entire Shi'ar Empire and the crazy that is Vulcan. Lilandra gives a good little speech about how they will win despite the odds because they are smarter than their enemy. They want it more. They'll fight harder and strategize better. They're going to win because of it.
Unless those pesky Raptors come back and start assassinating people. Good-bye, Lilandra. I'll miss you.
The Invincible Iron Man #16
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Last issue, Tony realized that Pepper was there and the two walked off to his secret lab, Natasha met up with Maria Hill but there's no trust in the room, Pepper and Tony talked about Tony's memory going away, Maria chased Natasha around New York, Hammer chased them both, Madam Masque took Pepper hostage, Natasha came to Maria's rescue, and Masque gave Tony an ultimatum to save Pepper Potts.
This issue, Tony declares that he loved Madam Masque while Pepper vomits in the background. Pepper starts up her Rescue armor while Whitney Frost dreams of a future for her and Stark. Black Widow and Maria Hill talk about how crazy Hill is right now. Norman works on his Iron Patriot armor and wonders how Madam Masque is doing in Russia. Whitney puts her mask on Tony because they're SOoooo alike. Pepper uses her armor to free her but Madam Masque sees it through the reflection off her mask and it's big old fight time. Hill remembers her recent time with the Controller and spazzes out. It's a battle between Pepper Potts and Madam Masque while Tony suits up in the classic armor and flies off. Natasha visits a tech dude to figure out how to open up that hard drive Maria Hill brought and that tech dude sells her out as soon as she leaves. Finally, Tony Stark heads to... Afghanistan. Looks like he's heading right back to the beginning.
Whitney Frost is insane. Most people don't remember that. Matt Fraction, the writer of Iron Man, does. For some reason, she believes that Tony Stark, in his new, stupid state of mind, lacks the ability to lie. That means now's the best time to ask a dude if he ever loved you or not. Whitney herself lacks a lot of self esteem which probably stems from the fact that her face is so messed up that we're never allowed to see it outside the mask. She lost her good looks in a plane crash. She has now removed that mask to give Tony (but not us) a very good look at the damage that was done.
Tony can probably lie even with most of his mind erased. I'm betting that, regardless, he doesn't lie here because it's not in his character and we've seen how much Madam Masque has affected him in the past. He tells her just how messed up she is and where it all stems but ends with a positive: He loved her. Frost reacts with a whole lot of crazy. She proclams her love back tenfold. Pepper Potts, tied up and forced to watch this display, is looks like she's ready to throw up. Too much PDA, IMO.
While Madam Masque is distracted with planning her future with Tony, Pepper uses the time to mentally turn her armored suit, Rescue, back on. It's in pieces right now but I bet she's able to get it back together before things hit the fan.
Back in New York City, Natasha Romonova is trying to have a conversation with Maria Hill. This is hindered by the fact that Hill is having some fallout from the incident in Texas when the Controller took over her mind. She broke free of that influence but I believe the violence it took to do so has caused her to go a bit crazy. Not Whitney Frost crazy, but crazy nonetheless. Natasha, better known to the world and fanboys as Black Widow, is not pleased that she might have to put her life in the hands of someone that isn't fit for duty. She gives the former Director of SHIELD the ultimatum (not Jeph Loeb's Ultimatum). "Pull yourself together. We've got a rendezvous tonight and, if you can't hack it, I'm out of here."
Let's stay in New York and move locations to Avengers Tower. Up pretty close to the top, Norman Osborn is working on his Iron Patriot armor. He's having some trouble with a bit of technical mumbo jumbo that he knows Stark would figure out easily. Osborn is smart enough to create pumpkin bombs and gliders but he's also the dude that pumped himself full of Goblin Juice. He's no where near Stark level, he knows it, and he hates it. Osborn switches tracks for a bit. He tries contacting Madam Masque in Russia and isn't able to connect to her. Norman assures himself that everything's going according to plan. Frost is a pro. She'll act like one.
Back in Russia, Whitney is not acting at all like a pro. I'd say she's acting like a lovesick teenager except with even more crazy built in. She's now to the point in the conversation where she's seeing all the similarities between herself and Stark. Heck, I bet her mask would fit right on his head because they are SO similar. She tries that out as Pepper mentally sends her Rescue armor to pick up it's final piece: it's head. Unfortunately, she sees Rescue's reflection off that shiny mask as the armored suit puts it's head on. See? I told you Pepper'd get it assembled before the battle started!
Masque puts her mask back on and draws her gun. As she fires, Tony kicks out her legs causing the shot to go wild and miss Pepper. He isn't able to stop the next two shots, though. Luckily, the Rescue armor goes to work and deflects the bullets before the reach their target. Rescue doesn't have a lot of power left (6%) but there's enough in the tank to make this fight interesting.
The Rescue armor goes to work untying Pepper against Potts' orders while Masque loses interest in the two and heads back for Tony. She gives her ex-lover a choice. Choose Madam Masque and everything ends well. Pepper lives, Tony and Whitney make babies and everyone is happy. Choose Pepper and...
Tony doesn't even wait. He chooses Pepper. He'll always choose Pepper because every writer since Mike Grell seems obsessed with Tony's relationship with his secretary. The two never worked well together. She chose Happy and the two lived happily for years until both were brought back on the scene and divorced just so the prospect of Stark and Potts hooking up could be brought back on the table. Still, their flirtation ended in the late sixties and never amounted to anything. It should have been left there. But let Fraction explore the relationship that will never happen. At this point, it's just sort of inevitable that these two have a bond that will never have them actually hook up.
Whitney, of course, takes this badly. She doesn't fire at Pepper but, instead, chooses the barrels that must be full of fuel behind her. The room explodes. Rescue covers Pepper to save her life while Stark and Frost survive because they're too stubborn to die.
Let's head back to New York so we can catch Maria Hill in the shower. Yeah, that's sort of sexy except for that horrible wound on the back of Hill's neck. The wound was made when Hill tore the Controller's control disc off. If that's not enough of a reminder of what the Controller did to her, she's having a flashback of the entire incident right now. Hill collapses in the shower in a panic. Natasha runs in to help in anyway she can but this is something inside Maria's mind and it's a rough situation.
Continuity maniacs like me might notice that this scene seems to happen prior to our first Black Widow/Maria Hill scene. In the first scene, Hill was draped in towels like she had just come out of the shower while Black Widow was dressed in her hero suit like she was getting ready to leave for somewhere. In the later scene, Black Widow is in civvies. Maybe Maria is just running around in towels for some reason.
Later on, Hill is sleeping peacefully which is possibly because of the bottle of pills lying near her head. Natasha has work to do. She' s been put in a situation that she doesn't want to be in and it's all because of Maria Hill and this mysterious harddrive. It's got an input port on it that she doesn't recognize so she takes a picture of it and heads out to find a way to gain access to this information.
Back in Russia, Stark's safehouse is burning down. Pepper crawls her way over to Tony and makes sure her hero is ok. He is. Pepper tries to explain why she survived but is interrupted by Madam Masque. We finally get that cat fight we ask for last Christmas! Pepper must have learned to fight from Captain America. Everyone else did. Unfortunately, Whitney still has that gun and is firing it wildly. The Rescue Armor rushes in and destroys the gun.
This gives Pepper time to see to Tony. Stark is immediately concerned for Potts' safety but that's not what's actually important. Tony has a mission to accomplish and this is just slowing him down. Pepper's ready to pull off a save all by herself. When Tony realizes this, they kiss one more time before Pepper helps Tony suit up. Whitney is driven into a fury because she's being held by Rescue and watches the entire make out session. Don't worry, Frost. It's not like that'll ever happen again.
You may wonder what armored suit Tony is putting on. It's the damn Classic Armor. Long time readers will know that I hate hate hate when Tony puts that armor back on. It happens every few years and it's not a special moment. Give me the Silver Centurion armor any day. But I digress. When strolling down the memory lane of armors, you really can't NOT put him back in that suit.
Tony takes off. The Rescue armor runs out of power. Madam Masque breaks free but has no gun. Looks like this fight is now hand to hand and may the best lady win.
We return to New York to follow the Black Widow around Ludlow Street. He's heading to a certain tech head to find out what sort of equipment she'll need to crack that harddrive wide open. This techie isn't exactly legit. After seeing the picture, he informs the former Russian Super Spy that this is Stark stuff and it's harder than hell to get the parts she'll need. Natasha tells the guy to keep his eyes open for the equipment and then is shooed off. Once she's gone, that tech head makes a call to an unknown who told him to that if someone came looking for this kind of equipment they would like to know. Stoolies. What are ya gonna do?
Tony Stark is flying away from a battle and is feeling guilty as hell. He put his supposed girl at risk just to complete this mission of his. Oh, it's a lot of guilt. Spider-Man levels, at least. Tony struggles on laying in his next course but, finally, he's forces himself through it. It's time to head home.
No, not New York. Tony's heading to Iron Man's birthplace: Afghanistan.
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Ed McGuinness
In this issue, we join a Bruce Banner who is currently depowered but who knows he'll be the Hulk again. Ms. Marvel tells Norman Osborn about Banner's current "No More Hulk" status and Ozzy decides to send Ares out to test the theory. Bruce is joined by the All-New A-Bomb who also happens to be Rick Jones. Ares shows up and starts fighting both of them in order to find out if the Hulk is really off the board. During the fight, Ares bests A-Bomb but is trapped inside a former Hulk-proof vault. When Osborn learns the details of this fight, he concludes that Hulk is gone which makes the fight a win. Bruce and Rick part at a bus station when Rick realizes that he can't protect Bruce from the dangers out there.
For those of you who didn't pick up Incredible Hulk #600, you didn't miss anything that isn't easily explained in a paragraph. The most important bit? Bruce Banner is no longer the Hulk. Red Hulk sucked out all that delicious Gamma Radiation so that there is no green Hulk anymore. You might also be wondering about Red Hulk's identity: no one cares anymore. They have dragged that mystery out for only 12 issues of this comic and, already, it just doesn't seem relevant. Long story short: they didn't reveal who it was and, when they do, it won't be a satisfying reveal.
So Bruce Banner is no longer the Hulk. That's interesting, right? Bruce starts off this issue remembering just who the Hulk was. Hulk was a lot of things and, on his better days, he was a very cool, smart, powerful quasi-hero. Not that Jeph Loeb remembers that. Loeb only remembers stupid green Hulk which is another creation that's better off dead and buried but keeps coming back again and again. I guess stupid Hulk is remembered fondly by fans of the old television show. I used to love that show but we all know that Hulk can be MUCH more that stupid, angry, and desiring to be alone. It's seriously time to move on!
This is exactly what Bruce is trying to do: move on. Hulk is dead... or IS he? Bruce has been trying to get rid of the Hulk for so long that, now that he's free, he really doesn't know what to do with himself. He's not even sure Hulk is gone. The big green guy has returned before. It's a comic fact that he will again and even Bruce wonders if he still has the capability to Hulk out even without the Gamma Radiation.
This is a Dark Reign tie-in so Osborn has to show up. Ms. Marvel is telling him what we all just read above. She apparently found out about Banner's current predicament from an AIM guy. AIM was on the scene at the time. Osborn muses about the sexy reasons why this AIM guy blabbed to Karla before dismissing her. Hulk is gone. But... IS he? Osborn is about as certain as Bruce is. There's a way to find out, though. Send Ares off to try to kill Banner and see if Banner gets angry and changes. It's solid as they come!
Banner is still sitting down trying to say good-bye to Hulk. It may be time to mention where he is before the action starts. Back in Hulk's earliest adventures, Bruce changed when the sun went down and turned back when it came back up. He devised a special vault that he would have Rick Jones seal him in during that change so that Hulk couldn't rampage the country and America's Military facilities (a favorite target to the Hulk). Bruce is sitting right next to the huge hydraulic door of the vault.
Bruce senses someone's presence and picks up a rock to ward off whatever coyote happened into... oh it's A-Bomb. Who's A-Bomb, you ask? You really haven't been reading Hulk, have you? I can't blame you. It's pretty to look at but the story is kind of over the top. A-Bomb is Rick Jones. Don't ask how. That hasn't been completely revealed and probably won't be that interesting anyway. A-Bomb's got some new powers since last time he was seen. Now, he's able to change colors to blend into the background. He's also got his intelligence back which makes this conversation much more readable than the whole "A-Bomb smash!" stuff you'd read prior to this. Rick is stuck in his A-Bomb form but doesn't really mind so much.
Bruce wants to know why Rick came to this vault but Rick, instead, tells him that there's a bond between the two where A-Bomb knows where Bruce Banner is whenever he wants to know. Bruce restates the question and Rick answers that he's here so that the two can go and get some payback on the Red Hulk for taking the Hulk away. Bruce is in no hurry to become the Hulk again and quickly dismisses this plan before Ares arrives and our big slam-o-rama fight begins.
Ares is here to force the Hulk out of hiding so he takes the fight directly to Banner. Rick has been protected by the Hulk for quite a while and decides to return the favor. Wow. That bit is just like Pepper Potts saving Tony Stark above. I guess it's time for the sidekicks to show their worth, huh?
Ares is easily more powerful than A-Bomb and a very onesided fight begins between the two right now. Rick falls back on his chameleon abilities to fall back and then get a surprise shot in on the god of war.
Rick presses his advantage but is quickly put on the receiving end once again. Ares knocks the powerhouse to the ground and pulls out his axe, demanding that Bruce turn into the Hulk to protect his friend. Bruce can't do that and so Ares swings that axe down towards A-Bomb's head. Fortunately, Bruce swiftly picks up a rock and throws it up at the greek god's head. That distraction causes Ares to miss with the axe and give up on A-Bomb for the moment.
Ares lunges at Bruce but Banner dodges out of the way. Ares ends up landing inside the Hulk vault and doesn't have time to escape before Bruce hits the vault door and locks in the Dark Avenger for the rest of the night. Rick and Bruce decide it's best not to be here when Ares gets free and book.
The next day, Ares reports back to Norman. Osborn finds this entire thing as cause to celebrate. Ares finds it cause to hunt Banner down like a dog. Norman isn't ready to let Ares do that little thing. As far as he's concerned, the battle was a victory. Bruce Banner is no longer the Hulk. That information is worth a little morning wine. Yeah, Osborn is really getting his Tony Stark on here.
Two nights later, Bruce is saying good-bye to Rick and getting aboard a bus headed to New York City. Rick attempts to join Banner so that he can protect the little guy but Banner reminds him of the help he was when they fought Ares the other night. Humbled, the two hug it out before parting. Bruce is now as certain as Norman that the Hulk is no longer part of his equation.
Dark Reign: Zodiac #2
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Nathan Fox
Last issue, we met the brand new Zodiac, he killed a lot of HAMMER Agents, the Clown was recruited to join him in his agenda, we found that the previous Zodiac members had already been killed, HAMMER Agent Murphy investigated the slaughter of HAMMER Agents, the former Whirlwind drove Norman's car and plotted his end, the Human Torch got a royal beat down delivered to him by Zodiac, and we learned that Zodiac looks like a slacker without his mask on.
In this issue, Zodiac blows up the hospital holding Johnny Storm. This happens while the villain is having sex with Death Reaper. Fortunately, Johnny was being visited by her sister (also, Clint Barton and Hank Pym) so she was able to get an invisible forcefield up to save a few people and a few heroes. HAMMER Agent Murphy is on scene trying to figure out how this all happens and reports that he's pretty sure this is connected to the other case he investigated where 100 HAMMER Agents were found slaughtered in a warehouse. Osborn meets with Murphy and pretty much shuts him down. Quickly after this incident, Osborn finds himself facing the return of Galactus which is all based on false signals sent off by Zodiac so that his gang will have run of New York City. Meanwhile, it's not Galactus that Norman will have to deal with. It's Red Ronin.
For an agent of chaos, Zodiac plans a lot of stuff out to intricate degrees. He's brought the Trapster into his gang of villains to help perform a very specific task. Trapster, the Clown, and Manslaughter Marsdale are setting bombs throughout the basement levels of Norwalk Hospital. There's a very specific reason for that. It's the place where Johnny Storm was brought after his run-in with Zodiac last issue. Johnny looks terrible. It's like he's busted up in ways that weren't even ways before they happened to him.
All of this spells opening phase to the heroes holding vigil over Storm's unconscious form. His sister, Sue Richards, is joined by New Avengers leader, Ronin (Clint Barton), and Mighty Avengers leader, Wasp (Hank Pym). They wonder who could do such a thing and, more importantly, they wonder what will happen next. Sue wants Johnny moved to the Baxter Building as soon as possible but the doctor is hesitant to move Johnny at this time and convinces them to keep him overnight at least. Ronin brings up that Johnny was found in a decomissioned SHIELD facility and heavily hints that Norman was involved.
While our heroes are arguing on a number of important issues, we'll cut over to our villains. Zodiac is about to have sex with Death Reaper, the supposed daughter of Nekra from the Lethal Legion. Death Reaper is incredibly knowledgeable of the game that is super villainy and wants Zodiac to utilize her talent more. Zodiac's cool with that and spouts all sorts of nonsense that college-going super villains that had taken a few philosophy classes and maybe more than their fair share of acid hits would. Zodiac really likes to talk. I can relate to that.
Of course the climax of this little sex romp is when Zodiac hits that magic button and sets off all those bombs, completely blasting up the entirety of Norwalk Hospital.
The aftermath of this incident will find that a lot of people died but not a superhero was killed. The Invisible Woman was able to get an invisible shield around her and as many people as she could before the blast had taken down the building. Our three heroes are beat to hell and it's pretty clear that this wasn't just a random explosion. Clint keeps going on the Osborn connection but Pym isn't falling for it. While they're arguing back and forth, Agent Murphy from HAMMER tries to interview them and see if they can answer any of his questions on the incident. Since Murphy works for HAMMER, no one's willing to talk to him.
That's ok. Murphy is pretty intelligent, records everything on the scene, and makes his report. Murphy is convinced that there's a connection between this explosion and the death of the 100 HAMMER Agents and makes sure to mention that in his report. He adds that Johnny Storm was injured at a decomissioned SHIELD base because that's probably important.
You know who doesn't like this report? Norman Osborn. Osborn calls Agent Murphy into his office (which is more cluttered here than it has ever been before... Fox's art is sometimes too busy) and proceeds to chew the guy out for connecting all these little dots. Norman doesn't believe that Murphy is anywhere near being on track and tells him so. This isn't Fury or Stark's SHIELD and initiative will NOT be tolerated unless it happens in another Dark Reign book. In THIS book, Norman is against Agents following their gut.
Ozzy dismisses Agent Murphy and notices his driver, Dave Cannon is nearby. Cannon is the former Whirlwind and is also a due paying member of Zodiac's gang. Norman gives Cannon a motivational speech about how awesome he is before the alarms start to drown out the sound of his own voice.
Norman heads to the bridge of his Helicarrier to find out what is what and learns that something terrible is heading towards earth: Galactus. Looks like he's hungry and in the mood for some fast food (earth is a greasy little planet). The old SHIELD files have plans in place for evacuation procedures but that is NOT what Norman has in mind. He wants some way of warding off this force of nature... preferably one where Reed Richards isn't involved. He puts his entire organization behind it. It's time to kick Galactus' butt.
Or, it would be if Galactus were actually coming to dinner. He's not. Remember when Zodiac was messing about in that decomissioned SHIELD facility last issue? Y'know, the one where he kicked the crap out of Johnny Storm? Well, it turns out he was there to set up this particular scenario. In real time!
Zodiac explains this all out to his gang including their brand new member, Trapster, who decided to hang around after his last job. Zodiac tells everyone that their inside man is Dave Cannon who we cut to for a short scene where the former Whirlwind is covering his face with his hat so that Osborn doesn't see that he's laughing his ass off.
Zodiac passes the floor over to Death Reaper who is here to tell us all about how the new era of super villain is all about being new and shiny and chaotic which is why the old Zodiac team had to die. She gestures towards their heads which have all been stuffed and mounted as trophies of some sort. So, the old order falleth so that the new order can rise. This would be a better speech if it were delivered to the new order. Right now, Death Reaper is talking to old school villains like Trapster and Clown. Hell, even Manslaughter Marsdale is from eighties era Spider-Man. Whirlwind? Very old school.
Zodiac actually respects the old school very much. He's not here to tear down. OK, he actually IS. He's not here to kill his gang, though. He's here to make life hell for Norman Osborn. To that end: the Galactus Scenario. For a dude like Osborn who's barely keeping it together but really does want to make good in his own twisted way, this is the worst thing that could happen. The Devourer of Worlds. Not a good thing especially when you are trying to shut the old school super heroes out and only guys like Reed Richards have been effective in this case.
But, of course, it's not really Galactus. It's just fake feeds to mimic his arrival. With all of HAMMER occupied with that impending threat, just imagine what mayhem could be caused. It's a lot, if you're wondering. Zodiac has some sense of what he wants everyone to do next and it involves the home for 90% of the world's super hero population. New York City.
Eventually, something is gonna have to replace the actual threat of Galactus. Those feeds will put the big guy in visible range eventually and, if something doesn't show up, well, there's a sigh of relief and HAMMER is back to noticing other things. To keep the game going, Zodiac has somehow gotten a hold of Red Ronin and has the giant robot attack Times Square.
So, yeah, mayhem will be had in the third and final issue!
The Amazing Spider-Man #5
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
In this issue, Jameson sponsors a television show to defame Spider-Man which is watched by Dr. Doom who decides to try proposing an alliance with the misunderstood hero. Spidey isn't about to join with the super villain and the two begin their dance for the rest of the issue! After an initial duke out, we take a break for the action so we can show Flash donning a Spider-Man costume in order to surprise Peter Parker. Flash is accidentally captured in place of the real Spider-Man and the real deal has to go rescue the big dope after he tricks his aged aunt to let him out of the house. Spider-Man starts round two with Doctor Doom. The fight ends when the Fantastic Four arrive for the assist and Doom runs away instead of facing more foes. Spidey takes off to return to his aunt, leaving the Fantastic Four to rescue Flash.
Peter Parker has accidentally stumbled into a bowling alley where other classmates are legitimately there to bowl. Unfortunately, there's TV on so most of these teenagers are more interested in watching free television than hitting a seven ten split. What's on TV? An infomercial! It seems J. Jonah Jameson has spent good money sponsoring a show all about what a menace Spider-Man is. The kids in the bowling alley aren't fooled. Most of them think Spider-Man is great. You may remember that Flash was is one of Spidey's biggest fans. That man-love started early. Flash is here defending Spider-Man while Peter, for the sake of hiding his secret identity which isn't even threatened, is playing devil's advocate and talking against Spider-Man. Flash figures Peter isn't here to bowl since you usually do that with your friends and Peter doesn't really have any of those. They kick Peter out for loitering.
In another section of the city, Dr. Doom has left the television on after watching reruns of the Golden Girls and is finding the Spider-Man infomercial fascinating. He's always interested in some new allies to use as cannon fodder in his war with the Fantastic Four and the way Spider-Man is being portrayed on Jameson's show makes him an ideal candidate. Doom spends a few panels reminiscing on how he survived falling to his death in issue Fantastic Four #17 (he activated his fly belt after falling below the cloud cover) before working out a way to contact Spider-Man.
Doom creates a spider-wave transmitter which can only be heard by Peter Parker and every spider in New York. Hearing the call but not knowing who it's from, Peter's curiousity gets the better of him and he heads right to the abandoned building housing Dr. Doom. Doom is well known enough at this point that Spidey knows who he's dealing with but, rather than racing off to get the FF or trying to tackle the super villain himself, Peter decides to figure out why he was called. When he learns it's to form an alliance, Peter muses over the reaction he'd get for such an action before summarily turning it down. Doom threatens the Wall Crawler's destruction (he's Doom, after all) and Spidey responds by unloading his web shooters at his armored enemy.
This would have worked much better if this Doom weren't a Doombot. Now, in an updated version of this comic by John Byrne which is no longer considered cannon, Byrne made every Doom you see here a Doombot. Byrne did that a lot. Everytime Doom lost or ran away? Doombot. I imagine Doom builds these guys in bulk.
There's a typical Silver-Age battle sequence up next where Spidey escapes a series of traps and whatnot before getting knocked out of the building and falling into the water below. By the time he's recovered and ready to return to the battle, Doom has cut his losses, ran away, and destroyed the building he was working out of. Peter gets a few shots of the burning building before swinging away.
Peter heads right over to the Daily Bugle where he's able to sell the pictures of the burning building. While there, he finds out that Jameson's motivation for defaming Spidey is simply a money matter. It's not personal, it's just business. Spidey sells papers. End of story. Peter also finds an ally in Betty Brant and also realizes that he's attracted to her with all his newborn teenage feelings. Theirs will be an annoying relationship of miscommunication and clinginess. You will grow to hate it and will also be happy that Ned Leeds comes around to take Betty away from any future romance with Peter Parker.
But that's a story for another day (I guess I've covered enough Betty Brant/ Peter Parker issues that you can search through some older articles if you want to watch an unhealthy relationship in action). Today, we're here to see Flash Thompson show off his Spider-Man costume.
Flash plans on making Peter pay for sort of bad mouthing Spider-Man earlier and this is the best plan he could come up with. Meanwhile, Doom has come up with a machine that will detect Spider-Man. How will these stories connect? How!?
Oh, in the obvious way, of course. Flash is waiting behind a fence for Peter to pass by. Doom detects Spider-Man's presence and, since Flash is in such close proximity to Peter and wearing that Spider-Man costume, he's nabbed in Peter's place. All this happens while Peter is day dreaming on the other side of the fence. He doesn't even notice.
Which is why he's so confused when he gets home to find Dr. Doom on television bragging about capturing Spider-Man and demanding that the Fantastic Four surrender to him. While Peter is trying to figure out what's going on, it's amusing to listen to Aunt May's reaction. She's happy that the only one captured is that dreadful Spider-Man. I mean, F Spider-Man.
Liz Allen calls Peter up and tells him that Flash is missing after dressing up as Spider-Man to, um, fool someone. Peter isn't tricked by this omission. Flash was obviously going to surprise him as Spider-Man and got captured in the process. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Flash had actually been able to jump out at Peter. Would Peter have even flinched?
It also makes you wonder what Liz expects Peter to do about this. It's not like anyone knows Peter is Spider-Man and there's no love lost between Flash and Peter. In fact, Peter allows himself to dream about a world without Flash bullying him before realizing that with great power must come great yadda yadda yadda. He's off to save the life of a fellow teenager until Aunt May forbids him to leave. With dangerous characters like Spider-Man and Dr. Doom roaming the streets, no weak little sap like Peter should even be thinking of walking out on their own.
Peter ends up heading to the basement and messing with the fuse box in order to black out the whole house. Peter now has no choice but to go out for fuses to fix the problem. Oh, that lying liar. What other pranks will he pull on his doting, aged aunt? Find out next issue!
Peter races off to fight Dr. Doom as we cut to the Baxter Building to see what's keeping the Fantastic Four occupied. Turns out they're formulating a plan and having a fight. Typical Fantastic Four action.
Spider-Man swings around the city until he gets a bead on Dr. Doom's location. He's certain that Doom would have set some traps to keep the Fantastic Four out and tries to figure out a way in that won't set them all off. He finds an air vent that's just wide enough for him to crawl through and decides that there's no way that Doom would have booby trapped it. I mean, only someone like Mr. Fantastic would be able to slither down... oh.
Well, Doom somehow forgot to booby trap the thing. Doombot.
Once inside, Doom is only stunned to find out he didn't capture the real Spider-Man for a moment before we begin round two of out terrible titanic superhero throwdown. Spider-Man evades more traps in the following pages including some ice water, floating iron globes, and an electrified panel. All pretty standard Doom fare. Peter fights his way through them all and is ready to put this one in the win column until he realizes that he forgot all about the Doombot. The robot Doom captures Spidey and tries to force him into a disintegrator beam but Peter is able to break out at the last moment.
Throwing the Doombot at the real Doom, the battle is joined anew. Since Dr. Doom has insulated himself from the effects of the disintegrator beam, he tries to force Spider-Man into it again. Spidey uses ever ounce of strength he has to make sure that never happens. Unfortunately, that act tires the teenage super hero out while Doom is still in peak form. From this moment on, the battle flows in Doom's favor and Spider-Man blunders around from one blow to the next.
Only one thing saves Spider-Man: the timely arrival of the FF. Dr. Doom's sensors pick up their approach and he decides that, since all his traps have been sprung by Spider-Man and he's soon to face four fresh fighters, it might be a better idea to call this entire battle "caused by a Doombot" and retreat to fight another day.
Spidey staggers to his feet in time to see Dr. Doom beating feet. With his adversary taking off, Peter remembers that he left his poor aunt stumbling around in the dark all alone and with a heart condition. Feeling guilty, he swings off without ever rescuing Flash. He leaves that little action to the Fantastic Four. They pull the frightened teenager out of his cell and wonder what actually went down here. Flash is obviously not the real Spider-Man but a battle involving large quantities of webbing indicate the Wall Crawler was somehow involved.
At any rate, we're on the last page of the comic so it's quick wrap up time. Peter returns home to find that May went to visit the neighbors instead of hanging out in a dark house. Peter forgot all about grabbing any fuses but that shouldn't actually be a problem since he's just ended up pulling a fuse to fake the whole thing. The next day, JJJ chews him out for not taking pictures of Dr. Doom or the Fantastic Four while Betty Brant flirts with him. At school, Flash Thompson plays up the whole thing like he was the hero. Poor Peter is upset the the jock hasn't gotten his comeuppance for the whole thing. Don't worry, Peter. It'll come and you'll feel really bad about it.
I know I do.
And we're done for now! Good times.
Until the next: Who Do YOU Trust?