Checkmate #21 The Wall has fallen, and Checkmate as a new White Queen: Valentina Vostok, formerly of the Doom Patrol and the previous incarnation of Checkmate. I was sort of expecting a bit more of a story around the naming a new White Queen, but whatever, obviously Rucka has other plans, and, from experience, Im sure those w ill be enjoyable. As goes Waller, so goes King Faraday and Count Vertigo, her bishop and knight, and their replacements havent been named yet. This is all incidental to the main story, which is the first part of a two-parter focussed on Jo "Mademoiselle Marie" Tautin, the Black Queens Knight, and a new character who hasnt been given much backstory yet, apart from being exceptionally ruthless. The original "Mademoiselle Marie" was a WWII character from 1950s Sergeant Rock comics; Rucka makes a fairly major renovation of continuity here, claiming that while there were a bunch of M. Maries during the war, the name has been in use by French secret agents for centuries, and were given a number of flashbacks in this issue to the exploits of earlier Mademoiselles, starting with helping nobles escape the guillotine in 1791. In the modern day, Jo is assigned to rescue the daughter of her former lover (who she left in order to take the "Marie" title) from Muslim terrorists in Bialya. Its another good issue, and a nice look at Ruckas latest in a line of ass-kicking female characters. The Incredible Herc #112 Ive never had any interest in the Hulk, and Ive never bought an issue of his title, World War Hulk aside. Now Hercules, though, I have a lot of time for. For all its flaws, Civil War reminded everyone that Hercules is a badass, and so Im onboard for his own comic (appropriated from the Hulk). The bad news is that Amadeus Cho, easily the most annoying new character in a while, is also here, but Ill do my best to stomach him, and hope against hope that this obnoxious twerp will get his comeuppance eventually. Anyway, after "World War Hulk," Herc and Cho go to make their peace with SHIELD (Cho has no desire to, but Herc is interested in resolving the situation, given that the Hulk utterly screwed up). Cho still insists that this is all SHIELD/the Illuminatis fault, even though they didnt cause the explosion (and, despite Chos insistence here, the warp core that exploded came from Sakaar itself; surely Pak cant have forgotten his own story). Hercules, however, is confronted by the delightfully jerkass Ares (still annoyed at Herc for slaying his prize birds several millennia earlier), who rubs in the fact that Ares is now the big kahuna thanks to his mercenary employment with the Avengers, and sets the terms for Hercules new labours, the first being singlehandedly rebuilding Iron Mans "palace" (Avengers Tower); Herc opts to punch Ares through a wall and leave with Cho, Cho carrying with him a SHIELD laptop he plans to use to destroy SHIELD. Ares, though, is ready to bust a cap in both their asses, bringing Wonder Man and Black Widow along for help. All in all, its a fun start to the story, with a good mix of mythic and modern stuff (and while Hercules is usually played as a loveable buffoon, Pak and Van Lente remember all the tragedy in his background, such as his being driven into killing his family). Phams art is nice, too. Mighty Avengers #6 Bendis and Chos opening arc finally concludes, after lengthy delays that threw off all Bendis grand designs for coordination between this and New Avengers (of course, Bendis himself couldnt keep the chronology straight, botching the continuity royally in New Avengers by throwing in a tie-in to the Ultron fight to the teams return from Japan). This has been a pretty fun opening arc, all things considered, and Chos art is quite good for this story (he draws perhaps my favourite version of the Sentry). Yellowjacket devises a plan to defeat Ultron using obsolete computer code, executed by Ares, almost derailed by the Sentry, who goes berserk at the death of his wife, and, in a rare display of power, pretty much rips Ultron to shreds, with a last-second assist from Ms. Marvel (having absorbed the power of an exploding nuclear bomb) preventing him from totally destroying Starks body. The computer program causes all Ultrons changes to revert Stark to his old form (Im not really sure about this part; Stark seems almost a shapeshifter now) (in another bit of crude humour, he checks to make sure his penis is still there when he wakes up). At issues end, Spider-Woman arrives to see him with Skrull-Elektras body, having left with it several months ago (and Iron Man having already reacted to this in New Avengers: Illuminati). Sentrys wife turns up alive, seemingly having been healed by the Sentry (I think not: Skrull!). Various other bits of personal drama are included, including a fight between Hank and Jan over seeing other people (in which Hank comes across as totally right; people say Bendis hates Hank, but I just dont see it). Its a good finish to the story. New X-Men #45 "Messiah CompleX" passes the half-way point, with an issue mostly dedicated to a brawl between X-Force and the Reavers (with Cable trying to slip away). Since this is being written by Kyle and Yost, X-23 takes on Lady Deathstrike over the latters maiming of Julian a few issues back (we find out here that he and the others have been stabilized by Beast and co., although they arent totally out of the woods), and pretty much pwns her (not that shell stay dead; good villains always come back), which is satisfying. Caliban seems to bite the bullet here, saving Warpaths life from a Reaver, and Wolfsbane semi-accidentally kills a Reaver who provokes her with a mention of Reverend Craig. Cable gets away in the commotion, stealing X-Forces jet and leaving them stranded, with the rest of the X-Men (including Darwin and various X-Factor members whove been scarce the last few months) on their way to rendezvous. Theres a good scene between Emma and Surge where, surprisingly, Emma does not totally rip her apart for taking her team to fight the Purifiers; Kyle/Yost sometimes write her as too much the White Queen, but I really like how they handle her most of the time, such as here. We still havent seen much of Sinister and the Marauders yet; despite the Purifiers presence, theyre only secondary villains, with Sinister and his mutants as the primary threat, so the X-Men deal with others first. This is pretty much the best Ramos art you can come by; its pretty good, although hes still a poor fit for this crossover. Luckily, hell soon be the Runaways problem. What If? Civil War What If?s are often caricatured as being "if things didn't happen the way they did, everyone would die!"; with this and the Planet Hulk story, Marvel seems to have developed a promising new formula: two stories, one of which is a "best case scenario", and one of which is the more familiar "worst case scenario." The whole thing hangs on Iron Man, since he's basically the main character in the Marvel Universe these days. Both of the stories in this one start from the premise that Tony was right that something had to be done; the dystopic one, where Tony died of the Extremis injection, and wasn't around for the war, has Gyrich assume the "futurist" role and engineer a rather labyrinthine plot that leaves most heroes and villains dead, peace restored, and himself in the Oval Office, with the spectre of Captain America and his rebel heroes kept around as an "Emmanuel Goldstein" to keep people fearful. The utopic one hinges on Tony asking for Cap's help at the confrontation in #3, and making a "more honest" pitch, leading Cap to decide not to sucker-punch him, and they eventually work things out and come up with a "third way" that leads to a new golden age of heroes. All in all the two stories are fairly balanced, highlighting the potential drawbacks of Tonys "futurist" mentality while at the same time validating his belief that something had to be done. I also have to credit Brubaker and the other writers for making particularly effective use of the Watcher, who, in traditional fashion, narrates the story, but in this case he appears to Tony after Caps funeral as a mysterious stranger and tells him these stories essentially as an Aesop about cherishing ones ability to influence the world ("Because some of us only wait...and watch."). The art is done by three different people; cover artist Djurdjevic does the framing sequences, which are beautiful, while Gustavo and Harvey Talibao do the two stories; Gustavos art is variable in quality, while Talibaos is pretty good, although the bimbo-ish quality to his women that was evident in the Iron Man Annual remains here, albeit somewhat toned down.