Today, Patrick, Drew, Spencer and Michael discuss Ms. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos 1, Ghost Racers 1, Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 1, Weirdworld 1, Inhumans: Atillan Rising 2, Spider-Verse 2, Secret Wars 2099 2, Ultimate End 2, and X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic.
Patrick: I’m not reading all of Secret Wars, but I am reading an awful lot of it. What’s impressing me the most about the world building is how patiently and deliberately various kingdoms are established and how they intersect. These aren’t simply re-imaginings of classic Marvel stories for the sake of re-imagining the classics, but a complex world wherein the conflict frequently comes from so many stories being forced to co-exist. In many ways, it’s an indictment of continuity: how can you possibly expect everything from 75 years of storytelling to all jive together? For the same reason, we don’t have peace in Battleworld, even with the editorial oversight of God Doom. But — and this is the important part — that doesn’t mean we can’t tell fun stories amid the conflicting continuities.
Ms. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos 1
Michael: Mrs. Deadpool and the Howling Commandos 1 casts Lady Shiklah in the role of “prisoner wife,” trying to overcome the will of her husband Dracula. Gerry Duggan writes Shiklah with the wisdom and wit to realize that she can’t escape/defeat Dracula and his Howling Commandos outright, but has to engage in a little subterfuge. The titular commandos consist of several Marvel monster mainstays, introduced to us with some goofy Deadpoolish captions. The now deceased Deadpool remains a presence in the book, narrating from beyond the grave. As it usually is with Deadpool, this works best when used minimally – Duggan addresses the fact by Deadpool giving us an “Ok, I’ll shut up now” moment midway through the book. Shiklah seems to have absorbed some of Wade Wilson’s sense of humor and cartoony tricks. Shiklah exits the room after failing to overcome the commandos and returns to fool them within seconds as if they are babies without object permanence.
Any Deadpool book is with the price of admission for Duggan’s humor, but you could argue that this issue is a whole lot of set-up. Dracula sends the commandos to accompany Shiklah to deliver her brothers’ bodies across the river Styx. BUT Shiklah is secretly searching for the scepter of manticore to avenge her brothers’ deaths at the hands of Dracula and the commandos have been secretly ordered to kill Shiklah by Dracula. Maybe this is more of a concern for resolving the conflict in future issues however. Regardless, Indiana Jones hat!
Spencer: Set-up or not, this is the most fun I’ve had with either of these characters in quite a while. As much as I enjoyed the latter half of Duggan and Posehn’s Deadpool run, its focus on developing Deadpool left the humor on the back-burner, and Shiklah spent a bit too much time pegged as the nagging wife, or stuck off in her own adventures that we never saw. With this story, though, both characters get to put their best foot forward — Shiklah is without a doubt the star, able to show off her range more than ever before, and as the narrator Deadpool gets to be a part of the issue without overwhelming it with his jokes or his pathos. This may be Deadpool at his most comfortable: just sitting back and makin’ dick jokes!
Also: Marcus the Minotaur with a Symbiote but also with diabetes is worth the price of admission all by himself. Can he get his own series, please?
Ghost Racers 1
Drew: A gladiatorial race between suped-up motorcycles and hotrods is the epitome of grindhouse fun, but staying true to the spirit of the films that inspired it, Ghost Racers 1 is a lot smarter than it looks. Trading in the social commentary of Death Race for an examination of the fickle whims of the comics market, Ghost Racers pits Robbie Rayes against the likes of Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch as they vie for the title of top Ghost Racer — and, more importantly, the favor of the adoring public.
It’s not the most subtle allegory, but like I said, this stuff is inspired by grindhouse classics. Writer Felipe Smith has plenty of fun with the premise — offering a mustache-twirling villain behind the scenes, rigging the races and torturing the contestants (a sure stand-in for editorial, if ever there was one) — before letting the other shoe inevitably drop. That Robbie would have to take a dive was obvious enough from page one, but Smith manages to get us more than invested in his success before the issue is done.
Patrick: I love that this takes the meta-survival-of-the-fittest-version-of-the-character and puts it down in narrative form. Sure — Robbie consistently wins races right now, but that’s only because he’s the most recently published Ghost Rider. My favorite of the racers has to be Slade, the original, and largely forgotten Ghost Rider, who was some sort of demon cowboy. Carter Slade is to Ghost Rider as Alan Scott is to Green Lantern — but unlike Scott, Slade hasn’t been around in alternate realities or reinvented for reboots (until right now, I guess). Which is part of why the character’s design (“a cowboy centaur with gatling guns on the sides” per Juan Gedeon’s notes in the backmatter) is so important: Slade needs to look so cool and so mysterious as to inspire a whole legacy of superheroes. Gedeon’s rotted-out, blindfolded, wild-west, armored man-horse more than fits the bill. And then, when Slade turns back into an old man, we retain our distance from him. The rest of the racers may shout at Robbie, but we don’t get to know what’s bothering Slade. He’s not a character to us, just a cool looking monster.
Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps 1
Spencer: Captain Marvel‘s always had one of Marvel’s most passionate fanbases, and beautifully enough, that passion also extends to the creative team. Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kelly Thompson, and David Lopez’s affection for the characters clearly shine through in the writing, from the strong characterization of Carol Danvers to the integration of Carol’s supporting cast into Battleworld — just check out Kit as a Thor!
The story finds Captain Marvel leading a crew of fighter pilots in the Battleworld realm known as Hala Field. Although fiercely loyal to both her commanding officer and God Doom, mysterious sightings of “stars” has lead to her questioning Doom’s teachings. Carol may be a soldier, but she’s also a fantastic friend, and in the end, her kinship with her crew and a desire to find the truth there beyond Battleworld leads her to rebel against her orders for the first time. There’s a lot of interesting parallels at play here — Carol reminds me of a coddled child rebelling for the first time or a religious fundamentalist questioning their faith for the first time — and fortunately, they all spring naturally from Carol’s personality. Carol Danvers’ will always follow her heart, no matter which universe she finds herself in.
Drew: And it seems like her heart will always lead her to question authority. That’s a great trait for a hero to have, and has paid off time and time again in both of DeConnick’s volumes of Captain Marvel. It’s perhaps less likely in a leader, which makes Carol’s role as squad leader all the more intriguing. The conflict between representing authority and challenging it comes to a head when Banshee Squad reveals their secret interest in science to Carol — she initially dismisses it as “blasphemy” before threatening to arrest her team, but they know she’ll ultimately side with them. That may not make her the most trustworthy from her bosses’ perspectives, but it gives us some valuable insight into how she inspires such loyalty from her team — or (as I think Spencer is right to suggest) her fans. She’s an authority figure, sure, but she’d rather listen to the little guy than blindly fall in line.
Drew: In a universe full of squirrel girls and living planets, it takes a lot to be worthy of the distinction of “Weirdworld.” Miraculously, Jason Aaron and Michael Del Mundo’s Weirdworld more than lives up to its title, offering an epic fantasy full of odd creatures, odder scenarios, and at least one sea-monkey joke. That this team could craft such a beautiful, bizarre world should come as no surprise, given their separate bodies of work, but what’s impressive is how their sensibilities complement one another to create something so unique.
This issue is page after page of stunning visuals that Aaron manages to match with equally outlandish ideas. I’m particularly enamored of the “reverse fishing” that the sea-monkeys pull on a dragon, but the best details are relegated to Arkon’s map, which tells us that Weirdworld includes a “cannibal convoy,” “glowdogs,” and a “hawksquatch.” It’s a strange enough world that I almost regret the inevitable surprise reveal of how this ties into the Marvel universe as we know it — I could go on only knowing that the Ogre’s boss delights in increasingly sadistic punishments.
Patrick: You know what it feels like? It’s like when Bugs Bunny would go to Wacky World and encounter Yoyo Dodo, the dodo bird. Or, because Tiny Toons explored it more deeply, like Babs and Buster meeting Gogo Dodo. It’s inspired silliness for the sake of silliness. Drew, you included one of the most impressive Del Mundo spreads in the whole issue — it gives terrifying scope to Weirdworld, but I think my favorite representation of the world comes two-pages later. Arkon has been operating off of his won hilariously hand-drawn map.
How fucking funny is this? He’s a shirtless, high-fantasy warrior, dripping in the gore of his defeated enemies, and his prize possession looks like something I drew on the back of a Denny’s menu in 1991.
Inhumans: Atillan Rising 2
Patrick: What’s remarkable about the second issue of Inhumans: Atillan Rising is how agnostic it is when it comes to perspectives. Writer Charles Soule avoids using voice over, except where it actually represents a character speaking, so we’re never too tethered to any single Inhuman, and therefore not overly sympathetic to one side of this conflict. That’s a remarkable feat — Soule even resists a note of explanation when Kamala sidles up to Auran in the shape of some kind of steampunk Tony Stark. I know we’re used to seeing those sort of morphing shenanigans in X-Men, but that’s because the narrative shorthand of Mystique is so well established. Kamala is still such a new character — and one that is known more for her stretchiness than her shapeshiftery — that it’s really cool to see Soule invoke the character’s powers without explaining them. Artist John Timms is great at taking that cue and running with it, portraying Kamala’s powers in exciting and subtle ways.
For as much fun as the older, more competent Kamala is, it does sorta seem like she’s on the wrong side of history, right? Blackbolt and his team are basically humanitarians (Inhumanitarians?), and the only authority Medusa is acting under seems to be the tyrranical authority of Doom. But the story so evenly paces the one-upsmanship between the two groups that it’s impossible to tell if Soule himself has picked a side.
Drew: It really is remarkable, isn’t it? Pitting Medusa against Black Bolt and giving them both recognizable underlings means we really don’t have any predispositions going into this. Even when the story seems to be picking sides, like when Black Bolt’s men wound and capture Kamala, Soule quickly shifts our perspective, making it clear that Black Bolt would never kill a prisoner — heck, it hasn’t even occurred to him that Medusa might have killed his man. What’s truly impressive about that balancing act, though, is that we’re equally invested in either side succeeding — it’s not that we just don’t care. I think you’re right to cite Doom as the real big bad here — I’m kind of banking on Medusa having some kind of come-to-Jesus moment before this thing is through — but with so many surprises in this issue alone, I won’t count on being able to predict much about where we’re going.
Spencer: Much of the fun of The Amazing Spider-Man’s “Spider-Verse” event was seeing how so many vastly different Spiders from various dimensions reacted when suddenly thrown together. Mike Costa, writer of the Secret Wars tie-in Spider-Verse, clearly understands that, as all of this issue’s best moments come from seeing these Spiders (meeting again for the first time) bouncing off each other.
Yet the “Spider-Verse” event had a clarity of purpose — fighting the Inheritors — that its sequel lacks. There’s a bit of an ambling quality to Spider-Verse 2 — its cast drifts from fighting Norman Osborn (who doesn’t seem half-bad this time around) to Carnage and Hammerhead to the Sinister Six without much forward momentum. I do imagine that this is a purposeful choice on Costa’s part, considering that his protagonists are searching for meaning in a world where they do not belong, but it does make the issue feel a bit insubstantial. Thankfully, it’s still loads of fun, and that may just be what matters most in a “Spider-Verse” story anyway.
Drew: It’s definitely fun, and I can even see a method to Costa’s madness — these spiders are dangerously close to remembering Spider-Verse, which means they’re on the verge of remembering a time before Battleworld. We can’t let that happen before things get cooking in that series proper, which means Costa’s got to throw some roadblocks up to slow the team down. The good news is, there are more than enough rogues to keep the fires stoked, and each one has me more excited than the last. Six spiders against the Sinister Six (plus a Carnage time-bomb)? There’s no way I’d miss the next installment.
Secret Wars 2099 2
Patrick: Last time we checked in on this series, I was surprised by it’s refreshing perspective on the male responsibility for sexual harassment. Herc was being a dirt bag, Cap called him out, and Herc felt bad about himself. It was a thoughtful scene which naturally makes me examine everything that comes after it through that same lens. There’s a lot of gender-dynamics stuff at play in this issue — from the creepy ethical problem of keeping Captain America’s identity a secret from her civilian identity, to Black Widow living up to her name and killing (…and possibly eating…) men who got away with murdering their own wives. I find the Cap dilemma particularly interesting because even she seems happy to keep “Roberta” in the dark. Basically, the way it works is that Roberta works for Alchemax, and whenever she “becomes” Captain America, a separate sentience takes over, and Roberta is never the wiser. It makes for kind of a confusing read, but I love exploring this idea that Alchemax is controlling this woman’s body without her knowledge or consent. Writer Peter David is being a little more coy about the morality here — there are no outright judgments of this practice like there were of Herc’s action in the previous issue — but David does remind us that Miguel might be kind of a skeeze deep down, making a crass comment about Cap’s ass as Roberta leaves the room.
Taken in isolation, this kind of thing would really bother me, but with that extra context of the previous issue, I’m really intrigued by the gender statements this series seems interested in exploring.
Spencer: This book really is an odd read. None of these characters are very likable (besides Herc, at least when he isn’t drunk), and so much of the conflict just hinges on watching Miguel trying to rein his Avengers in — we see very little of them actually Avenging, and we know so little about how Battleworld’s version of 2099 operates that we can’t really speculate about who’s trying to kill Cap. Yet, the fact that we know so little about this world is also half the fun — every bit of information David reveals about these characters is entirely new, and it’s pretty engrossing watching this world slowly come into focus with each new fact we learn. With the Defenders on the scene I imagine that the actual plot will start to unfold much more quickly from here on out, and these first two installments will serve as a valuable foundation for the rest of the story to stand as it does so.
Ultimate End 2
Michael: Ultimate End 2 has our merged 616/Ultimate Universes questioning “well, what the hell do we do now?” What the hell indeed. As with many multiverse crossovers this issue throws a lot at the reader. Though it can be confusing, Bendis tries to make it as clear as possible organically which characters are which. After Doom sends “The Thors” to get our heroes in line (sorry Ultimate Hawkeye), Bendis does some character exploration by having the heroes to look into “the alternate universe mirror.”
We’ve read multiverse-crossing stories before where the protagonist laments the loss of a loved one with their living alt-Earth counterpart. What makes a brief scene like Ultimate Gwen and May having lunch with 616 Peter Parker more poignant is that there have been losses on both sides. There’s an emotional resonance with Peter and Gwen both staring at people who they know to be dead. I also prefer seeing May in-the-know for Spidey stuff. Though not as affecting, it was interesting to see the two Tonys at work. Maybe Ultimate Tony can hold his liquor and function, maybe he can’t. But 616 Tony was equally wise and audacious to call out his counterpart for his drinking. The nature of alcoholism aside, I feel like one Tony is holding the other to his own standard because of his own self-doubt and not as a helpful solution. The issue ends with some Hulk(s) smashing and a riot at The Raft — who doesn’t love a prison break?
Patrick: Especially when Frank Castle is one of your escapees. I would have liked to see Punisher do something Punisher-y in the prison break, but most of what he does is just stare at the incoming superheroes contemplatively. Also, I’m not entirely sure which Punisher that is — he never speaks, so don’t get that handy upper-case/lower-case distinction.
And actually, on that note, the lettering seems to disagree with you, Michael. It looks like the Hawkeye that that took a Thor-bolt to the face was using all caps, implying that he’s 616-Hawkeye. I think you were following different visual cues — that costume is a little ambiguous and could belong to either Hawkeye.
In the end, I think my confusion may not matter. Even if we want to call that “616” Hawkeye or “616” Frank Castle, they only really are those characters from the perspective of an Ultimate Universe fan. Ultimate Marvel was all about having an insular story, where the only other reference point was other Ultimate Comics – that’s still true here, even as it takes part in line-wide cross-over event.
X-Men ’92 Infinite Comic 2
Patrick: Writers Chad Bowers and Chris Sims go out of there way to harsh my violent, sugary, good-time-cartoon buzz with their second installment in X-Men ’92. That’s clearly by design, as secret-Xavier-clone-and-Shadow-Queen Cassandra Nova repeatedly hammers home the need for non-violent solutions to mutant problems. Cassandra’s presence in this issue is just enormous — she’s literally the first thing we see, first invading the sacred space of the recap, then staying put as the text fades into a description of who she is, and then still staying put as the X-Men and the scenery appears around her. That’s a gorgeously efficient way to establishing this character’s power in the issue. Bowers and Sims cash in on that telegraphed power by having her best Xavier on the astral plane (which… doesn’t even seem possible).
Naturally, she doesn’t allow for much room for action in this issue, but there’s also a pretty severe lack of humor and character work coming out of the core cast. The characters are all together, but seldom get to play off anyone but Cassandra, and that’s just not quite as fun. Also, there aren’t as many fun panel transitions that really take advantage of the Infinite Comics format. My favorite transition is actually pretty subtle, as Xavier accesses Cerebro.
I love how the color of the light reflecting on Xavier’s jacket changes with the activation of Cerebro. Also, his eyes light up! That’s a simple thing in a paper comic, but it feels uniquely powerful in this medium.
Michael: I’d say that my favorite transition was when Nova was simultaneously presenting the integration phase of her program and smacking Xavier across the astral plane. Cassandra Nova is indeed omnipresent in this issue, not only visually but also editorially. In a couple of instances Nova literally edits the X-Men’s choice of words – crossing them out in red and labeling them “inappropriate” or not “acceptable.” The latter example refers to Rogue calling the tamed Sabretooth “a pussycat;” and just like Sabretooth, Nova wants to declaw all mutants. While battling Xavier on the astral plane all of Nova’s phases of mutant treatment are inverted to put her in a position of power. “Phase Three: The realization of how pointless it is to continue fighting!” Cassandra Nova is not a mutant pacifist; she just wants to take the fight out of mutants so she will be the dominant force. Or maybe we should be attributing all of these things to Shadow King instead of Cassandra Nova? I haven’t really figured out who’s behind the wheel at this point. While this issue might have intentionally been devoid of some of the staples from X-Men: The Animated Series that Patrick enjoyed, it DID continue the tradition of Xavier suffering a psychic attack while his X-Men were away. If only we had a soundbite of that terrible Professor X scream in the book.
Did you read some Secret Wars tie-ins that we didn’t? Sure you did! There are holes in our pull list. Holes that you’re encouraged to fill with your comments. Let’s keep talking about Secret Wars.