We try to stay up on what’s going on at Marvel, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of Marvel Comics. Today, we’re discussing A-Force 5, Civil War 5, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Marvel Zombies 4, Spider-Gwen 1, and Uncanny Avengers 1.
Drew: I once had a boss who liked to say that “your greatest weapon is also the sword you eventually fall upon” — that is, our greatest strengths tend to also be our greatest weaknesses. It’s a sentiment I’ve seen many times since (and is often what gives a tragic hero their fatal flaw), but I’m always struck at how true it seems to be. Marvel has gotten a lot of mileage out of our own familiarity with its characters during Secret Wars, but A-Force 5 reveals how that familiarity can work against the introduction of new characters.
I’m speaking, of course, of poor Singluarity, who seemingly makes the ultimate sacrifice here, conveniently sparing any of the established characters a similar fate. I know, I know; Miss America and Medusa have already departed, but this issue hinges on the emotional impact of Singularity’s death, which in the grand scheme of things is closer to a kind of red shirt Deus ex machina than any great loss. I don’t mean to hold that against the creative team — wrapping up a story like this cleanly isn’t easy, and losing Jennifer or Nico wouldn’t have felt right — but it’s hard to grieve over a character that we’ve only barely gotten to know. That is to say, I think Singularity’s sacrifice makes sense as an ending, but Nico’s emotional reaction to it doesn’t quite resonate.
To be fair, Nico has plenty to grieve over, including the loss of America and the betrayal of Loki, but the resolution isn’t about coping with either of those. Nico mentions Singularity specifically, and the lesson about her living on in our hearts and minds only works for her. What did Nico learn from America? From Medusa? Again, the patness of this ending is tied up in the fact that it needs to be an ending. I suspect that the ongoing series won’t suffer from this kind of emotional compression, allowing characters to have real connections beyond their symbolic power, but this left me cold.
Civil War 5
Michael: Civil War as a concept has always gathered a lot of attention for Marvel because it’s the guilty pleasure of comic book fans: superheroes punching each other in their goddamn super faces. The hope is that the battle is one of principles in addition to fighting. The world that Charles Soule has crafted in Civil War 5 is one where the two warring sides have been fighting for so long that they don’t actually remember what they’re fighting for. What was initially a fight about superhero registration has exploded into an overblown turf war between the Red and the Blue. Growing up on modern comics, I’m a fan of Soule blending elements of Secret Invasion with Civil War by placing the Skrull Empire behind a lot of the goings-on in this war. I remember when Secret Invasion was going on the running theme/joke was that anybody and everybody could turn out to be a Skrull. Though shape-shifting alien conquerors are still a cool idea, Skrulls have kind of become the ultimate red herring of the Marvel Universe.
While the ultimate bad guys of Soule and Leinil Francis Yu’s Civil War are indeed the Skrulls, our warring hero factions are still very much at fault. When Cap finally stops smashing away at Iron Man and starts to listen, they both realize how much they are to blame for the state of the world. I like how the climax of this war has Tony and Cap making the controversial choice of sacrificing many of their friends’ powers in order to defeat the Skrulls. Better still is the conversation at the end of the issue where Peter Parker confesses that he’s happier to live in ignorance and not fight over Tony and Cap’s decision.
Guardians of the Galaxy 1
But things have changed.
Patrick: Like so many series in Marvel’s All-New, All-Different line-up, very little has changed for Guardians of the Galaxy on the back-end. It’s still very much a Brian Michael Bendis joint — with all the pacing quirks implied thereby — and it is still drawn beautifully by Valerio Schiti, who marries traditional comic book sensibilities to Saturday morning cartoon aesthetics. It’s still smart and fun and funny and action-packed-but-also deliberate. So what’s up with the introductory text that so singularly insists that “things have changed”? Those “things” are all in-universe concerns, and this is where Bendis’ talent for cultivating mysteries of plot and mythology simultaneously start to pay off in huge ways. The issue opens on a meeting between “the Kings and Queens of the Galaxy,” which is a meeting we’ve been privy to in the past, only know their ranks are considerably decreased. It’s just the Brood Queen and Annihilus, and their conversation recaps the various reasons no one else would be at the meeting — but this isn’t the “change” we’ve been promised either, as we’ve witnessed all of these events in the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy (or Infinity). What’s even more notable is the absence of a group we wouldn’t expect to be in attendance: the Chitauri.
The Ultimate Universe’s (and by extension, the Cinematic Universe’s) invading alien army are here and they’re reportedly even making Annihilus nervous. When we catch up with the Guardians on the next page, they’re locked in battle with the Chitauri — with one of those flagship Leviathans leading the charge. Of course, the Guardians of their own new Leviathan: The Thing! He’s not as nearly as surprising (or effective in battle, it turns out) as their new Star-Lord: Kitty Pryde. I love this sequence where she takes out a Leviathan single-handedly – Schiti draws her with balletic grace, which is definitely a change from what we’ve come to expect a Star-Lord is capable of.
And actually all off this is leading up to the biggest and most dramatic change to the series – Peter Quill is the king of the Spartox Empire. Schiti and Bendis do such a great job of selling his boredom running the empire, and how he’s totally unprepared to fend of the political / romantic advances of that slug-woman. Ultimately, I think that’s why the issue works for me: even when Bendis is re-introducing alien races, or dramatically revealing Hala (who?), it’s all rooted in Peter’s experience. Sure, things have changed, but as long as Quill’s a the center of it, we can expect this series to maintain its emotional grounding.
Marvel Zombies 4
Drew: Is it fair to call Orange is the New Black the emotional heir of LOST? Close scrutiny may punch some holes in that connection, but I think both use the flashback structure in a way that few shows did before or have since. Specifically, they introduce thematic material that resonates through a character’s life, rather than specific plot points. I mean, sure, we’ll occasionally get specific plot points, but a given episode usually focuses on how a character’s life falls into patterns of longing or rejection or fear. Maybe they can break those patterns in the present, maybe they can’t, but those flashbacks provide insight into what either of those conclusions mean for the character. Marvel Zombies 4 accomplishes something similar, though the connection between the past and present is much more literal.
Elsa is put face to face with (a multiversal variation of) her father, giving all of the flashbacks to their relationship an extra layer of urgency. Intriguingly, this focus on their relationship washes out basically everything else in the series — suddenly even the zombies don’t matter, so long as they can work through their differences. It’s an interesting parable about reconciling after years of abuse, but might sew things up a little too cleanly to say anything real about it. Elsa is willing to forgive her father because that’s what she needs, but there’s really no indication that he’s seeking forgiveness — indeed, immediately prior to being saved, he was still talking about how he would show Elsa no mercy. It’s a left-field ending for those who might have been attracted to the series for the titular Zombies, and I’m not sure it quite works even for those who were invested in Elsa’s emotional health.
Spencer: Don’t let the fancy new #1 fool you — Spider-Gwen is very much a continuation of the story Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi were telling before Secret Wars brought their first volume to an abrupt end. That said, the creative team does take the opportunity this new beginning affords them to circle around to some of the unresolved elements of Gwen’s origin story; namely, Peter’s death. Peter died from taking an untested “Lizard” serum, but he did so to be “special” like Spider-Woman; with nobody else alive to take the blame, it’s fallen squarely on Gwen, both in the media and seemingly within her own mind. The appearance of more giant lizard men finally gives Gwen somebody to go after, a physical way to tackle her own guilt over Peter’s death, and it’s enough to get her back in costume after a month’s absence, even if that does put her father in an awkward situation.
Aside from doubling down on the history he’s already established for Gwen, Latour continues to expand her world as well, in ways both large (Harry Osborn, the new Captain America) and small (the James Barnes V.A. Medical Center). Likewise, Rodriguez and Renzi’s art is as dynamic and unique as ever — I especially love the way Renzi uses offbeat color choices to indicate flashbacks, and even the way he incorporates color into the story in an unique fashion, such as the moment where mustard yellow represents the “smell trail” of Gwen’s corndogs.
So don’t worry — if you’re already a fan of Gwen, this new Spider-Gwen 1 is the same book you already know and love. If you somehow missed this book the first time around, though, you’re still in luck; Latour includes a helpful rundown of the first volume in the back-matter. It’s the perfect time to jump on the Gwen-train.
Uncanny Avengers 1
Patrick: Hey, remember the global terrigenesis? Y’know, when Black Bolt released terrigen mist into the atmosphere to activate dormant Inhumans on Earth to help ward off Thanos’ invading army? Well, it turns out that the mist, while imbuing Inhumans with superpowers, seems to have had a much more negative effect on the mutant population. Exposure to terrigen actually causes mutant skin to develop sores and boils and generally they’re made pretty miserable. Such is the backdrop for Gerry Duggan and Ryan Stegman’s Uncanny Avengers, a team notable for having both Mutants and Inhumans among their ranks. Or at least, that’s the through-line that bubbles underneath this issue, sidelined for the evidently-much-more-pressing-issue of “everyone is annoyed by Deadpool.” Yup, Wade Wilson is on the team, and his popularity is literally bankrolling their activities through merchandising his likeness.
It’s a cute nod to how many chances a publisher can take if they’re careful milking their cash cows for all their worth. You can do a rock and roll Black Canary series if you’ve got 14 Batman books on the shelves. But it does send the issue down some weird paths, like Spidey threatening to quit over Deadpool’s involvement. The central idea that terrigen empowers one group, but poisons another is so loaded that I sorta hate to see it get bogged down with this other stuff. But I similarly hate to see that conflict repeatedly stifled by Old Man Rogers, who does everything in his power to keep Synapse and Rogue from expressing their actual frustrations.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?