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 Extraordinary X-Men 1, Deadpool 1, Amazing Spider-Man 3, Invincible Iron Man 3 and Howard the Duck 1.
Extraordinary X-Men 1
Spencer: As far as I’m concerned, Jeff Lemire’s greatest skill as a writer is his ability to bring out the best in the artists he works with. Lemire gives his artistic partners room to essentially define books like Green Arrow, Descender, and All-New Hawkeye, and while Extraordinary X-Men doesn’t quite reach that level, I’m still pleasantly surprised by the work Humberto Ramos is turning in. Judging from his work on Impulse and Superior/Amazing Spider-Man, I’ve always thought Ramos’ greatest strength was kinetic action sequences, but his best work in Extraordinary X-Men 1 actually comes during the quieter character moments. I particularly love the warmth he imbues Magik — a notoriously “scary” character — with.
Unfortunately, this issue isn’t nearly as strong when we move away from the characters and focus on plot. The X-Men are always underdogs, always facing ridiculous odds, but the struggles they now face not only feel derivative, but mean-spirited as well. The Terrigen/M-Pox problem is reminiscent of the Legacy Virus, and the mutant “sterilization” isn’t too far from Scarlet Witch’s infamous “no more mutants,” yet both plots feel far more spotty and muddled than their predecessors. I still can’t wrap my head around what Terrigen is actually doing to mutants, especially since its effects and seriousness seem to vary from book to book — it gives Rogue hives, but it’s killing other mutants, but Colossus and Sunspot can live in the world without feeling any adverse effects from it whatsoever. Meanwhile, the sterilization of mutants wouldn’t mean that there will be no more mutants, as Storm asserts — theoretically, humans will continue to give birth to mutants even if mutants themselves can’t. It’s possible that some/all of these concerns will be addressed in future issues, but for the moment, they (along with the mystery of Cyclops’ fate) feel more like gaping oversights than intriguing hooks.
The “mean-spirited” bit comes from the current treatment of the X-Men by Marvel in general. In light of Marvel Studios being unable to use mutants in their movies and instead setting up the Inhumans to take their place, the X-Men vs. Inhumans plot becomes a lot more loaded. The odds the X-Men find themselves facing now feel less like them dealing with a world that hates them and more like them being marginalized by a company that no longer has much use for them; even if the X-Men can overcome the odds within the narrative, the whims of their publisher will be much more difficult to overcome. The X-Men vs. the world should leave me pumping my fist, worrying about yet rooting for the X-Men, but instead I just feel weary and depressed; Marvel is laying it on thick, and this feels like a battle the X-Men can’t win. Lemire and Ramos are a strong creative team, but I just don’t like the direction Extraordinary X-Men is heading in.
Patrick: The AV Club’s Oliver Sava took to twitter the day this issue was released and commented that Marvel wasn’t trying to turn the Inhumans in to the new X-Men, they were trying to turn the X-Men into the new Inhumans. And while that’s a clever observation, and a nice piece of rhetoric, I’m not totally convinced that it’s true. For starters, it seems like the advent of global terrigenesis has become more notable for then negative effect it has had on mutants than the positive effect it’s had on Inhumans. Plus, Mutants absolutely require extreme-outsider status in order to be relevant at all. In fact, I love the idea that Mutants have to face a kind of personal pandemic, with their ilk dying or suffering or becoming infertile – it’s like they have to face the end of the world on their own.
Lemire embraces the “world” part of that pretty literally, not only zooming out far enough to give us a look at what the Mutant condition looks like on a global scale, but also by zipping around from X-Haven (where ever that is) to Manhattan to Russia to (probably) Alaska. It’s a daunting status quo to establish, and I’m not sure that Ramos and Lemire do enough to establish what their story is within this new world, but I do feel like I understand the world – even with my questions about What Scott Did and how exactly Terrigen is mess with the Mutants.
Fool me once: shame on you. Fool me twice: shame on me.
Drew: Lots of narratives rely on trick us — often in idiosyncratic ways. X-Men stories like to open with fight scenes, only to reveal it was all a danger room simulation. LOST liked to make us think a cold-open was happening on the island (or off the island, or before the island, or after the island), only to reveal that the opposite was true. Mission: Impossible movies like to make us think somebody did something unexpected, only to reveal that that somebody was actually Tom Cruise in a mask. The point is: those tricks have been done enough times to be utterly predictable, but they still manage to fool us. I think this speaks to the amount of trust we put in narratives — we just accept that we’re being shown the “truth” until proven otherwise. It’s a powerful force, and something Gerry Duggan uses to maximum effect in Deadpool 1.
It’s eight months after the events of Secret Wars, and Wade is out on a seemingly routine smash-and-grab job. Only, it turns out it isn’t Wade at all. Wade has franchised out Deadpool as a means of funding the Avengers, which means he’s welcomed a motley crew of weirdos to don his costume and impersonate him doing everything from killing to DJing bar mitzvahs. Business is good, even if it leaves the extended cast of the previous volume shaking their heads (or wringing their hands, as the case may be) — Preston and Adsit are focused on the true story of Deadpool’s parents, while Shiklah is lamenting the fact that Wade hasn’t just killed the zoning commissioner. By the end of the issue, Wade has killed that zoning commissioner — or at least someone in a Deadpool costume has.
It’s an intriguing premise that forces us to ask who Deadpool really is (or who really is Deadpool), but the fact that we spend so little time with him leaves the issue lacking. There’s a lot of guys who look like Deadpool, sure, but if the point of this issue is that there’s only one true Deadpool, it certainly doesn’t give us enough of him to understand why. That sounds a little harsh, but that’s really only an assessment for newcomers — folks already familiar with Duggan’s previous work on Deadpool should have a sense of his take on the character, but newbies are going to be left in the dark. Most of the characters appear here without any introduction of who they are or what their relationship to Wade is. Add that to the fact that we’re never sure which Deadpool is the real Deadpool, and you have an issue that’s lacking an anchor.
Amazing Spider-Man 3
Patrick: Y’know – let’s cite Amazing Spider-Man 3 as further proof that Marvel comics are supremely interested in building back on the legacies of characters that Disney no longer has the film rights to. This issue sees Johnny Storm pissed off at Peter for the way he’s trampling all over the memory (and property) of the Fantastic Four. Johnny naturally takes right to the sky and flames-the-fuck-on. Dan Slott writes some of the most dismissive pre-heroes-fight banter I’ve ever read, as Peter has very little patience for or reason to participate in said brawl. Even Johnny, who is very upset about what’s become of the Baxter Building, pauses so Peter can take a phone call. Maybe that’s a way of demonstrating that “Marvel” and “Fantastic Four” can’t really have beef with each other, and it’s silly to even think of them duking it out with each other. Or maybe this is about fans trying to stir up controversy by claiming that Marvel cancelled Fantastic Four to sabotage a film they didn’t make. That all looks very violent and exciting, but is ultimately kind of empty – just like Johnny and Pete’s fight ends up being in this issue.
It’s also worth pointing out — and I believe Johnny does do this — that Peter is also surrounding himself with former enemies like Clayton and Harry. I know I was using Spider-Man as my Marvel stand-in a moment ago, but if we are talking about movies (and I guess I am), this could be seen as an extension of the agreement reached between Sony and Disney to let Spider-Man appear in the MCU films.
Gah! Sorry: I don’t mean to spend my whole discussion of a comic book writing about movies. I was actually very impressed with Giuseppe Camuncoli’s wonderfully unified sense of space in this issue. Except for the few detours out to see The Zodiac’s raid on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, the majority of the issue takes place within a single building. There’s a great splash page early out that shows the building in all it’s glory, like all of those early establishing shots of Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard.
Christ, I’m still talking about movies, aren’t I?
Invincible Iron Man 3
Michael: We all kind of hate Tony Stark, right? I mean as much as I love great Iron Man stories, the Tony Stark of today is very much a reflection of the Robert Downey Jr. Stark of the big screen – a guy that you love to hate to love. Tony is an egocentric douchebag that even when he is resistible to women, he is irresistible to them. That was my big sticking point with Invincible Iron Man 3: even when Tony loses, he wins.
After an issue reprieve, Tony reconvenes with Amara who spurned him in Invincible Iron Man 1. Granted Tony makes a very sentimental plea at how he feels compelled to win over Amara, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she should completely capitulate under his advances. And I’m not saying that Brian Michael Bendis is a reductive writer by any means – I just think that he may have overlooked this sudden character shift because his story demands it. Even though Tony is a “nerd” because he’s super smart, he’s kind of become the bro/jock of the Marvel U. Similarly, it felt like a small defeat when Dr. Strange capitulated and gave in to Tony’s request for a high five because they were “facial hair bros.” That’s the kind of dumb joke that Spider-Man can get away with because he’s earnest and charming. Tony Stark? Not so much. I want to believe that Tony Stark can be more than a genius philanderer, but the way that Bendis has presented it I can’t embrace that ideal.
Howard the Duck 1
Taylor: I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I feel like I always want to be wherever I’m not. At work, I want to be at home. At home, I don’t want to be at work but sometimes I wish I was out doing something more entertaining. Point is, like most people I’m pretty fickle. That this human quality would best be exhibited by a giant talking duck from another universe should come as no surprise. Ducks strike me as being mean and generally pretty grouchy. Maybe that’s cartoon history speaking to me and maybe it’s just because a quack always sounds a little pissy.
Whatever disposition ducks truly carry, at least one of them wants to get off of this planet. Howard is tired of trying his best to fit in with the wild happenings of Earth and has decided to do escape. Using the Abundant Glove he attempts to teleport back to his universe only to fail in a way befitting to Howard.
This action isn’t the main draw of the issue. Rather, like most Howard the Duck issues, the thing that makes the issue fun is Howard. He’s grouchy and basically spoil sport for the entirety of issue 1. While I think there are some who probably can’t stand this kind of dull negativity, I can’t help but love it. I guess it’s because I’m pretty grumpy myself a lot of the time but there’s something wonderful about watching Howard lay into a conservative American, even if it is a little over the top. Similarly, I understand if there are those who dislike Howard’s complaining about wanting to go home. Again, being someone who has now lived a long time in a place he isn’t particularly fond of, I can sympathize. What I enjoy most about this aspect of the issue is how it’s presented.
Artist Joe Quinones choice to depict Howard in virtually the same position while saying the exact same thing not reinforces the message that Howard is really unhappy on Earth. However, the repetition also speaks to Howard’s malaise and general discontent. He says he wants to go home and acknowledges he’s unhappy, but he doesn’t do anything about it until the very end of this issue. This is a neat little trick that in many ways secretly keeps the theme of this issue at the forefront of the readers mind. And while that’s fun, I found that the issue had some funny moments but also lacked a certain pizzazz that makes it memorable. Maybe the introduction of some new characters will help breath some new life into this. But then again, maybe that’s just me being fickle.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?