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 2, Amazing Spider-Man 7, Sam Wilson: Captain America 6, Captain Marvel 2, Deadpool: Mercs for Money 1, Howard the Duck 4, and Rocket Raccoon and Groot 2.
Spencer: Thus far, the plot of A-Force hasn’t been all that noteworthy. Disparate characters coming together to battle a seemingly unstoppable monster is a common plot, and Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson hit on a few other standard team book tropes as well. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though! Where this book lives or dies is the character development and interaction, and in that regard, Thompson, Wilson, and artist Jorge Molina nail it. This cast is just so much fun. There’s a healthy mix of powers and personalities in play; Singularity especially remains a stand-out character, and I’m already enjoying seeing the good influence she has (and is being set up to have) on the cast.
There’s ultimately very little reason for these specific characters to be thrown together onto a team, but Thompson and Wilson use that to their advantage, allowing their clashing personalities to not only highlight each character’s strengths and weaknesses, but to drive the story, and it leaves plenty of room for growth. Perhaps more importantly, these conflicts and arguments don’t dominate the story; the creative team still remembers to let their heroes actually be heroic, which is a balance not every team book can pull off. A-Force may not be the most original book on the stand, but it’s plenty of fun and full of heart, and in this case, that’s what matters most.
Amazing Spider-Man 7
Drew: I had an old boss who used to say “your greatest weapon is also the sword you eventually fall upon,” that is, our greatest assets might also be our greatest liabilities. Peter Parker has always grappled with the costs and benefits of his powers, but I actually brought this up to talk about Dan Slott’s uncanny ability to simultaneously juggle multiple stories while seeding even more in a single issue. It’s undoubtedly one of his strengths (and, arguably, his calling card), but as Amazing Spider-Man 7 reveals it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
The issue caroms wildly as Peter struggles to stay ahead of Mister Negative, but seems to cost him control elsewhere. Indeed, if delegating is one of Peter’s new strengths, it’s opening him up to all kinds of new weaknesses. Anna Maria is swamped in the wake of Peter’s decision to sack Sajani, Harry is AWOL in the wake of Peter’s decision to appoint him as head of the New York office, and Lian is frustrated at Peter’s drop-of-a-hat decisions to change course on vital research. We don’t see any fallout from that first one (though the implication that Parker Industries is falling apart from mismanagement is palpable), but both Harry and Lian’s stories introduce (or re-introduce) villains entirely auxiliary to the conflict of the issue: Regent and Scorpio, respectively.
I can appreciate wanting to set-up future storylines, but with an issue already stuffed to the gills with half-page (or even one-panel) conversations, I wonder if giving valuable space to threads that don’t yet matter makes for the best issue. Writers often have to balance the serialized needs of a comic with the desire to produce satisfying episodes, but I think Slott misses the mark here, giving us an issue that’s almost all serialized set-up. That might mean a much stronger issue 8, but until these threads start paying out, I can’t see the wisdom in investing in more of them.
Sam Wilson: Captain America 6
Spencer: Unless you’re a robot, true objectivity is impossible to achieve. Writers and reporters can certainly try to remain impartial, but eventually their feelings will leak into their work somewhere, even if subconsciously. I don’t necessarily think Nick Spencer is trying to be objective or impartial with his work on Sam Wilson: Captain America, but I bring this up because I admire how level-headed and balanced Spencer’s political commentary ends up being throughout issue 6 anyway.
Spencer’s not shy when it comes to his political views — spend a few minutes on his Twitter feed you’ll know exactly what he stands for — but not every character in the title shares his exact views, and despite what many critics of early issues would have you think, his villains don’t exist simply to demonize conservatives either. I mean, Spencer takes his fair share of pot-shots at the media and big business, but I was really impressed by this tiny bit of narration late in the issue.
With the vile rhetoric Trump and his ilk pump out and the crowds we see cheering them on on TV, it can be easy to forget that even most Republicans are likely embarrassed and ashamed of his behavior, and that goes equally for any of the other easy targets on either side of the political spectrum. Most people have no choice but to support a corrupt system and choose the option they consider least evil; sticking 100% to noble goals often isn’t feasible, and may even end up doing more harm than good in the long run, which even Captain America himself discovers in this issue. I appreciate how Spencer highlights that compromise is necessary when dealing with delicate matters; yes, it’s a broken system, but again, I appreciate Spencer acknowledging that something is broken with American politics while also holding out hope that people can make it something better, even if it has to be done in baby steps. Very, very tiny baby steps.
Captain Marvel 2
Drew: It’s one of the quirks of comics that characters can’t escape their pasts. I don’t mean that Bruce Wayne is stuck reliving his parents’ murder (though, obviously, he is), but that he’ll forever be living down the legacies of everyone from Bob Kane to Frank Miller. The breakout success of Captain Marvel over its previous two volumes left the series poised as an A-list book, but the departure of writer Kelly Sue DeConnick begged the question: was the cult of personality that is the Carol Corps based on Carol Danvers, or the person writing her? It’s not a question I relish bringing up — I’d like to judge a given comic on its own merits, rather than its relation to what came before — but writers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters force the comparison, doubling down on the quotations from the previous volume.
If issue 1 echoed the goodbye scene between Rhodey and Carol from Captain Marvel‘s last issue 1, this one reminds us of the riff on Alien that was Captain Marvel 8, though pointedly brings up Alien‘s many sequels. In particular, the haphazard exploration of an organic ship full of systems ready to kill them makes the issue most closely resemble Prometheus — further emphasizing the sense of quotation. I didn’t hate Prometheus, but it’s certainly a loaded allusion, perhaps speaking to Fazekas and Butters’ desire to not simply replicate the success of DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, but to reshuffle its elements in hopes of making something new. The result isn’t particularly vital, but may help the series exorcise some of its focus on its own past.
Deadpool & the Mercs for Money 1
“See what happens next!”
Patrick: In the wake of Secret Wars, all the new number ones concluded with a tease for the next issue, presumably to lure the reader back in for the next installment. I hate seeing that sort of thing at the end of a good story — if I had a good experience reading the first issue, my impulse is already to come back and check out number two, right? Which is more effective at getting you to see a sequel: the marketing for it or the first installment in the series? But more than that frustration, I sorta resent the idea that what I’m interested in is “what happens” in a given story. What happens is almost immaterial when measured against how the story is expressed. For my money, execution and thematic exploration trumps plot every time.
Which brings me around to the mess that is Cullen Bunn and Salva Espin’s Deadpool & The Mercs for Money. I enjoyed my experiences with the titular Mercs in the first couple issues of Deadpool, but largely because writer Gerry Duggan used each member of the team to illustrate the various strengths and weaknesses of Deadpool as a character. Nothing illuminates the inherent value of one particular hyper-violent clown like putting him in the presence of less compelling hyper-violent clowns. That pretense is all but abandoned here, instead laying out the Mercs’ shortcomings and unique qualities as fodder for some toothless jokes. There are like two pages in a row where Bunn makes jokes about Slapstick not having genitals (specifically, about not having balls, which isn’t actually a unique quality of the character – like 51% of Earth’s population doesn’t have balls). And then they’re not joking around, the characters are engaging in some horrific violence, which Espin appears to be un-ironically celebrating.
There are two gruesome fight scenes in this issue, but there’s a really big emphasis on how little it costs the Mercs to get the shit kicked out of them. Terror loses an arm in the first fight, and gets decapitated in the second, but who cares! He can always slap on a new limb or head and who needs consequences anyway?
But it’s not until the Mercs open the crate that the issue plainly reveals its values. Inside is a robot spouting events from the future; literally telling everyone “what happens next.” That, Deadpool decides, is the most valuable thing in the world, and he can’t wait to sell it. Well, I guess it’s good to know that the villains of the Marvel Universe are into the the publisher’s marketing…
Howard the Duck 4
Ryan D: Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones return to stick Howard the Duck into more absurd situations. That’s the gimmick of the series; Howard is the powerless variable in a multiverse which functions on a currency of outlandish abilities. The Duck himself has virtually no agency in this comics, and I suppose the humor arises from all of the implausible events occurring on such an unlikely character. In the past few issue, Howard has gone from a home-sick Private Eye to accidentally becoming the Nexus of All Realities- a gateway to any universe- and impued with the Power Cosmic:
All of this new power comes with the unfortunate side-effect of being sought-after by some pretty heavy hitters on a cosmic scale, and Howard barely escapes from the likes of The Stranger and Galactus time and time again, albeit with help from the Silver Surfer, female clones, and the new Ben Grimm/Kitty Pryde version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. As you can see, there are a lot of set pieces to this tale, despite it being only four issues into its current season. Whether the bevy of cameos enriches, distracts from, or drives the comic, I cannot be too sure.
So, this is a comedy title. Much of the comedy comes from the absurdity of the circumstances, and the rest comes from Chip’s silly comedic timing and self-effacing dialogue. I get that, and appreciate it; however, nothing thus far has made me care about Howard the Duck as a character. I suppose I should identify with him as “the other”, the underdog (duck), the lovable con man, but thus far he just reads as a cog in a much larger galactic maelstrom. I don’t think it necessarily helps that I find Joe Quinones’s art to be a little on the generic and overly cartoony side. I would recommend this title if you are a Zdarsky fan-person- though even a stalwart brimper like me is not really digging this title- or really want to see someone new take on The Eater of Worlds after His great appearance in the pages of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot 2
Drew: A Groot-centered story always represents a platform for creative storytelling. Jeff Loveness came up with some fun ways around a character who can’t really speak in Groot, but Skottie Young has always had a penchant for clear visual storytelling, delivering virtually silent issues of Rocket Raccoon in spite of his protagonist’s typical verbosity. That puts him in a great position for Rocket Raccoon and Groot 2, which follows Groot’s harrowing journey to reunite with his long-lost friend. Unfortunately, Young opts to provide a narrator for the sequence, undermining artist Filipe Andrade’s capable visual storytelling. That Rocket can’t understand Groot emphasizes his amnesia, but also provides the unneeded crutch of a translator. The best sequences dispense with the narration, with expansive images hinting at an adventure much more interesting than the one told in words.
Perhaps the most frustrating part, though, is that Groot’s quest was all a waste — in spite of his systematic following of every clue, he ultimately finds Rocket thanks to a convenient TV report showing exactly where he is. I suppose that leaves a missing piece to the puzzle, but it sure makes all that work Groot put in feel like a waste.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?