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 All-New Wolverine 6, Amazing Spider-Man 9, Howard the Duck 5, Mighty Thor 5, Ms. Marvel 5, Rocket Raccoon and Groot 3, Spider-Gwen 6, and Weirdworld 4.
All-New Wolverine 6
Drew: It’s remarkable how much a twist ending can derail the discussion of a narrative. It’s hard to know what people liked about the first 105 minutes of The Sixth Sense because all anyone talked about was the last five. It’s understandable — that’s one hell of a twist — but I think it might be unfair to the film as a whole. The twist at the end of All-New Wolverine isn’t quite as disruptive, but it still changes the context of this first arc so violently as to completely dominate my thoughts on the issue. (As always, spoilers abound here — though it bears repeating in this context — so consider yourself warned.)
Unfortunately, that twist banks on your familiarity with X-23’s history, and specifically, her relationship with her old handler, Kimura. Being relatively new to the character (as I suspect many readers of this series are), I had never heard of Kumura before, so the final full page reveal fell a little flat. I’m not sure how writer Tom Taylor could have primed us for this twist without giving it away, but something should have been done — Laura is a pretty deep cut, and while I’m loving her time in the spotlight, the presumption of the average reader’s knowledge of her past should probably be pitched a bit lower. It’s nothing that a trip to the Marvel wiki can’t remedy, but that robs the final page of the gut-punch it was meant to be.
Still, in hindsight, it’s a hell of a twist. Kimura is Laura’s Big Bad, and finding out that she was pulling the strings all along upends the narrative in interesting ways. Importantly, Taylor reminds us of a specific skill of Laura’s that might come into play:
I have no idea if Kimura had any trouble finding and tracking Laura (did I mention I’m new to this character?), but there’s no doubt that she can now that she holds Bellona under her sway. Then again, Kimura seems to have more interest in Bellona’s nanites than her skills, so how this all comes to bear on Laura could be totally different. Who knows? Maybe long-time X-23 fans have a better idea, but for now, I’m happy to just find out what happens next month.
Amazing Spider-Man 9
Spencer: Parker Industries is all about big, bold ideas, and Amazing Spider-Man 9 finds writer Dan Slott co-opting that philosophy for himself. This issue is essentially one giant gonzo action scene from beginning to end, starting with Spider-Man and Nick Fury blasting off into space and ending with Peter SURVIVING RE-ENTRY AND A CRASH LANDING AT TERMINAL VELOCITY!
Yeah, it’s exactly as cool as it sounds.
These aren’t the kind of feats Spider-Man could have pulled off before Secret Wars — it’s only because of his Parker Industries inventions, resources, and employees that he can do any of this. While previous issues have raised doubts about whether Peter can handle running this company or even if he’s using it for the right reasons, Amazing Spider-Man 9 paints it as a purely positive thing. Not only do Slott and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli treat readers to 20 pages jam-packed with spectacle, but they present Peter as somebody who can do the impossible. Not only do his action confound Zodiac’s precogs, but they even paint him as an absolutely mythic figure.
Of course, after all that, the issue still ends with Spider-Man at the Zodiac’s mercy. Is that simply Peter Parker’s destiny: is he fated to forever be an underdog, even when he has all the power in the world? Knowing Peter Parker, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Howard the Duck 5
Taylor: It’s hard to say what exactly goes into making the ending of a story good. Part of the reason for that is that there are just so many ways to end something that it becomes difficult define what qualifies as good and not just different. Despite this, the one thing all good ending have to do is tie up loose ends. In Howard the Duck 5, loose ends are certainly tied up, but instead of making for a satisfying conclusion, they make for one that is a bit of a let down.
With the help of the Silver Surfer, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and others, Howard is able to escape the evil clutches of the collector. This is the end of this narrative arc, and it’s clear that writer Chip Zdarsky is interested in closing things out and moving on to other narratives. Throughout the last 10 pages of this issue, all the outstanding plot lines are closed with an abundance of deus ex machina. Howard is able to send all of the collectors prisoners home. He sends his friends home without any tearful goodbyes. And of course the collector himself is easily defeated. However, the most flagrant happenstance ending is saved for Howard alone.
Scout notices that even after Howard has been separated from his nexus, he’s still able to travel though it because he’s somehow connected to it. This allows Howard to travel to his “home” and sets up the next story arc nicely by cutting Howard off from his previous story in virtually every way. There’s nothing wrong with this ending by any means, it’s just that for my taste it’s all a little too neat and tidy. The ending feels a bit contrived and perfunctory. While there are page limits and publishing dates to consider, I just wish the ending of this arc was anywhere near as zany and weird as the series itself.
Ms. Marvel 5
Ryan M.: For the first time, I’m not sure that I like Kamala Khan. The issue opens a few moments after the last, with dozens of Kamala copies overrunning the science lab. Rather than show any concern for the clearly agitated Bruno or any sense of responsibility, she is dismissive and looks to put off dealing with the problem. I understand that Kamala’s desire to dive into the thing that she loves and ignore the consequences is typical teen behavior, but it’s difficult to connect with a story when the central character is so self-involved. After her family watches a clone of their daughter melt from the inside (a horrifying experience), Kamala has a moment where she realizes that her presence at her brother’s wedding events is not just a formality; it is important to them. For a moment, it feels like G. Willow Wilson is using the clones to guide Kamala to some sort of reckoning.
The above panels really worked for me. I was buying into it. It’s like the last five minutes of any given episode of Degrassi when the character explains their issue-of-the-week with a pat psychological explanation a vow to get better. Who wouldn’t sympathize with the shame on Kamala’s face in that first panel? She even makes her realization and follows it up with the questions of identity and responsibility that underlie her character.
From here, she could have a few options. She could face her mistakes and fix them, or go part-time with the Avengers, or even get a day planner and schedule her problems away. Instead, she walks through a growing mob of her clones to eat pizza and talk out potential solutions. I know that too much Superhero time got her into this mess, but it’s difficult to root for anyone who keeps themselves safe in a room while the results of their mistake cause havoc outside. I know I’m being harsh on poor Kamala, but I think I feel a little suckered by the mid-issue emotional monologue. If the issue had ended there, I would be much more excited about seeing the Mega-Clone crash Aamir’s engagement party. Instead, I sort of want the clone mob to kidnap Kamala until she gets some perspective and a sense of responsibility to her non-Ms. Marvel activities.
The Mighty Thor 5
Patrick: Why does war ever stop? Virtually no conflicts end in the total eradication of one side of the fight (except in Lord of the Rings, when the earth just decides to swallow up Sauron’s forces), so there has to be something that makes the fighting stop. Last issue saw Malekith taking a time-honored approach to ending conflict among the elves by marrying Queen Aelsa, which while effectively achieving peace does have the icky side effective of muting a woman through marriage. We get to see that actual ceremony play out here and it’s clear Aelsa is acting against her will — sorcery, telepathy, drugs, political pressure, a society groaning under the weight of its patriarchy: it doesn’t really matter what makes her marry Malekith, the point is she doesn’t want to. Of course, the horrible deed is celebrated with a raised champagne flute and a toast.
In Asgard, the civil war (which, let’s be honest, these are both civil wars, right?) finds a totally different resolution which once again finds a woman sacrificed at the heart of it. Loki, trusted by his mother as her spy against Malekith, materializes a poison magic dagger and stabs Freyja in the back. The thing is, writer Jason Aaron and artist Russell Dauterman were having a hell of a time depicting the brawl between Thor and Odin right up until that moment. They set their skirmish out past the asteroid belt, as the gods smash each other from Saturn to Jupiter in a couple of hilariously bravura-infused sequences. Hell, Thor even takes one of those aforementioned asteroids and flattens Odin with it. Dauterman sells the shit out of this sequence, tilting his panels as though their affected by the gravity of the asteroid.
Actually, my favorite inventive-as-hell detail has to be Thor channeling the storm of Jupiter’s red dot. What an amazing idea! This fight’s too big for earth storms — we need something bigger. But no matter how big the fight gets, it all comes to a full stop when Freyja is murdered. Tellingly, no matter how powerful Jane Foster becomes as Thor, she’s not able to get results like woman dying (or coming very close to it). That’s part of the reason the gender politics of Thor and Might Thor have been so satisfying — they don’t examine issues as trite as “can a woman be tough?” Of course she can. How society responds to that agency, however, is another thing entirely. In both Aelsa and Freyja’s cases, their weakness affects more change than Thor’s might ever could. That’s fucked up.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot 3
Drew: “It was all a dream” gets a bad rap, but it’s possible for it to be done well. For me, its success is based on two criteria: 1) if it reveals something about the dreaming character, and 2) if it isn’t used as an ending. If it fails on either of those criteria, it’s going to feel like a cheap fake-out, but if it meets them, I see no reason to complain. Rocket Raccoon and Groot 3‘s “forget what you thought was the plot” twist isn’t quite a dream, but I think that helps it meet my first criteria even more emphatically.
The reveal, that this was all an elaborate practical joke Rocket was pulling on Groot, serves to illuminate their friendship, and the lengths Rocket is willing to go for something so petty. It’s far more revealing than any dream (everyone dreams, and not every dream is meaningful), telling us a great deal about both Rocket and Groot, even if the specifics of the premise no longer matter. As someone who was missing Rocket and Groot’s easy rapport from Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon, throwing out the whole Memento angle is a welcome — if unexpected — turn of events.
Of course, this issue still trades in much of the darkness of the first two issues (undoubtedly influenced by Filipe Andrade’s moody artwork), which keeps me from fully embracing Rocket’s antics here. There’s still cartooniness in Rocket using Groot as a makeshift bridge or doling out an atomic wedgie, but there’s enough grimness in the talk of torture or Rocket leading his friends to believe he was dead that I’m more repulsed than amused. Here’s hoping this series can now return to the Earthworm Jim aesthetic that made Rocket Racoon so enjoyable.
Spencer: What is a mask if not a chance to put on an entirely new persona, a blank slate that allows you to become whatever you desire — or for others to do the same to you? The police use Spider-Woman’s mask to paint her as a criminal, but Gwen Stacy’s always used it as a badge of sorts, an opportunity to battle evil on her own terms. In Spider-Gwen 6, Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez give Gwen a chance to redefine what Spider-Woman means, both to herself and to the public at large.
Her new friendship with Captain America has the cops singing a different tune about Spider-Woman, but what does Gwen’s alter ego mean to her now? Well, she’s become a figure of redemption — not just an opportunity to fix her own mistakes, but to help others do the same as well.
This is Gwen rejecting the typical superhero/typical Spider-Man narrative. The eternal battle between a hero and their arch-nemesis — between Spider-Man and Green Goblin? Not gonna happen. Even if it means rejecting S.H.I.E.L.D.’s offer and potentially making an enemy of them, Gwen just can’t bring Harry in. That would mean fighting him more, it would mean seeing him hurt, it would mean condemning them both to a life of eternal battle and bitter enmity, and that’s not what Gwen wants for her friend. This is where Gwen decides that Spider-Woman is not a cop nor a soldier — she’s something more. She’s something better.
It’s easy to see where Gwen gets it from.
Sure, this scene doesn’t take place until after Gwen lets Harry go, but that’s a minor nitpick — from what we’ve learned about the former Captain Stacy, this has got to be far from the first time he’s made such a sacrifice for Gwen. She’s clearly learned from it, and it’s nice to see that positive influence becoming a part of her Spider-Woman persona. As a free agent, as a figure of redemption, Spider-Woman can be the hero people need her to be in a way that neither a cop nor a soldier — perhaps not even Spider-Man himself — ever could. And that’s pretty darn cool, if I do say so myself.
I suppose that’s always been one of the strengths of alternate-universe stories — that need to stick to convention, and to try to keep the same stories running for decades, just isn’t there, and the stories are often better for it. I’d certainly say it’s the case for Spider-Gwen 6.
“It is permitted for a warrior to be sad. We will be sad warriors together.”
Goleta, The Wizard Slayer, Weirdworld 4
Patrick: A title like Weirdworld lives and dies on the strength of its insanity engine. I can’t think of a single issue of this series we haven’t praised for being so damn weird. But that’s simply the series’ hook, and any good story is necessarily going to be more than its hook. You come to Batman for the cool billionnaire in the bat-suit, but you stay for the genuine pathos his stories deliver. While Sam Humphries and Mike Del Mundo’s Weirdworld has always been smart, it’s not always been clear what shape the series’ heart is. Issue number four comes out swinging hard at themes of loss and acceptance, with a movingly slow tribute to saying goodbye.
Becca, Goleta and Odeode find themselves in a magical candy land that — surprise — isn’t what it appears to be. Both Becca and Goleta are haunted by alluring versions of the people they have lost; for Goleta, this is a diamond girlfriend, and for Becca, its her deceased mother. I can’t recall if we knew prior to this issue that Becca’s mother committed suicide, but that detail felt both surprising and powerful here. Her mother’s suicide naturally complicates Becca’s relationship with her loss, and it’s not just sadness our warrior experiences, it’s also anger, frustration, powerlessness. Del Mundo has a glorious page showing the passing of time as Becca is incapable of moving on from this moment that will likely define her life forever. It’s perfectly balanced, achingly similar from panel to panel, with this crushing consistency of that box of ashes anchoring her every experience.
Del Mundo might have proven himself to be king goof-ball in the last 9 issues of Weirdworld, but it’s here where his heart — and Becca’s heart too for that matter — is on full display.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?