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 Astonishing Ant-Man 6, Captain Marvel 3, Deadpool: The Mercs for Money 2, International Iron Man 1, Power Man and Iron Fist 2 and Uncanny Inhumans 6.
Astonishing Ant-Man 6
Drew: What do you know about Cassie Lang? By the time I was getting into Marvel, she was already dead, falling into the same category of women-whose-death-motivates-the-male-hero that defines “Fridging.” Or, so I assumed. Turns out, Cassie Lang wasn’t just a motivating plot device, but a developed character who appeared not just as a supporting player in her father’s story, but as a lead in her adventures with the Young Avengers. That’s the narrative Nick Spencer taps into in Astonishing Ant-Man 6, putting Scott’s story to the side to focus on Cassie.
It’s a smart choice — up until now, Cassie has absolutely been a plot device, albeit a living one. Devoting an issue to her hopes, fears, and desires gives her tangible motivations in her own right, and Spencer carefully walks us through what would lead a good (if too adventurous) kid like Cassie to the dark side. Of course, she’s still a teenager, so her decisions aren’t necessarily the most thought-through. Her plan is to use her powers against the Power Broker, but of course, that’s first on the list of Power Broker’s reservations. Cassie completely lacks the foresight to anticipate that her plan might be utterly transparent. Unfortunately, that puts her at a huge disadvantage in terms of controlling the conversation, which the Power Broker quickly turns to getting revenge on Darren Cross. Again, being a teen, Cassie is quick to anger, and agrees to a deal with Power Broker for revenge. It’s hard to ignore that Cassie might be ignoring a plan as obvious as her own — why wouldn’t the Power Broker take those powers back the second Cassie has done his bidding?
These aren’t great decisions, but they’re utterly believable ones. The entire issue is devoted to establishing the specific psyche of a person who might make those bad decisions. Spencer opens the issue with Cassie getting in a schoolyard brawl.
She’s not just impulsive, she’s sensitive about not having powers AND things relating to her dad. How could her buttons not be pushed when the Power Broker makes his offer? Her adventures with Kate Bishop emphasize that she wants to do good, but with this kind of baggage, she’s also easily manipulated into doing bad.
Captain Marvel 3
Drew: I suppose there are as many ways to enjoy a mystery as there are mystery fans, but for my money, one of the chief pleasures of mystery fiction is guessing along with the characters. For that to work, we need as much information as the characters have — if the killer turns out to be a person we’ve never met, or has a motive we couldn’t have predicted, we feel robbed. Of course, sci-fi mysteries have the added element of fictional science, meaning that we may not even be able to predict the physics of the truth. As Captain Marvel is pulled further and further into the mystery of the Satori ship, the series relies increasingly on regenerating bombs, amplified DNA, and other sci-fi mumbo-jumbo that renders and predictions about that mystery moot.
It’s at this point that I might re-evaluate my assumption that we’re meant to treat this as a mystery at all, but writers Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters are clearly still trading in mystery tropes. Take Brand’s interrogation of Wendy, for example.
Even if we leave aside the dramatic overhead lighting, it’s hard to mistake this beat as establishing some kind of motive for Wendy. Only, we don’t know how framing the Eridani or blowing up her own lab might help her sick brother. Moreover, it’s not clear that anyone would need any kind of motivation to do anything — this very issue finds Captain Marvel attacking her own team because of hallucinations caused by the Satori ship. It’s possible Wendy did it intentionally; it’s possible she was hallucinating; it’s possible that someone framed her intentionally; it’s possible someone framed her while hallucinating. Heck, it’s possible some other kind of weird sci-fi force is at play that we simply haven’t encountered yet — we did just learn about hallucinations this issue. There are no rules, so the outcomes are totally unpredictable. That “anything could happen” tone can be fun in an adventure, but is downright frustrating in a mystery.
All of which leaves the issue feeling somewhat aimless. Without a clear sense of consequences, there can be no sense of danger. Another Satori ship is rapidly approaching, but since we don’t fully understand what the first one has done, we can’t understand what a second one means. It’s probably bad, sure, but maybe Carol’s biggest problems are from within her team? Again, that could be an exciting log line for the next issue if it was stated more emphatically, but here, it comes of as more of a shrug.
Deadpool: The Mercs for Money 2
Patrick: Last week, while doing the comic shopping, I shot a message to Drew. It read “oh, and because I’m a sucker, I’m picking up Deadpool: The Mercs for Money 2.” I’m not a huge fan of Cullen Bunn’s take on this character which is paradoxically less jokey and less grounded than Gerry Duggan’s version, and that first issue felt less substantial than I would have liked, but there’s just something about this gang of anti-anti-heroes that appeals to me. Or, I would find it appealing if Bunn was able to articulate the personalities of his team in any way.
The plot finds Deadpool and the titular Mercs shopping their prophetic robot around to the various super rich evil organizations, so you’d think there’d be some comedy or drama or something to mine from these pairings. But you’d be wrong. Terror and Masacre are probably worst served by their pairing, largely because Mephisto dominates the conversation (and 90% of what he says are toothless devil-isms). But Foolkiller and Solo have a near-perfect set-up: they’re meeting with Caroline Le Fay and all three of those characters are drugged with a truth serum. What a great opportunity to learn something about either of those guys that they’d normally be too guarded to expose! But a set-up that good doesn’t matter if there’s no punchline. And on the subject of punchlines – poor Slapstick. The only characteristic of Slapstick’s that Bunn seems interested in expressing his is lack of genitalia. The dude flips out when someone mentions he “doesn’t have the balls” to fight like a man. HE’S A LIVING CARTOON – surely there’s something more interesting about him than that.
Honestly, this one a series I was mostly going to stick out because it was a mini, but it has since been expanded beyond it’s original 5-issue run. I could deal with another 3 “Slapstick has no balls” jokes, but not an infinite number of them.
International Iron Man 1
Patrick: There’s a moment during Cassandra and Tony’s flirt-a-rama that Cassandra confesses that her family’s wealth and power has made her feel isolated from the rest of the world. This feeling — she believes — makes Tony a kindred spirit. I don’t know about y’all, but that doesn’t totally jive with my view of the character: under the Iron Man suit, Tony’s always had the force of personality to connect with others and the assert himself. Sometimes that means he’s aligned with his friends, and sometimes not (i.e., Civil War) but at his heart, Tony is an intensely social character. That’s part of what makes Brian Michael Bendis’ gatling-gun dialogue such a natural fit for him. But International Iron Man 1 is the story of a still-forming Tony, and maybe he’s still learning the difference between asserting his own personality and rejecting everyone else’s.
This comes out clearest in the opening scenes of the flashback, where Tony finds himself overwhelmed by a sea of his classmates (or possibly townies – it’s unclear) celebrating some unarticulated achievement. Everyone else is able to simply throw in and have a good time, and when they’re pressed for details about why they’re celebrating, Tony’s bro doesn’t have much of an answer. After positing that maybe there was a soccer match, he seems to shrug and offer “I’m not sure what happened. But now everyone seems very happy.” Happiness without a specific stimulant? The young Tony Stark has no patience for such nonsense.
Bendis’ story feels pretty light for the majority of the issue’s run, but Alex Maleev’s detacted art style keeps the reader at arms length throughout. Even the sweet, pre-taser moments between Tony and Cassandra are played out in darkness, the light of the world somehow separate from the two of these young people discovering each other.
I’m not sure yet what we gain from starting in the disastrous present and before bouncing to this 18-page flashback, but it’s possible that this is the only issue we’re going to spend in the past. This is one I’ll need to check back in on, even just to get a better idea of what the series is.
Power Man and Iron Fist 2
Spencer: My favorite thing about Power Man and Iron Fist so far is Sanford Greene’s take on the titular duo. While writer David Walker does a fantastic job bringing their odd-couple friendship to life through words, Greene can capture the differences in their characters in a single image, and manages to do so in varied ways throughout the issue to boot.
The height difference between Luke and Danny is significant, and in this panel it turns Danny into the scrappy little underdog he is — he looks like he’s standing on his toes just to fit into the panel! Under Greene’s pen Danny is angular, all smirks and frowns and sharp lines, while Luke is a massive rock of a character, which fits their characterization perfectly. Honestly, the way Greene plays with both characters’ size may be my favorite aspect of his art.
This time it’s Luke barely fitting into the panel, but because he’s too big, not too small. Actually, even within the panels themselves Luke has trouble fitting into things, be it this booth or (what I assume is) Danny’s car, and it’s a fantastic way to visualize Luke’s presence and power. Greene is killing it on this book.
Less consistently successful is the idea of bringing outside perspectives into the story. While Luke and Danny’s partnership is still the foundation of this title, issue 2 finds Walker relying more and more upon the perspectives of characters only tangentially involved in the story — be they criminals, other superheroes, or random citizens on the street — to tell his tale.
The scenes focusing on the various criminals trying to get their hands on the Supersoul Stone work best, largely because they explore how these characters view Luke and Danny while also furthering the title’s overall plot. Less successful is the page where the two Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew and Gwen Stacy) watch Luke and Danny’s battle, partially because it doesn’t add anything to the story, but mostly because neither character feels written properly — has Jessica ever been this guy-crazy?
Maybe the most frustrating aspect of these scenes is the fact that, even when they’re entertaining, they still seem to be stalling for time. I think issue 3 will feel more urgent now that Jennie’s secret is out in the open and we can focus more on the threat she and Black Mariah present, but issue 2 seems to be filling a lot of time before we reach that point, either through tangential scenes or through jokes and arguments repeated almost wholesale from issue 1.
Also, I’m kinda just tired of poor Jessica Jones’ treatment.
Jessica has a strong personality, so I don’t mind her being the dominant partner in her relationship with Luke, but so far Jessica’s entire purpose in this title has simply been nagging Luke and discouraging the boys’ adventures. It’s cliche and out-of-character at best, and sexist at worst.
Uncanny Inhumans 6
Spencer: When discussing last month’s installment of Uncanny Inhumans, I expressed my concern about how Black Bolt could handle all these simultaneous threats to the Quiet Room, yet also felt confident that Bolt could just based on the cocky expression on his face. My faith paid off this month as two of the conflicts are swiftly resolved (with the third under way), but what I find interesting is that Black Bolt only handles one of these threats personally — indeed, he delegates the Leader/Mad Thinker showdown and the Ennilux case to his subordinates.
That’s significant because it emphasizes Black Bolt’s greatest strength as being, not his literal, physical strength (although he’s got a ton of that), but the impressive array of Inhuman agents he has at his command. Interestingly enough, that’s also Uncanny Inhumans’ greatest strength in a nutshell: Charles Soule and Brandon Peterson have populated this franchise with a vast, diverse, interesting cast of characters that can be used to tell a plethora of stories. Inhumans like Iso, Reader, and Frank McGee all fill valuable roles in Bolt and Medusa’s organizations, but they also prove to be interesting, amusing characters in their own right — McGee’s guilt fills him with pathos, Ahura’s use of his new abilities highlights his lonely, yet mischievous nature, and Soule especially goes out of his way to fill Black Bolt with humor and charm, not content to simply portray him as just the strong, silent, regal leader of yesteryear:
There’s a lot I like about Uncanny Inhumans, but its best quality may just be its unpredictability. With this many contrasting viewpoints, personalities, powers, and agendas in play, almost anything can happen, and it never feels out of place. That’s a world worth coming back to each month.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?