Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 3/16/16

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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.

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Astonishing Ant-Man 6

Astonishing Ant-Man 6Drew: 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.

Cassie Lang

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.

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Captain Marvel 3

Captain Marvel 3Drew: 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.

Motive

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.

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Deadpool: The Mercs for Money 2

Deadpool: Mercs for Money 2Patrick: 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.

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International Iron Man 1

International Iron Man 1Patrick: 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.

Tony and Cassandra are not part of the world

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.

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Power Man and Iron Fist 2

Power Man and Iron Fist 2Spencer: 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.

smol Danny

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.

Luke's too big

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.

poor jessica

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.

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Uncanny Inhumans 6

Uncanny Inhumans 6Spencer: 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:

black bolt, heavyweight champ of the world!

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.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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6 comments on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 3/16/16

  1. Captain Marvel and Iron Man I’m skipping. I’ve never cared about Carol and I’m confused why we need a second Iron Man comic, so I’m just ignoring them. Mercs for Money: I became a Cullen Bunn fan on his Magneto, and I just haven’t liked a lot of his Marvel work other than that. #1 was so bad (and you agreed), so I stayed away.

    Ant-Man #6: I am trying to care about Ant-Man, but (to me) the weakest part of his story is his dead daughter who isn’t dead. I don’t care about her, I care about him trying to make it with a misfit cast. Putting the emphasis on Cassie and making it a truly terrible (and to me, as someone who spends all day every day in a giant building with 2000 teens, completely unbelievable) teen rebellion story has got this on my drop list also.

    Uncanny Inhumans (and the other one): Where did the badass time travel (done right) stories go? I feel like this could have been a special one off super-hero Friends episode. This week caused me to drop all my Inhumans titles (along with all the X-Men and Avengers previously). I think my team books are now Squadron Supreme and Ultimates.

    Power-Man and Iron Fist: Holy shit, this was a negative post. Bad Marvel week. Fortunately, this comic exists. Unless you care about well written woman characters, where the Spider-Women (confusingly drooling over near shirtless peers) and Jessica Jones (confusingly one note mom, but I’m trying to distance myself from the tv show (which I haven’t finished watching because it’s actually kind of unfun) and really don’t know anything about her other than thinking, “Wait, she and Luke have a baby and she has super powers who is she?” while reading Bendis’ new Avengers) feel more like plot devices than people.

    But what shines is the art. Love the cover, love the weird angles, love the size manipulation (as you mentioned), love the relationship, and THAT is what matters to me here. This is a story about best friends and being best friends even though it’s no longer the convenient thing to do and you’re at very different stages in life.

    This is about trying to get together on Thursday night to watch the game. Except with super heroes.

    • I’m interested in why you have a problem with a second Iron Man comic. Honestly, if a writer wants to do two books for a character, I am really happy. As long as the quality is up to scratch, is there a problem with getting 24 issues of Iron Man a year, instead of 12? And at least both comics are big and important, with proper creative teams (MALEEV IS DOING IRON MAN!), instead of the Batman thing where Detective Comics has been a lesser book doing basically nothing while Snyder does the important stuff in Batman (To remember the days before the New 52 where both Grant Morrison and Scott SNyder were, at the same time, writing top of line Batman stories)

      Also, love your comments about Power Man and Iron Fist. As much as I have made my defence on the SPiderwomen, the rest is perfect.

      ‘This is a story about best friends and being best friends even though it’s no longer the convenient thing to do and you’re at very different stages in life. This is about trying to get together on Thursday night to watch the game. Except with super heroes.’

      These lines are gold

      • “I’m interested in why you have a problem with a second Iron Man comic. Honestly, if a writer wants to do two books for a character, I am really happy. As long as the quality is up to scratch, is there a problem with getting 24 issues of Iron Man a year, instead of 12?” – No, there isn’t. I just wasn’t sure that *I* want even 12 issues of Iron Man. I’ve never collected Iron Man. I’ve tried and I like him fine (I liked a lot of him in New Avengers even if I considered his story to be quite far behind that of Namor, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange), but he’s not a character that I personally felt that I needed a double dose.

  2. Starbrand and Nightmask #4: Dammit, I wanted to like this comic.

    Scarlet Witch #4: I swear, if this doesn’t cross over to Doctor Strange… This is a weird comic that is weirdly written with a new artist every week. Sometimes the art is great, other times merely good (issue 1 was the weakest I thought, this was decent). I’m not sure if I’m supposed to exactly understand what is going on with this. One thing about the most successful rebrandings of Marvel Characters: There has been a strong and clear vision from the first couple pages of the new series. There was something to stick to as a reader. A, “Hmm, this is cool. I like this view of [Hawkeye, Hercules, Vision, Spider-Woman, etc.].” That is missing here, and it’s not because of the new artist each week (it worked for Zero). Pity, this is actually close to being a success, but it seems to be meandering. Witchcraft is dying, Scarlet Witch is aging, but there’s no sense of progress.

    Squadron Supreme #5: BACK TO BACK ROBINSON! I like this, although I haven’t liked the sidetrack to Weird World when the compelling story was all these heroes from doomed universes gathering together in the one surviving universe to punish the wrong doers and make sure evil did not rise, even if it meant being evil. Why the fuck take this story (which was powerful. Shit, they beheaded Namor for fucks sake) to Weird World where the most interesting thing was… dammit, there wasn’t anything interesting about it. I still like most of this and will read the next arc.

  3. Astonishing Ant Man: Interestingly, Cassie Lang’s death is basically the complete opposite of fridging, if we want to use the technical definition. Her death was all about her, and Avengers: The Children’s Crusade heavily built the idea that life must be paid with death. Cassie died because there needed to a balance, and if Cassie wanted to resurrect her father, she would have to pay the cost. This payment of the cost ended up being more meta than literal, if I remember it correctly, but Cassie Lang’s resurrection of her father and her death was entirely about her.
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    Captain Marvel: I want to like Captain Marvel a lot more than I am. Sci FI mystery can work, as long as you are open about the physics of everything (this is exactly what you said about having the same information as the characters). But Captain marvel isn’t clicking as a book. Shame, as there are a couple of ideas I like, like the ship planting roots in the station, or the idea of taking advantage of the modular base. But that’s the problem, it isn’t rooted to characters (and Abigail Brand is so wrong. She is a maverick, not a stickler for rules)
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    International Iron Man: It is going to be interesting to see what this book’s eventual angle is. The cover suggests Tony Stark, superspy (which is awesome) and it looks like this book will also deal with Tony’s real parents. But I wonder what it will be after that. But the most important thing is that Bendis and Maleev are reunited, which is fantastic.

    This issue was mostly flashback, but I loved it. Especially as it reminded me of their previews work, where they were perfectly happy to have Matt Murdock spend entire issues as a lawyer. Bendis doing this sort of stuff is perfect for him, the chance just to have characters talk and create real rapports. Especially when he has Maleev’s empathetic art. Wish he did more creative owned work (or just more stuff like his Daredevil) as he is made for writing normal characters in situations like this (is it a surprise that the characters of his with the best voices are Christian Walker, Deena Pilgrim and Ultimate Gwen Stacy). I would love to see Bendis and Maleev work on something creator owned, with a real emphasis on character’s real lives like they did with Daredevil and this issue.

    A couple of disagreements with your analysis. The darkness is certainly isolating, but I would say that it isn’t sperating them from discovering each other, but separating them from everyone else. So much of the blocking of this issue is about placing Tony and Cassandra in their own place, separate from everyone else (the dinner with her parents is a truly fantastic example of this), but even the panels just before the ones you showed spent a lot of time placing Tony and Cassandra is the foreground, when everyone else was in the background. And the two panels you do show clerly link them together as one entity through the holding of hands

    My other disagreement is about your analysis of Tony Stark. Tony is an intensely social character, and has the force of personality to assert himself, but I don’t think think that changes the fact that while he can fit in, he also has a great loneliness. While Tony can always fit in, I think he rarely connects with people, and his list of true friends is very small. His ability to fit in doesn’t change the fact that he has so very few people that he truly connects to.
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    Power Man and Iron Fist: Jessica Jones is still terrible in this comic. Cliche, out of character and sexist.

    Still, the rest of it is fantastic. There is very little plot to this, but it cares more about creating a constant sense of fun. It truly is a Journey before Destination book. I actually didn’t have a problem with the Spiderwomen cameo. I found it a great scene and in character. I can’t quote examples off the top of my head, but I seem to remember Jessica Drew being an admirer of the male form (which I think is a more accurate description than boy crazy here. All she wants is to see some half naked men). It felt perfectly true to me that when she sees Luke Cage and Iron Fist fighting easy villains, she would be willing to have fun enjoying the show (especially considering the tone of this book). I also love that acknowledgement of the Power Man and Iron Fist as sexy, which more male characters should be treated like (even if Greene’s art does often make characters look almost mutated through his exaggerated cartooning style. I am loving his art, and how it creates such a sense of character and tone (love your stuff about the diner), but it also doesn’t make characters pretty (this honestly works really well for Gwen Stacy, by giving her a real awkwardness and capturing a little of what makes the art of Spider-Gwen so great)).

    Looking forward to the next issue, as it seems like this will continue being a fun ride.
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    Starbrand and Nightmask: Despite kaif’s disappointment, this seemed to be the issue where things clicked. The villains have got cosmic in a truly fantastic level, full of ideas, while the humanity of the college sections also works. It may be a bit too eager to explain the arc, but there is a feeling that Starbrand has really learnt something (including a more subtle piece of development with how Starbrand manages to avoid blowing up). This book seems to have clicked into place

    • I’m going to reread Starbrand and Nightmask: I felt too far removed from both the cosmic and the college stories. I’m just not sure I’m connecting with either of them right now. I really found the Starbrand flirting stuff to be awkward and it kept me at a definite distance from a character I was trying to develop some attachment to. I was also struggling with pace as I guess the first four issues was one day? There’s something off a little with it to me.

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