We try to stay up-to-date 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 Black Widow 2, Deadpool 9, Old Man Logan 4, Spider-Man 3, Spider-Women Alpha 1, and Vision 6.
Black Widow 2
I’m in the middle of an interrogation and this moron is giving me everything.
Black Widow, The Avengers
Drew: Like most folks unfamiliar with the character, that was the line that made me love the Black Widow. She pulls a similar prey-is-actually-the-predator fake-outs later in the film, cementing her skill as a master manipulator, always in control, especially when it seems like she isn’t. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s new take on the character seems to embrace all of these aspects, but puts her in a place where she actually isn’t in control.
Or is she? Her new adversary, the Weeping Lion, certainly seems to have the drop on her — and issue one opened with her apparently fulfilling his wishes — but we know she’s got to turn this around somehow. I’ll save the deep speculating for the comments, but I’m impressed at how well this premise manages to balance Natasha’s always-in-control persona with her haunted past. Leveraging the two against one another makes for a much more dynamic conflict than her “we’re both monsters” turn in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Here, her superhuman shame cancels out her superhuman skills (and yes, I understand that she has neither skill nor shame superpowers), leaving a real person at the center of this drama. It’s exactly the kind of mastery I expect from this creative team, but that doesn’t make it any less breathtaking.
It’s several shades darker than the average tone of their Daredevil run (though not as dark as that series’ darkest moments), allowing Samnee the opportunity to flex his hatching skills.
That’s not an effect we saw very often in Daredevil, which tended to trade more in inky black shadows. It may seem counter-intuitive that this darker series would have lighter shadows, but I think it reflects Natasha’s compromised morality. Matt Murdock’s world was black and white, but Natasha trades in greys — or at least black and white in such fine grain to imply greys.
Patrick: When it comes to writing about Deadpool, I am frequently a head-up-my-own-ass kind of analyst. It’s okay, it’s okay: I know it. Especially under Gerry Duggan’s thoughtful pen, the character has been able to explore numerous facets of the modern comic book superhero – from over-franchising to breaking the fourth wall, from stunt-weddings to gritty origins, Deadpool’s the perfect avatar of “comics.” But, y’know, sometimes the character does just need to be – and for Deadpool that means some fluid action storytelling and hilariously gratuitous violence. That’s exactly what we get out of issue number 9, beautifully rendered with uncommon clarity by Matteo Lolli.
The bulk of this action occurs in the first half of the issue, as Deadpool and Sabretooth tear the fuck into each other. It all kicks off with a classic two-page splash, depicting the combatants diving at each other, swords drawn and claws bared. It’s an awesome spectacle, and one that I would totally have expected to be a title page. But it’s the two pages that follow that allow Lolli to render some truly impressive gore. Deadpool takes a swipe at Sabretooth’s forehead exposing his… brain? skull? Whatever it is, it’s only half as gross as Sabretooth’s disemboweling a few panels later. Lolli is careful to let the reader’s eye track the motion of Deadpool’s sword throughout this entire sequence – from his hand, across Creed’s face, down to the ground and eventually into Wade’s gut. It’s a steady realism to this totally cartoonish violence that makes this such an effective set-up to the following punchline:
I’m not sure if it reads the same digitally, but that’s another two-page splash. Lolli and Duggan are using the same visual vocabulary for the jokes as they were for the epic battle, and goddamnitall if that doesn’t make the joke land. Plus, those kids are great! Look at their varied reactions – one is throwing up, one seems to have fallen head over heels, a pair of them are high-fiving. Awesome.
Old Man Logan 4
Spencer: While we as readers understood that the version of Wolverine featured in Old Man Logan was a survivor of Battleworld and that he could never really succeed in killing characters like Mysterio or (especially) Bruce Banner, up until now writer Jeff Lemire had managed to create just the slightest bit of uncertainty about whether the current Marvel timeline could eventually transform into the one Logan came from. It’s almost disappointing, then, when Old Man Logan 4 conclusively declares that Logan’s future is another timeline entirely, even if it was, ultimately, an inevitability. I actually feel like this direction is a good one for Logan, though; the scope of his revenge was always limited, but adjusting to a timeline that’s not his own and learning how to deal with his guilt without simply slashing people to pieces has far more potential as a premise. This is a Logan who can feel joy and appreciate his friends again, and that widens the scope of this title immensely.
As always, though, the true star of Old Man Logan is the art. Andrea Sorrentino continues to provide bone-crunching action and poster-worthy, iconic imagery (how about those back-to-back spreads contrasting Steve Rogers’ star against Logan’s maple leaf?), but I want to talk a bit about Marcelo Maiolo’s colors. We discussed in a recent Batgirl piece the effectiveness of contrasting red and blue, and Maiolo uses that skill to great effect this month.
The color red is used consistently throughout the issue to represent violence and Logan’s anger, and that’s no different here. The Sentinel’s usual purple hue, though, is diluted with blue to represent its unwillingness to fight; its pacifism is telegraphed to the audience before it even speaks, but Logan is too blinded by rage to catch on himself.
Earlier in the issue, Maiolo also uses red to remind the readers of what drives Logan:
Even Logan’s dreams and memories of his children are tainted with anger, rage, and pain. It does wonders in explaining Logan’s obsessive quest, but it does lead to my one minor quibble with this issue: I find it hard to believe a man this haunted and driven could give up his quest and so easily find the peace Logan seems to have found by this issue’s end. Still, Old Man Logan’s journey is far from over, and I look forward to seeing how he’ll deal with his pain in this new world of opportunities he’s found himself in.
Drew: Brian Michael Bendis is the perfect fit for Spider-Man. Whatever reservations I may have about his snail-pace plotting and hit-and-miss sense of humor, there’s no denying that his approach to dialogue fits teenage characters — especially famously talkative ones — like a glove. It’s why scenes between Miles and Ganke are always so strong, and its what makes Kamala Khan’s guest spot such a pleasure. Unfortunately, not every character in Spider-Man is a motor-mouthed teenager, but Bendis rarely modulates his dialogue when the teens step out of the room. We’ve often marvelled at the techniques artists resort to to accommodate Bendis-style dialogue, but this issue might feature the most indicative panel of over-writing I’ve seen to date:
Cramming figures down to the bottom half of the panel is far from a novel technique, but it’s usually reserved for moments when dialogue is important, and usually features one or two wordy balloons, effectively filling the ceiling space, making the camera angle look much less awkward. The insistence on three back-and-forth exchanges in one panel forces the dialogue into this ungainly vertical stacking of balloons, all to convey exactly zero information. The Grandmother’s suspicion of drugs has already been established, and the announcement that she’s going to the bathroom feels just as abrupt here as it would in either of the two panels around it. That is so say, this panel serves exactly zero narrative purpose, and really only serves to highlight just how unnecessary all of this dialogue is.
It’s not a bad issue, by any means, but it features all of the problems I tend to associate with Bendis stories — too much dialogue that reveals too little about the characters, and a plot that never allows more than one development per issue. These are interrelated problems — cut out all of the fat, and you could fit more plot — but they’re quickly wearing on my patience.
Spider-Women Alpha 1
Spencer: At their core, crossovers seem simple: let’s take these different characters who all share some common ties — or maybe they don’t, that’s even more fun! — throw them together, and see what happens. That’s the charm of these events, but it takes more than a high concept to make a crossover work. Spider-Women Alpha 1 is the first chapter of a crossover between Robbie Thompson’s Silk, Dennis Hopeless’ Spider-Woman, and Jason Latour’s Spider-Gwen, and thankfully, it manages to lay down all the necessary groundwork for a successful crossover event.
Most importantly, the creative team establishes their three leads both as individuals and as an unit. The most fascinating aspect of this issue is Gwen and Cindy’s adversarial relationship. It doesn’t paint the nicest picture of Gwen, but her distaste for Cindy comes from an understandable place: she’s still upset about Cindy’s reckless actions way back in “Spider-Verse.” This is a clever touch because I know there are some readers who’ve felt the same; even I was frustrated with Silk until she got her own series, actually, after which I came to understand her much better. Gwen hasn’t had that chance yet, but I look forward to (hopefully) seeing her seize it sometime in this story. Meanwhile, Jessica plays an important role in bringing (and keeping) these three women together, and her motivation too comes from a natural, character-based place: her desire to get out of the house (and away from her son) for a few hours to get some adult time.
This issue isn’t just character stuff, though: the creative team also comes up with a compelling threat who looks poised to test all three of our leads in different ways. I won’t spoil the surprise for anyone, but I will say that I’m terribly pleased at how well the choice of opponent ties into a lot of the themes Thompson explores throughout the issue.
All-in-all, Spider-Women Alpha 1 is an effective, compelling start to the “Spider-Women” crossover event. There’s only one problem: the art. On an aesthetic level alone, Vanesa Del Rey’s style is a far cry from the work of Javier Rodriguez, Tana Ford, or Robbi Rodriguez on the Spider-Women’s solo titles; it’s jarring getting used to seeing these characters in Del Rey’s style, which would be far better suited to a gritty street-level title than any of the Spider books. There’s still some strong moments, especially when it comes to Del Rey’s interpretation of the Super-Adaptoid, but those are mostly overshadowed by some seriously flawed anatomy and uncanny, cross-eyed expressions.
It’s the art that keeps me from being able to wholeheartedly, 100% endorse this one as an individual issue, but if we judge Spider-Women Alpha 1 by the story alone, it’s far more successful. Seriously, this thing’s got me pumped about this crossover, so in that sense, I guess this issue worked exactly the way it was supposed to.
Patrick: Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta are so aware of the theme expressed in their own book, it almost doesn’t make sense to write about them. The title of this issue is “P vs. NP” – a concept that is expertly explored on both the literal and metaphorical level by the narration. Basically, NP represents a problem a computer cannot solve, any what’s worrisome about it is that the computer may attempt to solve said problem anyway, throwing possible solutions at the wall until something sticks. Arguably, that’s what we’ve seen Vision doing this whole time, with the “NP” problem being: “how do you have a normal family life?” The answers have been unsettling. Issue 6 crosses over into straight-up horror as Vision tackles the hardest question yet with an answer only a machine could make.
The issue starts from the perspective of the neighbor’s dog, Zeke. (Yes, really.) Zeke gets out of the house and discovers an interesting smell coming from the Visions’ backyard. The narration very cleverly outlines this P vs. NP over Zeke’s instinct-driven adventure, suggesting that “P” is more of a biological imperative. In fact, the copy “this is P” appears in a panel that shows Zeke getting a little bit of success:
He’s using his small set of doggy skills to address a problem. What a good boy! Moments later, he’ll apply the same technique to discovering a dead boy to disastrous results. Which of course, foreshadows Vision’s own actions, which are just as driven by a set of rules he believes to be internally consistent. That panel of the vivisected dog-brain in Vision’s hand is seared into my memory, partially because it’s horrific whenever anything happens to a dog, but also because there are serious implications about how Vision will address problems like this in the future. Hell, maybe even implications about where Virginia and the kids came from.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?