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 4, Amazing Spider-Man 8, Gwenpool 1, Mockingbird 2, Rocket Raccoon and Groot 4, Spider-Gwen 7, and Weirdworld 5.
Spencer: As the finale of the first arc, Kelly Thompson, G. Willow Wilson, and Jorge Molina’s A-Force 4 is the issue where these characters finally solidify as a team that will continue to exist beyond this “Anti-Matter” conflict. Yeah, true, they’re immediately thrust into a new crisis directly caused by the defeat of Anti-Matter, but what’s important is that these women choose to tackle this crisis together in a way they didn’t when they were first assembled. Even more vitally, deeper bonds have formed between the team that makes their continued cooperation appealing to them all.
The women of A-Force have little in common other than their connection to Singularity in an alternate universe, but the varied levels of experience each member brings to the team end up being an asset. No two members of A-Force have dealt with the same challenges, but just the simple fact that they’ve all faced trauma and lived to tell the tale puts them in a position to help each other face their own challenges, no matter how great or small, how similar or how bizarre.
I think most of us, no matter what our gender, would kill for that kind of support from our friends. It’s a powerful foundation to build A-Force on, and one that’s already leading to some welcome growth from our cast (especially Dazzler). I can’t exactly say I’m thrilled to see that Anti-Matter’s still a threat (he hasn’t been the most compelling villain), but in every other way I’m excited to find out where A-Force will go next, and especially to see how it will help our cast of characters grow and evolve.
Amazing Spider-Man 10
Drew: As much as I lamented Spider-Man’s transformation from street-level crime-fighter into an international force a la Batman Incorporated, its certainly opened up a world of possibilities for his adventures. As odd as it may be to see Peter Parker outside of New York, let alone riding rockets into space, Dan Slott has spun this new paradigm into his unique brand of dense-yet-breezy action. In short, he might be doing Batman Incorporated better than Grant Morrison did.
This issue skips across Europe, packing in an unreasonable amount of action, including a street fight in Paris and a high-speed train chase in the Chunnel, but the real fun for me was seeing Spider-Man calling upon all of Parker Industries to investigate Scorpio’s lair. It’s a logical end to the network Peter has created (which Slott hits a little too hard in his declaration that this is Spider-Man’s “best web of all”), allowing modest Peter Parker to grow to fill his now much bigger container. That is, while the setting and scope may have changed, Slott is still telling very much the same kinds of stories. Even with all of these resources, Peter is just barely holding it together, and still seems just a few steps behind Scorpio. He may be more powerful than ever, but that just means his responsibilities are bigger, too — and that his Parker luck demands even more powerful enemies.
Speaking of enemies, that mysterious wish-granter continues to assemble an army of familiar baddies, including the Rhino, the Lizard, and a de-powered Electro. Oh, and Anna Maria is maybe starting to notice the Living Brain is acting strangely — not enough to suspect Otto Octavius is hiding in there somewhere, but certainly noticing something. I have no idea when or how these subplots will come to bear on the story at hand, but they’re certainly keeping me engaged above and beyond Peter’s current problems. It’s always something, isn’t it?
Patrick: The danger inherent in breaking the fourth wall is obvious: if a character makes it clear that they understand they’re in a work of fiction, the reader is forced to confront that same reality. And, like, what’s the point of fiction if not to try desperately to make us forget that what we’re reading didn’t actually happen? That was one of my old complaints about the character of Deadpool, and I was happy when Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn introduced a more-or-less in-universe justification for Deadpool believing he’s in a comic book — it’s a psychological answer to an impossible question. Gwenpool’s relationship to the fourth wall may be similar to her namesake (er… half-namesake), but her reasons for that awareness are completely different.
For Gwen Poole, who we only see either fully in-costume or mostly in-costume, the pages of this comic book are a reality that she seems to actually exist within. She’s a visitor to a world she knows to be the Marvel Universe, presumably believing the real world that she comes from to be fundamentally less fictional in nature. She demonstrates this early in the main story, recognizing the Sentinels’ attack patters from the X-Men arcade game.
It’s bizarre how this observation can simultaneously make Gwen appear more sympathetic and more alien. Gwen ultimately shares the reader’s perspective, but does so within the context of this story. She makes multiple comments about wanting to deliver what “they” (read: we) want, even when it means putting herself in harm’s way. She doesn’t see the conflict there, until the issue’s end when the consequences start to get real and Gwen loses the sidekick so carefully established in the Prologue. It’s interesting, cruel plotting on Christopher Hasting’s part, and that promises a series that’s more substance than kitchy meta-bullshit. Plus, artist Gurihiru uses such clean line work, reminiscent of American animation, which ameliorates any weirdness inflicted by the story.
Ryan M.: After a puzzle box of a first issue, Mockingbird 2 offers a more linear spy adventure as Bobbi infiltrates the Hellfire club to save first her non-boyfriend Lance and then, the Queen of England. All of this before returning to S.H.I.E.L.D. Medical Clinic to complete her second check-up. Writer Chelsea Cain and Artist Kate Niemczyk subvert the cliches of the genre while delivering all the cool spy stuff, too. I mean, maybe there was a shortage of gadgets, but that’s a small complaint when we get fight scenes like this one.
While Lance is central to the panel, filling the role of damsel in distress, Niemczyk offers us five Mockingbirds simultaneously dispatching pain in the form of THWKs. Bobbi is an effortless badass, and her confidence doesn’t falter for a moment. In addition to the gender reversal of Bobbi saving Lance, they way the two of them are dressed in the scene further plays with the idea of the traditional spy and his lady friend. Bobbi dresses the part for the S&M dungeon, but from the spikes on her shoulders to her choice of ponytail to keep her hair out of her face, there is no question of her agency. Meanwhile, Lance is the one subject to objectification. Rather than a man tortured, he looks like, well, a perfect specimen for the center piece of the Hellfire Club sex dungeon. Bobbi pretty much destroys the show, though in the panel above, the women in the lower right seems to be pretty into it.
There is a silliness to the world of Mockingbird, which Cain and Niemczyk. reinforce with small background gags and running bits. There is so much fun to be had in this issue, even as the larger arc is teased out. There are two moments in the issue where Bobbi’s nascent illness seems to emerge. First, very angry Rottweilers run away after getting a whiff of her. Later she stops the Black Queen’s attempt at a mind-fillet. Bobbi seems clueless about her effect on the dogs, but there is something in her side eye to the Black Queen that has me wondering if she’s starting to figure out what ails her. This issue acts as both a satisfying story and a provocative entry in a larger narrative that I am excited to see unfold.
Drew: I’ve always been a sucker for “superheroes hang out” stories — there’s something about seeing these characters doing everyday, totally human activities that just tickles me. It’s why I found Avengers 24 to be such a delight, and why the phrase “Avengers vs. X-Men softball league” fills me with such joy. Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon maintained that kind of goofiness as an undercurrent (the standout issue being an elaborate treasure hunt that turns out to just be a setup for a surprise birthday party), but this issue lays those hangout cards (or perhapms more appropriately, those character sheets) on the table from the get-go.
Apparently, Rocket is the dungeon master for some kind of superhero tabletop gaming group that includes, among others, Ms. Marvel (duh), Deadpool (I’d buy it), Beta Ray Bill (’cause why not?) and Thor (if you say so).
Of course, because of the personalities involved, not everyone is great at respecting the rules, which totally derails the gameplay. Tony Stark in particular gets under Rocket’s skin, so Rocket agrees to a challenge to best Tony at his own game of choice: Fantasy Football. Only, it’s very much real football — the “fantasy” comes from the fact that it’s played on another planet by a multi-species team over the course of 40 quarters. Rocket manages to eke out a victory — mostly by violating the “rules” in the same way that Tony was doing earlier — forcing Tony to agree to follow the rules Rocket imposes on their next campaign.
It’s a total hangout issue. The stakes are whether or not Tony will play by the rules in future D&D meetups — not even particularly important to the characters involved — but that’s what makes the issue so charming. It’s a profound waste of time on these characters’ parts, revealing just how petty and egomaniacal they can both be. It’s a microcosm of the character study the first three issues of this series turned out to be, only without the pretense that this is a life-and-death situation. It’s exactly the kind of low-stakes hangout story I’m always craving, delivered with just enough self-awareness about how goofy it is to see a dozen heroes in full costume sitting around a table to play a game.
Spencer: When reviewing Batman/Superman on Monday, Drew and I discussed the unique structure of comic crossovers, the way a story can switch focus and perspective depending on which title a particular chapter is published in. Jason Latour and Bengal’s Spider-Gwen 7 does something similar; while last week’s Spider-Women Alpha 1 focused on the relationships between its titular Spider-Women, this second chapter narrows its focus to the world of Earth-65, as any typical issue of Spider-Gwen would. The twist? The star of this issue isn’t Gwen, but Jessica Drew.
It’s an interesting decision on Latour’s behalf, but one that actually makes quite a bit of sense. One of the greatest pleasures of reading Spider-Gwen has always been the outsider’s perspective the audience brings to Earth-65; as readers, we get a big kick out of the differences between the mainstream Marvel Universe and Earth-65. In Spider-Gwen 7, Jessica and Cindy Moon step into the audience’s shoes, getting to marvel at these differences just as we would.
For these characters, though, these differences represent more than mere Easter Eggs. For Silk, who runs off early in the issue, they’re a chance to reconnect with her family. For Jessica Drew, they’re a chance to see what it’s like to actually have a family. Gwen has the childhood (or young-adulthood?) and family Jessica always wished she had, and like a true mom, Jessica tries to take the burden of their mission all on herself in order to allow Gwen to fully appreciate what she has. Gwen, though, helps Jessica to realize that she’s a part of this family too.
Jessica’s outsider perspective of Earth-65 clues the audience into, not only the differences in continuity it has to offer, but the tight-knit family Gwen and her supporting cast have created as well. Talk about taking advantage of a crossover!
Patrick: What does it actually take to make a teenager snap out of their own problems and start to take notice of what’s going on in the world around them? It takes a-fucking-lot, and Weirdworld‘s Becca has a better reason than most to be withdrawn into herself. The world that Sam Humphries and Mike Del Mundo present issue-after-issue aggressive vies for her attention, but to little avail. Even when she cares about her companions, ultimately, Becca just wants to get her mother’s ashes home.
But man, oh man, Del Mundo gives us some pretty compelling reasons to pay attention to Weirdworld. Not only has the story moved into all out war between Morgana LeFay and the Swamp Queen, but the spectacular nature of this conflict is placed front and center. LeFay’s forces literally fold the world on itself to gain a tactical advantage — it’s a jaw dropping splash page.
I’m even more drawn in by the little pieces of Weirdworld that are this close to being normal. For example, Jennifer Kale’s planes are flown by dog pilots (called Dogfighters, because Humphries has a soul) who are treated like normal-ass dogs. She calls him a good boy and everything! Or like when Becca gets behind the controls of the dog’s biplane and the control panel is like some wacky arcade cabinet from 1993.
It’s this mix of shockingly weird and shockingly mundane that makes both Weirdworld and Weirdworld so undeniable.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?