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 Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega 1, All-New Wolverine 7, Amazing Spider-Man 11, Daredevil 6, Ms. Marvel 6, Old Man Logan 5, Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat 5, Spider-Woman 6, Ultimates 6, and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 7.
Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega 1
Patrick: There’s a weird parallel between the impossibly powerful little girl, Kobik, and the creative Powers That Be throughout the Standoff storyline, but it’s never quite so frustrating as it is in his final issue. Nick Spencer’s script does a great job of knocking down all the dominoes set up by previous issues of Uncanny Avengers and Sam Wilson: Captain America, but it’s a strange tick of the medium that forces the same installment to address the battle and the fallout therefrom.
Spencer is in his element writing this mega-ensemble has they save Pleasant Hill from Baron Zemo. I love the way he zeroes in on individual personalities and even on the personalities of little sub-groups under the greater “Avengers” banner. It shows a stunning command of character voices and perspectives and delivers some of the most earned and genuine character comedy beats you’re likely to read in comics. Artists Daniel Acuna and Angel Unzueta keep up with Spencer’s character-specific comedy during the rescue portion of this mission, which plays out in my favorite sequence in the whole issue.
It’s a beautiful set of panels that trades on our knowledge of these characters, graphically depicting their powers without explaining any of it with text. In fact, the text here is intentionally distracting us from the wordless action in the background as Quicksilver, Vision and Doctor Voodoo all save people in their own, very specific ways.
But then comes the grand re-shuffling of characters, and the establishment of the new status quo. Perhaps “statuses quo” would be more accurate, as the last dozen or so pages address new normals for the office of Captain America, Maria Hill’s role in S.H.I.E.L.D., Quasar, Winter Soldier, and Red Skull. It’s clean-up that just goes on too long to be meaningful, and turns what starts off as a sleek fun volume into something of a supermess.
All-New Wolverine 7
Drew: What kind of expectations do you have of All-New Wolverine? After six issues of slick badassery, I was ready to pin down the specific tone of this series — I hesitate to call it “pigeonholing,” mostly because I was actually quite fond of that tone, but I had definitely narrowed my expectations of what I presumed the series to be. Issue 7 upsets those expectations in the best way possible, demonstrating a heart and a sense of humor I didn’t know this series — or its titular character — had.
The humor mostly comes by way of this issue’s guest star: the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, who arrives to force Laura to repair some squirrel-related collateral damage from issue 3. Squirrel Girl is the perfect character for irreverent team-up issues, but writer Tom Taylor manages to find a staggering amount of thematic resonance in the most unexpected places. Much of that — the heart I mentioned — comes from Laura’s relationship to Gabby: Laura leaving Gabby behind evokes memories of Logan leaving Laura behind; a captured squirrel in a box evokes memories of Laura being kept in a cage; and a pep-talk from SG reminds Laura of the importance of family. By the end of the issue, Laura has resolved to taking on Gabby as a partner of sorts — a meaningful change of attitude that springs from a story about rescuing a squirrel from a shoebox.
Much of the tonal range in this issue is owed to artist Marcio Takara, who seems just as comfortable with humor as emotional truth.
Takara’s style is undoubtedly looser than David Lopez’s prior work on the series, but that looseness seems to benefit both ends of the tonal spectrum here. The back of the issue teases that “the road to Civil War II begins with All-New Wolverine 8” — a prospect that might normally fill me with dread. After an issue like this, though, I’m confident that this series will remain true to Laura, no matter who or what crosses over into the story.
Amazing Spider-Man 11
Spencer: Comic fans aren’t exactly known for their patience; spoilers are such a big problem in the comics community because we so often seem more interested in finding out what happens than in digging into how those events play out and what they mean. A few of the more aggressive fans even seek to use this knowledge of future stories as a weapon, either to ruin other readers’ experiences or to lord their “superior knowledge” over others.
I couldn’t help but think of these “fans” while reading Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Amazing Spider-Man 11. Scorpio’s ultimate goal is finally revealed, and it turns out he’s been trying to unlock a power source that will give him knowledge of the upcoming year. While this source is implied to fill Scorpio in on everything that will happen for an entire year, though, Slott focuses solely on upcoming events that will affect Spider-Man’s life (or, more importantly, on events that will affect upcoming issues of Amazing Spider-Man).
Slott’s ability to seed plots sometimes years in advance has always been one of his greatest strengths as a writer, so it’s no surprise that he takes this opportunity to wet fans’ appetites for the next year or so of issues to come. It’s important to remember the context these facts are presented in, though; in the hands of Scorpio, they’re dangerous, not exciting. Slott seems to be saying that the future can be an exciting thing, but that we’re best off taking it as it comes; trying to see the future (whether in the form of visions or spoilers) just creates an opportunity to ruin things for everyone. It’s an interesting message to base this finale around, albeit not entirely unsurprising (Slott’s hatred for spoilers and previews — and blood-feud with Bleeding Cool — is well documented); if nothing else, it provides an unique hook to hang this somewhat standard, if still incredibly entertaining, issue upon.
Michael: Seasoned comic book readers such as ourselves know that reboots, reversals and of course retcons are a common practice for the Big Two – the quality of those changes lies in the execution. Charles Soule has brought Daredevil back to his New York roots and put the genie back in the bottle as far as Matt Murdock’s secret identity is concerned. While past issues have given hints and mentions of Matt’s “mind altering,” Daredevil 6 is the first issue to make that a prominent part of the plot.
What I’m enjoying is that Soule is not giving us a full exposition-dump reveal of how Matt managed to make everyone forget his identity; not yet at least. Instead we get to live in the moment with Matt as he meets with Elektra as both Matt Murdock and Daredevil – unsure if she remembers his identity or not. The ever-mysterious Elektra is the perfect character to throw at Matt for this kind of test. Soule explores Elektra’s calculated charms and mystique through the analytical “gaze” of Matt’s sensory observations. It’s a cool moment that explains the appeal of Elektra as a character while in a way arguing that the she can only ever be a character – not a real person.
I’d say that Matteo Buffagni’s art is a little more traditionally “comic booky” than predecessor Ron Garney’s, but it’s not necessarily a jarring transition as Buffagni carries on the color palette aesthetic that this series has had. I haven’t gotten to say this on record yet, but I really dig Daredevil’s black duds with a touch of red here and there. It’s DAMN COOL. Buffagni also seems to zero in on the visuals of Daredevil’s perception of the action of the fight with radar pinging from the various points of contact. Daredevil 6 reveals that Elektra believes that Daredevil has kidnapped her daughter – if she actually has a daughter, or how old said daughter is, I cannot say. What I can assure you of is that Elektra is probably not a great mother.
Ryan M.: The reason that Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ is a staple of middle school syllabi is that it’s an accessible expression of an universal experience. Life is a series of choices, and you can’t take all the roads at once. There is literally not enough time to fulfill all the possibilities. People love to complain about being busy and stressed out, but most of that stress is a direct result of chosen priorities. In the latest arc of Ms. Marvel, Kamala’s decision to not make those choices results in a Dinosaur vs Giant Clone showdown. Ms. Marvel 6 closes the arc with an action and cameo filled climax. Captain Marvel and Iron Man come to Jersey City to help with Kamala’s mess and offer some helpful advice. In my favorite moment of the arc, Iron Man gives Kamala a metal embrace.
While there is a clear moral to this arc, G. Willow Wilson elevates the ending beyond a facile “state your lesson” format. Wilson lets both Captain Marvel and Iron Man function as empathetic and supportive mentors who enable Kamala to define her priorities. In addition to the awkwardness of Iron Man’s hug, Nico Leon adds a sense of levity to the entire issue. The issue ends with Aamir’s wedding and the sweet joy of the scene was a pleasure. I guess all you need to get your mess of a life straightened out is Google Calendars and a hug from Iron Man. <The More You Know!>
Drew: I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife or any of the Twilight books, but both completely ick me out over the notion of a grown man meeting his wife as a young child. Maybe it’s possible to play that in a non-lecherous way, but even the hint of “one day, I’m going to marry this toddler” is too much for me. Which is exactly where Old Man Logan 5 loses me.
The issue opens with Logan opting to take a break from the X-Men for decidedly vague reasons. It’s easy enough to chalk up his decision as loner wanderlust until we realize why he actually made a point of coming to this remote Canadian town: to meet and protect the young girl who would eventually become his wife. It’s clear enough that he’s not intending to marry her in this timeline, but he’s still taking on an active role in her life because of his love for her. That is, the love for who is now a child. Paternalism is a characteristic that has come to be an important part of Logan over the years, but it’s super gross when applied to a person you know only as your wife.
But maybe my discomfort with this material is clouding my judgement. As I mention, there’s no hint of romance in Logan’s interactions with young Maureen, but intercutting her introduction with their meet-cute in his timeline makes enough of a connection to make me squirm. There’s no doubt that protecting Maureen gives Logan a motivation he hasn’t had since his family was killed, but it also opens up a can of worms that might have been better left on the shelf.
Shelby: I’ve been playing an obscene amount of Dragon Age lately. The underlying political situation of the game is mages versus templars; the mages are all considered dangerous because their magic attracts demons, so they’re forced to submit to the will of the templars, there to keep them under control. It’s an interesting conflict, because both sides have valid points, but the part that came to mind as I read the latest issue of Patsy Walker… was that the mages are assumed guilty, regardless if they’re actually guilty, innocent, or otherwise. Patsy obviously doesn’t subscribe to that mentality; remember how she met her roommate when she busted him for robbing an armored car?
As Jen tries to placate Hedy, she gets word of Patsy’s predicament via Ian and Tom. Meanwhile, Casiolena tries to taunt Patsy and Valkyrie with visions of her minions wrecking the city, but it’s short-lived; She-Hulk and crew bust in, and Poppo reveals he called them in. Turns out, he’s not a bad guy, he just works for one, and is more than a little sick of it. They take out Casiolena fairly easily; her team of disenfranchised millenials was already handled by She-Hulk en route.
Jeez, this book is charming. Patsy’s faith in those around her inspiring. Casiolena is an old-fashioned villain, with a black and white view of the world; there’s good guys and bad guys, and you’re either one or the other. Patsy knows there are people who are just plain evil, but she also knows there are a lot more people who are just…people. They mostly do good, but sometimes they make mistakes, and they deserve a chance to redeem themselves. In Patsy’s eyes, even when people are technically guilty, they don’t deserve to be treated poorly for it. It fits in perfectly with her desire to open a superpowered temp agency; she’s not looking for A Team of Heroes to Save the World, she’s looking for people who just want to continue being people; it’s a refreshingly hopeful outlook that’s seen all too rarely lately.
Patrick: With last week’s exploration of Cindy Moon’s alternate life on Earth-65 and this week’s Spider-Woman 6, Spider-Women has turned into something of a hall of mirrors for our non-Gwen characters. We get to see their own values reflected back to them in strange, distorted ways and then we can see how they react to those distortions. Jessica Drew turns on the superspy to get to the bottom of how her Earth-65 counterpart might be involved in her own interdimensional misplacement. Dennis Hopeless writes Jessica as almost unflappable – she’s not thrown by meeting the woman at her own house that doesn’t look anything like her, and see seems even less thrown to discover that this version of her is a man – Jesse Drew. She processes with a quick “His. Bingo.” All of her problem solving from that point forward is frighteningly competent and efficient. She knows that Jesse’s a spy, she knows how to access his gun study, etc. But it’s not until the Drew kids come home from school that Jessica recognizes something else: for whatever other differences she can spot, there’s the constant of parenthood that binds these two families. It’s sort of astounding that Hopeless is able to steer this issue back to the series’ own pet themes while advancing the over all story of Spider-Women, but he does and it’s both graceful and emotionally honest.
The issue ends with our Women back on… are we still calling it Earth 616? Let’s say it is. Jessica taps out of the adventure so she can connect with her baby after being gone for three days, leaving Cindy and Gwen to investigate this side of the dimensional portal. But that “To be continued in Spider-Gwen #8″ at the end of the issue does tease the idea that maybe it’s time to explore Gwen’s alternate universe life. It’s a what-if story in reverse! I’m obviously getting ahead of myself – we’ll discuss Gwen next time.
Spencer: In yesterday’s discussion of Batman 51, Drew mentioned that the issue seemed custom-written for Retcon Punch. I feel the same way about Al Ewing and Christian Ward’s The Ultimates 6; it’s an issue rife with subtext and metatext, and that’s about as “Retcon Punch” as an issue can get.
On paper, The Ultimates 6 is about the very elemental forces of the universe themselves seeking to revert Galactus back to his planet-eating ways (instead of his new life-bringing persona the Ultimates helped him take on), but this conflict also serves as commentary on the state of change and progress at Marvel and DC comics. After all, the Lords of Chaos and Order’s complaints against Galactus sound awfully familiar to the complaints many make about comics attempting to become more inclusive and progressive.
Master Order takes this change in Galactus as a threat to the status quo instead of what it is: a chance to improve it. Sure, he claims that “one day” it will be the time for change, but he gives no hints as to when that time will actually be, and likely would do everything in his power to make sure that day never comes. This echoes complaints from comic fans and creators alike about books that attempt to do something different, be it through the diversity of their cast or by resisting traditional superhero tropes and techniques.
With so much pushback, sometimes the task of trying to bring about change, or trying to do something new, can seem absolutely Sisyphusian. But Molecule Man argues that, no matter how impossible change seems, that no matter how many unique ideas seem to immediately revert back to the status quo at the first possible opportunity, that change is not a lost cause. The rock may roll back to the bottom, but that’s ultimately not where it’s meant to be, and someday, we’ll get that rock up that mountain if we just try hard enough.
Change is hard, no matter whether you’re a reformed planet-eater or a concerned creator trying to elevate your favorite medium, but it’s not impossible, and it’s always worth pursuing.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 7
Taylor: One of my favorite memories of grade school was when the Scholastic book fair came to town. Those steel cases full of books aimed at my age group promised an endless amount of entertainment and since they were books, usually my parents were happy to oblige my desire to binge. Much to my parents chagrin, however, I often bought “Choose Your Own Adventure” books rather than anything resembling traditional “literature” Their educational merit aside, I really enjoyed these and you get the idea that Ryan North did too in issue 7 of Squirrel Girl.
The choose-your-own-adventure of this issue takes place during a normal day for Doreen. Out at the farmer’s market while taking a break from her studies, Doreen soon enters into a battle with Swarm, a villain made entirely out of bees. Throughout the issue, the reader gets to choose what Doreen does to try and defeat Swarm and most end in typically funny ways. In particular, my favorite way the issue ends is with Doreen simply going back to her studies and forgetting to eat and dying. Just as when I was a kid, when my adventure prematurely came to end I would backtrack and make different choices earlier in the issue until I got the outcome I desired. At the end of one story strand, North is there to head me off at the pass.
Knowing that of course I’ll go back to try out a different story strand North assures me he won’t tell. It’s a funny acknowledgment of something nearly every kid growing up in the 90s recognizes. That I get the since North has been there too makes the joke all the more welcoming. Ultimately I think that’s why this issue works where it could have easily fallen flat as a gimmick. It’s clear that North loves the premise of a choose-your-own-adventure book (he is also authoring a version Romeo and Juliet with the same premise) so this issue never feels like a shallow attempt at humor. Instead it comes across as a genuine devotion to a book genre that is as goofy as it is actually fun.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?