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 A-Force 5, All-New Inhumans 5, Amazing Spider-Man 12, Sam Wilson: Captain America 9, Howard the Duck 7, Moon Knight 2 and Spider-Gwen 8.
Drew: I’m always a sucker for a hangout issue. Marvel characters generally lend themselves well to relatable civilian antics, but spending time with characters at a party or running errands lives or dies on the strength of the creative team. Fortunately, Kelly Thompson has such a strong handle on the voices of every member of the A-Force, I’d enjoy seeing them do basically anything. Indeed, while the hanging out doesn’t start until the second half of the issue, every character’s voice pops from page one. Whether they’re coming up with strategies to take down a massive dragon, or just knocking back a few cold ones in celebration of their victory, the A-Force has an almost infectious rapport.
The strength of these characters is key, as this issue introduces a new one, who is in many ways a hybrid of the entire team: a Thor from Battleworld who bears a striking resemblance to (and perhaps shares abilities with) Dazzler. It’s not clear what will ultimately happen with this Thor (will they send her back to Battleworld? Will she want to take Singularity?), but for now, I’m happy to see how she interacts with the characters she’s paired with throughout the issue — namely, She-Hulk and Dazzler. Or maybe I’ll just never tire of seeing Thor (any Thor) ordering food and drink at a restaurant.
The other key factor in this issue’s success is the art team of Ben Caldwell and Ian Herring, whose warm, inviting style is a perfect match for the tone of this issue. They seem equally at home handling the huge action sequence that opens the issue as they are the quieter moments that end it, but my favorite panels have to be those of the team just relaxing at the restaurant.
Caldwell’s acting is spot on (and I love how he marks time with empty beer glasses), and Herring’s watercolor textures add a luxuriousness to the world that sucks me right in. I’d love to see more issues that just let these characters hang out, but with this creative team at the helm, I’m confident that I’ll enjoy whatever comes next.
All-New Inhumans 7
Patrick: “Inhuman” doesn’t just mean Medusa and Black Bolt and Gordon and Karnark and Lockjaw. That classification now applies to a host of new characters, some populating the pages of nearly every team-book Marvel publishes, and one (Ms. Marvel) starring in her own blockbuster series. It used to be simple(ish) to define them an a single band of techno-archaic weirdos with superpowers, but they are quickly becoming a group that resists definition. All-New Inhumans 7 finds Flint learning about his family and Gorgon learning about the secret history of his people, all of which strongly suggests that we barely know where to begin when it comes to describing the Inhumans.
Writer James Asmus does a great job of layering in the familiar while tweaking just enough to make everything about this new sub-set of Inhumanity feel totally alien. First of all, our heroes are looking for Flint’s family in a hidden mountain-top city, which leads Flint to observe “you can’t hide a city on top of a mountain.” Oh, but Gorgon explains pretty handily how you hide a city like that — same King Randac hid Attilan. (The explanation is a a set of machines that send out waves that trick the human brain into being disinterested — it’s doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to be the same between both groups). Even the name of the newly discovered city is eerily similar to Attilan: “Utolan.”
All of which is just to feed the swirling mystery around Flint’s sister. She too is simultaneous familiar and strange — check out the similarity between the way Stefano Caselli draw her and Gorgon’s crazy mech-legs.
They’re both suspended by this un-natural appendages. (Also, I should note that Ikelli and her magic body-vines looks an awful lot like Captain Shå from Si Spurrior and Jeff Stokley’s excellent series The Spire). But so much of this issue plays the game that what we see is not what we’re getting — Ana Kravinof doesn’t kill a dear just for the sake of killing, she does it to stop it from setting of a mine; the snakes are really vines, etc. So Ikelli — and Utilan for that matter — are simply not to be trusted.
Amazing Spider-Man 12
Spencer: One reason why I’ve enjoyed this volume of The Amazing Spider-Man so much is because running Parker Industries has made Peter a more mature character. Peter still has to deal with a constant string of problems — his fabled “Parker Luck” — but most of these problems stem from his company and work, as opposed to soap operatics, and he’s grown as a result. In many ways, that makes issue 12 a bit of a regression for Peter, but it goes to show that sudden success can’t change deeply ingrained neuroses overnight; Peter Parker is just as insecure as ever.
It takes Tony Stark to bring that side of Peter back to the forefront, and I can certainly understand why. Even with his company being the new “big thing,” even with Peter’s conviction that his way of doing business is right, he still sees Tony Stark as everything he’s not. Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli make that dichotomy clear throughout the issue, but never more than on this page:
For all his newfound success, Peter still has to hide his power, while Tony gets to bask in his fame. Yeah, Peter’s jealously is certainly understandable, but that doesn’t justify it; Peter’s childish behavior reflects badly on him throughout the issue, and he remains petty even after he and Tony come together to defeat the Ghost. I’m thinking specifically of his ill-fated attempt to hire Pepper Potts just to make Tony jealous; it’s a low point, and furthermore, one that makes me question Peter’s view of women ever-so-slightly (look how he expects Tony to stay behind and “protect” Mary Jane in the image above while Tony trusts her to take care of herself and others).
Of course, Tony responds to most of Peter’s jabs with equally petty retorts of his own; together, they just about justify Regent’s distrust of super-powered individuals. Regent’s fatal flaw, though, is arrogance: the idea that he knows how best to handle these abilities when others don’t. I’m interested to see how these two sets of very different weaknesses clash in upcoming issues, but more than anything, I’m hoping to see Peter become more confident in himself and his relationships, even if comics as a medium dictate that he’ll never quite work that out for good.
Sam Wilson: Captain America 9
Drew: Often, when someone criticizes a work for being “too political,” they actually mean either a) “I disagreed with the political conclusions of the work” and/or b) “the political message was ham-fisted and distracting.” Sam Wilson: Captain America 9 presents a decidedly different version of “too political” in presenting a story whose politics are so compelling as to obscure any other narrative goals. Which is to say, I found the political subtext of the issue so compelling, I almost resented that it had to interrupt them for superhero action.
In our discussion of issue 7, Patrick asserted the Obama-ness of Sam Wilson’s tenure as Cap — a post heretofore held exclusively by white dudes. This issue doubles down on that parallel, as detractors assert that Sam is wilfully divisive in a way that Steve isn’t. Which is to say, Steve never forced them to confront the very real issues Sam has to deal with every single day. As if to assure us that Sam’s integrity is impugnable, Nick Spencer actually writes Sam as the more idealistic of two, with Steve prevailing upon him to compromise. Sam agrees, but by the issue’s end, may be embarrassed by that decision, as a villain throws those compromised values back in his face.
It’s an intriguing character study, swimming in the issues that defined much of our political discourse over the last eight years, which is why I’m kind of bummed at the introduction of some new villain at the end of the issue. There’s so much tension in Sam’s decision-making that I’m not sure a villain is necessary. Moreover, a looming supervillain muddies the parallels to Obama and his legacy. There’s no doubt that that villain — a hulking figure in a police uniform, introduced targeting a black youth — opens up some other clear parallels, but I wish Sam was able to settle one issue before he’s confronted with another. I suppose Sam feels the same way, and “too much happened” is one of the better problems for a comic to have, but it really felt like he needed a win. Here’s hoping Steve appoints him to the Supreme Court or something.
Howard the Duck 7
Ryan M.: Sometimes you want to see a random group of super-powered people fight dinosaurs. Okay, maybe more than sometimes and Chip Zdarsky delivers on that premise in Howard the Duck 7 as Howard orchestrates a team-up to find a missing businessman. By setting the issue in a time outside of the ongoing continuity, some of the dramatic stakes are lessened. That’s not a slight to the issue, instead the lack of tension offers an opportunity for fun. This adventure takes place in a specific moment in these various storylines. Zdarsky supplies footnotes that both elucidate the details of characters current situations and offer commentary thereof. The “getting the gang together” phase only lasts four pages and then Zdarsky and Maguire get us everyone in a jet, snarking at and about each other. The rest of the issue gives us the kind of action promised by the cover. This is an issue where Spider-Man accidentally webs She-Hulk in the upper thigh and Tara impersonates a scolding Steve, but the real draw here are the dinosaurs.
The panel above is the last of the issue, and the final moment after several Jurassic Park references and a few impressive dino fights. With one more inane in0universe commentary against a beautiful backdrop, it’s a satisfying ending to a diversion of an issue.
Moon Knight 2
Michael: I’m gonna approach the Marvel character Moon Knight by way of a few DC characters, so bear with me. Heroes are typically said to be strong-willed. For example, the entire mythos of Green Lantern is built upon the idea that the wearer of the ring has strong willpower. When you break it down, willpower isn’t really about physical endurance or feats of strength; it’s about mental fortitude. In Moon Knight 2, Jeff Lemire illustrates that Marc Spector’s greatest strength and flaw is his weakened mental state. As he plots his escape from the “mental hospital” where he is imprisoned, Marc communes with Khonshu in “the Overvoid.” Khonshu tells him that Marc’s weak mind is the reason that Khonshu enlisted him, as well as the reason he is currently imprisoned. That’s a goddamn mental nut punch, guys.
With great discipline a human being can accomplish great things: academically, physically and professionally. Those achievements take a lot of hard work but in theory they are attainable; it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re trying to achieve the same level of excellence as far as your mental health goes. In a way, being unsure of your mental state is a kind of impotence that feels completely out of your control. Despite Marc Spector’s spotty mental history he is 100% confident that the reality he is living in is a fabrication. The book is called Moon Knight, so odds are Moon Knight is gonna win out in the end. However, there is something equally inspiring and frightening about Marc’s confidence. It makes me think of the appeal of a character like The Joker — he is clearly mentally disturbed in too many ways to count but he’s still one of the most popular comic book villains. Like Joker, I think what makes Marc so appealing in this issue is his unflinching commitment to believing that the “doctors” are wrong and that he is living in a fantasy. Willpower doesn’t always equate to “right.” So I say that Khonshu can piss off because Marc Spector seems pretty determined in his current state — for better or worse.
Patrick: Y’know, I was so interested in just sitting in the lopsided superhero-lady-friends dynamic off Spider-Women that I never really placed much weight on the villains of this series. And the creators seem to back me up on this one — not only has this story been largely absent of villains, but as soon as they are revealed, they turn out to be the Earth-65 versions of Silk and Jessica Drew. Oh, they’ll take a break from exploring our three amazing heroes to develop the villain, but only if those villains are still the mirrors of the characters we’ve been following all along.
This issue also doubles as a Secret Origin for Spider-Gwen, revealing that the accidental spider bite was actually orchestrated by Cindy-65. So much of Gwen’s voiceover in this issue addresses the losses that came with becoming Spider-Woman, for her and for Cindy. Interestingly, Cindy-65 experiences the exact opposite — she gains from the the Gwen’s transformation, even going several steps further and traveling to Earth-616 to pilfer other superhero tech. Cindy-65 even manages to make the J. Jonah Jameson of 616 believe that his Cindy is committing these crimes, now taking another thing from her. It’s almost mind-boggling how frequently and efficiently these three characters are mirroring and reverse-mirroring each other. Artist Bengal sets this idea up early in the issue with a bank of monitors showing Cindy-65’s crimes on Earth-616.
Even though these are all images of the same Cindy, it serves to fracture our view of her — a cognitive dissonance that is only heightened by the fact that we’re reading a Spider-Gwen issue right now. There’s just no untangling the Spider-Women.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?