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 Black Panther 2, Deadpool 11, Ultimates 7, Uncanny Inhumans 8 and Vision 8.
Black Panther 2
Michael: Superheroes are leaders — young heroes look to veterans for guidance and the general public looks to them for salvation. These heroic men and women are myths personified; civilians don’t need to believe that there is a person behind the mask. A hero like Black Panther is a very different matter however. King T’Challa has to be both hero and ruler — maintaining the balance of the two roles and not letting one overpower or affect the other in an irreversible way. In Black Panther 2 Ta-Nehisi Coates focuses on T’Challa’s self-awareness of the perceived intention of every action he takes as king.
The nation of Wakanda is in upheaval. The lines between “good and evil” are very blurry in this series, creating a conflict that is less “Batman vs Joker” and more “Professor X vs Magneto.” All of the characters within Black Panther truly believe that they have Wakanda’s best interest at heart. T’Challa’s detractors/enemies don’t refute his will merely as an act of defiance or a struggle for power, but as an act of selflessness. Black Panther frees a group of women and children from a band of Nigandan rebels, but they insist that they needed no freeing; “these men were providing for us.” Coates is writing a superhero book of the modern era — not one that has a moody anti-hero, but one that delves into the murky ambiguity of both heroism and politics. “Who said I wanted to be saved?”
My favorite scene of the book is when T’Challa takes down the armed men at the Nigandan border. As Brian Stelfreeze depicts Black Panther single handedly take down this group of soldiers, Coates provides him with a “heavy is the head” monologue:
Profound indeed. No wonder T’Challa is considered one of the smartest people on the planet.
Patrick: I’ve always admired the revenge narrative that makes a point to illustrate how the act of attaining revenge is more self-destructive than it is redemptive. That’s one of the reasons I respond so positively to actual story of Kill Bill, while the morality of the rest of Tarantino’s filmography grinds against my own sense of justice. But I hadn’t stopped to consider that even Kill Bill, with its anti-revenge twist, is still moralizing the concept of revenge. In Deadpool 11, Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli explore the emotional realities of Wade’s revenge attempt without reducing it to something as simple as “right” and “wrong.”
This whole concept of moral gray areas is underlined by the cast of the issue. Deadpool, Sabretooth, Magneto, even Doctor Strange – all of these are characters that write their own codes of morality. Magneto’s malleable morality is probably the most apparent: he spares Deadpool’s life when he discovers that Wade’s daughter is a mutant. For Magneto, any pro-mutant ends justify the means. He’s neither right or wrong — just consistent.
Gosh and speaking of consistent, it’s amazing how much of this issue takes place in a single scene. With the exception of the two panels establishing that Adsit is protecting himself into Sabretooth’s head via Michael, the first 15 pages all take place in the same little forest clearing. Lolli manages to sell the simple tranquility of the space without ever drawing explicit attention to it — we don’t have any gratuitous wide shots or any trite close-ups on forest flora and fauna, just the constant, slowly-setting sun in the calm of nature. It’s the end of an era for Deadpool — or at least, it is for now. Deadpool has vowed many times to put the darkness behind him and move forward, which Lolli emphasizes in this splash page.
There are two discarded masks on this page, but it’s also hard to ignore that fact that Wade’s just wearing another one. I don’t expect this character to ever find peace, and it looks like Duggan and Lolli agree with me.
The Ultimates 7
Patrick: The Ultimates deal with threats on such a huge scale, it’s sorta hard to conceptualize it. I mean, what’s the significance of viewing time from outside of it? Their mission statement is a necessary abstraction of highfalutin science fiction concepts. But, y’know, within their world, they’re still human beings that have to address safety concerns and uphold laws in one form or another. The Ultimates 7 presents two stories – both about conflicting sets of values trying to achieve the same goal.
The more charming of the two stories is Carol Danvers following up on the Shi’ar accusation that there’s more cosmic cube activity on earth. Naturally, those clowns at S.H.I.E.L.D. have sorta-done-it-again, and Captain Marvel has to tell them to knock it off for their own good. Elsewhere, Miss America, Black Panther and Blue Marvel debate the safest way to contain the Anti-Man. T’Challa’s of the opinion that killing him would be the safest option, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment — especially in light of the previous issue of The Ultimates which makes no bones about the casts’ ability to make, un-make and remake reality at the drop of a hat. Both of these stories are sparklingly written by Al Ewing, and drawn by the always-electric Kenneth Rocafort. Unfortunately, the chaotic energy of Rocafort’s extra panel noise detracts from the straightforward, measured approach The Ulimates are taking to these problems. Without a fractured timestream or insane interdimensional travel to back it up, some of his more ornate designs just look cluttered.
Still, I like that this issue — which bills itself as a prelude to Civil War II — is concerned with the morality of how a problem is solved, instead of just who’s going to chose to solve it which way. There’s no easy answer to the question “what do we do with Anti-Man?” so I trust there’s no easy answer to “whose side are you on?” when it comes to Civil War. I mean, just so long as we’re not on Thanos’ side, right? That dude’s a dick. And for all my gripes about Rocafort’s baroque stylings, no one can draw the Mad Titan with as much monstrously arabesque detail as Rocafort.
Uncanny Inhumans 8
Spencer: With Uncanny Inhumans 8, Charles Soule and Kev Walker tell a small-scale, personal tale focusing on the romance between Queen Medusa and Johnny Storm. It’s an interesting change-of-pace after two arcs with high stakes and large casts, and thankfully, a successful one as well: Soule and Walker have a fine handle on the histories and personalities of both leads that keeps this issue just as engaging as the ones that preceded it.
The only other character to really factor into this story (other than a fun She-Hulk cameo) is Crystal, which makes perfect sense — she’s Medusa’s sister and Johnny’s ex, which is, of course, messy for them all. I’ll admit that I’m a bit cold on the actual conflict between them (being worried about Crystal being upset about Medusa dating her ex is very high-schoolish), but I’m more keen on what Crystal represents: the concerns and responsibilities that keep Queen Medusa from acting on her own desires.
Since taking over the Inhumans franchise Soule has done a tremendous job of fleshing out Medusa — making her leader instead of Black Bolt has allowed Soule to focus on how Medusa’s new responsibilities change her, and has also allowed Soule to focus on her desires outside of being a Queen, even if she can’t act on them. Medusa’s level of sacrifice, though, is almost to her detriment: she needs somebody to help her shoulder the weight of her responsibilities, and Johnny Storm is clearly up to the task.
The pairing of Johnny and Medusa seemed pretty random to me at first, but this issue truly sold me on them as a couple. Medusa and Johnny were both background characters in their respective organizations, dismissed by some as shallow or one-note. Getting a chance to step out in the spotlight has helped both characters to grow, and they owe much of that growth to each other. Medusa gave Johnny direction in one of his darkest hours, while Johnny provided Medusa real human connection when she needed it the most. This relationship is exactly what they need right now — and perhaps for quite a long time to come? We’ll see.
Drew: When we compare superhero stories to soap operas, we tend to do so derisively, criticizing overly dramatic character relationships, sudden-but-inevitable betrayals, and deaths that turn out to be less-than-permanent. But, for all of the plot reversals that strain credulity, both soaps and superheroes share one aspect of verisimilitude that most other narratives simply can’t: time. Decades of storytelling allows characters to be taken through very real human experiences, from forging an identity to the evolution (and dissolution) of romantic relationships. The specific mechanics of how those details change may not be particularly relatable, but the fact that they unfold in something akin to real-time absolutely is. With The Vision 7, writer Tom King and guest artist Michael Walsh chart one of those changes, offering up Virginia’s origin by way of a bittersweet account of Vision’s relationship with the Scarlet Witch.
The issue opens after Wanda and Vision’s first night together, in a moment of extreme discomfort. In a brilliant distillation of the series Vision breaks the tension, humanizing himself paradoxically with a decidedly inhuman retelling of a joke. It’s a fantastic scene, paced brilliantly by King and Walsh, but difficult to excerpt because it plays out so subtly over four pages. I’ll share the final page, which brings the two characters together, both literally and figuratively, but much of its effectiveness comes from the distance that separates them from the preceding three pages.
There’s a lot to love about this sequence, but I’m particularly enamored of the way the bedside lamp casts Wanda’s half of the room in a red glow, leaving Vision’s side completely dark. There’s a lot to read into that particular touch — and it’s a motif that Walsh returns to throughout the issue — but I’m particularly curious about how this composition is altered in the final page, which recreates this scene, but with Virginia in the place of Wanda.
Gone is the red light, leaving both figures partially in shadow. Gone, too, is the pacing that so humanized the moment. In compressing the pre-joke tension and the telling of the joke itself into a single image (leaving the reaction to the joke to our imaginations), the moment takes on an emotional detachment that only enhances the clinical discomfort of trying to recreate such an important memory.
There’s too much to unpack in this issue, which emphasizes Vision’s outsider status, and beautifully explicates how he came to desire a family like the one he created for himself, so I’ll leave the big question for the comments: Who is narrating this series? The narration uses the phrase “when we were young” in setting the opening flashback, which could (but doesn’t necessarily) mean that the narrator is either Vision or Wanda (or Virginia, who ultimately received Wanda’s brain patterns). Do we like any of those options, or do we suspect “we” was being used colloquially there?
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?