Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 5/11/16

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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.

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Black Panther 2

Black Panther 2Michael: 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

Profound indeed. No wonder T’Challa is considered one of the smartest people on the planet.

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Deadpool 11

Deadpool 11Patrick: 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.

two discarded masks

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.

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The Ultimates 7

Ultimates 7Patrick: 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.

Thanos the Mad Titan

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Uncanny Inhumans 8

Uncanny Inhumans 8Spencer: 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.

you're gonna carry that weight

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.

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Vision 7

Vision 7Drew: 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.

Toaster Joke

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.

Toaster Joke II

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?

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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7 comments on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 5/11/16

  1. Black Panther: One of the smartest things is the reveal that Zenzi isn’t a beguiler, but a revealer. All she is doing is showing everyone what Wakanda is really like. Removed the comforting illusions and forced the characters to have to address the world as it is. Even comparing it to Professor X and Magneto has the problem that Magneto’s position is sympathetic but defined by being too extreme. Here, it is hard to say anyone is too extreme. Black Panther is trying to restore peace, the Midnight Angels are attacking bandits and Zenzi is providing a stability that Black Panther currently can’t.

    What makes this work so well is the nature of the ambiguity. It isn’t ambiguous because it is trying to make some sort of gotcha, where it tries to suggest that the bad guy is actually the good guy. The ambiguity comes from a diverse range of perspectives, each with the goal of saving Wakanda. Everyone is the best, most moral versions of themselves, and yet they can’t agree.

    Add to that an understanding of the subtleties of how politics work (Black Panther’s monologue you show isn’t just about ‘heavy is the head’, but it is also about the nature of power. Superhero comics usually have a quite simple exploration of power, if only because what is the point of the Hulk if the Hulk doesn’t get to go round smashing things. But this book has embraced the political nature of a superhero who is also a king, and what that means. And that means that Black Panther approaches power in a truly different way. Because that’s how political systems work.

    And that is what makes Coates a fantastic writer for this book. This focus on stuff like that has made Wakanda come alive in a way that no other setting in comics comes alive. The politics, the people and the ambiguity of this book (as well as the great art) have created a Wakanda that is quite simply the best setting Marvel has at the moment.

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    Deadpool: Don’t read Deadpool, but I’m more interested in asking about the Tarantino stuff. Patrick, what are the moral issues you have with Tarantino’s work? I’ve always felt that there is a strong moral component to all of Tarantino’s work. In Reservoir Dogs, everyone dies, gunned down by police for being violent psychos. Pulp Fiction gives every character a chance for redemption, and those that do survive, while those that don’t die. Inglorious Basterds critiques itself in a finale set in a movie theatre showing, basically, the Nazi version of Inglorious Basterds (and that’s ignoring stuff like the fact that Hans Landa will never be able to escape his crimes). Django Unchained makes clear the crimes of the South, while also indicting King Schultz for his motives ultimately being petty and vindictive (while Django, who is motivated by love, gets rewarded). And Hateful Eight gives the cast members the exact fates they deserve, being as all eight of them are hateful, evil people. To me, Tarantino has always had a clear morality in his stories that do appeal to our sense of justice, not just Kill Bill

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    The Vision: There is a particular cleverness in doing an issue like this. The other issues of the Vision are a meticulous construction, a clicking clock counting down to doomsday. But here, King has to build his clock out of continuity, and he does a great job at finding the key events that provide the platform for the Vision’s actions. Everyone predicted that Virginia’s brainwaves were based on Wanda’s, but the genius here is the context that King places into the actual event.

    In fact, one of the smartest things is how that changeover is connected to everything else in this issue. The idea of ‘Tomorrow’ is a key idea throughout the issue, including the return of the Tree. Things moving forward and a relationship constantly changing. One of the best things about the exploration through time, in fact, is that each scene takes place in a distinctly different stage of the Vision and Wanda’s relationship, always going forward (deftly avoiding status quo resets that are comic’s bread and butter). And yet, in the end, we learn that Virginia is built from Wanda’s brain patterns. The Vision isn’t moving forward, but instead holding onto yesterday.

    Is it a surprise that the issue ends with the same joke repeated? Is it a surprise that the very same line has lost the sweet context it had the first time? And is it a surprise that the warmer hues of the first scene are replaced with the dark blues of the final scene?

    The Vision has always been about two things that fundamentally cannot coexist being forced together, and what happens when that happens. And with this issue, another new element is added. Vision’s attempt to reclaim a past, in a world always going forward.

    This is probably my least favourite issue of the Vision, and yet it still excels. Still marvel’s best book on the stands

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    Thunderbolts: Been reading a lot of classic Thunderbolts lately, and thought it was worth discussing. And while Drew discussed how we often compare comics to Soap Opera as a criticism, what I enjoyed about reading THunderbolts was those soap operatic elements that were long done. Back in the days when nearly every issue was a one and done, the best parts were the fact that outside of fighting villains (or other superheroes – we are talking a book with the tagline ‘Marvel’s Most Wanted’), what made the book engaging was the fact that each Thunderbolt had their own internal conflict. In fact, the biggest problem with the book was the refusal to commit to the Soap Opera aspects. I got bored of many of the unnecessary fights, because there had to be a superhero fight every issue (wish they did something similar to Gillen’s Young Avengers, where the book would start in the immediate aftermath of a fight, letting the character interaction exist while doing the essential task of making sure we understand the Thunderbolts were regularly saving the day). The problem with these needless plots is that often, you will have a panel which will have a character recap their current subplot as the only major contribution of that subplot in the issue.

    Still, read in bulk so you can ignore the less than great issue stories and enjoy the soap opera is great, as everyone has stuff happening. I wish a few less subplots were ‘Why am I doing this? I shouldn’t want to, but I do’, but there is a joy in seeing the sort of soap opera that has been lost by the change towards arc based stories. And Thunderbolts had some fun dynamics, especially the choice of making Moonstone a leader. Even after Hawkeye joined as the proper leader, the idea of Moonstone having such seniority in the team, despite having the least conscience really made the team more interesting.

    Surprisingly, despite my enjoyment of the soap opera stuff, the best part of the Thunderbolts was when they started doing actual arc based stories. Ultimately, there reached a point where too many of the soap opera elements that needed resolving, and the Becoming Heroes/Becoming Villains arc did a fantastic job of building things to a finale finally. The Becoming Villains half especially did a fantastic job in placing the Thunderbolts in interesting situations through Counter-Earth, finding that sweet spot between strong individual issues, good soap opera elements and working as an arc. Zemo’s redemption works really well, as placing him in Coutner-Earth lets him turn into the sort of hero that doesn’t dilute what makes Zemo work as a character, and providing the perfect platform for Avengers/Thunderbolts

    And Avengers/Thunderbolts is just great classic superhero storytelling. In many ways, it is a great example of the whole ‘Superior Spiderman’ style story, about the problems of someone like Zemo/Doc Ock trying to be a hero. What really makes it work is the utter sincerity of Zemo throughout the story. Unlike Superior Spiderman, which begun with an act of high supervillainy, Zemo is always doing his best to be utterly heroic. And yet it is just not in his nature to save the world in a way that isn’t a supervillain scheme. His motives are pure, but the very strategies that made him such a great supervillain doom him to distrust. No one, on either side, trusts Zemo, and Zemo’s big, heroic plan fails simply because he never does enough to persuade people, even his own team-mates, that his intentions are pure. Avengers/THunderbolts is truly of its time, coming just before things were truly going to change in how comics told stories, but it is a fantastic example of that sort of story.

    Classic Thunderbolts shows its age, and has its lows. But it has some really great highs at times, and I’ve enjoyed reading late 90s/early 2000s comics. A worthwhile experience, if only for something truly different. And I’m looking forward to starting New Thunderbolts (and after that, rereading all the Thunderbolts that I have read before, beginning with the sensational Warren Ellis/Mike Deodato run)

    • Oh man, I really should have just done a side-by-side of the opening and closing images of The Vision. They work like a spot-the-difference game, but every difference is telling. I just now noticed how Vision and Virginia’s clothes are folded neatly at the foot of the bed, where Vision and Wanda’s were strewn about — the latter tells the story of the fit of passion that led up to that moment; the former makes it clear just how planned and clinical everything leading up to that moment must have been. What a great issue.

      • You could probably write a book about King’s Vision when it is done. There are a hundred, billion little things that can be noticed. The spot the difference game between the beginning and the end would merit an essay, but miss things like the comparison between the Vision and Wanda’s gleefully odd family of witches, cows and mutants to the Vision’s current family that is designed specifically to be ‘ordinary’.

        It is a shame that with King on Batman, he won’t have time to do an offbeat book like this or Omega Men. Because while it really looks like he will excel with Batman, I am going to miss this sort of book from King

        • I suppose the other blessing of landing a title like Batman means he’ll have the name recognition to do some really bonkers creator-owned stuff in a year or two (but maybe popping in on short runs on Marvel and DC books a la Warren Ellis or Greg Rucka).

        • Yeah, that actually sounds perfect for King. Doing the Ellis or Rucka thing would be perfect.

          I’ll be really interested to see what happens when he truly commits to original stuff. He currently only has Sheriff of Babylon, but I wonder what happens when he starts doing his equivalents of Saga or Injection or Lazarus. I wonder what happens when starts really creating insane stuff for Image.

          So as much as I would prefer him to have a second, more experimental book alongside Batman, hopefully Batman can help him reach that level that will really give him freedom to really do the bonkers stuff later. It is easy to forget just how new he is to the industry, considering how fully formed he already is

  2. I read Deadpool 11 and I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad I can go back to not reading Deadpool again. My Deadpool readings of the past 5 years have now brought me to the following conclusion: Brian Posehn is a freaking genius and I want to read more fiction that he writes or co-writes.

    I didn’t read Black Panther because I’m about the only person who hated issue one because it was boring as hell. man did they take a character that I was interested in and make him boring. I was describing the story to someone yesterday and they said, “Wow, that sounds cool.” I agreed. I might need to go back and reread it. Maybe I just like my version better.

    I don’t think I can say anything about Vision that would be new or relevant. I need to reread it. Again, I wonder how many more issues there can be due to the nature of the story and the nature of the business.

    Ultimates is one of my Marvel favorites right now. I’m normally not a Thanos guy, but yeah, it’s kind of cool seeing him come back. And how fucked up is SHIELD? Man, I didn’t used to get this “they are about as evil as AIM and HYDRA” vibe from them.

    • Vision ends at issue 12, I believe. Tom King apparently had a plan for a ‘second season’ of the book, that would tell a new story (just as he did with Omega Men). But he signed an exclusive contract with DC, which unfortunately means no more Marvel work from him. So Vision ends at Issue 12, and Vote Loki, which was his idea, is now being written by Hastings.

      A real shame, but made up by the fact that his Batman is sounding great

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