Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 5/18/16

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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 All-New Wolverine 8, Civil War II 0, Deadpool Last Days of Magic 1, International Iron Man 3, Karnak 4, Old Man Logan 6, Silver Surfer 4 and Spider-Man 4.

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All-New Wolverine 8

All-New Wolverine 8Drew: Superhero stories are undoubtedly a genre unto themselves, but it’s a decidedly broad genre, that can take on the characteristics of countless other genres. Marvel has been particularly good at exploiting this fact in recent years, publishing superhero stories that double as legal dramas, spy-thrillers, high fantasy, and mysteries, to name a few. That flexibility has helped keep the superhero genre vital, incorporating new elements as needed to keep stories fresh, but it can also make the identity of any one series somewhat erratic. Take, for example, All-New Wolverine 8, which breaks with the action thriller and cartoony McGuffin hunt genres of previous issues to present a Godzilla-inspired creature feature.

Mileage may vary on that turn, but shifting the tone so violently left me nervous about this series going forward. My biggest problem was in Laura and Gabby’s jokey patter, which comes off more as stiltedly quirky than casually funny. Laura’s favorite takeout dish, for example, is only ever referred to as “twenty-five with chicken,” which she adds “has all the flavor of twenty-five.” That non-specificity thwarts itself — I can see a host insisting that a guest try their favorite local food, but surely it would be more specific than the name of the dish. You don’t just tell someone they have to try hamburgers, you tell them they have to try the burgers at a specific restaurant — especially if you only know the dish by its menu number at said restaurant. I know that seems like a silly detail to get hung up on, but it’s repeated later in the issue by Maria Hill, who somehow also knows exactly what “twenty-five with chicken” means, somehow repeating Laura’s description of it word-for-word.

Point is, this series doesn’t handle naturalistic dialogue nearly as well as it handles rapid-fire exposition and strong visual action. The issue’s end promises more of those strengths, but its beginning makes me less excited for the series, generally. Tom Taylor writes such a strong Laura-as-loner, it would be a shame to trade that characterization in permanently for this awkward comedy duo. I’m all for character growth; I’d just like to recognize the characters as they grow.

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Civil War II 0

Civil War II 0Patrick: Zero issues are sort of fascinating — there are so few other mediums that engage in this sort of pre-story storytelling, particularly when that story is serialized. Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel’s Civil War II 0 sets to establish the series’ tone, values and characters, but does little to forward, or even elucidate, a plot.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising, given Bendis’ involvement, but this is a chatty fucking issue. In fact, it almost fetishizes chattiness. The opening pages are of Jennifer Walters heroically defending her client, former Jester Jonathan Powers, in court. She’s not She-Hulk-smashing anything in these pages, just articulately and compassionately defending a known criminal who has paid his debt to society. But Coipel uses all of the same tricks an artist would use to show a superhero is dominating an action sequence in this courtroom scene. Jen’s body spans multiple panels, and her face envelopes others whole. She, and her powerful words, dominate the page, filling an absurd amount of space. Colorist Justin Ponsor saturates the room with light, lending a divine quality to the defense. Elsewhere in the issue, Captain Marvel has an impromptu therapy session with Doc Sampson — reinforcing this idea that the act of conversation is powerful and meaningful. But there’s nowhere in the issue where this concept is as explicitly stated as when Jen arrives the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier: she and Maria Hill get locked into a looping “how are you?” conversation and Jen points out…

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She’s counting words because she knows that this specific conversation will change their relationship. The words have power. Or… do they? Despite Jen’s best efforts, Jester goes to jail and is subsequently killed by a guard. For all the power of her words — and by extension, of Bendis’ words — an innocent man dies.

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Deadpool Last Days of Magic 1

Deadpool Last Days of Magic 1Patrick: Regular commentor, Kaif, made the observation that “Last Days of Magic” was essentially writer Jason Aaron grafting his excellent “Godkiller” story arc from Thor God of Thunder to Doctor Strange. It’s not a knock against “Last Days,” but it does sort of expose the sort of fill-in-the-specifics Mad Libs approach to Aaron’s storytelling. Enter Deadpool, and its rockstar creative team of Gerry Duggan and Scott Koblish to cut through the incidental losses on the War on Magic and offer up an achingly meaningful sacrifice.

Of course, just because long-time readers of Deadpool will have a fondness for the underpantsless slacker magician Michael, that doesn’t mean that Duggan and Koblish are going to rest on our pre-existing sympathies. The issue starts with Michael and Daphne going to lunch with her parents. It’s a domestic scene, one’s that’s grounded with real, relateable struggles and insecurities. So when Deadpool swoops in to usher Michael into the Battle to Save Monster Metropolis, we’re already on Michael’s side. Duggan also very smartly throws a couple more magicians in The Empirikul’s way — both Doctor Midnight and the incredibly dopey Mage take part in the last stand. These are Michael’s peers, and they’re all out-matched by Empirikul. Koblish does this battle up in a cacophonous two-page spread that’s every bit as chaotic as the battle it implies, but nowhere near as difficult to follow as Chris Bacchalo’s work on Doctor Strange a few weeks ago.

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All of which is just to point out how utterly earned Michael’s sacrifice is. This is crossover storytelling at its absolute finest, enhancing the strength of both Deadpool and Doctor Strange by telling a strong story all its own. I am genuinely sad to see Michael go, and now I’m even more invested in putting the hurt on Empirikul.

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International Iron Man 3

International Iron Man 3Drew: Man, I love the first three seasons of LOST. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy the show as a whole, but nothing can top those first three seasons for me. I think a big part of that is that, for all of the mysteries and philosophical wankery, the thing that I loved most about LOST was the way it used its flashback structure. To me, the flashes to thematically-linked moments in these characters lives was a perfect representation of the way our brains (if not necessarily our memories) work. Characters react this way to a given situation because of what happened the last time they were in a similar situation. It’s a simple tool, but it allowed the series to quickly develop its characters by revealing some of the key moments in their life as they became relevant to the story. International Iron Man has been striving for a similar feat, and issue 3 finally finds it clicking into place.

The present day mystery of Tony’s biological parents hardly advances at all — it ends with Tony asking Cassandra the same question he asked halfway through the previous issue — but the flashbacks complicate their relationship in intriguing ways. I mean, sure, that Cassandra actually was the Honeypot Howard Stark accused her of being could be seen a mile away, but writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev keep us invested enough in Tony’s perspective to believe that he doesn’t. More importantly, they demonstrate just how crushing the reveal is, not just because he cared about Cassandra, but because he thought he had proven his dad wrong. That latter bit offers the key to Tony’s obsession with finding his birth parents — maybe this can finally break him from Howard’s “prison” in a way that Tony never could on his own.

Indeed, that context gives the closing “Who is my biological father?” much more oomph than it had in the previous issue. Before we had these deeply personal stakes, Tony’s search felt more like he was satisfying his own curiosity. Now, we have some much more complex psychological motivations, all pivoting around an equally complicated romantic history between our two leads. Consider me hooked.

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Karnak 4

Karnak 4Michael: Superheroes overcome their obstacles and save the ones who need saving. In Karnak 4, Warren Ellis and Roland Boschi give Karnak a force he doesn’t defeat and a captive who doesn’t want rescuing. Karnak 4 is the latest chapter in “The Flaw in All Things” arc, where we’ve seen Magister Karnak tear through opponents and obstacles with little difficulty. Here we see Karnak struggling a bit to find “the flaw” in the creatures that he’s battling — finally defeating them by using one of their bones. Afterwards, Karnak is met by the boy he was assigned to rescue — Adam Roderick. Adam tells Karnak how his “abductors” helped him realize his powers and become the best version of himself. He understands that his parents miss and love him, but he’s happier where he is, “drawing with people.”

It’s a scene that I’ve witnessed many times in various stories: the young runaway gets confused and falls in with the wrong crowd, leading to the destruction of himself and others. I don’t really get that sense from Adam — he doesn’t seem all that confused and he doesn’t want to hurt people (Karnak). Ellis writes Adam as a young man who has realized his own path outside of what his parents might’ve had in mind.

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After Adam and his acolytes leave, Karnak’s displeasure with the situation is very evident. As evidenced by his half-assed speech, he was reluctant to play the “rescuing hero” in the first place. After he fails on his objective of securing Adam, Karnak is pissed and just wants to tear down the whole damn place.

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Old Man Logan 6

Old Man Logan 6Spencer: The conflict at the core of Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Marcelo Maiolo’s Old Man Logan 6 is, essentially, Logan’s struggle against the world itself to simply live the kind of life he wants to live. Throughout the issue Logan ruminates about how much he enjoys living in Killhorn Falls, the isolated town he’s moved to in order to keen an eye on the girl who — back in his own timeline — grew up to be his wife, Maureen. It’s a life that suits Logan, a life he appreciates, so of course, it can’t last.

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Killhorn Falls is attacked by the Reavers, a group of sadistic mercenaries who are there for one reason, and one reason only: to kill Logan. Logan’s presence in Killhorn Falls has unequivocally put the town in danger, and it’s that fact that highlights the conflict here: Logan’s wants, desires, and happiness are often opposed, if not downright destroyed, to the point where it seems like the universe itself is against him.

This is really a theme that’s applied to this entire series (and the original Old Man Logan) as well. Logan tries to abandon his old life and makes a new, happy one with a family, only to have that stolen from him. Logan makes it his goal to destroy the villains who will, one day, go on to kill his family, but it’s a literally impossible task because he’s been taken to an entirely different universe. He tries to find a peaceful, isolated life, only for villains to track him down specifically, putting his new friends in danger in the process. Old Man Logan 6 is too focused on Logan’s actual rescue attempts at the moment to explore the ramifications of this, but I’m interested to see Logan’s next move once this conflict is resolved; is the world really out to get Logan, and if so, is there anything at all he can do to find some sense of peace? It may literally be impossible.

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Silver Surfer 4

Silver Surfer 4Mark: Despite the critical praise, I had a hard time getting into Dan Slott and Michael Allred’s Silver Surfer book when its run first began. I think I got about three or four issues in, but it never clicked into place for me and it faded from my consciousness even though I was aware of the general buzz surrounding it. Silver Surfer 4 is the first issue I’ve read in what has to be over a year now, and I found it so enjoyable I feel compelled to revisit the book from the beginning.

Comparisons between Marvel and DC have basically been exhausted at this point; between Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War and DC’s latest attempt to catch Marvel in comic book sales via DC Rebirth, we’re reaching peak Marvel/DC discussion. But as a comic book consumer I spend a lot more time in the DC world than the Marvel world (which you can tell by my work on this site), and Silver Surfer 4 made me consider two ways it differs from DC’s output.

Over and over when I talk about DC’s Superman: Lois and Clark, I talk about how Dan Jurgens’ writing is decidedly old school. As a result, portions of that book feel out of touch and dated (I will forever laugh at Jurgens’ attempt to incorporate reality television into the story) and less than compelling. In contrast, Slott and Allred’s Silver Surfer 4 is knowingly retro but still contemporary. Ben Grimm being unashamedly Ben Grimm! Shalla Bal cries “Great Galaxies!” in combat! These are all deeply silly and right out of comic’s Silver Age, but it’s endearing and works in a way Jurgens is never able to achieve.

Second, Silver Surfer 4 is extremely hopeful. One of the things that DC’s Geoff Johns has said repeatedly in interviews leading up to the launch of Rebirth is how he wants to return hope and optimism to the DC universe. You would never see a story like Silver Surfer 4 in DC YOU. Even DC’s team titles get bogged down in a mire of grit. There is no Silver Age optimism there. In contrast, the pop art inspired work of Michael Allred and colorist Laura Allred in Silver Surfer are the perfect compliment to Slott’s story of teamwork and stick-to-itiveness. These are heroes and they’re unabashedly heroic.

Being completely ignorant of the behind-the-scenes on Silver Surfer, I reached the last pages wondering whether this was the final issue of the book. There’s a sense of finality to the ending of this arc, with Surfer becoming a citizen of the world and him and Dawn embracing in front of everyone. And if it were to be the last it seems a great send off. Still, even as someone who hasn’t read a single issue of Silver Surfer recently, I was still relieved to see the preview page for Silver Surfer 5 next month. I may even start reading again.

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Spider-Man 4

Spider-Man 4Spencer: We’ve talked a lot in these reviews about the pacing and speed with which writer Brian Michael Bendis doles out his story in Spider-Man, to the point where I’m honestly kind of sick of discussing it. I’m bringing it up anyway, though, because this issue — especially in comparison with the ones that came before — is rather fascinating in that regard.

The entirety of Spider-Man 4 essentially revolves around one event: Miles and Ganke’s argument about Goldballs. 12 (out of 20) pages are devoted to their argument; the final eight pages depict Spider-Man trying to outrun a missile attack launched by Hammerhead, but even then, Miles spends a good portion of the action still reflecting upon the argument. This intense focus is a benefit to the argument itself; Bendis has the space to really flesh out the thoughts of both Miles and Ganke, creating a conflict where neither side is fully in the wrong (their real enemy is their woeful communication skills).

This argument also allows Bendis to further clarify the theme of this arc: Miles’ difficulty balancing his civilian and heroic identities. After all, the main reason Ganke overstepped his bounds with Miles is because he was worried about his work/life balance; that’s the same kind of concerns Miles’ parents, grandmother, and even Miles himself have had in prior issues. As of now Miles problems have probably been hammered home a bit too much (I’m ready to see the cast start to rectify it), but I do appreciate the amount of time Bendis has spent establishing Miles’ issues and the way they affect every aspect of his life and the people he loves.

Artist Sara Pichelli is absolutely essential the success of these scenes, keeping the characters lively, expressive, and funny even when Bendis’ script is at its talkiest.

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While Bendis’ pacing benefits the argument, though, it’s to the detriment of both this issue as an individual unit and as a piece of the larger story arc. With really only two scenes, the issue feels especially slight; when I got to the end I immediately thought, “that’s it?” The issue ends just as the story is picking up; Bendis is clearly more interested in the character moments than the action/plot ones, but that just means that Bendis either needs to cut down on the plot or kill some of his darlings, cause this balance just isn’t working. As for the arc itself, we’re four issues in and it still feels like we’re early in the “rising action” stage; how long is this story going to be, anyway?  It’s actually pretty amazing to me that a single issue can feel this dense in character yet simultaneously so slight in every other way; while there’s a lot I like about this issue, overall it still left me disappointed.

I know we say this a lot about Bendis’ work — to the point of cliche, actually — but his books are clearly meant to be read in trade, and this may go more for Spider-Man than any of his other recent titles. I’m sure this story will feel a lot more satisfying when read in one sitting, but when read month-to-month, it can be awfully frustrating.

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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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6 comments on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 5/18/16

  1. I’m behind on my readings, but I got through Civil War II 0 and thought, “Damn, Coipel and Ponsor killed it this issue.” I loved the art.

    I haven’t read anything else this week. I’m running a new D&D game and all my time has been spent repopulating an old dusty world.

  2. Y’know, we covered three Bendis books this week, but the only one I think had the typical “decompressed Bendis problems” I talked about in my Spider-Man piece is, well, Spider-Man. Civil War and International Iron Man are recognizably Bendis books, but don’t suffer from the same problems as Spider-Man — Civil War has plenty going on, and International Iron Man I thought was a very satisfying read that managed to tell both a personal story and a more action/plot relevant story satisfactorily — something Spider-Man struggles to do each month.

    I’m not sure what to make of this, but I find it interesting that the only Bendis book still really dealing with that cliché Bendis stuff is Spider-Man. (And maybe Guardians? We haven’t been reading Guardians for a while). I guess that’s great for the rest of his output (which feels more varied than his work has in a while), but not so great for Spider-Man

  3. Wolverine: I feel the idea of Laura not being a loner is an important part of this book. Firstly, there has always been a big sense of breaking away from that aspect from the beginning. First by working with Angel, then by attaching herself to the clones and through Doctor Strange and Wasp. Between that and the focus on having Laura do classic Wolverine tropes (including the classic ‘teenage daughter figure’) means I’m not shocked that it is going in this direction. And the sheer joy of Fing Fang Foom at the end is a joy to behold, so I have hope that Wolverine will continue its inconsistent but good rhythm.

    But yeah, the naturalistic dialogue doesn’t work so much. I don’t mind the twenty-five with chicken to the degree Drew does. I like this idea of Laura having this favourite meal that she’s only known through a nickname (especially considering the high probability, considering the thematic spaces this book has been in, that she was introduced to it by Logan and therefore never learned the proper name). And I guess I am used to fiction being nonspecific like that in regards to names of businesses (and also of people making a reference like that that makes no sense unless you already understand it. Laura isn’t specific about the restaurant because in her world, twenty five with chicken is already all the context you need. To not get that context is to suggest that you deviate from the norm… which fits perfectly in a scene that explores the fact that Gabby is new to the normal world). To me, the real problem is that Maria Hill knows this reference, as I don’t see why she would know that.

    Honestly, to me, there isn’t so much a specific fault as a need for another draft

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    Civil War: Civil War II is something I’ve been interested in, but nervous about. On the one hand, Secret Wars is the rare Event that actually does work. People try their hardest, but that doesn’t change the fact that this rarely does work, and is likely another disaster. On the other hand, Civil War is the ultimate realization of a certain element intrinsic in superhero comics. Ever since Spider-man revolutionized the way we told superhero stories, superheroes have been soap operas with punching. And Civil War is the ultimate example of Superhero Soap Opera. Which is why I want to see it done well in comics. The movie is a fantastic example of that done right, basically feeling like an entire season of Game of Thrones except with Superheroes. So, considering this idea is so fundamentally comics, lets give it another try. Especially considering this Civil War, unlike the last one, isn’t at the mercy of genre conservatism. The first Civil War was during a day where the idea of getting rid of Secret Identities was so central to genre that removing it made you the bad guy. And while Captain Marvel’s side is one that can’t win, because it breaks plot, Captain Marvel also isn’t attacking a fundamental genre principle like Iron Man was, and is therefore not likely to have her side straw-manned by genre conservatism on the hands of the writers. So I’m hoping for the best

    And I am honestly really happy with Civil War 0. Patrick focuses very acutely on the words, and the idea of words failing to help is an important one for a comic called Civil War. The idea that when the stakes are this high (and an innocent man’s death is high stakes), words, ideas and principles are meaningless without the means to act. And so Patrick did a great job at showing the strong thematic spine of the war.

    But I’m also impressed with the form of Civil War. How every scene is actually about the arguments the underpin the Civil War. She Hulk begins by discussing the idea that you can’t just punish someone for what they might do. That we can’t be the thought police, nor can we judge someone on our expectations of their behaviour. Instead, we are reminded about why it is important to punish only those who have actually committed a crime. And with the Jester’s imprisonment and death, any chance not to be that which everyone expects him to be is gone. His ability to choose another path is taken from him, and he dies.

    Meanwhile, Rhodey gets offered the position of Secretary of Defence, and the entire conversation is about the idea that there needs to be preparations for the future. The discussions about Tony Stark for President are scarily match today’s political world. Donald Trump has become the Republican Nominee by taking advantage of his celebrity, and surely in this Trump climate, surely positioning someone like Rhodey, who combines competency and celebrity, is the perfect measure for the security of the nation. But there is also the location of the discussion, the Situation Room. A reminder that there is a bigger picture, and in this discussion about securing the future, we stand in the single location in the entire world that best represents what happens when the chaos that could happen starts.

    Captain Marvel is in a similar situation. Desperately trying to control the future. She knows exactly how often things go wrong, and is doing everything she can to save the world. And what is emphasized is the sheer toll it takes. Captain Marvel is pushed to the brink, and it is weighing on her. She doesn’t sleep, she has no life. She needs a better answer, because we can see that the way she is, she isn’t good enough. Coipel’s art is fantastic here, with Carol looking tired, frustrated and feeling the weight of the world on every panel. And Doc Samson is the perfect character for this. Spiderwoman would be the obvious choice, as she is Carol’s best friend. But Doc Samson’s mere presence makes us treat everything more seriously. Having the actual psychologist instead of Jessica Drew makes us understand the real level of pressure, even if it isn’t an actual appointment.

    Basically, we have a strong thematic blueprint throughout this issue. If Civil War can keep its ideas as strong throughout the series as it does here, it will be what the first Civil War should always have been. I’m happy so far

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    International Iron Man: Nice to know Tony Stark visited my home city in his youth.

    I have to say, I’m intrigued at what International Iron Man will be after this story is told. But that doesn’t change the fact that I basically agree with Drew here. Bendis is doing some great stuff with the flashbacks. Can’t wait to see how it all comes together in the end.

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    Spiderman: It isn’t surprising that, as Spencer said, Spiderman is the only Bendis book being written in that classic Bendis style. This was the book where Bendis begun, and Ultimate Spiderman will always be Ultimate Spiderman. This book is going to read so much better when you have 12 issues in front of you, and read from the beginning to the end. Where you can enjoy the first issues as a character focused start, with Issue 5 being the second act with explosions.

    And I like that Ganke actually does start to rectify Miles’ struggles. Goldballs is a chance to reach out and give Miles support that Ganke can’t. Ganke was highly irresponsible and needed to think things through better, but things are starting to get fixed. Again, I can’t say too much else that Spencer didn’t, just that this is the sort of book Spiderman is. It has committed to its strengths, and willing to accept the weakness that comes along with it,

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    Classic Thunderbolts: Been continuing my read through the THinderbolts, and nearly done.

    Nicezia’s New Thunderbolts is actually a nice conclusion to the original era of the Thunderbolts. It does a fantastic job at giving everyone an arc, even if many of those arcs have major issues. The actual plotting has major problems (the biggest being a classic ‘I have been manipulating everything exactly for this outcome, which involved both building up and breaking down the Thunderbolts, behind the scenes perfectly’. In context, it makes sense how Zemo could do that. But it is also the sort of plan that basically goes ‘a bunch of random events happen, then Zemo appears and says ‘SUCCESS’), but for all of those issues, there are other stuff that comes through so true. It is here that Songbird really turns into the hero she becomes, with a very strong moral core and some really interesting stuff that I’ll probably discuss soon. And I have to say, I love the touch of her starting the book in university and mentioning the need to balance leading the Thunderbolts with her studies, which sings really true for the ‘Supervillain looking for redemption’, as well as the suggestion that she never finished high school. Zemo is fantastic playing the sort of Superhero we don’t really have. THe easy way to look at Zemo is as the original Superior Spidermanesque character, but while that is a key part of the Zemo stuff, the other great thing is how Zemo, even with godly powers, is a Baron. Zemo is a general and a diplomat, whose superheroic work in this run mostly comes from making deals with governments and other high level stuff like that. A superhero whose major superpower is management. Really interesting, and it is a shame that we have lost that Zemo for the more traditional villain. Mach-III gets a nice flaw that helps give him complexities and differentiate him from Songbird, as they had previously been very similar. I love that Blizzard’s arc is a guy who really wants to be redeemed and struggles to find the moment to really take that step and, in the end, simply misses his shot.

    The real fantastic part at the end is Zemo and Songbird, dancing round each other and trying to keep each other happy as General and Field Leader of the Thunderbolts. Songbird doesn’t trust Zemo and Zemo knows Songbird is going to betray him, and it creates a fantastic dynamic and leading to a great conclusion. THe big question throughout this run is ‘Is Zemo actually a hero?’ and when he finally gets the chance to prove it, once again, he gives everyone doubt. And so, Songbird betrays him (in a perfectly simple way, because how else would you defeat someone who thrives on overcomplexity). One consistent strength of the THunderbolts is that redemption is more than just being good, but proving to everyone else that you are good. And that is the one thing Zemo can’t do. Zemo is too caught up in his own ego to care about what everyone else thinks, and this means that no one will ever trust him. Even the reader doesn’t trust him, in the end, and that is Zemo’s weakness. Damn, I want more of Zemo as a hero. This isn’t to say the run is amazing. There is a hell of a lot of issues, especially at the start, but the end, messy as it is, as just as many strengths as weaknesses

    And then we go on to Ellis’ Thunderbolts. This run is a classic. It is easy to think of this as Ellis writing Suicide Squad in the Marvel Universe with a topping of Thunderbirds parody, but this actually is a legitimate Thunderbolts comic. The ideas of redemption are still there, even with characters like Venom and Osborne. Venom desperately wants to overcome the monster, and Osborne honestly believes he is doing the right thing, and struggles with the fact that he is an evil bastard with severe issues whose issues are even worse because of Moonstone screwing him over.

    But beyond that is just how well done everything is. The team creates a fantastic dynamic together, honestly one of the best in comics, and the stories are actually really good even as they are unassuming. Ellis is willing to take the cast in dark places, and I’m not just talking about the violence. One of my favourite moments is in the Caged Angels arc, where Songbird works out that psychics are manipulating their emotions, and goes off to stop them. All the psychics can do is guide the THunderbolts into the actions they want, and yet they are able to get Songbird to choose brutalizing Osborne over stopping them. A dark moment for the team’s moral core.

    and yet it is also full of empathy, with things like Doc Samson, or the very real exploration of the heroes, or the constant explorations of how the Thunderbolts exist in the world. There is so much to say about these 12 issues.

    But, sadly, I think Ellis accidentally fucked the Thunderbolts book. Because I think that Dark Reign came up from the simple fact that Thunderbolts was so good, that making Norman Osborne in charge of the universe was seen as the perfect ending for Secret Invasion. The actual transition is okay. Gage’s Secret Invasion is, quite simply, Ellis’ run without subtlety and depth. Credit to Gage for keeping things like the discussions around media and other complex stuff, btu wish he also didn’t rely on the continuity of the One Shots he wrote when, I assume, Ellis was slow. Very easy books to miss, and I missed them the first time (even though I really liked the Breaking Point One, which is the closest Gage got to Ellis).

    The real problem is when Diggle did his Dark Reign stuff. There are all sorts of problems, beginning with the fact that his first two issues were based on cleaning house, getting rid of the good Thunderbolts before the bad ones went to join the Dark Avengers. THey are actually really good, as they can use Songbird as a hero to centre the book around as Osborne tries to get rid of the biggest threat to his position. But where the book should have transitioned to a Songbird running an underground Thunderbolts resistance, it instead turned the THunderbolts into Osborne’s Black Ops Squad, a group that not only lacked sympathetic characters, but also lacked characters with any sort of presence. It was obviously indebted to Ellis’ run, but Dark Reign had meant that it couldn’t continue what Ellis did, and instead turned into the worst possible version of what Ellis’ premise could be. It also got caught up in the mess of crossovers with Deadpool and Secret Warriors. And yet, outside those stories, very little actually happens. The closest thing to good in that run, after the House Cleaning stuff, is the Widowmaker story, largely because Black Widow and Songbird actually provide actual characters to care about. Still not great.

    Other than that, there are two other insights. For all its faults, well done on creating an ending of the Deadpool crossover that worked as the punchline to the story from the Deadpool side, while foreshadowing the Widowmaker story in THunderbolts. Clever. And secondly, the introduction of Ghost was great. Ghost was the only Thunderbolt with presence, but was exactly what the THunderbolts needed. I’ll discuss him more next week, once I finish the Parker run and the very last part of my THunderbolts readthrough, but Ghost is exactly what the Thunderbolts need.

    • I agree that Laura working with people is a big part of this series, but I also thought the tension around that was a big part of the series. The first arc found her more or less forced to work with and care about her clones, in spite of her loner status, which drove much of the interpersonal drama. Here, she’s suddenly transformed into Gabby’s mom, chiding her about going to school and having weird pets. I think this series earned Laura’s decision to keep Gabby around — it was a sign of growth, but it still felt like a decision that made Laura uncomfortable — but this felt like a strange direction for it to go in.

      I’m also a little unclear on their relative ages. Laura was (or still is?) dating the original Warren, who must be 16-ish. That limits the upper end of Laura’s age (without being creepy) to late teens, right? 19 at the outside. I had imagined Gabby as like 14, but I guess I could see her being a bit younger. Maybe 12? Either way, I think the transition from “feral loner who inherited a crash pad in New York” to “together adult New Yorker” should be longer and bumpier.

      • I wouldn’t say she was forced to work with the clones. The clones were forced to work with her. She imposed herself on the clones, because she understood exactly what that felt like to be like them. She made the choice to work with the clones, in spite of her loner nature, to connect (part of the overarching theme about Laura trying not to make the mistakes Logan did). She’s trying not to be a loner, even as that isn’t how she’s lived her life.

        And I don’t think the tension between her loner status and her decision to connect with others has gone away. This issue was more focused on establishing what the current situation is with Gabby. The starting point for the next part of their arc. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Old Man Logan is introduced specifically to help Laura through the next part of the arc. I feel this issue we saw Laura ace the easy bits, but being able to do that doesn’t make her a ‘together adult New Yorker’. I mean, this creative team has already established that Laura does not keep good care of her place, to the point of eating mouldy food on occasion.

        And even though she hasn’t reached ‘together adult New Yorker’ yet, the fact that she is where she is is from a long and bumpy road. She was never feral, but did begin in a bad place. But Laura has a long history of having people help her put things back together, from her mother’s love helping her be more than a weapon, to living with her aunt and cousin in a normal life until it became impossible, to building real friends and relationships at the Xavier academy to losing it all in X-Force to building an identity for herself outside the X-Men, and then on to Avengers Academy, Arena, All-New X-Men etc. By the first issue of this book, she is a character that has already had a long and bumpy road to who she is today. Still stuff to sort out (clean out your fridge, Laura), but I can buy the woman of All-New Wolverine 1 needing very little growth to reach where she is at in this issue. When actual difficulties come up with her relationship to Gabby, we can then start the conversation about whether Laura is too comfortable already.

        And I think you have your dates for Laura and Gabby correct. Laura is probably 18-19, considering the characters she’s contemporary with. She belongs to the X-Men class that is around that sort of age, with people like Prodigy (from Young Avengers) and Anole

  4. Oh, and one other thing I read, in order to understand a subplot in THunderbolts and because it was apparently a classic, was Avengers Forever. Why is it a classic? Even ignoring the two issues that are literally just retcons and continuity stuff (there is literally no meaningful plot), the rest of the story has very little to it. Too much plot doesn’t really have enough meat to it, the ‘Avengers from different time periods’ concept is really poorly done and barely taken advantage of, except to have Captain America feeling sad. THere is some really weird tonal stuff (Hawkeye, Songbird and Yellowjacket accidentally walk into a silly future/past adventure in the middle of an epic. There are some decent points, the climax has a bunch of elements that work. But in truth, the book was kind of a mess. Really disappointing

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