Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 6/15/16

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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 Inhumans 8, Amazing Spider-Man 14, Astonishing Ant-Man 9, Black Widow 4, Civil War II 2, Deadpool 14, and Uncanny Inhumans 10.

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All-New Inhumans 8Patrick: I am traveling this week: seeing my parents before heading to my 10-year college reunion. This means that I’ve the opportunity to talk to some family members and old friends and sort of re-examine my role in their lives, and their roles in mine. It’s sorta fascinating to consider the effect human beings have on each other simply by existing and needing to live, love and flourish. You hurt people by existing, you give people meaning by existing – and you ultimately have no control over any of it. All-New Inhumans 8 explores Flint’s relationship with his past, showing that even the connections we are unaware of can have a profound effects.

Flint’s secret history is actually very sweet – his Inhuman mother and father both had older siblings that had died in terrigenesis, so their genetic line was considered too dangerous to be subjected to the process further. Their first child, Ikelli, was spared from the process — Inhumans are weird and ritualistic, but they’re not going to make a young couple give up their only child. When Flint comes along, that question becomes more urgent; maybe the maternal council will ask them to put one of these children through the process. It’s an act of compassion that causes Flint’s father to abscond in the night with his infant son in tow. But that act of compassion ultimately drives Ikelli’s mother closer to the Inhuman religion and suddenly belonging to anything means more to her than the safety of her daughter. I’m sort of astonished by how thoroughly and crushingly writer James Asmus tells this story of heartache and desperation – it’s a secret history that actually makes Flint meaningfully more interesting and even gives him an emotionally relevant rival in the form of his sister Ikelli.

Also, I have to call out some amazing storytelling from artist Stefano Caselli. There are so many of those quieter scenes that linger on Flint’s face – he is our emotional entre to this story, after all. The acting is subtle and powerful. But Caselli is also great at using the page space to suggest motion – particularly in Ana’s unnecessary infiltration sequence.

Ana strikes from above

Starting with that low camera angle and then swinging high to catch Ana in the act gives an immediate sense of sweeping movement. It’s followed by that insert of the plunger going into the guard’s neck, which even comes in from the same side of the image – Ana appears to be left-handed, but the perspective is such that the blow comes from the right and then continues on the right. Then the reader’s eye continues down the page, sorta behind that second panel, where Ana is also down and behind the first guard. It’s an awesome little display of tight action in an otherwise talky issue.

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Amazing Spider-Man 14

Amazing Spider-Man 14Spencer: It’s interesting comparing this incarnation of Regent to his Secret Wars counterpart. I criticized that Regent for being more interested in collecting heroes like Pokémon or baseball cards than in actually attempting to fulfill his somewhat noble goal of taking down God Doom, but this Regent doesn’t have that same weakness, largely because he has a different goal altogether: he wants to rid the world of superpowered individuals entirely in order to protect civilians and property from the damage their battles cause, a goal supported directly by his “collecting.”

Just like with the previous Regent, there’s a touch of nobility to his aspirations, but they’re entirely undone by his methods. I’m not just talking about his kidnapping so many people and holding them without consent or authority either, although that certainly places him thoroughly in the “villain” camp; I’m also talking about his hubris in thinking that he alone is worthy of superpowers, and even the hypocrisy of his methods of obtaining them.

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Regent is targeting heroes exactly because they fight battles that cause property damage, yet he’s engaging in the exact same behavior in order to capture his targets. I’m sure Regent has plenty of ways to justify his behavior, but it’s that kind of stubborn, blind drive that’s his greatest weakness, and that applies to every aspect of his life (even his health is implied to be hurt by his refusal to slow down or rest). While this Regent still has a lot of similarities to his prior incarnation (something Drew criticized in AMS 13), I still think there’s enough new dimensions to him to make him an interesting villain to revisit.

In fact, while I overall haven’t found this storyline to be Amazing Spider-Man‘s strongest effort, this issue is a huge improvement. Writer Dan Slott finally backs away from the petty power-plays between Peter and Tony and instead focuses on more subtle, charming interactions (even if not all of them are clear: is Tony’s memory loss a plot-point from his title, or something important to this storyline?), and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli absolutely brings his A-Game, using a variety of effects to create some truly kinetic action scenes. Sure, it’s still not a perfect storyline, but for the first time, I think I’m fully invested in where it goes next.

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Astonishing Ant-Man 9

Astonishing Ant-Man 9Taylor: Heist movies have become a genre unto themselves. What started as niche films directed by Guy Ritchie soon became summer blockbusters staring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. While there were heist films made before these, including the original Ocean’s 11, they didn’t follow what has now become the formulaic model almost all modern heist movies follow. Perhaps the most well known gimmick employed by these movies is the now-familiar heist montage scene. After preparing and training, the heroes of the movie are finally ready to pull off their scheme. A montage ensues with some sort of jazzy music playing in the background as we see the team, now a well oiled machine, pulling off their scheme with the efficiency of a stealth ops squad.

In the latest issue of Ant-Man, writer Nick Spencer thrusts Scott and his rag-tag crew of “super” villains into a heist to rescue Scott’s daughter, Cassie. The results are predictably amusing and Spencer and artist Ramon Rosanas make no bones about their source material for this issue.

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The overarching joke throughout this issue is that Scott’a team is by no means as slick as Danny Ocean’s. In fact they are the very opposite. Where Ocean’s team is sexy and suave, Scott’s team is bizarre and bumbling. During the “montage” scene where they pull off the heist, Scott lists “22 easy steps” to pull off a heist, each being a little joke in itself. The Magician takes out security cameras by releasing pigeons to poop on their lenses; Grizzly poses as a guard to infiltrate the compound; Machinesmith does nothing. All of these steps seem less like the outcome of proper planning and more like off-the-cuff improvisations by Scott’s team. That this would ultimately lead to Scott’s plan being unsuccessful is by no means surprising or unforeseen.

But therein lies the humor in this entire issue. Throughout the buildup to the heist, it becomes more and more apparent that Scott’s plan isn’t going to work. Not only is he woefully under-prepared for this heist, he doesn’t even bother to try to use his team’s various unique abilities in a way that would cater to their strengths. It’s almost as if Scott saw Ocean’s 11 one night on TV and got the idea for this plan. While this is humorous, it also highlights Scott’s major flaw as a superhero and as a person. His inability to plan accordingly or intelligently always lands him in trouble. As this series progresses, I’m seeing now that this not only hurts Scott, but those around him as well. While that’s funny in the micro, as an overall trend it has me worried for Scott’s well-being moving forward.

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Black Widow 4

Black Widow 4Drew: Most works of art provide an easy entry point for critical discussion; there’s one or two things that stand out as either praiseworthy or derisible, warranting mention and analyses before moving on to the rest of the work. But then there are works of art so good, it is impossible to pick out such an entry point — every piece is worthy of being praised as the most singular aspect of the work. Throughout their collaborations, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matthew Wilson have occasionally reached those transcendent heights, but Black Widow 4 might just be their best — and most frustrating to discuss — to date.

The most exemplary thing to mention must be the way all of the elements — plotting, dialogue, staging, expression, coloring, etc — work in harmony. This is going on throughout the issue , but for the sake of this piece, I’ll single out the introduction of the Headmistress.

Headmistress

We spent a lot of time last issue discussing Samnee’s “hidden” Black Widow symbol in the layout of page one. This one never quite recreates the full hourglass shape, but it’s all but impossible for it not to come to mind here — the coloring emphasizes its relationship to Natasha. And it’s no coincidence that I refer to it as an “hourglass shape” — in only showing the bottom half, Samnee subtly gooses our sense that time is running out, a theme Waid picks up on in the dialogue (and subtly foreshadows earlier in this issue).

In short, everything is working in this issue. With only a few hundred words to discuss it, this piece could reasonably just be a list of things I wish I had more time to talk about, since every single page is in some way remarkable. Here’s hoping other folks want to keep the discussion going in the comments — this one might just be the best comic I’ve read all year.

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Civil War II 2

Civil War II 2Patrick: Ah, here we go: with its second issue, the true political relevance of Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez’ Civil War II come into startlingly clear focus. Tony Stark doesn’t mind having access to a future-seeing Inhuman, what bothers him is that his visions are not the absolute, factual future – if Medusa and her subjects can stop Ulysses’ premonitions from coming to pass, then his version of the future is immanently mutable. So Tony’s question becomes: why? Inhuman powers come from within the person’s DNA, and are unlocked by terrigenesis, so there must be something within the Inhuman’s mind, body or experience which informs these visions. Tony — and one can assume, by extension, Bendis — is interested in exploring how in-grained, largely unexamined biases affect the decision-making capabilities of all organizations, from the Inhumans to the Avengers to the Army to the cops to the courts to individuals. Tony’s a great vessel for this sort of social political theorizing because filling up a page with speech balloons is totally expressive of his character. Also, damn, he makings some convincing points, even while holding someone against their will and torturing them.

tony explores bias

He’s making a point so subtle, it’s interesting to note that he’s basically the only character that seems to be on Team Tony. Sure, the Avengers come to his defense, but mostly as a matter of course (if the Inhumans have a beef with an Avenger, and you’re Thor, you may have to hold back some Inhumans, right?).

By issue’s end, the question of Ulysses’ biases has been established, so when he projects an image of Hulk killing the Avengers into everyone’s head, the question naturally shifts to everyone else’s biases. It’s exactly the same kind of projecting we do about our own futures on all levels – we assume the things we’re afraid of will hurt us. There’s a certain rationality to it, particularly in the context of the Marvel Universe — Hulk is one scary motherfucker — but just because something is scary doesn’t mean that it’s going to hurt you. That doesn’t stop elected officials from making decisions based on their fears of Muslims or of gangs or of Mexican immigrants, and that hasn’t stopped Captain Marvel from doing something about Bruce Banner. By the same token, how can you argue that Hulk shouldn’t be controlled? Bendis is striking on something very real and very hard to articulate, and this crossover is all the richer for it.

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Deadpool 14

Deadpool 14Michael: There’s typically a moment in a big event battle from DC or Marvel where the story will take an oh-so brief break from the heavy hitters to focus in on what the D-listers are doing. Deadpool 14 is basically a whole issue dedicated to that moment and the follow-up to it. Though it’s a tie-in to Civil War II – the first half of the issue deals with the giant samurai demon thing from Civil War II 1 – Gerry Duggan merely uses it as a backdrop for the ongoing story. The issue opens with Deadpool in bed with his wife Shiklah, who is so obviously cheating on him with the Wolf-man but silly ‘ol Pool can’t seem to figure that out/admit that. The whole “Deadpool gets married” bit always seemed a little gratuitous, but I think the way that Duggan is presenting Shiklah here totally works. Ever since Secret Wars, we haven’t seen head nor tail of Shiklah in the pages of Deadpool. By so very clearly winking at the Shiklah/Wolf-Man affair, Duggan is saying that Shiklah is not the type of wife who waits around for her husband to return from work at months at a time; kudos on that write-around.

Like I said, Deadpool 14 shows what the “heroes” you don’t even think about are up to on the streets during a city-wide crisis. Duggan and artist Mike Hawthorne throw in a lot of fun moments playing around with superpowers and the bad luck that belongs to Deadpool’s Mercs for Money. This builds to the moment when the group realizes that working for the insane egomaniac Deadpool is a BAD IDEA. In terms of Civil War II tie-ins, I think that Duggan and Hawthorne used as much of that story as they needed – and also getting a chance to poke fun at this particular event. Also I think it should be said that my favorite part of this is when Duggan showcases Cable in one of the best time-travel cons I’ve ever seen:

money

 

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Uncanny Inhumans 10

Uncanny Inhumans 10Spencer: I was doing a bit of Wiki-diving on Reader and the Inhumans before writing this piece (just needed to refresh my memory), and it hit me funny how many times I mistook the name “Reader” for the concept of “the reader,” or the audience (inconsistent capitalization on these sites doesn’t help). Then it hit me that this play on words might have something — or even a lot — to do with Reader’s plot in Charles Soule and Kev Walker’s Uncanny Inhumans 10.

While Reader has several grand moments throughout the issue, probably the most fantastic is the scene where he rewrites time over and over through his “rewrite” command.

Rewrite

Reader equates his actions here to retelling a story so many times that the story eventually takes on the form you want, and while Reader mentions originally writing the story in his monologue, that’s not something that’s essentially required in order to rewrite a story. As an audience — as readers of stories — we have the ability to reshape those very stories through our own interpretations and retellings of them. Reader’s abilities also emphasize the power the words themselves have to change the world — in this reality the words Reader reads literally can reshape reality itself, but even in our real world, the stories we read can change our lives by opening our minds and hearts to new experiences and new truths, by spurring people to action, by giving us comfort when we need it most.

With this issue, Soule has reflected an eternal truth through Reader’s powers. The fact that it’s also a thoroughly enjoyable story in its own right is just icing on the cake.

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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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13 comments on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 6/15/16

  1. as always,you take what are very common,same-y stories and shines a totally new light on them,probably making them better than they they really are or deserve. Civil War 2 being a “pre Minority Report”? fairly obvious,and even with the shades Bendis put in the concept here,it isn´t about an “issue in this day and age like the original was”(Axel Alonso quote)… until you put it as a metaphor for political action and not a philosofical debate like the movie was, i´ve been really surprised by the event(GOOD LORD THE ART) but now i get it in a new way 🙂

    Btw,that Uncanny Inhumans small review reminded me of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica,which main theme was,among other things, how fans can bring new meanings to stories but,not matter how hard they try,the outcome is beyond their(our) control

    • Yeah. The art is amazing. Civil War II is surprisingly great. I had hopes they would pull it off and wanted to give them a chance, and they have.

      The movie did a really good job with the emotional arcs. Exceptional, to the point the actual politics became meaningless and it was ultiamtely about Tony’s emotional state pushing him into fighting Steve (and that’s before we get into the finale). Here, they have found the balance between both the emotional aspect and the political side.

  2. Are you going to be doing pieces on Vote Loki and Patsy Walker? Or should I comment about them here?

    Amazing Spiderman: Didn’t read this issue, but read an article discussing this. And the answer to the Tony question may be that fact that Tony Stark has no memory of events between Extremis and Siege, which is I believe the period being mentioned in the book was between. During Dark Reign, he wiped his entire brain, and the only back-up of his mind that he had was one he made before installing Extremis (as part of Fraction’s exploration of Tony’s self destructive tendencies). So this may just be Slott referencing a long forgotten plot point of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man. It may be some sort of plot point, but it may also just be a reference to an event everyone else kind of forgot about the moment Fraction left Iron Man

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    Black Widow: Damn, that is high praise, Drew. I may actually read it. With the exception of All-New All-Different Avengers, which I think literally everyone just admits is crap now, Waid’s problems have rarely been about individual issues. It is the fact that ultimately all his work turns into wheel spinning and frustration (HOW THE HELL DID IT TAKE 45 ISSUES TO ACTUALLY START ADDRESSING THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM YOUR DAREDEVIL RUN WAS ABOUT!)

    So I’m prepared to give a single issue a try, then bail before Waid messes everything up again

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    Civil War II: I am loving how this book isn’t rushing to war. From what I remember of the first Civil War, it rushed to heroes punching each other. Here, we had the inciting incident, and yet they are still taking their time to gather sides. It creates a build up so that when, eventually, the superhero community make their choice of Team Tony or Team Carol, it feels like a momentous part of the story. Even as I have issues with this book, they have truly learned their lessons and this is ‘Civil War done right’. The heroes fighting each other actually means something.

    I mean, a key part of this is that Tony is suffering a breakdown. The conflict isn’t just ideological, it is also emotional. They understand that Civil War works only if the emotions are true. That Civil War can only work as the ultimate example of Superhero as Soap Opera and therefore it can’t just be ideological. For what could be accused of being a cynical Movie tie in, this is being written with an understanding of what Civil War is supposed to be. And I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when Bendis explores Carol’s headspace more.

    On this issue in particular, I have a lot of similar things to say as Patrick. I was surprised that Ulysses was a white guy when he was first revealed, as today’s Marvel usually would make a character like that something else in an attempt to make things a bit more diverse. But introducing bias makes it all snap into place.

    I thought that Civil War 2 was going to be about agency, about future-crime and freedom v security. But now the idea of profiling has come into play. If there is a bias, the most obvious answer would be Ulysses sees the future that he fears the most. And prejudice would certainly affect that. We are all prejudiced. Even as I try my best to be socially conscious, I know I am. So is the positive effects of such profiling worth the risk of an innocent suffering because of Ulysses’ biases. He doesn’t even need ill will to be biased. It is just something that happens.

    Which leads to the exact moral complexity Patrick describes. This is a complex topic, and there is no right side (even if genre conservatism means ultimately Tony wins, just like ultimately Cap won the last war). We actually have a rich, complex central conflict and the emotional lives of the characters respected. Everything you could ask from Civil War. I still wish the inciting incident was done better, and I think the torture jokes backfired a bit and made Tony seem in a worse position to the reader than it should have (Tony was breaking all sorts of rules, but he was trying, until the attempted punch, to minimise harm). But this is what I hoped Civil War II would be

    Between Secret Wars and Civil War II, Marvel may actually have back to back great Events. Pretty impressive, considering most are bad
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    Invincible Iron Man: I’ve reached the point of my Invincible Iron Man reread where I stopped the first time, when I stopped reading comics for a short while. Firstly, we have the annual and Issue 500. The Annual was a Mandarin story that would be a much more interesting story about the creative process if it didn’t have to be combined with the Mandarin. The sexual and racial politics need improving, which kind of ruins a great story about an artist destroying himself trying to find truth ina rt with a producer trying to destroy it to make it palatable (with, of course, the producer being the Mandarin and the person who kidnapped the artist in the first place). Issue 500 is nice little generational story where Tony’s modern day problems leads him to implement a solution that eventually leads to his family saving a ruined world in a possible dark future.

    Then, there is the small Doc Ock story that is more of a Doctor Octopus character piece than anything (though Tony Stark’s failure to fix the sick Doctor Octopus pays off wonderfully in the finale). A nice little story about how Doctor Octopus’ ego has hidden a mediocre man who quite simply isn’t as great as he thinks he is. The choice to have Doctor Octopus lose to Iron Man the same way three different times is the perfect encapsulation of his lack of imagination and why he ultimately loses, even as he thinks he’s won.

    But following this is Fear Itself. Did anyone here read Fear Itself? Because honestly, I loved the Invincible Iron Man tie ins. They did a fantastic job of selling Fear Itself as an Event unlike any other. A story of a threat so beyond everyone that it pushes people to the breaking point. Seeing both Tony and Pepper try and save the day in Paris is horrifying, as Fraction does a fantastic job at showing not just how out of their depth they are, but the sheer horror of the situation. You buy the fact that this is what leads Tony to start drinking again and what leads Pepper to cry in her office, leading to a PR disaster. Is the actual event worth it?

    After that, however, we get into Mandarin territory. Which of course leads to the problem that the Mandarin is a racist caricature (there is a reason the only good Mandarin story is Iron Man Three). Fraction mostly avoids that, by does so by stripping the Mandarin of anything that doesn’t make him generic and boring. The Mandarin is functional, but boring. Still, the important part is how Tony falls again for another self destructive circle, and this time, needs to actually make sure he survives it this time. Which means, metaphorically and in a small way literally, go back to Alcoholics Anonymous. The important idea here is that this time, Tony is actually trying to get support. Each recap page ends with a reminder of how many days it has been since Tony last drunk, and even as it gets higher, you get more and more afraid. Especially as the Mandarin and the Hammer Girls circle and try to make things worse.

    The big problem with what follows is that while you have lots and lots of great thematic stuff around every character destroying themselves (with some actually managing to pull themselves out of that circle, others dying/failing), it is all in service for a plot that doesn’t make sense. It is one of those big things where the plan ultimately doesn’t make sense. War Machine’s faked death and the ‘new Iron Man’ actually don’t matter, not does JARVIS or, in any way, Detroit Steel. Lots of thematically important but meaningless plot stuff happening.

    The real important thing is that through the support of everyone else and a metaphorical return to the cave (complete with Zeke Stane as Ho Yinsen and the Mandarin as his captor (just as the annual revealed Mandarin was his captor the first time, a choice I find too coincidental personally), Tony is given a chance to break the self destructive spirals he’s been in. He isn’t perfect, and there is always the risk of reversion (by, say, the reveal that he is adopted), but Tony recommits to his friends, to facing his problems with Alcoholics Anonymous and actually gets a moment outside of the darkness.

    And in that respect, the ending works. Even if the final storyline is riddled with unnecessary stuff, the core is strong enough to survive. A good ending to a really good run.

    • We’ll be covering Vote Loki with a full piece on Wednesday, but feel free to discuss Hellcat here, Matt — it was supposed to get covered in this Round-Up, we just had a set-back with it.

  3. I thought the pacing of this Regent story was too quick for its own good. The fact that he has already kidnapped most of the world’s heroes means that he is going down soon; there’s no way Slott and Co would let a supervillain keep all of the Avengers in a jar for more than a few days. I think it would have been more interesting if Regent was more of a background threat, popping up every now and then to remind the reader that he was out there. ASM could have peppered clues throughout that minor heroes and villains were disappearing and then when it proved to be Regent it would be a lot more effective. It’s harder to suspend my disbelief that Spider-Man could lose when I obviously know that the Avengers are going to need to be rescued soon.

    • It is stories like this where the shift from infinite serialisation to more discrete arcs really hurts certain types of stories. When I was reading the classic Thunderbolts, you had all sorts of stories like that that would happen in the background until eventually exploding in a massive story.

      And while the shift to discrete arcs have fixed many of the issues that things like Classic Thunderbolts had, it also really hurts the ability to do things like the Regent

  4. Black Widow: I really, really want to see Drew’s justification for Black Widow being one of the best issues of the year.

    The opening is fantastic in its visual storytelling, even if it is let down by some poor dialogue in the flashback. But as soon as Natasha wakes up at Iosef’s place, it never reaches that level of quality again. Iosef’s place is just exposition. Nothing horrible (at worst, I would call it below average), but hardly the sign of a good comic. Just ‘sit down and let me explain the plot’. Very little actual character work, except for one exceptionally obvious line about how Black Widow is anti-brainwashing. There isn’t even any subtext to her asking the questions. No sense that she’s doing something behind the scenes that the questions are a cover for, like assessing her current situation.

    As the story moves away from the words, and returns to purely visuals, it gets better. The panels of Natasha in the snow, making her approach, are perfectly sized and positioned, with fantastic art. The three pages of infiltration are fantastically visual, clearly showing each beat. But are ruined by a very obvious mistake. Natasha doesn’t use any of the tools that she was told she needed to train in. Unless they are implying that the use of pebbles, knives and modern drills are older than old school (I mean, we must be talking about late 19th century spy gear here). This is honestly a big and stupid mistake that unfortunately sinks Samnee’s otherwise great visual storytelling. I am honestly shocked that it was made, because Waid isn’t incompetent (his first Avengers issue aside) and Samnee is highly talented. It ruins the thematic heft this sequence is supposed to have and breaks our engagement with the story (that is not to say you aren’t allowed to make small mistakes. But when you build up a sequence like this, seeing the sequence explicitely not happen really hurts engagement).

    Drew praises the introduction of the Headmistress, another great visual moment, but the entire scene ends up being poor. The dialogue has been uninteresting all issue, and the dialogue heavy nature of this scene hurts it, despite the art. But the real problem is how the reveal of Anya’s new status is done. They want Anya to be seen as a dangerous new threat, and they decide to simply tell us about it. Story is action, which is where the term ‘Show, don’t tell’ comes from. This idea is especially important in visual mediums like comics. And yet we don’t get a demonstration. Hell, we don’t even get to see the files being handed over in a way that tells a story (and it could have told quite a good story beat about the Headmistress’ condescension). The files are handed to Natasha between panels. Samnee does his best visually in this scene (and his best is truly great), but quite simply, the stuff that needs to be shown isn’t being shown. The big reveal is literally just a woman standing around as we get told stuff.

    This isn’t a horrible issue. I’m being harsh because I want to emphasise my issues with it so that Drew knows what to talk about when he justifies his opinion. It is an utterly average issue, a perfect 5/10 – the exact reason I don’t read Waid. Unlike most Waid, this balances truly great visual storytelling with some major mistakes to hit that 5/10, but still 5/10. And even without those mistakes, it had a lot of stuff it needed to touch up. Even if it fixed those issues, it would only be at the level of books like Mockingbird, Spiderwoman or the better issues of Weirdworld (maybe a bit lower. The dialogue would still be poor)

    While this is the only issue of Black Widow I’ve read, I have seen a lot of pages of it from reviews and pages being posted online and stuff. And honestly, going off of those pages, I would honestly say this is the worst issue of Waid and Samnee’s Black Widow. Though maybe that’s because most of the pages I have seen have been largely silent sequences with just Samnee’s visual storytelling. Maybe that’s the secret. The book is at its best when it is entirely visual.

    Also, I hate being the continuity stickler, as I honestly don’t care about perfect continuity and try to only bring it up when the continuity point feels like a key aspect of the character, but is Waid, the Master of Continuity, somehow unfamiliar with the Natasha’s age? Because she is actually, roughly, 88. Some of the dialogue could be discussing Black Widow’s unnaturally long life, but other stuff seems to suggest that she’s in her 30s, like she presents as. I don’t like being a continuity stickler, but her unnaturally long life seems pretty foundational element to Black Widow. Especially in a story about the Red Room

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    Patsy Walker: There’s something weird about this issue being so focused on secret identities. Secret Identities are something that Marvel have rightfully put on a backburner, realising how meaningless that it for most characters and saving them for characters where they have a function (like Spiderman or Thor). In fact, Patsy Walker has been a big part of this, with patsy happily giving up her identity to friends etc. So it was weird to see the reveal of her as Hellcat as some major threat.

    I’m also surprised to see how quickly they finished the ‘Patsy doesn’t have the rights to her comics’ arc so quickly. I’m sure Hedy will be back, to act as Patsy’s arch enemy (as opposed to Hellcat’s), but there was so much more potential with the comics. Part of what interested me about this book in the first place was how Patsy was going to deal with the comics, and to see that it mostly focused on a couple of lawyer calls was disappointing. I’m sure the story with the comics isn’t over, but the next part will be a new chapter, a story about how Patsy has now embraced the comics. I just wish we had some time to properly explore what having those comics out there meant to her before she reconciled all of that in this issue.

    It is still a good comic. I love the fact that Jessica so readily helps Patsy despite barely knowing her, because that’s what the superhero community does. And I love Jessica’s family day at the comic store, with Jessica doing serious stuff alongside a cute toddler and a husband in a dorky ‘#1 Dad’ shirt (and seemingly finding Heroes for Hire porn).

    It has all the charm that I usually associate with the book, but it just took a couple of surprise turns into the generic direction with Secret Identities and far too speedy personal plotlines. Hopefully it bounces back to what it was (I’m hoping the next issue bounces back, as I have no interest in a generic Patsy Walker Civil War tie in, but a real interest in a Civil War tie in that keeps the soul of Patsy Walker)

    • CIVIL WAR II 1 SPOILERS:

      I’m fairly sure that at least some of the rush to finish up the comics arc is because Patsy Walker will be losing the use of She-Hulk for a while — and on that note, I’m fairly certain the Civil War tie-in will very much revolve around She-Hulk’s coma and Patsy’s reaction as opposed to any of the “join a side” stuff

      • Good point about the need to finish up that arc before losing She Hulk. Even though I found She Hulk’s coma a meaningless plot point in the context of Civil War II, I’m not necessarily anti Patsy Walker losing She Hulk (there is possibly good storytelling to come out of a book like Patsy Walker about dealing with her best friend being in a coma), it would be a shame if plans around Hedy and the comics had to be cut short because of Civil War II.

        And yeah, next issue is certainly going to be about Patsy’s reaction to She Hulk’s coma. But there are ways to use She Hulk’s coma to make a more traditional tie in that would disappoint me. Still, despite being slightly disappointed with this issue, I think they’ll do something truly Patsy with their Civil War II tie in

    • For me, one of the key reasons I think this issue is so great (and I think might come down to that same aesthetic difference we quibbled about on Spider-Man) is that there’s no fat on it. There isn’t a wasted line or panel in the whole issue. I can see why some might think of it as a weaker issue — it’s definitely all about putting the pieces in place for subsequent issues — but it does so in a way that is clear, clean, beautiful, and no less entertaining.

      It’s interesting — I read all of your criticisms as strengths of this issue. Iosef speaks to Natasha in dry, practical facts because that’s exactly the way two spies would talk to one another. We get hints of a warmer affection between these two, but it’s mostly business. I’d say the same with the Headmistress, and all of the flashbacks. It’s business between all of these characters. They’re curt and clear because they’re trained to be — seconds count in communicating information in the spy game. I honestly can’t imagine a more appropriate way to write these characters. This issue established the emotional connections between Natasha, the Headmistress, and Anya, which is all it needed to do.

      I’m not 100% sure what Iosef was training Nat on in between panels, but I think you’re right that it isn’t what we see her doing to infiltrate the compound. That is, I think we’re meant to think it is (and that worked better for me), but the fact that we didn’t see exactly what Iosef showed her makes me think that it will be important in a few issues. A Chekhov’s gun, hidden in plain sight, which is a classic Waid move.

      And I straight-up disagree with your assertion that Natasha’s age is an important element of the character. Having seen all of the Avengers movies, read most of the previous volume of Black Widow, as well as plenty of appearances in Avengers and Hawkeye, this is straight-up the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say she’s supposed to be in her 80s. I don’t doubt that that is a fact that might have been explored in other stories, but having encountered the character so often and never even hearing about it, I have to believe that this issue is in no way exceptional for ignoring/failing to address her age.

      • Practical dialogue doesn’t need to be boring dialogue. That’s why I mentioned at the end that they could have suggested that she was assessing the situation or something. To show off her practical nature. There were all sorts of ways that this conversation could have gone that would have let her be practical in an interesting way. Maybe she didn’t trust Iosef, and was teasing out possible allegiances. Maybe, because she was so practical, she could make a point to probe and dig deeper, asking questions designed to show an interest in seemingly insignificant details (for a practical woman, she neglected to ask how long the Dark Room was around for, or any questions about the security. All questions that could have proven her practical nature). Instead, she asked nothing that I wouldn’t expect Tony Stark to ask, and he’s known for being impractical and playing fast and loose when it comes to things like this.
        There were ways of doing that dialogue in a way that showed Natasha’s practical nature that wasn’t so boring. Two characters can talk in just facts in a way that is full of interesting characterization (especially when you have a character like Natasha, who fits that sort of dialogue perfectly). There was a way to show her practical nature that wasn’t just ‘let me ask the questions that give exactly the level of exposition required in the least interesting way possible’. Hell, the fact I can use the phrase ‘exactly the level of exposition’ is damning. Natasha, because she is so practical, should never want the bare minimum detail.

        Also, the idea that all this issue needed to do was establish the emotional connections between Natasha, the Headmistress and Anya is wrong. Anya’s reveal is supposed to be establishing the bad guy. The important thing isn’t just that Anya hates Natasha, and wants to embarrass her. It is that ‘Mama’s little recluse’ is now Natasha’s equal. Except they only tell us that’s she’s Natasha’s equal. We got no proof, just talk. The dialogue here is better than with Iosef – Anya helps a lot here. But we are missing a key element of the scene. Instead, we are simply told everything. The real problem here isn’t how they talk. It is the fact that the issue’s climax is just women standing around explaining what a big deal this scene actually is. The only possible reason to think that Anya is a threat to Natasha is the fact that the Headmistress said so. Is it too much to ask to be shown why Anya’s a threat?

        On the infiltration, even if you are right, I don’t think it fixes the scene. Even if it was an intentional choice not to have Natasha use Iosef’s training, it reads like a mistake. When I read the issue, I got to the infiltration, reached the Headmistress, and instantly went back to the start again to reread to see if I missed something. I ended up having to do that three or four times before concluding that they had messed up. It doesn’t look like setting up a Chekov’s Gun, it looks like a mistake. If Waid and Samnee wanted to hide what Iosef had trained Natasha in, they should have skipped the scene, or they should have made very clear that Natasha had chosen not to use Iosef’s techniques. Instead, they accidentally made it look like a typical infiltration scene was ‘older than old school’ spy work. I don’t know if ‘it looks like a mistake, but isn’t a mistake’ is a good thing. Because when I have to reread a section four times before deciding that they messed up is not the response Waid and Samnee wanted

        Especially as if you are right, that hurts the thematic structure of the issue. A big part of this issue is Old v New. It is a clear, constant parallel. The Dark Room v the Red Room. Anya v Natasha. The young girl v the old man. And another parallel is set up. The High tech security v the old school tactics. ‘Secretly’ subverting that in the middle of the issue hurts. Setting up a clear thematic situation and then following through with a typical, modern infiltration hurts.

        There’s nothing wrong with an issue that is all about putting the pieces in play. But putting the pieces in play doesn’t mean you can’t do it in an interesting way. THere is a way for Black Widow to talk to Iosef that is interesting and speaks to character. There is a way to introduce Anya as our villain with an actual demonstration. And there is a way to do that without a sequence like Black Widow’s infiltration, which is either a mistake or looks enough like a mistake for the difference to be meaningless.

        And on the continuity stuff, a couple of things. Firstly, just because the movies have made a change, doesn’t mean it isn’t important in the comics. For example, Tony Stark being a recovering alcoholic is important in the comics, even if the movies have chosen not to tell Demon in a Bottle. Or, most obviously, the fact that Hank Pym retired moments before everything went wrong does not change the fact that in the comics, he didn’t, and therefore now forever has to make sure he never lets everything go so wrong again (and turn into, among other things, a wife beater). Same choice has been made with Black Widow’s origin, in part because Scarlett Johansson, as a human being, ages.
        Secondly, just because something is an important part of the character does not mean it will always turn up. Again, not every Iron Man run will bring up Tony Stark being a recovering alcoholic, but it is also a key part of the character that certain sorts of runs need to address. Same with Black Widow. The previous run spent little time on her training (except maybe at the very end. Had stopped reading by then), and instead focused on her missions. Marjorie Liu’s brief run, however, did. And when you are going to tell a story about Black Widow’s origin, which Waid is doing, the fact that the origin takes place in Stalin’s Russia is something that is important. I think it is fair to expect any story focusing heavily on Black Widow’s origin to be written with the understanding that she is that her origin specifically takes place in Stalin’s Russia, because it does inform her past. Black Widow is from post-World War 2 Stalin’s Russia, just as Captain America is from World War 2 and Superman is from Krypton. Not always important to the story at hand, but part of her origin that is set in stone (unlike, say, the war that Tony Stark got wounded in). I intentionally placed this complaint at the end, after my conclusion, because it is much less important than the messed up infiltration scene or the mistakes in Iosef’s scene or Anya’s reveal. But that doesn’t mean it is still a complaint

        • It’s funny how I think we always agree abstractly about what works or doesn’t work in comics in general, but we never seem to agree on whether a given comic manifests those good or bad qualities (or, at least, we disagree about the proportions of those qualities in a given work). I like all of the things you say about what dialogue could or should do, I just think this comic does those things extremely well. I put down this issue feeling like Natasha’s motives and mannerisms revealed a great deal about her as a character, and that the action very effectively goosed my excitement where and when it was meant to. I didn’t have any problem with the infiltration scene, and only reread it because I enjoyed it so much. In a series that opened with a flying car chase scene, pebbles/knives certainly feels like “old school” to me. Frankly, the only way I can see being distracted by it is if I was looking really hard for nits to pick. As I read it, I didn’t find it in any way confusing or odd — it was just a great, well-drawn action sequence.

        • That’s why I enjoy debating with you so much. We agree so much on the abstract level that we can intelligently debate specifics. Which is why I would love to see you try I persuade me on DC Rebirth again, focusing more of an issue’s content than on our interpretation of DC’s editorial behind the scenes (I’ve been trying to be fair and take people’s cases for DC Rebirth seriously. I saw Emma Houxbois write about Batman 1, and really thought she was going to persuade me, considering my experiences with her previous work (her stuff on Snyder’s Batman was sensational). But despite writing a piece just like all her others, it still wasn’t enough).

          I will admit to reading this book with a critical eye – I read every book with a critical eye. Or at least I try to. And honestly, when I read the infiltration the first time, I loved it. Samnee’s visual storytelling was fantastic, and I was enjoying the build up to the moment where Natasha would use ‘Older than Old School’ spycraft. I only had a problem when I reached the Headmistress and went ‘wait, did I miss something?’. I then reread the sequence three times, and concluded that a massive mistake had been made. This wasn’t me doing a close reading over every panel, the mistake jumped out during my very first read-through. At a point where I was currently really engaged and enjoying myself.

          And while you are right that previous issues had flying cars, I don’t know if that is a magic solution. Firstly, Superhero comics take place in a quasimodern setting. A setting where both superscience and normal reality coexist. Which means if someone has a brand new Ferrari is a comic, I would generally treat it as a top of the line car, even if SHIELD have flying cars. For the same reason, Black Widow doing an infiltration that looks straight out of any modern day spy story will read to me as modern, not old school (let alone older than old school). I’m sure that I saw half of those tricks in the previous Black Widow run.
          Secondly, the exact techniques Natasha used are very typical. This isn’t a complaint about generiness – as I said, I initially loved the scene until I hit the Headmistress and the engagement just broke. When throwing the pebble as a distraction to sneak in is an iconic and timeless part of pop culture’s depiction of infiltration, it is hard for me to buy it as ‘older than old school’. Same with the knife. Sneaking up behind someone with a knife is an iconic and timeless move. So it feels hard to treat anything here as ‘Older than Old School’. I could buy them as being old school, in a ‘do the job without the fancy gadgets way. But not ‘so old that Natasha never trained in it’. It is just too typical for a spy story.
          There really needed to be something that looked old fashioned. Something that did look ‘old school’. Some weird, clunky gadget. I don’t think I was being nitpicky where I noticed the infiltration scene was missing exactly what the infiltration scene was set up to contain. Despite the dull exposition scene, I was engaged and enjoying myself, focusing more on Samnee’s fantastic art. But to me, it was immediately apparent.

          It was a great, well-drawn action sequence that contradicts for seemingly no reason the sort of action sequence they spent 2 pages building towards. And to me, it was obvious

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