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.
Patrick: 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.
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.
Amazing Spider-Man 14
Spencer: 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.
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.
Astonishing Ant-Man 9
Taylor: 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.
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.
Black Widow 4
Drew: 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.
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.
Civil War II 2
Patrick: 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.
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.
Michael: 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:
Uncanny Inhumans 10
Spencer: 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.
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.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?