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 Doctor Strange 9, Gwenpool 3, Ms. Marvel 8, Power Man and Iron Fist 5, Rocket Raccoon and Groot 6, and The Ultimates 8.
Doctor Strange 9
Taylor: Have you ever had a day where everything just seems…off? You spill your coffee on your way to work, you send embarrassing email to the wrong person, you forget to realize only too late that your underwear is on inside out. We’ve all had days like that and when they happen you do your damnedest to just get through the day without anything too terrible happening. For us, it’s not a big deal. When your Doctor Strange and the fate of all magic rests in your hands? That’s a different story.
Stephen is busy collecting the last of the few remaining bits of magic left on Earth. In doing so he hopes to cobble together enough ammunition to kill the Empirikul in one last ditch effort to save all of magic from the destruction. The problem with this is Stephen himself doesn’t even have enough magic to help him defeat a band of magic eating monkeys. Without the use of his magic, Stephen is basically having one, prolonged “off” day where things that use to be easy for him, are now hard.
Stephen perhaps feels this the most when he jumps off of a cliff for escape the aforementioned monkeys. In the old days he would have just flown away, but now he has to rely on a plane rescuing him. In animating this scene artist Chris Bachalo conveys the idea of Stephen feeling destabilized with off-kilter panels.
This jagged paneling conveys Stephen’s emotional state aptly. There are highs and lows and never, ever do things just flow together smoothly. Bachalo also draws Strange lower and lower in each panel which denotes his descent from the cliffs and also his descent from power. For without his magic, as Stephen notes, he had devolved into pillaging graves and shrines for every last ounce of magic he can get. It’s a new low that is symbolized by Strange’s positioning in each consecutive panel and which adds to the idea of Stephen feeling off and out of sorts without his magic.
What makes this artistic choice all the more meaningful is that elsewhere in the issue Bachalo uses fairly uniform paneling. Looking at any of the scenes with Zelma and Wong, I notice that the panels here are for the most part uniform in shape and strictly aligned to a grid. There is none of the disrupted paneling we see with Strange. Indeed, in all of the panel’s depicting Strange various panels are offset lending an off balanced look to every page he’s on. While it may not be as pronounced as the example above, it is there. This all adds to the notion that even someone as powerful as Doctor Strange, can have a bad day.
Spencer: Christopher Hastings and Gurihiru give us our first peek at Gwen Poole’s pre-Marvel Universe past in Gwenpool 3, and while the infant Gwen is essentially a nonentity, the moment still manages to provide insight into her psyche.
Even this brief glimpse of Gwen’s parents allows us to see where she inherited her sunny disposition and ever-so-slightly-twisted sense of humor from. What we don’t see, though, is what comes next, and while that’s not important to Doctor Strange’s plan, it is a rather glaring oversight considering Gwen’s reactions to her past life. She says that it’s “probably for the best” if her parents forget her altogether, and just a page earlier, she gives the same response when Strange mentions that he can’t return her to her home dimension this way. Based on this context, it would seem like Gwen isn’t just trying so hard to anchor herself to the Marvel Universe because she has to — she actively doesn’t want to return to her prior life. Why? Do the reasons have to do with why she became so invested in comic books in the first place?
That would certainly explain why Gwen’s so determined to make a go of it here (even forgoing asking Strange to return her home at all), despite the dire straits she’s found herself in. Gwen herself admits that she’s working with villains who can never win, purposely ignores Batroc’s somewhat legitimate point that the heroes can, ultimately, never win in this universe either, and still finds herself on the receiving end of M.O.D.O.K.’s wrath even when she gives him everything he asks of her. Is all this still somehow better than her previous life? And what did her chat with Cecil reveal to her that’s got her so chipper even in the midst of all this bad luck? I can’t wait to find out.
Ms. Marvel 8
Ryan M.: Kamala Khan’s enthusiasm is infectious. Her delight at being included with the other heroes, her excitement to do good, and her pride in her hometown are all so endearing that it can make her misjudgments feel forgivable. In Ms. Marvel 8, Kamala accepts a task from Captain Marvel without considering the potential ramifications or pausing to weigh the merits. I guess Kamala missed the movie Minority Report or last Fall’s failed TV sequel, because she doesn’t hesitate to capture potential criminals in advance of their probable crimes. It’s a sign of her naivete that Kamala only sees the upside of putting the punishment before the crime. In her mind, it keeps her fellow heroes and her beloved neighborhood safe without any consequences.
Kamala is the perfect character to offer such a one-sided view of the issue, thanks to her can-do attitude and general youthful energy. It’s clear that things will not stay so simple for Kamala, especially as she finds herself busting down the door of an old classmate. Will her relationship with Josh allow her some insight and empathy for potential criminals? It seems likely at the very least that Kamala’s pre-crime program will be challenged. What elevates this issue from a simple kick-off of a larger arc, is the opening scene.
We meet Aisha, a young pregnant woman emigrating from India to Pakistan in the middle of the night with her husband and father-in-law. The scene functions as a short story. The connections to Kamala are subtle but effective. The woman is likely her great-grandmother; she resembles Kamala and her wedding bangles match Ms. Marvel’s golden jewelry. The scene is lyrical and quietly moving. On the surface, Aisha’s tale of escape and hope for the future has little in common with the out-sized adventure of space travel, cool-kid sidekicks and thwarting a Canadian Ninja Leader in a stolen tank. Thematically, Kamala could learn from her ancestor’s story. While there is power to be found in fear, hope is perhaps the better investment.
Power Man and Iron Fist 5
Spencer: Luke Cage and Iron Fist are street level heroes, and claiming that title doesn’t just mean beating up petty muggers or drug dealers — it means actually interacting with the communities they protect. The public’s perception of Luke and Danny has been a part of Power Man and Iron Fist since the first issue, but unlike the similar story we just saw in Sam Wilson: Captain America, Luke and Danny are less “inspirational figure” and more “local celebrity.” Many of the characters — be they other superheroes or random citizens — that writer David Walker surveys are excited about the reunion of these two (often for no other reason than “it’s Power Man and Iron Fist!,” a phrase that would feel self-indulgent if Walker’s depiction of their relationship wasn’t such terrific fun, justifying the entire sentiment), but many who weren’t won over are by the end of issue 5, where Luke and Danny save a hot dog vendor and a local radio station from Manslaughter Marsdale. Even Jessica Jones is warming up to them!
I wonder, though: Is Luke surprised that Jessica’s starting to warm up to Danny and his partnership, or at the implication that she didn’t like Danny previously?
The fun part about Luke and Danny’s local celebrity, though, is that the community is already starting to build up a mythos around these two. The public thinks that Luke and Danny diligently hunted down Marsdale or even that Power Man flew to capture him, but the truth is that they simply bumbled their way to, and through, the entire incident. Power Man and Iron Fist are just so cool that the community around them can’t help but to embrace them fully and even to talk them up further. The same goes for Power Man and Iron Fist as a title: it’s won its readers over with charm and heart aplenty. Despite any flaws, the praise feels earned.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot 6
“It’s a good thing you’re cute.”
Patrick: I’d say about once a week, by girlfriend and I end up browsing the Yahoo Screen app on the Apple TV. That makes us damned-loyal users by Yahoo Screen metrics, but the only reason we’re using the thing is because it has a channel called “Cute / Inspiring” which collects cute and/or inspiring videos. Now, the internet doesn’t give a rat’s ass about inspiration, so in practice, the channel is quick access to 20-ish short videos of adorable puppies and kitties. The time we spend watching this thing is absolutely wasted, but goddamn it all if I don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling from taking in a concentrated dose of cute. I can overlook the fact that I’m basically watching nothing because it’s so goddamn cute.
Which is basically how I feel about Rocket Raccoon and Groot 6. The story here is about a surface-level as it could be: Groot and Rocket start competing with each other at bar games, and their competition escalates until they’re both fighting in a war they don’t care about to see who can score the most kills (a la Gimli and Legolas). I see where that sounds like Skottie Young has a clear premise for a sketch — what if friendly bar competition got out of hand? — but anything surprising about the heightening with each successive beat plays into the predictable nature of these characters. Imagine this same scene, but with Key and Peele instead of Groot and Rocket – it’s a lot funnier to see a couple of regular Joes catapulted into an interplanetary war just so they can claim bragging rights over the other. When Rocket and Groot do it, it’s almost like seeing a joke play out in reverse.
But if the only reason the story exists is to give artist Brett B. Bean a reason to draw the characters doing fun stuff for 20 pages, I suppose there are worse crimes. Bean and Young will frequently let the camera slide away from our titular adorable heroes, so we can see the characters within this story that are also having a fun time watching this little pissing contest.
Eh, these guys are having fun watching the cuties have fun — shouldn’t I just do the same?
The Ultimates 8
Drew: Intentions. It’s interesting that audience’s tend to be so concerned with the intentions of artists, since we generally don’t care about intentions when it comes to life — what you intended to happen doesn’t matter nearly as much as your actions. That is, you might have the best intentions in the world, but those don’t count for much if your actions ultimately cause death and destruction. That discrepancy is a huge sticking point in western thought — the road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say — and is at the center of The Ultimates 8, as writer Al Ewing winds the clock back to Captain Marvel’s recreiting pitch for the team just as the team’s actions seem as far from those stated intentions as possible.
For me, the crux of this issue hinges around Adam’s insistence on adding “nonviolent solutions” to Carol’s mission statement. That’s what get’s him to sign on, and plays a central role in Monica’s recruitment, as well. The issue then jumps to the present, where Thanos is poised to attack project P.E.G.A.S.U.S., leading to a decidedly non-nonviolent solution. You know: a big superhero fight. That’s to be expected — even Adam qualified his nonviolent aspirations with a “wherever possible” clause — but there is one, big unexpected consequence: the death of Rhodie Rhodes. It’s a turn that throws the whole team into turmoil, perhaps more because of those nonviolent intentions than because of the team’s relationship to Rhodie; Carol is clearly personally affected, but Rhodie hasn’t played a significant role on this team, otherwise. Indeed, it’s the two characters most invested in the nonviolent mission statement that seem the most shaken, as Monica and Adam are driven into each other’s arms.
As always, artist Kenneth Rocafort knocks this sequence out of the park — I’m particularly pleased with the way his distinctive fractured backgrounds emphasize the instability that leads to this moment. The world seems to be crashing down around these two characters, but they find stability in one another.
This was a strong issue, but is clearly seeding downstream conflicts that I can’t yet anticipate. Or, at least, I can’t anticipate how they’ll be addressed in this series. This issue wears its “Civil War II” tie-in status proudly, putting Carol and Tony at odds, but seems to come at the conflict from a totally different angle. Perhaps more importantly, it hints at a larger conflict with Thanos looming in the distance, and introduces Philip Nelson Vogt as “the man in the shadows” behind the Ultimates — I have no idea where either of those threads are heading, but I can’t wait to find out.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
Before I begin discussing comics, I seem to be having more and more issues with posting these days. Sometimes, I just can’t post a comment, no matter what I try. Just have to wait until posting works again. Any idea why?
Doctor Strange: On the one hand, part of the fun of Doctor Strange is how fast paced it is, refusing to let things slow down because Aaron never wants you to forget that what is normal for Doctor Strange is weird for us (and this sort of stuff actually kind of is normal for Doctor Strange. Big magical crisis involving weirdness and insane adventure, even if it is the Death of Magic). On the other hand, i would happily read more of Doctor Strange jumping off cliffs into biplanes, like the weirdest Indiana Jones story ever.
But the real meat to this issue is Doctor Strange rejecting Wong’s sacrifices. Kaif compared this story to Godkiller, but there is one big difference. This story has always been about the cost of magic, the fact that Doctor Strange actually pays for his infinite power. Which means, at least subtextually, the Empirikul are actually in response to Doctor Strange not paying his dues enough.
And as we arrive to our grand finale, Doctor Strange rejects Wong’s plans to deal with those costs. And yet Wong’s plan hadn’t worked before, as the Empirikul still came. Which makes me think that magic is being treated in a fascinatingly weird way. Is Doctor Strange’s big failing the fact that he has let others pay his dues? His refusal of responsibility? I really like the idea that you can’t ‘trick’ magic. It is time for Magic to collect, and Doctor Strange is going to have to deal with the fact that the debt is his, and his alone.
I’m interested to see how that ends
Gwenpool: Today is the day for metafiction! Or at least it is today when Doctor Strange is in the book. Because Gwenpool, with two scenes, creates really interesting implications in the Marvel Universe. It is apparently both real (Doctor Strange can literally travel to our Earth) and fictional (since Batroc literally has no history except those established in comics). Honestly, I think that is a bad choice. While Hastings has done fun stuff with multiversal mechanics before (like Dr McNinja’s world being the way it is because of its placement between our ordinary Earth and King Radical’s radical Earth), Gwenpool doesn’t seem to be the book to explore the implications of the Marvel Universe’s laws of physics literally being imagination.
Still, the key part if Gwen’s trip with Doctor Strange. And what I love is the disconnect between the scene of Gwen being born, which shows really good parents (with a sense of humour, but good, loving parents) followed by Gwen thinking it is for the best that she is forgotten. Gwenpool has always been about escapism and the perils thereof (I mean, this issue brought to the attention that the story of your escapist hero is actually a meaningless struggle), but I love that we are exploring why she wishes to escape. And that she in all honesty, what she is escaping honestly doesn’t look big and bad, but looks ordinary and almost teen agnsty(Hastings wanted us to know the parents are kind hearted and likeable)
But I think the most interesting thing is that Gwen loses part of her connection from reality and gets connected, to some small degree, to the Marvel Universe. Which means that even when she reconciles with her past, she will always be connected with the Marvel Universe. This raises implications to what the ending will be.
It is important to critique escapism, as escapist media can be dangerous, when approached the wrong way. Film Crit Hulk said, the other day, that ‘MEDIA DIET IS LIKE FOOD DIET, GARBAGE LEADS TO GARBAGE, LIMITATION LEADS TO LIMITATION’, and by that same logic, escapism without also attempting to engage in reality (whether through art or through other avenues) is bad for you. Yet that doesn’t mean escapism can’t be consumed in a healthy manner (just as I am putting effort into controlling my diet, but also eat delicious desserts and treats every week). And if Gwen will always be connected to the Marvel Universe, I feel that we may end up going through a similar arc as the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy is basically Gwenpool. Peter Quill runs away from dealing with his mother’s death by becoming a Star Wars character. The only difference is that he doesn’t literally go to the Star Wars Universe like Gwen does. And while the movie is highly critical of Peter’s escapist ways, in the end, he never goes home. At the end he is still enjoying his escapist life as a Space Hero. He now enjoys those escapist elements in a healthy way. Peter Quill, at the end of the movie, has to make a decision between ‘Something good’ and ‘Something bad’, and chooses ‘Bit of Both’. The balanced diet between escapism and reality.
And this is important, as it is the best way to discuss escapism. The idea that a story about the Perils of Escapism has to end with the hero coming home is toxic, just as the escapism it criticises is toxic. People need both. So I’m looking forward to Gwenpool coming to that same conclusion
Also, we really need a story about Gwenpool encountering HydraCap. I want to see a story where Gwen gets surprised by a twist that happened after she got sucked into the Marvel Universe
Ms Marvel: In all honesty, I felt this issue was perfectly competent, but didn’t astound me for some reason. I like the fact that discuss Ulysses’ power as essentially Analytics, while also bringing up the profiling similarities (though I wish it also could have brought up Tony Stark’s amazing point about bias). But it is also a story that really is only going to get going with the next issue. It is all about that cliffhanger
So yeah, a decent start to a story about the dangers of profiling. But with the exception of the fantastic, beautiful opening, nothing amazing. Though I do love the touch that after bringing up profiling again and again, and discussing how profiling leads to people being judged not by who they are but by their similarities to those to who commit crimes, Ms Marvel cheekily has the ‘profile’ be ‘teenage male, blond, athletic’. Just a shame it was missing white, because otherwise that would be the most perfectly subversive take on America’s racial politics due to just how truthful it is.
Power Man and Iron Fist: The Wu Tang Clan got their name because of their love of martial arts movies (the name specifically coming from the movie Shaolin and Wu Tang). And from my understanding, it was more than just the Wu Tang Clan who have such a love of martial arts movies. Hip Hop group Wu Tang Clan’s name is just a symptom of black culture’s love of martial arts movies (if my understanding is right). Which speaks to what I love about this issue. Ultimately, it is about the black communtiy’s relationship with Power Man and Iron Fist/Blaxsploitation and Martial Arts movies.
Luke Cage and Iron Fist are more than just ordinary superheroes. They are part of the black community in a way that very few other superheroes are (even if Danny Rand is white). And this issue is nothing more of a celebration of this fact. The wide range of perspectives discussing their return are nearly all part of the black community. Even Jessica Jones, who is part of the community by virtue of being the wife of a community hero/leader.
Ultimately, this isn’t just a celebration of our two very likeable heroes, but a celebration of what black culture loves. And that’s what really makes it work. Because Black Culture doesn’t get the chance to be noticed as they celebrate, and so the chance to se black culture celebrate is new and refreshing