We try to stay up on what’s going on at Marvel, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of Marvel Comics. Today, we’re discussing Black Panther 3, Steve Rogers Captain America 2, Spider-Gwen Annual 1 and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 9.
Spencer: Being a king is an impossible challenge. In Black Panther 3, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (through T’Challa’s internal monologue) likens the role to that of a father, but that’s a gross understatement — it’s more like being a father to several million children all at once, and no matter what you do, you can never keep them all safe and satisfied. Like I said, it’s an impossible challenge, but it’s one T’Challa has no choice but to keep attempting anyway, no matter what fate, his people, or even the country of Wakanda itself seems to throw in his path.
That last point is literal this month, as the spirits of Wakanda’s past rise up on two different fronts — a physical form takes on Black Panther while a more spiritual form reveals itself to Shuri in the Djalia, or realm of memories. Interestingly, both these forces view the past as an important, vital, and currently missing part of Wakanda, while to Black Panther, the past is something that simply beats him down.
Indeed, T’Challa can’t escape the sins of his past. Meanwhile, the Midnight Angels could be said to be looking to the future for their inspiration, but by building a new Dora Milaje to aid their cause, they’re also relying on the customs of the past. I suppose that’s the conflict Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze have established at the heart of Black Panther — the new ways vs. the old, history vs. future, tradition vs. technology, authority vs. the people — and while there’s no easy answers, I think the Angels may have it most right. Mix things up; look to the future, but mine what worked from the past, and maybe you’ll find a solution that’ll work for most of Wakanda.
Steve Rogers: Captain America 2
Patrick: HERE IT IS, YOU GUYS! Steve Rogers Captain America 2 is chock full of the “answers” demanded by the loudest corner of the internet. What Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz posit is that Red Skull was able remake Steve Rogers’ history via the living cosmic cube, Kobik. This much is obvious from the first two pages, and that’s likely what many readers (and even more non-readers that want to bitch about this development) will take away from the issue. What’s important here — and what Spencer and Saiz spend the next 18 pages illustrating — are the methods by which Skull hijacks the history of Captain America. These are methods that we see being used in the world today by small-minded fear-mongers who strive to rewrite American history, even without a reality-altering child-cube.
First of all, I know Red Skull is a bad guy. Really just the worst. There’s a scene early in this issue where Skull, bored with the meal he’s been served, has the kitchen staff execute itself. It’s a horrific panel, and it plays into Skull’s obsession with firearms AND the too common internet refrain of “kill yourself” used as a form of criticism (criticism that Spencer no doubt received in the wake of SRCA1). As repulsive as that is, Skull demonstrates that his fear of the outside knows no bounds, as he commands his henchmen to shoot a child.
He’s a rat bastard, and that’s all there is to it. So how does he leverage this bastardness into re-writing Captain American History? By lying to children, by silencing scientists, by posing as a religious leader. I had praised the first issue for challenging the purity of the Greatest Generation, but it seems like Spencer’s satirical target may be both more specific and more current: Red Skull represents those that would distort and misrepresent history to control the masses through fear.
Spider-Gwen Annual 1
Taylor: In college I took a survey course on American theater. Being a broad study, we read some of the most well known plays in American history and also discussed some of the big ideas and themes that have pervaded theater throughout the ages. One of the big ideas we discussed about theater was whether it, and art in general, should hold a mirror up to society or try to shape it the same way a blacksmith uses a hammer to shape steel. In the ridiculous Spider-Gwen Annual 1, it would appear it can be used for both.
This annual, like a lot of annuals, forgoes the structure of a typical issue and instead opts for a series of vignettes, most of which are pretty silly. There’s a story about Gwen saving Uncle Ben from the robber at the infamous wrestling match in which he’s killed (in most universes); there’s Gwen hanging out with her fellow female spider-powered women; a story about the Watcher, and perhaps my favorite, a story about Gwen and Captain America.
In this story Gwen befriends Cap and shares with her issues of Captain American dating back 75 years ago. Cap is moved by these issues and goes to share them with a Steve Rogers who is now on his deathbed. There, he shares with Cap that the country always needs someone to inspire hope and fight the good fight. Hilariously, this means that Cap needs to fight a version of M.O.D.O.K. who is Donald Trump.
The comedy of this cameo appearance by the GOP presidential candidate aside, we see this issue holding a mirror up to society while also trying to shape it. Here we have to confront that in many ways, Trump – with his xenophobic and sexist rhetoric – is nothing short of some sort of super villain. That so much of the country sides with these should gives us all pause and consider just who it is our country sees when we collectively look in the mirror. However, Captain America then bashes M.O.D.A.A.K. while Rogers says the American public needs to actively fight against greed and fear. In this way we are all being urged to change and shape the future, just as a hammer changes the shape of what hits. Ultimately this is both the most entertaining and emotional part of a wild issue that is deep on meaning and fun.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 9
Spencer: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl isn’t a title I typically expect to cover “social issues,” but in issue 9, Ryan North and Erica Henderson do exactly that without losing an ounce of the book’s typical charm and humor. It’s a smart, subtle, and wholly entertaining read.
The issue begins with Squirrel Girl operating at her peak, simultaneously talking down Mole Man through her now-trademark empathy and kindness while also effortlessly and nonchalantly fending off Mole Man’s beasts.
Really, it’s no surprise that Mole Man would so quickly fall “in love” with Doreen, even if she hadn’t been the first woman to show him kindness in decades. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, either — the problems are that, 1) Mole Man is completely oblivious to the fact that Doreen doesn’t return his affections, and 2) that Mole Man asks her to marry him on the spot. Anyone with half a brain should immediately understand how inappropriate this whole situation is, but Henderson and North still make Mole Man’s fault immediately clear through both Doreen’s words and her body language.
She’s clearly uncomfortable, and at first, Mole Man’s biggest crime is simply being overeager and ignoring Doreen’s discomfort. In fact, when Mole Man later returns with an even grander scheme to win her love, there’s even a slight implication that perhaps Doreen wasn’t direct enough with her initial rejection. That idea is immediately rejected, though, after Doreen’s explicit, direct, even violent rejection is met with a yet more extreme scheme on Mole Man’s behalf.
Like so many men women meet in real life, Mole Man refuses to accept rejection, and that makes him a threat. For a woman without squirrel-irradiated blood, rejecting a man can be downright dangerous: some men respond to a frank rejection with threats and violence, but refuse to acknowledge kinder rejections at all. What North and Henderson demonstrate with this issue is that, for many women, there is no right way to turn down a man, and that the onus falls, not on women, but on men to learn to accept rejection (and to learn not to expect women to fix them or to automatically love them just because they’re kind in the first place!). I’m eager to see how the rest of this story is handled, partially because it sure will be cathartic to see Doreen kick Mole Man’s butt to the moon, but also because most women don’t have that option, and I’m curious to see if/how North and Henderson acknowledge that.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?