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 Howard the Duck 9, Mockingbird 5, Ms. Marvel 9, Steve Rogers Captain America 3, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 10.
Taylor: Everything nowadays is meta to some extent; it is no longer solely the stomping grounds for artists and academics. There is always a story beyond the story itself and that mantra is perhaps nowhere near as true as it is in the world of comics. Those who read Howard the Duck likely know some of it’s meta-story, such as the 1986 movie starring Lea Thompson, or the names of the series’ creator and authors. All of this metadata for Howard the Duck collides in issue 9 of the series and the result is a hilarious, perplexing, and utterly entertaining read.
Things get kicked off in the issue when Lea Thompson, the actress, appears in Howard’s office. Those familiar with the the history of Howard the Duck no doubt immediately recognized her as Howard’s girl friend in his movie. Here, she hasn’t starred in that movie but she does have fleeting memories of having once been on set with a talking Duck. This leads to the discovery that Howard’s life is actually being filmed by aliens as a form or reality TV. To make up for the boring parts they’ve filled in spots of Howard’s life, including his relationship with Lea, with scripted scenes.
Things get noticeably weird here as Howard learns he is the star in a show. That this show stars an actress from his live-action movie in our own, real world adds to the nutty delight of this revelation.
That the aliens are doing this because the market is saturated with superhero films is a clear cut reference to our own world. In other words, it’s a meta-statement on the world in which this comic is being made. Howard also meets the shape-shifting actor portraying him on set and he looks exactly like the horrifying puppet that played Howard in the 1986 movie. This is an acknowledgment of the story of the franchise Howard the Duck, and to some of the weird places it has gone in it’s existence. As if that’s not all delightfully zany, to top it all off creators Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones make cameos at the end of the issue in a twist where they as storytellers exist within their own creation.
This entire issue is so weird and self-referential and that is its enduring charm. It is at once sincere to the characters within the comic but also dismissive of their existence outside of the narrative. This means that the issue is a little confusing but ultimately great fun.
Spencer: Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain isn’t afraid to take risks. Opening her new ongoing with a somewhat-mystifying “puzzle box” was probably the second-ballsiest move anybody’s made in comics all year (one guess what the ballsiest move was), and Cain hasn’t “played it safe” for a moment since. Its safe to say that risk, experimentation, and progress is built into Mockingbird‘s DNA — thanks to Mockingbird 5, this may now literally be true of Bobbi Morse as well.
This issue brings the puzzle box full circle, revealing that Bobbi’s been infected by a superpowered virus, and that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attempts to destroy the virus have, unsurprisingly, caused more harm than good. Bobbi (along with absolutely delightful guest stars Howard the Duck and Miles Morales) fights across the S.H.I.E.L.D compound to obtain the anti-virus, but once she does, Bobbi makes a rather surprising move.
Except, in retrospect, it’s not all that surprising at all. Throughout the entire issue Bobbi talks about how viruses have a bad reputation, how most viruses facilitate change, growth, and evolution, and about how her superpowered virus could very easily be an evolutionary breakthrough. Of course she’d protect it, even if it means turning herself into a petri dish in the process. I can’t help but to see Cain and her collaborators (which, this month, includes Ibrahim Moustafa on art) doing the same with Mockingbird; this entire title has been one big experiment, a gambit with great risk, yet even greater reward.
So far those risks have absolutely paid off, and Bobbi’s embracing her virus seems like a sure sign that, wherever Cain takes Mockingbird next, she’ll continue to experiment, take risks, and create a title that could very easily be the “next evolutionary leap” in comics.
Ms. Marvel 9
Patrick: While the main Civil War II series has focused in on the political problems presented by Ulysses’ future-crime-sensing abilities, Ms. Marvel 9 is content to focus on the personal ramifications of bustin’ bad guys before they ever do anything wrong. Writer G. Willow Wilson presents the reader with a small army of personal perspectives, allowing us to really get a sense of the human cost involved here. It’s not enough to just know that Kamala is friends with someone accused of a future-crime, but it’s also not enough to know what motivates him. We get that information, of course: Joshua was toying with the idea of causing a power surge at his school because he felt small and insignificant in the wake of Zoe dumping him. That’s a very teenage reason to do something dumb, but in Josh’s defense, he never actually did it.
The web of revealed-motivation goes so much further though. Becky, one of Kamala’s cronies, breaks down her rationale with upsetting efficiency by saying “Middle-class teenage white male, publicly expresses anger over rejection by a former girlfriend… he fits the profile for this kind of attack.” That’s cold as hell — and explicitly uses the word “profile,” which sets Ms. Marvel off as well — but it’s also hard to argue with. At the very least, Becky’s view is understandable. It’s also fucking awesome to see the word “profile” twisted back around on middle-class white-males, who are so frequently using that technique to suppress anyone even remotely different from them.
But my favorite scene in the whole issue actually digs in to Zoe’s motivation for dumping Josh in the first place. She’s gay, it turns out, but she wasn’t able to express that to her teenage boyfriend at the time. Naturally a little curious, Josh asks a follow-up question.
Wilson moves over to let artists Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona tell this beat of the story all on their own. The results are achingly open and honest. That camera, which for the last page or so had been sticking close to Josh and Zoe, swings out wide in the second panel, reminding us that there’s a world outside of the relationship between these two people. We see the object of Zoe’s affections, but we also get the pointless detail of the box of “Snappy the Alligator” toys in the corner. It’s a reminder how much our limited perspectives blind us to the greater picture. It’s only by learning from others that we’re able to get the whole story.
Steve Rogers: Captain America 3
Michael: One of the number one things that I like about Nick Spencer is that he’s not afraid to voice his political opinion. Spencer recognizes that Captain America is a character whose world will always be entrenched in political themes – overt or otherwise. Now that Steve Rogers has been revealed to be an agent of HYDRA and we’ve discovered how that happened, we can finally move forward in the story. Does being the Red Skull’s lackey change the inherent nature of Steve Rogers? Not really; but that’s a good thing.
Steve paints the HYRDA symbol on his chest to have a Vader/Emperor hologram conversation with the Red Skull. Steve tells Skull what happened in the aftermath of Steve Rogers: Captain America 1, with the apparent deaths of Jack Flag, Selvig and Zemo. After the conversation ends its clear that there are some things that Steve has kept from the Red Skull or intends to do differently. We see that Steve has kept Selvig alive and I bet he’ll try to keep Jack Flag alive too.
Steve Rogers: Captain America 3 makes it clear to us that Steve is a loyal follower of HYDRA. No matter who he is fighting for however, he will always follow his moral compass above all else. In the divisive political atmosphere that we live in I think that it’s important to note that a person is more than just the ideals they follow. Steve Rogers believes in maintaining the future of HYDRA but he wants to save as many people as he can along the way. Just because the man is fighting for the wrong team doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his conscience.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 10
Spencer: The last few issues of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl should be required reading in every middle school. And high school. Okay, really, every person on Earth should be required to read this arc. It really is a crash course on how to date without being a horrible person. On the surface, most of the morals here apply to men, with Ryan North and Erica Henderson even crafting a spectacular rant about “nice guys” that, again, should be hanging on the wall of every classroom in America:
It’s not just the fantastic message, but how absolutely, uncharacteristically livid Doreen is here that I adore about this page.
Yet, there’s also messages here that apply to everyone, and North and Henderson even poke at their own book and their own hero a bit. Doreen is quite literally the best, but she has to have flaws; if she didn’t, she’d be a boring character. But all Mole Man sees is her kindness and uber-competence — the very things that make her the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl — and thus he puts her on a pedestal, idolizes her, and blinds himself to the reality of Doreen’s wants and needs or who she even is as a person. It’s an all too common mistake that people of all genders make, and it only leads to heartbreak.
Perhaps most realistically, several conflicts here are caused simply because characters are too afraid to admit their true feelings to those around them. While Tricephalous’ eventual confession to Mole Man is a “happy ending” of sorts, Doreen doesn’t get that with Tomas — she learns too late that, if she was really interested in dating Tomas, she should have said something too him long ago.
There’s a ton of lessons to be found in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 10 (yet, thanks to North and Henderson’s skill, it’s never preachy), but what they all boil down to is this: if you’re entering a relationship, or are even just considering it, you need to be mature, capable of open and honest communication, brave, and absolutely sure that everybody involved is interested. Consent is vital, kiddos: Squirrel Girl says!
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?