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 Steve Rogers Captain America 4, Deadpool 17, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 9, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 11.
Patrick: I’ve been a booster for Steve Rogers Agent of Hydra, but I can understand where some fans might feel cheated. After all, putting the worlds “Hail Hydra” into his mouth fundamentally negates the image of moral purity Marvel has spent the better part of a century cultivating. Even when Steve’s going against the Avengers, or defying Tony Stark, or renouncing his American citizenship, he’s always motivated by an unerring compassion. No amount of cultural brainwashing should be able to corrupt the Star Spangled Man. But that raises the question of what it means to find truth and justice in service of America, or S.H.I.E.L.D. or even Hydra. Captain America is only an agent of America (or the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D.) when doing so maintains his moral integrity. Turns out, the same can be true for Captain Hydra.
Writer Nick Spencer walks a tricky line in this issue, and he almost seems to relish the opportunity to push his audience further away from Steve Rogers. After the opening flashback (the shape of which doesn’t become clear until the end of the issue), Spencer and artists Javier Pina and Miguel Sepulveda treat us to a graphic rendition of Cap doing some of the uglier things a high-powered military operative might do. Rogers secures a secret base for himself and Dr. Selvig by forcefully taking it from the Red Ghost as his small army of gorillas. With an assist from colorist Rachelle Rosenberg, Pina and Sepulveda make no apologies or excuses for what Steve’s doing: he’s straight-up murdering these gorillas.
Look how they even lean into the Cap iconography in that third panel. So much of what we see is gory to the point of necessarily abstraction, and Red Ghost’s face makes it painfully clear just how horrifying of a sight this is to behold.
But Spencer also makes the case throughout the issue that no group is infallible, and immorality is omnipresent. Sharon Carter uses scare tactics to try to get more power and access from the US government, Maria Hill sells out her Council’s anonymity to flex nuts, and we even get a little peek at the Avengers (who, as we well know from half-ignoring the crossover event, are embroiled in a Civil War). If there is a pure morality demonstrated in the issue, it comes from very human interactions – like Rick staying with Cathy by Jack’s bedside, or even Kobik just trying to make everyone happy. That’s the kind of simple, obvious morality that we expect of Steve Rogers, so when he finally articulates his master plan to restore Hydra to place a strength and power by eliminating the man who as misdirected its focus, you can’t help he cheer for him.
Patrick: The concept of the Marvel Civil War(s) kind of depends on superheroes’ fundamental natures clashing. Arguably, they’re all good guys, so the only scenario that would get them to war with each other would have to be a conflict of ideologies. Right? Or maybe one of the heroes actually isn’t a “good” guy. Cue: Deadpool. He’s fighting with everyone in his life, but it’s because he’s an inattentive, opportunistic rat-bastard.
Hilariously, the catch-up page at the start of the issue makes a special note about how this story has nothing at all to do with Ulysses or the Inhumans or anything greater than Deadpool and his supporting cast. The majority of the issue is a six-way punch-em-up between Deadpool and his Mercs, and the whole thing is motivated by the pettiest thing imaginable: money. Writer Gerry Duggan crafts a horrifyingly grounded scene of violence all around the semi-comedic premise of a bank heist gone wrong. It’s actually sort of disorienting how quickly Duggan’s tone whips from goofy to terrifying: one minute, Deadpool’s vomiting in his mask (and throwing it at Foolkiller) and the next he’s blindly shooting at police officers. That’s part of the legitimate horror of Deadpool – his invulnerability and psychotic detachment from reality make the most violent act mundane in his eyes.
That’s all well and good when all he’s doing is tussling with the Mercs. After all, they’re all sorta-superheroes. They can take it. But the consequences become much more severe when Wade tries to reconnect with his family. Healing factor can rebuild his rib cage or restore his eyesight, but his relationship with his daughter is still fucked. Ditto his relationship with Shiklah. Her affair with Jack the Wolfman has been hinted at for couple issues and artist Mike Hawthorne refuses to be left out of the foreshadowing game, planting a Chekov’s shotgun right in the middle of a panel.
We should be able to anticipate the lengths to which Deadpool will go to ruin his own life, but I did not see that last page coming. Shiklah seems just as surprised, declaring that there’s no way Deadpool was going to shoot Jack with her in the bed. I don’t know if we’re still looking for Deadpool’s bottom (no butt puns intended), but Duggan keeps finding new depths.
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 9
Spencer: Patsy Walker is a creature of distraction. At her best, Patsy is too excitable and hyper to worry about her problems; at her lowest, she’ll purposely bury herself in activity in order to avoid dealing with them. Sometime this is harmless; other times it’s reckless. Kate Leth and Brittney L. Williams never cast judgment on Patsy in Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat 9; in fact, they highlight that Patsy’s current bout of distraction is due to the fact that there’s really nothing she can do about She-Hulk’s coma.
This confession creates a bit of a dark undertone to Patsy’s otherwise fun karaoke shenanigans with her friends, a darkness that’s only heightened by Hedy’s shady dealings with Hellstrom and Mad Dog and eventually culminates with Patsy being banished to an alternate dimension, forced to confront a dark vision of Jen. Hellstrom says that Patsy will be forced to feel what he feels, but, if anything, it seems more likely that Patsy will be forced to confront her own feelings, the ones she’s been hiding from but now has no choice to confront head-on. Whether that will be a good or a bad thing, well, it looks like that’s still up in the air.
Despite this fairly serious through-line, Leth and Williams still fill the issue with plenty of heart, humor, and plot. Beyond Patsy’s feud with Hedy, we also get to see more of Tom’s personal life (and how that contributes to Ian’s crush on him, which mostly plays out adorably in the background), catch up with Jubilee and Shogo (Leth clearly has fun riffing on Jubilee being a vampire, and I’d wager money that she’s included in this book almost solely so that Williams has an excuse to draw pointy teeth as often as she wants), and Leth even sneaks in a homage to a famous Twitter joke. Through it all Williams is at the top of her game, switching ably between styles sometimes from panel to panel, and mastering nuanced facial expressions.
I mean, look at Patsy’s face here — with just that one line beneath each eye, Williams transforms Patsy from her usual chipper appearance into someone who looks stressed, tired, and harried. Overall, this issue is a strong start to the next arc, and gives readers plenty to look forward to in upcoming months.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 11
Taylor: The charm of Ryan North’s writing in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and elsewhere is that it is wonderfully geeky. This isn’t to say his writing is exclusionary, it’s quite the opposite in fact, as North is always sure to explain to readers just where his geeky stories and humor come from. This quality of North’s writing is embodied in Doreen Green, who is a total nerd who always finds a way to make her friends, and enemies, feel included in her references.
In issue 11 of Squirrel Girl, Doreen and North are at the height of their geeky humor. Trapped in a nightmare by Nightmare, Doreen uses her newfound knowledge of computer programming to hack her dreams so that she emerges sleep with her sanity intact. While that’s a fun premise, the execution is not. Again, North’s strength as a writer is that he always explains his jokes. In this instance, he devotes pages to explain computer programming plot points to the detriment of the issue.
Timing plays a huge part in landing a joke and here North devotes several panels to the task. The problem is that by the time he gets to punchline, the time for the joke arrive has long gone. North goes to great lengths to explain computer programming here but it significantly gunks up the flow of the issue with over-explanatory dialogue that isn’t nearly as fun as most of North’s other writing.
I almost feel bad complaining about this aspect of the issue, however. As always, it’s clear that North has great enthusiasm for the subject he’s writing about. I have no doubt that North is fascinated by computer programming and it’s no fun to stifle that. Still, this enthusiasm doesn’t shine bright enough to lighten up an issue that is waylaid by more technical explanations than the usual fun and witty banter I’m used to.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?