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 Wolverine Annual 1, Civil War II Choosing Sides 5, Howard the Duck 10, Ms. Marvel 10, Silver Surfer 6, and Spider-Gwen 11 — and come back on Wednesday for our discussion of Astonishing Ant-Man 11! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
All-New Wolverine Annual 1
Michael: Rather than go off on a long tangent about annuals – as I’m prone to do – I’ll just say that annuals are weird, atypical comic book experiences. There. Moving along! All-New Wolverine Annual 1 provides us with a Freaky Friday scenario that we’ve seen played out many a time in comic bookdom. In this instance the body swap is also a dimension swap between Laura Kinney and Spider-Gwen. Since this is a Freaky Friday story, it must hit all of the familiar beats before returning the heroes to their respective bodies. It’s a conventional and predictable story but Tom Taylor is such a delight to read it makes for an entertaining story.
All-New Wolverine is a book that has been showcasing female heroes alongside Laura for the most part, so it makes sense that Spider-Gwen should be yanked into our 616 dimension. I’m not all that familiar with Spider-Gwen so I had to do some researching to confirm that yes, she does often have conversations with an imaginary Spider-Ham; which is awesome. Since Gwen’s in Wolverine’s body, Marcio Takara draws Peter Porker as Wolver-Hampton – which is a nice Tiny Toons reference.
All-New Wolverine Annual 1 isn’t as effective as the continuing adventures of the ongoing series but it does serve a purpose. The whole issue is about Gwen and Laura getting to know the strengths and weaknesses that come along with each other’s powers – getting to know one another. In turn it gave a platform for someone like me to read a book that I love while simultaneously getting to know a new character. Learning!
Civil War II Choosing Sides 5
Spencer: There’s a special kind of conflict implied by the term “Civil War.” This isn’t just a battle, but a battle between family, between those who are supposed to be allies. The main Civil War II mini-series has done a fine job showing how a fracture this momentous could possibly form amongst the superhero community, but it hasn’t exactly had time to dive into the emotional ramifications of friend turning against friend. For that, we turn to Civil War II Choosing Sides 5.
The issue’s best entry, Chip Zdarsky and Ramon Perez’s Alpha Flight story, effortlessly pinpoints how those emotional ramifications are the true tragedy of Carol and Tony’s conflict.
In an especially Zdarsky touch, this insight comes via real-life Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tries to make both Alpha Flight and Tony Stark understand that they’re being needlessly stubborn and unwilling to compromise. It seems unlikely that either side will take his advice to meet each other in the middle, but who knows — perhaps the realization that both sides are hurting is exactly what they need to show a little empathy?
Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire’s Nick Fury serial, “Post Prologue,” reveals that a Nick Fury Life Model Decoy has sparked a civil war within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself (making this story more of a metaphorical tie-in than a literal one, even if this conflict was kickstarted by Carol and Ulysses). This pits Nick Fury Jr. against the twisted image of his father, but this conflict is almost an advantage for Junior, as it allows him to move out of his father’s shadow and claim his own place within S.H.I.E.L.D. Maybe a family vs. family conflict isn’t that bad if the family already doesn’t get along in the first place? Or is that outcome just as sad in its own way?
The only story that finds some unabashed optimism is Enrique Carrion and Annapaola Martello’s Colleen Wing story. I’ll admit it’s a slightly off-kilter tale — so much, from Misty and Colleen’s falling out to Colleen’s quest and its resolution, takes place off-panel, and it’s much more about Misty Knight than Colleen — but I love how, when faced with the prospect of being drawn into a down-and-out battle with her “sister” over one of Ulysses’ missions, Misty chooses to abandon the Civil War altogether and stick with her friend instead. It’s a best case scenario for the other two tales, even if it’s also the most unlikely outcome for them.
What does it mean that all three of these stories seem to be condemning this Civil War more than choosing a side one way or another? I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusion on that.
Howard the Duck 10
Patrick: I’ve always seen Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones’ Howard the Duck as something of a vanity project. While it’s true that a lot of Marvel’s quirky series sell “charm” and “personality” over “plot”or “action,” most of those series rely on the personality of their characters. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is empathetic and energetic because that’s who Doreen Green is; Ms. Marvel is enthusiastic and focused on justice because that’s who Kamala Kahn is; Gwenpool is boastful, but insecure because that’s who Gwen Poole is. But the tone of Howard the Duck is based less on the titular duck and more on the two doofuses making this thing. After like twenty-issues of gently teasing the fourth wall, Zdarksy and Quinones finally insert their own avatars directly into the book.
“Meet” Chipp and Jho.
They might be aliens — as indicated by their purple skin, pointy ears, and mildly-different names — but their concerns are transparently aligned with their human counterparts. They want to protect Howard, while also keeping his life interesting. Last issue introduced us to Mojo, a monstrous intergalactic TV executive that was trying to adapt Howard’s life to film, but these two are actually doing the work to make the character worth exploring in the first place. The difference here speaks to the role comics frequently play in our culture – as a kind of experimental creative foundry, forging new ideas in relative obscurity to eventually be co-opted by Jabba-the-Hutt-esque film and TV producers. I really like getting to see Jho and Chipp interact with their fellow alien creators, allowing Zdarksy and Quinones to express their own insecurities about how Howard holds up against something more socially meaningful (like Black Panther) or just a more optimistic version of the same kind of goofy they’re going for (like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl).
This is obviously super self-indulgent, but I’d argue that this has always been part of the series’ identity. From Gwenpool to Biggs the cat to endless “editorial” notes from Zdarsky, it’s like Chipp and Jho have always been characters on the pages of Howard the Duck. It’s just only now that the characters have put their skin in the game that they may have to answer for what they’ve done to poor Howie.
Ms. Marvel 10
Taylor: One of the things that’s make someone a hero is that they always “do the right thing.” However, if the last 30 years or so have taught us anything, it’s that the definition of “the right thing” is totally up in the air. Doing the right thing becomes an even more confusing idea when the very people you look up to and trust ask you to do things you feel aren’t right at all. As Kamala Khan finds out in issue 10 of Ms. Marvel, doing the right thing sometimes feels awful.
This awful feeling cuts in two ways for Kamala. First, in doing the right thing and following her idol Captain Marvel, Kamala has inadvertently placed her best friend, Bruno, into a coma. Understandably, this is devastating to Kamala and ultimately it leads her into confronting Captain Marvel about the rightness of the predictive justice.
Of course this is no easy task for Kamala. Imagine you take a physics class where Einstein is your professor, and one day you have to tell him he got the theory of relativity wrong. That’s basically what Kamala is doing here. I can only imagine what this must feel like for her as she is not only confronting injustice, but her namesake.
The difference between Kamala confronting Carol and feeling bad about it and seeing Bruno and feeling bad about is a matter conscience. Kamala knows that predictive justice is wrong even though it’s good in theory. Kamala also knows that Captain Marvel is wrong and disobeying makes her feel bad, but she knows it’s what must be done. In making this choice, Kamala is moving more towards being a mature super hero. One who doesn’t always follow, but one who leads. While that might invert the typical Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel scales, it’s something Kamala seems ready to take on.
Silver Surfer 6
Drew: The cover of Silver Surfer 6 promises a celebration of the character. It’s not exactly misleading — I’m not sure Dan Slott has ever written a comic that doesn’t celebrate his characters — but it’s also not really the point of the issue. Norrin gets his due, of course, but this volume has always been less about him, and more about the relationship he shares with Dawn. In some cases, as with the 50th anniversary issue a few months back, Norrin will take center stage. This month, however, finds Dawn at the heart of this issue, sinking into her own variation on that classic Silver Surfer ennui.
Actually, Slott and Michael Allred manage to nod to that ennui offering up a classic Surfer pose and sentiment:
…which mostly serves to lampshade how different their run is from that kind of alienated outsider stuff. Heck, even this example doesn’t last longer than one whole panel — note the excited fan pointing out the Silver Surfer at the bottom there. Norrin may still be inclined to fits of melancholy, but Earth has embraced him. He’s no longer the alienated outsider. It’s an interesting place to take the character, effectively flipping his worldview.
Dawn undergoes basically the opposite, feeling so unloved and unwanted by her mother, she can’t bear to be around the rest of her family. Suddenly, Dawn’s the one who wants to leave. Suddenly, Dawn’s the one who can’t go home. It’s a reversal that’s only effective because of how well we know these characters by now. Dawn’s turn towards depressive wanderlust is so shockingly against everything we know about her, we understand the depth to which her reunion with her mother has shaken her. Norrin’s reaction is subtler — he wants to stay for dinner, or at least say goodbye to Dawn’s family — but is also building upon a much longer history of isolation. It’s powerful stuff, and promises a very new direction for this series going forward.
Patrick: Geez, guys, between this and Howard the Duck, I feel like I’m reading the Mega Meta Marvel Motherload over here. Gwen Stacy’s going through a bit of an identity crisis – is she the hero of Earth-65? is she part of the greater Marvel multiverse? is she merely a defender of her own identity? Gwen’s inner conflict tracks the identity crisis this series has had to face. Born out of a Spider-Man crossover event, Spider-Gwen was only a few issues into its alternate-universe run before having to reboot for Secret Wars. And then the series was only standing on its own for half a dozen issues before engaging in a crossover with Silk and Spider-Woman. I really enjoyed all of those interruptions: Spider-Verse, Secret Wars and Spider-Women are some of my favorites from Marvel over the last couple years, but it means that whatever this series is supposed to be has been left ill-defined by writer Jason Latour.
This story arc, appropriately titled “Weapon of Choice” sets out to change that. The issue starts with a lot of the same imagery as the first issue of Spider-Gwen (the 2015 series, not the #1 from this series (which also came out in 2015)). Gwen’s perched atop a graffitied billboard that’s calling for Spider-Woman’s head. In this issue, she’s not in costume, just sitting up there impotently. While she’s up there, she witnesses the Bodega Bandit — who has moved on to just stealing hamburgers, so he should really embrace is identity as the Hamburglar — and does nothing to stop him. In issue one, Spider-Gwen thwips on down there and kicks the dude’s ass, but now she just shouts at the guy and waits for the shop owner to stop him herself. It’s a powerful set of images, reaching back into Spider-Gwen’s admittedly shallow history, that has nothing to do with on-going threat posed by Detective Frank Castle. But what’s important about that moment is that it forces Gwen to consider what she wants to be. Turns out that “Gwen Stacy with Spider powers” isn’t an inherent slam dunk – the character (or the creator) needs to make a decision about what this story is.
Latour sends Gwen through her rolodex of identity options, checking in with Jesse Drew, the 616-Avengers, her fellow Spider-Women and even the slightly sideways versions of the heroes in her universe. It’s like Latour is trying on those identities for the series before ultimately popping back to the silly conflict that started it back in 2015, and again like 12 pages ago:
This leads Gwen back to embracing her powers. In the final page, Latour delivers a great twist on the old amazing spider-idiom: “Now, while I still have the power, stopping him is my responsibility.” That suggests that it doesn’t really matter how Gwen defines herself, all she has to do is what she thinks is right. Definition will come in time.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?