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 13, Amazing Spider-Man 19, Death of X 1 and Doctor Strange 12. Come back on Friday for our discussion of Cage! 1 and on Wednesday for our discussion of Jessica Jones 1! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
All-New Wolverine 13
Drew: There’s a concept in psychology called the repetition compulsion, which suggests that we tend to repeat behaviors that caused us distress earlier in life. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve always been intrigued at the way this phenomenon plays the comfort of the familiar against the discomfort of bad memories. That is: we may choose to repeat distressing behaviors because the familiarity of that distress is more comfort than avoiding that distress entirely. For most of us, this might simply manifest as a bad habit or tick we can’t seem to get rid of, but for others, those behaviors can be much more destructive, leading to drug addiction, abusive relationships or any number of isolating neuroses. Laura Kinney has always been haunted by her past, but being a superhero, the past tends to manifest itself in much more literal ways than some abstract psychological theory. As we learn in this issue, Laura’s repetition compulsion isn’t driven by a desire for the familiar, but by her so-called trigger scent.
Actually, Laura does everything she can to avoid repeating her past behaviors, completely uprooting herself and Gabby when they receive an ominous vial of the trigger scent at their New York apartment. They head to a remote cabin in the California woods, but unfortunately, it’s not nearly remote enough — Kimura crop-dusts the entire region with trigger scent, causing Laura to apparently single-handedly kill all 30 citizens of the nearby town. We don’t quite see the attack, so there’s a chance the scenario is a bit more complicated, but there’s more than enough here to sell me on just how tragic this repetition is for Laura:
Laura isn’t just running from Kimura, she’s running from the monster inside herself. I think that serves as a beautiful allegory for the worst repetition compulsions, where people end up being their own worst enemies — even if they literally cannot control themselves. As ever, Tom Taylor’s writing reveals an emotionally complex Laura, and artist Nik Virella is able to match him move for move in an issue that ranges tonally from absolute horror to irreverent comedy. That’s a range not many series can hope to replicate, but continues to distinguish All-New Wolverine in its second year.
Amazing Spider-Man 19
Spencer: The fact that death is natural and unavoidable doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. The death of a loved one is just about the toughest challenge a person can face, and most would do just about anything to see those they lost again. That’s a fact the Jackal exploits in Amazing Spider-Man 19, where he uses the resurrection of various characters’ loved ones to extort them into joining his operation. It’s a plan as ruthless and immoral as it is ingenius, a fact the Kingpin — the only character thus far to deny the Jackal — points out in horrific fashion in Dan Slott and Javier Garron’s back-up story.
Kingpin views what Jackal did to Vanessa as an “abomination”; it’s a transgression that hits a primal nerve, which is exactly why it’s so effective. Jackal’s yet to approach Peter Parker (though he already has the prerequisite “resurrected Gwen Stacy” on hand for just that occasion), but Peter still spends the Giuseppe Camuncoli-illustrated main story dealing with the specter of death — in this case, that of his uncle, Jay Jameson. Slott fills the issue with some of the most familiar Spider-Man beats around — secret identity woes, being unable to be there for people he loves because of being Spider-Man — but with Jay’s life on the line, they take on an extra gravity.
Or maybe it’s less that Jay could die, and more that he could die without getting to hand down his heirloom to J. Jonah. Beyond being a touching (if very obvious) metaphor, that clock is a tremendous reminder that death hurts so much specifically because of the connections we make, and that we only have a limited time to forge those connections.
(As for Jay’s actual death, Slott and Camuncoli sell the hell outta it, but it’s still a little hard to take seriously — even with the touching eulogy on the letters page — in an arc that’s all about resurrection. I’m curious to see if it will actually stick.)
As powerful as this concept is, I do wish the details of the execution were a little stronger. It’s not quite clear why Peter suddenly changes his mind about using New U on Jay, nor why he does so when he does. And the constant use of the phrase “the conventional procedure” is grating — it feels like a placeholder that shouldn’t have survived the first draft.
Death of X 1
Patrick: In the notes at the back of this issue, editor Nick Lowe mentions that writers Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire have been building this story together for over a year. He insists that it wasn’t until they brought artist Aaron Kuder on board that this thing truly started to take its current shape. I’d argue that there’s one more crucial creative that gives this mini-series it’s unsettling, (dare I say it) uncanny appearance: colorist Morry Hollowell. I absolutely love Kuder’s drawing style – there’s just such meticulous imperfect line work as to make every panel feel remarkably human. Kuder draws like Ian Bertram, Nick Pitarra or Chris Burnham – a collective aesthetic that seems perfectly matched for the often baroque mythology surrounding the X-Men. Simply put Kuder’s art is the X-Men.
But that’s where Hollowell comes in. Usually colorists working with Kuder-Bertram-Pitarra-Burnham types get the hell out of the way and leave the contouring to the maniac with a penchant for drawing too many lines in his characters. Hollowell defies that convention, and rather than deliver flat colors that allow the shaping of the inks and pencils speak for themselves, he liberally applies gradients of color to add yet another layer of depth, shape and color. It is dynamic, but it’s also jarring as fuck.
There’s a built in tension on every page – one that insists that, though this sorta looks like a Morrison-era X-men book, it also definitely isn’t. And that’s exactly what this mini-series needs. Lemire and Soule present two stories throughout this issue that seemed to be linked by polar-opposite themes – one group thrives while another group suffers. The Inhumans have rollicking adventures kickin’ Hydra ass and growing their team, while the X-Men wither and die. This first issue feels mostly like a tone-setter, but I’m happy to consider that tone thoroughly set, and I eagerly await the next issue.
Doctor Strange 12
…the Wise Man
Knows without going,
Sees without seeing,
Does without doing
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Drew: That may seem like an odd quote, but I’ve always thought there was something taoist in the task put before comics writers — the oft-cited “illusion of change.” Characters must resolve problems without ever resolving all of their problems, somehow maintaining optimism in a world that is designed to test them for eternity. That task becomes particularly difficult when hoping to introduce a character to a new audience, especially if your storytelling universe prides itself on never rebooting its continuity. How do you take your character back to the beginning without taking him back to the beginning? For Doctor Strange 12, writer Jason Aaron comes up with a clever solution, finding a way to wind the clock back on Strange’s abilities without undoing his decades of history.
The result firmly establishes that Strange is out of his element. Without his go-to spells to fall back upon, Strange is forced to rely on a kind of tool-belt of magical foods and textiles, a fact that his foes are quick to dismiss as childish. It allows him a victory of sorts agains his own personified agony — who here dubs itself Mister Misery — but barely phases Baron Mordo. Of course, Mordo may be particularly motivated, since Dormammu has given him an ultimatum:
Dormammu also mentions that others might be coming for Strange in his moment of weakness, and by the issue’s end, that seems to have come true — it looks like this arc is going to be as much about introducing Strange’s rogues as it is about taking Strange to square one. Both prospects are thrilling, though only because Aaron executes them so well. Every moment of this issue seems to up the stakes, constantly flipping Strange out of the frying pan into ever bigger fires. I can’t wait to see where Aaron goes next.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?