Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 11/23/16

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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 Cage 2, Civil War II 7, Empress 7, Mighty Thor 13, and Spider-Gwen 14. We discussed Ultimates 2 1 on Monday, so check that out. Also, we’re discussing Death of X 4 on Wednesday so come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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Cage2

m-cage-2Taylor: There will always be a debate about what is more important: form or function. On the one hand, things (stories included) need to be useful and serve a purpose (function). On the other hand, it’s really nice when something is beautiful — life is hard enough as it is so we might as well take some time to smell the roses (form). Now before you get all worried about me rambling on about truth and beauty a la John Keats, I want you to consider Cage 2. In this issue, very little happens, and one could arguably say this action has very little point. In this way, its function is nominal at best. However, the artwork is revelatory and more than imaginative, so its beauty is outstanding. That being said, does the form of this issue justify its lack of function?

Luke Cage awakes trapped in a box and busts out because “no cage can hold Cage!” Being chased by tiger-men, Cage swims to an island (he’s on a boat for some reason) and runs for his life. Before long he huffs some hallucinogenic flowers and goes on a psychedelic trip. Before this point in the issue, the artwork is similar to what I saw in Cage 1 — wonderful character drawings with a zany flair. But when Cage sniffs the mysterious flowers, the artwork in the issue becomes something else completely.

beautiful-cage I’ve never been one to appreciate the psychedelic imagery of the 1960s but I’m completely floored by this panel and the several others that follow it. Each is unique in its own weird way yet unified by the constant that is Luke’s psyche. It’s hard to tell if he’s undergoing some personal crisis or not during his reverie but that honestly seems like secondary element next to the artwork here. The various patterns on this and other pages work to create a lush mosaic of textures on the page that I practically want to touch because they look so vivid. Despite these patterns varying in form they all blend together in a way that suggests Luke is experiencing everything we see on the page paradoxically at once and far apart. The colors used by Bill Wray and mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky are a cornucopia for your cones and rods.

Again, it’s hard to say if any of this beauty is going anywhere, or if it will impact this story of Cage. However, sometimes the trip is more important than the destination, and reading Cage reminds me that not every story has to have a function. This being said, Cage 2 is wonderful, weird, and totally unique in perhaps a the most aimless way possible.

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Civil War II 7

m-civil-war-ii-7Drew: Righteousness is a scary thing. It can motivate people to do great things, sure, but it can just as easily motivate them to do monstrous things. Indeed, I tend to believe that the only thing that motivates war is a sense of righteousness on both sides of the conflict. Such is the case with Civil War II, which has put Tony Stark and Carol Danvers at opposing sides of an ideological disagreement that has curdled into righteousness — Carol fights for the righteous cause of protecting people from future threats, Tony fights for the righteous cause of protecting people from persecution for crimes they may not ever commit. In my estimation, Tony has been right all along, but it turns out even a truly righteous cause can motivate monstrous actions.

Actually, while this issue brings that conflict to a head and brings Ulysses visions full-circle by forcing him to confront the fallout of said conflict, the moments that really stay with me are those between Miles Morales and Steve Rogers. These characters haven’t put their faith in causes, but in people, and both seem to trust that Miles would never kill Steve in the way Ulysses vision implied. Obviously, there’s nothing in the vision that proves Miles did anything in the first place — Steve could be killed accidentally (perhaps in the crossfire of a nearby superhero brawl), and Miles could just be nearby (perhaps unable to intervene because of an energy shield created by one of those brawling superheroes) — so that faith may be misplaced.

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Stories of characters accidentally bringing about the future they were trying to avoid abound in stories where visions of the future play a role, so it’s not exactly an unexpected twist, though it may prove tragic here. Recent Iron Man books may have spoiled the ending for Tony Stark, but I’m genuinely concerned for Steve Rogers. Even as a Hydra agent, his trust in Miles is inspiring, though I fear it may have basically nothing to do with whatever it is that might cause his death.

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Empress 7

m-empress-7Ryan D: I did not enjoy a single page of Empress, and I don’t mind saying it. Do not get me wrong: I love Mark Millar; some of his works in the past were the reason why I stayed engaged to the beautiful medium of comics. Stuart Immonen, as well, is a masterful artist, with an innate knack for body language who always makes strong choices with his pencils. So I sit here at the end of seven issues of Empress, having hated every step since the first few panels, just gobsmacked and dumbfounded.

The issue pick up after the seeming betrayal of Emporia and her family by her sister, only to learn that it wasn’t actually her sister who backstabbed the family, which may have contained a bit of interesting dramatic tension, but an entire alien race who can be described in one grand brush stroke as money-hungry and amoral, because it’s ok to do that if they’re of another species in a sci-fi work. The rest of the pages are filled with literal deus ex machina, two separate “Oh but you didn’t know this character’s real past/these hidden abilities this whole time?” moments which seemed tacked on and begging to poke holes in the existing plot, and Millar seeming to go out of his way to make King Morax anything else aside from only a tyrannical monster. Seriously, I’ve been begging for at least one shade of breathing characterization to occur on the villain for seven issues, and to refuse to give the core villain at least one redeeming or interesting trait helps make this series read as incredibly lazy writing.

The art is very pretty, yes.

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Thank you Immonen. I see you making some nice offers by breaking up panel composition and trying to render the predictable fight scenes in as dynamic a fashion as possible. But that can only do so much in an issue so rife with such blatant, heavy-handed, direct exposition which also relies upon shallow, stock character tropes, and presents it all using shockingly on-the-nose dialogue. But perhaps the worst thing about Empress 7 is one terrible, foreboding panel:

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Mighty Thor 13

m-mighty-thor-13Patrick: If there’s one thing that the Holidays and the most recent Presidential Election have in common, it’s that both have highlighted (to me anyway) the extreme specificity of values and knowledge based on experience. Do a lot of thinking and writing about social issues in a liberal environment? You have a knowledge base to discuss those issues. Worked your whole life to now live in insulated comfort? You’re going to know about about the forces that threaten that comfort. Jane Foster has embraced two new concerns in her life, not by choice, but because they are both immediate threats to her way of life. One is cancer and the other is vast mythology of the Ten Realms. While Mighty Thor 13 spends most of its time presenting the ins and outs of the Realms, writer Jason Aaron is setting up the analogy to cancer both perfectly and exhaustively.

It’s always a bummer when artist Russell Dauterman takes a break from Mighty Thor — his clear kinetic drawings are such a natural fit for the character — but Steve Epting’s aggressive insistence on design more than makes up for Dauterman’s absent razzle-dazzle. The new League of Realms is absolutely fascinating, populated by characters old, new and redesigned, and Epting’s no-nonsense approach to presenting them is confident as fuck. He’s aided by Aaron, who’s non-linear approach to this story lets the characters actions speak before they do. In fact, the only place where the issue does start to sag is when we flash back to the founding of the new League in the first place. It’s a little too chatty, but thankfully Aaron and Epting recognize and acknowledge this before it becomes a problem.

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God, I love that design – her arrows are trees!

Jane’s running voice over underlines how little of this we’re supposed to understand coming in to the issue, while simultaneously reassuring the reader that by the end of the arc, we’ll know and care about everything we need to about war and conflict in the Ten Realms. Hey – look at that: a reason to care about Angela. Alright, Aaron, you’re on.

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Spider-Gwen 14

m-spider-gwen-14Spencer: I kind of have to glaze over holidays in comics, lest I be driven insane by trying to keep their timeline straight in my head; after all, according to comic book time, most heroes celebrate the holidays a half-a-dozen times a year. Holidays in comic books are something that only make sense in the moment, and then should never be thought of again. Leave it to Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Chris Visions, then, to incorporate Thanksgiving into Spider-Gwen 14 in a way that’s not only true to the spirit of the holiday, but that makes this particular holiday a pivotal moment in Gwen’s development, one we can’t glaze over.

Thanksgiving is a day of fellowship and togetherness, but for many, it’s simply a day that reminds them how alone they are.

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Of course, this isn’t too far from normal for Gwen. Gwen’s in an especially bad place right now after her father’s arrest, but the scene playing out with her friends here is one we’ve seen variants of throughout Spider-Gwen‘s two volumes. Latour doesn’t let things stop there, though: it’s not the spider-powers that make Gwen feel alone, it’s Gwen herself.

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What Gwen learns, then, is to live in the present and appreciate the moment, to make the most of the people in her life (whether her friends, Jessica and Roger, May and Ben, or her father) while she can. In a way, it’s exactly what Jessica’s been begging her to do for ages — to enjoy life as a “normal” young person while she still can — but by coming to the realization on her own and applying it to the people in her life now, Gwen makes the resolution her own and is much more likely to stick with it. I’m curious to see how Gwen will apply this to her jailed father, especially when she’s already (foolishly) allied herself with Matt Murdock in hopes of freeing him. Turning to Murdock and the Kingpin for help was clearly driven by Gwen’s fear of what she could lose, a fear she resolved to no longer be ruled by in this month’s issue. One way or another, something’s got to give.

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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One comment on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 11/23/16

  1. Cage!: Taylor, I’m interested in hearing more about how you define the discussion around form and function.

    To me, form and function should be intertwined. Artistic success comes from using form in functional manners. That ultimately, art should be judged on how well it communicates its ideas. If we look at some of the forms we expect from comics art, whether it is the Big Two House Style, Babs Tarr’s cartooning, Francavilla’s pulpy, encompassing shadows or the many other forms, the choice should come down to what communicates the idea best. Form and function intertwining.

    To me, to accuse something of placing form over function is to say that superficial elements have been placed over the wish to communicate. And so, I think the discussion around Cage! is more complex than simply saying that it is placing form of function. The art is, in most cases, highly functional at the stuff it attempts to do. Your discussion on the psychedelic trip makes that very clear. Form and function fits together perfectly to make a great page.

    Honestly, the problem is from the writing side. It completely fails its function, leaving the book an atrociously disconnected series of fantastic pieces of art

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    Civil War II: What I love about these last two issues is how the perspective has switched from Tony to Carol. Taking our hero and warping him into the villain. Regardless of what side you are on in the conflict, Tony spent most of the book as the hero, despite admitting out loud that he was unstable.

    And here, the promises of the beginning are fulfilled. Tony Stark, filled with righteousness, has turned into a monster. Spiderman and Captain America go about the situation as responsibly as possible approach it from empathy. Approach the situation doing everything they can to make sure it doesn’t happen. Work together to ensure ti never happens. So does Captain Marvel. She keeps the situation controlled, stops things going wrong, and when she appears, is only interested in talking, initially.

    Tony is out of control. The choice of armour is key here. He is in a War Machine suit. Basically, the skin of his best friend/Carol’s boyfriend. He’s lost it. I’ve said before, Civil War II is actually about grief, and Tony’s self destruction is complete. He has let grief consume him, and turned his righteousness into a monster. It is this that has made me really love Civil War II.

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