Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 12/14/16

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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 Amazing Spider-Man Renew Your Vows 2, Daredevil 14, Gwenpool Holiday Special Merry-Mix Up, Jessica Jones 3, Old Man Logan 15, Power Man and Iron Fist 11 and Silk 15. Also, we’re discussing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 15 on Friday, Ivx 1 on Monday, and Hawkeye 1 on Tuesdayso come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows 2

amazing-spider-man-renew-your-vows-2Spencer: The original Secret Wars incarnation of Renew Your Vows was rather squarely about Peter Parker. That’s not to say that Annie didn’t have a pretty significant arc, nor that MJ didn’t have things to do, but just that Peter’s evolution was the primary focus of that mini-series. Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman, though, are aiming to truly make The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows a family affair, and make that ambition clear by telling issue 2 solely from Mary Jane’s perspective.

In fact, they even rewind the story a bit, not only replaying some of last month’s battle from her point of view, but also allowing us to see a typical day in the life of Mary Jane Parker. This allows Mary Jane to exist as more than just Peter’s wife or Annie’s mother (though those jobs are clearly still important to her); she’s a fully formed character with her own internal monologue, her own job and desires and problems, who drives the story just as much as Peter or Annie. In fact, when Annie’s life is in danger, it’s MJ who comes to her rescue.

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God, Stegman’s good at depicting speed; MJ’s rage and power is immediately clear. And yes, she’s being a total Mama Bear, but MJ also points out that she’s the one who takes action while Peter worries. Peter’s the more experienced fighter and he’s the one who thought to reinforce Annie’s uniform, but his worrying can often leave him paralyzed; in those situations, having a “reactor” can be quite useful. Conway and Stegman have proven that MJ plays a vital, central role both within this title and within her family’s crimefighting dynamic. I hope this means that Annie will get a similar treatment next month (c’mon, she obviously didn’t go home like MJ asked her to).

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Daredevil 14

daredevil-14Michael: There’s a history of brutality and death when it comes to superhero sidekicks – just ask anyone who’s ever partnered with Batman. Daredevil 14 adds to that bloody history as Charles Soule and Ron Garney wrap up the five part arc of “Dark Art.” Daredevil’s protégé Blindspot has been kidnapped by the macabre murderer artist Muse. When Daredevil arrives to save him, Muse gouges out Blindspot’s eyes in a cruel, artistic irony.

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It’s a shocking moment that had a surprising effect on me, which tells me two things. The first is that Soule has carefully crafted a believable and sympathetic character in Blindspot. His blinding doesn’t read like a cheap plot trick and I truly felt for the guy, which is saying something. The second is again being reminded that Muse has the frightening potential for becoming a Joker-level villain for Daredevil. The end of the issue felt The Killing Joke to me – our hero wants so badly to end his enemy for his crimes but reluctantly turns him in to the authorities.

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Ron Garney emphasizes Matt Murdock’s drive by having him push his radar sense so hard that his nose bleeds. Probably the most unique visual of the book comes at the end when Daredevil unmasks Muse. So much is still a mystery about this character: his origins, his powers and his M.O. – other than “art.” Here Garney channels that lack of definition by giving the unmasked Muse very few definition lines on his face, as if he bleeds right into the air around him.

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Gwenpool Holiday Special Merry Mix-Up

gwenpool-holiday-merry-mix-upPatrick: While the main Gwenpool series steers into the danger in Gwen not taking her world seriously, the Merry Holiday Mix-Up is mostly content to use her bizarre perspective on the world to make jokes for 50 pages. It’s difficult to apply a critical lens to an oversized goof-fest, especially one with five credited writers, five credited artists, five credited colorists, two credited letters and even four credited editors. It’s an enormous mess for a comic book, and most of the stories contained herein are literally resolved with magic, and a full 40% of these stories use Fing Fang Foom as their main villain, and one of the stories maps one culturally ugly thing to another culturally ugly thing, making some kind of massively ugly holiday story, and yet… It’s all so quintessentially Gwenpool. She is a fan of comics, so the Special must be too — and if that means being a little insensitive about Nazis sometimes, or reusing villains, or blinking entire versions of reality out of existence in the heartbeat, then so be it.

The general gist of the issue is that Gwen discovers that the holiday traditions of the Marvel Universe don’t match those she grew up with in the real world. “But wait,” you ask, “didn’t Gwen celebrate Christmas in the Marvel Universe last year?” You bet she did! So while Gwen strikes out to The North Pole to find out what’s going on, we get three short stories revolving around these new holiday traditions. My favorite has to be Ryan North and Nathan Stockman’s story “I Saw Spider-Man Kissing Galactus, Bringer of Gifts.” Stockman does such a great job of showing the base reality of a world where we’ve replaced Santa Claus with Galactus – Salvation Army dudes dressed as a yellow Galactus, a sled pulled by nine Silver Surfers (though, they could have been Silver and Gold Surfers… next year, I guess). It all leads to a nonsense fueled fight between Miles Morales’ Spider-Man and Fing Fang Foom, and an eventual confrontation with the worst guys in the MU.

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It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but North is having his patently irreverent fun with the baddies of Marvel. Why not, right? If he was handed the assignment “write a story where Glactus is Santa” then it only stands to reason the rest of the villains should be equally silly.

The rest of the issue, however, is pretty lumpy. I sorta couldn’t believe that the Pantsgiving story tapped Fing Fang Foom for a second time – that character probably appeared more in this issue than anywhere else in 2016. It should really be called Fing Fang Foom’s Holiday Special. But the biggest misstep is Nick Kocher and Bruno Oliviera’s story “Happy Hydra Days.” The story finds Red Skull lamenting his unified terrorist organization using “Hail Hate” instead of “Hail Hydra.” Yup, we’re layering hate over the perceived War on Christmas. It’s gross, and if the story were simply a joke machine it might be okay. But there’s an ill-fated Christmas Carol-esque twist where the ghost of Hitler (stay with me) takes Red Skull back to one of his earliest memories about cheering “Hail Hydra.” They discover that the moment was still special to them, even though they didn’t actually say “Hail Hydra” as he remembered. Now, not only does that totally miss the point of the of the debate between “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas,” the story is too ugly to comment either way.

If there’s one saving grace to the whole thing, it’s the looming question mark over Gwen’s decision to right Christmas in the end. One of the new traditions of the holidays would allow her to contact her loved ones from the real world. Christopher Hastings and Myisha Hanes cut away before we find out if Gwen takes advantage of this before setting the holiday back on the right path, but her face tells the story.

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As someone who frequently gets scolded for not calling home enough, I can relate to Gwen’s anxiety about being able to contact her family again. My read here is that she doesn’t do it, and willfully maroons herself in the Marvel Universe forever. That’s heavy shit — too bad it’s buried after that Hail Hydra story.

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Jessica Jones 3

jessica-jones-3Drew: Comics are notoriously difficult to define. The problem stems from the fact that, while you might easily cook up a set of parameters that include most comics, there are meaningful exceptions to just about every rule. One particular bugaboo is the notion that comics feature a combination of image and text. While that is true of many comics (certainly the vast majority of comics I’ve read), we must make an exception for comics that feature no text. Indeed, that they’re still comics is such a given, we don’t have another word for text-free image sequences — they’re just comics. The same cannot be said of comics without images. That is, while a comic without the text is still a comic, a comic without images is just prose (albeit, likely very difficult-to-follow prose). To me, this fact elevates images to the more important role in comics construction — they’re essential to the medium in a way that text simply isn’t.

Which is why I always struggle with Brian Michael Bendis’ writing. I don’t mean to reopen old debates about the primacy Bendis often gives to his dialogue, forcing his collaborators to one side, but Bendis regularly breaks the guidelines Kelly Sue DeConnick laid out in her “Tips for Writing“:

  • Max of 210 words per page (Moore)
  • Max of 3 lines per balloon (Brubaker)
  • Max of 3 balloons per panel (Ellis)

DeConnick notes that those guidelines can be broken, but I personally feel that Bendis rarely justifies that decision, eschewing the contributions his collaborators could make to these sequences if only he’d give them the space. Case in point: the compelling, relatively text-light opening of Jessica Jones 3.

Opening

Artist Michael Gaydos riffs on a nine-panel grid throughout the issue, tweaking it as neccessary, but I’m particularly impressed with the use of half-sized panels to give us close-ups on Jessica’s hands and face — these are essential details, but don’t require a great deal of space to communicate. Truncating those panels leaves more room for Dani’s dramatic entrance. The adherence to the grid on that top row, however, allows Gaydos to recreate those panels when Jessica wakes from her dream, now set in the eerie green hues of the warehouse.

Waking Up

Unfortunately, once the dialogue starts in, the issue affords Gaydos less and less space for imbuing the form with this level of meaning. Indeed, the central conversation gets so wordy, the characters are divided by a wall of speech balloons — enough to feel like a symbol itself, if virtually every Bendis book didn’t feature the same device. In that way, this issue represents both the best and worst this creative team is capable of. It’s a rollercoaster ride, but with quality instead of emotions.

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Old Man Logan 15

old-man-logan-15Drew: Are you familiar with Party Playoff? It’s a game where random nouns (and I guess present participle verbs) are placed on a tournament bracket, and players argue who should win each round. There are more rules to make it an actual game, but I kind of prefer it as an abstraction of the kinds of “who would win in a fight” speculation comics fans so often engage in. Trying to argue that ice is better than backrubs is an exercise in absurdity, revelling in the apples and oranges comparisons, and the ambiguity of what “better” is. As genre characters, I suppose Old Man Logan vs. Dracula is closer to those “who would win in a fight” exercises than party playoff, but I ended up enjoying it for the same kind of absurdity.

The issue gives an ostensible reason for Dracula trying to take over the world (or, rather, a reason that he decided to do it now), but it’s more or less irrelevant to the story. Dracula is Dracula, which is exactly what he needs to be in a platonic fight against Old Man Logan. Only, it turns out, this issue isn’t really about their fight. Or the battle over Jubilee’s soul. Once those matters are settled, the issue can move on to where its real heart lies: the relationship between Logan and Jubilee.

Logan and Jubilee

I love the warmth artist Filipe Andrade has brought to his short fill-in stint here. Don’t get me wrong — I love Andrea Sorrentino, but it’s hard to imagine anyone but Andrade handling this cozy domestic scene. Logan doesn’t get much time for tenderness in this series, so a moment of calm (however brief) is particularly welcome.

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Power Man and Iron Fist 11

power-man-and-iron-fist-11Spencer: David F. Walker and Sanford Greene are attempting some truly ambitious world building in Power Man and Iron Fist 11. Their Harlem is informed by its history — especially, in this case, by the history of the “Fang Gang” — but primarily by the factions who now fight for its soul. The idea of history comes up a bit in this respect as well — mainly in how newcomers like Alex Wilder and Black Cat are stealing territory away from Harlem’s more established crime lords — but Walker is primarily interested in defining the members and motives of each faction. It’s table-setting, but hey, I’m a guy who loves charts: it’s a lot of fun to see motives come to light and allegiances shift, and to track the various crews as the issue progresses.

The only downside of all that world building is that our titular heroes get a bit lost in the shuffle, but at least Luke and Danny’s goals are compelling in their own right. Their mission to help those who were falsely imprisoned by Preemptive Strike makes some important social commentary.

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Luke and Danny are doing everything they can possibly do within the limits of the law to help these men, but in Carlos’ case, the law isn’t enough. He feels backed into a corner, feels like he has no other choice but to work for Alex Wilder, who can expunge his criminal record in an instant. My takeaway here is that the constraints of the law often make it almost impossible for reformed convicts to stay on the straight-and-narrow, a fact that is most likely intentional, especially when it comes to people of color. Alex’s involvement implies this too, since the very device he uses to free Carlos is the same one that started all his woes to begin with. Like any gang, he’s using poverty and desperation to recruit members, and while it’s obviously wrong for Carlos to join up with him and break the law, it’s still easy to see why Carlos feels like he has no other choice.

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Silk 15

silk-15Taylor: Anyone who has been a fan if Star Trek for awhile knows that stepping into a transporter is the equivalent of committing suicide. Why? Well pretending for a second that teleportation is really possible, it would involve your atoms being torn apart in one location and put back together in another. Basically that means that your entire being is being destroyed, piece by piece, and then being rebuilt in the same pattern. Sure, all your molecules may be the same and in the exact same place, but when your brain was torn apart, atom by atom, your consciousness was destroyed. No unless you believe in the immortal soul, this means you died, albeit briefly.

This is sure to make anyone think twice about teleportation as a viable means of transport, but it also raises questions about cloning and it’s ability to grant immortality. During her battle with Spider-Woman in Silk 15, Cindy is told by her former friend that she’s happy to be a clone because it means she isn’t dead.

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At first blush Spider-Woman’s logic stands to reason. After all, given the choice between death and life I think most people would choose the latter. However, why is it that she has any sense of being who she claims to be? Spider-Woman died and just like with the transporter example above, her consciousness was lost. Even though her body has been resurrected (and perhaps even her old personality somehow) she is no longer who she was. She is effectively an entirely new clone. Now, does Spider-Woman realize this or is she just really confused? Only future issues will tell I suppose.

While the idea of cloning presents some fascinating and perhaps nonsensical plot points, it’s interesting to consider what they mean for Hector. Being a ghost, he stands as a counterpoint to the idea that clones are needed. J. Jonah Jameson has had his family cloned ostensibly because he doesn’t want them to be dead, as in he wants their bodies and minds alive once more. However, what’s the need for this if ghosts, like Hector, actually exist? Does his existence and his presence here threaten New U’s whole operation? I’m intrigued to find out.

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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 12/14/16

  1. Gwenpool Holiday Special: Urgh, that Red Skull comic was bad. Just so bad. It is truly atrocious. I could go on and on about teh horrors, but it is so obvious that it isn’t worth talking about.

    Other than that, the issue was alright. These things rarely go above alright, so it did its job. The premise of ‘all the holidays have been changed’ provides a fun twist on the holiday cliches, and to give some fun space for people like North to tell his SPiderman story. Though the weirdness of two FIng Fang Foom stories was… off. I was wondering if we were going to be getting a ‘same event from different angles’ thing at first. But apparently everyone just wanted to use him. Moments like this is where the editor really needed to step in.

    The real story is of course the Gwenpool story. Very basic, but the combination of being the framing narrative and being written by Hastings means that it actually gets the opportunity to be meaningful. My take? I agree with Patrick. Gwen didn’t see her parents again. Gwen puts the escape in escapism, and I think she is too busy running to be able to actually face her old past yet.

    Also, just want to say how much I am enjoying Batroc, after Hasting’s work. I never cared for Batroc before. Never felt silly enough to be one of those really fun ‘silly villains’, but could never be a serious villain. But Gwenpool truly is where he belongs. His awkward mix makes him the perfect mentor character for such a silly team. Serious enough that you understand why he is positioned where he is, silly enough to belong. I love Batroc leaping as part of the 12 Days of CHristmas carol with the others

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    Jessica Jones: When I argued with Drew over Bendis’ dialogue, that was in the context of an issue that was rapidly finding every possible iteration of its premise and using every tool on the table to explore each iteration to its maximum ability. It broke some traditional rules, but for a purpose. Whether or not you think it works is another question, but breaking the traditional rules is how things are supposed to work. You learn the rues, you learn why they are important, and then you learn how to break them.

    This issue just goes round in circles. Disappointing

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