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 22, Black Panther: World of Wakanda 1, Doctor Strange 15, Gamora 1, Invincible Iron Man 2, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 13, Star-Lord 1, Ultimates 2 2 and Unbelievable Gwenpool 9. We discussed Power Man and Iron Fist Sweet Christmas Annual 1 today and will be discussing Captain America Sam Wilson 16 on Wednesday, so come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Amazing Spider-Man 22
Spencer: It’s been a while since we’ve seen “classic” Spider-Man stories from Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man. Many of his stories over the past few years have been about identifying the flaws in Peter’s traditional operating style and implementing solutions, up to and including actually replacing Peter with a “Superior” Spider-Man for a while, and eventually even giving Peter his own international company to run. I didn’t realize it until now, but the current Clone Conspiracy event continues exploring that theme — Ben Reilly has essentially found a way to cheat death itself, which, in his mind, allows him to repair the greatest problem plaguing Spider-Man: sometimes the people he loves die, and sometimes it’s even his fault.
In that sense, Reilly considers him the hero of his story, and his argument isn’t without merit. If he has the power to raise the dead, isn’t it his responsibility to use that power to help as many people as he can, especially those who helped him/Peter out along the way? Reilly’s also driven by nostalgia for the times and people he’s lost along the way — that nostalgia is perfectly illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli, who depicts Ben’s flashbacks in full retro Romita style, appealing to the audience’s longing for those long-gone stories and characters as well. This is a cause Reilly genuinely, wholeheartedly believes in, so it’s no wonder that Peter starts to fall for it too.
Of course, while Reilly legitimately doesn’t seem to know about the zombie-esque threat his clones pose, he’s still glossing over their daily dependance on a pill in order not to dissolve. Moreover, there’s good reason to believe that he might not exactly be in his right mind to begin with.
Again, Camuncoli nails Reilly’s moment of unhinged madness, and I think it’s interesting how ambiguous Slott and co-writer Christos Gage leave this moment; Reilly claims that he didn’t kill Miles Warren, but his expression (and his claim to Warren on the next page that he cloned/resurrected him, which may be a bluff) says otherwise. Slott and Gage do a tremendous job early in the issue of reminding me why Reilly’s such a heroic character before absolutely running him through the wringer, so I feel for Reilly, I really do, but he might not be the best judge of what’s a good idea and what isn’t right now. I guess that’s the thing about identifying the flaws in Spider-Man’s operations; even if you come up with a solution, sometimes those solutions have flaws of their own that are far worse than the original.
Black Panther: World of Wakanda 2
Ryan D: Wakanda is complicated; that is easy to see if one follows both Ta’Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther main title and this prologue of World of Wakanda. Revolutions, forces of nature used as weapons of mass destruction, pressure on the nation’s ruling institutions, mad titans, and greedy white businessmen make the fictional nation an extremely volatile place to inhabit at the moment. It is also complicated because of how mixed the writing has been while tackling so layered of a world. For WoW1, I spoke fairly harshly about some aspects of the writing and illustration, and while many of my criticisms still stand as part and parcel of what the series seems to be long-term, the series is also warming to me some of the issue which the technical aspects of the comic stopped me from enjoying, which Patrick and consistently thoughtful comment-leaver Matt helped me to see.
The series’ writing still burns me up in its use of thought bubbles, I confess. Patrick defended them very well with the classic “Archie Defense”, but I stand by my actor’s instincts regarding what I said before: it is the tension created by a character’s internal state conflicting with their outer which makes them compelling; thought bubbles, in this case, do more showing than telling many times in this issue. For example:
The opening page looked great with its panel composition and set up the devastation of the city and the Dora Milaje’s unenviable but crucial role clearing the drowned and deceased from the city. Then we arrive at this page, where the audience understands the tension and dynamic between the two leads from the volatile and passionate Ayo and the dutiful and discerning Aneka from the first panel, see how the interaction effects them in the wonderful, silent second panel, before Roxane Gay felt the need to throw in thought bubbles saying exactly what the audience perceived from the first two panels she created! Maybe I’m getting really hung up on this, but just imagine the page without the bubbles. No, wait, even better:
I personally feel like Gay does not trust the story which her illustrator Alitha Martinez tells using the visuals here and let subtext do work, especially knowing that Ayo will make her case against blindly following T’Challa’s orders quite clearly at the end of the issue. Tell me if I’m way off in the weeds with this in the comments, guys- I just can’t get past this.
When I do get past it, I appreciate the ideas which Matt floated our way last month regarding the “scathing critique of patriarchal structures” which we see as Ayo challenges the very mission statement of the Dora Milaje: being the hand of the monarchy who ARE ALSO women being groomed as potential mates and royal matriarchs. There’s so much in this comic which is good, such as Roberto Poggi and Martinez’s work on inks during the “protester attacking Queen Shuri at the dedication ceremony” scene, that I think could be great if the entire team committed to the visual storytelling of this visual medium. For all of my petulance, I’ll still tune in for the next issue, as I am invested in this revolutionary romance. Also, did anyone miss the fact that there was only one story being told this issue as opposed to last month’s two, in which the story of Zenzi meeting Tetu was told?
Doctor Strange 15
Taylor: When a comic is called Doctor Strange it better damn will live up to its title. The comic industry is one of the more inventive artistic communities and if “strange” is in the title of a series, it better deliver on that. The previous arc of Doctor Strange wasn’t all that weird though. It was basically a story of survival against insurmountable odds. One has to only look to the nearest blockbuster to find such a story so it’s easy to dismiss Strange as not being so strange after all. However, the last few issues, including number 15 have been downright bizarre and it is a romp seeing all of this weirdness collide in here.
Stephen is now a captive of the the Orb, the inheritor of the Watcher’s powers only he feels compelled to push people in dark directions. With Steven in tow he sets off on a taxi ride throughout New York basically beating up his fair and causing people to do horrible things. Along the way he meets up with a number of Stevens enemies, all of whom want the chance to kill him. It is at this point that Steven has had enough.
Steven has been down on his luck for awhile now and in his depowered state he’s been bounced around from one shitty situation to the next. Here, finally, after being confronted with four people wanting to kill him he’s ready to throw down. It doesn’t matter if he has power or not, he just wants this over with. He’s tired of being a victim but most of all he’s tired of all this weird shit. It’s one thing if only humans want to kill you. But for Steven, having a giant eyeball, a warlock, and a purple oozy thing after it you it’s just too much.
All of this strange stuff is wonderful though. It’s clear that Jason Aaron is feeling more comfortable writing for this series and taking is strange new places and as issue 15 shows, the series is all the better for it.
Spencer: Heroes generally aren’t born heroes — there has to be some sort of event, training, or guidance that sets them on a heroic path. Nicole Perlman and Marco Checchetto’s Gamora seems primed to reveal the most dangerous woman in the universe’s path from amoral ward of Thanos to Guardian of the Galaxy, and that means starting their story with a very different Gamora than we’re used to, one who is far from a hero.
Gamora’s not unrecognizable, of course. She’s still the fierce warrior we all know and love, but those skills are put to a far different use than they would be in a Guardians book: the slaughter of the entire Badoon royal bloodline. Gamora doesn’t yet have the moral compass she’ll later develop, a fact made clear both through her violent actions and her own admission that she “stopped believing in right and wrong a long time ago.” Her potential to be something better is evident even now, though.
Gamora thought getting her revenge against the Badoon would ease the pain, yet she still feels her loss as strong as ever. She thinks it’s because there’s one more Badoon royal alive she missed, but what she’s actually feeling is the emptiness of vengeance. Free (for the moment) of her wicked “family” and in pursuit of a woman who, in many ways, is in a similar boat as her, her new mission may be just what Gamora needs to discover her moral strength.
Not that I can blame Gamora for her current amorality after growing up with Thanos and Nebula. Her family is absolutely toxic, abusing her in ways both grand and petty, and it has me thinking that Gamora’s story can also be read as a woman escaping her abuser. That kind of commentary on gender also serves as subtext throughout the issue: Thanos takes in abandoned young women, transforms them into monstrous killers, then openly ranks them based on their usefulness to him, and the Badoon straight-up murder all their daughters, keeping only a few harems around for purposes of reproduction. Both Gamora and the princess she pursues were born into grossly misogynistic circumstances, and watching if/how they learn to escape and rise above should be just as fascinating as Gamora’s fledgling hero’s journey.
Invincible Iron-Man 2
Drew: There are plenty examples that disprove this point, but I’m inclined to think that the second film in a superhero franchise is often the best. It’s certainly true of Bryan Singer’s X-Men United, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The conventional wisdom is that the first movies have to devote far too much time to the formulaic origin story to ever really get into what makes these heroes or their villains interesting. We’ve kind of come to accept that origin stories are rote and repetitive, understanding that they simply have to be told before we can move on to the more interesting stuff. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has hit upon a clever work-around for this problem by applying a flashback structure while introducing Riri Williams. It’s a simple, elegant solution, allowing our knowledge of where she ends up to fill in the gaps as her origin skips around to key formative moments.
This series is only two issues in, but I already feel like I know Riri remarkably well. We’ve checked in with her at various points in her young life, seeing not just who she is at any one point, but how she became that person (and will become the person we see at later points). Indeed, this process has also worked for her friend, Natalie, who we’ve not only seen less of, but who we saw die in the first issue. Keeping her portrait vivid even after she died helps us appreciate both what the loss means to Riri and how she’s experiencing it. Even her fondest memories of Natalie aren’t just remembering a friend, but remembering a friend who died. Giving us that bit of information before giving us the memory colors it in precisely the same way it must for Riri. That’s smart writing.
And it’s backed up by equally smart artwork. Artist Stefano Caselli is a master of bodies in motion (and in deep perspective), but I’m most impressed at some of the directorial choices here. The wordiness of Bendis’ dialogue can sometimes hamstring the flexibility of his artistic collaborators, but Caselli manages to achieve some great shot/reverse shot sequences that carry a great deal of the story.
We don’t need any words to see that Riri’s made a decision. Some of that may hinge on how much more likely it is to be inspired to superherodom when there are already superheroes in the world (the more I think about it, the more “I shall become a BAT!” makes no fucking sense), but I think a great deal of this issues success stems from some intelligent choices made by its creative team.
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 13
Ryan M: Is there such a thing as too many cat puns? It took until page 21 of the 13th issue of Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 13 for Patsy herself to pass one up, but Kate Leth takes several other opportunities to exercise her feline fluency as Hellcat faces Black Cat. Once you get past the shared iconography and puns of the feline variety, Hellcat and Black Cat are a study in contrasts. Where Hellcat leans hard on her sunny attitude and adorable pluck, Black Cat is mean and bitter. Patsy has built a community of friends based on support and mutual appreciation, and Black Cat has recruited minions using mind-control magic. These differences are more than just an updated riff on Goofus and Gallant. As Black Cat outmatches Hellcat for another issue, it becomes clear that Felicia’s intent to destroy gives her a power over Patsy. Patsy is a genuinely good person, and while we’ve heard her talk of dark times in her past, she hasn’t become hardened by them. It’s that sweetness and kindness that makes her vulnerable to Felicia’s attacks.
Team Hellcat does not fare well in this issue. Under mind control, Bailey throws Ian, Patsy and Jubilee into her magic purse while Tom is turned into another of Black Cat’s crew. It’s surely not to last through the next issue and likely all will be forgiven in a way that lightens my soul, but Tom’s defection is pretty painful. We also see Patsy in what is probably her most intense fight of the series thus far. And she’s been to a hell dimension recently!
In the series of wordless panels above, Brittney Williams shows both women in full fight mode. There is an energy and movement to these panels that shows just how hard each is struggling for control. By keeping the shape and size of the six panels consistent, Williams has shown a spotlight are particular details of the combat. We see Hellcat with the knife in the sixth panel, but it’s not until the next row that we can see that she has removed it from her own shoulder. Patsy Walker is a certified badass and its nice to see her challenged in a way that brings it out.
Taylor: Peter Quill is a bro. Obviously that’s a loaded term these days but honestly it seems like the most appropriate and concise way to describe him. He’s attractive from a certain point of view, he’s kind of air-headed, he ultimately means well, but he’s also just way into himself. Now that he’s been banished to waste away on Earth, homeworld of bro-nation, what will come of him?
The answer is not much. Lately he’s been wasting away his days drinking and feeling sorry for himself. It’s only when Brand implores him that he steps out of his apartment to visit the only two people he knows on Earth: Howard the Duck and his ex-fiancee Kitty Pryde. Howard is a no-go and when Peter meets up with Kitty it doesn’t go well. However, he does meet a new buddy, Ol’ Man Logan, who invites to the most broey aof bro activitiwa. Drinking.
There’s something magical about the union of Logan and Peter. Peter is a softy at heart and easily wounded while Logan is about as tough as nails in all aspects. However, they hit it off not only because of their love of drinking but also for their love of fighting bad dudes. In this issue they take on a whole bar full of baddies and have a blast doing it. It might be an unlikely way to make a fast friend, but damn it all if it doesn’t work for the both of them. I can only hope the friendship between these two unlikely sorts continues to flourish as this series continues.
Ultimates 2 2
Drew: We love comics here at Retcon Punch. Not just the stories that they tell, but the ways that they tell them. As such, we tend to be enamored of deconstructions of the medium. Some of our favorite series end up being about themselves — a gambit that may turn off readers who prefer that the medium and the message stay in their own lanes. I think this is where Al Ewing’s talents lie; crafting dense, heady postmodernism that is somehow still eminently readable. The Ultimates 2 2 illustrates that line perfectly, taking the meta-commentary in ever more highfalutin directions, while keeping the text pleasantly approachable.
For me, the moment that tickled my inner academic was when Galactus explains “the level of Aspects” in terms of semiotics, the pet (or parent, depending on how you think of it) subject of every comics scholar. Semiotics tends to make me go crosseyed, but it’s hard not to see Galactus’ words as describing the medium of comics:
He’s describing a plane of semantic discourse (where concepts like “order” and “chaos” exist as pure ideas), but he’s also describing comics. While we might understand “signifier” and “signified” as separate things in prose (where the word “Batman” might be used to signify the character who dresses up like a bat to fight crime), they’re a bit harder to separate in comics (where a drawing of Batman is arguably a signifier in the same way, but in another way, a drawing of Batman is all the character is; the drawing isn’t standing in for the character — it is the character).
In spite of my enthusiasm for recognizing the language, this scene ultimately isn’t about semiotics, but Ewing uses that language to signal (to those of us who know it) that Galactus isn’t just trying his case in the comics, but with the forces that interact with the comics. In this case, they’re personified by Master Order and Lord Chaos, but they can be easily understood as the conservative forces that insist that nothing in comics ever really change. Addressing those forces (the ones that insist that characters get their powers back or return to their old roles or even come back from the dead) feels important for Galactus’ new paradigm. This may well be setting up the backdoor for Galactus’ fall from grace, but I kind of appreciate Ewing’s honesty in suggesting that such an eventuality represents the will of forces beyond his control.
This issue is chock full of meta-commentary — I love that “nothing” is represented as hard, white space, aligning it with the gutter in between panels — but we’ll have to save really digging into it for the comments. I’m curious to hear what people thought of this issue.
Unbelievable Gwenpool 9
Patrick: The tricky thing about meta-narratives is that I’m almost always anxious to discover if there’s a reason for their self-awareness or if the winks and nudges are themselves the point of the piece. The television show Community used pastiche, homage and knowing comments about its own genre to illustrate a cast of characters that were simultaneously connected and alienated by their common obsession with popular media and culture. Or the brilliant film Adaptation explores the nature of creativity and the power of compromise and the specificity of the medium of film by obliterating the fourth wall. Even sticking within the realm of comic books, the Deadpool arc “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” by Gerry Duggan and Declan Shalvey, expresses Wade’s fractured, traumatized psyche as the assumption that he’s living in a comic book. Gwen Poole knows she’s in a comic book, and she uses that knowledge to her advantage and disadvantage throughout this issue, but I’m struggling to determine whether we’re seeing the means or the ends.
The issue opens on an extended flashback origin story for Vincent, Gwen’s normalcy-coveting client who is revealed to be a Doom Bot in disguise. Of course, this shit is bonkers, involving a time-traveling Old Lady Squirrel Girl, Doctor Doom and a pre-supervillain Tinkerer. It’s a cute story, and writer Christopher Hastings certainly seems excited to be playing around with the toys in the Marvel sandbox. Of course, the comic-book nature of this story must be commented upon by Gwen herself. She’s not narrating the story, but she does jump in to point out just how mythologically plugged-in Vincent’s origin is.
That shows a superficial understanding of comic books and narrative – which Gwen certainly possesses – but may belie the secrets of narrative and story that Gwen doesn’t totally grasp yet. Gwen tries to take real-life shortcuts, like calling a friend (Spider-Man) to get her out of a jam, only to discover that he’s not available to help in the moment. Gwen might be savvy enough to introduce Officer Gray into her main cast, but is not quite savvy enough to understand that this trail with Vincent and the Tuethidans must change her before she can defeat him. Hopefully, she’ll come to understand turning to the camera and saying “comics – amirite?” is not the same as understanding story.
And, until we get there, we’ll always have Gurihiru’s stupendous art. The artist team is so good at selling both jokes and beats of action that it almost doesn’t matter whether the series ends up driving toward some universal truth.
The space of Vincent’s house is so well realized over the course of two pages, it’s impossible to misunderstand what our hostage-buddies are experiencing here. Plus Gwen-Piglet!
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?