Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 12/21/16

marvel-roundup62We 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 Wednesdayso come back for that! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

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Amazing Spider-Man 22

amazing-spider-man-22Spencer: 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.

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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.

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Black Panther: World of Wakanda 2

black-panther-world-of-wakanda-2Ryan 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:

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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:

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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?

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Doctor Strange 15

doctor-strange-15Taylor: 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.

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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.

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Gamora 1

gamora-1Spencer: 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.

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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.

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Invincible Iron-Man 2

invincible-iron-man-2Drew: 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.

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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.

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Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 13

patsy-walker-aka-hellcat-13Ryan 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!

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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.

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Star-Lord 1

star-lord-1Taylor: 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.

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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.

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Ultimates 2 2

ultimates-2-2Drew: 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:

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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.

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Unbelievable Gwenpool 9

gwenpool-9Patrick: 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.

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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!

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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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18 comments on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 12/21/16

  1. Am I the only one who thinks Dan Slott enjoys killing Peter Parker (or one version or another of him) a little *too* much. He killed him in his first issue of “Mighty Avengers,” he killed him in ASM 700, he killed scores of him in Spider-Verse, he killed the digital ghost version of him last issue, and now he’s written an entire issue depicting him (well, Ben Reilly, but tomato-tomahto) being killed a number of increasingly gruesome ways.

    ….It just seems a little worrying that the writer of this series seems to delight in the main character’s murder so much, lol

  2. I’ve got a lot to say about comics, and a busy day. So I’ll do my big comment later. But wanted to have fun exploring Drew’s idea that the second film of a superhero franchise is the best. I don’t have a problem with origin stories – in fact the great thing about origin stories is that the dramatics have been so perfectly refined that you nearly always have a story that full of characters making consequential decisions. But it is also often interesting to see what happens when the origin is out of the way and the creators have freedom to go beyond Uncle Ben etc

    So which franchises peak at their second movie? Honestly, for the original Spiderman movies, I highly disagree that Spiderman 2 is the best. But that is because I loathe with a great passion the plot point about Peter losing his powers. I understand what it is a metaphor for, but Spiderman 2 is written so well that the metaphor actually hurts the movie. Peter finds himself doubting whether he wants to continue being Spiderman. The struggle is highly compelling, and just before Peter truly makes a choice, a metaphor comes along and robs his powers, for reasons never explained by the plot. And then, the moment Peter wants to be Spiderman again, his powers magically appear. The actual drama of Peter’s decision is ruined by the fact that the metaphorical representation of the Peter’s choices actually undercuts the drama. It is one thing for Peter to make the choice not to use his Spider powers because he feels that other priorities are more important. But when his powers are disappearing and reappearing whenever the plot finds it convenient, it is harder to care about the choice. To put it another way, isn’t it more effective for Peter to know that he had every ability to help as SPiderman, but chooses not to? The movie is exceptionally written, which is why it is a shame that the power loss subplot hurts the main arc. Because everything else is so, so good. But the first movie is also exceptionally written, and lacks something so damaging.
    And X-Men United can only be called the best X-Men movie if we are talking specifically about the original three. But if that is our criteria, the better term is ‘least worst’. X-Men United is a bunch of disconnected vignettes of varying quality, ending in a climax where literally a third of the main cast sit in a plane and do nothing. Our positive recollections of the movie come from a time where the idea of a superhero movie that wasn’t utterly embarrassing was still a revolutionary concept. They are bad movies that work entirely off nostalgia

    Still, if we were to group superhero franchises, which ones have the second movie be the best? Here would be my grouping, and would be interested to see what others thing

    2nd Best
    Tim Burton’s Batman – Batman Returns is by far the stand out of the entire era of superhero movies. A wonderfully thematic movie that uses the superhero tropes as a tapestry to truly explore ideas. It is the movie equivalent of, say, TOm King’s Trilogy of GOod Intentions, in how it fully commits to theme and uses superheroes to explore it, creating a wonderfully unique and complex take. Rightly vindicated by history

    Joel Schumucker’s Batman – If we count these movies as part of the same franchise as the Burton ones, Batman Returns is still best. If we treat it as its own era, Schumucker also obeys the ‘second movie is best’ rule. Batman and RObin knows exactly what it is, and embraces it. It is campy and silly (IT HAS POISON IVY DO A STRIPTEASE IN A GORILLA SUIT) but it embraces that fully. As opposed to Batman Forever, a stupid and confused movie that has no idea what it wants to be (I cannot understate how stupid the psychology sections of this movie is. It so wants to be a serious evaluation of Batman’s character, and ends up being so, so stupid)

    Original X-Men Trilogy – X-Men United is the least worst. A sad crown for a sad franchise

    The Dark Knight Trilogy: The Dark Knight is without question the best of the three movies, and is the second. There is no franchise where it is clearer that it deserves to be in this section

    Wolverine: Logan looks amazing, but until that is released, the Wolverine is clearly the best Wolverine movie. When the choice is ‘Bad even by X-Men standards’ and ‘actually quite good, with a stupid third act’, there is a very clear winner.

    Captain America: I try not to spend too much time praising Winter Soldier, as it is a bit overrated and not as good as everyone says. But it is still one of Marvel’s best, and better than both the First Avenger, where the movie clearly ends two thirds of the way through and we get a final act of essentially meaningless action and plot, and Civil War, that has a bolted on political dimension that is meaningless and there solely for appearances. But until we get a movie that properly dramatises Steve and Bucky’s relationship, Winter Soldier is the best Cap movie

    2nd isn’t the best
    Iron Man: Even if you have a wrong opinion and don’t think that Iron Man Three is the best Iron Man movie, no one is going to say that Iron Man 2 as the best Iron Man movie.

    X-Men: Overall Franchise/X-Men New trilogy: Of the new trilogy, the best is very clearly First Class. First Class revolutionised the X-Men franchise by actually being good. Unfortunately, Matthew Vaughn went off do Kingsman, and left the X-Men franchise back in the hands of Brian Singer, who followed it up with the tepid Days of Future Past and the terrible Apocalypse.
    If we look into the franchise as a whole, the two stand out movies are First Class and Deadpool. Which one is better is up for debate, but it is clearly a choice between those two, with the Wolverine as a clear third. Basically, Fox only make good X-Men movies when no one is watching. Once Fox starts caring, it all collapses

    Amazing Spiderman: The first movie is horrid, but if I was going to say one good thing about Amazing Spiderman 1, it is that it isn’t Amazing Spiderman 2. The second movie was a horrendous piece of filmmaking, and certainly a shining example of how the second movie can be the worst. Also, the best movie in this franchise was, of course, the Aunt May spy movie that never got developed (I wish I was joking, but apparently Sony actually considered an Aunt May spy movie)

    Man of Steel/Batman v Superman: Man of Steel isn’t good, but it is certainly better than Batman v Superman.

    Arguable
    Sam Raimi’s Spiderman: Two exceptionally well written movies. Spiderman 2 is generally better written, so it all comes down to your opinion on the power loss subplot. If you think it is the perfect metaphor for Peter’s troubles, SPiderman 2 follows the rule. If you think that making the subtext text was either frustratingly obvious or undercut the dramatic stakes, the first movie is best

    The Avengers: This will be controversial, but I think that Avengers deserves to be in this section. I saw many critics compare Age of Ultron to Godfather Part II, in that it was the better movie, but missing all the iconic moments that makes the first one so, so memorable. Age of Ultron is up there with Batman Returns and the Dark Knight as examples of superhero movies committing to ideas. It does need about 15 more minutes to give it space and make it properly paced, and no trip to the magic pool of future movie set up. But it is still one of Marvel’s most thematically complex blockbusters. And a more importantly, it has a much more consistent level of quality, compared to the first movie’s highs and lows. Which one is better comes down to whether you prefer Avenger’s high quality moments or Ultron’s more consistent quality.

    Thor: Taika Waititi is probably going to make the best Thor movie with Ragnarok, but until then, there isn’t really a Thor movie people can call good. Neither are horrible, but they are kind of just there, and make a strong claim as among Marvel’s weakest. Two distinctly different but distinctly average movies. Not going to say one is better than the other

    Honestly, by my count, that is 6/5/3. Especially as I have missed some franchises, and the exact way of deciding what counts as a franchise is up for discussion, it is honestly too close to call. Though I’d be interested in where everyone else would group the superhero movies

    • I suppose they’re arguable — on account of you’re arguing it and I’m arguing back — but I for my money, but I stick with the traditional narrative that Spider-Man 2 > Spider-Man and Avengers > Age of Ultron. But seeing as that doesn’t ULTIMATELY throw your count, we don’t really need to debate those points to address the over all point.

      Oh, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Ragnarok is going to be the best of the Thor movies. I like the first one just fine (and if we’re only talking about Thor and Dark World, then Thor definitely defies the pattern Drew suggests).

      I think there’s something to be said for extending this idea to other films that were intended to be franchises. Like Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings (though, I’m going to assert that Fellowship is my favorite of those three) because I think the same principals apply. Right? We want to get the origin stories out of the way so we can just start to deal with the real meat of the characters. There’s no reason characters SHOULDN’T be fully formed in the first movie — most films only have one movie in which to establish their characters — but y’know, adaptation is hard.

      OH AND CLEARLY, the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is the first one. 1990 baby!

      • Spiderman 2 will never be my favourite Spiderman movie for the same reason that the Vision will never be my favourite entry in Tom King’s Trilogy of Good Intentions. Still a masterpiece, but it is also the one that is marred by a mistake (the meaningless reveal that Victor was addicted to vibranium was the one mistake the Vision had). You know how much I love the Vision, but when I have Omega Men and Sheriff of Babylon right there, I will happily struggle between choosing which of the books with no mistakes is my favourite.

        With other franchises, it is more complicated. Cinema is littered with movies who success led to mediocre sequels, and in some ways, it is only recently that cinema has moved past it (basically, it took actually embracing the franchise model to make franchises work, instead of disappointingly rehashing the first movie). Lord of the RIngs is a great example of the first movie being the best (all three are great. But Fellowship is the best), while the Matrix is an example of the second movie failing. Second Hunger Games is the best (though I will happily accept any argument that Mockingjay Part 1 is the best. Despite the ending of part 1 so horribly ruining the ambiguity it had spent a movie developing, I love Mockingjay Part 1 as a fascinating drama about propaganda masquerading as a franchise movie), largely because it fixes the budget and direction choices of the first movie. Fast and the Furious’ best movies are the later ones. But I think even to this day, many franchises can struggle to beat the first one.

        But as franchises become larger and larger things, it will be impossible for the second movie rule to actually remain. If we treat Marvel as a single franchise, they have 14 movies at the moment, and their best is either at the 7th or 10th movie (and about to enter a very interesting period in their lives). Star Wars will have movie after movie after movie, and quite simply, franchises will get too big to be able to say anything with certainty.

        On the idea of ‘real meat’ of the characters, I think it comes down to the fact that comics are a serialised narrative, that influences things a lot. The ‘real meat’ refers to the period after the origin, which by definition is the first story. So the first movie is always going to be a different movie to the rest, unless you skip the origin. And while skipping the origin makes sense for character like Batman and Spiderman, the greater public doesn’t know enough about Doctor Strange or Captain Marvel for us to ignore their first stories. So the second movie will always be a different beast. Or be Iron Man 2, and be a lame attempt to repeat the first one

        • I’ve seen a couple people write that origin stories aren’t necessarily for characters that people already know — like Batman or Spider-Man — but still totally necessary for more alien characters – Strange being a great example. I’m not convinced that the second half of that is true.

          Audiences are a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and I don’t think they need to see Steven Strange acting as an arrogant Doctor before being humbled by the magic of the multiverse for his on-going adventures to be compelling cinema. As someone who didn’t start reading comics until the end of the 00s, I’m constantly reading stories with characters for whom I don’t have the details of their origin, and I don’t believe that’s caused me any narrative discomfort. I love it when ‘being a hero’ is my protagonist’s base reality, and the story has to take them out of THAT comfort zone. Conventional story structure dictates that if our hero starts as an average dude, then becoming the superhero must be the arc, and damn it – we’ve seen that.

          But good point about what the fuck a franchise even IS anymore. We might even be able to extend that to what “quality” even is anymore. On the topic of Star Wars, I think both TFA and R1 are more successful at communicating strong thematic concepts than any other movies in the franchise, but I’d be hard-pressed to call them the best movies in the series. Like, if you pushed me for a ranking of the Star Wars movies right now, I could give you the general shape of it, but I’m not even sure what the distinction between 2nd best and 4th best is right now, y’know?

        • Origin stories don’t have to be about an ordinary person becoming extraordinary. Black Widow and Gamora are examples of characters in the movies who don’t have that story. They were extraordinary people whose origin was when they changed sides. Hell, Jessica Jones actually has her origin start after she becomes a superhero – her origin is meeting the Purple Man.

          But something needs to exist to set up what the myth means. To use Doctor Strange as an example, the truly important part of his origin isn’t his humbling. It is the moment where falls through infinite numbers of dimensions, and sees just how much bigger the universe is.

          To truly get Doctor Strange, we need to understand the idea that the universe is much bigger than we could possibly perceive. It is the key, fundamental idea of Doctor Strange. And the best way to show that is to tell a story about how what we know is infinitely little compared to what there actually is. Regardless of whether DOctor Strange is an arrogant neurosurgeon looking to heal his hands or an apprentice who has trained his entire life in the ways of magic and about to take the first steps into that larger magical world he has been learning about (or any other potential backstory), I think we need that moment where Strange sees into the infinite.

          Because the best way to introduce that concept is to tell a story. Showing us that moment of realisation will always be better than telling us. And that is why we have the origin. Because with the origin there, giving us that moment, we can have people like Jason Aaron write fantastic comics where the idea of there being a hidden infinity behind the scenes as a given works.

          To me, the importance of the origin isn’t about the character arc, as it is about introducing that central idea. It isn’t about Tony Stark learning morality, but Tony being blown up by is own bomb. It isn’t about Bruce Wayne’s parents dying, but of making an oath to make things better in the darkest hour. It isn’t about Scott Lang reforming, but of Scott Lang realising that Cassie looks up to him. It is not about the arc the character takes to become the superhero, but of telling the story of that simple idea that drives these heroes.

          Because those ideas are so central, so important, that we have to write about them in the best way possible

          But yeah, franchises these days are weird. Mad Max would be a fantastic example of a superhero style movie that follow’s the second movie rule… until it came back 30 years later with Fury Road. Neither TFA or Rogue One are the best (I am interested in what my final opinion of Rogue One will be. I love it, but I originally loved Civil War, but by the end of this year, my opinion had soured on it. Still a good movie, but not great), but they really complicate any attempt to rank the movies. And we have Rian Johnson and Lord & Miller next, who are great directors. We are going to have to rework our way of talking about franchises as a whole. It will become much harder to discuss one movie compared to another, because what movie do you compare which what? But the way we’ll discuss the franchise as a whole will likely become much more interesting, as freed from the ability to do a big list, we’ll have to go deeper, and hopefully find more interesting insights

    • I’ll admit, I cherry-picked my examples pretty hard. But I do think the conventional wisdom suggests that the first film in a superhero franchise is often the most perfunctory (as opposed to basically any other genre, where the sequels tend to be perfunctory). I’m not necessarily defending the veracity of the conventional wisdom, which can absolutely be wrong. “i before e, except after c” is definitely conventional wisdom, even though there are more exceptions than there are examples of the rule.

      • I started the conversation more because I though tit was an interesting point of conversation, than as a critique of your piece. Because it is fun to properly challenge conventional wisdom and use it as a chance, in this case, to discuss movies. Because by bringing up the point, you created a lot of potential topics

        – Is the Conventional Wisdom correct?
        – Is the conventional wisdom out of date, in the Age of the Shared Universe?
        – How narrowly do you have to define X-Men franchise to be able to say X-Men United is the best with a straight face?

        On your idea that the first movie is the most perfunctory, I hugely disagree. Those first movies are important, in that they catch out imagination. If Spiderman, or Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger or Guardians of the Galaxy were bad, do you really think pop culture would care about those franchises? The first movie isn’t perfunctory (if anything, conventional wisdom says the third movie is often perfunctory. Superman 3, Batman Forever, Spiderman 3, Dark Knight Rises, X-Men: The Last Stand all exist more out of obligation. It until the MCU to finally break that curse). The difference between the first and second movies is more down to having to be different stories. The origin is such an important part of the superhero myth, the first movie of a superhero franchise has to tell a very different tale to the rest of the stories. That makes means the second movie acts in many ways like a first movie, as it is the first traditional story

        • Here, I think you might be cherry-picking your examples. The power-sets and tones of these origin stories might vary from movie to movie, but movies like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange follow the formula laid out in Iron Man rather strictly, and I don’t think have enough of an identity to forgive that familiarity. I’d much rather skip the “look how unheroic this character is” set-up and the obligatory training montage and dig into some of the headier concepts that the comics can trade in because the origin story was told 50+ years ago.

        • Just because many origins follow a formula doesn’t mean that I am cherry picking. Doctor Strange and Ant Man still fit my argument. Though it is interesting that Ant Man and Doctor Strange, the movies that steal Iron Man’s structure the most blatantly, are weaker movies than Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger or Guardians of the Galaxy. And that more people would say they prefer Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America or the Guardians of the Galaxy, who have well done origins, than would say they prefer Thor, Ant Man or Doctor Strange, whose origin movies are weaker

          Firstly, I disagree that origin stories are “look how unheroic this character is”. Marvel origin stories often are, because of how many Marvel origin stories are ripping off Spiderman. But many of DC’s heroes (and Captain America) don’t have that. Instead, DC’s heroes (and Captain America) are good people who receive a Call to Action and make the choice to use their extraordinary abilities for good. Whether it is using your natural gifts to inspire others, making a choice to commit yourself to justice after your parents die, leaving paradise on a mission to peace or being specifically chosen for your absolute moral backbone, DC’s heroes (and Cap) usually don’t have a period of being unheroic.

          But the thing about origins is that superheroes are mythic characters, and that the origin is an important part of the myth. You can tell a million stories about Hercules, but a big part of the mythic power that Hercules has is his origin as Zeus’ son. And it is the same with superheroes. Just as a big part of the mythic power of Batman is seeing his parents shot, or of Spiderman learning that ‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’. What makes Iron Man meaningful is his struggles to make up for what he used to be, and his attempts to be a different person than who he was before the cave. What makes Captain America meaningful is that he was chosen to be the Super Soldier because of who he was when he had no power. What makes the Guardians of the Galaxy meaningful is that they were scumbags (at best. Gamora is so, so much worse than that) who broke good.

          Even Ant Man and Doctor Strange acknowledge that importance, for all of their cookie cutter nature. Scott Lang cannot be discussed with discussing the fact that he made the choices he made to be a father his daughter can actually respect. What makes Doctor Strange who he is is the fact that he is the man who was so arrogant that he couldn’t see outside of himself understanding that the world is much bigger than anyone could possibly imagine.

          When the stories do get to the headier concepts, they do so because of all the effort put into establishing that baseline. Iron Man Three is a fantastic deconstruction of the effect of the military-industrial complex on global politics and a look at the way our actions have consequences, and what makes it work is that it is using a character that, because of his origin, is designed to explore both of those themes. The Winter Soldier is a story about how moral compromises degrade us and make us vulnerable to evil, which works because it uses a character whose origin is all about the fact that he is the guy who never compromises morally. If we look at comics, the Vision is built on the fact that it is using a character whose origin is ‘The Vision rejects the teaching of his father and chooses to side with humanity’.

          Could origin stories use less training montages? Of course. But that doesn’t mean they are perfunctory. They are important. Because we need them before we can reach the headier concepts. That is why it is important to give relatively obscure characters like Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel origins. But that is why it is also important that Marvel chose not to give their Spiderman an origin movie, because we already have a great one (and a bad one).

          We need to origin to teach culture why we should care, before we start telling the cool, interesting stories that rely on the origin. That is why they are important. And why it is important that they stop ripping off Iron Man and find new, interesting ways to tell their origins

    • The first Spider-Man movie was probably my favorite because it was sort of Jurassic Park like to me. I saw something I’d always wanted to see, but knew (KNEW) for most of my life it was impossible. I agree with Matt 100% that Spider-Man 2 was a better movie itself for so much of it except for the terribly written in loss of powers.

      I didn’t know there was debate over Iron Man and Iron Man 3. I found Iron Man 3 boring while the first Iron Man movie completely revitalized super hero movies (for me, at least, and I certainly think on a grand scale) and I still think is the best super hero movie ever made.

      I’ve never liked and X-Men movie although I’ve seen them all. I mostly think they’re ok, but I can’t even remember which one is which any more. I know I hated the Jean Grey Dark Phoenix one and I especially loathed Apocalypse (we almost left it was so bad).

      I definitely liked Burton’s first Batman more than the second. I found the second to be too ugly and have never been able to like it even on rewatching. I actually found most of Nolan’s Batman series to be boring except for the second one, but that was only good for the Joker performance (which was stellar) while the rest of it was a bit too much bad guy omnipotence for me.

      I liked Batman Vs. Superman, even on rewatching. I didn’t particularly like the previous SUper movie, but I liked the action part of it, but in the end, they missed the point so badly of what Superman is I struggled with it.

      The next Thor movie has to be the best because the first two just weren’t very good. They weren’t bad, they just sort of existed.

      I have a hard time calling Civil War a Captain America movie because it’s still defined (in my head) as the best Spider-Man movie made. This thread is a good reminder to watch it again this weekend before school starts again.

      I dont’ care about Bucky Barnes. I never have and until Matt Fraction reinvents him like he did Hawkeye, I probably never will.

      Anyway, I’m not sure what that means about the second movie being best. I don’t think I’ve disproved or agreed with anything except that Iron Man 2 wasn’t very good and it’s weird that Spider-Man 3 didn’t get made in either of the first two trilogies. I hope this third one gets that far!

      • I never thought I would hear Iron Man Three be called boring. Most of the complaints I have heard seem to be based around not liking being tricked by the twist or not understand the nuances of Tony’s rich character arc (I still can’t believe a movie that ends with Tony Stark picking up a screwdriver while saying ‘I am Iron Man’ led to people thinking he had retired). But with all the undeniably Shane Black stuff in Iron Man Three, regardless of your opinion, I would never think to call it boring.
        Also would never call Iron Man the best superhero movie. Fantastic movie that helped revitalise the genre, but also nowhere near the quality of the Dark Knight, for me

        There are a few good X-Men movies, done when Fox weren’t looking. But they have spent their entire lifespan being embarrassed at being superhero movies, and it shows. Back when superhero movies were rare, they were like water in a desert. These days, we don’t need them. They need a radical shape up, but Vaughn left to make Kingsman, so they missed that opportunity

        I really don’t like Burton’s first Batman. With the exception of the direction, it feels too typical. It goes through the motions and doesn’t have anything storywise that makes it stand out. And the Joker ends up being a really poor villain. He’s a bad guy who becomes a different sort of bad guy. The focus on who he was forever saddles his Joker with the baggage of a more generic sort of bad guy, and the stuff he does as the Joker scream ‘generic supervillain’ instead of having anything unique about him.
        Batman Returns is a mean movie, about people realising they are freaks that can’t fit in with everything else. It is about trying to be normal, only to find that the very thing that makes you who you are sentences you to running on rooftops in costumes fighting. Oswald tries to be a politician. Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle try and find love. But Oswold can’t escape his own nature and the exploitation from the ordinary Max Schreck, and Bruce and Selina’s quests for normalcy lead them straight into the arms of each other. And so, tragically, they must accept themselves as who they are. The Penguin, Batman and Catwoman. Very revisionist, and not the sort of take that I like with my traditional Batman. But in an adaption that is clearly running off a different rule set, it is fantastic. Burton going full Burton, and going all in on his ideas

        Still don’t care for Batman v Superman. Better than Apocalypse, but that is low praise. Misses the point of both Batman and Superman, and lacks any perspective except hatred for everything.

        To me, Civil War is the best Scarlet Witch movie. For the movie’s many flaws, that last shot of Scarlet Witch is incredible. She has a fantastic arc. In many aspects, it is a good movie. But it really suffers from this idea that Civil War has to be political. Remove the Sokovia Accords and focus instead of the Avengers split about what to do about Bucky after he attacks the UN, and you have a much better movie. Instead, the politics creates too many plot elements that go nowhere.

        I think Bucky is a great character. Captain America faced with his greatest failure, permanently damaged, is the sort of thing that works. He failed, and now Captain America has to deal with the fact that his best friend will forever be in a dark place. But the movies have never sold the Bucky relationship well. They messed it up all three times, and always chose something else to be more important. Whether it was Peggy Carter, Project Insight or the Sokovia Accords, Bucky has never been the most important part of a Captain America movie despite the trilogy nominally being about Steve and Bucky’s relationship

        • Iron Man 3: I never bought into the characters, Tony Stark included. I thought it was poorly written and/or acted and I found myself completely uninvested and bored. I know others liked it and I’ve gone back and tried to rewatch it, but I find Tony’s ptsd scenes almost as unwatchable as emo-Pete in Spider-man 3.

          Batman: I’m sure that part of my appreciation of Burton’s first Batman was seeing it over summer vacation after my freshman year of college. That was an awesome theater experience. There was serious, serious anticipation for it and it lived up to the hype. Movies like that just didn’t get made. Maybe by modern standards Nichoson’s joker is generic, but I didn’t feel that at the time.

          Batman V Superman: As much as the previous missed showing an understanding of Superman… well, this did too. I kind of equate BVS to the new Fantastic Four movie. I was entertained for the most part and as long as I don’t dig too deep and care that those are really bad personifications of the characters (drunk Reed Richards going to the Negative Zone was pretty horrific), I enjoyed them on superficial levels.

        • Emo Peter would be the last thing I compared Tony’s PTSD scenes. Nor would I call the movie poorly acted. At a point where Robert Downey Junior was just about to hit the peak point of overexposure, Iron Man Three reminded us of why we loved him. And Ben Kingsley’s performance is fantastic. He plays two very distinctive characters wonderfully. And, of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is the only movie that comes close to bearing the distinctive mark of its director. That, combined with a really intelligent plot that takes the ideas of the first two movies and creates a more interesting variant of it, makes it one of my favourites.

          Batman isn’t as bad as X-Men, which actually are bad movies. In fact, the movie is actually good. But I think, just like X-Men, it has been hurt by the proliferation of actually good superhero movies. Good superhero movies have revealed the X-Men movies to be the turds they always were, but with Batman, it is quite simply that with so many good and/or interesting superhero movies, there is always something else you’d rather watch. What makes Batman so good is not the sort of stuff that holds up in a market where movies like that do get made.
          Batman Returns is a movie where Tim Burton got to make whatever he wanted, creating a great movie that was dismissed originally as too dark. But the fact that it is so Tim Burton was why it got a critical reappraisal, and lacks the same issues that Batman has. Batman Returns is so distinctive, that no number of new superhero movies is ever going to make it feel irrelevant.

  3. Black Panther – World of Wakanda: This book creates complex opinions in ways that no other book does

    On the one hand, I love choices like Mistress Zola subtly manipulating Ayo and Aneka to stay together. Not only is it a classic romance staple, of the ‘mentor’ who understands exactly what is happening and conspires to make sure the two idiots realise and kiss already, but it is also a powerful and important choice with the critique of the Dora Milaje. Gay has effortlessly separated criticism of the institution with the criticism of the women of the Dora Milaje. Now, Ayo and Aneka aren’t exceptional woman who are not like the others (think about all those discussions in Django Unchained about how Django is ‘one n***** in one thousand’). All the woman of the Dora Milaje, in their own ways, are rebelling against the Dora Milaje’s sexist infrastructure. It is easy to use criticism of something like the Dora Milaje as a way to attack woman, but Mistress Zola makes very clear that the problems being criticised aren’t in any way the fault of the woman involved. A fantastic choice.

    But Ryan is very right about the execution. The simple choice of removing the speech bubbles does actually improve the comic. And it is the sort of thing this book will always be fighting. Here’s an interesting idea. Gay, like Coates, is known as an essayist, and essays aren’t a form to be subtle. Essays don’t use implication and inference. Instead, their strength comes from how directly they can present an idea.
    Meanwhile, Gay is also an accomplished short story author. Fiction is a medium where you use the interior to imply the exterior – you have complete knowledge of a character’s headspace, but have no idea what is happening except through your interpretation of the character’s perspective. Meanwhile, a visual mediums uses the opposite approach – the exterior is used to imply the interior. To put it another way, in a novel, you know something is happening because a character is suspicious. In a visual medium, you know a character is suspicious because you can see something happen.
    It is possible to overcome these differences in form (Genevieve Valentine and Chelsea Cain did so to fantastic effect) but I feel the fact that Gay’s strengths lie in different place than the strengths of visual storytelling is creating a rough transition.

    Also, really cool to be directly referenced in a piece, but I think I lost the right to the description of ‘consistently thoughtful’ when DC Rebirth came out.

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    Doctor Strange: Whenever an event happens, you always have the writer have a bunch of things they really want to explore in the aftermath that no one else does (you can already see Bendis doing this with Civil War II). It is honestly funny that it has taken this long for Aaron to get around to doing that. But between the Unworthy Thor and Doctor Strange, Aaron finally wants to explore all that stuff he found juicy, like Nick FUry’s new status Quo or the Orb.

    And honestly, Aaron has done a great job with the Orb. Usually, such reinventions serve to make a villain more powerful, as if power level is what makes a character meaningful. And while the Orb is more powerful, what Aaron has truly done is reposition the Orb into have a clear narrative space. That creepy voyeur aspect has made the Orb unique.

    Doctor Strange is a character that has always gone well with horror elements, and the Orb allows this book to get really creepy. Part of me is looking forward to this arc ending so we can see what Aaron will do with the new status quo when he isn’t going for this vignette approach. But this arc has done a great job in showing a wide variety of different stories that Strange can do.

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    Gamora: It is finally here. What was announced first? Gamora or Tim Seeley’s Blade?

    This was always going to be an interesting book, as Perlman actually wrote the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. And honestly, you can tell that Perlman was raised as a member of Marvel’s script farm, writing scripts for whatever hero she can find so that the moment Marvel decides they are interested in the character, they have a starting point.

    Perlman does a fantastic job at giving all three of her main cast clear goals. Gamora, Thanos and Nebula are basically engaged in a delicate dance around each other, all trying to get what they want. And I really like that. I like that just as much effort is placed into Nebula’s attempts to prove herself, or how Thanos moulds Gamora into his perfect weapon.

    Combine that with a quest where Gamora goes off to kill innocence itself, and we have a really good, competent set up. But it will be very interesting to see how far they are willing to go with this. Because the thing about Gamora is that she did go to dark places, and has done some horrible crimes.

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    Invincible Iron Man: Bendis is doing a really fantastic job with this, isn’t he? The flashback structure, particularly the way it refuses to be chronological and instead designed to serve the issue’s particular’s ideas best (did I say issue, as opposed to arc? In a Bendis book? Impressive work, Bendis), does a great job of creating those powerful, iconic origin story moments while also giving us the good stuff, like Riri fighting an army of Iron Men. I do think origin stories are a great place to have characters making truly meaningful decisions (I mean, aren’t those panels of Riri just watching the screen amazing!), but the fact that we can get those moments without having to wait months for the fun stuff is fantastic. And the fun stuff is really fun, with Riri fighting the Iron Man drones being a really great scene.

    And honestly, I love the choice to have Riri spend this issue training. Instead of rushing her into fights immediately, I like that we get a character that actually spends time getting ready, as they know they need to. The fact that she really put the effort into learning how to do things is going to pay off down the line when she is in situations with actual stakes and we know that the situations she will be in, whether they are successes or failures, comes from a character who has put the effort into extensive training and tutelage.

    And yeah, Caselli’s art is fantastic. With Bendis, it is honestly important to know how to draw a conversation. With any talking head comic, many artists struggle to make the story work visually. Which is probably why Bendis’ collaborations with Oeming, Maleev and Gaydos are so well remembered. A conversation can be fantastically visual, but it uses a completely different skill set to an action sequence. Caselli joins Oeming, Maleev and Gaydos in artists who know exactly how to draw talking heads. That zoom in on Riri while the camera stays steady on the detective is incredible, as is the use of expression

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    Occupy Avengers: I’m very disappointed with this book, as I thought Walker would make it sing. But ultimately, it really suffers from the fact that it wants to address real world social issues, but feels the need to have everything solved by punching things. It is aware that these problems need more than punches, but it can’t think of way to tell a superhero story that manages to address that while being satisfying as a superhero story. And sadly, that was going to be the thing that made this book shined.

    Honestly, this book, to really work, needs a third magic ingredient. The way to get complex social issues and superheroes to go together is with a third genre, adn that genre is crime. Heists specifically. Superheroes slotting into heist roles to use their abilities not to punch the bad guy, but to either trick the bad guy into accidentally revealing what they were hiding or to exploit the villain’s greed until they overreach and be taken down.

    Not only would it let you approach the topics with care, it would be a fantastic use of Hawkeye. Clint’s crooked past could be used very interestingly in a book where CLint finds himself relying on those skills for noble, superheoric goals.

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    Patsy Walker: This arc is really frustrating me. Keeps surprising me with twists, which would usually delight me. Except for the fact that the twists are all about reversion to norm. Black Cat was never the most interesting part of this arc’s conflict, to the point where she actually felt vestigial, until now the supervillain is the most important part of the conflict. How typical…
    Superhero fight where the conflict itself is a metaphor for the conflicts that come out of a bad relationship? Sounds great. Except instead of letting the fight and its resolution be what resolves the bad relationship, it is instead the fact that Zoe grows a soul when she faces a real bad guy.
    Ian forced to take primary position in the conflict, especially after Patsy gets hurt? Actually, Patsy can still take Black Cat in a fight, and only needs an easily assembled bandage.

    Evil Tom looks good, though. There is so much about this book that continues to be good, so I hope that the book doesn’t keep trying to step away from that to maintain its status as a ‘Superhero v Supervillain’ story

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    Starlord: I’ve been wanting to read the Guardians books, because I do love the characters. But Bendis is doing such a bad job with the book that I have been staying away. But with Zdarsky writing Starlord? That sounded like potential

    And we actually have a great premise, with Starlord trapped on Earth. I never cared for Bendis’ choice to connect the Guardians with Earth so much, but actually trapping the characters on Earth and make them have to suffer not being space heroes is fantastic, especially for a character like Peter Quill whose entire identity is built around the embracing that.

    And that is what Zdarsky does so well. Peter really feels lost and confused. It is actually quite clever how Zdarsky makes Peeter’s situation applicable to a wide variety of real world situation (Bro who peaked at high school, lost millennial trying to find themselves in today’s world, stranger in a strange land) while maintaining all the stuff that is part of Peter but doesn’t fit as neatly into those sorts of experiences. And Old Man Logan is very well chosen.

    Seems like the beginning of an actually quite strong character piece. Will be interesting to see Starlord put into a book like this. It fits perfectly, while being unexpected enough to surprise.

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    Thanos: I’m really disappointed you guys didn’t do a post on Thanos. It seemed like you guys enjoyed the first issue, and I was interested in comparing our reactions.

    Honestly, I was still disappointed by Thanos 2. Lemire tries to go with a traditional Nebula (unlike Perlman who decided to rewrite Nebula’s entire character to fit her blockbuster movie), yet makes really counter intuitive choices. If Nebula is a space pirate, why make a big point of her making a choice to not have a crew? Isn’t part of the point of having a space pirate character the fact that she will have a pirate ship full of pirates? It actually leads to a poor introduction of her to the plot, as her little space smash and grab really doesn’t feel indicative of who Nebula should be.

    And then there is the team that is being gathered to take down Thanos. It is a small team, because a small team can keep the operation on the down-low and perform a surgical strike to kill Thanos. So how do you choose the team? Do you go to the Guardians, who combine both strong motive and proven talent (and the guy who has ‘Thanos is weak against me’ as a superpower)? Do you gather up whichever members of the Annihilators aren’t too busy (which is basically just Cosmo, Beta Ray Bill and the Silver Surfer, assuming Ronan is too busy because I think something bad happened to Hala?). Or do you just find everyone who isn’t in another book that is ‘connected’ to Thanos and contrive a reason. Starfox doesn’t so much make an active decision, and is instead told that it is time to take responsibility for his brother. While Nebula’s pitch is ‘well, you used to pretend to be Thanos’ granddaughter for the status, but you would get more status as the killer of Thanos. That is why you should be part of this team’, which is kind of forced and ignores what Nebula brings to the table other than ‘generally a badass’. And it also doesn’t match entirely well with Nebula’s intro, that puts a greater emphasis on her as greedy or wrathful than as desperate for status.

    Meanwhile, Thanos talks a big game about being a super smart scientist who is talking to his one superior about his condition, but he is essentially ‘evil punchy dude’. He has one line that felt more THanos than the entire first issue (‘Surely not even you have a reason to slaughter them?’ ‘You said it yourself. I am a monster. I need no reason’. A fantastic line taunting Mentor by mocking Mentor’s own judgements). But it is still lacking. Instead of saying he tried science and failed, what if he worked alongside Mentor? Would the two of them working together be more interesting than Thanos just standing there, threatening? Father and son bonding over their shared love of science, except they actually hate each other and there is no bonding?

    Also, why is Thanos alone? He just got his big army back. Let him use it. It is a big part of what makes him different from more traditional supervillains. Develop a new Black Order. Give him minions. Make him a guy that has so many advantages, that the fact the he can punch the Hulk and win isn’t a big deal. Because that is what makes Thanos the cosmic level threat he is.

    Thanos should be more than a guy who walks around punching people

    __________________________________________________________

    Unbelievable Gwenpool: Patrick, I completely understand your concerns about metanarratives, because it is something I am frequently concerned about with highly meta stories. Meta narratives are great, but only when they have a strong sense of purpose.

    But I am really surprised that you are worried about Gwenpool, as Gwenpool has always had a very clear purpose to its metanarrative elements. Gwen is the fan who has an unhealthy relationship with her object of fandom. It is seen as a way for her to escape her life, and she is unaware about the negative consequences of her unhealthy engagement.

    I think a key idea is that Gwen isn’t right when she believes she is in a comic book, but that she in a world that happens to match the comics she read (kind of like what Grant Morrison did in Multiversity). Just as Abed saying he always wanted to be in a mafia movie isn’t him identifying the fact that the episode itself is a mafia movie. That’s why Doctor Strange can across cross universes to Gwen’s universe.

    And what this means is that while Gwen believes that she is in control of the tropes and rules of the universe, she really isn’t. That’s why she accidentally got her best friend killed, or why her master plan that was built on the idea that police are meaningless extras blew up on her face because people actually care about the police. Or why Spiderman had such a problem with Gwen’s solution of ‘kill a minor bad guy, because then the day is saved’. Or why her plan to call Miles failed by the simple fact that someone else picked up the phone. Or how she is now going to have to deal with the fact that minions require pay cheques.

    Just as there is a specific breed of fan that needs to learn how to healthily enjoy the object of their fandom, Gwen needs to learn how to healthily enjoy her escapism in the world of her favourite comics. Which means, for both Gwen as the fans she represents, things like understanding that a philosophy that assigns importance solely by proximity to main characters is bullshit. Or that escapism is a healthy release, but it is not a path to escape real world problems (like the unresolved issues that Gwen clearly has with her home dimension). To me, that is what Gwenpool has always been, which is why I have never felt the metanarrative elements elements are their own ends. Gwenpool has always been a critique of the unhealthy ways that fans can engage in art.

    And, on a completely different note, I love Vincent’s origin, especially the Tinkerer’s role. The fact that he is so mythologically plugged in represents how he is just as absurd and deluded as Gwen herself. His concept of ordinary is just as silly as Gwen’s idea that this is a consequence free comic book. Ordinary, in the Marvel Universe, is Doctor Doom, and Robots and aliens and magic. His very past reveals the very hypocrisy of his position.

    But the Tinkerer is the best part. Where did Vincent get his ideas? The story sets it up that Vincent gets his ideas from an ordinary man, feeling insignificant because of the walking gods and nostalgic for a better time. But that final twist changes everything. Because Vincent didn’t get his beliefs from the ordinary people whose ordinaryness he is championing. He got it from a supervillain. The very person who represents those that Vincent fights for isn’t an ordinary person, but a supervillain. The people whose views he actually represents are the bitter, the hateful, the insecure. The people who lash out at society as supervillains. Those are whose views Vincent is actually championing, and that is why his position is so false. Fantastically clever

  4. I was more tolerant of Occupy Avengers than Matt was for the following reasons:

    1) It had Hydro Man.
    2) I had Hydro Man win and not be allowed to win because of James Bond villain type scheming.
    3) Red Wolf was such a good little book that nobody read it’s great to see him fairly represented.
    4) It respects and understands the difficulties in Red Wolf’s continuity and name.
    5) It was a complete story in 2 issues as well as being the set up for a buddy road trip adventure by the writer who is currently writing the best buddy story in comics right now.

    • There was some clever stuff in Occupy Avengers. His take on Red Wolf is really clever, in how he explores Red Wolf’s culture shock and how he interprets it.

      But while there were some good lines (I won’t call you red…), the buddy story didn’t work as well as Power Man and Iron FIst. Are you right that Walker is writing the best buddy story in comics? Yes. And that is why I was looking forward to this book. But so far, the buddy stuff doesn’t work anywhere near as well

      There is merit to the book in its current state, but can’t hide that I am disappointed. Don’t think the book is for me

  5. Also, I’m going to say I’m completely loving this Spider-Man arc. And really, Ben *did* kill Miles, right? He just doesn’t count it as killing because he brought him back? Multiple times? And it’s not really killing if you plan on raising him as a junkie techno zombie immediately I don’t think. I’d have to check my law books.

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