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 Black Panther 9, Black Widow 9, Captain America: Steve Rogers 8, Extraordinary X-Men 17, Mighty Thor 14, Spider-Woman 14 and Uncanny Inhumans 17. Also, we discussed Civil War II 8 on Thursday and will be discussing Hulk 1 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Black Panther 9
Ryan D.: Since Black Panther restarted, I have been skeptical about the role which T’Challa’s sister would play in the world of Wakanda when she returned from the Living Death. Now, she’s back, and I think that this might be the best thing to happen to the titular character yet. With her wisdom accumulated during her time in that spirit plane, Shuri’s look on ideology and strategy makes T’Challa’s approach, which we’ve been watching for eight issues, feel ham-fisted and unwieldy, which is exactly how I, as a reader, felt about him as a king.
Issue nine doesn’t feature any fisticuffs or dust-ups, but instead allows itself to affirm where each of the big pieces on the chess board are, ideologically. These conversations — and this is an issue comprised primarily of conversations — foreshadow the physical confrontations which will invariably come, so I do not mind the pacing dip. I am very happy with the change of artist back to its original which also accompanies this issue; I mean no disrespect to Chris Sprouse, but Brian Stelfreeze does a very admirable job with illustrating the people in this world:
One thing which struck me in this title involves the very angular, lean look which the characters sport- everyone here has an eight pack and probably about four percent body fat. On top of this, writer Ta’Nehisi Coates, accomplished journalist extraordinaire, writes all of these characters as if they are all incredibly wise. While it is great hearing points argued by people with sound arguments, it’s almost unbelievable to me how thoughtful everyone seems to be. Some of the rebels, for example, must not be traditionally educated, and their characters are inherently more heart-lead than brain-lead, so it is odd hearing them speak just as eloquently as the royalty of the nation.
It’s telling to me about what kind of story is being told here by the very fact that we are on part 9 of this arc; the industry standard for one being about six issues deep. Coates continues to weave a nuanced political geography in this series, and while this dialogue-heavy, Dune-esque chapter might not be for everyone, I think the time invested here will pay off in the future, and keeps me guessing about who is — or if there is — a true good or bad guy in this series. If you’re a fan of ideological dissonance and the exploration of themes such as the pragmatic vs. philosophy of revolution, than number nine is for you. If not, maybe tune in next month to see whether Coates is prepared to knock some pieces off the game board.
Black Widow 9
Spencer: Throughout Black Widow‘s entire run, Mark Waid has been quick to redirect all praise towards artist and co-writer Chris Samnee. Looking at Black Widow 9, it’s easy to see why — much like their exhilarating first issue, this month’s installment is driven almost solely by Samnee’s visuals, and it makes for a propulsive issue with several bravura sequences.
The first comes on the very first page. We open on complete darkness, only for the silence to be instantly shattered by that jarring gunshot (which colorist Matthew Wilson even depicts in red, a stark contrast to the cool colors that fill the rest of the page). Samnee and Wilson take their time filling the page in with detail and color, which, at least to me, simulates the effect of the gunshot echoing across the landscape; we don’t even see Natasha until the fourth panel, but once we do, she immediately leaps into action. I love the detail of her clothes flying behind her as she dashes up the hill; it’s a bit cartoony, but in a good way, immediately showing us Nat’s urgency.
Samnee and Wilson use similar techniques for the next few pages, punctuating their slower, coolly-colored pages with sharp bursts of red-tinted violence, but once the all-out brawl between Natasha, Bucky, and Recluse breaks out, they shift gears entirely.
There’s some beautiful choreography in play here — I love Recluse’s ballet-inspired kick in panel 3 — but I’m most impressed by the use of silhouette. It creates this almost poetic contrast to the violent red backgrounds, but it also amazes me how clear the action is even with all three combatants bathed in shadow; Samnee and Wilson keep just enough detail visible to make each character immediately recognizable.
I’m not trying to sell this issue’s actual story short — Iosef gets a fitting, surprisingly sad farewell, and Samnee and Waid are doing some interesting stuff with Nat and Bucky and what they may or may not remember about each other — but Samnee and Wilson’s action sequences continue to be this title greatest selling point, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
Captain America: Steve Rogers 8
…the red skull is a nazi. This is the position of neo-nazi groups throughout the world right now. That is simple fact.
Drew: When the first issue of this series came out, it was impossible to ignore the parallels between Red Skull’s recruitment pitch and the stump speeches Donald Trump was making around the country at the time. Turns out, writer Nick Spencer was more explicitly cribbing from the rhetoric of European neo-nazis, though I think quibbling about that difference is splitting hairs — the sentiments are largely the same, and undoubtedly share some inspiration. Either way, our focus on the Red Skull’s ideology meant we were necessarily giving short shrift to that of the series titular character. Having now had about 6 months to get to know this new Steve Rogers, we have a much better idea of who he is, and how exactly he (and us) might reconcile his unwavering moral compass with the ideology of Hydra.
Let me clarify: as ever, this series is decidedly NOT a defence of neo-nazism, and Steve’s status as Hydra sleeper agent shouldn’t be confused as an endorsement of neo-nazism (a point I only mention because the tweet quoted above was in response to continued confusion over this). Instead, this series has long been about the banality of evil — hateful ideology isn’t just held by mustache-twirling villains, but by seemingly decent, upstanding citizens. Steve Rogers is as seemingly decent and upstanding as they come, and while it’s not clear exactly what his vision for Hydra is, there’s little doubt that he’s a fascist. Only, he’s a fascist who works to destabilize fascist rebellions and fears his government’s reach exceeding its grasp. That last one is particularly salient in this issue, as his objections to Avril Kincaid’s deployment echo (and make direct reference to) his objections to Pleasant Hill.
But of course, as a double-agent, it’s difficult to parse Steve’s true feelings. Are his objections sincere, or are they just part of the character he plays? It seems he organized the Chitauri attack that drew Avril out specifically to ask her for help in tracking down Kobik. Whether he agrees or disagrees with Avril’s deployment is irrelevant — all that matters is that he knew she would be deployed. In this way, the only glimpse (we think) we get of Steve’s unguarded opinion is when he’s talking to Erik Selvig, where Cap’s righteousness feels very familiar, even as its contains decidedly opposite ideology. We’re getting glimpses of Steve’s “no, you move” speech, but it’s now the world as we know it that needs to move.
Extraordinary X-Men 17
Patrick: I haven’t been reading this series for the last 16 issues, but I am in the market for as much IvX as Marvel has to throw at me. Usually, this kind of thing bites me in the ass — just because a series is taking part in an event I like doesn’t necessarily mean that these issues are going to up to the standard I’ve come to expect from the story. But, whatever — that just comes with the territory, right? Extraordinary X-Men 17 is not nearly as polished as the first two issues of the main event, or the Death of X mini-series, but it does drive at some compelling universal truths about fighting causes on micro- and macro-levels simultaneously.
The issue is maybe a little too precious about steeling Storm’s resolve to go to war against the Inhumans. We’re introduced to a young mutant named Maya, who is dying from M-Pox in the X-Haven. Her family tries to brighten her spirits by bringing Maya’s personal hero, Storm, to see her before she dies. Storm makes it, but only just in time to watch the child, now named Lucid for her ability to see through anything, succumb to the disease. Writer Jeff Lemire pulls no punches as Maya’s sister’s voiceover recounts everything Storm has been to her — icon, rebel, queen, warrior. This very neatly recalls Emma’s eulogy for Cyclops. The difference is that Storm is here to see the impact she’s had on a young girl who needs her. It’s dramatic as shit, and Lemire and artist Eric Koda cap it with a cathartic bolt of emotional lightning. It’s sort of a drag that the creative team sits in Storm’s explanation for her change of heart for two pages. We get it: shit got real. Had we cut from the spread of lightning streaking across the sky directly to Storm saying “we’re going to war,” it would have been f u c k i n g awesome.
Also, I hate to gripe on artistic talent so generally, but Koda’s artwork in this issue leaves a lot to be desired. His storytelling impulses are all pretty good, but the final work distractingly lacks polish.
That weird circle is supposed to be Maya’s head. The strength of Lemire’s ideas more than make up for these shortcomings.
Mighty Thor 14
Taylor: Jane Foster knows a thing or two about losing. Every time she powers down from being Thor her cancer is worse and it seems it is only a matter of time before she loses the battle for her life. With this is mind, it should come as no shock that Thor also handles losing well, even if it happens in the most horrendous fashion.
Malekith is continuing his rampage through Alfheim and, despite getting help from heroes of the ten realms, Thor is unable to stop him from destroying eons-old structures and artifacts. He has also sucked Alfheim dry of all its resources to destroy it and fuel his army of dark elves. Throughout this entire issue things of this nature occur again and again. Indeed, if hard pressed it would still be difficult to find a bright spot in this dark issue that is just loss after loss for our heroes.
Jane is her usual strong self after this crushing loss to the dark forces, and that should come as no surprise. Well-versed in what it means to lose, Jane knows how to deal with situations like these. The question now is if her compatriots can learn the same lessons from losing that she has. If they do, perhaps they will see, just as Jane has, that loss can fuel, drive, and sustain you through difficult times. They say that it is always darkest before the dawn, and we can only hope that proves true in this series.
Regardless of what does happen, it’s exciting to see Jane take on the leadership role among her ten-realmed peers. As Thor, she is one of the strongest gods in the universe and it only seems right that she should now use this power to inspire and lead others in their time of need. Paired with the fall of Odin it’s enticing to think what will happen to Jane should she persevere through this loss and lead the ten realms into prosperity once more.
Spencer: Grief is complicated. I know; understatement of the century, right? But the truth of the matter is that no two people grieve the same, and this alone can spark conflict in an already turbulent time. Jessica Drew’s deeply bereaved in Spider-Woman 14 after the death of her crime-fighting partner, nanny, and best friend Roger Gocking, a.k.a. the Porcupine. Dennis Hopeless, Veronica Fish, and Rachelle Rosenberg fill the issue’s opening sequences with so many heartbreaking, well observed details; Jessica’s breakdown when she starts referring to Roger in the past-tense, the way a sinister shade of red (anger? grief?) is overtaking her memories of Roger, the way the Pumpkin Bomb that killed Roger seems to be mocking Jess.
It’s a perfect portrait of someone distraught and grieving, but Jess quickly puts on her game face. She’s a mother, so she has to be strong for her son. Moreover, she’s a superhero, a woman of action, so there’s only so much moping she can do. For Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, grieving means taking action. It means avenging the death of her partner. But it means something else entirely for Roger’s ex-wife, the woman raising his daughter and planning his funeral.
To Jessica, Roger becoming a hero was a victory, but to Olivia, it’s just another disappointment. All Olivia wants to do is grieve without having to face the woman she blames for Roger’s death, but that accusation nearly brings her and Jess to blows before Ben Urich (ever the collected voice of reason) intervenes. He points out that Olivia has a point, but that’s essentially irrelevant. She and Jess need to allow each other room to grieve instead of clashing and pointing fingers. Neither one is wrong; they’re just different.
When discussing issue 13 I mentioned how I was initially worried Roger was returning to his criminal ways and how, after all the work he’d put into reforming, that probably would have hurt me more than even his death. Hopeless and Fish feint this way themselves when Jessica intercepts someone in the Porcupine suit robbing a bank. Jess makes it clear that she’s pissed no matter who’s in the suit, but the fact that she continues to call this Porcupine Roger makes it clear that she, too, shares my fears.
This is such an unusual cliffhanger, ending an issue mid-punch, in a small panel instead of a big flashy splash page, but it also illustrates how gutted Jess is. Just the possibility that her friend may have faked his death and returned to crime has her barely able to fight back, reduced to pleading as she lies prone on the floor. I feel so bad for Jessica. I feel so bad for everyone in this issue.
Uncanny Inhumans 17
Drew: I’m not much of a podcast listener, but I absolutely love Radiolab. The show has introduced me to so many ideas, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but it’s a testament to the consistency of the show that one of its most indelible moments comes from its very first episode, “Who Am I?”, which advances the theory that your sense of self — your very identity — is essentially a story you tell yourself. The objective accuracy of that story may vary from detail to detail, but the point is, it’s your story. This idea has been present throughout the current “A Song of Endings” arc of Uncanny Inhumans, which is brought to a poetic, thematically rich end in issue 17.
In constructing Auran out of the memories of other people, Treste and Irelle accidentally robbed their mother of her sense of self. She was no longer the story she told her self, but a conglomeration of the stories other people told about her. Exactly what that would mean for Auran is hard to describe — truly an identity crisis only comic book characters will ever experience — but artist R.B. Silva goes a long way to doing so when Sterilon meets her psychological embodiment on a metaphysical plane:
She’s a patchwork of countless perspectives, so has countless eyes, and doesn’t quite fit together into any coherent identity. Sterilon offers to smooth over these inconsistencies, but can’t actually give Auran her story back. What he can give back is Black Bolt’s powers, which sets off another only-for-comics identity crisis, where Black Bolt wonders if he’s more valuable to his people as a weapon or as an orator. These are fascinating ideas — fun places for comics storytelling to go — a trait that has always been a strength of writer Charles Soule, but has become a particularly important piece of this series’ identity. It allows us to know this series even as it continues to change.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?