We try to stay up on what’s going on at Marvel, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of Marvel Comics. Today, we’re discussing Amazing Spider-Man 23, Cage 4, Captain America: Sam Wilson 18, Clone Conspiracy 4, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 14, Star-Lord 2, Ultimates 2 3, Unbelievable Gwenpool 10 and Uncanny Inhumans 18. Also, we will be discussing Invincible Iron Man 3 on Monday, Deadpool the Duck 2 on Tuesday, and Black Widow 10 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Amazing Spider-Man 23
Drew: We’ve written at length how Clone Conspiracy has taken the wind out of the sails of Amazing Spider-Man — it’s effectively an Amazing Spider-Man story, but has sucked up all of the plot points for itself in order to be a satisfying read on its own. This has left ASM with little to do but fill in gaps that are necessarily inessential — moments that didn’t need to appear in Clone Conspiracy because the story works just fine without them. Issue 23 manages to turn that weakness into a strength, though, staking out emotional and psychological territory Clone Conspiracy doesn’t have time for, even though it might just hit on what’s so compelling about this premise.
The heart of this issue is Peter’s face time with Gwen, who tries to make the case for the value of these clones. Peter holds fast on his “clones are bad” platform, but Gwen suggests that his objections may have more to do with a martyr complex.
Maybe Peter’s emphasis on his responsibilities makes him reluctant to accept a world where he’s no longer responsible for the deaths of his loved ones. That’s an intriguing idea that tilts at the very core of what makes Spider-Man tick, suggesting that his cause may be a bit more selfish than he lets on.
It’s not clear if this idea will be addressed in future issues (of either this series or Clone Conspiracy) — the issue has to somewhat inelegantly weave its way from and back to the events of Clone Conspiracy 4 — but this was a fascinating diversion. It still may not be “essential,” but it comes a heck of a lot closer than the recent tie-in issues.
Taylor: One doesn’t Cage for the story. There’s a couple reasons for this such as the short length of the run (four issues), the fact that Luke Cage already stars in another excellent comic, and primarily because creator Genndy Tartakovsky doesn’t want you to anyway. Sure, this mini-series does have some sort of plot, but it’s basically the bare minimum needed to sustain anything that’s fit to be called a comic. Cage isn’t meant to be read because Tartakovsky wants you to view it. Any story that there is simply acts as the skeletal structure built support Tartakovsky’s amazing and endlessly entreating art.
In this ultimate issue of the mini-series Luke squares off against Professor Soos after surviving a gauntlet of abominable animal hybrids. It’s a hell of fight but Luke emerges victorious and is the recipient of a surprise party to thank him for his efforts. With such a simple story this issue could have easily failed but Tartakovsky’s art and Scott Willis’ colors make this issue a grand success. This is best exemplified on the pages when Soos and Cage go toe to toe trading blows and kicks.
Under Tartakovsky’s pen characters’ faces and bodies bend, twist and mold in fun and unexpected ways. Think of the the utterly bizarre and oddly disquieting animation seen in Ren and Stimpy and you get the idea. The point of all these manipulations is to accentuate motion, contact, and emotion in way that most comics don’t dare to try. It’s clear that Tartakovsky cut his chops in the animated world with panels like the ones above and you could easily see how Cage could be turned into a funky cartoon. Willis’ colors perfectly complement the outrageous images they’re working with and vacillate between sickly greens, bright reads, and cool blues that all help to accentuate villainy, hard hits, and resolve respectively.
This issue is a ton of fun and just like the mini-series is a huge amount of fun to read from beginning to end. If only every Marvel hero got this treatment.
Captain America Sam Wilson 18
Patrick: Oh boy. This was a hard one for me, guys. Writer Nick Spencer spells out a lot of how people are feeling about the video in Sam’s possession, but holds back a lot of his cards about the social, political and moral ramifications of letting that video see the lights of day. And the crux of that hand is Steve “Hail Hydra” Rogers.
Let’s just pump the breaks for a second to get on the same page. Rage is in jail after trying to bust up a robbery perpetrated by some D-List supervillains (including one of Spencer’s old favorites from Superior Foes, Speed Demon). It was the Americops that arrested him, and in so doing, beat the everloving shit out of him. Sam offers Rage all of the Avengers-outs he can think of — including access to blind and/or hulking attorneys — but Rage elects to let the debacle unfold as it would for any other black man, hoping to shine a light on a fundamentally broken (and hopelessly racist) system. That’s a noble sacrifice on Rage’s part, if not necessarily the smartest course of action for him personally. Put a pin in that idea.
Through the magic of bird-telepathy, Sam obtains a video of the arrest, and the content is fucking brutal – a violent misuse of power. Sam’s team sees this as a no-brainer: you release the video because people have a right to know what’s going on. That’s true: keeping secrets, especially dangerous ones, is demonstrably wrong. And I’m totally with them until Sam asks his ol’ buddy Steve Rogers what to do. Steve — it should be remembered — is an agent of Hydra, and actively working to destabilize America. Steve agrees: release the tape.
Spencer never clues us in to Steve’s strategy here, but artist Daniel Acuña quietly insists on the sinisterness of his intentions.
And Steve is right! This video is going to cause chaos, distrust and instability. But Sam is also right! People have the right to know when their institutions are failing them. It’s a heartbreaking reminder that what is right and what is safe are not always the same thing. Is Sam’s sacrifice as noble as Rage’s? Was Rage’s sacrifice that noble in the first place? How does anyone do any social good without causing more problems?
Clone Conspiracy 4
Spencer: Dan Slott and Jim Cheung’s Clone Conspiracy 4 speeds through numerous plot developments and pivotal turning points at a pace I imagine could be quite divisive among readers. We move from twist to twist so fast that they don’t always have a chance to hit as hard as they should, yet slowing down could easily lead to filler; Slott knows these characters so well that even if one of their decisions feels a bit sudden, they never feel forced, so why waste time with hand-wringing? Of course Peter could never betray Uncle Ben’s morals/memory; of course Otto would rather destroy everything around him than watch Anna Maria be insulted or hurt. The only decisions that didn’t have me immediately nodding my head “of course!” were Jackal/Ben Reilly’s.
It’s easy to simply blame Reilly’s actions on his madness (as even I initially did), but there’s more to it than that. Reilly’s so convinced in his own righteousness, so convinced that he’s the good guy, that nobody can tell him otherwise. When faced with people who disagree with him, when faced with sound logic, evidence, and reasoning that he’s in the wrong, Reilly would rather remake the world to fit his view of “right” than admit he’s wrong. Given the recent election, doesn’t that deluded viewpoint sound all too familiar, and all too real? The difference here is that Reilly has the power to quite literally remake the world to suit his vision.
I know Peter will stop him; as always, the fun lies in seeing how he’ll do it. Still, the question I really wanna see answered is how Peter was able to come to the decision not to help Reilly when so many of his doppelgängers gave in and became Reilly’s willing partner. The reason why could reveal quite a bit about Reilly, about Peter Parker, and about Clone Conspiracy as a whole.
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 14
Ryan M: Belonging and acceptance are basic human needs. While the plot of Patsy Walker A.K.A. Hellcat 14 is about Hellcat foiling Black Cat’s plans, thematically Kate Leth explores that drive for acceptance. This folds back into the primary conflict as Black Cat finds herself frustrated and disappointed in the blind approval from her minions. As it turns out, yes-men aren’t very fun to hang out with. Meanwhile, Hellcat doesn’t even consider wielding the magic claws of obedience, secure that her friends don’t need the extra encouragement to be on her side.
In a major step for Ian, he confronts his ex-girlfriend about her treatment of him and her inability to accept him. Throughout their relationship, he felt forced to conform to her expectations of manhood.
Brittney Williams shows his pain with a single panel, showing Ian literally forced into a corner. Ian’s story line in this book has been about him choosing to use his powers for good, falling for Tom and becoming more himself. The series has been about Patsy separating her present from her complicated and painful past. Now, we see that Ian is doing the same. In the middle panel on the right, we see in silhouette as Ian throws his parting words to Zoe. The image reinforces the emotional distance he feels from her. His eyes are facing front and he has no need to dwell on the past. I love the nuance of this story. It’s not just about an old girlfriend showing up and getting jealous or about someone you love not accepting your sexual and gender identity. Zoe and the life they had together are not treated as purely bad. I mean, Ian got a pretty sweet jacket out of it. Ian is in a much better place now and Leth gives him this moment where he moves on without needing anything from Zoe. Of course, in the end she does apologize, but that’s just a bonus.
At the end of the issue, Leth offers a sitcom “glad everything is back to normal” ending only to have Hellcat’s sneeze turn gold into fish. Yes, that sounds like a Mad Libs sentence, but it’s also a great way to tie up one arc while still leaving the reader wanting answers.
Spencer: While it took me by surprise at first, it’s ultimately rather fitting that so much of Chip Zdarsky and Kris Anka’s Star-Lord 2 is devoted to establishing Peter Quill’s new status quo. Since Peter’s now stranded on a planet he barely knows, still just beginning the process of establishing a new life for himself, it only makes sense that figuring out just exactly what his series will be will be a bit of a process too, even if it means throwing out a concept as a second issue cliffhanger that likely would have been the main selling point of any other series.
As much as the concept(s) drives the story (and provides the pathos) in Star-Lord, though, it’s Peter’s charisma that makes the book so much fun to read. Peter’s kind of like a big puppy dog, the kind who is perpetually enthusiastic and just wants to have adventures and make friends, but who often gets in trouble because he doesn’t understand his own strength. Sure Peter screws up plenty, both in general and in this title, but how can you stay mad at a face like this?
As much as Anka’s being (rightly) praised for bringing sexy back to Star-Lord, it’s his ability to capture pure joy in Peter’s expression over and over that most impresses me. Zdarsky also keeps Peter easy to root for by framing him as the ultimate underdog. It’s not just that he’s a stranger in a strange place; literally nothing goes Peter’s way, and pretty much everyone looks down on him. His vigilantism has somehow made an enemy out of Matt Murdock of all people, and even hero-worshipper extraordinaire Ms. Marvel ends up telling him off. The fact that Star-Lord is powerless is thrown around constantly to invalidate his experience as a hero, even when his sweet acrobatic skills show that he’s still got what it takes to do some good (even if he sometimes needs a little help from his friends). Peter Quill’s not perfect by any means, but Zdarsky and Anka have made him into someone I desperately want to see succeed, and that’s a major asset to this series.
Ultimates 2 3
You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch.
Drew: This quote comes from the movie — the book has a similar quote, but doesn’t quite capture the sentiment that the third track of a mix tape is ideally less exciting than the first two. It’s obviously not a hard-and-fast rule — again, Nick Hornby doesn’t explicitly endorse this logic in the book — but I think it tends to apply to serialized storytelling, too. (Case in point, the third episode of LOST was a Kate episode.) It certainly seems to be the case with Ultimates 2 3, which, after reuniting the team and establishing the stakes of their mission, largely hits the breaks to put the rest of the pieces in place. It’s clearly essential to the series moving forward, but can’t help but feel like a letdown after the thrill of those first two issues.
This issue opens with an introduction to the Troubleshooters, a group commissioned for the express purpose of reining in superhero groups like the Ultimates. We don’t get enough time with these characters to say much about them, but it’s clear they’re designed as kind of mirror images of the Ultimates. Of course, the Troubleshooters aren’t the only force working against the Ultimates — Master Order and Lord Chaos have decided to reshape the hierarchy of the universe, combining to form Logos.
We get even less time to understand the threat Logos poses — it’s introduced on the final page — but if I remember my Greek correctly, Logos is the divine reason implicit in the cosmos. That is, the will of this being is the logic of the cosmos. That’s about the most absolute power I can imagine, so am not holding out much hope that this will work out for anyone. Which is to say: this issue sets up conflicts that are much more interesting than anything in the issue itself, but that’s almost certainly by design.
Unbelievable Gwenpool 10
Patrick: For a series that seems convinced that crazier is better, it really is remarkable how much real world disappointment, confusion and misunderstanding is at the heart of The Unbelievable Gwenpool. Issue 10 opens on the achingly mundane exchange between an elderly couple discussing the most everyday of topics: what are we going to have for dinner. They’re cute and all, but there’s no real reason to develop these “background characters” (as Gwen calls them) other than to quietly insist on their reality, even while escalating the insanity around them. And that’s Gwen’s problem: she rests in that insanity because she’s still coming from a place that doesn’t allow her to see this world as “real.”
Mind you, that does make her ruthlessly effective. Despite not knowing how to operated the M.O.D.O.K. battle station, Gwen is able to rescue her friends and send a fleet of Teuthian war ships packing. Increasingly, however, her trope-addled brain is starting to looking fucking nuts, in profoundly dangerous ways. At the end of the issue, Gwen brags out how her plan was executed without harming any civilians (y’know, because she asked the NYPD to evacuate the neighborhood ahead of the attack). We can only assume that no one was hurt if we believe that the elderly couple from the beginning was the only family that missed this call. But hey — we know that’s not true.
Where’s my casual reassurance that those two out by the car made it out alive?
It’s interesting that in recent years Gerry Duggan has made the case that Deadpool’s forth wall breaking is the result of his mental illness, effectively drawing a clear line between cause and effect. Christopher Hastings seems to be drawing that same through-line, just in the opposite direction: Gwen’s knowledge that she’s running around a fictional world gradually makes her crazier and crazier. By the end of the issue, her Gwen-Army is gone and her friends are scattered to the wind, but does that represent any real consequences Gwen? It’s hard to say. She tears up and pouts a little, but then she’s right back to taking miscellaneous mercenary jobs.
Uncanny Inhuman 18
Spencer: By the end of Uncanny Inhumans 18, Charles Soule and Kim Jacinto have set in motion a development that could end up having major repercussions on IvX. Indeed, Maximus is correct when he says that the ability to create more Terrigen would effectively end the war between the mutants and the Inhumans — but with Maximus the Mad, nothing is ever that simple. That’s a fact Soule and Jacinto drive home throughout this issue, which mostly serves as a character study of Maximus and his new posse.
I was just talking yesterday about how vital a good script is, and Soule excels in that area this month, giving Maximus, Lineage, and the Unspoken each distinct voices and crackling dialogue. Maximus, again, is the stand-out in that regard; he fills the issue with a manic, almost giddy energy that perfectly matches his mindset.
This is the moment that defines Maximus for me; he’s not just about mindless chaos, but needs a spark of inspiration to fuel his madness. In a way, it echoes how creators must feel about Maximus — his particular brand of chaos won’t work in every story, but when an opportunity for Maximus to strike naturally opens in one, then he’ll easily take over the entire thing. With that in mind, Soule is probably wise to limit Maximus’ role in IvX to the tie-ins for now — we don’t need him stealing the spotlight just yet.
I’m also impressed with how Soule and Jacinto continue to explore Maximus’ cronies as well. The gag about the Unspoken just being a cranky old man gets a lot of mileage, and Lineage’s more laid-back, casual attitude masks how horrific he can actually be.
At first glance Lineage’s abilities would appear to be fairly benign, but here Jacinto and Soule show us not only how grotesque they actually are, but the toll they take on what must be hundreds of thousands of souls just looking for peace. As always, Uncanny Inhumans continues to build and explore the world of the Inhumans in a complex, compelling way; I can’t wait to see what these guys will do next, and how they’ll inevitably mix into IvX when the time comes.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?