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 All-New Wolverine 18, Captain America Steve Rogers, Old Man Logan 19, Power Man and Iron Fist 14, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 18 and Unbelievable Gwenpool 14. Also, we discussed IvX 6 on Thursday, and will be discussing Nova 4 on Monday and Man-Thing 1 and Silver Surfer 9 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
All-New Wolverine 18
Drew: It’s a testament to how strong All-New Wolverine has been that this issue — a perfectly satisfying conclusion not only to a six-part story arc, but also to Laura’s entire relationship with Kimura — feels like a step down in quality. That may be mostly due to last month’s issue, which delivered a much more intensely personal climax as Laura worked to tame her killer instincts, leaving this one to feel a bit like falling action, even though it features Laura’s final showdown with Kimura. There are more epic fights in this one, for sure, but I think this series may be at its best in its quieter, weirder moments.
But holy hell are the fights here epic. Like, Wolverine in an Iron Man suit epic. It’s absurdly big, which I suspect is why writer Tom Taylor ultimately brings it back down to just Laura and Kimura, staring into each other’s eyes as Laura drowns Kimura. It’s an unsettlingly quiet moment after pages of bombast, and it works:
Artist Nik Virella sells the everloving snot out of the intensity of this moment. Like I said — it’s a testament to how good this series is that this issue isn’t personal enough. We’ve been spoiled.
Last month, I wondered where this series could go after reconciling with Laura’s past, and this issue only reinforces that question. And let me be clear here: it’s not that it can’t go somewhere, it’s that it can go anywhere. Freed from her past, Laura can now determine her future, but that’s totally uncharted territory for this character. It’s an exciting new world, established by these last two monumental issues.
Captain America Steve Rogers 13
Patrick: Any time there’s a super-villain team-up, I gotta ask how all those homicidal, anti-social, sociopathic personalities ever agreed to work together. I mean, I let that question go, because sometimes it’s more rewarding to have fun than ask questions, but the thought often lingers on my brain for just a touch too long to be comfortable. Captain America Steve Rogers 13 follows Baron Zemo as he collects a single — seemingly trivial — member of his villainous coalition: the mysterious Bob Hoffstetter.
I haven’t cracked who or what Bob is supposed to be. If he’s a reference to Cap lore, I haven’t been able to dig that info up. I originally suspected that his name could be a reference to the hapless Bob, Agent of Hydra, acting as a stand in for all the other schmucks who are trying to live a normal life, but then also work for Hydra. Whatever the case, Zemo has identified him as a crucial part of Cap’s plan, and very gradually pitches him on the concept of family and working together for a common cause. He ties him to a chair too, but the pitch is sincere and vulnerable. Zemo is oddly exposed as he bares all his fears and insecurities, while the flashback plays a successful Invaders raid on a WW2 era Hydra compound as tragedy. It’s almost grueling — too much time spent sympathetic to Zemo — but Bob finally acquiesces. And that’s when the magic starts: Nick Spencer and artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt wordlessly tell this same story 16 more times.
It’s like, every single two-bit baddy in the Marvel Universe (including several I don’t recognize). That’s a stark contrast to the cover of the issue, which works to remind us that Cap wasn’t alone fighting Hydra and the Nazis in the first place — both the Invaders and the US Army were always fighting with him. Zemo is building that following back on the Hydra side, one C-List villain at a time.
Old Man Logan 19
Spencer: Old Man Logan is a hard book to sum up. Just explaining why this version of Logan is running around in the current Marvel Universe is hard enough, but then there’s the question of what the book’s actually about, what Logan’s goals are. What’s interesting about that question is that Logan’s motivation seems to fluctuate wildly from arc to arc. It’s to Jeff Lemire’s credit that the narrative tangents he sends Logan down never feel out of character or improperly motivated, but nonetheless, they don’t exactly make him look all that stable.
Maybe that’s the point, though. Logan’s latest mission (to return to the Wasteland to rescue the Hulk-baby he left behind) is mostly just met with incredulous stares.
It’s not hard to understand why. Logan’s flip-flopping, and Lemire’s returning to the structure that defined Old Man Logan‘s first arc (Logan’s determined to do something that’s quite possibly insane, Marvel’s greatest heroes show up to try to talk him out of it), but which he had since moved on from; it feels like regression. It’s entirely possible that the feeling is intentional on Lemire’s part, that we’re supposed to be frustrated by Logan’s bizarre character arc, but that doesn’t always make for a satisfying read. This is probably an issue that will read better once we have a clearer idea of where it’s heading; as of now, it’s hard to tell whether it’s Logan who can’t let go of the Wastelands, or Lemire.
I’m also thoroughly missing Andrea Sorrentino. That’s not a knock against Filipe Andrade, whose work is actually quite well-suited for Old Man Logan — Sorrentino’s just an impossible act to follow. Sorrentino elevates this title to a different level, and without it, any issues with the writing just become that much more apparent.
Power Man and Iron Fist 14
Taylor: For all their spectacle, costumes, and witty dialogue, superhero stories are really just an allegory for our own regular and boring lives. Sometimes these allegories are heavily veiled, but others times they are barely disguised at all. Such is the case for Iron Man and Iron Fist, where the line between reality and fiction is barely perceptible.
Danny and Luke are still on the hunt for Alex Wilder, a man who was sent to Hell but who has returned and is now peddling drugs to the people of New York. Of particular befuddlement to our heroes is just exactly what type of drug it is that Alex is selling as it turns people into something close to zombies. With nowhere else to turn they ask Doctor Voodoo who in turn offers a suggestion.
The drug that Alex is selling is actually demon blood that eases suffering for the user. Too much use of the drug leads to someone being possessed. While these results are steeped in magic it takes only the barest scrutiny to realize that this is an allegory about drugs in real life, which also eases the users suffering for time and which also possesses them in a manner of speaking. While all good art should reflect on our society in some way, the fact that this supernatural drug is exactly like drugs available in our world seems a bit lazy. Why not just have Luke and Danny fight an actual drug dealer as oppose to a supernatural demon one? True, the argument could go the other way and how you look on it really is a matter of taste.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 18
Drew: Who doesn’t love a good heel turn? Allies are fun, but there’s nothing quite as thrilling as an ally turned bad (or an ally who was never really an ally). Besides: Squirrel Girl’s cup runneth over with allies. I mean, with pals like Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk (and Nancy) at her side, who needs an Edna Mode-style seamstress to the superheroes? Hell, a villainous Edna Mode just sounds like a good premise. And it is.
Writer Ryan North paces out that reveal perfectly, establishing Nancy’s suspicions long before Doreen catches on. It riffs on Doreen’s faith in humanity, sure, but it also leaves room for some laughs as the reality of the situation dawns on her:
I defy anyone to find a moment where a superhero saying “aw man” isn’t hilarious.
It’s always easy to focus on North’s text — especially his distinctive-as-ever marginalia — but artist Erica Henderson is working her ass off selling every one of these moments. 16-panel grids are a rarity in modern superhero comics, and not only does Henderson tackle two in this issue, she manages to make them legible and interesting, even as they cover the talkiest part of the story. This is far from the flashiest artwork in the issue, but it might demonstrate the most skill — every joke here is paced perfectly, and I’m particularly fond of the care Henderson takes ending each line with an image that directs the eye back to the left. This is fiddly, technical stuff, but Henderson is absolutely nailing it.
Unbelievable Gwenpool 13
Patrick: Wait wait wait wait wait: Gwen doesn’t read Deadpool? Her criticism that Deadpool is “just a little too ‘LOL memes!’ for (her)” is fair enough, but so too is her instant recoil at the realization: “Wait. Is that how you see me?” This issue seems to be making the case for the irreverent fourth wall breakers as the real truth-tellers. Between the D&D references and the Mortal Kombat jokes and the gratuitous violence, there are real messages about feeling inadequate and the need for empathy.
Empathy has been kinda tough for Gwen, who too frequently sees her friends as characters in a comic book (and background characters at that!). This issue even takes it one step further, as Gwen visualizes her team’s fight against Deadpool as a game of Dungeons and Dragons, reducing a life and death struggle to figurines on a board.
Those chibi figures sure are cute, but there’s no clearer representation of Gwen’s fucked up view of her friends than this grid right here. The whole fight melts away as soon as Gwen is convinced to see herself in the same light as everyone else. Thing is: she doesn’t get there by seeing everyone else as real, but finally recognizing herself as fake. Writer Christopher Hastings is so smart here, realizing that only Deadpool would have the knowledge to convince her of her own triviality. She’s an alternate-cover joke that spun off into a story in the back-ups to Howard the Duck — how much more trivial could you get?
Gwen spits back the equivalent of a “takes one to know one” and the issue comes to a stand still. Why value anything, why do anything if none of it is real and you recognize it as fiction? Deadpool sums it up nicely.
“We all just live here. Don’t we?” These people and these lives are worth fighting for, not necessarily because they’re real, but because they’re all they’ve got. Gwen and Wade team up and beat up Arcade, but the real resolution comes later, when Gwen embraces this fully for her team. She gets Tony an interview and a job at Parker Industries, and lets Terrible Eye go off to NYU. Gwen’s letting go of the whole institution of M.O.D.O.K., and decides to be a little more human, even in the comic book world.
(Of course, that’s all slightly undermined by Gwen murdering a bunch of people so Cecil can inhabit a new body, but what can you do? Baby steps, I suppose.)
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?
All New Wolverine: This issue may be a step down from last month’s issue, but I thinking drawing attention to it misses all of the truly great moments. Last issue was a fantastic, personal issue, but to call that issue misses all of the personal climaxes this issue has. And there were so many fantastic climaxes to the many arc that this issue concluded.
Like the reveal that Laura didn’t kill the people of Daylesville. This was a twist that could so easily have failed, could have turned into an IvX thing where storytelling is smothered by the attempt to keep the character’s morality in tact. But this doesn’t happen here. In part, because Laura has a long history of murdering innocent people of the trigger scent – she is one of those characters who will always live with the sins of that past. BUt most importantly, this arc has always been about how the trigger scent doesn’t rule Laura, that she has the ability to fight it. That she has always been fighting it. It wouldn’t make sense for Laura not to have attempted to fight the trigger scent. And I have to say, putting her claws through her brain is the exact sort of brutality that I loved from the first issue of All New Wolverine. A willingness to take truly astonishing punishment to save others, because at least she can heal (the director of Logan mentioned the difficulty of healing factors in action sequences in an interview, and how it was always important to him to have Wolverine in fights where the stakes weren’t his own health, but the protection of those he cares about. That has been All New Wolverine’s philosophy from day one)
Or the reversal of that fantastic scene in the first issue (well, every scene in that perfect first issue was fantastic), with Laura comforting Warren by tapping him on the head. Doesn’t make as much sense as it did in that first issue, but a way to connect this issue as the finale not just to the story arc, but to the first 18 issues and to make sure we have Laura’s humanity front and centre before the final fight with Kimura.
And what a fight. Kimura has always been a great villain for Laura, as she is specifically designed so that Laura cannot harm her (both in the diegesis of the comics and as a creative choice by the writers). Kimura was the past always chasing after her, and Laura could never slay it. Her first encounters with Kimura post-escape were gruesome, involving such techniques as Laura cutting her own arm off to escape. Later, she relied on the help of friends and allies, people like Emma Frost who could fight in ways that Laura couldn’t (while Kimura’s psychic protections were likely a contrivance to avoid Jean Grey breaking the plot, it also works as a fantastic piece of character progression. After what Emma did to Kimura, she would do anything to protect herself from psychic invasion. One of the most brutal and imaginative ways to hurt someone I’ve seen. Still one of my favourite Emma Frost scenes)
And so, Taylor identifies Kimura’s one weakness that Laura can exploit at the time for the final confrontation. And what a final confrontation. So many layers to discuss. The obvious stuff is how Kimura refuses to see Laura as anything than a designation. Only as the 23rd iteration of the Facility’s experiments of the Weapon X genome. But Laura refutes that, giving a strong and powerful refutation of her own identity. It isn’t just that she is Laura Kinney. It is that she is the daughter of Sarah Kinney, and the daughter of Logan. She is not an experiment gained sentience, she is someone who, like everyone else, was born. Has parents. And then, to finish it off, she states ‘I’m Wolverine’ as the Iron Man Armour breaks off and she shows herself in full costume. A complete refutation of everything that X-23 means. She is not an experiment, X-23 is not her name. It isn’t even her superhero identity. She is everything but the weapon she as created to be.
And then there is the choice to kill Kimura. Break the one rule that has defined Laura since the beginning of this run. Laura was looking for a better way, and she has to compromise. In some ways, Drew is right, in that Laura can go anywhere, but there is a faint level of tragedy that Laura couldn’t get through this without death. She is further from her past than she ever was, but she is still a killer. She still couldn’t escape that part of her life. I’m interested to see how breaking that oath reverberates in future issues.
And yeah, the art for that page of Kimura dying is one of the few times the art works, and it is sensational. The power of the emotions, the rage Laura has, the horror and the struggle Kimura faces… Perfect. It is unfortunate that the next page, what should have been equally powerful as Laura cries and comes to terms with what she just did, the good and the bad, was bungled. But still, a truly powerful emotional climax.
And then the story ends with one last climax. One that I think will be particularly exciting as the story continues. Laura returning to her aunt and cousin. The last emotional arc of this story is resolved, and Laura does something she has never been able to do before. Actually reclaimed her past. Of course, there is a lot of her past she can never get back, or stuff that she never wants back. But to have the ability to reach back and grab the one thing that she can have back is a win that Laura has never, ever received. Not in New X-Men. Not in her first ongoing. Not in any story where she has made serious gains to move on from her past.
It is honestly a testament to the entire arc that there are this many different emotional arcs in the story, and that between the last two issues, so, so many emotional payoffs have occurred.
Though, of course, this issue isn’t perfect. The idea that Laura would be arrested until Bellona’s confession is stupid. Even if Laura hadn’t stabbed herself through the face, Laura wasn’t responsible. The only reason you wouldn’t let Laura go after this is if you thought there was risk of her being controlled again, that her susceptibility to such control makes her a risk (think of the Civil War movie, where Bucky chooses to be refrozen as the risk of someone else using the code words on him makes it too dangerous for him to be free until a cure is found). Except Laura just proved that she was immune to the trigger scent. To get justice for the Dayesville Massacre, it was Kimura and her organisation that needed to be brought to justice. Not Laura.
And the art has continued to be a blight on an amazing arc. Drew is right to praise that one page, but everything else is flat. Virella has a fantastic sense of composition, both in how the panels are arranged and the panels themselves. I love Gambit’s card being caught, or Jean’s mind control, or the entire page where Angel gets hit by a ricochet off Laura’s armour. Except for the fact that the art itself is terrible. That;s probably why this issue feels less personal than the last one. Because the spectacle and the emotional arcs are interlinked in a way that last issue wasn’t. And the art can’t sell the spectacle. Big moments that should be sold by the art fall flat, as we look at characters who don’t properly emote. Characters look awkward, or static. It is unsurprising that one of the best panels is of an empty Iron Man suit. I praised the panels and the composition of the page were Warren gets shot, but the art doesn’t communicate well as Warren’s expression is laughable. With some great moments on spectacle on display (I love that Tyger Tyger has a black Market Iron Man suit, and things like the can of beans or Jean’s mind control are great moments), the fact that the art can’t back it up is sad. Especially as we know Virella, when the appropriate effort is placed on the page, can create fatnastically expressive pages. Why couldn’t the rest of the issue’s art be as good as Kimura’s death?
Still, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next. What the next great, big Wolverine story is. Even if I am likely to spend a good portion of next issue complaining about the costume change (the current one looks bad, but has very important thematic value!)
Captain America: I first thought Bob could be Bob: Agent of HYDRA, but apparently he is a big mystery of Secret Empire. So I assume the answer is more complicated. But the real problem is, 13 issues in, Nick Spencer is far too busy setting up his story and we keep being denied proper payoffs, because the actual payoff is Secret Empire. It is getting frustrating, the fact that we every issue feels like it needs another draft so that the issue works on its own, instead of merely set up for what looks to be a great event.
Because when you spend four pages showing Zemo recruiting, seeing that Zemo has recruited an army isn’t a payoff. The major thing that requires a payoff is Bob, who simply left mysterious. If you wanted the supervillain army to be the issue’s big payoff, it had to be a reveal. Here, we miss a true ending. Just more set up for Secret Wars.
And least the idea of sending Zemo and Bucky against each other seems like it will be interesting, and that Zemo will have an interesting arc in the main event. But it still feels sad that the bad Thunderbolts book actually has more plot progression than this, even as it also sets up Secret Empire.
Bring on Secret EMpire. Because I’m rapidly getting annoyed at the set up
Jessica Jones: This books is trucking along, but as the first arc concludes, this issue suffers from being a classic cliche. We know it is a con, but we also think Jessica has been turned? What will happen? It goes exactly as it has to go – I mean, a superhero comic is a terrible place to do this sort of plotline, as we know for a fact that Carol Danvers won’t be killed in the Jessica Jones book.
Instead of being a conclusion, this feels like the necessary setup for the rest of the comic. The stuff with Luke Cage is the best, addressing the betrayal and the themes of celebrity really well. But what we really have here is that
Power Man and Iron FIst: Yeah, the magic drug is not the best metaphor for actual drugs. Not so much a metaphor as exactly what it is. It feels like it would have been better to use either a real drug, or a fictional drug like MGH. Not create the weird magic drug that doesn’t really work as a metaphor. Hopefully, it will lead to some great magic stuff with the Grandmaster of Street Magic stuff, but not yet.
To me, I am more enjoying how everything is coming full circle. How the very first story relates to the very final one. Not just with the supersoul stone. But with Jennie coming back. The weird magic drug may be called Redemption, but the real redemption is that Jennie returned, wishing to fix the problems caused and atone for her sins at the very start.
This book is a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I’m loving how everything is slowly coming together. WIth stuff like Jennie’s redemption, let’s hope the focus narrows again as we enter what is sure to be a wild climax
Gwenpool: Patrick, what do you mean about Gwen finally letting go of the institution of MODOK? Because I would never say that Gwen cared too much about the MODOK organisation. Her interest, as much as she had an interest, was in the team itself. And she hasn’t let go of the team. In fact, she pledges to stick together, and is treating them as an actual family, instead of zany sidekicks. The fact that they aren’t a mercenary group, and Gwen is actually helping them have lives without her, doesn’t mean that she’s letting go of anything. To me, this was a story of learning how important the things in front of you are, and actually making the commitment to do your duty to your friends. She is more committed than ever.
Also, I don’t think she murdered anyone on that last page. Looks to be lots of bruises, so I think she just knocked them out
Yes, I was being imprecise with what I was saying. It’s definitely not that she has an affinity for MODOK, but that she likes having a superhero (/supervillain) team. The individuals on the team break down to their gaming types (healers, tanks, magic users), but not down to their individual needs and personalities. I think that’s where she’s different now – she’s addressing their personal needs rather than having them execute on their skills.
And I hope you’re right about that last page! Even still, is she planning to put Cecil inside one of those bodies? That can’t be good for the soul inside it.
Yeah, Gwen has certainly stopped seeing the team as an extension of her own fantasy, and as people with their own wants and needs that she cares about
And I assume that the quest for Cecil’s new body will be more complicated than putting it in one of those bodies, something that requires an actual story. Especially as I don’t think they are dead. Ultimately, Hasting has done a good job in being very aware of the exact morality of Gwen’s actions