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 Captain America Sam Wilson 20, Daredevil 18, Mighty Thor 17, Ms. Marvel and Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 16. Also, we’re discussing Amazing Spider-Man 25 today and we’ll be discussing Deadpool The Duck 5 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: “Desperation does not always allow for civility.” That’s the disquieting political message behind Nick Spencer and Paul Renaud’s Captain America Sam Wilson 20. For as much as Spencer’s work over the last couple years has positioned itself behind thin metaphors, it’s hard not to read this current arc not so much as representative of current societal ills, but demonstrative of them. We’re done with Shield-as-anology-for-office-of-the-president, and we’re done hiding behind the wonky language of liberal “snowflakes” — this story is a cold, calm execution of all-too-real cause and effect. The cops mercilessly beat a black man — Rage — while arresting him for a crime he didn’t commit. What is the proper public reaction? Sam knows what he thinks his reaction should be, and he dutifully tows the “the only good protest is peaceful protest” line. But peace can be ignored; violence cannot.
This issue, like many in the Sam Wilson series, whips around from various perspectives, showing how various groups, individuals and institutions are reacting to the news of Rage’s incarceration. Courts, pundits, churches, protestors, even Cap and Rage. The most measured response — at least, for my money — comes from Sam’s brother, Gideon, a priest. He calls for “righteous anger,” which, while entirely reasonable, is not a call for peace. It maybe doesn’t even matter who calls for what, because Rage’s life is in danger the moment he’s sentenced to time in a prison for superpowered villains. The only suitable solution is an immediate one, and no two groups or individuals can agree what that is. Gideon’s speech ramps up amid a cross-cutting nightmare, finding Renaud wordlessly skipping back and forth between a protest-turned-riot and Rage getting the shit beat out of him in prison. It’s a harrowing, five-page ordeal, and Spencer keeps us firmly anchored in Gideon’s sermon the whole time, as if trying to convince us that God — or some other divine presence — has a plan. The sequence only stops when it’s over: Rage has been killed on a sad, ugly splash page. There is no divine plan, only “God’s Rage.”
So what do we do with this? Sam, and by extension Spencer, seems to be at a loss. Sam says:
“Look at what’s happening to us. I don’t have any answers. Or hope. Not right now — right now I feel powerless.”
No one knows what to do. No one knows what to expect. Renaud does an exceptional job of capturing this powder-keg feeling in his protest scenes, depicting order and chaos with the same weight.
Ultimately, that’s what makes Sam’s loss at the end of the issue so devastating. They tried both kinds of resistance and both kinds failed.
Drew: I had a coworker who used to say “your greatest weapon is the sword you ultimately fall upon.” That is, our strengths tend to also be our weaknesses. Matt Murdock is a great case in point. Other folks may quibble about this, but I’d say his greatest strength is his ability to think fast — something he relies on regularly to get himself out of predicaments. He has confidence in that ability, which in turn makes him fearless, allowing him to literally leap before he looks. It makes him a thrilling character to root for, but it also leads him into many unforced errors. That is, his over-reliance on improvisation leads to an under-reliance on planning, which undoubtedly nets him more problems than it solves.
This month’s flashback adventure with the purple kids starts without any real ability to plan ahead — the kids show up on Kirsten’s doorstep with an unruly mob in hot pursuit. Matt fights his way out of that problem (as gently as he can), but doesn’t cook up a better plan for tracking down Kilgrave than using the purple kids as a kind of homing device. It makes enough sense for Matt to plunge in head first, but its problems become clear the instant they actually find Kilgrave: Matt now has two unpredictable kids to worry about. Sure enough, their poorly planned actions force Matt to take even more poorly planned actions, apparently landing himself under the sway of the Purple Man.
It’s a fun issue, but I can’t help but start imagining how these events inform how Matt might have separated his identities in the eyes of the entire world. It seems the device Kilgrave is building allows him to influence the minds of people even without talking to them (as happens with Matt here), potentially over great distances — it’s easy to imagine how such a device might be put to the ends we’re already familiar with, though how Matt gets in a position to make such a demand will take all of the improvisation skills he has. Charles Soule is just the writer for that kind of problem-solving, and I’ve been absolutely tickled at the more traditional inking and coloring Ron Garney and Matt Milla have been using for these flashbacks. These are truly classic Daredevil stories.
Mighty Thor 17
Spencer: I would love to know who created the “Challenge of the Gods.” If it wasn’t Sharra and K’ythri themselves, I’d be surprised. The Challenges seem so specifically designed to their own shortsighted, personal perspectives on what makes a deity worthwhile, while The Mighty Thor 17 shows that there are as many ways to judge a god’s worth as their are gods themselves.
Sharra and K’ythri may be more powerful than Thor, they may be more feared than Thor, but that doesn’t make them superior gods. It would be easy to talk about their cruelty compared to Thor’s compassion (and even Shadrak outpaces them in bravery), but I actually want to discuss a different quality entirely: their intelligence.
The Shi’ar gods’ biggest loss in this issue doesn’t come from Thor, but from Loki, who manipulates them so easily that it bores him. Sharra and K’ythri are gullible, arrogant, and shortsighted, which makes them foolish gods indeed. If they remain this blinded by their own supposed power, they’re going to face far greater threats than Thor or even Cul — at this point, they’re easy prey for Malekith. The Challenge of the Gods could actually be worthwhile if it allowed gods to assess themselves and work on their weaknesses, but the Shi’ar use it only to reinforce their own blind confidence, rendering it absolutely worthless.
As much as I enjoy Jason Aaron’s story, I’d be remiss I didn’t discuss the art and colors of Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson. These two are already one of my favorite artistic teams in all of comics, but somehow manage to out-do themselves this month. I mean, this — THIS! — is the very first page of the issue!
Just look at the scale and scope of this spread! The colors here leave me awestruck; the contrast between the tiny, stuck-up Sharra and K’ythri on their rock and Thor humbly supplicating Mjolnir is fantastic; the image of Thor, rendered small and insignificant in the open space at the dead center of the page, in the face of the Shi’ars’ super comet, is absolutely iconic, and tells such a powerful story of bravery without a single word. What’s even more impressive is that every single page keeps up this level of quality. The scope of Mighty Thor 17 is staggering; this storyline is “The Asgard/Shi’ar War,” and the art lives up to the promise of that title. War is horrific, but when depicted by Dauterman and Wilson, I can’t help but to gush over it anyway.
Ms. Marvel 16
Taylor: If there’s one knock against superheroes stories that I can get behind, it’s the argument that they make the resolution of problems look easy. It may happen in many different ways, but Thor overpowers her foes with lighting and force, Doctor Strange bests his opponents with smarts, and Squirrel Girl gets the best of evildoers with friendliness. All of this, for the most part, looks easy for our heroes. They rarely lose something along the way or have to admit defeat. However, Kamala Khan is different. She takes losses and knows that, paradoxically, sometimes losing is really winning.
Such is the case in this issue, where Kamala stills finds herself at odds with with an online virus that has become a literal troll. This troll threatens to reveal her secret identity, and worse, reveal that Kamala’s friend Zoe is secretly gay and has a crush on her friend, Nakia. All Kamala has to do to prevent this is downlaod the virus to S.H.I.E.L.D., but she refuses to do so. In doing this, Kamala is essentially admitting defeat, but it is in this defeat that she learns not only how to defeat the troll, but something important about being a hero.
This revelation happens when Kamala tells Zoe that her secret sexual orientation will be revealed to their school. Instead of totally freaking out, Zoe decides it would be best to just tell her crush how she feels before she finds out from the internet. It’s a move that admits defeat, but in doing so, Zoe is effectively minimizing the harm that will be done when the troll reveals her secret. As Kamala realizes, this is true bravery.
Kamala sees that, in order to defeat her enemy, she will have to take a “metaphorical bullet.” That is to say, she knows her secret identity will be revealed. However, what Kamala also sees is that this sacrifice will be worth it, because it means the troll can be stopped. It takes personal bravery on her part to take this action, and this step is made all the braver because Kamala will certainly lose a lot of things that are important to her because of this. In learning this lesson, I would argue Kamala has taken a step toward being a bigger hero than most in the Marvel universe.
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 16
Ryan M: There is something to be said for compartmentalizing as a defense mechanism. If you push all the bad stuff in your life into a little box and lock it up tight, you can live a free life. At least, for a little while. Then comes the reckoning. The time where your mind, your spirit or even your health start to suffer and you have to face up to things. In Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat 16, Patsy has to deal with her demons in an impromptu therapy session with a literal demon.
Part of the series’ charm has been Patsy’s eternal optimism, but her efforts to ignore all of her more negative emotions has let them fester. In the last few months, Patsy has dealt with the loss of her best friend, the struggles of her business and being sent to a hell portal by over-zealous ex-boyfriends under the command of her high school frenemy. This is enough for anyone to at least take a mental health day, but instead Patsy threw a huge party for all her friends. It’s no wonder that her cold turns out to be Pan-Dimensional Stress Flu. Patsy let herself be run into the ground any more. In a great argument for the power of talking it out, Patsy tells Belial about her worries and her fears about the future. The conversation ends with Patsy declaring that she is ready to be a hero again. It’s a big moment for Patsy, but the turn feels natural given the shape of the series.
Kate Leth and Brittney Williams offer a really satisfying ending to this chapter of Patsy’s story. The issue has an internal arc that offers the kind of humor, conflict and, well, cuteness that we’ve come to expect. The final panel is going to have more resonance to long-time readers. Patsy is willing to forgive Hedy and make peace with her past so that she can head into the future.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?