Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 3/15/17

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.

slim-banner4  Captain America Sam Wilson 20

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.

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Daredevil 18

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.

Kilgrave and Daredevil

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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One comment on “Marvel Round-Up: Comics Released 3/15/17

  1. Captain America: I remember feeling optimistic at the time of the Ferguson protests. Because even as the events were horrible, there was the fact that this time, we were having a conversation. But the fact was, the tragedy of the protests was that as much as we had a conversation, no true change happened (and what little happened is being reversed by Jeff Sessions at this moment)

    What this issue gets so well is the impossibility of acting. Patrick, it is hard to know what to say after you so summed it up perfectly. So much has to be said about just how true the events of this issue is – in fact, Spencer took heavy inspiration from Obama’s own words when writing Sam’s speech. Meanwhile, Gideon’s words are a powerful call to action, and yet a long term solution that doesn’t do anything for Elvin. A truly important message, and the sort of message that led to the formation of BlackLivesMatters, but one that can do nothing for Elvin.

    In fact, a key part of the message of this issue is to look beyond this one event, and look at things from a systemic view. To remember that what happened to Elvin are the actions of a system that isn’t working properly, one rigged against those it is supposed to protect. Once that system had Elvin, of course he was going to be sent to Z Block.

    There was a great injustice enacted upon the world, and we can’t do anything. But we can use it as fuel to resist. To stand up in righteous anger and fight. Gideon’s solution is long term, and won’t save Elvin. The combination of his speech and Elvin’s attack make that clear. But it also shows us the importance of Gideon’s message. Because that same combination emphasises the heroism of Elvin’s actions, even as he is destroyed. It recontextualises Elvin’s attack from an injustice to a sacrifice. And if Elvin’s beating was a sacrifice, then it is clear what we must do. Stand up, and take his place. The baton has been passed, and not to a single person. But to everyone. Let us continue the fight, because someone has to.

    One of the most interesting ideas I have seen discussed is the idea of giving the audience an arc, instead of the characters involved. To make us go through the transformation, instead of sitting aside merely watching. That make us more active participants in the narrative strengthens the communication of themes, as we can no longer pretend we don’t need to learn the lesson. And this issue excels at that. You can feel yourself go through your own arc, starting feeling overwhelmed by the events, struggling under the exact same burden that Sam is suffering. Seeing no solution, until Gideon’s speech galvanises us. Elvin’s attack galvanises us. We go from confused to inspired. The way forward is confusing, but Spencer makes us want to stand up and move forward anyway. Because now we know we have to

    There are some small problems with this issue (the last two feel completely unnecessary, killing the pacing, and as great as the two page spread that you showed is, Patrick (I love the colouring, and how that final panel of the Americop uses both colour palates to show how he exists in both scenes), I feel placing equal weight on the peaceful protestors and the rioters ignores how in real life, the rioters were in a minority. Which is especially problematic as their incendiary actions are more attention grabbing, and therefore we naturally think of them before we think of the peaceful protesters. Imagine fitting 15 panels on the page, with only 3 of them showing the riot). And yet, this is still one of my absolute favourite issues of the year. Because while being much more flawed than the usual issue I count among my favourites, the rest of it is powerful in a way so few other issues are.

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    Daredevil: This felt like an issue that was caught between two masters, and failed to serve either. Was it trying to explain how Matt got everyone to forget his identity, or was it trying to tell a typical Daredevil story? Because this feels like a typical Daredevil story, except for the fact that it is clear that the plot points are being set up to have the Purple Man wipe Matt’s identity. Which isn’t a problem, except that set up seems to be the highest priority.

    The kids running in feel mechanistic. It fits from a character perspective, but the way the scene is told is so completely from a plot perspective. Character is story, but here it feels like character is only being used to get the characters in the places they need to be. This is characters acting without the soul that makes characters acting so compelling in art. That instead of telling a story about anything, everything is being shuffled into place so that a story can be told next month.

    This issue feels like a gneric Purlp Man story, rendered worse by the fact that the issue is more interested in setting up next month’s issue than this month’s, and rendered lifeless because of it. Which is bad in a general story, but even worse when the choice to tell a generic Purple Man story is so distant from the drama of this arc. It feels like SOule decided to take a detour, despite hating every part of the detour. Or is this just the same problem as IvX, rendering a story lifeless by focusing on having a logical series of events but ignoring the dramatic arcs that turn a logical series of events into a story? Much worse than last issue

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    Mighty Thor: I’d love to see the challenges get less explicitly biblical, because there is so much more to religion than the Abrahamic religions. Though it is interesting to see how Abrahamic myths are referenced here. The ultimate point of the Binding of Isaac was that God didn’t need human sacrifice. It is a story that is apparently the subject of scholarly debate, but the key idea is that God stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. God may have demanded obedience, but he wasn’t pointlessly cruel (you could argue the fact that God asked this in the first place is cruel, but the fact that he stopped it immediately after he got what he wanted and before Isaac would have died means it wasn’t pointless cruelty). When God would destroy a city, or unleash a plague, it was always for punishment. God destroyed Sodom because it was immoral. God unleashed the plagues on Egypt as a way of strongarming Egypt into freeing the Jewish People. Now, there is a lot to debate about these stories from an ethical ground, but they at least present an attempt of managing power and responsibility

    The Shi’ar Gods lack any sense of responsibility. They are entirely self absorbed. I wouldn’t call them unintelligent – it certainly requires intelligence to send a supernova hurtling through space like a comet. But they have built a worldview where they are the only being that matter. It is actually quite Trumpian. That’s why Loki so easily manipulates them. They are so self centred, that any threat to the idea that they are the only things of value is instantly a problem. And unsurprisingly, these same flaws that render them unknown outside SHi’ar space also serve them poorly in the COntest. Note, they only win rounds when Jane defaults. Every other round, Jane has won through her heroism, whether it was saving the Shi’ar from the tidal wave or swallowing the supernova.

    In fact, by the time we finally get the reveal that Loki manipulated the Shi’ar Gods, they had already been rendered pathetic. By the time we saw Loki tell them that they are pathetic unknowns and that Thor is celebrated, we have seen what were once grand figures seen as more and more pathetic. People whose only hope of victory was a game rigged to give them the precious defaults they needed to score points in the first place.

    There is a reason why Thor is the superior god. Because she is, ultimately, all about the people. She can see outside of herself, to the people who need her help. ANd because of that, THor is exalted throughout the galaxy and the Shi’ar aren’t

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    Ms Marvel: The big problem with this was Bruno’s appearance. If Kamala is going to ring Bruno up every arc, it is going to be hard to properly explore what it means to Kamala that he’s gone.

    Still, this is fantastic. Ms Marvel’s secret weapon is how it effortlessly reconstructs superhero tropes by applying the same ideas to Kamala as a whole, instead of just her actions as a superhero. In Ms Marvel, EVERYTHING is a superhero story. That’s why so much of her stories come down to things like community. Because Kamala applies the tropes of superhero comics to everything, from activism, to social life to elections (let’s ignore the fact that the election issue was a garbage fire of dishonesty and poor advice in an issue that should be anything but).

    Many superhero comics will have a superhero jump in front of a bullet to protect someone, and in true Ms Marvel style, Kamala does the same, but very a very different definition of bullet. Because the idea that is demonstrated when Batman does it is a universal one, and Ms Marvel is all about the universality of superhero lessons.

    And this creates an unmatched heroism. Because we know, when Batman gets shot, Alfred will patch him up and he’ll be better next issue. When Kamala gets attacked by doc.X, we have no idea if she can recover. But because she’s a superhero, she’s willing to take the hit so that others don’t.

    And of course, we can’t talk about this without talking about Zoe. Because part of the Ms Marvel DNA is that her friends are more than just people to have subplots outside the superhero stuff. Since everything is a moment to be a superhero, even the friends get their chance to be superheroic. And Zoe steps up. She’s perfectly willing to take the hit sicne she knows its right. Never complains to Ms Marvel, just makes arrangements to best deal with it, to have that long overdue conversation with Nakia.

    And the conversation is fantastic. SInce Ms Marvel came back, Zoe has quickly become a favourite, and this is a great example why. One of the things I love is that Nakia does not reciprocate Zoe’s feelings. It is easy to have them kiss to make things all better, but in some ways, it is a bit dishonest. Yeah, sometimes you get lucky. But just because you like someone, it doesn’t mean they like you back. Especially when sexual orientation complicates things (according to wikipedia, 3.8% of America identifies as LGBT). Zoe doesn’t get the girl because she confessed. That bullet she is going to get hit with? It is still going to hit her and still going to hurt. And so, we get a beautiful scene where Nakia discusses how in awe she is of Zoe, shows how much she respects her friend, even as she has to let Zoe down. A beautiful scene

    Also, I love doc.X’s origin. Doc.X being the gestalt of the way we act on the internet? Of course he’s a horrible villain. The only problem is that it isn’t blatantly white supremacist.

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    Patsy Walker: This is the first issue in a long time to actually work. So much of it is entertaining, from Patsy’s friends to the brilliant twist that Hedy is now dating Belial. And, of course, the hilariousness of Hellstrom.

    But what really works is how we get the perfect deep dive into Patsy’s psychology, without distraction. Every part of her character is put on display and discussed, creating the story of Patsy, fitting in perfectly with every other element. This is basically the perfect issue of Patsy Walker. Fun, entertaining and quirky, but all used to properly explore character. A look at Patsy’s successes and failure. A confrontation of who she is, a look at the problems that have plagued her from the very firs tissue and a reconciliation. With the announcement that it had been cancelled, I planned to read it out till the end, not really happy with it. But I can’t wait to see how they conclude now, after this fantastic issue

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