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 12, Hulk 4, Invincible Iron Man 5, Ultimates 2 5 and Uncanny Inhumans 20. Also, we discussed Unworthy Thor 5 on Thursday, and will be discussing Iron Fist 1 on Monday and Captain America Steve Rogers 14 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Black Panther 12
Drew: When this series was announced with Ta-Nehisi Coates as its writer, I had extremely high hopes. Sure, Coates had limited experience writing comics, but as a journalist and commentator covering social and political issues — and a verifiable genius, at least as far as the folks at the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation are concerned — he seemed uniquely qualified to deliver a portrait of a black world leader. There were some growing pains along the way, but this issue absolutely makes good on that promise, digging into the philosophies that underpin the conflicts Coates has so carefully detailed over the past eleven issues. This is an issue nobody else could have written.
A big part of the success of this issue is just how fully it commits to its philosophical debate. There is a battle of sorts going on, but its one fought with words — the kind Coates is particularly equipped to chronicle. In the wake of The People’s rebellion, T’Challa is hoping to make amends with the Midnight Angels, but of course, their conflict is far from resolved. Their argument is a nuanced one, tilting at the social value of laws and vigilantism, and how we might reconcile our morality with the law when they do not agree. Of course, that discussion is just one of many in an issue filled with characters admitting their faults in hopes of moving forward together. Aneka callously throwing around “orphan” as an insult is a great example, but I was particularly moved by T’Challa’s apology to Shuri:
He made the decision he felt he had to, but he regrets it deeply. As I said, everyone is admitting their faults in this issue, and the result is both moving and inspiring.
Ultimately, T’Challa’s regrets and self-reflection lead him to the commissioning of a new constitution, one that would institute a democracy, presumably limiting the King’s power to something closer to that of the British crown (or countless other modern monarchies with parliamentary systems). It’s an interesting new direction for the character, affording him a morality closer to one we might recognize, such that he might not be put in a position to chose between fealty to country or family again. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate subject of Coates to tackle, and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate writer to tackle it.
Ryan M: Fear is an immobilizing force. For Maise Brewn, her attack has made her agoraphobic. Jen Walters deals by covering herself in a blanket of cynicism, keeping herself safe by staying apart from the darkness that she sees lurking. Writer Mariko Tamaki demonstrates these different ways of dealing with the aftermath of trauma by letting us see the world from Jen’s point of view. The story is narrated by Jen’s inner voice, doing a monologue about the nature of bad days. The “bad day” is presented as a predator set on unknowing victims and even Jen tires of the ominous inner voice.
Jen and Maise’s fear each get their own mini origin stories in this issue. Maise’s sequence plays with the idea of light and dark. We see her as she once lived, in a brightly lit yoga studio, hair shining, with a room full of attentive students. It’s more upsetting to see her as she once was than to see what she’s become. Maise is somewhat of a pathetic creature in her current incarnation, so knowing that she had a life of worth before enhancese the tragedy of knowing how far she’s fallen.
Jen’s flashback functions differently. It doesn’t introduce us to another version of Jen from the past. Instead, it’s a step for current Jen as she is opening up about her trauma with Maise. Jen honestly talking about what happened to her is a landmark moment for a woman whose has become so embittered with the world that she wonders why people even say “have a nice day” to each other. Her vulnerability is lost on Maise who can only hear the threat to her safety as Jen explains that the building will be redeveloped. Maise retreats to her protector who steps out of the shadows and reveals himself in the final page of the issue. Maise’s way of coping runs afoul of Jen’s own strategy of keeping the green at bay. Now, Jen is going to have to make moves in spite of her fears.
Invincible Iron Man 5
Taylor: One of the weirdest things about first becoming a teacher is treating kids like they’re kids. Sure, that sounds easy, but unless you grew up with family members who were much younger than you or were a camp counselor, it’s easy to forget how different kids are from adults. The same applies to teenagers who not only think they are adults, but who talk and try to act like adults too. That being said, it’s easy for us to forget that Riri Williams is only fifteen and dealing with stuff most adults never have to.
Issue five of Invincible Iron Man addresses this conundrum head on with a cold open to start things off. In it, Riri’s mom offers up a soliloquy which voices her doubts and worries about raising a super genius child.
This is a powerful scene. Oftentimes, I find superhero comics lack a certain human element, but here the levity of the dialogue Riri’s mom offers up is refreshingly real. Instead of worrying about a Techno Golem and Biohack Ninjas, her mom wonders if she is a good parent. She also grounds us by reminding the reader that Riri, for all of her smarts and maturity, is still a kid. That’s an easy fact to lose sight of (sometimes literally when she’s in her armor) so it’s nice to see Brian Michael Bendis keeping this series centered on the human aspect of it all.
Of course, this isn’t to say Techno Golems and Biohack Ninjas aren’t fun — they totally fucking are, and this issue is so much fun because of their inclusion in the story. What makes this bizarre showdown even better is that it promises future clashes between Riri and Tomoe as certain glances between the two promise as the issue wraps up. This impending fight between a techno-genius and a techno-adept inhuman is intriguing because it’s essentially the age old battle of technology vs. magic for the 21st century. However this conflict is resolved, it’s sure to be fun.
Ultimates 2 5
The decision is mine. Mine alone. Which is it to be?
Philip Nelson Vogt, Ultimates 2 5
Drew: I don’t envy Philip Nelson Vogt’s position in this issue. Having arrived at the conclusion that the Ultimates are as likely to destroy the Universe as they are to save it, he’s left with the decision of whether to stop them. Doing so might save the Universe, but it might also rob it of the one team that could save it. It’s exactly the kind of decision that politicians abhor, which is why it’s fallen to this middle management beurocrat (as though anyone could really be voted out of office for destroying the Universe). Unfortunately for everyone, he made the exact wrong decision, preoccupying the Ultimates just as their newest foe — the one that had chained Eternity — makes itself known: the First Firmament.
I have to admit, the mythologies (and comparative power-sets) of impossibly massive abstract ideas isn’t really my favorite aspect of this series, so this reveal didn’t leave a whole lot for me to care about. Turns out the mysterious even-more-powerful being that had captured a slightly-less-powerful (though heretofore most-powerful) being is something we’ve never heard of, and have no reference for (other than that it’s somehow more powerful than Eternity).
Whatever my struggles with the scope, artist Travel Foreman does an admirable job of establishing the scale here, slowly zooming out from the impossibly large Galactus to the even more impossibly large Eternity until we finally get this page, with a tiny Eternity at its center.
And, actually, writer Al Ewing may be doing something similar with the narrative scope. The decision Vogt is grappling with may be large in scope, but the drama plays out on a decidedly human scale, ballooning in size until we get that final zoom out, utterly dwarfed by the beings in question. It’s the narrative equivalent of one of those videos that zooms out from an atom to eventually fit the entire universe in frame, but I tend to lose reference in those things pretty quickly. Here’s hoping Ewing can find some way to dramatize the scope more meaningfully than scale, giving these beings at least something as relatable as Vogt’s unwelcome responsibilities.
Uncanny Inhumans 20
Patrick: There are some massive conspiratorial agents in the Marvel Universe. Nick Fury, carrying the secret of Thor’s unworthiness, Emma Frost carrying the lie of Cyclop’s martyrdom, Steve Rogers being a double-agent for Hydra. These are the kinds of dizzying machinations that someone like Maximus the Mad has no goddamn patience for. Dude’s mad. And while he exists in a world of political maneuvering and expert manipulations, he will probably just build a giant robot and wrecking shit up.
That’s how writer Charles Soule takes a bow after 50+ issues with the Inhumans. Sure — he gets a little sappy in the back-up and in the farewell letter, but he’s never going to let us forget that this whole endeavor was about making the Inhumans fucking fun. This script finds Soule at his silliest, finding the joy in the maniacal pairing of Maximus and Kludge (a sort of Inhuman version of Forge). Artist Ario Anindito matches that feverish joy with a pair of deranged smiles. Even though we know they’re up to no good, it’s hard not to be excited for the fruits of their labor. What they do slap together is the aforementioned giant robot, which appears to be ready just in time to combat the giant fish monster piloted by the Unspoken. It’s a hilarious set of contrivances that only gets more bizarre the more you think about it. The ultimate “wait, what?” moment comes when Maximus’ robot runs the fish monster through with a sword made of solid Terrigen, somehow surgically removing The Unspoken from his monster-mech. Maximus beats me to the criticism:
And, of course, our coincidences are just getting started. The Unspoken can amass more power by absorbing Terrigen — he’s literally the only person in the Marvel Universe that’s going to be MORE POWERFUL for being impaled on this sword (a sword which was essentially a waste of Maximus’ time to construct in the first place). It’s all delightfully good fun, and while it clearly shows some careful (if irreverent) planning on Soule’s part, Maximus is allowed to remain as chaotic and unpredictable as always. Soule’s send off for Medusa and Black Black might be a touch treacly, but this is the kind of manic comic energy he wielded so well for so long.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?