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?
I thought Ultimates2 #5 was an unqualified success, and one of the best issues of this series so far. I am a sucker for stories like this one, I’ll admit, about cosmic beings and abstract concepts at war with each other, but this issue really delivered for me. There have been a few artistic rough patches in this series since the renumbering but here Foreman came into his own and seemed more in command of his style than before. In general I am also a big fan of just about everything from Al Ewing these days.
On the other hand, Invincible Iron Man felt like a drag to me. While there has been a lot of effective character growth since early on in the run, the plot is lagging behind and I’m not sure I can keep buying a book that doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. I hope things pick up soon in this book.
I stopped reading Ewing some time ago, due to being constantly disappointed at how Ultiamtes and New Avengers consistently failed its characters and its stakes. But from what I’ve seen, the First Firmament reveal is a good one. It is a great payoff to the stuff I saw before I gave up on Ultimates. So much effort was placed on the idea of this being the eighth incarnation of the universe, that the fact that the ultimate villain is the very first universe is the natural payoff the the insistence that there have been seven previous iterations. I don’t think there is an issue of not having the reference, because we have that – it is the Eternity for the very first universe. It is wild ideas like this that made me wish I found the execution better
Surprised you think Invincible Iron Man is going nowhere, after the ending of the most recent issue. This issue was largely tying up the loose ends of the first arc, but it also charted the course form the rest of the story. Next issue will push the plot forward, as a new arc begins. But with the Tony Stark stuff, I can’t see how plot is lagging behind
There’s definitely a lot to like about Invincible Iron Man, don’t get me wrong. You addressed several of them in your comment: I agree I also think I might have phrased my complaint a little bit incorrectly, it’s more so that I have been frustrated with how incremental each issue so far has felt and how slowly anything actually happens. It’s a pacing issue I think, more so than a plot-direction issue. The natural point of comparison is Infamous Iron Man, which seems to me to be moving at a much more rapid clip. On the other hand, Riri is brand new while Doom obviously needs no introduction, and so I understand the desire to lean more heavily on character development at first. I think I’d have liked a first arc where Riri tackled some low-level superheroics on her own before joining up with Tony’s consciousness in the second arc. That would also have avoided the awkwardness of the first couple issues while Tony’s Civil War II fate was still nominally under wraps.
As for Ewing, there’s just an enthusiasm for it all that he’s brought to his recent work that I really enjoy. He’s so clearly excited at the prospect of playing around in the Marvel continuity sandbox and that really comes alive on the page. New Avengers was weird and wonderful, and US Avengers has kicked up the absurdity and kept the heart. There’s just something fun and refreshing about his recent work.
A lot has happened in Infamous Iron Man, but I think Invincible has more story. Because even as a lot of things have happened, we haven’t had a lot of story. The first two issues had Doom do very little. He was going around fighting bad guys, but they were disconnected stories and the story didn’t move forward until the Thing turned up. I think Infamous Iron Man benefits from being able to get easy drama out of things like ‘surprise, Doom’s mother is running around’. I like Infamous, but I feel like I’m still waiting for it to get started, instead of just hinting at the great stuff that is about to happen. Meanwhile, each issue of Invincible Iron Man has pushed the story forward. This issue was more incremental, since it was mostly as a coda to the other issues, but the previous four issues established her origin in great detail, while giving a strong development of Riri from inexperienced girl struggling to get her armour working properly to someone who stopped the bad guy in the hardest situation (without her suit). We went from struggling to fight a silly supervillain, to training with Tony and an army of Iron Man suits, to an actual fight against a legitimate supervillain.
And I don’t think we needed more time without Tony. I think the first issue gave us enough time with Riri without an AI, and I don’t think anything would be added if you spent more time without Tony. You end up just slowing down the plot, delaying major plot points like the reveal that Tony is the Big Bad or the ability to have a fully powered Riri, complete with AI. Civil War II’s delays were a problem, but if you ignore Civil War II, it doesn’t really matter. The first five issues told a story introducing us to a new superhero, exploring her origin, showing her development and gave us a low-level superhero fight, while setting up multiple future plotlines (evil Tony, Tomoe’s return, Pepper…). I think that is more than enough plot.
Ewing certainly loves referencing continuity, but it always feels a bit shallow. He’ll love to mention that Monica Rambeau used to be Captain Marvel, but it very rarely means anything. Or how he referenced Hawkeye and Songbird’s past in the Thunderbolts, but never explored what it meant for Melissa to betray the man who helped redeem her. Or how he did a story about Hulkling’s ancestry, yet excluded the Kree, the Skrulls or any party that makes his ancestry dramatic so that it could do ‘here’s a magic sword’ instead. It always leads things to feeling shallow. New Avengers sometimes worked through constant twists and turns, but the story was so shallow, it the plot turns simply delayed the inevitable disappointment that happened when the climax just wasn’t fulfilling. Meanwhile, Ultimates managed to make its big ideas feel small. Instead of being a book about impossible problems, everything seemed far too easy to achieve. The plot feels like it bends backwards to make things easy for the people the plot needs to have succeed. I really want to Ewing’s books, as I really love all their ideas. But they always feel empty to me
Black Panther: Honestly, I’d love to see what Coates would do writing a comic without the superhero stuff. What if he just wrote a comic just about negotiating a series of difficult political situations. Because here, finally, Coates truly has everything fall into place. A fantastic issue. Seeing how ideas develop, how Coates challenges the orthodoxy of Wakanda and finds unique ways to challenge Wakanda’s myths (that stuff around orphans was so perfect) s exactly what the strongest stuff has always been, but what Coates has struggled to fit alongside the punching.
I kind of just want the next arc to be an arc all about the politics of a new democracy. Do a political thriller just about the difficulties of navigating politics in the new status quo. Politicians talking and debating, dealing with major political issues. There is still a lot of growth to go, but I really think Coates would be more comfortable writing every issue like this. A shame we are going to have to have away from this again
Hulk: So, next issue is going to be Jen Hulking out. It is hard to discuss this issue without discussing the fact that ultimately, it is shifting the puzzle pieces in play for the Hulk out.
Which is why we get the mini origins. As Maise hulks out and Jen is about to, we get a deep dive into their traumas, to understand what puts them in the position where the drama starts.
But I have to say, I am really looking forward to seeing the Hulk finally. I’m going to be very interested in comparing the Hulk to Maise’s monster, and how they speak to the traumas of the characters. Basically, bring on the next issue. Going to be a marvel.
Because honestly, this is the perfect Hulk story. This takes the basic idea of the Hulk, the fundamental concepts that have always made up the Hulk, and executed it perfectly. It has gone back to the drawing board, to work out every weakness that has accumulated, and reworked the iconic Hulk story to a stronger, more functional story. And it is amazing
Invincible Iron Man: Taylor, since you did so well describing all of that stuff, I’m going to talk about the last scene. Because I love how as this arc comes to a close, we go back to the start. Riri has proven herself as a superhero, has established her own identity (not just in name, but through her rejection of SHIELD), and got herself a bad guy in Tomoe.
And so, we go back to the very first issue. From the very beginning, we learned that Riri’s genius had the risk of isolation, and her origin has been all about the difficulties she has connecting, and the horror when that hard won connection is ripped away. And so, we end with the reveal of who is going to be the Big Bad of this run… Tony Stark.
Tony has always been a genius at risk of isolating himself, and is currently more isolated from humanity than ever – he’s literally a ghost in the machine. And so, he has fallen into the same trap we have been warned that Riri will face.
The way this is amazing is perfect. The most obvious is that this is Riri v the worst fate of Riri. But there are many more ways this works. We care about Tony, so his fall will create a strong villain. Instead of a villain with a backstory we don’t care about, we see a good(ish) person that we have a powerful connection to make those mistakes. And lastly, Riri is supposed to be the Future. And you can’t be the Future, if there is no past to overcome. Tony is the perfect villain. Can’t wait to see where this goes. We have had a very strong first arc to introduce a fantastic new character, and the first hints of a truly fantastic villain whose villainy is rooted in the very first scene of Riri’s story.
I like Bendis, but rarely love him. But damn, I am loving this book
Spider-Gwen: This is a great example of a story zagging when you expect it to zig, in a way perfectly rooted in character. The ultimate question of ‘How does the Miles/Gwen romance begin?’ that this entire arc has been asking gets twisted as Gwen finds herself in a parallel universe’s future where they are married, learning about their possible future (and getting reinforcements to save Miles) and this completely changes everything.
A relationship seemed to be beginning, as they flirted their way through 5 comics. But instead, everything changes with this idea of a possible future, and they don’t know what to do. Confused at what is going to happen, they go their separate ways, desperate to try and reconcile the feelings they have with the wish to make sure that their relationship isn’t influenced by this idea that it is fate. It ultimately ends unsatisfyingly as they try to address the confusion that skews everything.
A lot of potential to develop things from here, if done right
Other stuff I wanted to say about Invincible Iron Man, but forgot. I love the gag about Riri having missed the opportunity to learn how to fence, which works as a great character moment for both her step father and herself, a strong reminder that this is a book about learning to be a superhero/Coming of Age and she isn’t great at everything and allowing the other fantastic gag of Pepper saving the day.
And Caselli’s art, especially his ability to show the expressions of the character, continues to excel. Those three panels of Riri and Tomoe looking at each other are a masterclass (I love the shadows in the third panel as Riri’s faceplate goes down, building the intensity of the moment). He is an essential reason why this book is fantastic
Considering Black Panther 12: Ultimately, I enjoyed seeing T’Challa acting with a bit more of his own agency instead of being entirely reactionary and on the back foot as he has been for most of this series. I find it interesting that the final part of this title revolves around he, himself, having found a personal sense of freedom, showing that he, along with the rebelling forces who acted against him over the past twelve issues, felt as oppressed by the old-school monarchic system through which he ruled. This friction between a nation’s proud traditions and convention of law versus progressing with the times played as thematic undercurrent for this issue, but part of me would have been more interested in not resolving all the conflicts between the characters via dialogue alone, which might allow actions of characters to speak more clearly and directly during the opening of the upcoming “season two”.
I don’t mind the fact that it is all through dialogue, because dialogue has always been the primary method of action in this sort of story, the primary way of seeing what a character stands for. House of Cards, the West Wing, the Thick of It… All built on the idea of a series of conversations designed to reveal character and resolve problems. Whether the story is cynical manipulation, optimistic nation building or hilarious farce, political stories have always focused on the dialogue first.
So why not turn Black Panther into that sort of political story? Why not go all in on the dialogue? Coates has proven that this sort of philosophical debate over ideals is much closer to his strength than, say, his structureless action sequences, so let’s play to his strengths. Throughout the run, I’ve always gotten more idea about a character through a scene of dialogue than anything else – the Midnight Angels’ conversation with Tetu and Zenzi did a much better job at showing the villainy of Tetu and Zenzi than any other scene of Tetu and Zenzi.
The difficult thing about Coates’ Black Panther stuff is you have a genius who isn’t comfortable with this sort of writing, so let him play to the strengths. And those strengths are much closer to traditional drama than it is to pulp tradition, or any other traditional where dialogue is not the most important type of action
Just a note on Ultimates^2 #5, the First Firmament was mentioned once before, in Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy #1. The Royals book he’s doing next month is gonna have Marvel Boy in it as well. Man, Ewing knows how to pull out obscure Marvel mythology!
“This takes the basic idea of the Hulk, the fundamental concepts that have always made up the Hulk, and executed it perfectly.”
This has been such a slow burn. It’s almost too slow, walking on a tight rope. And we KNOW what the reveal is. We know how this ends and we’re afraid for the main character if she changes and we’re afraid for her if she doesn’t.
This is really well done. Horror in superhero comics is hard. They’re too silly with too few consequences, usually.
The difficult thing about the Hulk is that traditionally, the need to be a Superhero comic has always gotten in the way of the horror. We are supposed to think that the Hulk is a monster, where the great horror is that it happens, but it gets undercut by the fact that the need to have Bruce Hulk out every issue to fight a green skinned supervillain undercuts it. Eventually, the Hulk stops being a monster, and starts being a superhero. The tragedy is lost.
But this comic knows how to get it right. We truly are afraid, because we aren’t being overexposed to the Hulk. And instead of a generic supervillain, we have a dark mirror of Jen. Ultimately, the finale of this story isn’t going to be a heroic victory against the Leader, but a tragedy that things turned out like this.
You are so right about how often superhero comics have too few consequences to properly do horror. A fantastic insight. Because if Hulk is a creature of horror (and he is, straight out of gothic horror tradition), then it has to be a truly horrible thing for someone to Hulk out.
And this is the first time in the longest time that Hulk has felt like that