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: Steve Rogers 16, Daredevil 19, Doctor Strange 19, Moon Knight 13, Ms. Marvel 17, and Royals 2. Also, discussed Secret Empire 0 on Thursday and will be discussing Silk 19 on Monday so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Ryan D: All eyes are on Captain America with Secret Empire kicking off, but I can’t help but feel like the past few issues of Cap’s solo title have been moving pieces into place, then redundantly explaining or checking in on them, ad nauseum to set up the big cross-over.
Writer Nick Spencer tries very hard in this issue, but there’s just too damn much crammed into these thirty-two pages with very little actually happening. It’s hard juggling four separate plot lines. I can appreciate the 1945 flashback scenes with their poster-esque coloring and art style trying to clue the audience in on the psychological underpinnings of Rogers as he sets to betray his friends and government, but I have found very little of that thread to be enjoyable or dynamic. The Zemo and Barnes bit felt underwhelming and low-energy, and I thought was undermined by uneven art: the big page with Zemo staring out the door, his revenge in action, looked badass, but most of the shots of Bucky while he lay strapped to the rocket looked scratchy and vague. Artist Jesus Saiz seems to waffle between styles so much it confuses me. The panel of Faustus, backdropped in startling red with shadows on his face, full of life and vitriol, looked beautiful, then the next page looks chunky and muddy, like a poorly-done John Romita Jr. impression.
This issue to me feel like a bad ending to a WWE RAW go-home show which should be selling the big Pay Per View main event coming that weekend: in true pro-wrestling style, we see the bad guy get on the mic (Cap’s concluding monologue) and stand tall over the good guys to help sell the hopefully epic main event (Empire) wherein the heel will hopefully get their comeuppance, but the issue itself was a slog. I was extremely excited with the narrative potential of Cap’s turn, but I’ve wished over the past few issues that it could be simpler, allowing it to be more ideological and showcase its rich contemporary, political allegory. Perhaps that’s what we’ll get from Secret Empire, but I find Captain America: Steve Rogers 16 to be too much of a slog featuring only a few pages of story, full of plot holes. Heck, Taskmaster and Black Ant were my favorite part. I’ll leave you with the only page which really seems to matter in this issue, and all you really need to know, heading into an issue #0 which will invariably catch audiences up on everything which happened in this title:
Spencer: It’s got to be hard to create new stories for a character as old and beloved as Daredevil. You’re expected to bring something new to the character, yet you can’t betray what came before, and every disparate take on the character throughout their history only complicates the task. I can’t speak for Charles Soule, but I imagine that his journey to discovering the core of his Matt Murdock was pretty similar to the journey Matt himself takes in Daredevil 19.
Under the thrall of the Purple Man, Matt is tasked with figuring out what the worst thing he could ever do would be. Soule and artist Marc Lanning depict his internal struggle as a battle royale between every prominent past incarnation of Daredevil, which is a brilliant idea not only because it makes what could have been a dry, talky sequence visually exciting, but because it visualizes (and thus clarifies) Matt’s current state of mind. Unable to be Daredevil or a lawyer, Matt’s lost his sense of self, and it takes analyzing every past stage of his life and figuring out what each had in common for him to figure out what would hurt him the most, and thus what’s most important to him: “The entire world goes to hell, I know about it, I have the power to help, and I do…nothing.”
Matt’s process is depicted as all the past Daredevils combining together into Soule’s black-suit version, intrinsically tying his take on Daredevil to Matt’s revelation. I can’t help but imagine Soule going through the same process when planning this run — pitting every past take on Daredevil up against each other until he comes to the core trait that unites them all. This trait is Matt’s answer — using his abilities to help others is by far the most vital need in Matt’s life — and thus it’s not only clear now why Matt decided to sacrifice so much to regain his secret identity, but why Soule decided to base his entire run with the character around this decision. I don’t necessarily think it’s a decision that needed to be justified in real life, but Matt’s need to justify it in-universe betrays his guilt even while showing how this may have been something Matt had to do on some level. That’s a wonderfully complex status quo for Soule to mine in the future.
Doctor Strange 19
Taylor: By the very definition of his name, Dr. Strange is unknowable. Something is said to be strange when it is hard to understand or unusual and nothing could be more true of Stephen himself. While I usually take this moniker as a reference to Stephen’s chosen line of work, it had never occurred to me before that it actually refers more to his personality than anything else. In issue 19 of Doctor Strange, Jason Aaron posits that what makes Stephen unique is not his magical abilities, but his inability to love others.
The issue explores this facet of Stephen’s personality through the conflict with Mister Misery, who has taken Wong hostage by inhabiting his body. Knowing Wong’s thoughts, Mister Misery waists no time in hurting Stephen by telling him that Wong loves him the way a father loves his son. This hurts Stephen and forces him to take drastic measures. To defeat Mister Misery and exercise him from Wong’s body, he must admit that he doesn’t love so Mister Misery will inhabit his own body.
While this saves the days, it calls into question just what type of person Stephen. Afterwards he does claim that he said he didn’t love Wong because he wanted to save him, but there’s no way to know if that’s true or not.
If it’s true that Stephen doesn’t love Wong, Aaron might be showing that Stephen is actually a monster. Aside from Mister Misery, an actual monster, living in his body, the possibility that Stephen doesn’t care for someone who has taken care of him selflessly for all these years would make him a figurative monster. What’s troubling about this is, is that it might be true. While part of me wants to believe Stephen cares for other people, another part of me can’t forget that he also used to be, and maybe still is, an egotistical jerk. Whatever the case may be, currently it’s hard to know exactly who Stephen is and just how monstrous he may be.
Now that’s pretty strange.
Moon Knight 13
Mark: It was the brilliant 2014 Moon Knight run by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire that made me start paying attention to the character. Their Marc Spector was inscrutable, but that suited a book powered almost exclusively on bravura set pieces and inventive, relentless action. Ellis, Shalvey, and Bellaire’s Moon Knight arc is a seminal work.
As Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s run (with Jordie Bellaire continuing her stand-out color work) reaches its penultimate issue, I have come to appreciate their centering of Moon Knight as a character. In the beginning, Marc Spector was as unknowable as ever because Marc himself didn’t know what was true or not. But over the course of their 13 issues we have come to understand Marc more and more as little bits of information have been revealed, culminating here in Moon Knight 13 with Marc finally realizing that this whole time he’s been trapped inside his own mind.
It’s not the most shocking revelation, given what’s come before, but what I love so much about Lemire, Smallwood, and Bellaire’s Moon Knight is that for all its twists and turns and psychedelic splash pages, it all boils down to a classic Moon Knight story about a guy who’s just trying to make good for the wrongs he’s committed…and who somewhere in his mind thinks he’s working on behalf of the Egyptian god of vengeance.
Ms. Marvel 17
Patrick: We can all identify the problem: anonymity makes people mean on the internet and that makes people meaner IRL. That’s been the thrust of the “Damage Per Minute” story arc on Ms. Marvel, and much like the real world problem, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of concrete solutions. The only real power that Ms. Marvel and her friends have to combat the cyber troll Doc.X is their basic empathy, patience and kindness. That, and Ms. Marvel’s embiggened fists. That’s right, after 18 pages of sewing seeds of positivity and peace and empathy and generosity, Ms. Marvel is driven to clocking the bad guy in the face. It works, but the victory is short lived and hollow, tagged with the normally cheesey “THE END?” Here though, the be-question-marked ending feels quite a bit more dire – of course that’s not the end of trolling and shitty behavior on the internet.
But, y’know, you gotta try, right? The first four pages of this issue show all of those positive traits required to overcome this kind of bullshit on the internet. Zoe’s friends all pour on the support and stand with her in public, even if they don’t have anything particularly constructive to say. The kindness, it would seem, is enough. Also, goddamn, I love to see Mike’s approach to this, which is to simply do the nice thing without asking Zoe if she needs anything. If there’s one thing you don’t need when going through something difficult, it’s having to write prescriptions so other people know how to help you.
Mike’s not a “let me know if there’s anything I can do” kind of girl.
I do like the comparison to how kindness feels within World of Battlecraft. In person, of course you’re going to hug your friend and try to help them with sweets and board games, but on-line? Pfft. That space ain’t real. That’s the disconnect this story is trying to bridge. It helps that artist Takeshi Miyazawa makes literally no distinction between the world of the game and the real world. It’s kind of a bummer that the dudes in the Iron Legion are already talking about how their going to return to their less scrupulous way of playing just as soon as this cycle of kindness is over. But… baby steps, I guess.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
Drew: While I’m not sure I fully understand the philosophy of the Jedi, the sentiment that there are no dress rehearsals in life certainly resonates for me. We might prefer to define our life by our intentions, but it’s what we actually do (or don’t do) that matters. That’s certainly the case with comics, where an aversion to retcons means that even some of the most regrettable developments are still enshrined in continuity. So: there’s some pressure to get it right. I’m not exactly sure if Yoda meant to put Luke under that same pressure with that line, but it never felt all that reassuring to me. Of course, he actually does have the freedom to try — there’s no real consequence if he fails, since he’ll be in the same circumstance with out it. That is, he might not have been under enough pressure. Royals 2 asks Flint to do a similarly impossible (actually, quintillion tons more impossible) task, but gooses it with a life or death situation.
And that’s how Flint’s able to move Pluto when Luke can’t even lift a measly X-Wing — he’s got a whole Chitauri swarm breathing down his neck. Artist Jonboy Meyers amplifies that tension, allowing his panels (and their focus) to slowly drift to the right, stretching them thinner and thinner until they explode into that splash. It’s a beautiful effect.
Of course, the pressure of the situation is a proving ground for basically all of the characters. Both Medusa and Gorgon cast their medical conditions aside to help. Black Bolt, meanwhile, cowers from the fight, which tips Medusa off that this isn’t Black Bolt, at all. That Maximus the Mad had faked his way on board opens up a whole slew of questions, from where the real Black Bolt is (presumably on Earth, but in what condition?) to whether that figure from the future we’ve assumed is Black Bolt might actually be Maximus. That’s a twist that might have more immediate impact than last month’s, which functionally just gave Medusa a haircut. I’m certainly excited to see where it goes next.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?