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 Mighty Thor 19, Royals 3, Secret Empire 2 and Ultimate 2 7. Also, we discussed Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 20 on Thursday and will be discussing Daredevil 20 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Taylor: The thing that makes superhero comics weird is that writers are essentially playing with house money. What I mean is, no matter what happens in their stories, the hero almost always emerges victorious. True, there are exceptions to the rule, but 99% of the time the titular hero of a comic emerges victorious. This is precisely what makes Mighty Thor interesting. By picking Jane Foster to be the next Thor, Jason Aaron has guaranteed that she will lose her final battle with cancer. Jane knows this to be true as well, and that gives all of her actions an added gravitas and urgency that other, healthier heroes lack.
The Phoenix has risen and Jane and Quentin Quire are trying to stop it from engulfing the gods in flames. During the battle, the Phoenix telepathically connects with Jane and offers her a proposition: surrender Mjolinir to her and she will go in peace. Thor scoffs at the idea because she realizes that the only reason the Phoenix wants the hammer is because she is afraid of it. What led to this moment was the Phoenix’s miscalculation of Jane. It thought that, like itself, Jane would be motivated by the fear of death, cancer or otherwise. But Jane isn’t one to have her emotions toyed with like that, and she is anything but afraid of dying, as the the Phoenix painfully learns.
Unlike most people, heroes and gods included, Jane is fully aware of the fact that her life is finite. However, this is what gives her power and makes her inspiring. After she delivers the blow seen above, Jane asserts that she will “die like a god” — or in other words — in her Thor form protecting the universe from danger. The fact that Jane is dying and promises to keep on fighting until her final breath is admirable because in her mouth it’s not just some trite platitude. Jane knows her time is short and all her energies will go into saving her planet until she makes the ultimate sacrifice. In other words, Jane is hero, all the more so because she knows that she won’t win every battle.
Patrick: Y’all remember Amazing Spider-Man 698? That’s the issue we discover that Peter Parker’s mind is trapped inside Otto Octavius’ swiftly dying body. It’s a bit of a mindfuck, and writer Dan Slott is a master at withholding information until the absolute final moments, playing the twist for all its rug-pulling glory. He went on to write 30+ issues based on the premise “what if Doc Ock was in Spider-Man’s body?” and that series got to some interesting emotional truths about what it means to be Spider-Man. Royals 3 writer Al Ewing doesn’t have 30+ issues to explore what motivates Maximus the Mad’s decision to switch places with his brother — he’s got 20 pages. The result is a dizzying ballet, skipping between eras and perspectives where the only thing to hang on to is the emotional through-line.
The explanation is confusing enough that I’m not totally certain of the identity of the Black Bolt we know “five thousand years from now.” Is this Future Black Bolt’s voice continuing to reverberate with his brother’s biology or did Maximus never let go of his assumed identity? Ewing has hit on an idea so appealing, so sci-fi crazy, that the decades-old relationships between these characters feel immediately refreshed. The gist of it is that Maximus and Black Bolt’s powers are tuned to each other, so when Black Bolt says is brother’s name, Maximus’ telepathy and mind control powers gain access. Effectively, Black Bolt can blast his brother physically but leaves himself vulnerable mentally. They are simultaneously enemies and intimately linked — more vulnerable for each other’s strengths, and more powerful for each other’s weaknesses.
That’s a lot to take in. Artists Thony Silas and Will Robinson end up playing with some powerful and vulnerable images. From Lynda’s glowing pregnant belly to the atemporaly speaking fetus inside, there’s sci-fi magic in everything.
All of this baggage leaves the Inhumans at something of an impasse moving forward. They literally cannot retrieve Black Bolt from the prison Maximus left him in, and that may even run counter to their mission anyway. Throughout the issue, Maximus repeats “what I do, I do for the good of all.” In this case, the good of all is whatever Marvel Boy is leading our heroes to. Maybe he’s just making sure the Royals get the job done.
Secret Empire 2
Drew: There are lots of explanations for Marvel’s appeal, from its flawed heroes to its “world outside your window” approach to its universe, but its summer crossover events always make a stronger case for the sheer depth of their character bench. Its characters range from street-level brawlers to literal gods, and each has their own unique voice. It’s a valuable asset, but one that must be daunting to wield; a big tentpole event like this more or less demands giving every hero their due, leaving creators with dozens of characters to juggle. Secret Empire 2 checks in with almost every hero still on Earth — including one nobody was expecting.
We’ll get to that twist in a moment, but first, I want to talk about the various missions Nick Spencer and Andrea Sorrentino set for each of the factions. In New York, the mission is mostly just “survive,” as the darkforce dimension is full of demons that can only be repelled by light — a resource Dagger is becoming increasingly unable to provide. It’s a bit like survival mode in a zombie game set on that planet from Pitch Black, though there are also whiffs of “No Man’s Land,” as citizens struggle over limited resources and Kingpin stakes out a territory. The tone is grim, to be sure, but characters like Luke Cage and Danny Rand still leave Spencer plenty of room to ply his knack for goofy banter.
Meanwhile, Cap and the Underground have set competing collection missions, both gunning for the Cosmic Cube shards necessary to reassemble Kobik. It’s a straightforward multi-MacGuffin hunt, but Widow sees a shortcut, having resolved to kill Steve. As far as she’s concerned, it’s what the Steve they know would have wanted.
That’s a shade too dark (and perhaps too touchy a subject) for Clint, so Widow leaves the Underground, plotting an assassination with the Champions, who also defected.
That’s plenty of event for one issue, setting clear objectives for all of our characters, but an epilogue reveals one more: a second, bearded Steve Rogers. Exactly who he is or how he came to be isn’t clear, but Spencer wastes no time in establishing his heroism, showing him leaping in to rescue a woman from the Serpent Society. This clearly isn’t the same guy that’s been leading Hydra. Or is it? Like the prologue to Secret Wars 0, this sequence is drawn by Rod Reis, so it’s not 100% clear that this is happening in the same universe or timeline as the events of the rest of the issue — perhaps our Steve was exiled in Hydra-Cap’s universe? There are far more questions than answers here, but that’s what has always made Spencer’s cliffhangers so effective.
Ultimates 2 7
Spencer: Just in terms of sheer scope and scale, Ultimates 2 is a “big” series. The Ultimates exist to solve the “ultimate” problems, and the overarching story of both volumes has been building up to a battle against, essentially, an entire sentient universe. Any other threat ends up looking small in comparison, which is a problem Ultimates 2 7 faces as the series gets caught up in the path of yet another crossover event. It’s also a problem Al Ewing and Aud Koch end up addressing explicitly within the text of the issue.
It’s time for every series to drop what they’re doing and tie into Secret Empire, and Ultimates 2 does so with gusto; the title of this issue is “Purgatory,” and it spends its entire time with the members of the Ultimates trapped in space by the Planetary Shield as they unsuccessfully attempt to find a way to make it home before yet another wave of Chitauri Drones attack. Marvel’s last crossover event (Civil War II) derailed The Ultimates to the point where relaunching the series seemed prudent, so this time Ewing gets ahead of the game by, through Galactus, addressing the change in the scale of this new threat himself.
Galactus essentially claims that the threat of Secret Empire and the Planetary Shield is insignificant compared to the threat of Logos and the First Firmament; one could very well read this as Ewing apologizing for the series getting caught up in something so far from what it’s been building to over the past six months. Then again, America immediately responds by declaring “Everything’s part of the big show — our little planet, your cosmic war, all of it” — could this be Ewing instead defending this crossover issue as important even if it doesn’t measure up to the title’s typical stakes?
Honestly, how you end up reading that scene will probably come down to how successful you feel this issue was. Personally, aside from the clunky recap of how we got to this point, I think it fares far better than the Civil War II crossover, mainly because it sticks to the perspective of the core team members, finding some surprisingly human moments amidst the violence; newcomer Koch’s art is a wonderful compliment in this regard, giving this series its most tactile, human interpretations of the Ultimates yet and showing the tragedy of this violence through sheer brutality alone.
We also get some signature Ultimates 2 action as the team (especially Spectrum) pushes their abilities to the limit to find a way to breach the shield. Isn’t that exactly what this team is meant to do, solve the ultimate problems? The fact that they fail shows that the shield may be more of a threat than even Galactus gives it credit for. Whether you view this issue as embracing the crossover or as an apology for it, it certainly doesn’t look like it will be derailing the series like the last one. If we’re stuck in this crossover purgatory for half a year, though, I may change my tune.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?