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 All-New Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Black Panther 14 and Jean Grey 2. Also, we will be discussing I am Groot 1 on Tuesday and Captain America Steve Rogers 17 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: There’s quite a bit I love about the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but one aspect which has really stood out to me is their sheer imagination, scope, and ambition. Very few of the characters are human (and only one from Earth), each new world is not only gorgeous, but visually distinct from the last, and the sky’s the limit in terms of alien abilities, technology, and landscape. Throughout Bendis’ run on the Guardians comics, I often found myself frustrated by how often he returned to the well of Earth (be it incorporating Earth characters or literally returning to the planet time after time), so I’m excited by how fully Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder embrace the movies’ aesthetic. All-New Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is their imagination run wild, practically exploding onto the page with childlike enthusiasm.
Seriously, just about every page of this issue — especially once the Guardians enter into the Collector’s fortress — is a visual feast, with Kuder cramming every corner and background of every scene with fun visual details.
In this sequence I not only love the hints of the depths of the Collector’s collection (the Futurama-esque head in the jar; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a cameo of some sort), but the way Kuder foregoes gutters entirely and instead uses the space between panels there to give his final panel more vertical space, show off more of the background, and create an entire new plane for the Guardians to be attacked from. Duggan’s no slouch either, coming up with one of the more inventive heist scenarios in recent memory in the form of the Collector’s endless, almost insurmountable security system. The fact that the Collector seems almost omnipotent within his domain (and thus shouldn’t even need his security system at all) is not only a fun punchline to the heist, but a chance for Kuder to create a “gasp out loud” moment as well.
Seriously, Kuder’s sense of scale here is outstanding (we never get to see the Guardians appear large, even when only the Collector’s finger is in the panel). This sense of spectacle permeates the issue, and it’s a sight to behold.
There are two small moments, though, where the creators’ boundless sense of imagination seems to fail them. While the cliffhanger does advance the “Groot army” subplot ever-so-slightly, it still feels like a retread of the first issue’s cliffhanger, and the scene where the Wraiths bring the Guardians’ worst fears to life feels a little half-baked — other than Rocket’s, each Guardian’s worst fear either is either too generic (Groot’s is essentially just “death,” which doesn’t tell me much about him as a character) or too abstract (Gamora’s being turned to stone). Still, it’s a moment that barely takes half a page, and largely exists to show off how Drax’s worst fears overwhelm even the Wraiths, which, if it isn’t exactly original, is certainly an effective character moment.
That’s another area where All-New Guardians of the Galaxy 2 improves upon its first issue, finding more chances for its cast to show off both new and old facets of their personalities, even though we still have no idea why some of them changed so drastically in their time apart. The fact that Duggan keeps much of the cast at a distance, describing how they’ve changed through Star-Lord’s internal monologue, is surprisingly effective here — Quill doesn’t have much more idea of what Drax or Gamora are going through then the audience does, making him, once again, a perfect audience surrogate.
Black Panther 14
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
Drew: I’ve always interpreted these lyrics as being about taking things for granted — that we can’t truly appreciate something until we no longer have it. But there may be a more literal meaning here: that we may just straight up not know all of the things something does until it’s no longer there. This comes up a great deal in environmental causes when, say, flooded out communities quickly learn about the heretofore unknown flood-mitigating properties of the now demolished wetlands. But it also happens when a person leaves our lives (say, a coworker), and the little, invisible things they did are suddenly sorely missed. It’s not clear to me if the Wakandan gods are closer to people or elemental forces, but their absence reveals the same kind of surprises — we didn’t appreciate all the things they did until they stopped doing them.
One thing is clear: they may have been holding back the wrath of the older gods, protecting Wakanda from those snake men (and other monstrosities). That’s not exactly the kind of threat one considers when imagining a “forsaken by the gods” storyline, but it reveals a much deeper spiritual history in Wakanda, opening T’Challa up to an ancient, all-but-forgotten religion. In this issue, that religion manifests itself in the form of Zawavari, a sorcerer who has pledged to assist T’Challa in his quest to find the gods.
Meanwhile, T’Challa may soon also be learning the value of (by way of losing) Asira’s…confidence? Loyalty? Life? It’s not 100% clear exactly what Zenzi and Doctor Faustus have in mind for Asira, but the threat is definitely there. Asira (and apparently Zawavari) is a deeper cut in Black Panther lore that I can really identify, so it could be that the threat is very specific to her relationship to T’Challa. Unfortunately, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t give us much in the way of introduction for her (indeed, it took me a minute to recognize that the woman captured at the end of the issue was the same one T’Calla was skyping with in the opening pages). I’m sure we’ll learn more about who she is and what she means to T’Challa, but in the meantime, I worry that I won’t know what T’Challa had until she’s gone.
Jean Grey 2
Patrick: If the first issue of this series was Young Jean Grey coming to terms with the unwieldy legacy of OG Jean Grey, then issue two is Jean accepting the legacy of the motherfucking Phoenix. That’s a tall order, and one that requires getting a lot deeper into X-Men lore. Y’see, about half a dozen mutants have played host to the Phoenix in the past (and for Quentin Quire, also the future) and understanding what that thing is capable of means understanding the experiences of all of them. Writer Dennis Hopeless stares right down this barrel and doesn’t offer any kind of soothing platitudes to our heroine. Growing old, dying, losing loved ones: these are the mundane tragedies we all experience by virtue of being alive, but the Phoenix brings a brand of suffering that is simultaneously more personal and more global.
So, first, the global perspective: Jean straps into Cerebro, which dutifully drops waypoints on a map so she can touch base with Colossus, Magick, Rachel Grey, Quintin Quire and Hope. That’s us zoomed way out. Even when Jean catches up with Hope, the perspective needs to zip back out to reveal a whole nest of Reavers underground.
Artist Victor Ibáñez uses this brilliant diorama view, letting the cut-away view of the floors and architectural beams in lieu of panel dividers. He’s tying the bigness of the space to the bigness of comic books, linking the threat the Phoenix poses to the medium itself. And comics are inherently big, spectacular stories. This is also the only way to drive home how personally devastating being possessed by the Phoenix is. Quentin — who uses a tool as violent as a psychic gun to trigger his demonstration — shows Jean the ravaged mindscapes of her fellow Phoenix hosts. It’s all alarmingly graphic, with Quentin’s mind in particular being populated throngs of flaming zombies. The message is clear: no matter what she does, Jean Grey will struggle, suffer, and die. That’s maybe a little bit more nihilistic that I care to read, but Jean’s on a philosophical walkabout, and I recognize that that’s a phase we all go through. Hell, in that way, Hopeless may be writing one of the most accurate teenagers I’ve ever read.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?