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 Deadpool 31, Hulk 6, Moon Knight 14, and The Unbelievable Gwenpool 16. Also, we discussed Secret Empire 3 on Thursday and will be discussing Doctor Strange 21 on Monday, and Captain America: Sam Wilson 22 on Tuesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: Secret Empire 1 gave us our first glimpse of what the brave new world under Hydra looked like, leaving us with many questions as to how our favorite Marvel heroes ended up where they did. For me the biggest headscratcher was seeing Deadpool on Captain America’s team of Hydra Avengers. With Deadpool 31 Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli show us Wade’s first big move into Hydra allegiance – unbeknownst to him.
Duggan continues to make Wade a more sympathetic than sadistic Deadpool as he agrees to take on a mission from Cap to find and kill SHIELD agent Phil Coulson. Wade’s conscience doesn’t overtly bleed through a whole lot but you can tell that he’s got some cognitive dissonance about this job. Lolli draws a brief recap in Cap and Deadpool’s relationship on the first page that gives us some context but also allows Wade to justify what he’s about to do.
As a child it was mere hero worship but as an adult Cap became a symbol of a second chance and one of the few people who believed in him. Right before Wade pulls the trigger on Coulson he further justifies his actions by invoking Captain America’s virtue.
During the lead-up to this moment Wade is uncharacteristically quiet – very few jokes or quips, possibly another indication that he knows something is off.
Knowing the full story about Hydra Cap that we do, it’s heartbreaking to see Wade be tricked into doing Cap’s dirty work. But we also know how much Wade admires Cap so it’s not hard to see how he could be led down this path.
Spencer: Maise Brewn is what happens when you let fear control your life, let it consume you until you have nothing left except being afraid. What is Jen Walters, then? She’s someone who is also hurt and afraid, but is finding ways to cope, and people worth fighting for. Jen hasn’t lost her hope, and that’s why she’s slowly learning to live again while Maise never could.
Since this is still a Marvel comic, Mariko Tamaki and Nico Leon reach this thematic conclusion through battle, pitting the Hulk (the living embodiment of Jen’s trauma) against Maise’s dark creature (literally the physical embodiment of her fear). Their metaphorical battle is ultimately more interesting than their physical one. While Leon’s Hulk design does an excellent job conveying the pain Jen’s feeling, it never looks powerful enough (just compare Leon’s Hulk to Jeff Dekal’s on the covers), and the fact that Jen remains probably 90% lucid while Hulked out undermines Jen’s fear of transforming throughout this story. That could be the point — that worrying about pain/transforming is ultimately far worse than confronting and living with it — but that’s a point that’s not only never fully articulated, but leads to a somewhat anti-climatic finale to six full months of story.
Yeah, pacing continues to be my biggest problem with Hulk. The pace of this issue itself is fine, but the decompressed pace of the previous installments (and the constant teasing of the Hulk throughout that time) created expectations that just couldn’t be lived up to. This arc would have been far better served by a length of four issues rather than six — cut out some of the repetition, navel gazing, and flashbacks and this story would feel much more urgent and satisfying.
Honestly, I found myself frustrated by a lot of little things in Hulk 6. I’m torn by Tamaki’s decision to leave the nature of Maise’s darkness unexplained — on the one hand, I appreciate that she realizes it’s most important as a metaphor and therefore doesn’t waste time justifying it, but on the other, even in the Marvel Universe things like this just don’t happen without explanation, and even a one sentence one would feel much more satisfying. Leon’s decision to obscure the Hulk’s face outside of close-ups starts out cool, but begins to feel forced and awkward very quickly.
Most petty, yet most glaring: why is the basement of Maise’s apartment building full of barrels of (I’m assuming) gasoline? That’s not normal, right? Is there any logical reason for this besides Maise needing a convenient way to try to blow herself/Jen up?
Moon Knight 14
Drew: Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s Moon Knight has always taken a refreshingly grounded approach to mental illness. Er, “grounded” is probably the wrong term to use in a series with so many metaphysical flights of fancy, but maybe “respectful” is closer. Marc’s illness has never been trivialized or dismissed, such that we’ve regularly applauded its message of coping with mental illness (as opposed to magically resolving it). That this series has acknowledged that mental health is a process, not a destination is indeed laudable, but it made the prospect of concluding the run particularly treacherous — the central tension around Marc’s mental health must remain unresolved lest that message be lost. Remarkably, Lemire and Smallwood manage to balance their message with a satisfying conclusion, giving Mark a happy ending without sugarcoating the fact that he’s not “cured.”
In fact, while there are momentary flashes of physical threats, the real conflict of this issue is in Marc’s head — Man vs Self in its purest form. Which, ironically, makes those flashes all the more important. They aren’t just violent images; they’re moments and people from Marc’s past, skipping through Marc’s confused mind. It ultimately doesn’t rattle him, but in the meantime, it provides us with a kind of retrospective on his life generally — and this series in particular.
The effect emphasizes how significant this fight is — it’s the culmination of his entire life (but especially the parts of his life chronicled in the previous 13 issues).
But ultimately, what makes the resolution work is the way Lemire and Smallwood subtly separate Marc’s dissociative identity disorder from Khonshu. That distinction may ultimately exist only in Marc’s head, but when he finally confronts and defeats Khonshu, Smallwood doesn’t frame it as “Marc vs one of his identities,” but as “all of Marc’s identities vs Khonshu.”
“We are Moon Knight.” Lemire switches freely between singular and plural pronouns as the issue concludes, but the message is clear: whatever resolution Marc has reached with Khonshu isn’t necessarily true of his other identities. He’s healthier, but he’s not “cured.” It’s a nuanced resolution for a superhero comic, but it’s the perfect ending for a series that has traded in such subtleties.
The Unbelievable Gwenpool 16
Patrick: It’s doesn’t matter how liberally we use the phrase, in comic books the fourth wall never truly breaks. He can make jokes about his editors or the latest dumb crossover story, but Deadpool will never be able to climb off the page and interact with you. That’s obvious. So what happens when we take a character like Gwenpool, who is so committed to breaking the fourth wall that she hails therefrom, and send her back home? Now’s the time we gotta start throwing scare quotes on there: “home.” The first issue of the story arc “Beyond the Fourth Wall,” attempts to square Gwen’s reality with our own, but winkingly acknowledges just how impossible that is.
The action starts with Gwen’s brother pulling her through a portal, back to their shared universe of origin. Artists Gurihiru gleefully use the natural lines that exist within the medium to also represent planes of reality, with the universe going from fictional to literal over a page break.
There’s not even a panel divider there – we traverse worlds along the folds of the book. But Gurihiru is also quick to re-disorient us with those last two panels – one of which is the non-pixelated, non-polygonal perspective from within a video game played by our hero in the final panel. It’s comic world – real world – video game world – real world. Right from the introduction of the real world, we’re trained to be suspicious of it. Writer Christopher Hastings is careful to tap the breaks here, cooling his ridiculous roll to crush Gwen with the mundanities of being an unemployed high school drop-out in 2017 New York City. Gwen’s parents are hounding her to get a job, she strikes out, she escapes into the kind of fandom that Secret Wars encourages. Gwen’s smart — given her observations about subverting the hero’s journey in some unnamed movie, I’d give her a guest spot with us — but it’s not the kind of smarts the world around her values. Gwen’s knowledge of story structure and superhero conventions are an obsessive distraction to her here, while that same knowledge set was basically her superpower inside the Marvel Universe.
I’ll circle back around to those sarcastic quotes I had around “home” earlier. Gwen’s still inside some version of the Marvel Universe and she knows it. Gwen’s picking up the clues – she lingers on that weird magic store and its cheesy books about traveling between universes; she has a conversation with a comic shop owner that’s a little too eager to change the subject from the multiverse; and most importantly, she’s on to her brother constantly changing the subject. Or rather, the reader picks up on these clues, even if Gwen is too wrapped up in her life to recognize the telltale trappings of a Twilight Zone-esque story. It’s only way at the end — after the letters page — that Gwen gets hip to it.
She’s still in a comic, but of course we knew that already. Remember when I said we’re never really fooled by tricks that break the fourth wall? Turns out that’s a superpower in itself.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?