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?
Hulk: Judging the lucidity of this Hulk is hard, but there is certainly something up. I lvoe the basic design of the Hulk. Less power fantasy strength, more feral. Overgrown bones sticking out. She doesn’t even grow extraordinarily, making her clothes rip in interesting ways. WHile gamma streams out of her in scars, uncontrolled. A great design, even if it doesn’t match the covers. And I like how she talks. Short, direct sentences. Very stream of consciousness, very of the moment. Totally reactive. Fitting for this Hulk, in that it is undeniably different but also perfectly Hulk like. I saw someone describe Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner as ‘Someone who knew he drunk too much last night and knew he made made mistakes, but deep down, enjoyed it’. This certainly doesn’t look like it. THis Hulk looks like something that it hurts to be.
But the problem is it doesn’t feel like Hulking out is something to be afraid of. It looks like it hurts, but what Jen’s new Hulk form does is everything you’d want to hero to do. THis would be fitting for later in the run, where Jen is further along the healing process, properly reconciling with this version of the Hulk before building towards returning to the old Hulk form she used to have. This one really needed to be out of control. Jen fought the transformation every step of the way, found herself trapped with nothing but her fear. This shouldn’t have been the easy transformation.In all honesty, the real problem comes with Maise. THis Hulk has enough intelligence to not be randomly destructive. It makes sense it would smash anything percieved as a threat. But there should have been real doubt that she would attack maise. It shouldn’t have been instant. Instead, what we needed was a sense that Jen seized control for just a moment, grasping control of the situation so that Hulk saves Maise. It would have been a great first step towards recovery, the realisation that she has control even in her worst moments. But instead, Jen feels further along in her recovery than she should be.
Ultimately, I really, really love the new Hulk form, the scene at the memorial was perfect (especially that line about victims) and the scene with Bruce at the start was great (though it feels like there was a bit of an artist’s mistake. Jen completely lacks the muscle mass she should have as She-Hulk. And while I think six issues was the right length, last issue’s pacings problems contributed a lot of problems. If last issue ended where it should have, with Jen finally transformed, this issue would have more time to explore the Hulk and therefore what it means.
Secret Empire – Uprising/Springtime for Rogers: Joss Whedon said “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke”, which, I think, is the great strength of Uprising. In many ways, this is a dark story. Natasha is treated as the devil herself, and generally left in the background. The Champions make decisions specifically so that Natasha doesn’t get involved. And that’s ignoring the Ethical Adjustment scene. Seeing the Champions sit is silence on their smartphones, waiting for Natasha to call them, as Riri walks out crying, is dark. And the stakes are high, especially for Amadeus as he infiltrates HYDRA. The threat of him being discovered by the Freelancers is a constant threat, that fuels everything. And you can feel it.
But there is just as much humour. HYDRA Youth Choir is the perfect idea for this book. The stakes are high, but it is also a place that is inherently funny. It helps balance the darkness. And it does more than that. Fascist pagentry is inherently ludricous, and survives only by the fact that they insist we take it seriously. Treating the pagentry as a joke is powerful. As Lindsay Ellis so wonderfully said on her recent video about the Producers, so many anti-fascist movies have been appropriated by Nazis, but none have dared to appropriate the satirically pro-Nazi Springtime for Hitler. Done right, comedy can destroy the power of fascism. None want to think that the HYDRA Youth Choir is just a ludricous American Idol.
And it combines that with great work on the characters. Landy has seven leads, the head of the Youth Choir and the Freelancers. And he handles himself admirably. Joaquin and Viv are basically in the background, but everyone else gets something to do. Natasha, as I described above, is the devil. A corruptor of innocence. Riri’s intelligence is at the forefront, playing the key role in the support team (also, bonus points to the art team for Riri’s outfit. The hoodie’s yellow circle reminds us of an arc reactor, without being cheesy). Miles gets a moment to shine leading the infiltration at the end, utilising both his powers to their fullest and give the heroic sort of speech about youth disenfranchisment that Spiderman should be able to give. And then there is Nadia and Amadeus, the centre of the story. Landy manages to make Nadia both the optimistic weirdo and the vetrean experienced with such darkness, as she should be. She’s familiar with all part sof the job, whether it is blending in or something as horrifying as the Ethical Adjustments, while realising that Nadia doesn’t want to be this person. She cries at the idea of having to be an assassin, as soon as it is safe to do so. The rat scene is the perfect combination of spycraft and Nadia’s quirkiness to make a great joke rooted in every part of Nadia’s character. Meanwhile, Amadeus, as the lead, gets an interesting arc. Starting cocky and self asured, he takes the idea of HYDRA Youth Choir as a joke. His performance at the Red Room makes even Nadia’s look restrained. He is not taking things as seriously, to the point where he needs to be reminded to blend in. While Nadia makes ‘friends’, Amadeus sits in his room. He struggles with truly committing himself, before making the sacrifice play at the end. Gives Nadia the escape she wants, adn leaves him as the sole infiltrator.
Unfortunately, the beat doens’t land as strongly as it should, which is the biggest weakness of this issue. It feels like it doesn’t end, just collide with Secret Empire 4. Ultimately, for an issue that is supposed to bridge the first two acts of Secret Empire, this issue doesn’t feel like it does much for Secret EMpire’s story. A fun time with the Champions, but not a true ‘Secret Empire’ story.
Though on teh Champions, could I jsut say that this is a better Champions line up than the actual Champions? There is, of course, a big Kamala hole missing. But every other change is for the better. Keeping Viv, who life was defined by complex social issues in the Vision, and Miles, who has been strugglign with these issues in his own book and as a Spiderman fits into this sort of storytelling well. Meanwhile, keeping Amadeus is a great choice because he doesn’t fit in. he’s the guy who lacks the same investment and is caught up in his broish persona, and makes a great counterpoint to the rest of the team. Meanwhile, Joaquin is the perfect hothead, the biggest believer in the Champions mission, to the point of being impractical. Burn the system sort. And Riri is notably politically conscious, without dominating her perspective. This let’s her be perfectly suited as a support role. And the combination of her genius and her broad media diet makes her great as the team brains. Add Kamala to this team as leader, and you have a much better team than you do with Sam and Scott. Great characters, but not the best fit. Meanwhile, I would read these Champions in a heartbeat
Unbelievable Gwenpool: You’d give Gwen a guest spot, but still haven’t replied to the form I sent through ages ago?
Jokes aside, this was a great return to form, after last issue. I’m not sure Gwen is aware that something is up until the very end of the comic. I think things like the weird store is Hastings showing both Gwen’s immaturity and making jokes around structure. We return to a time before Gwen entered the Marvel Universe, see a creepy store with a magic book, and our instant thought is ‘this is how she got there’. Except, becaus eit is the real world, story structure doesn’t line up that neatly and it is something else that does it. The store is a red herring, with the joke being that of course the world is full of red herrings.
I love how they depict pre-Marvel Gwen. THey find the right balance, the thing that reconciles her immaturity and dangerous escapism with the right sort of backstory. Her life ins’t terrible, but she’s in that position where she can easily escape and struggles to do anything. SHe cna write fanfic all day, btu can’t get a job. She’s given up, to the point where she is the problem. But it is understandbale. The Secret Wars bit was a favourite of mine. So lost in escapism that the idea of being part of the Marvel Universe was worth the existence of Marvel’s darkest hour, where every universe died. A complete disconnect form what the comic actually is, caused only through a really problematic approach to fandom.
And damn, that is one of the best cliffhangers ever. After Gwen spends the entire issue unaware of what just happened, thinking that Gwenpool had never happened and going through the same routines as before, things truly go insane. The reveal that the End caption actually exists, that something, much, much weirder and more meta is going on, is sensational. THose last three panels ar eperfect, and suggest a truly interesting arc to come.
Great character examination of Gwen, fantastic meta jokes about hw reality defies good plot structure and chekov’s gun and that amazign ending? Great to see Gwenpool back on track