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 3, Black Bolt 2, Daredevil 21, Doctor Strange 20, Hawkeye 7, Rocket 2 and Unstoppable Wasp 6. Also, we will be discussing Nova 7 on Monday and Amazing Spider-Man 28 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Patrick: I love it, but Bojack Horseman is one of the least recommendable shows on Netflix. The show is capable of such staggering darkness and emotional honesty, but it presents itself as a juvenile joke factory. The set-up is so cloyingly cynical, trading on burning has-beens and Hollywood hacks against a backdrop stilted animal puns. But somewhere around the sixth or seventh episode, the show reveals itself as a paragon of both realism and absurdity, often simultaneously. On the re-watch, those first five episodes don’t feel quite so trivial anymore because you know just what the show is capable of. All-New Guardians of the Galaxy was already off to a promising start, but issue 3 sets out to show us just what it’s capable of.
And in this case, it means we get a 20-page trippy dream sequence/flashback to the Soul World drawn by Frazer Irving. Fuck. Yes.
Irving, and writer Gerry Duggan, take the opportunity to not just break with style and tone sort forth in the previous two issues, but to blow medium conventions right out window. Irving does very little in the way of paneling, instead letting his painterly flow dictate the pacing of the story. Seriously: Irving is a beast and his commitment to obliterating the way comics usually communicate the passage of time goes a long way toward casting this issue’s atemporal spell.
Gamora’s being led around by a version of herself if she had never left Soul World and resorted to gouging her own eyes out. It is dark, conceptually challenging stuff, and by virtue of Irving’s artwork, it’s also beautiful.
Duggan is effectively cashing in on that beauty, adding this kind of storytelling to the All-New Guardians palette. The series isn’t just smart comedic action with inventive alien design anymore. It is now that, and also this.
Black Bolt 2
Drew: Serious question: what is the purpose of prison? Is it to punish criminals, or to rehabilitate them? I get that the goal, at least ideally, is “both,” but it seems at least possible to me that those purposes might be mutually exclusive. One is focused on the past, somehow paying a debt to society, while the other is focused on the future, somehow getting a loan from society (you know, assuming that any rehabilitation actually happens). More to the point: symbolically, it forces prisoners to live in the past, putting the life they used to have (both criminal and non-criminal) in the forefront of their minds. I don’t bring this up to kick off an essay on the vicious cycle that prison creates, but to lend context to the prisoners’ fixation on their own pasts in Black Bolt 2.
Writer Saladin Ahmed makes that fixation as explicit as possible, putting words about past deeds and (literal) past lives in just about every characters’ mouth, but it’s artist Christian Ward that injects those preoccupations into our own minds. Carrying on a motif he used so elegantly in the first issue, Ward wreaths Black Bolt in images of his own past, as though they’re constantly present, whispering in his ears. Here, Ward expands that motif, giving Crusher Creel’s memories the same treatment.
What’s remarkable is, it’s not clear these memories actually help these characters move forward. Creel mostly uses his memories to illustrate a point about how tough he his, while Bolt is mostly fixated on how he got to prison and who else should be there in his stead. The focus on Medusa at the end may potentially motivate his actions going forward, but it sounds like he might be better served by being in the moment.
Spencer: On more than one occasion Batman has claimed that his ultimate goal is to create a world where he isn’t needed — in other words, a world without crime. It’s a wonderful goal, but also a seemingly impossible one: putting an end to crime would practically require changing human nature itself, and even if a superhero does somehow have the ability to bring this about, the demand from Marvel and DC (and the readers) for more stories necessitates that this goal remain forever a fantasy. Knowing this dooms Matt Murdock’s fledgling plan to end all crime in NYC to failure, which makes the stakes Charles Soule and Goran Sudzuka are building for his mission more important than ever.
The exact details of Matt’s plan are still unclear, except that they involve the legal system, and Daredevil taking the stand in court (which he does in his classic red costume instead of his new black one — I wonder what the significance of that is? Does it seem more trustworthy?). The consequences if his plan fails, though, are crystal clear:
As the man without fear, Matt has the courage to pursue his goal despite the danger involved, and in all honesty, the rewards if he succeeds likely are worth the risk. Knowing that he’s doomed to failure, though, casts this entire enterprises in a different light. Matt’s “discussed the matter over with Daredevil,” meaning he’s acting alone on this. That may be necessary for the plan, but it’s still a bad habit Matt’s developed since regaining his secret identity. Daredevil may be willing to live with the consequences, but if he fails, what happens to heroes with public identities (like his fellow Defenders), or known associates of heroes (such as Parker Industries), or even the more vulnerable masked heroes (such as Miles Moreales or Kamala Khan)? Their freedom has been put on the line without their even knowing it.
It’s still possible Soule may find some way for Matt to succeed without completely upending the Marvel Universe — and either way, I’m excited to see the full explanation of Matt’s plan — but it seems more likely that we’re supposed to be focusing on what may happen if Matt fails, and how he even got to this point in the first place. Bravery is an admirable trait, but it can easily turn to recklessness; in other words, being the man without fear isn’t always a good thing, and acting alone especially has its downsides. As always, Matt Murdock may just be his own worst enemy.
Doctor Strange 20
Taylor: Much has been made about how weird Doctor Strange’s world is, which makes sense given not only his name but his profession as well. That being said, we’ve all experienced Stephen’s strange world for so long now that it’s beginning to feel, well, normal. After all, there are only so many ways he can get himself into and out of magical trouble. This is all to say that Doctor Strange 20 is a breath of fresh air because it lends a new set of eyes to the world of magic.
After stealing one the last remaining magic wands from the hands of would be evil-doers, Stephen and Zelma escape on a flying motor cycle only to find themselves transported to Weird World. There, Zelma has to fend for herself and Stephen since the latter has taken a poisonous arrow to the shoulder. It is at this point in the story, when it transitions to Weird World that, Stephen’s narration of the issue of the stops and Zelma’s begins.
Zelma’s take on the world of magic breathes some new life into this series, even if it wasn’t getting all that stale to begin with. Whereas Stephen approaches magic with a world weary approach, Zelma still sees it as exciting and new. This change in narration signals a tonal shift on Jason Aaron’s part and it’s to the benefit of the issue. Had Stephen still been conscious in Weird World, he wouldn’t have been surprised by any of what he saw. Likewise, the audience would approach this new setting the same way. However, by shifting the perspective of the issue onto Zelma, Aaron allows us to relish in the true strangeness of this place. Just like Zelma is experiencing Weird World for the first time, so are many who are reading this issue. This means she immediately connects to the audience in a more direct way than Stephen, which consequently makes for a more engaging issue.
This all plays into Stephen’s decision to make Zelma his apprentice at the end of the issue, which seems like the right decision for this series. Stephen’s expertise paired with Zelma’s fascination with her new, deeper world promise to offer Aaron a slew of good story lines and I can hardly wait to read them all.
Drew: I tend to avoid listing whatever I imagine the specific influences of a given comic to be — because I can’t really know, it ends up being more an exercise in free association than analysis, offering little insight to anything other than my own bibliography. Moreover, focusing on a creative team’s influences diminishes the contributions of the actual creators, offering credit where none may actually be due. And finally, drawing comparisons to older, perhaps better-known work is more than a little unfair, inviting all kinds of unflattering parallels. So let me say that, when I say Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero’s Hawkeye 7 is the spiritual successor to both Matt Fraction and David Aja AND Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez’s runs, I mean it in all of the good ways.
Indeed, I might suggest that the overall arc of this book is similar to both Fraction and Aja’s run, where fun, formalist early issues give way to deeper family drama. That’s not to say that this issue loses any of the formalist fun — Romero cuts loose with a big double-page action sequence in the back half of the issue — just that it’s now anchored with some very real personal stakes for Kate, complete with some telling flashbacks. Those flashbacks start out innocuously enough, lending essential context to the necklace Kate receives from Madme Masque, but they take on a kind of proustian immediacy as Thompson and Romero begin to transition in and out of them with striking match-cuts.
The effect is a sense that Kate’s memories are an unstoppable force, sweeping over her, even as she battles a whole roomful of goons. And with good reason: those flashbacks quickly establish the mysterious circumstances of Kate’s mother’s death — the very case Kate is now working.
Note also the way Romero drops lines from those flashbacks, including panel borders in their entirety. Those memories only exist in Kate’s head now, so their forms can’t be fully separated, floating in the ether of her mind without a solid anchor. That motif comes to a head when Kate confronts her father at the end of the issue — while he’s inked conventionally, Kate stands alone in a sea of white.
This was the last thing Kate expected to see when she walked into the room. That white space helps connect this moment to those memories that seem to implicate her father in her mother’s death, leading us to all kinds of conclusions that will doubtlessly be proven false in the next issue. Like Kate, we don’t know what happens next, so we’re left floating in that negative space.
Patrick: It took me a little bit to wrap my head around the noir-meets-fairy-tale format of Rocket. There’s this ungainly wall of text along the left gutter of most pages, sometimes providing insight into Rocket’s process, sometimes explaining the intricacies of whatever space nonsense is happening elsewhere on the page, and sometimes just really hammering in a joke. It’s a handy device, but it also critically alters the pacing of the issue allowing for totally different kinds of jokes to be layered on top of each other. Writer Al Ewing and artist Adam Gorham have created an astoundingly adroit joke- and story-delivery machine.
The moments when the reader transitions over from the text-heavy portions to the more traditionally comic-book portions end up being my favorite. It’s like Ewing has talked his way into a premise so juicy that he has to explore with his good buddy Gorham, so that’s where the comic kicks in. In fact, the narration is so rambling and full of insane specifics that it also reads like expert improv — and those break-out scenes read like one of the performers recognized a funny idea and wanted to play with it. The joy of premise-based improv scenes is that the performers and audience are already in agreement about what’s funny about a scene before it even begins. The performers need only deliver what they already know to be killing. Ewing stumbles into this idea that Rocket has a frog-esque lawyer that Rocket off-handedly refers to as “Froggy.” BAM — comedic premise: this is a blind, alien Foggy Nelson. If this is true, what else is true?
You can see the tail end of the text setting up the premise, but them Gorham takes over to actively show the funny scene. Rocket’s co-defense attorney is obviously, hilariously, some kind of reverse Daredevil, cursed with losing his radar sense as a young boy, but blessed with the gift of sight. It’s a fun riff on the absurdity of Daredevil, and it seems like something Ewing and Gorham just sort of stumbled into and decided to have fun with.
That same basic idea is on display when the Technet is fighting amongst themselves. There’s even a moment where Ewing names one of the characters “Scatterbrain” and simply lets Gorham depict what his powers must be. (Hint: it involves scattering someone’s brain.) The narration admits that “In space, super-fights got weird” but that’s really just an acknowledgement that following creative impulses leads to some rad shit. So, sure, there’s a heist and a land-grab and a set-up behind all of this, but the real fun comes from the spur of the moment storytelling.
Unstoppable Wasp 6
Ryan M: There is a lot to enjoy about The Unstoppable Wasp. We have Nadia’s irrepressible optimism, even after an entire childhood of abuse in the science class of the Red Room. Also, Jeremy Whitley gives us a diverse crew of girl geniuses who want to work together to use science to make the world better. Add in the bright world that Elsa Charretier builds, where even our villain is both grotesque and somewhat silly as she leans on a cane as if about to perform a Bob Fosse dance number.
I love all of those things about this series, but perhaps my favorite bit is Jarvis. He has been loyal and supportive of Nadia’s endeavors throughout. Whitley gives him both a paternal and service role. In this issue, he lets the GIRL crew stick their hands in his skull, for goodness sake! He is an adult that Nadia can and does trust, even with her past. To put more of a fine point on it, Jarvis represents the ability Nadia has to heal from the darkness of her childhood and face her life with openness. Her speech to Mother in the climax of the issue reinforces this notion.
It’s not a revolutionary idea, but there is power in the sentiment of closing the door on your painful history and choosing to live a good life. Nadia doesn’t know that she is about to experience the collapse of her first friend in her arms, but rereading this sequence with that in mind only reiterates her strength. Yes, should Nadia lose Ying, it will be a dark time for her, but we have every reason to believe that her spirit cannot be broken.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?