Avengers 675: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Michael DeLaney

Avengers 675

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Drew: The Marvel Universe is big. That much is clear from the very beginning of Avengers 675, which skips across the globe to catch up with Marvel’s countless superhero teams and fictional countries as they deal with the Earth suddenly being transported…somewhere. Characters helpfully repeat each other’s names (and the names of their respective teams) to orient us, but being overwhelmed is kind of the point — these characters are facing down utter chaos, and that chaos is everywhere. Crossover events will often feature these kinds of “cash in all the chips” moments, straining our familiarity with Marvel’s lesser-known characters to really sell the massive scope of the story. But that’s where this issue differs from the standard crossover; where other stories simply revel in the bombast of throwing all of these characters together, Avengers 675 uses it as a cover to inject a new character into the narrative. [Phew, are there SPOILERS to follow.]  Continue reading

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Focus vs. Multiple Fronts in Black Panther 168

By Ryan Desaulniers

Black Panther 168

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box

Whether you’re writing an indie comic title or trying to pen the next billion-dollar Star Wars film, a great place to start is by asking, “What is the hardest thing for my characters to do?” True character, after all, is revealed through the most difficult decisions they’re forced to undertake. After a very interesting tangent in Black Panther 166 to meet the new Klaw, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates tries to pile on the challenges facing King T’Challa and the rest of his royal court of protagonists, but is it better to assault a character from all sides, or to offer one clear, powerful opposing force? Continue reading

The (Re)Introduction of Klaw in Black Panther 166

By Drew Baumgartner

Black Panther 166

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

There’s a lot to be excited by in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther run, but one we rarely comment on is that it’s bringing in new readers. As an already popular author and journalist, Coates has an established audience that is much, much larger than the typical comics creator. For evidence, we need look no further than his twitter followers, which number 1-3 orders of magnitude more than most comics creators — heck, he has more followers than most comics publishers. And, importantly, the vast majority of those followers (and Atlantic and Between the World and Me readers) aren’t comics readers. I’ve covered plenty of comics in our 7 years as a site, but tweets about Coates’s Black Panther represent the only times I’ve been asked “where can I buy this comic?” And that’s happened multiple times. Coates is bringing new people to the medium, and that’s something special.

Of course, it also puts him in a bit of an unusual place as a writer. T’Challa is a character with a rich, half-century-long history, and comicdom is notorious for fans who know every bit of that history. How do you reconcile the interests of those fans with those of total neophytes? From the start, Coates has struck an elegant balance, acknowledging many specific beats of that history while also creating entirely new mythologies for the character and his world. No one element represents that better than Ulysses Klaw, whose introduction at the end of last month’s issue crashed one of T’Challa’s oldest enemies into that new mythology. Continue reading

The Failings of Friendship in Desperate Times in Secret Empire 5

by Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

“The power of friendship” is a popular trope in most media. The idea that most situations can be overcome through the bonds we share with our friends is powerful in a lot of ways, but it’s one that never really seems applicable to war or espionage stories like Secret Empire. Make no mistake, Hydra is not going to be defeated by friendship or optimism alone, but in Secret Empire 5, Nick Spencer, Rod Reis, Andrea Sorrentino, Joshua Cassara, and Rachelle Rosenberg do explore the effect pre-existing relationships have on their conflict. It’s not always a good one. Continue reading

Ms. Marvel 18

Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing Ms. Marvel 18, originally released May 10th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: Supporting characters exist, well, to support — to highlight and contrast the protagonist’s various personality traits. Even when supporting characters deal with trauma and plot twists of their own, creators and readers alike have a tendency to only think of those events in terms of how they effect the protagonist. I’ll admit that I’d been thinking that way of Bruno Carrelli, the (former?) best friend of Kamala Khan, after everything he’d gone through in the Civil War II tie-ins; my number one concern was whether he and Kamala would ever be able to repair their relationship. Writer G. Willow Wilson shines the spotlight on Bruno in Ms. Marvel 18, and by doing so, gently reminds her readers that Bruno is his own man with his own unique struggles that are worth considering and empathizing with. Continue reading

The Ultimates 2 4

ultimates-2-4

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Ultimates 2 4, originally released February 15th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. […]

Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. […]

Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

Aristotle, “Rhetoric”

Drew: I’ve never studied philosophy, or even public speaking, but even I’ve heard of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the three modes of persuasion Aristotle describes in the excerpts above. Obviously, “heard of” is a pretty far cry from understanding, but to my lay mind, Logos — the mode that relies on logic — is often held up as the purest form of persuasion, as it hinges on facts rather than our emotions or faith in whoever is making the argument. But, of course, it’s difficult to truly ignore the impact of Ethos and Pathos — we’re emotional, social beings — so it’s possible for something to feel like Logos when, in fact, it isn’t (a phenomenon we call “truthiness”). Moreover, dubious Logos may shore up its logicalness by being distractingly lacking in Ethos and Pathos (a phenomenon we might call “fuck your feelings”). This is all very messy, and is threatening to turn into an essay on political discourse, but I brought it up to address the appeals characters make to one another in Ultimates 2 4 — all modes are on display, including a “logical” argument built on such shaky ground that its arguer feels compelled to call itself “Logos.” Continue reading

The Ultimates 2 1

ultimates-2-1

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Ultimates 2 1, originally released November 23rd, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Drew: It’s odd that we have a concept of ideas that are “ahead of their time” — that is, it’s odd that ideas are so often rejected only to be later praised that we have a phrase to describe the phenomenon. Optimistically, the fact that those ideas can be reappraised suggests that you can’t keep a good idea down, but the other side of that coin reveals how common it is to reject good ideas in the moment. Indeed, the very fact that those ideas can later be proven to have value illustrates that the initial problem wasn’t with the idea, but the people involved in implementing it. Maybe it comes down to personalities involved or the politics surrounding an idea, but good ideas can be rejected for reasons totally unrelated to the quality of those ideas. Those mistakes may be corrected by history, but often over the course of generations. To me, the best way to speed up that process, unlocking the value of good ideas sooner, is to constantly reevaluate our decisions, never defaulting to the assumption that the “best” idea always wins. Such is the case with the idea of the Ultimates — the politics and personalities involved may have prevented that idea from reaching its fruition the first time around, but that doesn’t mean it should be discarded completely. Continue reading

The Uncanny Inhumans 13

Alternating Currents: Uncanny Inhumans 13, Drew and Patrick
Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Uncanny Inhumans 13, originally released September 14th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Most people believe that the 20th century was a death struggle between Communism and Capitalism, and that Fascism was but a hiccup. But today we know better. Communism was a fool’s errand. The followers of Marx gone from this earth, but the followers of Hitler abound and thrive. Hitler, however, had one great disadvantage. He lived in a time when Fascism, like a virus… like the AIDS virus… needed a strong host in order to spread. Germany was that host. But Germany did not prevail. The world was too big. Fortunately, the world has changed. Global communications, cable TV, the internet. Today the world is smaller and a virus does not need a strong host in order to spread. The virus… is airborne. One more thing. Let no man call us crazy. They called Hitler crazy. But Hitler was not crazy. He was stupid. You don’t fight Russia and America. You get Russia and America to fight each other… and destroy each other.

Dressler, The Sum of All Fears

Drew: I’m not sure if the above quote appears in Tom Clancy’s novel, but it sure plays a key role in its film adaptation, where a group of fascists run a false flag operation in hopes of pitting Russia and the US against one another. The narrative of a neo-nazi faction gaining by pitting the two powers that be against one another certainly has real-world resonance in the rise of the alt-right during this election cycle, which I suppose highlights the danger of steamrolling any narrative into a simple dichotomy. The US and Russia may have been the only superpowers left, but they were far from the only interests that could benefit from their antagonism. Unfortunately, international relations aren’t always subtle enough to fully understand those smaller interests. The same could be said of superheroes, which, even when they’re fighting with one another, tend to be almost entirely two-sided. The Inhumans already represent a kind of third party to Captain Marvel and Iron Man’s “Civil War,” but an even subtler point is how even smaller factions might exploit that conflict to their own ends. It’s The Sum of All Fears, but with superpowers in place of, well, superpowers. Continue reading

The Ultimates 5

ultimates 5

Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing The Ultimates 5, originally released March 23rd, 2016.

Spencer: As a team, the Ultimates exist to solve problems within the Marvel Universe that are too grand for any other team to fix; it’s fitting, then, that Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort seem to be using The Ultimates 5 to solve an equally grand problem that Marvel Comics as an entity have been grappling with for years. It’s perhaps the most meta-textual concept in an issue full of meta, but thankfully, all that meta makes for an intriguing read. Continue reading

Secret Wars 9

secret wars 9

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Secret Wars , originally released January 13th, 2016. 

secret wars div

“Great societies are crumbling around us. And the old men who run them are out of ideas. So all eyes turn to you — our children — to build us something better […] We must do more, go farther… to somewhere no human has ever been. Your prize, Makers… are the stars themselves.”

T’Challa, Secret Wars 9

Patrick: The entirety of Jonathan Hickman’s incursion epic has hinged on this concept of master morality — that the decisions of the powerful necessarily cannot make sense to those less powerful. Individuals’ lives and rights are trampled for a concept as nebulous as “the greater” good, and it’s not really up to the subservient class to judge that trampling. With Secret Wars, the class of person making such impossible decisions is God — a literal, physically present, hands-on creator God — in the form of Doctor Doom. His decisions are immeasurably complicated, but they are also the decisions made by Hickman himself, and the conclusion to this mini-series, this event, and Hickman’s entire run at Marvel comics, links Godliness with creativity, and ultimately places the decisions and the morality behind those decisions in the hands of the storytellers.

Continue reading