This was a busy week for me and for Marvel, apparently. It took me over a week to chew through this big block of contemporary additions to Marvel Unlimited. It’s a very good week for Gwens Poole and Stacy, and further down the quality totem pole Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy is experiencing a little fatigue in her continued role as the Marvel universe’s go-to organized crime villain. Take a gander at the full release schedule, then meet me underneath the sweet Gwenpool picture to talk individual comics.
Epic Comics (★★★★★)
The stuff that will make you feel proud to have read it.
After futzing around in the rough for several issues, this series is back on track with a vengeance. Gwen’s spider-powers are busted, and an alliance between evil Cindy Moon and evil Matt Murdock puts her under their thumbs. All this and a ninja fight! Plus some very sweet talk about Gwen’s dad and some very sweet art.
Gwen’s teammates are being held hostage and she’s up against squid aliens, the NYPD, and a rogue Doombot. We get an extensive backstory for the ‘bot, Victor Doonan, that involves a hilarious Squirrel Girl cameo. The plot demands a good understanding of the previous issues, but with that single qualifier, this is just about a perfect funny book. GuriHiru is an ideal art team for a lighthearted comic, and this issue’s cameo makes me hope they’ll do a guest issue of the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl in the future.
Great Comics (★★★★)
Highly entertaining, satisfying comics.
A very kid-friendly interlude in Norrin and Dawn’s adventures. They tell the story of Tiny Harold, their pint-sized pal, while they’re stuck in the belly of a Space Whale. It’s an adorable tale that features adorable names and it might trigger a saccharine overdose, but it’s quality all the way.
Slapstick saves a Paramus mall from the Taurs, a horde of toy-sized toons that split the difference between My Little Pony and the Smurfs. Special Guest Star Taurette captures my heart with her justified loathing of the Taur patriarchy. This series is doing a fine job of rehabilitating Slapstick into somebody hilarious and entertaining instead of letting him languish as an overly-angry footnote in Deadpool’s supporting cast.
Red Wolf and Hawkeye uncover a sinister water-stealing corporate plot, beat Hydro-Man, and decide to become road trip buddies. This title has great characterization, solid art, and cool plotting – sort of “Champions for grownups” so far. I’m hoping this is the last time they recycle a villain plot from Captain Planet, though.
There’s an alien refugee crisis brewing, so Carol doesn’t have time to unpack the traumatic nightmares she’s suffering in the wake of Civil War 2. New writer Margaret Stohl erects a neon arrow pointing back to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s glory days with the Carol Corps. Mucho Star Wars references, (maybe too much of) Chewie the
cat flerkin, and a rather too-easy rapprochement with Jessica Drew. The art is glorious and in my opinion light-years better than Mr. Anka’s work in the previous volume.
The Silver Age goodness continues as the Avengers rescue a woman named Cressida with the mysterious/sinister ability to amplify their powers. Mr. Waid does a superb job of making Hawkeye a dick in a way that rings very true to his 60s characterization without veering (too far) into sexism.
We’re deep in the Clone Conspiracy event now. Former clone #1 Ben Reilly gives Peter the rundown on what he’s been up to and why his new “nobody dies” scheme is really a good thing. I want to stress that while it’s far from flawless, this continuity-loving revival of Spidey’s graveyard is so much better than faffing around with SHIELD and the Zodiac Gang.
Gamora takes her revenge on the Badoon for wiping out her people, Nebula works to supplant her sister, and Thanos is launched right to the finalist round of the Worst Dad Ever competition. MCU screenwriting star Nicole Perlman creates a backstory for Gamora and Nebula. Some people are going to dismiss this out-of-hand for hewing closer to the MCU than the main Marvel universe. I think a good story forgives a lot of sins, and this start looks incredibly promising. Some eye-poppingly great artwork helps smooth you past the rough patches in the story, i.e. the rather bratty goth-y emo-y place Gamora’s character is starting from.
This title usually doesn’t do much for me, but this issue uses the IvX brouhaha to shine a spotlight on sneaky ole Fantomex. While Jean Grey and the Stepford Cuckoos keep Karnak hostage, Fantomex purloins his abilities to take control of the Weapon X “World” facility. Admittedly, he’s done something like this two or three times before, but the World is always cool. There’s a fine continuity thread drawn through the World, Fantomex, and the Cuckoos. Solid art by Edgar Salazar also brings a welcome relief from Greg Land and Ken Lashley.
Good Comics (★★★)
Comics that deliver a decent dose of entertainment in exchange for your time.
A Christmas Eve shopping spree with Luke, Danny, and Danielle turns into a superhero fight when the boys have to defeat Krampus. Guest-starring Jessica Drew and her son Gabe, Daimon Hellstrom, and a novel take on the Marvel universe’s Saint Nicholas. There’s a basically fun story here, but the plot feels a bit over-stretched and the art doesn’t do those guest stars any favors. Jessica Drew is more Spider-Babysitter than Spider-Woman. Also, the Krampus’s attack being a once-in-a-century crisis is kinda undercut by the fact Ghost Rider spanked him last week.
Chip Zdarsky takes the helm of the trainwreck that is Peter Quill. For two years his characterization has veered off “gritty space guerilla” toward “Chris Pratt analogue,” and it hasn’t been a very fun trip. At the moment, he’s stuck on Earth as a very handsome fish-out-of-water. He has uncomfortable run-ins with the two people he knows on Earth, Howard the Duck and Kitty Pride, and a night of conciliatory drinking with Old Man Logan ends up getting him arrested. This title is off to a decent start and the characterizations are interesting, but the plot developments are arbitrary and I have issues with Kris Anka’s “atmosphere? What’s atmosphere?” art. I will give Mr. Zdarsky credit for answering the perennial “is they or ain’t they?” question regarding Peter and Kitty with a pretty emphatic “they’re broken up.”
Ayo and Aneka live through the crushing series of tragedies that have hit Wakanda in the past few years. They come through deeply in love and deeply disappointed with their king. It’s a great plot and it shines a great light on the characters, but I had trouble appreciating the dialogue. It feels like Roxanne Gray is straining for poetry and mainly falling short of the mark.
Lee Price can control Venom and has no interest in letting the symbiote be a hero. He finagles his way into a job with Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy and tussles with a discount Firebug and with some federal agents. Can Lee stick with his icy “Venom leaves no survivors” plans? This is a good story so far, but it needs to tell me how Flash Thompson lost the symbiote sooner rather than later. This issue also shows Felicia being way too squeamish about a little puke. She’s a ninja-esque cat burglar, a canny seductress, and a rising queenpin of crime, not a tween girl from the suburbs.
The Punisher’s main story – he’s stripped of resources and assumed dead but still fighting baddies by the diner-ful – is awesome. The side stories of Detective Ortiz and serial killer Face are less enjoyable as they’re primarily built out of action movie cliches. This was the comic Steve Dillon was working on when he died, and he leaves gigantic artist’s boots to fill. Mr. Matt Horak’s feet look mighty small.
When AI Tony puts Riri through a very public training exercise, Techno Golem Tomoe takes note. I’m more than ready for Riri to put on the red and gold armor that’s being teased on the cover; her clunky gray garage suit is artistically the weakest part of this title. I’m also unsure whether Riri’s unfolding backstory is legitimately deep or just cobbled together from media cliches about African-American life in the 21st century. Is Brian Michael Bendis carefully crafting a unique character or just swiping tidbits from The Wire? The meta-story of the author creating the book is overshadowing the title’s own story, and that’s probably a bad thing.
Marvel’s biggest cosmic book showcases plenty of weirdness. The actual team spends the issue dealing with the Shaper and taking an ominous message from him for Galactus: “Everything Lives.” Hmm. The Big G, meanwhile, is watching massive changes unfold as the cosmic entities Chaos and Order execute the Living Tribunal. This issue is short on characterization and long on freaky plot twists. The art is challenging in a negative way. The cosmic sequences look slightly dated with their hazy computer colors, but the bits showcasing the actual Ultimates are seriously flawed. I was disturbed by how often Carol’s skull resembles a deflated kickball.
Domino and Deadpool are still fighting for control of the team. The action set-piece du jour is a pro forma fight against the Circus of Crime. Hitmonkey is revealed as a SHIELD spy. Try not to think less of the author because this plot point is straight from Al Ewing’s much better New Avengers. This book is a rather transparent attempt to bring Negasonic Teenage Warhead in line with her silver screen persona. It’s a story told with some wit and solid art, but the question of whether or not it’s really worth my time is frustratingly hard to answer for a title rounding issue #6.
Solo Yojimbo-s his way out of a mess of supergun-selling bikers and discovers that his primary nemesis is gonna be Egghead. Though this title has had some excellent art and solid characterization, it still hasn’t offered me any reason to care about the protagonist. A chronically under-utilized c-lister like Solo doesn’t have much of a devoted fanbase, so we really need to hit that “fall in love with me” moment pretty soon here.
After completing the epic “Last Days of Magic” story, an underpowered Dr. Strange has been marking time with a yawner of a villain survey arc. This issue puts him in the Orb’s care, Baron Mordo is still gunning for him, Mr. Misery the Shoggoth from his basement wants to torture him, and his pals Wong and Zelma are tracking him in a ghost biplane. I would rather read more about Wong and Zelma’s ghost pilot adventures than slog along with Stephen; I think that says volumes about this arc’s quality. Dormammu shows up in person at the end like a fat lady gearing up to finish the opera.
Thanos is dying of God Cancer. He furiously kills his dad, Mentor, when he delivers the bad news. I presume it’s not because of the lame name, but Thanos would be within his rights. Nebula is recruited into the “kill Thanos” plan being cooked up by Thane, Tryco and Eros. The plot is solid if slow, the characterization is decent. Even the art is tolerable, which is not something I often say about Mike Deodato’s work.
Disappointing Comics (★★/★)
These are the comics that you have to want to read. If you’re not already interested in these series/characters, the issues below aren’t going to stoke your fires.
The story of Felicia Hardy’s inexplicable vendetta against Patsy Walker bends toward a climax. Front and center is Ian “Telekinian” Soo, Patsy’s newly-heroic roomie who’s going to have to deal with an apologetic ex-girlfriend and a mind-controlled boyfriend during the showdown. Cool as it is to have a male minority character who’s an active bisexual, he really deserves a better story and much better art. I feel like this series as a whole needs a whip-cracking editor who bends more toward “you can do better” than “aww, that’s so cute” when reviewing the script and the art.
While Sam Wilson goes leaf-peeping with his brother Gideon (yeah, really), Misty Knight takes over. She’s borrowed Sam’s shield to beat down an LMD sex tape ring that’s abusing female villains and heroes. It’s a compelling pitch but it’s executed in a very lazy way. It fails to live up to the promise of its badass “Misty is Captain America” cover. The “aww, that’s a shame” quotient is amped up by some stiff “traced over CGI models” art and a very regrettable character design that makes Misty’s visor look like a motorcycle windshield hovering over her face.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s indulgent, vaguely racist, vaguely sexist ode to the 70s and Luke Cage staggers onward with a Doctor Seuss-themed rehash of Enter the Dragon. Unless you are immediately and irrationally excited by the idea of Genndy Tartakovsky drawing a blaxploitation comic, you’re not gonna enjoy this.
Namor is back. Jim “OG Human Torch” Hammond is threatened with death and/or power loss. The rest of the Squadron realizes that Nighthawk is terrible, and it looks like there should be a climactic showdown coming where the team beats him down. Should be. This issue delivered a deeply disappointing light-bulb moment for me. When Hammond is taunting Nighthawk, he uses the words “Hawks hunt in daylight … The darkness precludes their talons.” And that’s where I realized I simply don’t like Mr. James Robinson’s writing.
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