Week of July 24: New Marvel Unlimited Comics

The roundup is late, the comics are still great.

Maybe it's not Jason Latour telling Bendis to hurry up but that's the way I wanna read it.
Get a move on, Bendis!

This blog has been running silent for too long. I was working through – let’s just say “general stuff.” The good news is I’ve been reading plenty of comics, enjoying most of what I read, and taking plenty of notes. So I’ll bring this up to date quick-like. Let’s get to work on this backlog with some great U.S. Avengers, some thoughtful Sam Wilson, and some imaginative Mosaic.

Check out the full roster over at Marvel.com, then follow through the jump for my ratings.

(This weeks’ comics were originally published ca. January 18, 2017.)

Epic Comics (★★★★★)

The comics that will warm the cockles of your heart and/or make you think deep thoughts.

Danielle Cage explains the Golden Skull and Bobby maneuvers the team right into his clutches. Bad news – for him! All the thumbs up. This title is staying locked at the top of my favorites list. It’s sort of like a continuity-respecting Nextwave. It’s an optimistic fulfillment of what modern Marvel promises and but often fails to deliver: Pure heroics, exhilarating spectacle, and quality laughs, all conveyed with consummate skill in both the writing and the art.

Rage has been arrested for superheroing while black. Sam has a video that can turn it from a disgrace into a disaster; what’s a Captain America to do? Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuña bring this comic back to its home ground: Race and the uncomfortable questions it adds to the superhero experience. Great art, subtle writing, and a slow-burning pace that’s very dive-in friendly. If you’ve skipped the last three issues of cringe-worthy hijinks, this is the perfect time to jump back on board.

Morris finds Spider-Man’s head to be a complicated and not entirely safe place to hide out. Outside the Spidey-skull, significant enemies are gathering. Morris’s dad has sold him to the Brand Corporation like a sack of potatoes, yet Morris sticks to his dad’s “look out for #1” philosophy even when exposed to Uncle Ben’s classic “Great Responsibility” alternative. Morris, like Spidey, is going to need to experience loss before he grasps this principle. This issue’s art is solid but easy to overlook under the barrage of awesomely inventive, abstract ideas. A story about a new body-surfing hero needs to bring considerable novelty to the cliches of mind-control stories, and this title is certainly doing that.

Great Comics (★★★★)

Comics that are a definite cut above average.

Holo-Tony names Ironheart, Tony’s mom takes charge on the corporate side, and Pepper Potts stops by in time to meet the Techno Golem. My problem with this book is that Riri Williams doesn’t get to be her own hero. Holo-Tony chisels some decent psychological insights out of her before naming her. This happens while Riri is doing top-tier superheroing in the background. She beats the Rhino, an eldritch Cthulhoid thing, demons, and more. She has a Miles Spidey team-up while the dialogue concentrates entirely on Holo-Tony’s blathering. And she’s finally sporting the red and gold armor. The comic wants to tell us about Riri’s identity instead of showing us Riri’s superheroics. But aside from that questionable decision, this issue delivers beautiful art, smart dialogue, and some really good characterization. (The characterization is sold with excellent facial expressions as well as dialogue – really nicely done!) Plus a discussion of the phrase “random gun violence” that is astute social commentary rather than fatuous identity politics. It’s not a flawless issue, but it is very good and very thought-provoking.

Gwenpool has her big showdown with the squid aliens. The biggest surprise of all? Everything plays out according to her plans. Her happy ending is undercut by the dissolution of the MODOK organization; her mercenary pals are scattering to the four winds. This issue has rock-solid writing and beautiful art, as ever. It’s funny, it’s exciting. Yet it is also slightly by-the-numbers and the surprising lack of surprises leaves it a little less memorable than it could/should be.

Bobby Drake decides to be a lover instead of a fighter in the IvX conflict. He suits up for the big attack on New Attilan, but his only interest is in grabbing Romeo and then bowing out of the whole mess. It’s a simple story told well, and it should be a big hit with readers who want to see Teen Bobby happy.

Evil Matt Murdock sends Gwen and Miles out to kill Jefferson, Miles’s dad. They’re not gonna go through with it, right? Also, wasn’t there supposed to be a romantic component to this crossover? Not feeling it on Gwen’s end yet. I am feeling the overall characterization of both characters, though – very believable. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that Jefferson-65 looks to be in the mix here too.

Jackal Ben goes off the rails and launches a zombie apocalypse because his clone-bro Peter Parker just won’t get on board with his megalomaniacal schemes. It’s a dumb story in the “feel yourself blush while explaining this to non-comics readers” sense, but it’s tops for guilty pleasures. I don’t think Clone Conspiracy is gonna go down in history as either an epic or a disaster, but there are plenty of fun moments along the way. Some outstanding art, too.

Star-Lord is stuck with community service after running around New York as an element-gun-wielding vigilante. Foiling a bank robbery with Ms. Marvel while endangering the senior citizen he’s babysitting indicates that if there’s a lesson here about keeping a low profile, he is not interested in learning it. This is a feather-light funnybook, and the star is pretty much Andy Dwyer, Star-Lord. The humor is written with considerable skill and I’m not one of those fans mourning the tragic loss of pre-Chris-Pratt-Star-Lord, so I had a blast here. Also, though I’m usually down on Kris Anka, in this issue I discovered that illustrating Kamala Khan might be his true calling. He does it very well.

Bucky and Natasha jaunt to the moon so that Nick “Unseen” Fury can share one word: plastics friendship. The Weeping Lions get themselves killed, Nat and Bucky almost die in a very amateurish trap, and the Recluse liberates most of the Baby Widows. This issue is asking us to take a lot of plot twists on faith, and it’s a testament to the creative team’s skills that doing so seems like a good bet. I’m confident that things will get even better as this twisty story continues to unfold.

The Troubleshooters are on the Ultimates’ tail and Chaos & Order are powering up into a new threat. There are fascinating philosophical concepts being aired here, both on the big cosmic stage and, surprisingly, in the recruitment of Jim Tensen into the Troubleshooters team. I’m still thinking of the art as an anchor dragging this book down, though I can see that what looks like laziness at first glance is actually a reasoned stylistic choice. It’s a little better here than it has been; Mr. Foreman doesn’t draw Carol’s head like a deflated football even once. Of course, he only draws her nine times. The Ultimates appear on just three pages of this issue. The author knows what he’s doing, though; this book is all about dualism and that means that shining a spotlight on the Ultimates’ opposition serves a purpose.

Kaiju attacks rock the Marvel Universe. New kid Kei Kawade is causing them; is Elsa Bloodstone going to stop them? Possibly with Moon Girl’s help? “Superheroes beat up giant monsters” is such a gloriously simple premise that it should be really hard to screw up. But handing it to Cullen Bunn … I’m not encouraged by the initial portrayal of Elsa. Kelly Thompson and Paulo Sequeira proved at the end of A-Force that it’s quite possible to recapture the magic of Nextwave Elsa without hiring Warren Ellis; why am I so worried that Mr. Bunn is going to stumble? I am liking Mr. McNiven’s art, and this global superhero survey gives him a fine shot at a broad lineup of heroes.

Good Comics (★★★)

Comics that are a decent way to entertain yourself.

Venom sticks with Lee to keep him from dying. So now they’ve been entrapped by crooked cops and they’ve got Scorpion after them. Great. I’m honestly not sure if this series is an imaginative new role for Venom or just reheated cliches and callbacks. This issue does have some excellent Symbiote-POV characterization. The art is refined and vibrant, but also stuck in a personal style that’s a highly acquired taste. So many interchangeable glowery dudes!

The Mercs explore a five-years-later Bad Future coming out of IvX. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is the key to it all. Sure, this series is mainly just a shill for a new movie-compatible NTW, but it’s a pretty entertaining one. Iban Coello delivers excellent art, though he seems to be the sort who would mutiny if he wasn’t allowed to draw at least one female character with pornstar proportions.

Clone Gwen pulls out all the stops to try and get Pete onto Team Jackal in this issue-long heart-to-heart. I followed the title page’s instructions and read Clone Conspiracy #4 first. You know who got screwed by that? Giuseppi Camuncoli. His otherwise-satisfactory art in this issue feels a lot less impressive as a chaser to Jim Cheung’s epic work. My feeling towards the writing is similar if a little more abstract. It’s perfectly satisfactory – but is “satisfactory” really good enough when you’re bringing Peter Parker face-to-face with his long-dead first love? This is my first-ever “Gwen lives” plotline; shouldn’t it be a little more epic than this?

Ayo and Aneka take a vacation and explore their love. Folami turns traitor. The story is solid, but I haven’t had a fall-in-love moment with these characters yet. Dialogue and plotting are handled well, though I’m still slightly weirded out by the Dora Milaje’s refusal to use contractions. The art has occasional weak spots but nothing really off-putting.

Maximus concocts a scheme to enter IvX: He’s gonna claim he can make more Terrigen crystals. Of course, he’s also bragging about his untrustworthy nature, so the odds are about 10 to 1 against him actually having the secret. This is a solid drive down the baseline of “decently entertaining comic,” with some minor art and pacing hiccups keeping it from ranking higher. All bets are off if you’re a big Maximus fan, though; this is double dessert night for folks with a preexisting love of the character.

Gamora goes to Ubliex and meets Princess Plot Device. (Her name is actually L’Wit but you need to read the book three times with a jeweler’s loupe to prise that detail out.) That’s after a space dogfight sequence and before an apocalyptic wasteland fight sequence. I’m slightly disappointed to see these two women turn into interchangeable “strong female characters” – their only priorities are kicking ass and delivering cheesy one-liners. Counterpoint: I recognize that women are still chronically underrepresented in the “badass action movie star with paper-thin characterization” field, and my issues may be more with that genre than with these particular characters. Lazy characterization aside, all the other creative jobs (particularly the art) are handled with commendable skill.

At least Princess Plot Device has good taste in jokes.

Carol has an alien refugee crisis, a sinister bounty hunter, and a stupid TV show to deal with. Ms. Stohl decides to give pride of place in her opening scene to that last point. She really wants to do jokes about a genuine superhero on a fake TV stage, and she’s gonna cram it into this title no matter how wildly out-of-place it is. She also really wants to use Jess Drew as Carol’s faithful wing-lady, so she’s just gonna ignore the much more complicated (and interesting) way Dennis Hopeless is handling their post-CW2 relationship in Spider-Woman. Carol gets a costume redesign that includes ditching red-and-blue for classic red-and-black and a lot of more questionable changes. I always come to Captain Marvel with high hopes, but when presented with a just-barely-meets-minimum standards effort like this I’m inclined to be overly harsh rather than charitable.

Disappointing Comics (★★/★)

Marvel Unlimited meets MST3K.

Felicia’s sinister mind-control scheme turns out to be a bank-robbing spree that would make for a “blah” episode of Adam West’s Batman series. Patsy foils it with a lot of help from Jubilee. While the creative team on this title would likely be delighted with my Batman comparison, it’s the “blah”-ness I want to emphasize. “Campy 60s Batman with a diverse millennial cast” is a fine concept for a comic, but this title executes it with relentlessly mediocre writing and art. At least it’s nice to see Ian get some closure with his ex that addresses some nuanced, atypical, and yet completely valid relationship problems.

Either you've read the baloons backwards or you're cross-eyed now.
Let’s play “spot the bad layout choices.” I got three; how many did you find?

Deadpool-in-Howard’s-body blasts off to a Roxxon satellite in search of a cure for Rocket’s space rabies. The art here is actually great, but the story is not worth the effort. Deadpool is in maximum “LOL memes” mode and Howard just reacts with Howard-esque exasperation. MU is the ideal platform for this sort of story because I cannot imagine paying money for it and being satisfied.

Series finale. With a whimper, the Squadron folds up and goes its separate ways. James Robinson forgets that he owes his readers a climactic battle and instead invites us to follow along as he sets each of his action figures back on the shelf so that another (hopefully more talented) writer can come play with them later. This series started with oodles of potential and wasted almost all of it.

Series finale. Luke Cage beats up Professor Soos, bringing this series to an overdue close. The ending is abrupt and arbitrary, rather exactly like two pages tacked onto an unfinished sketchbook to give the illusion of closure. This series is only of interest to readers who bring a deep and abiding love for Genndy Tartakovsky to the table, and even they deserve better than this.

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Images snipped out of Marvel Unlimited by yours truly.

Author: CMMIV

Reader of comic books. Semi-professional writer.