Let’s face it: Comics are a many-curse-words expensive hobby. Marvel has been particularly shameless about cash-grabbery in recent years, featuring lots of too-big events (Yeah, we’re just dying to know what Jim ☠☠☠☠ Hammond is up to during Secret Empire!), constant cash-in miniserieses (You like Daredevil? Buy these three poorly-conceived solo titles featuring Daredevil villains!), and way too much double shipping (You like Gerry Duggan’s Guardians of the Galaxy? Do you like it enough to drop $8 a month on it? No? ☠☠☠☠ you, no more Guardians for anybody!).
Through all the madness, good ole Marvel Unlimited is chugging along, offering you complete access to all the craziness for a reasonable price and a modest delay. I thought I’d try something new here. Inspired by this week’s latest offerings, I wanted to shine a spotlight on some comics that were all too easy to ignore when they were first released on paper. Dropping money on them at your FLCS seemed like a bad idea six months ago, but taking a peek at them now on MU just might be the highlight of your day!
Here’re my picks for the diamonds in the rough added to Marvel Unlimited on January 1st:
The Punisher #13
Writer: Becky Cloonan
Artist: Kris Anka
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Published June 28, 2017
Find it on Marvel.com
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of 5 – Solid execution of a great premise with very minor flaws.
This is a true hidden gem. This volume of the Punisher has been through some tough ☠☠☠☠, and dropping it around #7 or #8 was absolutely the right call to make. Filling the dear departed Steve Dillon’s shoes in the art department was a nigh-impossible challenge and Marvel apparently tackled it with a shoestring budget that even Avatar Press would laugh at.
Not only did the series get hard to look at after Mr. Dillon’s passing, it was hopelessly tangled in a dull storyline that just would not die. There’s a special circle in comic book hell reserved for the editor that looked at Becky Cloonan’s first-arc outline and said, “You should totally make this a 12-part epic.”
But! Issue #13 proves that Ms. Cloonan absolutely knows how to tell a short, sharp Punisher story. She can still summon the unholy air of dread she cast over Frank so well at the start of this volume. Beneath that shadow, we get the engrossing story of a hapless kid who’s stolen one of the Punisher’s guns. Big mistake, obviously, but you’ll be surprised and delighted with the reasoning behind Frank’s drive to recover his ordinance.
The story’s conveyed by some superb guest artistry courtesy of Kris Anka and colorist Matthew Wilson. They effortlessly conspire to hide the Punisher’s face through most of the issue. It always feels like a brilliant choice rather than a contrivance, and the story unfolds with clean but not under-detailed visual simplicity.
A few dialogue flubs pull this one-shot down out of “all-time great” territory, but it’s absolutely worth a quick MU read. It’s a palate cleanser after the end of the previous story arc, and it rekindles some unexpected optimism for the issues to come.
Occupy Avengers #8
Writer: David F. Walker
Artists: Martín Morazzo & Jorge Coelho
Colorist: Mat Lopes
Published June 28, 2017
Find it on Marvel.com
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ out of 5 – Incredible premise, undeniably flawed execution and details.
This one is a lot more of a qualified recommendation. Occupy is just one issue from cancellation and it’s getting battered hard by the guest artist carousel. David Walker seems salty about losing another series, and he adds a few barbs here that can be read as rather petty “take thats” at Marvel, haters, and possibly Nick Spencer. (I get the impression that Mr. Walker was super cheesed at the role Mr. Spencer assigned Clint Barton during Secret Empire.)
So this issue is middle-of-the-road entertaining at best. The visuals are especially rough. Not only do Martín Morazzo and Jorge Coelho both have very distinctive styles that are unsuited to fill-in work, but they do not play well together.
Why am I recommending this issue? Because, all credit to Mr. Walker, he looked hard at Secret Empire and built an insanely awesome premise for a tie-in. Instead of faffing around with hero-vs-hero fights or blithering about loss of innocence, he does a realistic read of a Hydra takeover and makes two brilliant deductions: 1) When fascists take charge, people die. 2) When fascists start killing people, real Americans lock and load.
In #8, the Occupy team discovers that Hydra is starving rural America to death. Tilda Johnson takes point and proposes nothing less than violent, broad-based insurrection. She’s got an excellent point. Which statement do you think plays better to a farmer with a starving family? “Don’t worry, us heroes are gonna collect a bunch of cosmic cube fragments and cast a ‘make everything better’ spell” or “Yeah, these fascist scumbags are killing us. Looks like we’re gonna have to kill them first.” Not only do farmers like the second option, it’s refreshing as hell to readers who’ve seen a few too many iterations of the first.
It’s a pity that this storyline is going to wrap up after one more almost-certain-to-be-disappointing issue. And it’s a shame that previous issues of Occupy Avengers failed to cultivate a bigger audience, robbing it of the storytelling resources this plot deserves. How awesome would it be if Mr. Walker got six issues and a top-shelf art team to tell a “Green Dawn” story of ordinary Americans rebelling against Hydra?
If your main complaint regarding Secret Empire thus far is “where’s the outrage?”, take a look at Occupy #8. David Walker has channeled all the fury you’d feel at seeing your country get taken over into Tilda Johnson, and it results in some exceptionally great scenes. There’s not enough space left to really deliver on their promise, but they’re so novel and refreshing that Occupy #8 is well worth a glance. If nothing else, it’ll give your Secret Empire experience a much-needed grounding in the ordinary American’s perspective.