Mike and Marc break down the great, the good, and the not-quite-as-good for this week’s Marvel releases. Featuring another issue of Superior Spider-Man (hey, wasn’t there just one of these last week?), a new writer on Winter Soldier, a surprising issue of New Avengers, a new story arc kicking off in All-New X-Men, and a new team of Fearless Defenders forming.
Superior Spider-Man #3
“Everything You Know is Wrong”
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Ryan Stegman
Color Art: Edgar Delgado
Has all of the shouting about Superior Spider-Man died down, yet? Are we done threatening Dan Slott and howling about the sanctity of fictional characters? If so, that’s great news. Now we can talk about what a fascinating comic Superior Spider-Man is.
Superior Spider-Man #3 might be the weakest issue of the series thus far, but that doesn’t mean that it is, by any stretch of the imagination, a weak comic. Spidey has to take on the Vulture in this issue, which raises a few issues considering that Otto Octavius and ol’ Adrian Toomes used to have a pretty cozy working relationship as super-villains. This marks the first time that Otto/Peter has had to confront somebody that he used to have, not just common interests with, but had some semblance of a friendship with. The way he handles this, at least at first, is almost touching. And then, as these things tend to do, everything goes wrong.
We all know Peter is coming back eventually. In fact, “disembodied Peter” gets almost as much dialogue in this issue as he would if he were still the actual star of the book. What makes Superior Spider-Man so interesting right now is how Otto’s actions force the readers to see all of these relationships in the Spider-Man world in a different light. Otto’s, shall we say, unique, perspective offers a certain measure of objectivity (even when he’s dead wrong, as he is in the case of Jonah and his “Spider Signal” at the beginning of the issue) that wouldn’t be possible if the comic was simply going through the motions that we’ve all become so familiar with; Peter having romantic troubles; Peter clashing with Jonah; Spidey takes on another super-villain at the cost of some crucial part of his personal life, etc.
Where does Superior Spider-Man #3 fail? Well, to be perfectly honest, there’s too much Peter. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s the truth. With Peter kind of zipping around through Otto’s memories like the Ghost of Christmas Past, I couldn’t help but feel that I was getting denied a taste of some of the real conflicts in the story. Plus, having Peter’s voice remain so prominent in the comic is detracting from the subtle ways that Otto is becoming more, well, like Peter. But if this is gonna be my biggest complaint about Superior Spider-Man going forward, then I should probably keep my mouth shut.
review by: Mike Cecchini
Winter Soldier #15
“Skin to Shed”
Writer: Jason Latour
Art/Color: Nic Klein
Jason Latour did not draw an easy card. Any writer following Ed Brubaker on Winter Soldier could be in for a thankless assignment. Brubaker’s voice has defined the character of Bucky Barnes, yet, if the character is to excel in the Marvel Universe, Bucky will need to be tackled by many writers. The Winter Soldier should be a vital part of the Marvel Universe for years to come (there is that little matter of being in the next Captain America film), and in order for the character to meet and exceed his potential, voices other than Brubaker’s must be able to guide his adventures.
At the end of his run, Brubaker left Bucky in a position ripe for dramatic exploitation. Bucky was tragically deprived of the Black Widow’s love. In fact, she has no memory of ever having been with him, thanks to a mind wipe by Bucky’s own ex-protégé. In the hands of the right writer, this tragic edge could lead to some interesting character conflicts and motivations, and those new wrinkles start here.
Thankfully, judging by his premiere issue, Latour is more than up for the task. The story centers on the Winter Soldier retrieving a SHIELD agent who is deep undercover as a HYDRA operative. The only issue is that Bucky murdered the agent’s lover when he was the Winter Soldier during the Cold War. This plot quickly pulls Bucky back into a place where he must face and overcome the sins of his past. Previously, Bucky had Natasha to fall back on, a strong woman, with her own dark past, that stood as a reminder of his own redemption. Now, he must face his past mistakes alone while blaming himself for the Black Widow’s memory loss. The agent, Joe Robards, is hopefully, the first of many character triumphs that Latour creates for Marvel. Robards is a crusty old hand at the espionage game whose weapons of choice are Molotov cocktails and brass knuckles. To find redemption, Bucky will have to somehow find Robards’ forgiveness, and Latour’s expert characterization shows that Robards ain’t a man that forgives easy.
Latour’s debut is part Brubaker, part Steranko, but all original. It’s a unique view of the underbelly of espionage of the Marvel Universe, filled with the gadgetry that has defined the SHIELD/HYDRA conflict since the glory days of the ‘60s. This style and perspective was feared lost by many with Brubaker’s departure, but when Nick Fury arrives, Latour nails Fury’s voice and demeanor. Latour uses Fury as the catalyst to Bucky’s latest adventure; an adventure that can only succeed if Bucky is able to get past his old sins.
Nic Klein’s colors and art perfectly match Latour’s vibe. The book looks like an espionage driven book should look. Klein handles a sequence of two astronauts turning into Hulks just as ably as he does an old fashioned bar brawl. For pete’s sake, even the credit page is action packed. Make no mistake, Latour’s debut is impressive and judging from this issue, he has a great deal to add to the Marvel Universe. Bucky is in good hands.
review by: Marc Buxton
New Avengers #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: Steve Epting
Inkers: Rick Magyar with Steve Epting
Color Artist: Frank D’Armata
The whole time I’ve been reading New Avengers and looking at that roster, I kept thinking to myself, “One of these things is not like the other.” Can you guess which one that is? But, lo and behold, New Avengers #3 solves that problem. I didn’t quite expect things to be resolved this way, but I guess, when you think about it, there wasn’t really any other solution.
New Avengers #3 opens with a brief recap of the central conflict of this story arc. The surviving members of the Illuminati, Tony Stark, Black Panther, Namor, Reed Richards, and Doctor Strange, have a planet sized problem looming on their doorstep. As in, there’s literally an Earth from a parallel universe waiting to collide with/merge with/annihilate ours. But what’s a little problem like that when you have an Infinity Gauntlet, right?
Well, that’s kind of the problem. While each member of the Illuminati (plus Captain America) has been left in charge of one of the immensely powerful Infinity Gems, there’s a reason they each only get one. Nobody wants to deal with the consequences of reassembling the Gauntlet. That’s entirely too much power for anyone to wield. To make matters worse, Professor Xavier isn’t even around, as he’s taking the ol’ dirt nap (and in comics, remember, it’s always just a nap), and so Henry “Beast” McCoy is his surrogate with the Mind Gem.
What follows are some great moments for Captain America. In fact, I’d love to see Hickman take a turn at writing Cap in his own series somewhere down the road. There’s a reason Captain America is here, and it’s because he’s the only one they trust to wield the full power of the Gauntlet. Where the issue falls a little flat for me is Cap’s speech to the rest of the team, outlining why he thinks their desperate approach is wrong. It’s clearly intended to echo Iron Man’s speech to the Illuminati from way back in the New Avengers: Illuminati special that preceded Civil War. The problem is, that was a fairly obvious, overwrought attempt at foreshadowing back then, and revisiting the technique here doesn’t do anyone any favors.
So, while New Avengers #3 isn’t the best issue of the book, it’s still advancing a pretty compelling story, where the team are gonna have to make some hard choices in the immediate future. Nothing is resolved in a satisfactory fashion here, but the first of those “hard choices” does get made towards the end of the book. This certainly isn’t your typical Avengers title, that’s for sure.
review by: Mike Cecchini
All-New X-Men #7
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Marquez
Color Artist: Marte Garcia
Now that the first arc of the book established the original X-Men in the modern Marvel Universe, it’s time for them to become acclimated to their new setting. All-New X-Men #7 is the trademark “Bendis Conversation Issue.” Bendis takes a great deal of heat (unfairly) for dialogue driven stories like this one. The first six issues of All-New X-Men were a fast and furious amalgamation of ideas, including time travel, facing past sins, establishing schools of X-Men, Jean coming to grips with her past history, and the transformation of the Beast. This issue cleanses the palette, as Bendis examines the present motivations of young Scott Summers as he must find his place in the modern world.
Young Scott ventures out to see what old Scott keeps in his (their?) safety deposit box. It is a moving reveal as Scott finds, among other things, his old ruby quartz visor, an invitation to his wedding with Jean, and a lock of red hair. It’s these little details that make Bendis such a polished storyteller. Yes, sometimes his characters all have the same cadence, and he over uses the dinner meeting as a means to drive the plot, but there is a heart in his understandings of these characters. Bendis knows when to create something new and he knows when to exploit past continuity details to give the readers a sense of nostalgia for emotional impact.
The conversation that creates young Scott’s motivation is with a most unexpected second party. When armed guards arrive to confront Scott, the wanted terrorist, Wolverine saves him and takes him to task for the risk he took. Soon, it is revealed that it isn’t Wolverine, but Mystique, who is engaging Scott. Mystique makes Cyclops see the present with the open honesty only an adversary can. She does not reveal the true nature of her character, but she makes it clear that she and the followers of Xavier stand at cross purposes. Readers get a wary feeling as they know that Mystique only ever operates with her own agenda, and any ideas she plants in the mind of the malleable and confused young Scott’s head will be used to serve her own agenda.
Bendis rounds out his issue with Kitty training the newly arrived young Beast, Iceman, and Jean Grey. This lightens the tone created by Scott’s soul searching, as Kitty harangues Iceman for his lack of motivation. Bendis uses this effectively humorous sequence in order to set the reader up for the moment where Scott reveals the wedding invitation to Jean, which hits very hard, and proves that the tradition of soap-opera in the X-Men is alive and well in this new series. The addition of Mystique addresses the one thing the book has been lacking, an antagonist. There’s a wonderful ambiguity around modern Scott Summers so he can’t serve as a full on foil for the X-Men. But Mystique can, and while her motivations remain veiled, it’s clear that her mastery of deceit and illusion will serve as a perfect balance for the innocence and inexperience of the young X-Men.
The art on the book is much lighter than Stuart Immonen’s, the artist of the first arc. Sometimes, the characters look a bit too cartoony, but Marquez’s layouts complement Bendis’ pace, the art propels the story forward and even though the majority of the issue is a conversation, Marquez keep the visuals interesting and dynamic. This book successfully keeps the readers guessing, and with Mystique added to the mix, it suddenly feels like anything can happen.
review by: Marc Buxton
Fearless Defenders #1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Will Sliney
Colors: Veronica Gandini
The “Defenders” name has traditionally been associated with some of Marvel’s more off-beat superhero teams. The roster usually consists of characters that you normally wouldn’t associate with team books. This doesn’t mean that the team is composed exclusively of second-tier characters (I’m looking at you, Nighthawk and White Tiger), as they’ve often boasted powerhouses like Doctor Strange, Hulk, and Silver Surfer in their ranks. The Marvel NOW! Fearless Defenders title is meant to continue in this tradition, showcasing characters who may not be the brightest stars of the Marvel Universe, but who deserve a little time in the spotlight, regardless.
There are two kinds of first issues. There’s the kind that give you every bit of info you need to decide on whether or not you want to continue reading the book, and then there’s the kind that sorta meander along, throw some action at you, and hope you’re gonna figure things out. The former is a pretty rare thing these days, while the latter is symptomatic of the whole decompression phenomenon which is a result of most stories being written with the collected edition in mind. Unfortunately, Fearless Defenders #1 falls into that “written for the trade” category, and it suffers greatly for it.
Can we call for a moratorium on the “introductory caption” for characters in books like this? Actually, that isn’t fair, as this is often necessary especially in team books. Can we please put a temporary hold on the use of the “clever” introductory caption, using words like “badass” or such self-evident hilarity as “likes girls?” It’s getting really grating. And in a book where not a heckuva lot happens, these little things really only emphasize the book’s other weaknesses.
Essentially, Misty Knight fights a bunch of goons to retrieve an artifact to retrieve a mysterious musical statue for Dr. Annabelle Riggs, who, as we are informed by her clever introductory caption, “grew up watching a lot of Indiana Jones.” The statue starts playing eerie music, which resurrects a horde of undead Vikings, which Misty and Valkyrie have to squash. In between, we’re treated to an undead horde of uninspired dialogue, including Valkyrie’s nonsensical (even by her standards) “Your levity is good.” First issues can be awkward for everyone involved, and hopefully, Fearless Defenders can shake this off, otherwise, well, it might be awhile before we see this team again.
review by: Mike Cecchini