Welcome to Monthly Marvel Muster! It’s a new column where I’ll be taking a monthly look at some of what’s going on in the Marvel Comics universe – both the big events and the smaller stories – and highlighting some of my favourite series and creators. Let’s catch up.
July was something of a transitionary month for Marvel. With the Secret Empire event heading towards it’s conclusion, the futures of a lot of characters are somewhat in flux.
There was only one new ongoing – the highly-hyped Astonishing X-Men #1 and two cancellations – Occupy Avengers and Spider-Man 2099. I can’t speak on Spider-Man 2099, but Occupy Avengers was an enjoyable book with a diverse cast that always felt like it was on the verge of becoming something great, but kept falling short.
July also brought the first issues of four new mini-series. Two sequels to previous series and two tie-ins to other media. Spider-Men II and Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe Again are follow-ups to extremely successful series of a few years ago. Guardians Of The Galaxy: The Telltale Series is a video game tie-in. And Marvel’s Thor: Ragnorak Prelude is a tie-in to the upcoming film.
July marked the beginning of the end of this year’s big line-wide crossover event, Secret Empire, with issues #6 and 7 (of 10) coming out. Secret Empire is the culmination of Nick Spencer’s controversial “Captain America is secretly an agent of Hydra” storyline and as such has garnered a lot of very polarized opinions. Making Steve Rogers–known nazi-puncher and creation of famed creation of two Jewish men–a secret fascist was never going to be a good idea, but doing so now, during a worldwide resurgence of fascist politics, was a particularly unfortunate choice on Marvel’s part.
Even if, like me, you’re choosing not to read the main Secret Empire series, the repercussions of it have been hard to avoid. Besides the main series, July brought two issues of the anthology mini-series Secret Empire: Brave New World and tie-in storylines in fourteen ongoing series, including all the Avengers books and the two main X-Men titles. Some of the tie-in storylines are fairly strong– in particular Al Ewing on US Avengers and Margaret Stohl on Captain Marvel are doing excellent work, with issues that tie into the events of Secret Empire while also feeling like strong chapters in the ongoing narratives of their series.
After over a decade of turbulence in the mutant side of the Marvel universe, the focus lately has been on returning the X-Men comics to their roots via stripped down stories and classic teams. Therefore, the Jean Grey School is back, Mutants are no longer an endangered species, and classic storylines featuring fan-favourite characters are the name of the game.
But so far at least, this is a fresh take on the basics. The X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue teams are lead by Kitty Pryde and the time-displaced Jean Grey respectively, and the five solo X-Men books are a respectable split between two female and three male leads, including one gay man.
The solo X-Women get a couple great crossovers this month, with Laura Kinney hitching a ride with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jean Grey turning to Odinson, the former Thor, for some advice.
In addition to a new Brian Michael Bendis-written Defenders comic, issue #3 of which came out in July, all four characters currently have solo series. Daredevil has been a Marvel mainstay since the 60s, but Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand have all only sporadically had their own series over the years– and never all at the same time.
Venom was all over the Spider-Man books in July. Besides the Venom ongoing, there were two issues of the Edge of Venomverse mini-series, and Venom featured in storylines in two Alternate-Universe Spider-books: Spider-Gwen and Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.
Marvel’s Star Wars titles have proven hugely popular and are consistently among their bestsellers, and they have some of Marvel’s most popular creators working on them: Jason Aaron and Salvador Larroca on Star Wars, Kieron Gillen on Doctor Aphra and Charles Soule on both Darth Vader and Poe Dameron.
July is a great jumping-on moment for anyone interested in getting into the Star Wars comics, with new storylines starting in Star Wars, Doctor Aphra and Poe Dameron.
While comics still have a long way to go in terms of diversity, in the last five years Marvel has made a concerted effort to diversify their leads.
In July 2012 Marvel had one female-led solo book: Captain Marvel. Which was an amazing book, but was also under tremendous pressure as the only one of its kind.
Five years later they have fifteen, four starring young women of color, one of whom is also queer. It’s a diverse selection that appeals to specific segments of Marvel’s readership, not just to a catch-all group labeled “women”.
Less than two years ago I still made a point of reading every female-led book Marvel put out. Now, I don’t even try. There are so many of them and such a diversity among them, that I feel comfortable just focusing on the ones that I love and not worrying that if I don’t support them all they’ll all go away.
When it comes to getting female creators to tell those stories, Marvel has considerably further to go. Ten of those fifteen comics are written by men and eleven are drawn by male artists. No book Marvel is currently publishing has both a female writer and a female artist.
U.S. Avengers #8
writer: Al Ewing
artist: Paco Medina
Al Ewing is one of my favorite writers working for Marvel right now, and this is my favorite of his series.
This is a Secret Empire tie-in that I adore, in part because of its small-scale approach. There are two threads to the book. The B plot involves Squirrel Girl and Enigma, who have ended up in France, teaming up with a varied band of European heroes to fight a Hydra takeover of Paris. The A plot is about one of Ewing’s best creations, Dr. Toni Ho.
Ewing introduced Toni Ho in his run of New Avengers, the direct predecessor to U.S. Avengers. Toni is a brilliant scientist, the current Iron Patriot, and the daughter of Ho Yinsen, who famously died so that Tony Stark could live and become Iron Man. Toni has struggled with and against her father’s legacy and now she finds herself stepping into his shoes.
In a Hydra Reeducation camp, Toni is put in a cell with the leader of the U.S. Avengers, Roberto Da Costa (aka Sunspot). Roberto has been shot in the head and left to die. If Toni can save him, preferably without sacrificing herself, they can use his powers to escape together. Sounds familiar, right? There’s just one catch: Ho Yinsen had Tony Stark and a week. Toni has a delirious Roberto Da Costa and fifteen unwatched minutes.
Roberto Da Costa is a long-time favorite character of mine, but I love that this isn’t his story. It’s Toni’s story, Toni’s chance to work through the legacy of her father’s life and death. It’s the kind of story that a young, female character of color doesn’t often get, and this issue tells it very well.
The Unstoppable Wasp #7
writer: Jeremy Whitley
artist: Veronica Fish
Nadia Pym, unknown daughter of Hank Pym and his first wife, raised in the Red Room’s Science Division and now escaped to the US, is one of the best new Marvel characters in years. She’s escaped from a horrible past and is embracing a hopeful future. She’s brash and joyful and enthusiastic, but also angry and protective of her new life and new friends.
While the first six issues of The Unstoppable Wasp were from Nadia’s point of view. Issue #7 takes us inside the head of Nadia’s mentor and friend Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp. Whitley writes Janet wonderfully. She’s just so competent. She steps into Nadia’s life and leverages her name and her connections to solve the tangle of problems Nadia has been confronted with. And, in between, she kicks some villain ass and calms down a terrified, and terrifying, Nadia, before she hurts somebody.
This is the second-to-last issue of this series and that makes me incredibly sad because I’ve loved it since issue #1, when Nadia meets and fangirls Bobbi Morse (aka Mockingbird), not because she’s a superhero, but because she’s a scientist.
Jean Grey #4
writer: Dennis Hopeless
artist: Harvey Tolibao
After a lackluster first issue that had me almost giving up on the series, the young time-displaced Jean Grey’s solo series has been great fun. Young Jean is convinced the Phoenix Force is coming for her, and has set out to train herself however she can to fight back against it. In issues #2 and 3 that involved talking to as many previous Phoenix hosts as she could find. In issue #4 she takes a different tack, tracking down one of the Marvel universe’s greatest warriors, the Asgardian formerly known as Thor, and asking him for advice. And it’s hilarious.
Jean has no idea what to do with Odinson. He’s not what she expects a hero to be, and his way of looking at the world is utterly foreign to her. Even when they inevitably find themselves fighting bad guys together, he seems more interested in drinking and telling stories than either helping her fight or giving her useful advice.
Jean and Odinson have great oil and water chemistry, bouncing off each other in fascinating and entertaining ways, and Hopeless does a great job of writing both of them.