Welcome back to the August edition Monthly Marvel Muster! Where I discuss the goings-on of the Marvel comics universe.

August saw the long-awaited end of Secret Empire, and the first of the Generations one-shots featuring time-tossed team-ups between characters who’ve used the same code names at different times.

No new ongoing series launched in August, but three new miniseries started, all highlighting different corners of the Marvel universe: Inhumans: Once and Future Kings, Zombies Assemble 2 and Star Wars: Jedi of the Republic – Mace Windu.

Inhumans: Once and Future Kings is a story about the brothers Black Bolt an Maximus, before Black Bolt became King and Maximus earned the title of Maximus The Mad. It’s a nice backstory for new and old Inhumans readers alike and features absolutely stunning Phil Noto art, plus backup stories in each issue written by Ryan North starring the teleporting dog Lockjaw.

Zombies Assemble 2 is the english translation by Jim Zub of a manga by Japanese cartoonist Yusaku Komiyama. The original Zombies Assemble manga was released exclusively in Japan in 2015, but the english translation only came out this year in the lead-up to this sequel series.

Star Wars: Jedi of the Republic – Mace Windu is the latest addition to Marvel’s growing Star Wars line. Marvel published eight Star Wars titles in August: four ongoings, two mini-series, one annual and a one-shot.

Three of Marvel’s most diverse series came to an end in August: The Unstoppable Wasp, Black Panther and the Crew, and Ultimates 2. Of the three, the only one to have a white male character in the main cast was The Unstoppable Wasp, which features the Avengers butler Jarvis as the only male character in the main cast.  All three were among my favorite books Marvel was publishing and I’m both sad to see them go and frustrated by the difficulty Marvel seems to have in finding an audience for their more-diverse series.

Big Storylines

Secret Empire

Secret Empire #8 – Cover by Mark Brooks

Secret Empire nominally came to an end in August with the publication of the last three issues of the main title and the final issue of the Secret Empire: Brave New World anthology mini-series, although there is still the Secret Empire: Omega one-shot coming in September. Because the lead-up to this series was so long—or possibly because I hated the entire premise so much—this really seemed like the Event that would never end. Marvel has said they have no more big line-wide events planned for the next 18 months, so hopefully that means we’ll have a decent break before they decide to upend the status quo for another “shocking” storyline.

In the aftermath of the series there are now two Steve Rogers’ in the Marvel universe–the Hydra version, who has been arrested, and the non-Hydra version–and a number of characters, most notably Black Widow, are dead. How long they’ll stay dead is of course anyone’s guess, this being comics and all.

Generations

Generations: Wolverine & All-New Wolverine #1 – Cover by Jorge Molina

In the lead-up to this fall’s Legacy initiative, Marvel is putting out ten Generations one-shots focusing on their legacy heroes–heroes who share a code name with an earlier character–teaming up with versions of their predecessors from different time periods. The first five issues came out in August and the rest are slated for September. So far they’re all pretty good one-off stories exploring the core identities of the characters, but it’s rather unclear what impact they’re going to have on the characters going forwards.

I think Generations: Wolverine & All-New Wolverine was my favorite, but none of them so far have been bad stories.

The most notable plot point to come out of the one-shots so far is the revelation in Generations: The Unworthy Thor & The Mighty Thor that Odin once had a romantic relationship with the Phoenix Force, which is so bizarrely out of left field that I don’t know how to even begin to react to it.

Spider-Man

Peter Parker continues to be an incredibly popular character and Marvel are always happy to take advantage of that popularity. In August Marvel published eight ongoing series and two mini-series starring Peter Parker or characters connected to him, including the only two Marvel ongoings that take place in alternate universes: Spider-Gwen–in which Gwen Stacy was the one bit by the radioactive spider–and Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, in which Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are married and have a daughter.

Ultimates 2 #100 – Cover by Travel Foreman

Original Ultimates Return

Al Ewing’s post-Secret Wars series Ultimates and it’s successor Ultimates 2 took their name from the premier superhero team of Marvel’s now-deceased Ultimate universe. A handful of characters from the Ultimate universe survived to be integrated into the main continuity, including the Maker, a villainous Reed Richards, who’s played a big part in Ultimates 2.

In July’s Ultimates 2 #9, the Maker brought the Ultimate universe versions of the five original Avengers back to life in order to pit them against the current Ultimates. Surprisingly, most of them are still alive at the end of the series. The Ultimate Captain America gets killed by the Maker after declaring one more time that “this A doesn’t stand for France!” (I get the feeling Al Ewing rather enjoyed offing him), but the other four are last seen on a spaceship together, hunting the Maker through the nebulous space “outside” reality. I have a soft spot for stories about characters trapped outside their home time or home reality, so I hope this isn’t the last we see of these four.

Black Panther and Storm

Black Panther #17 – Cover by Brian Stelfreeze

Black Panther  and Storm—the two most high-profile African characters in Marvel comics—were married from 2006-2012, breaking up rather messily during the Avengers vs. X-Men event.  I was always a fan of their relationship and apparently so was current Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Both Black Panther and the Crew and the latest arc of Black Panther have featured a slow, deliberate rekindling of the romance between T’Challa and Ororo.

Honoring Jack Kirby

August 28th would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday, in celebration Marvel published $1 “True Believers” reprints of early appearances of some of his most iconic creations, from Captain America and Iron Man to Groot and Devil Dinosaur.

The other thing Marvel did to honor Jack Kirby this month was to release variant covers for a handful of books featuring gorgeous Kirby art.

There’s nothing wrong with either tribute, but they both seem rather low-effort, like Marvel was going for maximum exposure for minimum expenditure.

Diversity Check-in

LGBTQ Characters

Iceman #4 – Cover by Kevin Wada

As of August 2017, Marvel has two high-profile ongoings starring LGBTQ characters. While America Chavez and Bobby Drake are not the first queer Marvel characters to get their own series, they are to my knowledge the first to have solo series where their sexuality is actually acknowledge as an important part of who they are as a character. Which is nice and all, but seriously. It’s 2017; queer characters being queer should not be news.

Still, though, there was some fairly decent queer representation in August’s comics.

America Chavez got to battle, and then make up-with her teen crush Magdalena in America #6. Bobby Drake dancing and flirting with Daken before getting the better of him was the highlight of Iceman #4. Girlfriends Toni Ho and Aikku Jokinen had a touching reunion in U.S. Avengers #9 after having been separated for all of Secret Empire. In The Unstoppable Wasp #8, Ying and Shay, two of the supporting characters created for the series, had a completely adorable first dance/date. And Hulk #9 co-starred three very-different gay male characters.

All that, plus mentions of young Bobby Drake’s boyfriend in X-Men: Blue #10 and Swain’s girlfriend in Royals #6, add up to rather more queer representation than I’m used to getting in my mainstream comics reading. It’s by no means enough, but it’s a pleasant change from even just a few years ago.

August Highlights

Ms. Marvel #21 – Cover by Valerio Schiti

Ms. Marvel #21
writer: G. Willow Wilson
artist: Marco Failla
color artist: Ian Herring
letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

I love this series, and have loved it since the beginning, but I’ve felt like the most recent plot lines weren’t as strong as some of the earlier stories. This issue though– this issue is the kind of brilliant narrative I’ve come to expect from this series.

Through a campaign of fear mongering, particularly focused on the damage Kamala’s own superhero battles have caused, the new Mayor Worthy and his partner Becky St. Jude aka Lockdown are attempting to drive mutants, inhumans and other superpowered individuals out of Jersey City. They’ve made it illegal to use any kind of superpower and also illegal to conceal any powers. In one of their sweeps, Mayor Worthy’s security forces have detained Kamala’s brother Aamir.

This issue opens with Discord, Lockdown’s mysterious new partner, threatening Aamir and his fellow detainees to get Kamala to surrender herself.  It works. Or, it would, if Aamir and the others would allow themselves to be traded for. Instead, they fight back and escape, eventually finding sanctuary in the local mosque. Kamala, Discord and their battle soon follow.

At heart, this arc is about radicalization. In issue #20 Aamir, thinking he’s been detained because he’s a visibly Muslim man, directly confronts his interrogators over his treatment and the way unfounded persecution can lead to radicalization of youth from targeted communities. Aamir is not radicalized by his detention and treatment, but it does change him and how he sees himself in relation to his government.

But there are other ways young men can become radicalized, as becomes clear when Kamala unmasks Discord and discovers him to be her High School classmate, Josh.  Recent arcs of Ms. Marvel have not gone well for Josh. He was arrested and accused of plotting terrorism during Civil War II, a series of events that cost him everything he thought his life was  building towards. Feeling lost, isolated from his classmates, and unmoored from his past, Josh was the perfect target for Lockdown’s recruitment. She gave him a purpose, a uniform and a mission. It’s no coincidence that she’s also the one who arrested him during Civil War II in the first place. This too is how radicalization works.

It’s a really timely and compelling arc. Wilson is particularly good at these kinds of stories, examining real-world issues through a superhero-tinged lens without becoming preachy or reductive. There are no easy solutions for either Aamir or Josh, and ultimately, no matter how it ends, neither of them are making it out of here unscathed.

Infamous Iron Man #11 – Cover by Alex Maleev

Infamous Iron Man #11
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Malee
color artist: Matt Hollingsworth
letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Infamous Iron Man is a redemption story, about a man who knows he doesn’t deserve redemption, and almost certainly won’t be able to keep it, but tries for it anyway. Victor Von Doom wants to be the new Tony Stark, but he will never stop being Victor Von Doom, and the heroes of the world will never forget his past acts. Nor should they. When pushed to the brink, as he is in this issue, it’s always clear that the old Von Doom is still lurking under the new calm facade.Victor can’t outrun his past, but even more, he can’t outrun his ego.

The whole series, Victor has been repeatedly knocked off balance by the seeming reappearance of his mother. She says she’s back from the dead and wants to reconcile with him. He really doesn’t trust her motives. In issue #10 he discovers what the readers have known for some time: his mother is apparently working with the Maker, the evil Reed Richards from the Ultimate universe. Seeing them working together frightened him enough to send him willingly into SHIELD custody. (It’s never been that they couldn’t get him into custody. He kept coming to them! He just made it really clear that nothing they could do could actually keep him there.)

With Victor Von Doom once more in her custody, and not seeming eager to leave this time, Sharon Carter brings Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, in to consult.

Watching more traditionally heroic characters deal with this new version of Dr. Doom has been one of the highlights of this series. They don’t trust him, they really can’t figure out what his current motivations are, and they all have history with him.

As a fellow sorcerer, Dr. Strange’s history with Doom is particularly complicated. They have, at times, almost been allies, although Doom being Doom, it never lasted. Strange understands Doom to a degree, and can get into his head – both literally and figuratively – in ways the characters can’t.

What I love most about this comic though isn’t the storyline, or the characterization or the interactions between characters – although I do love all those things – it’s the art. This comic is gorgeous. Alex Maleev’s art is just stunningly beautiful. This is a very static issue, the bulk of the action involves Victor Von Doom and Stephen Strange hanging out in the astral plane having a conversation, but Maleev’s art makes that conversation incredibly compelling to watch, honing in on small details of facial expressions and body language so that they complement and complicate the dialogue.

Hulk #9 – Cover by John Tyler Christopher

Hulk #9
writer: Mariko Tamari
artists: Julian Lopez & Francesco Gaston
color artist: Matt Milla
letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

I am really adoring this series. It’s a darker take on Jen Walters, because the world has recently shown a darker side to Jen Walters. How do you cope as a hero and as a Hulk when you essentially have PTSD? Jen’s figuring it out, and I’ve been loving watching her do so.

One way Jen is coping is via a new obsession with online cooking shows. I don’t blame her, they’re just so soothing. Everything’s calm, and predictable, and ordered, and in the end there’s cake. What’s not to love? Well, that is until the host of one of her favorite shows is secretly drugged while filming a live special, and turns into a giant green rage monster on camera. Fortunately for the unfortunate Oliver, Jen and her administrative assistant Bradley were both watching.

This issue is essentially a detective procedural. Bradley teams up with Oliver’s boyfriend Walter to try to track down the unfortunate Oliver, while Jen pays a visit to the two cameramen responsible for slipping Oliver the drug, and Jen’s best friend Patsy Walker tries to track down what the drug is and where it came from.

This is a mid-arc issue, and as such it feels somewhat unresolved, but it moves the story along nicely, and is full of great little character moments that add depth to the story.