Comics, Diversity, Feminism, Geek Culture, LGBTQ, Primer, Reviews

Monthly Marvel Muster: From Generations to Legacy

Welcome back to Monthly Marvel Muster, my roundup of everything I thought was interesting in Marvel Comics last month!

September featured the last dying gasps of Secret Empire, the second round of Generations one-shots, and the much-hyped Marvel Legacy one-shot introducing Marvel’s latest line-wide rebranding.

Marvel launched one new series in September, the so-far fantastic new Runaways ongoing by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka. In addition two new mini-series began: Venomverse, a weekly event series by Cullen Bunn and Iben Coello, and Journey To Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Captain Phasma by Kelly Thompson and Marco Checchetto, which details the fate of the titular character between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Four series ended in September: Infamous Iron Man, Nick Fury, Doctor Strange And The Sorcerers Supreme, and I Am Groot. Marvel basically never admits to cancelling books anymore, so there’s not any official word on why these series ended, but it appears that Nick Fury and I Am Groot, ending after 6 and 5 issues respectively, failed to find a readership. In contrast, Infamous Iron Man and Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme, both ending after 12 issues, seem to have come to a natural conclusion, each wrapping up one large series-long plotline.

Big Storylines

Legacy

Marvel Legacy #1 - Cover by Joe Quesada

Marvel Legacy #1 – Cover by Joe Quesada

Marvel has a rebranding problem, or perhaps more accurately a rebranding addiction. Marvel Legacy is their third big line-wide rebranding in the last five years, following the big Marvel NOW! rebranding in Fall of 2012 in which every Marvel series got a new #1, and the post-Secret Wars All-New, All-Different Marvel in 2015 in which every Marvel series got a new #1.

The best thing I can say for Marvel Legacy so far is that they are not sending every series back to #1 again. Instead they’ve apparently decided that all those new #1s weren’t as good for attracting new readers as they’d hoped and so are instead going in the opposite direction and confusing both current and potential new readers by returning a bunch of series to legacy numbering starting in October. I was one of those people who was sad to see the legacy numbering go back in 2012, but bringing it back now is just incredibly confusing.

Marvel Legacy #1 is surprisingly good for a one-shot that’s meant to be a teaser for a dozen upcoming plotlines and developments and is thus all questions and no answers. The main plot is the introduction of the Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C. fighting an apparently-deranged Celestial, and a fight between the present-day Starbrand and Ghost Rider over what appears to be that same Celestial, buried in South Africa. But there’s also Loki scheming to get his hands on an Infinity Stone, a last team-up between Sam Wilson as Captain America, Jane Foster as Thor and Riri Williams/Ironheart, and the aforementioned teasers for upcoming stories in a variety of series including Captain America, The Mighty Thor, Invincible Iron Man, Black Panther, The Avengers, Marvel Two-In-One and All-New Guardians of the Galaxy.

The disparate story threads are held together by a thematic narration by a mystery character, revealed on the last two pages to be Valeria Richards, the youngest member of the Storm-Richards family, who’ve been missing from the Marvel universe since the end of Secret Wars two years ago.

Marvel Legacy #1 also features the return from the dead of the original Wolverine, who’s been gone since the Death of Wolverine arc in October 2014. It’s unclear so far when he’ll be showing up next, since he hasn’t been mentioned in either the November or December previews. Since he ends the issue with an Infinity Stone in his hands, it seems like a good probability he’ll appear in All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, where the Infinity Stones storyline is set to continue. The Marvel universe hasn’t exactly been missing a Wolverine. The alt-future Old Man Logan has his own solo series and has appeared in multiple team books, and Laura Kinney aka X-23, has admirably taken up the name and mantle of Wolverine in her own fantastic solo series.

Generations

Generations: Captain Marvel & Ms. Marvel - Cover by Nelson Blake II

Generations: Captain Marvel & Ms. Marvel – Cover by Nelson Blake II

The second batch of Generations one-shots came out in September, and they continued to be quite strong stories. The highlights were definitely G. Willow Wilson and Paolo Villanelli’s Generations: Captain Marvel & Ms. Marvel starring Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers, and Brian Michael Bendis and Ramón Pérez’s Generations: Miles Morales Spider-Man & Peter Parker Spider-Man.

Both issues have the younger character visiting their older counterpart in a very specific and formative times for the older characters. Generations: Captain Marvel & Ms. Marvel embraces Carol’s explicitly feminist 70s backstory as the editor of a women’s magazine, and pleasingly refuses to modernize it in the way Marvel’s telescoping timeline usually requires. Carol’s backstory is rooted in the era in which she was created, and taking her out of that context loses a lot of the power of her story.

Generations: Miles Morales Spider-Man & Peter Parker Spider-Man is a quiet story situated immediately in the aftermath of The Amazing Spider-Man #33 from 1966, getting to the emotional heart of Peter Parker that hasn’t really changed in the decades since. The writing is excellent, but the highlight is definitely Pérez’s great Steve Ditko-inspired art.

Venomverse

Venomverse #1 - Cover by Nick Bradshaw

Venomverse #1 – Cover by Nick Bradshaw

This event, a team-up between characters from various alternate universes who serve as hosts for the Venom Symbiote, has been building for a couple months. In July I noted that the Venom Symbiote was appearing in various Spider-Man books including Spider-Gwen and The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, in addition to the Edge of Venomverse anthology series (look out for a feature on one of these stories, coming Thursday) which introduced many of the alternate-universe venomized characters appearing in this event. Venomverse then unfolded over a 5-issue weekly series for all of September, ending the first week of October. I like when an event like this one plays out quickly; the weekly format means the storyline doesn’t drag and the main series isn’t interrupted for too long.

Return of the Runaways

Runaways #1 - Cover by Kris Anka

Runaways #1 – Cover by Kris Anka

The original Runaways series, which debuted in 2003 won a bunch of industry awards and was incredibly popular with a younger generation of readers when it first debuted. But after Brian K. Vaughan left the series in 2007 nobody seemed to be able to get a handle on the characters and after disappointing runs by Joss Whedon and Terry Moore it ended in 2009.

Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka, both fans of the original series, have been tasked with putting the team back together, and one issue in they’re off to a stellar start, bringing Gertrude Yorkes, the only one of the Runaways to die for good during their original series, back to life in a way that manages not to seem like a cheat of her self-sacrifice at the end of Vaughan’s run.

September Highlights

Iceman #5 - Cover by Marco D'AlfonsoIceman #5

writer: Sina Grace
artist: Alessandro Vitti
colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

I was really excited about this series when it was announced, but before this month I’d found it a little disappointing. I found it enjoyable and worth reading, but it just didn’t feel like it was entirely living up to its potential. This issue won me over, though.

From the first issue of this series the prospect of coming out to his parents has been looming over Bobby’s head, something he both desperately wanted to do and was desperately afraid to do. Which makes sense! Coming out is scary even when you’re fairly confident the reaction is going to be good. Bobby’s parents still aren’t okay with their son being a mutant, he has every reason to expect their reaction to finding out he’s a gay mutant to be less than stellar.

And he’s right. It’s awful to read. Awful because it doesn’t feel very much like fiction at all. But this is fiction, so Bobby has something most people don’t have when everything in their life is going off the rails: a very handy super-villain to punch.

It’s not even subtle: the Juggernaut is in this issue entirely so Bobby can have someone to punch. A lot. It’s awesome. And as a queer reader I found it remarkably cathartic.

So, Bobby gets his heart broken by his parents, and then he gets to single-handedly kick the ass of one of the X-Men’s oldest villains. That right there is delightful, but what really makes this issue is the last page discussion between Bobby and his dad in which there’s a revelation about Bobby’s character that’s sucker-punch painful and yet, when looked at in relation to all those 65 years of canon, makes completely perfect sense.

And that’s why I read superhero comics. Because no matter how long a character has been around, a good writer can always surprise you with something new about them.

Spider-Men II #3 - Cover by Sara Pichelli Spider-Men II #3

writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Sara Pichelli
colorist: Justin Ponsor
letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

This is something of an odd issue. It’s the middle issue of a five issue mini-series, and the two main characters in the series don’t appear anywhere in it. Spider-Men II is about Peter Parker and Miles Morales attempting to uncover the secrets of the Miles Morales who belongs to the main Marvel universe, and this issue is entirely devoted to the backstory of that Miles Morales.

It’s the kind of thing that can go wrong so easily. Taking attention off the main characters in an ongoing series can be chancy, it’s even riskier in a mini-series with fewer issues to work with. It can feel gimicky, it can slow the momentum of a story down, and it risks alienating readers who are reading the comic specifically because they’re interested in stories about the characters in the title.

And yet here it works.

It works by tying Miles’ backstory directly to a character who readers are very familiar with, Wilson Fisk. The Kingpin has always been a great villain, because he’s an awful human being who can nevertheless be a remarkably sympathetic character. Bendis has written his alternate Miles the same way, he’s that same compelling combination of appealing and appalling.

I’m not sure where Bendis is going with this character, or how this backstory fits into the mystery that Peter and Miles are following in the rest of the series, but I’m now intrigued and remarkably invested in a character we’ve only barely just met.

Luke Cage #5 - Cover by Scott "Rahzzah" Wilson Luke Cage #5

writer: David F. Walker
artist: Nelson Blake II
colorist: Marcio Menyz
letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

This is the last issue of the first arc of this comic and it’s really good, really awful, and exactly how this storyline had to end.

This arc has been about Luke coming to terms with the life, death, and legacy of Doctor Noah Burstein, the man whose experiments gave Luke his powers. Except Dr. Burstein turned out not to be dead after all, and his legacy turned out to be much, much worse than Luke thought.

Theirs was always a complicated relationship. Burstein’s experiments gave Luke the superpowers that allowed him to turn his life around, and as such Luke always saw Burstein as something of a father figure. But Burstein gave him those powers because he was experimenting on prisoners under his authority, and that’s a deeply sketchy and unethical act.

This arc leans into that sketchiness. If a scientist is willing to do one dodgy thing to pursue his research, what else is he willing to do? Turns out Burstein was willing to experiment on rather a lot of people, for a whole lot of sketchy reasons, and not to any kind of good results. Which is a difficult thing for Luke to discover when he thinks Burstein is dead, and an even more difficult thing to reconcile himself to once it’s revealed that Burstein is in fact still alive. Still alive and doubling down on his research and experiments, even as they bring his life crashing down around him.

Basically, there was never going to be a happy ending here, and in fact there wasn’t. A lot of people die, some of them quite awfully, only some of them villains. The other father/son relationship in the book ends tragically, with the son dead and the father in jail. And Burstein? Burstein gets to run away and escape the consequences of his actions yet again. Because the Bursteins of this world always do.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want Burstein to get what’s coming to him. I wanted him arrested, I wanted him stopped, I would have settled for him dead, but it’s a stronger story this way, and a better one.

I don’t like grimdark. I don’t like bleakness for bleakness sake. This is both and it is neither and it really, really worked for me.