Monthly Marvel Muster: Ring Out the Dead Year

Monthly Marvel Muster: Ring Out the Dead Year

Hello, I'm back with a backward-looking edition of Monthly Marvel Muster. This month I have a look at how Marvel chose to close out 2017, as well as a note about some of what to expect in 2018. It continues to be a slow turnover period for Marvel's ongoing series right now. December brought one

Hello, I’m back with a backward-looking edition of Monthly Marvel Muster. This month I have a look at how Marvel chose to close out 2017, as well as a note about some of what to expect in 2018.

It continues to be a slow turnover period for Marvel’s ongoing series right now. December brought one new ongoing series: Marvel Two-In-One by Chip Zdarsky and Mark Cheung, which is almost certainly leading into the return of the full Fantastic Four. Marvel Two-In-One is joined by three new miniseries. Tales of Suspense by Matthew Rosenberg and Travel Foreman has Bucky Barnes and Clint Barton teaming up in the aftermath of the death of Natasha Romanoff. Phoenix Resurrection, also by Matthew Rosenberg—this time with Leinil Yu—was billed as “the return of (adult) Jean Grey” and actually reached #10 in Diamond’s single-issue sales chart for 2017. X-Men: Grand Design  is a sprawling virtuoso tour of all of X-Men history by cartoonist Ed Piskor.

Marvel put out two one-shots in December: the movie tie-in Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Storms of Crait #1, and the impressively awkwardly named Amazing Spider-Man/Venom: Venom Inc. Alpha, which kicks off a short crossover that continues in Venom and Amazing Spider-Man.

Two ongoing series ended in December: Uncanny Avengers and Royals. Bringing Uncanny Avengers to an end concludes the consolidation of all of the Avengers books into one title for the No Surrender storyline, which will be coming out weekly for the next four months—and which everyone is carefully not calling an “event” because Marvel editorial swore they wouldn’t be doing any big crossover events in 2018. (It’s interrupting or ending multiple books for four months, crossing over all their casts, and being advertised as “the end of an era.” It’s an Event.)

Royals #12 is a cliffhanger which is expected to be resolved in January’s Inhumans: Judgment Day one-shot, after which we’ll presumably know more about what—if anything—Marvel has planned for its best-known Inhuman characters in 2018.

Diversity Update

America #10 – Cover by Joe Quinones

Back in July and August I did some analysis of how well Marvel was doing at diverse representation, particularly in terms of which characters got solo books, and I felt fairly hopeful. I really should have known better.

In July, Marvel had fifteen female-led solo books. By the end of March they’ll be down to eight. Unstoppable Wasp ended in August, Jean Grey ends in January, America and Gwenpool, The Unbelievable are ending in February, and Hawkeye and She-Hulk are both confirmed to end in March. Plus, March brings the long-promised death of the Jane Foster version of Thor. By my count, of those eight remaining female-led books, three will have female writers: Margaret Stohl on Captain Marvel, G. Willow Wilson on Ms. Marvel, and the as-yet-unnamed new writer on Jessica Jones, and two will have female artists: Natacha Bustos on Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and Erica Henderson on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

The end of the America Chavez’s solo title in February is followed by the end of Iceman in March, bringing Marvel’s list of solo books with queer leads back down to zero. I feel like I don’t even need to comment on that; it rather speaks for itself.

Christina Strain and Amilcar Pinna’s Generation X and David F. Walker and Nelson Blake II’s Luke Cage are also ending in February, cutting the diversity within both Marvel’s books and their creative teams still further. The mass pruning of the very type of titles I’m most interested in is a timely reminder of how much I am not the audience Marvel cares about, and it really slowed me down in writing this month’s column. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when I’m just waiting for the inevitable end of any series I fall in love with.

Big Storylines

The “Black Widow’s Exes” Book

Tales of Suspense #100 – Cover by Marco Checchetto

One of the many stupid things that happened during Secret Empire was the death of Black Widow at the hands of evil Hydra Captain America. In Tales of Suspense, Natasha’s ex-boyfriends Clint Barton and Bucky Barnes find themselves reluctantly teaming up while investigating some mysterious deaths that may be related to Natasha’s past, and which Clint thinks might indicate that she isn’t actually dead after all.

I love both Clint and Bucky, and Tales of Suspense #100 seems to be the beginning of a pretty good spy story. Matthew Rosenberg has a pretty great feel for both characters, and is clearly having fun with their mutual antipathy to each other. Travel Foreman’s art is quite pretty, if a bit static.

That said, I’m reserving judgment on this one. It would be great if Natasha turned out to still be alive, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope. And if she truly is dead, killing off one of Marvel’s most well-known female characters and then giving her ex-boyfriends a buddy team-up book is dodgy as fuck.

The Return of the Fantastic Two

Marvel Two-In-One #1 – Cover by Jim Cheung and Justin Ponser

The first family of Marvel Comics haven’t had their own book since they all played a large part in 2015’s Secret Wars event. In the aftermath of Secret Wars, Reed Richards, Susan Storm-Richards, their children, and the various other children involved in the Future Foundation began traveling through parallel worlds using Franklin Richards’s reality-warping powers to recreate the then-destroyed multiverse.

Unfortunately, nobody else knows this. To the rest of the Marvel universe, including their teammates and family Ben Grimm (The Thing) and Johnny Storm (The Human Torch), the Storm-Richards family are missing and presumed dead.

Ben and Johnny have been handling their loss in different ways. Ben went back to his pilot roots and joined the Guardians of the Galaxy for a while, and then worked as an agent of SHIELD. Johnny became close with the Inhumans again, had a romance with their queen Medusa, and joined the Avengers Unity Squad.

But as Marvel Two-In-One #1 opens they are both without teams once again. Johnny is engaging in increasingly self-destructive stunts, and Ben is killing time attending gala dinners and handing out scholarships in honour of the Fantastic Four. When the opportunity to explore the multiverse with a tool that Reed left for them comes up, Ben lies to Johnny and tells him that there’s a chance Reed and Sue and the kids might actually be alive. Well, at least he thinks he’s lying.

Marvel Two-In-One #1 is an excellent start to a long-awaited return. Chip Zdarsky has a great feel for the characters, deftly balancing the humour he’s become known for with just the right degree of emotional depth, and Jim Cheung’s art has never looked better. I have very little doubt this book is the precursor to a new Fantastic Four series, and I hope they give it to this creative team. I’d love to see what Zdarsky and Cheung could do with the entire extended Storm-Richards family.

A Definitive History of the X-Men

X-Men: Grand Design #1 – Cover by Ed Piskor

In X-Men: Grand Design Ed Piskor is attempting to do the impossible and singlehandedly turn the patchwork, confusing, and contradictory history of the X-Men—as told and retold over 50 years of comics—into a single coherent narrative. It’s simultaneously a seemingly insurmountable task for one person to take on, and the kind of project that almost requires the singular vision of a solo cartoonist.

Serving as writer, artist, colorist, and even letterer, Piskor reveals an impressive knowledge of the minutiae of X-Men history, and an uncanny ability to distill the wild mutant soap opera into a remarkably coherent single narrative. The depth of his research into the history of the X-Men is revealed in the first issue, which takes place almost entirely before the events of 1963’s X-Men #1 and is a compelling synthesis of clever conjecture and backstories revealed in later comics.

Phoenix Resurrection

Phoenix Resurrection #1 – Cover by Leinil Francis Yu
& Sunny Gho

Billed as “the return of (adult) Jean Grey,” Phoenix Resurrection by Matthew Rosenberg and Leinil Francis Yu is still getting a lot of buzz. And well it should. The original Jean Grey was most recently killed in New X-Men #150, back in 2004. Almost fourteen real-world years is several lifetimes in the fast-moving world of superhero comics, where huge universe-changing events happen on the regular and popular characters rarely stay dead for more than a couple years.

So far Phoenix Resurrection is shaping up to be an epic story, featuring a huge cast of X-Men characters investigating suspicious unexplained phenomena happening at sites all over earth that are all in some way connected to Jean Grey’s past. Meanwhile Jean, last known to be in the Marvel afterlife/home of the Phoenix Force known as the White Hot Room, seems to be in some sort of amnesiac hallucination of life as a waitress in a small-town diner. Wherever Jean is, a number of other dead X-Men and X-Men related characters seem to be there as well, leading me to wonder if the titular Resurrection may include more characters than just Jean herself.

Professor X Dubcon Bodyswap

Astonishing X-Men #6 – Cover by Mike Del Mundo

Well then. That did not go the way I expected it to.

As predicted, Professor Charles Xavier is alive again in the Marvel universe. Or at least his mind is. In Astonishing X-Men #6, Professor X shows up in the body of Fantomex, who Xavier convinced to stay in the psychic plane so that he could take over Fantomex’s body. And by “convinced,” I possibly mean “psychically coerced”—that seems to have been deliberately left unclear.

I’m personally very fond of portrayals of Charles Xavier that acknowledge that for all that he’s an idealist, he has a ruthlessly pragmatic streak and some frankly dodgy ethics, but this version of Charles might be a bit too far on the amoral and over-calculating side for my tastes. For now I’m sort of eyeing Charles Soule suspiciously and reserving judgment.

A thing I am not reserving judgment on is the way this series changes artists with every single issue. That I reject entirely as an impressively terrible idea.

Hawkeye and Hawkeye

Hawkeye #13 – Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco

Issue #13 of Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero’s fantastic Kate Bishop-starring Hawkeye features the first appearance of Kate’s mentor, the other Hawkeye: Clint Barton. Thompson and Romero were wise to give Kate a full year of her own adventures before bringing Clint into the mix. It gives Kate her own solid grounding in L.A. and her own cast of friends and enemies before Clint comes back into her life.

Although marred by a somewhat weak villain, so far the Hawkeye and Hawkeye reunion is a delight to read. Thompson has a good feel for the relationship between the characters and Romero draws a delightful Clint Barton.

Sadly, this will be the last arc of Kate’s solo book, as Hawkeye is one of the many non-traditionally targeted books Marvel is cancelling in February and March. Once again a Marvel series starring a female character by a female writer has ended up on a bunch of people’s best of the year lists . . . just in time to be cancelled.

The Return of the Return of the Ultimate Universe

Spider-Men II #5 – Cover by Sara Pichelli & Justin Ponsor

The Marvel Ultimate Universe, Marvel’s uneven attempt to reboot their sprawling universe while keeping the main continuity going as well, launched in 2000 with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man and ended with the destruction of the entire multiverse at the end of 2015’s Secret Wars.

But Marvel didn’t destroy the Ultimate universe completely. Several Ultimate characters ended up in main continuity after Secret Wars, most notably Spider-Man Miles Morales and much of his extended cast, as well as the evil Ultimate version of Reed Richards known as the Maker. Later, in Ultimates 2, Al Ewing and Travel Foreman reintroduced more of the Ultimate universe characters, having them pulled into existence by the Maker, in a plan that backfired against him rather significantly. Now, in the final issue of Spider-Men II, as one of his last acts before leaving Marvel to work for DC, Bendis has revealed that the Ultimate Universe lives again, in a surprise scene illustrated by Ultimate Spider-Man artist Mark Bagley. Among the heroes of the newly repopulated Ultimate Universe are versions of Riri Williams (Ironheart) and the original, Peter Parker Spider-Man, the Ultimate version of whom Bendis rather famously killed off.

The Once and Future Venom Event

Amazing Spider-Man: Venom Inc. Alpha #1 – Cover by Ryan Stegman & Brian Reber

Venom Inc., this month’s Venom event, is a mini crossover between the Venom and Amazing Spider-Man ongoings. I say this month’s, because there has been some sort of Venom-related event or crossover every month since I started writing this column.  Edge of Venomverse began in June, overlapping with a Mary-Jane-Watson-as-Venom storyline in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. Edge of Venomverse was then the lead-in to the five-week Venomverse miniseries in September and October. October also featured “Venomized” variant covers on a bunch of books, and the introduction of Venom to the Spider-Gwen universe. In November things seemed to be dying down, with only the continuing Gwenom storyline and a belated Venomverse tie-in in Monsters Unleashed, but that was only a brief pause. The Venom crossovers are back this month with Venom Inc., and continue next month with a crossover between Venom and X-Men Blue.

And I’m just . . . tired. I try to keep track of what’s going on in the Marvel books I’m not reading, I really do, but at some point I just have to give up, and I think this is that point. It’s not that I have anything against Venom, it’s just that I don’t care, and if six months of Venom everywhere hasn’t made me care, I’m not sure anything else will.

December Highlights

All-New Wolverine #28

All-New Wolverine #28 – Cover by Elizabeth Torque
& Nolan Woodard

writer: Tom Taylor
artist: Juann Cabal
color artist: Nolan Woodard
letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

The “Orphans of X” arc continues to be one of the best storylines to come out of Marvel Legacy. If anything can be described as the “legacy” of the original Wolverine, it is the recurring cycle of death and rebirth, of being used to take lives, and then choosing to save them instead. The villain whose motivation is revenge against the hero they blame for a loss is an old and tired and boring trope, but if it works anywhere it works with the Wolverine offspring, who have indeed been responsible for rather a lot of wanton death and destruction in their time.

What makes this issue for me though is the humour. Plot-wise it’s a rather dark issue, wherein our heroes (and Daken) spend most of the issue running for their lives and at a distinct disadvantage, but within that darkness both the dialogue and the art offer these little touches of joy and delightful silliness.

The most talked-about scene in the issue is, of course, when Daken helps Gabby choose her new superhero name: Honey Badger. “Because you’re sweet and you have claws,” he explains. Cabal’s art captures Gabby’s over-dramatic pre-teen body language perfectly, but also the pure delight on her face as she embraces the name and imagines herself in place of Logan on some of the character’s most iconic covers.

But my favourite scene is actually later, when the motley group arrive in Japan to beg help from Murumasa, the maker of the blade that is being used in an attempt to kill them. They go to him in disguises—all of which are ridiculous—and standing alongside them is Jonathan the actual wolverine dressed as a cat.

It’s these little dashes of absurdist humour that make this book, giving it a heart and joy even when the storylines are dark and bloody.

The Mighty Thor #702

The Mighty Thor #702 – Cover by Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson

writer: Jason Aaron
artist: Russell Dauterman
color artist: Matthew Wilson
letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino

The “death of the Mighty Thor” is coming, and I am NOT okay, and I am not resigned. But if Jane is going to die, this issue leaves me feeling like she’s going to get the ending she deserves, not just as Thor, but as the strong, mortal and exceedingly worthy Jane Foster.

Jane hasn’t appeared very much in the last few issues as herself, rather than as Thor. The plot’s been more focused on the physical battles Thor is best for, than the political and ethical battles Jane was born to fight. But I was never reading this comic to watch the mighty, immortal Thor beat up Frost Giants. I’m here to watch the dying, profoundly human Jane Foster fomenting revolution in Asgard and going toe to toe with Odin All-Father to call him out on being a shitty leader and a shitty god.

If she can completely flummox Thor Odinson while she’s doing it? All the better. He always was inclined to underestimate her.

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