Monthly Marvel Muster – The More Things Change

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Welcome back to Monthly Marvel Muster. I’m back once again with all the exciting, and not-so-exciting, news Marvel Comics has to offer. This month we have more new series debuts, some welcome surprises, some baffling decisions, and some exciting announcements.

And the #1s never stop

Spider-Man swings upside-down pursued by some of his most famous foes
Amazing Spider-Man #1 – Cover by Ryan Ottley & Laura Martin

After launching three new ongoing series in May, and six in June, Marvel continues to debut new series featuring new writers and artists on established characters. July brought a fantastic new Captain America ongoing by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Francis Yu, and a new Amazing Spider-Man from Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley, as well as Laura Kinney’s return to her old moniker in X-23 by Mariko Tamaki and Juann Cabal, and Rogue and Gambit’s first joint ongoing, Mr. & Mrs. X by Kelly Thompson and Oscar Bazaldua.

In mini-series, Carol Danvers returns to the spotlight in The Life of Captain Marvel by Margaret Stohl and Carlos Pacheco. Carol’s first solo outing since her last series ended in February promises us “the definitive origin of Captain Marvel!” I’m always dubious about backstory retcons, but we’ll see how this one goes.

Though the Thanos ongoing by Donny Cates ended in April, Frank Castle, the Cosmic Ghost Rider who was introduced in that series, got his own mini-series in June. It is written by Cates, with art by Dylan Burnett. And Ed Piskor’s epic retelling of X-Men history returned with X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis.

But A Few Things Are Going Away Too

Spider-Gwen in three poses, kneeling, standing, and dramatically removing her hood.
Spider-Gwen #34 – Cover by Robbi Rodriguez

Two ongoing series ended in July: Cable and Spider-Gwen. Once a hugely popular character, Cable no longer seems able to sustain a series unless he’s teaming up with the eternally popular Deadpool. As an original X-Force fan who actually prefers stories about Cable, the awkward, time-tossed parental figure with very big guns, I’m somewhat saddened by this fact, but I never really was the primary audience for Cable comics, so I’m not too annoyed.

Gwen Stacy, in her iconic costume, swings down the side of a building.
Spider-Gwen Ghost-Spider #1 – Cover by Bengal

Spider-Gwen, on the other hand, continues to be a fan-favourite character and her solo series is ending because creators Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez reached the end of the story they wanted to tell, rather than out of a lack of interest in stories about Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman. In fact, Gwen will be back in October with a new series and a new name in Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider by best-selling author Seanan McGuire and artist Rosi Kämpe.

This will be McGuire’s second work for Marvel, and the first ongoing. She also wrote August’s Kitty Pryde-focused X-Men Gold Annual #2. McGuire has made no secret in the past of her desire to write for Marvel, and her excitement on Twitter about her new gig is positively delightful to follow.

Coming Now To A Computer Near You

Luke Cage faces forward with two bullets coming at his head
Luke Cage #1 – Cover by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

The biggest news in July was Marvel’s surprise announcement of a new line of high-profile Digital Original comics. Based on properties that feature in Marvel TV series, these in-continuity series will debut in digital form, released in three-month arcs, with each “issue” containing two print issues’ worth of story. After each arc is complete it will be released as a trade, never appearing as physical single issues.

The line officially launched with Kelly Thompson and Mattia de Lula’s Jessica Jones, which was both announced and published online on July 18th, but later Dennis Hopeless and David Messina’s Cloak and Dagger, which premiered in June, was also folded into the new line.

At SDCC Marvel announced the next three Digital Originals series, Luke Cage by Anthony Del Col and Jahnoy Lindsay, Iron Fist: Phantom Limb by Clay McLeod Chapman and Guillermo Sanna, and Daughters of the Dragon by Jed MacKay and Travel Foreman.

It’s possibly one of Marvel’s smartest moves in their continued effort to translate TV viewers into comics readers, assuming they can manage to advertise it well and keep those new digital readers. There was a big announcement and media push for the first issues, but they don’t appear in Marvel’s monthly subscriptions until the collected trades are published, which may cause them to drop under the radar for traditional comics readers.

The Return of the Next Generation?

Riri Williams takes a selfie midair
Ironheart #1 – Cover by Amy Reeder

Marvel announced in their November solicitations that Riri Williams is returning to her own solo series in Ironheart, by writer and academic Eve L. Ewing with art by Kevin Libranda.

The possibility of Ewing writing a Riri Williams comic first came up on Twitter in November 2017 with a viral hashtag #IronHeartEve and then a petition started by Tirhakah Love. Ewing, who has a large and passionate following on Twitter, was fully on board with the initiative from the beginning, and made a series of Tweets noting her suitability for the job. Apparently at least some people at Marvel were convinced, as Ewing says she was first contacted by Marvel about writing the book in late 2017.

Shuri does the Wakandan salute of crossed arms over her chest
Shuri #1 – Cover by Sam Spratt

In addition to Riri Williams, two other young Marvel heroines will get solo books this fall. Nnedi Okorafor will be writing Shuri in her first ongoing with art by Leonardo Romero, and Nadia Van Dyne, The Unstoppable Wasp, is returning with a new series by Jeremy Whitley, who wrote her last short-lived series, with art by Gurihiru.

The majority of Marvel’s solo books starring teenage heroes ended this spring, so it’s exciting and hopeful to see some of the next generation characters getting new chances to shine.

Apocalypse Everywhere

A close up of a skull wearing Black Bolt's cowl
Death of The Inhumans #1 – Cover by Kevin Andrews

Marvel’s Inhumans apparently meet their bloody end in Death of The Inhumans by Donny Cates and Ariel Olivetti, which began in July. Apocalypses and armageddons are always popular in superhero comics, but Marvel seems particularly into them right now. After Death of The Inhumans in July, August marks the beginning of the latest X-Men event, Extermination by Ed Brisson and Pepe Larraz, and the Multiverse-crossing Spidergeddon begins in September with issue #0 by Christon Gage and Clayton Crain.

The One Shots That Aren’t

Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl play themselves in an arcade game
Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl/Ms. Marvel #1 – Cover by Gurihiru

While Marvel Digital Originals seem like a smart move to bring in new readers, Marvel’s other new initiative on that front is just baffling.

Marvel Rising by Devin Grayson, with G. Willow Wilson, and Ryan North is an all-ages Squirrel Girl & Ms. Marvel crossover meant to increase interest in their new female-hero focused “multi-platform animation franchise” Marvel Rising, which will include six digital short films and one full-length feature.

This is great! This is awesome! Marvel has some fantastic young female heroes, and they have been failing to capitalize on them in their animated offerings. But the way they are numbering this comic makes no sense whatsoever.

As explained by our own Zora Gilbert, every single issue in this five-issue has a different title and is labeled as issue #0 or #1. Every one.

I’m an experienced comics reader and even I’m waiting for the trade collection on this one. Trying to navigate all those titles is just too exhausting. As an example of the confusing mess of it all, Marvel Rising: Squirrel Girl/Ms. Marvel #1 is the third issue, and Marvel Rising: Ms. Marvel/Squirrel Girl #1 is the fourth issue. Yes, they just swapped which character is first in the title and gave each one a #1 after it. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Lest you think this is a one-time aberration on Marvel’s part, they are also releasing a three-part story by Nnedi Okorafor and Alberto Alburquerque called Wakanda Forever with similar naming issues. Teaming up Black Panther’s Dora Milaje with some of Marvel’s most popular heroes, Wakanda Forever kicked off in June with Spider-man: Wakanda Forever #1, continued in July with X-Men: Wakanda Forever #1, and concludes in August with Avengers: Wakanda Forever #1. Despite what the titles might suggest, these are not three one-shots, but a single three-part story.

Marvel’s intent seems to be to bring in more readers by name-dropping all their most popular franchises, but in practice it’s completely off-putting to pick up what looks like a one-shot only to discover that it is instead part two or three of an ongoing story.

Diversity Update

Captain Marvel, carrying a suitcase, lands in front of a rural house
The Life of Captain Marvel #1 – Cover by Julian Totino Tedesco

When I started this column in July 2017, I had a section spotlighting Marvel’s efforts to diversify their solo offerings to feature more female characters. At the time I was cautiously optimistic, noting that Marvel was releasing a record (for them) fifteen female-led solo books featuring a wide variety of characters.

There’s a reason I was only cautiously optimistic. One year later Marvel is publishing only seven female-led ongoing solo series: Ms. Marvel, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Moon Girl And Devil Dinosaur, Domino, X-23, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra and Jessica Jones.

Even Carol Danvers, Marvel’s premiere female hero, is currently only starring in the miniseries The Life of Captain Marvel, after having no solo series at all since February.

That number will be going up again, though, with Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider, Shuri, and The Unstoppable Wasp beginning in October, and Ironheart and Colleen Wing and Misty Knight’s Daughters of the Dragon debuting in November.

July Highs and Lows

Jessica Jones #1

Kelly Thompson (writer), Mattia De Iulis (artist), Cory Petit (letterer)
July 18, 2018
Jessica Jones stands with her arms crossed, surrounded by symbols of death
Jessica Jones #1 – Cover by Martin Simmonds

Brian Michael Bendis apparently hand-picked Kelly Thompson to be his successor on Jessica Jones, making her the first person other than Bendis himself to write a Jessica Jones solo series. It was a very good call.

Thompson proved she could write Jessica well when the character guest-starred in Thompson’s Hawkeye this spring, and seems to really have a good understanding of how best to balance Jessica’s cynical outlook and black humor with her love for her family and her friends within the superhero community.

The plot, which involves a former-client found dead in Jessica’s office and someone seemingly targeting low-level female superheroes, is intriguing, but for me the highlight of this first issue is watching Jessica interact with characters from all corners of the Marvel universe, including some wonderful scenes with Luke Cage, an entertaining interlude involving Doctor Strange and a delightful interaction with Misty Knight.

Mattia De Iulis is a very different artist from Michael Gaydos, and wisely doesn’t attempt to directly copy him, but De Iulis’s choice of layouts and colors clearly tie this series to Jessica’s previous solo books without feeling like a weak imitation. De Iulis’s art is mostly well done, with a good feel for both physical space and body language, but his faces sometimes run a bit too close to the Uncanny Valley for me, a little too smooth skinned and almost doll-like, with either over or under-done facial expressions.

Mr. & Mrs. X #1

Kelly Thompson (writer), Oscar Bazaldua (artist), Frank D’armata (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer)
July 25, 2018
Rogue and Gambit in formal-wear, ready for a fight
Mr. & Mrs. X #1 – Cover by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson

There is nothing I do not love about this comic. The glamorous Terry and Rachel Dodson cover is delightful. Oscar Bazaldua’s interiors have an elegant playfulness that is perfectly suited to both Rogue and Gambit’s wedding and their honeymoon. And Kelly Thompson balances the pair’s witty banter and playful verbal sparring with just the right level of sentiment.

Thompson and Bazaldua kindly provide the most important details of Rogue and Gambit’s big day—the wedding, the fashion, the unexpected guests, the honeymoon with equal-opportunity sexy superhero nudity—while also setting up what looks to be a fun, accessible space adventure plot not closely tied into any of the current big overarching X-Men plotlines.

Runaways #11

Rainbow Rowell (writer), Kris Anka (inker), Matthew Wilson (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer)
July 18, 2018
Gert Yorkes stands looking awkward surrounded by people with purple hair
Runaways #11 – Cover by Kris Anka

Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s new iteration of Runaways has done a great job of capturing the feel of Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona’s original series, while updating it to match the concerns of the now mostly older and more life-worn characters.

This is a quiet between-arcs issue, focusing mostly on makeovers, or potential makeovers, for Gert and Victor, two characters who were dead or presumed dead prior to this series and as such are having the most difficulty reintegrating into their chosen family.

Recently resurrected two years after her death, and feeling out of sorts in her family and out of place in her changed world, Gert does what many a teenage girl has done, she gives herself a makeover. New clothes, new glasses, and new non-purple hair. This type of makeover plot can be easily go badly, especially when it comes to a character like Gert who has always been notable for not having a typical comic book heroine body type, but Rowell and Anka turn it into a genuine and meaningful piece of character growth. This makeover isn’t anyone’s idea but Gert’s. The Gert of two years ago doesn’t fit in this new world she’s found herself in, and so she chooses to stop holding on to the past and begins to reinvent herself into someone who does.

Anka, who is particularly concerned with fashion and developing characters through their clothing choices, is a perfect choice of artist for this issue. In his skilled hands, Gert’s transformed appearance is noticeably different, but not in a way that feels jarring or out of character. She is still comes across as very believably herself.

Victor, on the other hand, had only been presumed dead for a short while when Chase found his head in a box and brought him back to consciousness. But Victor’s experiences and then death in 2016’s The Vision left him shaken, with deep concerns about his own capacity for violence and potential future as a supervillain, and he isn’t really sure he wants to be alive again. So far he’s resisted any attempts to give him back a full body, preferring life as a disembodied head, but his friends won’t leave well enough alone. Unlike Gert, who chooses her own transformation, Victor’s attempted transformation is forced upon him by his well-meaning friends, in the form of a new potential body designed by Doombot.

The physically imposing and weapons-heavy body Doombot provides for Victor is a deeply traumatic and unwelcome experience, and he quickly rejects it, but the damage is done. Victor probably isn’t going to be becoming less than a disembodied head again any time soon.

The end of the issue is a brief interlude addressing what happened to former Runaway Klara, the young mutant girl the team acquired during Joss Whedon’s disappointing run on the second volume of Runaways. It makes sense to check in with Klara at some point, and this not-quite-filler issue is definitely the place to do it, but that part of the issue feels awkward and out of sync with the rest of the plot.

Captain America #1

Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer), Leinil Francis Yu (penciler), Gerry Alanguilan (inker), Sunny Gho (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer)
July 4, 2018
Captain America in costume over a background of an American flag and WWII-era planes and warships
Captain America #1 – Cover by Alex Ross

I first started reading Captain America during Ed Brubaker’s run on the title, and having started with that version of the book, I’ve been disappointed to some degree with every iteration since. Ta-Nehisi Coates is the first person since Brubaker to write a Captain America comic that I really loved, and based on this first issue I’m very excited for this series.

Coates and Yu are interested in what happens after a war is over, in this case the Hydra invasion of the US led by the then-evil Captain America himself. Because wars don’t just end, people don’t forget what they saw or what they experienced just because the fighting is done, and there are always people willing to take advantage of the aftermath. My favourite Captain America stories, in the comics and the movies, have always been stories about legacy and consequences and the aftermaths of trauma. Steve Rogers is particularly well-suited to these kinds of stories, as are much of his regular supporting cast, especially Sharon Carter and Bucky Barnes, both of whom are used nicely in this issue.

Leinil Francis Yu’s art in this book is gorgeous. In the past I have sometimes criticized Yu’s art as overly harsh, but here he seems to have found his sweet spot. Paired with Gerry Alanguilan’s inks and Sunny Cho’s beautiful colors, Yu’s art is rich and textured, balancing quiet character moments with dynamic and energetic action scenes.

X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis #1

Ed Piskor (cartoonist)
July 25, 2018
Jean Grey surrounded by her teammates, one half of her is in her original costume, one half of her is the Phoenix
X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis #1

I quite enjoyed Ed Piskor’s first volume of X-Men: Grand Design this winter—which traced the history of the X-Men until right before the introduction of the first new team in Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975—even though his art style is not really to my taste. But this time around I’m just not feeling it.

Maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with the events and issues being summarized here. It’s not that any of Piskor’s information is inaccurate. To the best of my knowledge his facts are good, but it nevertheless feels like he and I read and loved completely different stories.

Piskor’s primary concern and primary mandate is to line up and synthesize facts, turning the X-Men’s complicated history into a single coherent timeline. But I’ve always been more interested in character arcs and interactions than events, and Piskor’s necessarily rapid-fire pace, deliberately irreverent dialogue choices, and caricature-heavy art obliterate all but the broadest of Chris Claremont’s nuanced character work of this era, leaving a story that, while accurate, doesn’t really ring true.

Cat Meier

Cat Meier

Cat is a queer, poly fangirl. She is an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy, comics, queer and/or historical romance novels, and fanfic. An American import to Canada, Cat is working on becoming as Canadian as possible under the circumstances.