Welcome back to the February edition of Monthly Marvel Muster. I already have my tickets to see Captain Marvel in a week, but right now I’m taking a brief break from advanced squeeing to talk about those other, less-popular Marvel properties: the comics.
This month we have a diverse array of new ongoing series, the return of Conan the Barbarian after a twenty-five year absence, and an anniversary celebration eighty years in the making.
Reboots and Returns
Marvel debuted eight new ongoing series in January, including the return of several classic titles, new solo books for two of their most popular female characters, and the aforementioned new Conan series. Conan the Barbarian is being written by Jason Aaron—a third big-name title for Aaron, who is also currently writing Avengers and Thor—with art by Mahmud Asrar.
Now that the interminable year-long Infinity Wars storyline is finished, the Guardians of the Galaxy are back in a new series by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw. Cates and Shaw have assembled a new, more diverse team of Guardians, no longer made up primarily of the characters featured in the Marvel movies, but they’ll still be dealing with the aftereffects of Infinity Wars for some time to come.
The Champions are returning with a new #1 issue this month, and a new expanded roster of diverse young heroes. Jim Zub is continuing as writer, joined by artist Steven Cummings.
Captain Marvel and Black Widow are also both back for the new year with new solo series from new creative teams. Captain Marvel #1 by Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero returns Carol to classic earth-based heroism after two space-based series that never really took off. And Black Widow #1, written by Jen and Sylvia Soska with art by Flaviano promises a darker, morally grey take on the recently resurrected former Avenger.
There is nothing dark or morally grey about Tom Taylor and Juann Cabal’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1. The team behind the excellent All-New Wolverine reunite for a delightful street-level take on Peter Parker and the diverse neighborhood he calls home.
And in honour of their 80th anniversary, Marvel are bringing back a couple of older titles, starting with the classic anthology series Marvel Comics Presents, and a new volume of Invaders written by Chip Zdarsky with art by Carlos Magno & Butch Guice.
With so many new ongoings, there wasn’t much room for new mini-series in January, of which there were only two. First up was Jed Mackay and Danilo Beyrouth’s five-issue Man Without Fear, chronicling the effects of Daredevil’s seeming-death on his friends and foes. At one issue per week for the five weeks of January, the series serves to bridge the gap between Charles Soules’ just-ended series and Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto’s new ongoing, without dragging out the gap between series.
And Marvel’s successful first foray into the scripted podcast format gets the comics treatment with the five-part Wolverine: The Long Night Adaptation by Benjamin Percy and Marcio Takara.
Marvel quietly ended three ongoing series in January, Exiles by Saladin Ahmed and Javier Rodriguez, Domino by Gail Simone and David Baldeon, and Weapon H by Greg Pak and Guiu Vilanova.
I really wanted to love Exiles, which was full of great alternate versions of some of my favourite characters—including Captain America Peggy Carter and her sidekick Rebecca (Bucky) Barnes, a version of Valkyrie based visually on Tessa Thompson’s portrayal of the character in Thor: Ragnarok, and the surprisingly heart-wrenching Wolvie torn from the world of A-Babies vs. X-Babies—but as a story it just never quite gelled for me. I read all twelve issues, but after every one I found myself hoping that the next issue would be the one where the series finally lived up to its potential.
Created by Greg Pak and Mike Deodato for the “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” storyline in The Totally Awesome Hulk, Weapon H is a mix of The Hulk and Wolverine which must have sounded great on paper, but never really took off the way the creators probably hoped. Weapon H’s story is going to continue, briefly, in Hulkverines, a three-issue mini-series written by Greg Pak with art by Ario Anindito and Guiu Villanova, where the original Hulk and Wolverine team up to hunt Weapon H down.
Gail Simone and David Baldeon’s Domino also failed to become a hit, and is being quietly retired and replaced by a mini-series. Domino: Hotshots, also by Simone and Baldeon. They will team Domino up with a mixed bag of other female characters including Black Widow and Diamondback for a five-issue storyline.
Also bowing in January were two mini-series, Charles Soule and Steve McNiven’s The Return of Wolverine and Sina Grace and Nathan Stockman’s Iceman.
From Timely to Marvel in Eighty Years
In late-1939, pulp-magazine publisher Martin Goodman founded Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel Comics, and published Marvel Comics #1. Eighty years, and a vast cinematic empire later, Marvel have chosen to make 2019 a year-long celebration of that 80th anniversary, honouring “its iconic stories and characters across every decade of the company’s history.” They’re beginning the year by bringing back some well-known older titles for new ongoings, and bringing back some very old, and mostly-forgotten titles for one-shots.
The cornerstone of the celebration is the return of the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents. Marvel Comics Presents #1 includes the first part of a serial Wolverine story by Charles Soule and Paulo Siqueira, a powerful stand-alone story about Namor and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Greg Pak and Tomm Coker, and a lightweight Captain America story by Ann Nocenti with typically unfortunate Greg Land art for which I was not prepared. I really should learn never to trust a solicitation that lists the artists as “[person x], [person y], & MORE”. You always have to watch out for that “more.”
There are no such art issues with Invaders #1. Written by Chip Zdarsky, with art by Carlos Magno for the main storyline, and Butch Guice for WWII-era flashbacks, the new volume of Invaders brings together Captain America, Bucky Barnes and the original Human Torch, intent on figuring out why their old friend and former WWII-era teammate Namor the Sub-Mariner has suddenly gone full-on villain against the “surface world.”
Marvel are also having fun with a series of one-shots in January and February named after lesser-known classic titles. For January they have one-issue revivals of 1970s titles Crypt of Shadows, and War is Hell, and the classic 1950s series Journey Into Unknown Worlds. And for February there are one-off issues of the 1940s funny animals comic Ziggy Pig – Silly Seal Comics, the 1970s Western The Gunhawks, and the classic 1950s romance anthology Love Romances.
Creative teams include Al Ewing and Garry Brown in Crypt of Shadows, Cullen Bunn and Guillermo Sanna in Journey Into Unknown Worlds, David and Maria Lapham and Luca Pizarri for The Gunhawks, and Frank Tieri and Jacob Chabot for Ziggy Pig—Silly Seal Comics.
A Barbaric Return
I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to say about the return of Conan the Barbarian to Marvel, mostly because Conan has never been a character who interested me, and Sword and Sorcery is really not my genre. But still, this is big news, and definitely an exciting development for readers who love the character and the genre.
Marvel had the rights to Conan from 1970-1993 and the original two-hundred-and-seventy-five issue series was both incredibly successful, and incredibly influential, particularly the stunning, career-defining art of Barry Windsor-Smith in the first three years of the series.
Now that Marvel have the rights back ( after Dark Horse put out a number of Conan series from 2003-2017), they’re looking to once again make Conan one of their top-selling characters. Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar’s Conan the Barbarian debuted with two issues in January and overwhelmingly positive reviews. February brought a second Conan title, Savage Sword of Conan by Gerry Duggan and Ron Garney, which has also been well-received. And in May, Conan will be crossing over into the main Marvel Universe to lead a team of Savage Avengers made up of Wolverine, Elektra, the Punisher, Venom, and Brother Voodoo in a series by Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato Jr.
The New (Old) Guardians of the Galaxy
Much to the frustration of many fans of Marvel’s cosmic characters, the last several iterations of the team have been made up almost entirely of the characters who appear in the MCU, with very little variation. Now that Infinity Wars are over, Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw have introduced a new, very different team of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Star-Lord is still leading the team, but the only other returning member is Groot. They’ll be joined by Beta Ray Bill, alternate-universe versions of long-missed fan-favourites Phyla-Vell and Moondragon, and Frank Castle the Cosmic Ghost Rider, a character created by Cates for his volume of Thanos.
Captain Marvel #1
Tamra Bonvillain (color artist), Carmen Carnero (artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Kelly Thompson (writer)
January 9, 2019
Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero bring Carol Danvers back to earth, and back to New York and the result is a first issue that’s closer in tone to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s iconic series than anything that’s come since. The story is mostly setup, as first issues so often are, but it’s a fast-paced and breezy setup that efficiently hits the high points of Carol’s most recent comics history, introduces her closest friends and future supporting cast, and sets up a pleasingly tropey-looking, self-contained first arc.
Carol Danvers is exactly the kind of brash, confident, and expressive female hero Kelly Thompson is particularly good at writing for, and that definitely shows here, and Carmen Carnero’s art has a wonderful energy and dynamic feel that is incredibly well-suited to Carol and her supporting cast. She captures not just their diverse facial expressions, but their uniquely individual body-language as well, in a way that compliments and adds nuance to Thompson’s writing. And Tamra Bonvillain’s coloring really makes the art pop. A great first issue and I’m very much looking forward to the next.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1
Juann Cabal (artist), Jim Campbell (colorist), Marcelo Ferreira (penciler), Travis Lanham (letterer), Roberto Poggi (inker), Tom Taylor (writer), Nolan Woodard (color artist)
January 9, 2019
Peter Parker is such a popular character, and has starred in so many iconic story arcs by iconic creators, that the temptation for new creative teams seems to always be to find and tell the biggest, most high-stakes Spider-Man story yet. But Spider-Man is still a street-level hero at heart, and my favourite stories about Peter have always been the ones about Peter in New York and in his community.
In Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Tom Taylor, Juann Cabal want to tell the exact kind of Spider-Man stories I most love and I am here for it. Taylor and Cabal and Nolan Woodard worked together previously on the fantastic All-New Wolverine, and they continue to complement each other incredibly well. Taylor writes a variety of wonderfully diverse and believable secondary and background characters, and there’s a real energy and movement in Cabal’s art that allows him to capture those characters quickly and efficiently, without it ever slowing the story down. In this issue we get to meet a variety of Peter’s neighbours, and see how he interacts with them both as Peter Parker and as Spider-Man.
The backup story focusing on Aunt May didn’t work for me quite as well as the main storyline. Taylor’s writing is perfectly good, and Marcelo Ferreira, Roberto Poggi and Jim Campbell’s art is lovely, but I’m just not sure I really need a subplot about Aunt May having cancer in my life right now.
Black Widow #1
Joe Caramagna (letterer), Flaviano (artist), Veronica Gandini (color artist), Jen Soska (writer), Sylvia Soska (writer)
January 16, 2019
There’s a lot to like about this issue, and yet I hated it. Black Widow has always been a complicated and morally grey hero, but Jen and Sylvia Soska have very firmly positioned Natasha as a straight-up antihero here. Which is an entirely valid interpretation of the character, just not the one I’m most interested in reading about.
Flaviano’s art is striking and distinctive, and well-suited for Natasha, but the pages often feel overcrowded and the characterizations often lacked subtlety and depth.
Natasha starts the issue working with Captain America and, while Steve and Natasha have clashed in the past, the choice to portray Steve in a particularly upright and moralistic manner did not really work for me. And then the actual plot kicked in and stories built around the off-screen murder of small children in unnamed but horrifying ways are really, really not my thing, so I’ll definitely be at the very least sitting the rest of this arc out.
Butch Guice (artist), Alex Guimarães (color artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Carlos Magna (artist), Chip Zdarsky (writer)
January 16, 2019
I’ve so far loved everything Chip Zdarsky has written for Marvel, and based on this first issue Invaders won’t be an exception. Zdarsky writes richly human and sympathetic characters, and this is a story that needs his deft touch.
As seen in recent issues of Avengers, Namor the Sub-Mariner, sometimes antagonist/sometimes uneasy ally of earth’s land-based heroes, has recently laid claim to the entirety of the earth’s oceans and declared war on the “surface world.” His old Invaders teammates Steve Rogers, Jim Hammond and Bucky Barnes, would really like to know why and they’re pretty sure they’ll have better luck finding out together than the full might of the Avengers would.
I have always adored Butch Guice’s art, and he is absolutely in top form here drawing the flashback portions of the story. Every panel is stunning to look at and rich with emotion. Carlos Magna’s art in the rest of the story is fine but uneven, and his weakness with facial expressions really stands out in comparison to Guice.
I think this is the first book I’ve read with colors by Alex Guimarães, and while I found some of their color choices garish, the rich blues and turquoises of the underwater scenes are incredibly striking and well-chosen.
Switching deftly back and forth between the present day and flashbacks to WWII, Invaders #1 ultimately seems to be setting up a story about a veteran who never really came home from the war. There are clearly secrets to be revealed about Namor’s past, and I’m definitely interested in seeing how they tie into whatever secrets he’s keeping in the present.