Welcome to the April Monthly Marvel Muster! I’m back with two months’ worth of news and reviews of what’s new at the House of Ideas.
This month we have only three new ongoing series, but also a rather daunting list of new mini-series exploring every corner of the Marvel Universe.
After a brief pause at the beginning of the year, the Marvel Event cycle is up and running again. War of the Realms begins in April, but it’ll be sharing space with the latest in the seemingly endless run of X-Men Events: Age of X-Man. Last week Marvel announced what’s next for the X-Men after Age of X-Man and… it’s another Event from another new creative team. I’m exhausted just typing that.
Marvel debuted only two new ongoing series in February, and one in March. Gerry Duggan and Ron Garney’s Savage Sword of Conan makes Conan the Barbarian the only character other than Spider-Man to star in two currently ongoing solo series from Marvel. And Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto’s new run of Daredevil proves that the Man Without Fear cannot catch a break, dropping him into a brand-new crisis at least partially of his own making.
In March all eyes were on Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung’s new Kamala Khan ongoing, The Magnificent Ms. Marvel. Following G. Willow Wilson’s groundbreaking five-year run on Ms. Marvel with art by Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Nico Leon is sure to be a challenge, but Ahmed and Jung have two secret weapons carried over from Wilson’s run: colourist Ian Herring and letterer Joe Caramagna.
A Mini-Series for All My Friends
When I said the list of new mini-series in February and March was rather daunting, I might have been underplaying it. Marvel debuted nine new mini-series in February, and ten in March. There are enough new series here that I’m splitting it into sub-sections.
Age of X-Man
First up is Age of X-Man. The latest in a long, unending line of X-Men events, Age of X-Man is playing out over the course of six interconnected mini-series exploring different parts of an Alternate Universe Mutant Utopia created by powerful mutant Nate Summers, aka X-Man.
Age of X-Man: The Marvelous X-Men by Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson, and Marco Failla features Jean Grey, Colossus, Storm, X-23, Nature Girl, Magneto, and Nightcrawler as the world’s premier superhero team.
The younger mutants are represented in Ed Brisson and Marcus To’s Age of X-Man: Nextgen, a deliberate riff on Grant Morrison’s classic run of New X-Men, in which Glob, Armor, Anole, and Rockslide attend classes and rebel against authority at the Summers Institute for Higher Learning.
Every world needs a superstar, and in Nate’s Mutant Utopia, that superstar is the Amazing Nightcrawler. Age of X-Man: The Amazing Nightcrawler by Seanan McGuire and Juan Frigeri introduces the Utopia’s biggest celebrity superhero, coming soon to a summer blockbuster near you.
Age of X-Man: The X-Tremists, by Leah Williams and Georges Jeanty, is the Utopia’s X-Force equivalent. In a world where love is apparently illegal, Psylocke, Iceman, Northstar, Blob, and Jubilee are the creepy overprotective heroes nobody ever wanted or needed.
Vita Ayala and German Peralta take us inside the Mutant Utopia’s decidedly non-utopian side. In Age of X-Man: Prisoner X, Nate’s Danger Room prison acquires its newest inmate: Lucas Bishop.
And finally, Age of X-Man: Apocalypse & the X-Tracts by Tim Seeley and Salva Espin stars the titular villain, this time leading his acolytes in the romantic resistance against Nate’s loveless Utopia.
A Spider-Man for All Seasons
If such a thing is even possible, Marvel may be reaching Peak Spider-Man. Or at least Peak Peter Parker.
Peter Parker headlined nine issues worth of content in March, in three ongoing series and three new mini-series. While Nick Spencer and Ryan Otley’s Amazing Spider-Man, Tom Taylor and Juann Cabal’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Robbie Thompson, Matt Horak, and Jim Towe’s Spider-Man/Deadpool all explore different facets of Peter Parker within the main Marvel universe, February and March’s three new mini-series each offered a different alternate take on our boy Peter.
Spider-Man: Far From Home Prelude by Will Corona Pilgrim and Luc Maresca is a look-in at the MCU version of Peter Parker in the lead-up to this summer’s anticipated blockbuster. Marvel’s Spider-Man: City at War by Dennis Hopeless and Michele Bandini explores the universe of the successful Marvel’s Spider-Man video game. And Spider-Man: Life Story is Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley’s reimagining of Peter Parker’s long history as if it had all actually happened over the course of fifty years in Peter Parker’s life.
Just in case that wasn’t enough Peter Parker for you, Symbiote Spider-Man by Peter David, Greg Land, and Iban Coello debuts in April.
Retelling the Story
2018 is all about history at Marvel, and they’re starting off the year with Marvels Annotated, a deluxe four-part 25th anniversary reissue of Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s landmark series. Each issue is packed with bonus content including variant covers and detailed notes from Ross and Busiek.
If you want your Marvel history considerably more tongue in cheek, the comedic writing team of Paul Scheer and Nick Giovannetti teamed up with artist Gerardo Sandoval for Cosmic Ghost Rider Destroys Marvel History, in which Frank Castle, Ghost Rider, shares a rather embellished version of his part in the big events of Marvel history.
But wait, there’s so much more.
Wolverine is back for real now, and post-Infinity Wars he’s traveling through space with Loki in Gerry Duggan and Andy MacDonald’s Wolverine: Infinity Watch, which started in February. Also in February, Al Ewing, Jim Zub & Mark Waid teamed up with Paco Medina and Sean Izaake for the somewhat quirky 10-issue weekly series Avengers: No Road Home; Greg Pak and Ario Anindito conclude the Weapon H storyline with the three-part Hulkverines mini-series; and Ethan Sacks and Robert Gill give Star-Lord the now de riguer dystopian future-treatment with Old Man Quill.
In March releases, the Pirate Queen Bêlit becomes the first Conan character to get a mini-series with Age of Conan: Bêlit by Tini Howard and Kate Niemczyk; Robbie Thompson and Niko Henrichon tell the story of a secret family of shapeshifting spies in Meet the Skrulls; Gail Simone and David Baldeon follow up the cancelled Domino ongoing with the three-part story, Domino: Hotshots; and Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl team up in Nilah Magruder and Roberto Di Salvo’s five-issue Marvel Rising, which unlike Marvel’s previous Marvel Rising series is consistently titled and sensibly numbered.
There were a lot more beginnings than endings in February and March. Only one series came to a close in the last two months, but it was a big one. G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon closed the book on Wilson’s five years with Kamala Khan with Ms. Marvel #38.
Alongside Wilson and Leon, the lighthearted final issue features guest writers Devin Grayson, Eve L. Ewing, Jim Zub, and Saladin Ahmed, and art by Takeshi Miyazawa, Joey Vazquez, Kevin Libranda, and Minkyu Jung & Juan Vlasco, as well as a lovely, quiet one-page story by colourist Ian Herring.
Ms. Marvel was kept company by the final issues of three mini-series in February: Marvel’s Avengers Endgame Prelude by Will Corona Pilgrim and Paco Diaz, Black Panther vs. Deadpool by Daniel Kibblesmith and Ricardo López Ortiz, and Shatterstar by Tim Seeley, Carlos Villa, and Gerardo Sandoval, and three more in March: Killmonger by Bryan Hill and Juan Ferreyra, Black Order by Derek Landy and Philip Tan, and Star Wars: Han Solo—Imperial Cadet by Robbie Thompson and Leonard Kirk.
Colourist Spotlight: Ian Herring
G. Willow Wilson isn’t the only one who worked on sixty issues of Ms. Marvel. Colourist Ian Herring was there every step of the way, and he’s not done yet. Herring will continue to set the palette of Kamala Khan’s world in Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung’s The Magnificent Ms. Marvel.
Herring doesn’t get enough credit for his role in creating the persistent visual style of Ms. Marvel. The artists may change, but Kamala Khan and Jersey City always look the same. With a subtle palette heavy on yellows, browns and muted greens and purples, Herring has made Ms. Marvel look distinctive and consistent for five straight years. With Ahmed and Jung taking Kamala in new directions in The Magnificent Ms. Marvel, it’s nice to know they’ll have the solid grounding of Ian Herring keeping them connected to all the stories that have come before.
Jonathan Hickman’s House of X
The latest highly-hyped X-Men announcement is the return of Jonathan Hickman to Marvel. Starting in July he’ll be writing two six-part X-Men mini-series. House of X with artist Pepe Larraz, and Powers of X with artist R.B. Silva.
In theory this is exciting. Jonathan Hickman writing the X-Men is big news, he’s a popular and successful writer with a large fan base and getting him on board suggests that Marvel are ready to really take the X-Men seriously again.
But I’m wary of all big X-Men announcements at this point, because they’re so constant. In the fall of 2015, the X-Men were ushered into the All-New All-Different Marvel era with Extraordinary X-Men by Jeff Lemire and Humberto Ramos, All-New X-Men by Dennis Hopeless and Mark Bagley, and Uncanny X-Men by Cullen Bunn and Greg Land.
Within eighteen months all of those titles and most of those creators would be gone. After Charles Soule’s Inhumans vs. X-Men Event, the new titles were Cullen Bunn’s X-Men Blue, and Marc Guggenheim’s X-Men Gold, both with a constant rotation of artists. The solicit for X-Men Gold #1 announced “A new beginning for the strangest heroes of all starts here!” This new beginning also lasted eighteen months.
“The flagship X-Men series that started it all is back and better than ever!” the November 2018 solicits declared. The “X-Men Disassembled” storyline of Uncanny X-Men with multiple creators and a ten-part weekly storyline was supposed to revitalize the franchise.
And now that run is already ending with issues #21 and #22 shipping in July. “Better than ever,” lasted an entire eight months. Now we have a “revolutionary new direction,” and the “next seminal moment in the history of the X-Men.”
The X-Men need a Dan Slott on Amazing Spider-Man, a Jason Aaron on Thor, or a Charles Soule on Daredevil. They need one writer, with a consistent vision and characterization and some actual long-arc storytelling that isn’t just a lurch from crisis to crisis.
Will they get that in Jonathan Hickman? I don’t know. I’m not even that big a fan of Hickman’s writing, and yet I hope House of X and Powers of X are the lead-in to him taking over the franchise long-term. And if not him, someone. Anyone. Just as long as they’re still writing the X-Men in two years’ time.
War of the Realms
It’s been a long time since I was actually excited about a Marvel event, but I’m looking forward to this one. The big difference between War of the Realms and many of the events that have come before it? Time. Jason Aaron has been laying the groundwork for this storyline since he and Russell Dauterman introduced Jane Foster as the new Thor in 2014. It’s not an event conjured seemingly out of thin air, it’s the culmination of years of worldbuilding and relationship development.
War of the Realms is going to be over by the end of June, and Marvel’s already-released July solicits give some clues as to what’s next in the Asgardian corner of the Marvel Universe. Jason Aaron apparently has one more arc of Thor to write before letting go of the title, and both Loki and Jane Foster will be getting their own solo series, Jane under the title Valkyrie.
Star Wars Gets the One-Shots Treatment
This spring into summer, Marvel are releasing three series in a row of related one-shots—Star Wars: Age of Republic, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, and Star Wars: Age of Resistance—which promise to “chronologically tell a series of spectacular adventures featuring your favorite characters from ALL THREE STAR WARS TRILOGIES!” (Emphasis theirs.)
Beginning in December, the Star Wars: Age of Republic one-shots have all been written by Jody Houser, with artist Cory Smith on the one-shots starring Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Padmé Amidala, and Luke Ross on the one-shots starring Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Count Dooku, and General Grievous.
Greg Pak, the recently-announced new writer of the ongoing Star Wars series, is the writer of all the Star Wars: Age of Rebellion one-shots, with artist Chris Sprouse on the one-shots for Princess Leia, Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, and Luke Skywalker; and Mark Laming as artist on the one-shots for Grand Moff Tarkin, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, and Darth Vader.
And Tom Taylor is writing the Star War: Age of Rebellion one-shots, with Ramon Rosanas and Leonard Kirk on art, but so far only the Finn, Rey, and Phasma issues have been announced.
Nadia Van Dyne—Bipolar Superhero
While The Unstoppable Wasp is mostly a lighthearted all-ages comic, Jeremy Whitley has never shied away from awkward or difficult topics, and he usually handles them with a surprisingly deft touch. But I’m not sure that applies to the latest twist in Nadia Van Dyne’s story. In a two-part storyline in The Unstoppable Wasp #4 and #5, Nadia Van Dyne is revealed to be bipolar as she has what appears to be her first major manic episode.
Whitley seems to be trying to do two things here: draw on Nadia’s father Hank Pym’s rather notorious history of tumultuous mental health to tell a story about the inherited aspects of mental illness, and highlight that even a character as inherently enthusiastic and upbeat as Nadia Van Dyne can be mentally ill. But as a bipolar reader, I’m not sure he’s succeeding at either.
It’s a really good concept, and I think it could be a good story, but there’s something a little too Very Special Episode about the way this plot line was basically introduced and resolved within two issues without anything in the way of real build-up. I’m also disconcerted by the degree to which I didn’t recognize myself in this narrative. Everyone’s brain is different, and I’d never expect anyone else’s experience to perfectly match my own, but still, that feels off.
I’m reserving judgment for now, and keeping an eye on where Nadia’s story goes from here, but my previous enthusiasm for this title is definitely somewhat dampened for the time being.
March and April Highs and Lows:
Marco Checchetto (artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (color artist), Chip Zdarsky (writer)
February 6, 2019
I’ve never been a huge fan of Daredevil. He’s one of those characters who I greatly enjoy in team books and when he guest stars in other series, but I usually find his solo books too dark, too broody, and too violent for my tastes. But I adore Chip Zdarsky’s writing, and Marco Checchetto’s art is invariably beautiful, so I was more than happy to give this book a chance.
I’m so very glad I did.
Three issues in, Zdarsky and Checchetto are putting together a story about the seductive nature of violence and the ways becoming an avatar of vigilante justice will fuck with your head, that’s remarkably nuanced and pleasingly slippery. Stories where a superhero is accused of killing someone in a fight and have to prove their innocence are a cliche of the genre at this point, but I think this is the first one I’ve read where I’ve not actually been sure from the beginning that the hero is innocent.
As much as I’m loving the plot, I’m loving Checchetto and Gho’s art even more. Everything about this book is gorgeous: the layouts, the colors, the details of body language and facial expression, and the absolutely brilliant use of shadows in the recurring scenes set in Matt’s bedroom.
The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1
Saladin Ahmed (writer), Joe Caramagna (letterer), Ian Herring (color artist), Minkyu Jung (penciler), Juan Vlasco (inker)
March 13, 2019
Oof. I’m going to give this one at least one more issue to win me over, but based just on this first issue I’m not in love. There are some flashes of the Kamala Khan I love—especially the scene where she meets Nakia at a cafe and retells the story of how she got her powers—but much of it just feels a couple of degrees sideways of how I see the characters, and as such some scenes that were supposed to be serious and emotional just left me feeling cold.
I’m not sure if this is an issue with Ahmed’s writing, or just an issue with me and Ahmed’s writing. I had similar issues getting into his Miles Morales: Spider-Man, although so far I’ve liked each issue of that slightly more than the one before. Maybe that will happen with The Magnificent Ms. Marvel too, I certainly hope so. Right now though, based on this one issue and on the future solicits that promise Ahmed and Jung are taking Kamala out of her grounding in Jersey City and sending her to space, I am decidedly nervous.
This is my first experience with Minkyu Jung’s art and I mostly like it, but I find some of his choices in fight scenes a little hard to follow. There are several panels where he tries to portray the kinetic energy of Kamala’s powers in a fight, but ends up instead making it look like she’s acquired a suspicious shadow. I spent several minutes staring at one panel on page three trying to determine if it was supposed to be showing two version of Kamala in motion, or some sort of creepy doppelganger following her.
Spider-Man: Life Story #1
Mark Bagley (penciler), Frank D’Armata (color artist), John Dell (inker), Travis Lanham (letterer), Chip Zdarsky (writer)
March 20, 2019
Apparently this is the month where I just rave about Chip Zdarsky’s writing a lot. I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m really not. The premise of Spider-Man: Life Story is simple, yet brilliant—what if all the big events of Spider-Man’s history had taken place in real-time, as Peter Parker aged in time with our world, rather than staying perpetually young in the telescoping timeline of comics?
In issue #1: The ’60s, Zdarsky and Mark Bagley take on some of the classic foundational stories of Peter’s past—his friendships with Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson going to Vietnam, Spider-Man’s first run-ins with the Green Goblin—while grounding them in the reality of life in the US at the time, the Vietnam War lurking in the background of every scene.
I particularly loved the scene where Peter talks to Captain America about his conflicted feelings over whether or not he should sign up. Peter ends up staying home, but Steve doesn’t, and the consequences of that decision are a subplot I look forward to seeing explored in future issues.
Bagley’s art is always solid, and I especially admire the way he can play with a variety of layouts without the story ever becoming hard to follow. I find his Peter here a bit more fresh-faced and guileless than I prefer, but that’s personal preference more than anything else, and it absolutely suits the story and the era.
Avengers: No Road Home #1-#7
Jesus Aburtov (color artist), Erick Arciniega (color artist), Al Ewing (writer), Sean Izaakse (artist), Paco Medina (penciler), Marcio Menyz (color artist), Cory Petit (letterer), Jay David Ramos (color artist), Joe Sabino (letterer), Juan Vlasco (inker), Mark Waid (writer), Jim Zub (writer)
February 13, 2019
I started reading this by accident, but I’ve found it remarkably enjoyable, which I did not expect. I hated a lot of things about Marvel’s last weekly Avengers series: Avengers No Surrender, but despite being something of a sequel to that story, Avengers: No Road Home manages to avoid many of the issues I found so frustrating.
The biggest thing No Road Home has on its side is that it’s not trying to be a big, all-encompassing story about every Avenger ever. It’s a small, consistent, somewhat quirky and unexpected combination of characters, and with the exception of the surprise addition of Conan the Barbarian in issue #6, the characters in issue #7 are the same characters we’ve been following since issue #1. Also, it’s a ten-issue story, rather than the monster sixteen issues of No Surrender.
Avengers: No Road Home is a side story, a pleasant diversion with no relation to the plot in Jason Aaron’s primary Avengers title. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it doesn’t expect readers to either, it’s just old-school pulpy fun that gets off on watching unusual combinations of characters spark and clash with each other, and it turns out that’s exactly the kind of story I was craving.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #42
Derek Charm (artist), Naomi Franquiz (artist), Erica Henderson (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Ryan North (writer), Rico Renzi (color artist & trading card artist)
March 13, 2019
If you’d told me four years ago that I would one day read Ryan North’s fiftieth issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I would not have believed you. I expected it to last ten to twelve issues at most, maybe eighteen or twenty if Ryan North and Erica Henderson were especially lucky.
But here we are, fifty issues and one near-seamless artist change later, and Doreen Green and her friends are still going strong. This isn’t a serious story, or a particularly complex one, for all that it’s a time travel paradox, but it’s a wonderful celebration of Doreen and Nancy and what makes them such delightful heroines to follow. The three artists all do a great job with the three eras of Doreen’s life, and Erica Henderson’s return for the young Doreen section was an especially delightful surprise. (The cover credits say “Henderson (!!!)” which was in fact my exact reaction to seeing her name there.)
Rico Renzi’s contribution to the consistent look and feel of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is particularly noticeable in this issue. His colors turn three artists’ work into one coherent narrative, while still playing to the different strengths of each artists.
Here’s to fifty Unbeatable Issues! May we get at least fifty more!