Monthly Marvel Muster: New Books, Same Old Stories

Monthly Marvel Muster: New Books, Same Old Stories

Hello, and welcome to the July issue of the Monthly Marvel Muster, I’m here with updates on Marvel’s May and June comics, as well as some of the fresh news from SDCC. New Beginnings Savage Avengers #1 - Cover by David Finch and Frank D'Armata Marvel introduced one new series in May, and one more

Hello, and welcome to the July issue of the Monthly Marvel Muster, I’m here with updates on Marvel’s May and June comics, as well as some of the fresh news from SDCC.

New Beginnings

Venom looming over Conan, Doctor Voodoo, Elektra and the Punisher, with Wolverine flashing his claws in front.

Savage Avengers #1 – Cover by David Finch and Frank D’Armata

Marvel introduced one new series in May, and one more in June. May’s debut was Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato Jr.’s Savage Avengers, in which Conan the Barbarian leads a team of Marvel’s most aggressive heroes, including Wolverine, Venom, and the Punisher, with Elektra as the lone woman on the team.

And in June, glamorous cat burglar Felicia Hardy got a new solo series, Black Cat, by Jed Mackay and Travel Foreman. Felicia is always a fun character to read about, but the all-male creative team is depressing. The first issue was a fun read, but I couldn’t help but notice that there is exactly one other female character with a speaking role in the entire issue, and she’s only on three pages.

May and June also brought three more War of the Realms tie-in mini-series: War of the Realms: Spider-Man & The League of Realms by Sean Ryan and Nico Leon, War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas by Greg Pak and Gang Hyuk Lim, and Giant-Man by Leah Williams and Marco Castiello. Marvel also managed to find room for two non-War of the Realms mini-series: X-Men: Grand Design—X-Tinction, Ed Piskor’s take on the history of the X-Men in the 1990s, and Silver Surfer: Black by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore.

A Handful of Endings

X-23, looking fierce with her arms crossed, claws out and hair in her face

X-23 #12 – Cover by Ashley Witter

Marvel ended three series in May and two more in June, almost all after rather short runs.

The much-hyped Black Widow series by Jen and Sylvia Soska and Flaviano fizzled out rather thoroughly, and quietly disappeared after May’s Black Widow #5. And Cullen Bunn and Matteo Lolli’s entertaining but uneven Asgardians of the Galaxy only survived through War of the Realms, ending in June after ten issues.

Mariko Tamaki and Diego Olortegui’s X-23 and Kelly Thompson and Oscar Bazaldua’s Mr. And Mrs. X were casualties of Jonathan Hickman’s complete revamp of the entire X-Men line, each ending after only twelve issues. They were both really great books by great creative teams, that I definitely resent seeing gone so soon. I’m particularly hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see of Mariko Tamaki writing for Marvel.

a street full of people is shown under an ominous red logo revealing four of them to be Skrulls.

Meet the Skrulls #5 – Cover by Marcos Martin

Between the end of War of the Realms and the slow sputtering out of Age of X-Man, Marvel ended more series in May and June than I have the energy to type out. And besides those two events five other series came to an end. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels Annotated and Wolverine: the Long Night Adaptation by Benjamin Percy and Marcio Takara both ended in May. And Rob Liefield’s Major X, Robbie Thompon and Niko Henrichon’s Meet the Skrulls, and the last Infinity-related series standing, Wolverine: Infinity Watch by Gerry Duggan and Andy MacDonald, all took their bow in June.

Sina Grace Calls Out Marvel

Iceman and Mr. Sinister and a lot of rainbows

Iceman #5 – Cover by W. Scott Forbes

On June 28th, Iceman writer Sina Grace opened up on Tumblr about his experience writing the newly-out original X-Man for Marvel, specifically calling Marvel out for not supporting LGBTQ books and creators.

In a post titled As Pride Month comes to a close, it’s time I spoke candidly about my experience at Marvel Comics, Grace doesn’t hold back in his criticism of Marvel and their failure to either promote their queer characters or stand by their queer creators when the inevitable social media harassment begins.

“With more corporations patting themselves on the back for profit-led partnerships wherein celebrities take selfies in rainbow apparel, and with buzz that Marvel Studios is preparing to debut their first gay character in the upcoming Eternals movie, there is an urgency to discuss the realities of creating queer pop culture in a hostile or ambivalent environment.”

Grace describes a wide variety of micro- and macro-aggressions, ranging from a warning from an editor not to make the book “too gay,” to offering him “tips and tricks” to deal with cyberbullying but no actual institutional support, to refusing to give any publicity to the relaunch of the title beyond an announcement on the Marvel homepage, and then restricting his press access when he succeeded at getting some publicity on his own.

It’s all depressingly familiar, and I’m just so worn down by it all. There’s no such thing as “too gay,” Marvel, and this constant cycle of not promoting progressive books and then saying there’s no audience for them was tired twenty years ago; it’s fucking exhausting now.

Claremont and Sienkiewicz revisit the New Mutants

the original New Mutants stand together under a looming, unhinged-looking version of their teammate Warlock.

New Mutants: War Children – cover by Bill Sienkiewicz

Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz are coming back to the New Mutants in September, with New Mutants: War Children, a special flashback one-shot featuring the original team. It’s easy to dismiss many of Marvel’s 80th Anniversary specials as shameless nostalgia-bait, but my cynicism just doesn’t run deep enough not to be thrilled by imagining what the Sienkiewicz of today will do with the kids of yesteryear.

The original New Mutants are and will forever be the team of my heart. Uncanny X-Men was my first comic, but the New Mutants were my first team. I liked them from the beginning, but it was with issue #18 and the introduction of Sienkiewicz’s groundbreaking art that I truly fell in love. In an episode of Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men, Jay Edidin describes New Mutants #18 as the issue “that tore [the] envelope wide open” on what art in mainstream superhero comics could be. As a reader, it certainly changed my view of, and my expectations for, the medium. I’ve read a lot of terrible comics in the years since I first encountered the Demon Bear saga, all because they featured the kids Claremont created and Sienkiewicz made me fall in love with all those years ago.

Highlights from San Diego

Jonathan Hickman’s Plans for the X-Men

An X-Men team led by Cyclops poses on the moon

X-Men #1 – Cover by Leinil Francis Yu

The biggest Marvel comics news of SDCC was the announcement of Jonathan Hickman’s plans for the X-Men after the conclusion of his two summer mini-series, House of X and Powers of X.

Hickman’s plans to make the X-Men relevant again start with six series debuting in October. The flagship X-Men (no Uncanny) will be written by Hickman, with pencils and covers by Leinil Francis Yu, and will star “Cyclops and his hand-picked squad of mutant powerhouses!” No central team has been announced yet, but I’d feel better if the cover of the first issue featured a single female character who isn’t related to Jean Grey, and if Jean herself wasn’t for some reason in her spectacularly outdated 1960s-era costume.

Hickman will also be taking the helm for New Mutants, co-writing the first arc with Ed Brisson, who is expected to then take over the book full time, and joined by artist Rod Reis. The team will be the mostly-classic line-up of Sunspot, Wolfsbane, Mirage, Karma, Magik, Cypher, Chamber, and Mondo, which if nothing else is a nice reassurance that Wolfsbane’s stupid, transphobic death in Matthew Rosenberg’s Uncanny X-Men didn’t take.

I’m hit or miss on Brisson’s writing, and I don’t like the first cover at all, but as we established above (and with Brisson and Dylan Burnett’s uninspired X-Force run), I will put up with a lot to get more stories about these characters.

Tini Howard and Marcus To will be taking on a new version of the classic UK-based title Excalibur. Betsy Braddock, formerly Psylocke, has taken on her brother’s mantle as Captain Britain, and will lead the decidedly non-British team of Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, Rictor, and Apocalypse.

The latest reimagining of X-Force features the seemingly random team of Beast, Jean Grey, Sage, Wolverine, Quentin Quire, and Domino and will be written by Benjamin Percy with art by Joshua Cassara. The inclusion of Sage is surprising as before making an appearance in Uncanny X-Men this year, she hasn’t shown up in anything more than a cameo since 2013.

Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Bishop, Pyro, Emma Frost, and Storm standing on the deck of a ship. Kitty has two swords.

Marauders #1 – Cover by Russell Dauterman

Those four books are solid classic X-titles, but the other two announced books are rather further afield. The first solicit for Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli’s Marauders says: “led by Captain Kate Pryde and funded by Emma Frost and the Hellfire Trading Company, Marauders Storm, Pyro, Bishop, and Iceman sail the seas of the world to protect those hated and feared!” The cover features the listed characters vaguely dressed as pirates. I’ve got a whole lot of nothing, but I am suitably intrigued.

Even more intriguing is the new Fallen Angels by Bryan Edward Hill and Szymon Kudranski. The original Fallen Angels limited series by Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammill was a New Mutants spinoff starring Sunspot and Warlock in a decidedly ’80s story about mutant kids living on the streets, intergalactic adventures, and an alien planet called Coconut Grove. No, really. This new series will star Laura Kinney, the young version of Cable, and Kwannon, who is now going by the name Psylocke. A Japanese former-assassin, Kwannon is best known as the actual owner of the body Betsy Braddock inhabited for almost thirty years. Based on that cast I’m expecting rather more Mean Streets than Coconut Grove.

Miles Morales Returns to the Spider-Verse

Miles Morales swings across a skyline with a team of various Spider-Heroes

Spider-Verse #1 – Cover by Wendell Dalit

After the wild success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s unsurprising that Marvel already has plans for a new Spider-Verse mini-series. Written by Jed Mackay with a rotating cast of artists including Juan Frigerim, Arthur Adams, Stuart Immonen, and Stacey Lee, the six-issue series will once again feature as many Spider-characters as can be fit into six issues, including “#SPIDERSONAS from some of the biggest Spidey fans and comic creators both!” I hope those “biggest Spidey fans” will be getting paid for their creations, but I rather suspect they won’t.

More Marvel Comics #1000 Announcements

The big Marvel Comics #1000 announcement from SDCC was that the issue will include a Miracleman page by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham. But I admit I’m more fascinated by the reveal that Darth Vader will also show up, meaning he’s apparently now considered a part of the Marvel universe.

Other New Comic Announcements

Mary Jane Watson looking fabulous ahead of the spectre of Spider-Man's many enemies

The Amazing Mary Jane #1 – Cover by Humberto Ramos and Edgar Delgado

Also announced at SDCC were two potentially interesting new ongoings: Mary Jane Watson’s first ever ongoing series—The Amazing Mary Jane by Leah Williams and Carlos Gomez—and Christopher Cantwell and Salvador Larocca’s Doctor Doom.

I’m really excited to see a new ongoing from Williams, whose work has really impressed me so far, but I hope the series won’t be too dependent on Nick Spencer’s The Amazing Spider-Man, because I just can’t with any of that.

Cantwell and Larocca’s Doctor Doom looks to be aiming for that not quite anti-hero, not quite villain sweet spot all my favourite Victor Von Doom stories live in, so I’ll definitely at least give it a shot.

Highlights

Black Cat #1

Ferran Delgado (letterer), Mike Dowling (artist), Travel Foreman (artist), Nao Fuji (writer and artist), Jed Mackay (writer), Brian Reber (color artist)

Black Cat crouches outside a jewelry store window looking in

Black Cat #1 – Cover by J. Scott Campbell and Sabine Rich

Grifters and thieves always make for great stories, and after years of stories trying to position her as a more serious criminal mastermind, this series returns Felicia Hardy to her roots as a glamourous, charmingly amoral thief with a taste for the finer things in life. Which is great, awesome even. I just wish it were less blatantly male-gazey.

It’s not the art. Va-va-voom glamour has always been a big part of how the Black Cat presents herself to the world, and Foreman does a good job of staying on the right side of the line between “sexy” and “sex object.” It’s the unremitting maleness of it all. Odessa Drake, head of the New York Thieves Guild, is introduced as a potential antagonist, but she’s the only other female character with a speaking part in the entire issue. And she’s quickly sidelined in favour of giving page time to Felicia’s two male lackeys, the admittedly delightful male security guard chasing them, the hoard of masked men sent after them by the Thieves Guild, and finally Felicia’s mentor the Black Fox.

The security guards are all male. The masked attackers appear to be all male. The people Felicia Hardy works with now are all male, and the people she’s mentioned as working with in the past are all male as well. The entirely male (and nearly entirely white) world is incredibly alienating, and yet so normalized that it took me ages to figure out what felt so off-putting about an otherwise-entertaining story.

Besides the main story, this issue contains two other stories: a cute two-page story by Nao Fuji about the Black Cat robbing a jewelry store with a trio of fluffy black cats, and a story by Mackay and artist Mike Dowling about the backstory of the Black Fox. Mackay and Dowling’s Black Fox story does not contain a single female character, not even in the background.

I’ll stick with the cats.

Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider #9

Clayton Cowles (letterer), Ian Herring (color artist), Seanan McGuire (writer), Takeshi Miyazawa (artist)

Spider-Gwen fights an angry blue-clawed Man-Beast

Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider #9 – Cover by Bengal

This issue follows a pretty classic arc. Previously-unknown villain intrudes on the hero’s non-superhero life and injures someone she cares about—in this case a bomb at a The Mary Janes gig in the previous issue that injured among others Gwen’s friend/love interest Harry Osborn. Hero breaks all the rules to find and stop the person responsible—here, that’s a giant, clawed and blue-furred villain calling himself the Man-Wolf. Hero worries about the risk she causes to her friends and family.

But McGuire manages to keep the well-worn story from feeling stale, by making some unexpected characterization choices and through a couple nicely-timed injections of humour that keep everything from feeling too ponderous.

But the true stars of this issue are Miyazawa and Herring whose art and colours are absolutely stunning. Miyazawa’s lines are beautiful, with a kinetic sense of motion evident in his layouts, and an attention to detail of expression and movement that makes every panel sing. Herring’s colours tell a story all their own, the scenes in the bombed-out club are all orange and red with flashes of dark purple, but once Gwen leaves the club, the pallet shifts more and more to blues and yellows and greens, until the climactic fight between Gwen and the Man-Wolf is nothing but shades of blue and yellow, echoed again in the last scene of yellow-haired Gwen standing out against the blue of Harry’s hospital room.

Captain Marvel #6 & #7

Tamra Bonvillain (color artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Annapaola Martello (artist), Kelly Thompson (writer)

Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel stand together using each other's powers

Captain Marvel #7 – Cover by Amanda Conner and Dave Johnson

As I mentioned in my review of Marvel Team-Up #1 in my last column, I love body swap stories, so I was absolutely delighted by Kelly Thompson and Annapaola Martello’s War of the Realms tie-in issues of Captain Marvel, in which Asgardian villain the Enchantress swaps Carol Danvers and Stephen Strange’s bodies, and Natasha Romanoff somehow manages to refrain from killing them both, but does spend three amazing pages singlehandedly wrestling a crocodile while Carol and Stephen are too busy talking to even notice.

If you asked me to make a list of the most unsuitable characters to swap bodies, Carol Danvers swapping with Stephen Strange would absolutely be at the top of that list. Carol Danvers might just be the least metaphysical character in all of Marvel Comics, and if I were to make a list of Type-A Characters Who Hate Being Bad At Things, both Carol Danvers and Stephen Strange would be in strong contention for the top spot.

The plot is fairly straightforward, and the outcome of their battle against the Enchantress is never truly in doubt, but it’s still a great, fun ride, and Thompson did manage to surprise me with exactly how Carol defeats the Enchantress.

Martello and Bonvillain’s art is a good match for the characters, all bold lines and bright colours, although I’m not fond of the way the facial expressions veered between almost non-existent and broadly exaggerated. Still, even if the rest of the story were terrible, which it very much is not, those three completely amazing pages of Natasha angrily wrestling a crocodile would be worth paying for ten times over.

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Cat Meier
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  • Elizabeth Holden
    July 31, 2019, 8:56 pm

    There are so many excellent female writers (and artists) in the field now, it’s a shame we aren’t seeing their work, especially on comics with female protagonists. They probably wouldn’t make the mistake of having female characters eternally surrounded by only men.

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