Monday, February 06, 2017

Some recent Marvel collections I've read:

All-New Wolverine Vol. 2: Civil War

I haven't been reading Civil War II, so I'm not sure how well the story of various Marvel heroes fighting one another over whether using an Inhuman with the ability to see the future to help them pre-emptively fight crime is the best idea or not is working within the confines of that particular miniseries.

From what I can tell from the tie-ins I've read so far, however, that narrative seems to be sort of stumbling around Marvel's publishing line like a drunk, unwelcome house guest--barging in with little warning, upsetting all the furniture and then staggering away just as suddenly, leaving everything feeling a little awkward.

Though the second volume of All-New Wolverine takes "Civil War II" as its subtitle, it's actually only the second half of the collection that has anything at all to do with Civil War II and, as was the case with Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat Vol. 2, there's a pretty clear, even glaring line between the events and tone of the collection before and after the tie-in.

The first issue herein is a rather unlikely team-up with Squirrel Girl, who shows up on the All-New Wolverine's doorstep in the middle of the night, holding an actual wolverine. His name is Jonathan, and Squirrel Girl thought he would be needed because she mistakenly thought that Wolverine could communicate with wolverines the way she communicates with squirrels. It was an honest mistake, and one that gives Laura and her little clone sister Gabby a pet wolverine.

Why is Squirrel Girl there at all? Well, it seems that Laura has "wronged the squirrel world," and S.G. wants her to make amends, so the two go off on an adventure to rescue a squirrel together. Though there's obviously a lot of silliness to it, writer Tom Taylor uses this issue to resolve the issue of whether Laura and Gabby are going to remain together or not, which ultimately allows him to demonstrate a way in which the all-new Wolverine is superior to the previous model...or at least trying to behave in the way she wished he had when he was still alive.

That's followed by two issues of Laura and Gabby going up against one of the greatest antagonists in the Marvel Universe: Mr. Fin Fang Foom*. It seems things go wrong during the sale of a very mysterious, very deadly weapon of mass destruction, which turns out to be what Gabby repeatedly, alliteratively refers to as "Fin Fang Pheromone," a liquid capable of drawing FFF to a target.

Laura is recruited by SHIELD (and Gabby tags along) because the first Wolverine they sent in ended up in the belly of the best. So Laura goes inside the giant dragon to rescue the older, futuristic, alternate dimensional version of the man she was cloned from, Logan from Old Man Logan.

Artist Marcio Takara has a really great panel set inside Fin Fang Foom, in which Laura, up to her knees in his stomach acid, strikes the same, somewhat iconic pose that the original Wolverine struck in that old issue of Uncanny X-Men, where he emerges from the sewer water and looks up, talking out loud to the not-present The Hellfire Club about how they've taken their best shot and now he's gonna take his.

Captain Marvel Carol Danvers and Iron Man Tony Stark, both playing remarkably nice for two pals about to engage in a civil war in a month or so's time after the events of this story arc, arrive to help out, but ultimately the only way to save SHIELD's helicarrier and New York from the Fin Fang Pheromone-crazed Fin Fang Foom involves off-panel nudity and a jetpack. (Speaking of nudity, I notice Fin Fang Foom is going commando throughout this entire adventure. It may be more realistic for a giant, humanoid dragon monster to not wear giant tiny purple shorts, but it still looks off to me.)

Takara draws all three of these issues. That's followed by the Civil War II tie-in arc, drawn by pencil artist Ig Guara and three inkers. Old Man Logan has now joined the cast, having been dragged back to Laura and Gabby's apartment to recover from having his lower half skeletonized by his time being semi-digested in Fin Fang Foom's stomach acid (Miraculously, not only does his flesh grow back, but apparently his healing factor also regrew his jeans, boots and belt!).

Ulysses, the future-predicting Inhuman who serves as a catalyst for Civil War II, has a vision in his office or cell or dark room at the Triskelion. Here's how he words it:

Wolverine. And an old man. A young girl. Flying through the air. And...I saw an angel? And screaming. And blood. A whole lot of blood.
Seriously? Those little cryptic snippets are the basis upon which Captain Marvel and the other heroes siding with her take violent action, occasionally against their peers? That's kind of crazy, like playing the stock market or formulating national foreign policy based on Nostradamus, or a few random verses of the Book of Revelation.

It's apparently enough for Maria Hill to mobilize a Captain America Steve Rogers-lead strike force to storm Laura's apartment and ask to detain The Notorious OML, on the belief that he's going to kill Gabby. Complicating matters further is the fact that he does kill Gabby in his own timeline, although as has been repeatedly established in his own book and the the X-books, his future is an alternate one, and things happen/happened/will happen quite differently in that world than they do/have/will in this one.

So the logistics of this story are really kind of a mess, with Captain America and SHIELD and OML all operating on visions and/or memories of the future, and fighting each other, with Laura and Gabby caught in the middle of what has turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy (It turns out that if you expect Logan might commit a violent act upon those around him, sending a SHIELD SWAT team to fill him full of drug-tipped darts and a Captain America to smack him around and speechify might actually provoke him into violence, rather than deescalate the situation).

The arc ends with Laura telling Cap and SHIELD off, by essentially calling the entire premise of Civil War II idiotic, and forcefully saying she and Gabby would prefer to be left out of the rest of the crossover, thank you very much. Based on the logic of SHIELD here, it's hard to disagree; as with the original Civil War, one side is clearly being set-up as the wrong side, and there seems to be even fewer pains taken to articulate an argument for the Captain Marvel-lead side for acting in anyway that could conceivably be seen as "right," no matter how much one squints or tilts one's head (Interestingly, the original Civil War made Iron Man look like an evil and/or ignorant villain just prior to his big screen debut in his first film, while Civil War II is doing the same to Captain Marvel just prior to her big screen debut in her first film).

Which isn't to say there aren't moments in the arc. Burglars breaking into Laura's apartment, only to find Gabby, two Wolverines and an actual wolverine waiting for them was kind of funny, and Gabby calling Old Man Logan "her interdimensional dystopian future grandpa" was kind of cute. Taylor and his artistic collaborators continue to find the perfect balance between silly normal girl and usually hidden killer with Gabby, who is a fun character...except when that darkness slips out for a panel or two.

Next up is an arc entitled "Enemy of the State II"; the first "Enemy of the State" was the Mark Millar/John Romita Jr. arc of Wolverine in which Logan was brainwashed to assassinate the entire Marvel Universe, so, um, it looks like the next volume of All-New Wolverine might end up being a bit darker and a lot less fun than these first two. Damn you, Civil War II!

Black Widow Vol. 1: SHIELD's Most Wanted

Black Widow is the current book by the former Daredevil creative team of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, and demands attention for that fact alone. I remember a few years back that Comics Alliance ran apiece crediting Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye for essentially reinventing Marvel's strategy for dealing with solo series starring second-tier characters, as Hawkeye was followed by a bunch of comics that seemed to feature Hawkeye-ized versions. While that's true, I think Waid and his original Daredevil artistic partners Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin deserve the credit, as their new Daredevil pre-dated Hawkeye. They established the simple formula of Good Writer + Good Artists = Good Comics, along with the idea of a simple tweak to the status quo might be all you need to make it those Good Comics interesting (Here, it seemed to simply be to stop trying to do Frank Miller's Daredevil over and over forever).

While Samnee came later, he drew a very healthy portion of Waid's run, and was key to the books continued success. He was certainly there long enough, and did great enough work, that whatever the pair did next was worth a read if for no other reason than it was what they were doing next.

And they chose Black Widow.

I found that a bit surprising, given that the character is in kind of a weird place. Outside of comics, Black Widow is by far Marvel's most popular and recognizable female heroine, thanks to her appearances in the Avengers and Captain America movies, but within the Marvel Universe, she's traditionally been a B- or C-lister, a character other characters team up with or who appears on a superhero team for a while, rather than a lady with her own book (although Waid and Samnee were giving her a second ongoing, following a short-lived, 20-issue, 2014 series by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto). I don't know exactly why that is, but I suspect it's simply a function of her realistic nature: She's a spy, maybe even a super-spy, but not a superhero. For a long time, that was probably a liability, but in the post Ed Brubaker Marvel universe, the more realistic Marvel Universe in which so many different titles and stories were focused on espionage and intrigue rather than heroes vs. villains and cosmic happenings, it became an advantage--it's the reason she works in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so well where few of her fellow female heroes would, and the reason she can appear not only in Avengers movies, but also in Captain America and Iron Man ones.

I think that Waid and Samnee are doing Black Widow at all is a vote in favor of the character, and an argument for promoting her to the studio people, more-or-less advocating a solo movie (I was resistant to that idea a half-dozen movies ago, as the fact that she was just a super-spy made the prospect of a Black Widow movie seem no more exciting or interesting than a gender-flipped James Bond movie, but at this point the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so big and populated that a super-spy movie set in it would bear the advantage of further the world-building meta-narrative and the ability to choose from a prefabricated supporting cast and neat villains that might not ever make it into the boys' movies, lie, I don't know, Taskmaster or MODOK and AIM or fucking Fin Fang Foom even*).

I note all of this because the approach that Waid and Samnee, who gets a co-writer credit as well as the expected artist credit, seems like they might have just been doing a comics adaptation of a Black Widow movie they would like to see. It is very action-oriented, opening with an issue-length action scene in which the Widow takes on and takes down a huge swathe of SHIELD agents as she escapes from a SHIELD helicarrier. She has two words of dialogue in it. She battles her way through a helicarrier, she jumps off it and fights flying cars and jetpacks while plummeting to earth, and then there are chase scenes involving a jetpack, a flying car and a motorcycle.

The second issue/second chapter of the collection shows how she became an enemy of SHIELD, as she's kidnapped by a mysterious operative named The Weeping Lion and blackmailed into returning to The Red Room where she was trained to steal a file for him. This involves secret meets in foreign countries, a European car chase, lots of fighting and looks back to her mysterious origins--as I said, it's all very action movie-like, albeit a very good action movie, one with a smart script and a highly competent director. It's a prestige action movie.

Aside from the SHIELD tech in the opening scenes, things don't get too terribly Marvel-ous until the last chapter, which more-or-less completes this story arc. That's when Iron Man Tony Stark shows up to kick her ass, she appropriates some Stark tech, and goes after the super-powered power behind The Weeping Lion. Although so clearly set in the Marvel Universe, this is a Black Widow story, not a Marvel Universe story, and it benefits from the distinction.

It also benefits by the remove at which Waid and Samnee hold the character--she has surprisingly little dialogue in several issues, especially for the title character--as she plays pretty much everything as close to the vest as possible. "No one gets into my head unless I let them," she tells the big bad on the last page, and that would seem to go for the readers as well. That's not a criticism; it's a fair portrayal of a character born and bred as one of the world's greatest spies.

This fast-moving six-issue collection, which constitutes a complete story with a beginning, middle and ending of its own--with the necessary promise of more to come--is a great example of the showing vs. telling argument of good comics-making. Waid and Samnee's presence on the book all that demands that it be read, certainly, but the quality of the quality of the work here makes it so a reader won't be sorry for meeting that demand.

Doctor Strange Vol. 2: The Last Days of Magic

In his 2015 introduction to The Demon Vol. 1: Hell's Hitman, writer Garth Ennis reflected back on both the things he still liked and the things he doesn't like about the 1993-1994 comics collected within:
There's also the inevitable scene that everyone was doing at the time, where some malevolent influence affects numerous characters in the vicinity and they start committing acts of unspeakable evil--why didn't it occur to me, I wonder, to reverse this hoary old cliche and have people suddenly become unnaturally pleasant to one another?
I thought about Ennis' reference to what was, in the early '90s, "a hoary old cliche" while reading the first issue/chapter of The Last Days of Magic, the second collection of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo's Doctor Strange ongoing, as it opens with Aaron doing something pretty similar. And then doing it again later. And again later.

Here the malevolent influence is the arrival of The Empirikul at Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. These are an army of eye-ball headed robo-clones lead by an all-powerful character who has been traveling the Multiverse, killing any and all magicians and their magic in each dimension in the name of science. And so the examples in Aaron's scene aren't of normal people doing terrible things, but of magic stuff around the world suddenly stopping working.

The specifics are different, but it reads the same. Aaron returns to this technique again and again, as a sort of shorthand to show the worldwide, apocalyptic nature of the threat as succinctly as possible. A few scenes are dramatized, but more often than not Aaron has Strange simply telling us what's happening here or there, and there are often significant time jumps between scenes or issues.

It has it's moments, sure--Aaron at his worst is still a lot more fun and engaging than many super-comics writers at their best--but this collection felt a lot less satisfying than the one that preceded it, and was assembled in a particularly annoying and ad hoc way, as too many Marvel graphic novels apparently are these days.

The Empirikul's leader is given an origin, and it is basically just yet another riff on Superman (at least his heat vision is green instead of red!). Raised on a planet that worshiped an ancient god-monster an was ruled by magic, his parents devoted their lives to science and, when the magic police came for them, they rocketed their infant son off to space where he used science to become super kick-ass.

On Earth, he takes down Strange and a rag-tag group of magical allies, but one of their number sacrifices himself allowing Strange and the others to escape. About 30 pages after I started wondering, Scarlet Witch finally asks Strange why they don't just call The Avengers--if the Empirikul are science-based, then why not leave it to all the science-based super-armies to take them on?--but Strange has a readymade excuse about the costs of magic and so on.

After he and his allies--Scarlet Witch, Doctor Voodoo, Son of Satan, Talisman, Magik, some cool new characters that aren't introduced until after the conclusion of the arc they appear in--scrounge the world seeking out the very last remnants of magical items, they return to face The Empirikul. Meanwhile, Wong and Strange's new librarian Zelma hatch a new variation on an old cost-of-magic-workaround revealed in the previous volume, and the Empirikul find a thing in Doctor Strange's cellar.

Ultimatley, the good guys win and the bad guys lose. Retroactive spoiler alert. Bachalo's artwork is, as always, a ton of fun, and he's particularly well-suited the naturally trippy visuals of a character and milieu created by Steve Ditko in the 1960s. The Empirikul's footsoldiers, the Ibots, are really fun characters, and Bachalo, who inks and colors his own work through most of this, draws the all-white, mechanical creatures with huge spheroid heads in sharp, sharp contrast to the darker, grittier magical characters, especially the black thing in the cellar that appears to be a sentient tidal wave of tar full of eyeballs and toothy mouths.

The first issue/chapter has an eight-page sequence showing the sudden death of magic, wherein several examples are dramatized (rather than just rattled-off in list-like fashion). These are drawn by a rag-tag group of artists including Mike Deodato, Jorge Fornes, Kev Walker and Kevin Nowlan.

And then, after the conclusion of the story arc, appears Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic #1 which, some parenthetical fine print helpfully tells us, "takes place between issues #6 and #7." You know where a good place to collect it might have been, then? Maybe between issues #6 and #7.

This 45-page special features a framing sequence by Aaron and drawn by Leonardo Romero (whose clean, cool artwork is a bit of a revelation, and should appeal to fans of Evan Shaner and Chris Samnee; I hope Big Two editors are throwing offers Romero's way as we speak). In it, Zelma learns about some of the magicians of the world while trying to organize Strange's library "then," and in the "now" we see those magicians fighting their own battles against various Ibots. These include El Medico Mistico/Doctor Mystical, a Santo/Dr. Strange hybrid who is the Sorcerer Supreme south of the border (and whose spells are awesome; he summons rain...full of great white sharks); Mahatma Doom, whose name kinda says it all, and his ally Xandra Xian Xu; and, finally, "The Siberan Seer, the manliest mage in all the land," Count Kaoz, who killed and ate a magic bear as a nine-year-old boy, and "his guts have been infested with sorcery ever since. Also Trichinosis."

It...might have been nice to meet these guys before they started appearing in the story arc a reader of this collection will have already completed before hitting this story.

Between the framing sequence are two longer stories by different creative teams, one featuring a pre-existing character (and member of The Unity Squad, if that's still what they are calling the Avengers team in Uncanny Avengers), and the other a seemingly new character. Gerry Duggan and Daniel Beyruth tell a story about Doctor Voodoo, while James Robinson and Mike Perkins introduce The Wu, a Hong Kong policewoman who uses magic on the sly--think a pink-haired, Honk Kong action star who jumps around shooting magic handguns and you get the idea.

International Iron Man

This book collects the seven-issue series, which I believe was announced as an ongoing, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev. It tells of an element of Tony Stark's origin, specifically of his relationship with a young woman when they were both students in England back in the 1990s, and his current search for his true birth parents.

It is rather neatly divided into two threads (with a weird, Iron Man-less chapter near the end), set in the present and "20 Years Ago." The present is, of course, 2016. So "20 Years Ago" would be 1996, right? Okay.

So on page 10 the young, pre-facial hair Tony Stark of 1996 is talking to his fellow student Cassandra Gillespie, who seems surprised that Tony doesn't know who she is, given how famous she apparently is. "You Googled me by now," she tells him upon their second meeting, and he replies, "I did."

Aha! He googled her? In 1996? I don't think so! Google might have been founded in 1996, but its search engine wasn't built until 1997 and it didn't incorporate until 1998, and it wasn't exactly popular right out of the gate. It certainly didn't become a verb until much later than that (Bendis, it has been pointed out several million times on the Internet, isn't known for writing convincingly distinct dialogue; there's a scene set in the 1970s or so in which a woman asks a SHIELD agent, "You do see how this all sounds crazytown?").

So Tony couldn't have Googled Cassandra back then! Ha ha ha ha! Bendis made a mistake! And I noticed it! I win! I am a winner! He must somehow try to console himself with his piles of money and the prestige of his peers within his chosen medium and his status to be able to write and do pretty much whatever he wants to do with the direct market's number one publisher, while I sit here alone in a cold, dark apartment lit only by the light of my laptop, secure in the knowledge that I saw his mistake!


Although since I suppose the Marvel Universe is its own distinct fictional shared-setting, completely separate from our own no matter how many similarities may exist between the two, it's possible Google was founded and popularized much more quickly in that universe than it was in ours, and tech-savvy people of Tony and Cassandra's caliber may have been aware of it as soon as it was created and been futurist enough to coin the word "Google" as a verb meaning "to look something up on Google" immediately. So why don't I just award myself a no-prize and get on with my life?

That aside, this reads like a well-plotted original graphic novel. In the past, a young Tony with a rocky, almost non-existent relationship with his father Howard Stark (gray-haired and severe like John Slattery's portrayal, not young and charming like Dominic Cooper's) is in college in London, where he meets Cassandra, the daughter of Stark's weapons-dealing rivals.

Tony meets her parents for dinner and they are attacked by Hydra, which seems awfully fishy to the elder Stark, who tries his best to keep his son away from Cassandra, who he believes is a "honey pot." Tony doesn't agree, however, and uses his genius to reunite with Cassandra until things climax in a Hydra/SHIELD battle.

Bendis continually cuts back and forth between that storyline and one set in the present, in which Tony-as-Iron Man is facing off against the grown-up, eye-patch rocking Cassandra and her squadron of upgraded Mandroids. Tony is now trying to figure out who his real father is and, for some reason, thinks she knows (In retrospect, I suppose this is all meant to be a red herring of some sort, as it heavily implies that the pair share a father, but it basically just gives readers some supeheroic stuff to soak in between visits to Tony's pre-Iron Man past).

Eventually Tony finds the name of his mother, and in an extended, Iron Man-free flashback, we meet his birth parents, discover how they met and how they separated, and just how exactly Howard and Maria Stark got their hands on baby Tony and raised him to believe they were his birth parents.

It's overall pretty good stuff, although Bendis is still Bendis, so the ticks about his writing that bug a lot of Marvel readers can still be found within. Alex Maeelv's art is incredibly effective, as it should be, given how often and how long he's worked with Bendis on various Marvel projects.

I'm not so sure about Marvel's publishing decisions, though. I can see that perhaps there wasn't time to squeeze this whole story into the pages of Invincible Iron Man, the other Iron Man book that Bendis is currently writing, especially since the events of the unfolding Civil War II (which is also being written by Bendis) promise a big status quo shake up for the character that will see him ceding his role as Iron Man to a new apprentice-type character, codenamed Ironheart.

But as someone who works in a library, reads Marvel comics in trades and often find myself asked which books to read in which order, I often find myself trying to figure out which books to read in which order, and Bendis' Iron Man is a bit of a mess. As far as I can make sense of it, Bendis' run on the character is collected in Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1: Reboot (not to be confused with Matt Fraction's Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1: The Five Nightmares), Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2: The War Machines (not to be confused with Fraction's Invincible Iron Man Vol. 2: World's Most Wanted Book One) and International Iron Man Vol. 1. There's an Invincible Iron Man Vol. 3: Civil War II yet to come, but, in the meantime, Bendis has launched Infamous Iron Man (starring Victor Von Doom) and re-relaunched Invincible Iron Man (now starring Ironheart Riri Williams) with a brand-new #1 issue. Hopefully when that gets collected it will be as Invincible Iron Man Vol. 4, but who knows.

And that's not counting the just completed Civil War II, of course, the change in status quo of which was revealed in the latest Invincible Iron Man #1 months earlier.

Like they used to say in the 1970s, it's crazytown. Don't believe me? Google it. Or maybe Ask Jeeves.

Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain

With no prior experience with or affection for either the creative team of Chelsea Cain (a successful prose fiction writer making her comics debut) and pencil artist Kate Niemcyzk or the character of Mockingbird Bobbi Morse (She was married to Hawkeye back when he used to wear that dumb cowl and loincloth? And had something to do with the Skrulls as per the dumb-ass Secret Invasion series?), I was in no particular hurry to read this. That is despite the fact that it was clearly very well-drawn and featured what looked to be highly-comedic content, and the fact that my friend and occasional co-writer Meredith insisted it was like the best thing ever (But did not ever go quite as far as she did with any issues of All-New Wolverine, and actually forced me to read it).

Well it turns out that Meredith was right; this is very much like the best thing ever. It's as funny as any of my favorite Marvel comics of the moment--Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, Howard The Duck--but also slightly more serious in terms of conflict and interconnectivity with the Marvel Universe as a whole. In tone, it's closer to All-New Wolverine or maybe Ms. Marvel than the outright comedy series, but it definitely has a lot of gags and a lot of silliness in its DNA.

The first story arc, consisting of the first five issues of the (sadly already canceled) ongoing series, is pretty brilliantly constructed. Cain is not only remarkably good at writing comics for someone who has made her career as a writer in entirely different writing medium (A lot of novelists and screenwriters tend to struggle with a pretty dramatic learning curve before really figuring out their groove with comics), but she's actually pretty damn brilliant at it.

The first issue/chapter is a fairly weird, almost daffy one. It opens with Bobbi stalking into her weekly medical check-up, throwing a chair through a glass wall and facing a horde of zombies after a ping pong ball bounces towards her. "Let me back up," she narrates, and then she takes us through a series of check-ups, each opening in a waiting room full of super-people apparently on SHIELD's medical plan (There's Tony Stark reading a pamphlet on STDs, there's Hercules with a bag of ice on his head), where she appears after various adventures, often wearing whatever she was during said adventure/secret mission (a SCUBA suit, a BDSM fetish suit, etc). The next four issues show those particular adventures/secret missions, and also explain what exactly is going on with the ping pong balls and zombies, the final one finishing the conflict, with Mockingbird teaming up with Howard The Duck and (the formerly Ultimate) Spider-Man, both of whom were kept waiting in waiting rooms while the zombie horde was wreaking havoc in the medical center.

For the most part, these issues are like done-in-ones, but relate to various events and clues laid out in that first issue, and the conflict resolved in the fifth.

So Bobbi infiltrates a London chapter of Hellfire Club, which is much heavier on the leather, latex and whipping than previous incarnations, all in order to rescue Lance Hunter, her boyfriend (and a character from the Marvel TV show I don't watch). It guest-stars the Queen of England, which is why there are so many corgis on the cover. Then she must rescue a 12-year-old girl who has taken her clique hostage using her early onset super-powers, a feat that involves some kicking, some tech, some science and some talking. And then she infiltrates an underwater sea base run by AIM spin-off TIM (Total Idea Mechanics) where she must rescue her ex Hawkeye, who is a lot like Lance (and, like Lance, spends the entire issue in just his boxer briefs). Then we circle back to the beginning of the book, and all the details and clues fall into place, everything is explained, and Mockingbird, Howard The Duck and Spider-Man save the day. It is awesome.

Niemczyk draws the first four issues, and her style is perfect for the tone of this comic, looking just serious enough for the dangers to all be taken seriously, but with a light enough touch that the jokes all land, whether it's something somewhat silly, or the contrast between the dialogue or situation and the renderings of the characters. She's an all-around great artist, skilled with design, rendering, lay-outs and character acting. Given this book's too-short run, I hope Marvel finds a plum assignment for Niemczyk to handle next.

The fifth issue is by Ibrahim Moustafa, another talented artist who is not quite the revelation Niemczyk is, but that's only because I've heard of him and read his work before.

After the conclusion of that opening arc, another Cain-written Mockingbird story runs: That's Mockingbird: SHIELD 50th Anniversary #1 by Cain and artist Joelle Jones, which was published prior to the comics that precede it in this collection, and was apparently so well-received upon release that Cain was asked to write a Mockingbird monthly. As the events of that one-shot are set before the first story arc of Mockingbird, and inform it somewhat, it probably would have made more sense to place it before the other issues as a prologue, but then it's tonally pretty different (more serious, less funny), and would sort of spoil how well Cain constructed that arc. So I'm of two minds about its placement, really.

As soon as I finished the volume, I became deeply depressed, because I knew Marvel had already canceled the book. Having not yet read it, I had no reason to miss it, but now I do. If you missed the monthly, serially-published issues and haven't yet read the trade, I'd highly recommend it. Of all the trades reviewed in this post, it's certainly the best, and one of the better Marvel trades I've read in a while.

*This 1961 Jack Kirby/Stan Lee creation is long overdue for both his own series and an appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I imagine him being the perfect antagonist for an opening action sequence in Avengers 5, after Thor and Hulk are back on the team. And, hopefully Namor. They've gotta get Namor in these things eventually!

**I can dream, can't I?


Brian said...

The first issue herein is a rather unlikely team-up with Squirrel Girl, who shows up on the All-New Wolverine's doorstep in the middle of the night, holding an actual wolverine. His name is Jonathan, and Squirrel Girl thought he would be needed because she mistakenly thought that Wolverine could communicate with wolverines the way she communicates with squirrels.

No one will be able to convince me that this scene doesn't single-handedly make this series worth it.

(I'm not necessarily the same sort of fan of cartoony comics that you are, but I've been feeding and befriending the local squirrel population long enough to be a total nut – get it? – for the Squirrel Girl title)

Brian said...

I have to wonder about using Laura for ENEMY OF THE STATE II. She's seeming most successful (even as the new Wolverine) when being used to differentiate herself from Logan, so putting her in a story that effectively copies something done with Logan doesn't look to be the best use of her. Especially with modern Marvel's short runs of books. Meanwhile, given how Old Man Logan's entire remit is his fear of "repeating" being used by villains to kill all the heroes, wouldn't running a EOTS2 in his book actually be far more effective AND have a far better subtext (of flashing between the current story, his memories of the other world, and his subconscious trying to break free)?

There's a difference between the two Civil Wars to me. The first storyline went off the rails very quickly, but the original premise of registering dangerous powers was a sound one (and one that's been asked time and again over the course of the Marvel Universe, whether in the mutant books, or even with the Fantastic Four). It's when the likes of Osbourne started appearing and words like "Cape-Killers" started being bandied about that one knew writers were no longer playing fair. By comparison, the latest storyline isn't premised on any fair questions – the word profiling keeps being used when its really matters of evidentiary rights (as seen in later issues) and the sort of warrant requirements that have been mainly required since Magna Carta; it's less of a philosophical debate and more of Bendis not doing the least amount of legal homework (ridiculous given how he's written a number of books starring cops and lawyers and been not so egregious). That it's Colonel Danvers who's behind this in-story and that the Universal Code of Military Justice is even more strict than the Bill of Rights is even more telling.

Regarding Bachalo and Strange: I agree about his drawing all the weird magic stuff. I do wonder if having another artist (a more technical artist) drawing the Empirikul on the same page would have worked to realize an odd and creepy effect of delineating the two worlds. P.S. I dunno if the Deadpool special is in the trade, but I'm going to miss the randy naked ghost of Ben Franklin (but I'm glad that they at least referenced his romp with Clea from the old run of DOCTOR STRANGE!)...

Finally, I imagine that the use of "googled in 1996 is because of time being a damaged organism in the Marvel Universe, with it's scar tissue pulling together years that would be further apart in our time (my excuse for why we see heroes acting across multiple presidencies while still young). At least that's what I literally thought up; but it totally makes sense and I don't mind if some comics writer steals it!

Carey said...

Mockingbird was quite possibly the best Marvel comic released last year, for all the reasons you say. The last three issues are as good as the first five, and I genuinely miss the series.

My understanding of Chelsea Cain is that, as well as being a successful prose author and long time comic fan, she's also a personal friend of Chuck Palahniuk and he encouraged her to write comics while he was writing Fight Club 2 for Dark Horse.

Unsurprisingly Cain was forced to leave Twitter after the final issue of Mockingbird due to fandom disliking making the character a feminist. Seriously.

Comics fandom, I dispair.

If you enjoyed Mockingbird and All New Wolverine, may I suggest you read the new Hawkeye series by Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero which is very much in the same style.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I loved MOCKINGBIRD and was saddened that it was cancelled. That rarely happens with the comics I buy. I hope Marvel gives it another shot, I don't care if it is released as 2.0 or 1Muzzv or.001. Just give us a new series.

Regarding Secret Invasion. Heroes were replaced by Skrulls, sometimes for years. Or whatever. I guess Mockingbird was killed at some point in the 90s or 00s. But it was the Skrull Mockingbird and the real Mockingbird was in stasis or something. I knew little about the character, but she was alive and not a clone,so points for her not being a clone.

Not caring about her, I still tried out the series. And loved it. The Twitter reaction is ridiculous. The trolls time are better spent doing what I do, tweeting Donald Trump haiku.

Unknown said...

Civil War II was extremely inconsistent about Ulysses and his powers. Simple questions like how often he got his visions and how specific and detailed they were varied from comic to comic. There's a limited series where he trains with Karnak to interpret his visions better. I suppose you could argue that maybe his vague visions happened before the training and his specific ones happened afterward? But I'm not sure if the timeline matches up.

It's kind of similar to how what exactly the Registration Act gave the government power to do varied from comic to comic in the original Civil War. Except even more frustrating because Ulysses is such a central part of the narrative.

I'd say the MVP of Civil War II tie-ins is probably "Ms. Marvel." It handled the emotional/criminal justice implications of the conflict extremely well. (Although in order for the plot mechanics to work Ulysses would have to have been having way more visions than the main series shows him having).