Like the Ghost Rider miniseries discussed below, this collection has no volume number on the spine, and appears to be the trade paperback collection of the miniseries. I could have sworn that when Marvel launched Elektra earlier this year, along with new solo series featuring other Daredevil adversaries Bullseye and Kingpin, it was mean to be an ongoing series. I went back and checked the solicitations and, sure enough, at no point did any of the five solicits for the five issues of Elektra refer to it as a miniseries; the fifth solicit mentioned the the climax of "Always Bet on Red," but that could have easily have been read as simply referring to the first story arc, not the entire series (After all, generally miniseries featuring such long established characters have a colon and a subtitle in them, identifying them as miniseries in the first place).
Perhaps shop-owners received more information than consumers, but it certainly appears that this was either a "stealth" miniseries, sold as an ongoing but only planned to run for a very limited time (because miniseries sell so much worse than regular series), or it was always intended to be an ongoing, but Marvel saw how poorly the first issue was ordered and realized immediately the market couldn't support an Elektra ongoing at the moment (I don't know why anyone at Marvel would think it would. If Daredevil was only selling just-okay as a monthly, ongoing series, common sense would dictate that there was much of a market for three Daredevil spin-offs, no matter how good the Netflix show is).
The only other place I can look for clues is in the book itself, and writer Matt Owens certainly seemed to structure the storyline as if he was going somewhere with it. The first arc is kind of a generic, almost random feeling one, in which Elektra stumbles upon Arcade's new version of Murderworld, set up in Las Vegas, where he has reinvented himself as a sort of celebrity crime lord. The plot and the script are fine, but it's the sort of story almost any Marvel character could have been plugged into with only minor variations in the specifics. The ending reveals that Arcade is kinda sorta working for Wilson Fisk, and that he had arranged to engage Elektra at Fisk's wishes, which sends her back to New York City...where the story ends.
I realize those last three paragraphs don't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of the book, but it actually is a rather good, extremely well-made (if generic-feeling) genre story. Whatever shenanigans might have went into Marvel's decision to publish and promote it, that hardly affects the quality of the comic. All in all, this appears to be yet another example of Marvel knowing how to find, recruit and nurture comics talent to produce great Marvel comics, despite all the bumbling that apparently goes on when it comes to selling those comics to the public these days.
Owens is working with artist Juan Cabal, although, in another curious aspect of the comic's promotion, the solicit for the first issue said it would be drawn by Alec Morgan. Cabal's work is pretty incredible. It is highly detailed in a way that allows for maximum "acting" from the characters and clues or gags in the text in the backgrounds, but it is still clean, with a smooth, airy quality that helps ones eyes glide through the story. It reminded me quite a bit of the artwork of Jamie McKelvie or, to a slightly lesser extent, Kevin Maguire. In a rather rare example of this, cover artist Elizabeth Torque's style even lines up quite well with that of Cabal; were Torque not specifically credited, I could honestly be fooled into thinking the same artist handled both the covers and the interiors, only with the cover artist working with a different colorist.
The story, as I said, is fairly simple...to the point of simplistic. Elektra is in Las Vegas, running away from something or other (The last I saw of her, she was taking over Coulson's SHIELD team in Agents of Shield Vol. 2...or was it fighting an undead Hulk in Uncanny Avengers...? Both collections had Civil War II as their sub-titles.) Her bartender chats her up, and Elektra's keen eyes catch a mostly-hidden bruise on the woman's body. Later she finds her pretty badly beaten up by her boyfriend, a lieutenant for "The King of Las Vegas'" crime empire, and, so she puts on her new costume and kills a bunch of dudes. Then come some robots and, with an issue or so, she's being hunted through Arcade's Murderworld for the entertainment--and gambling opportunity--of his ultra-wealthy, low-morale clientele.
It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that Elektra wins, and that she abstains from killing Arcade, for reasons never made quite explicit.
As I said, this could just have easily featured Wolverine--the original, or any of the three versions running around the Marvel Universe at the moment--or The Punisher or a Spider-Man or a Captain America or Deadpool or Daredevil or Gambit or just about anyone who doesn't boast absurdly high power levels. Owens and Cabal make it specific to Elektra at a few points, including once near the beginning where Arcade talks about them as professional rivals, and how maybe he should have had the job/s Fisk had previously hired her for, and a few nicely structured scenes that refer back to her history in the pages of Daredevil.
This short sequence is pretty elegantly done--
I'm kind of fascinated by Arcade--in fact, I probably wouldn't have even borrowed this trade if he weren't the villain--as he's such an absurd character, an assassin who spends millions, even billions on robots and so on in order to collect what must be the relatively paltry bounties from the heads of his victims. (Here at least Owens given him an elaborate enough scheme that he seems to be making enough to afford all that nonsense). Though he and Elektra are technically both assassins, I have to assume any semi-sane person in the market for a high-end killer would go for the lady who can quickly and quietly kill a mark with a pair of bladed ninja weapons than the guy who has to build a high-tech amusment park to use as a murder weapon.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the trade will ultimately be what Elektra's wearing, however. As even the cover image reveals, she's now wearing a sleek, modern, sensible black outfit, with only the red of her mask and the flowing red sash serving as visual echoes of her original design, which has only really barely changed in decades past. You'll notice this get-up looks a lot like the one Elodie Yung wore in Daredevil and The Defenders, which is another point in Netflix's favor over them 2003 Daredevil movie: Better costuming for Elektra.
There are a few curious aspects about this third collection of Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes comics by writer Felipe Smith.
First, it doesn't have a "Vol. 3" in the title, nor does it sport a "3" on the spine. This is likely because it was a miniseries, and not a continuation of the too-quickly-canceled, really-quite-good Ghost Rider ongoing...but, for the purposes of a trade reader, it's not exactly helpful, especially if the plan is to continue Ghost Rider as a series of mini-series, which the ending of this collection seems to indicate.
Second, the miniseries didn't have a sub-title; it was just called "Ghost Rider". "Four on the Floor" was apparently added later in the marketing of the trade.
I was also a little surprised that the book existed at all, as it isn't often that Marvel cancels a series and then brings it back for an abbreviated engagement like this, although I suspect it had something to do with the fact that Ghost Rider was appearing on the Agents of SHIELD TV show this year. There are a couple of variant covers that are specific to Agents of SHIELD, and that would also explain why Agent Coulson and May are among the guest-stars who show up in the course of these five issues.
And there are a lot of guest-stars, to the point that for much of the book, it seems like Smith is dividing his attention between Robbie and the hero team-up plot, the two mostly parallel plots intersecting only occasionally and, of course, for the climax. That other plot starts with Amadeus Cho investigating a bizarre alien entity of some kind that can take on the characteristics and powers of whatever it comes into contact with. So it moves from the appearance of a stone to a lab rat to a beetle in short order, and once it takes a bite out of a (Totally Awesome) Hulked out Cho's tongue, it gets a major upgrade.
Next on its list is All-New Wolverine Laura Kinney, and, before the series is over, Silk, at which point Cho calls in a couple of superpower-less SHIELD Agents to assist in the hunt. Smith did a pretty great job on this plotline, and he writes a really great--if slang-heavy, rather irritating--Amadeus Cho, and the character's interactions with the completely blase Wolverine were pretty priceless. By the time they run across the very scary, very weird new Ghost Rider for the first time, I found myself wishing that Marvel would have Smith write this version of Ghost Rider, Wolverine and The Hulk into a new, temporary, fill-in version of The Fantastic Four with a Spider-Man somehow (I mean, it's not like they are doing much else with the FF at the moment! Plus, Gabe and Laura's little clone sister Gabby don't get to spend any panel-time together, which seems like a tragic oversight; Gabby would be the world's best babysitter/bodyguard for Ghost Rider's little brother!).
The Robbie Reyes plot mostly picks up where it left off. He is trying to stay on the straight and narrow and raise his brother Gabe, while defending his neighborhood from evil in his other identity, the new Ghost Rider (who is empowered by the evil spirit of his late uncle, and rides not a motorcycle but a haunted, flaming muscle car).
I continue to really dig the specifics of this new Ghost Rider, including his metallic skull that makes him look more like a piece of infernal machinery than a, you know, ghost, and the way he roars with the sound of a revving engine. Additionally, his powers seem to be increasing, and he seems bonded with and able to move through his car in a way not unlike The Silver Surfer with his surfboard.
Robbie's major concern is the ex-con that gets hired on at his garage, a former gang member renowned throughout the neighborhood for his brutal killings of rivals. He says he's turned over a new leaf, but Robbie's not so sure, and Uncle Eli is even less sure, but then, Uncle Eli is always out for blood.
The plots intersect for the first time when Ghost Rider interrupts a Hulk and Wolverine fight against a local gang, and, after Robbie refuses to join them, they accidentally meet up again when Laura brings her monster-damaged car into Robbie's shop for repairs. At the climax, it takes the combined might of all the heroes, and Ghost Rider's magically-derived abilities, to finally shut the creature down.
Smith is mostly absent the artist he launched the series and character with, Tradd Moore (there is a short story entitled "Pyston Nitro Strikes!" in the back of the collection which reunites Smith and Moore), nor does he work with previous Ghost Rider artist Damion Scott, nor does he get to draw it himself. Instead, the art team is Danilo S. Beyruth and suspiciously large number of colorists involved (five). The artwork is fine, but can't help but feel a little lacking given how dynamic, exaggerated and elaborate Moore's art was, which can still bee seen on many of the non-variant covers.
Beyruth handles the storytelling and action quite well though, and there is a pretty great scene with a variation on the old "Fastball Special," where the monster picks up Wolverine by the ankles and uses her as a sword to attack Hulk, something Hulk repeats at the climax. The monster's transformations are also pretty fantastic, and at the climax, when it changes shape to reflect different DNA-derived powers and abilities and starts puking up Coulson-headed, Hulk-bodied extensions of itself to fight its foes well, damn, comic books are just pretty awesome, you know? And this book is a great argument of that fact.
Given the timing of this 400+-page collection's release--in August of this year--it was almost certainly prompted by Netflix's Defenders series, which, despite its name, featured characters more closely associated with Marvel's Heroes For Hire team than any Defenders line-up. It's almost surprising that the image chosen for the cover features Ghost Rider so prominently, rather than Misty Knight, the closest the ensemble book has to a star, although I guess three out of the five characters on the cover have been prominently featured in Netflix's corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The bulk of the book is filled by the short-lived, 12-issue Heroes For Hire series by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and four different pencil artist, plus the five-issue Villains For Hire (which was basically just a continuation of the ongoing under a different title) and a "Spider-Island" tie-in one-shot.
On the face of it, this particular iteration of the concept is rather different from past ones, and actually seems to have a lot in common with the Distinguished Competition's Birds of Prey. The series' constants are Misty Knight and Paladin. Misty is supposed to be taking time off from active superheroing as she recovers from a very weird, very comic book-y trauma, and so she takes on the codename "Control," raiding her Rolodex to contact various specialist heroes for particular parts in various missions, doing so through a secure earpiece and asking the question, "Hello hero, are you for hire?" (She pays them not always in cash, but also in information or favors). Feeding them intel, she walks them through their parts of the missions; meanwhile, Paladin is Black Canary to her Oracle, her constant companion and the one mainstay among the rotating cast.
The heroes called upon vary very dramatically, but include the likes of The Falcon, Black Widow, Moon Knight, Silver Sable, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Elektra, Iron Fist, The Shroud and, um, Gargoyle, a character minor enough that I had never actually heard of him before this. Other heroes pass through in less official capacities, like The Punisher and Satanna. Part of the fun is that variety, and the spontaneous, almost random nature of who shows up when.
Despite spanning two different titles and enduring two crossovers of of differing scales--the smaller "Spider-Island" and the line-wide Fear Itself--Abnett and Lanning actually craft a particularly cohesive story that reads more or less like a single, epic, superhero novel...albeit with some sub-plots that don't seem to go anywhere (particularly that weird "Spider-Island" issue, which begins in medias res and ends with a cliffhanger that is never resolved in the pages of the book, just straight up ignored).
Misty is essentially battling a single villain with designs on New York City throughout, and several plots of the mystery villain surface and resurface, including human and exotic animal trafficking from the Savage Land and the sale of Atlantean drugs. "Control" proves to be a lot more than just a codename, as it is the modus operandi of the villain of the first issue, and the villain behind that villain, and, it's also the metaphorical subject of the whole thing; not only is Misty and the villain struggling for control of the city's underworld, but she is struggling for control over her own personal world.
After Heroes For Hire apparently shipped its last issue, Misty changes the operation to Villains for Hire, as she and the final boss villain use similar strategies that include teams of mercenary villains to make war on each other.
As might be expected for so many pages of comics produced in so little time, there are a lot of artists involved. Pencil artist Bra Walker handles most of the Heroes For Hire art, with six issues (mostly inked by Andrew Hennessy). Kyle Hotz pencils three and the Spider-Island: Heroes For Hire one-shot, Robert Atkins draws two issues and Tim Seeley draws one. Renato Arlem draws the five issues of Villains.
I liked Hotz's art by far the best. It's the loosest, most energetic and most dynamic, and his characters are all distinct-looking and have a cartoony edge that makes it clear he's not even trying to mimic reality, but rather create his own. Arlem's work is the polar opposite, and it's both remarkable and depressing how completely different Arlem's version of the main villain is compared to Hotz's version; they look like two completely different characters, the only thing they have in common is the peculiar shade of their skin.
The art's far from perfect, and there are a lot of panels of Misty's hair that look...off, but that's not as weird as the way she is so often posed. Not only does she suit up in red spandex to basically just work a microphone and keyboard in the comfort of her own workplace, she has a weird tendency to put her hands on tables, arch her back and bend over, thrusting her butt out. The tone of the art isn't generally going for this sort of over-the-top sexulization though, it just slips in here and there...enough to draw attention to itself.
The writing's not perfect, either. I imagine Abnett and Lanning inherited Misty's weird Iron Fist-chi-sparked phantom pregnancy from whoever wrote her last, and they try to move past it as quickly as possible, but given that it's the foundation to her current endeavor, it somewhat taints everything that follows. Also, there's repeated talk of the concept as a business, often just in joking terms between Paladin and Misty, but she does spend a lot of money on the likes of Elektra and Silver Sable, but it's not really clear how they make money. Like, I don't need to see a business plan in the comic or anything, but there isn't really any money in what Misty is doing, so she has zero income but crazy high expenses...? Is she independently wealthy, like her ex-boyfriend was...?
That said, the majority of the writing is quite strong, not only in the overall arc of the story and that the writers somehow managed to tell one big story despite the difficulties in doing so across multiple titles, but in the characterization. The characters that appear, from the likes of Spider-Man on down to the D-list villains in the final chapters, all feel and sound like themselves, and, for the most part, the narrative manages to exist within the shared universe setting of the Marvel Universe and use that to its benefit rather than its detriment.
I'm not sure where it originated, but there's a six-page "Heroes For Hire Saga" that basically explains the entire history of the concept in the Marvel Universe, like a Wikipedia article written in character. I confess to really digging it, particularly as I was trying to plug the Netflix versions of the characters into it. Like, I really want Carrie-Ann Moss' Jeri Hogarth to open "Heroes For Hire" with Luke, Danny, bionic-armed Misty Knight and Colleen Wing. That sounds like more compelling TV to me than a Defenders Season 2. They can have Jessica do PI work for them, and Matt Murdock can be their lawyer.
Poking around comics.org as I was writing this, I grow more and more confused by their choice of cover, as it leaves off the book's protagonist, and there are certainly some decent Misty-centric images they coulda went with instead:
The title story refers to a three-parter in the middle of this particular collection. It involves a pretty insidious villain, a literal and figurative online troll that knows all of Kamala Khan's secrets, like the fact that she is Ms. Marvel, and is prepared to wreak havoc on her life and those of her friends, threatening to dox their most closely-guarded secrets. It's actually a pretty good story, managing to be relevant without preachy and moving several character arcs forward.
The true nature of the troll--that it's a sentient computer virus, instead of being attached to an actual person--is perhaps a little convenient, as is the way in which Kamala and her friends and allies defeat it. It turns out that, because the troll is learning its behavior and morality by observing human interactions online, to defeat it they merely have to turn the Internet purely good and benevolent for a while.
That they actually succeed is perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this comic, which stars a young woman who can grow and stretch like plastic because of genes she inherited from an alien race, and part of which is set in a sci-fi African kingdom whose king dresses in a black bodystocking and cat mask.
Takeshi Miyazawa handles the art on "Damage Per Second." That arc is book-ended by two done-in-one stories, the first of which fails where the longer story arc suceeded. Drawn by Mirka Andolfo, it's a cute story about Ms. Marvel battling gerrymandering and encouraging civic engagement, as the same Hydra villains who previously served to give villainous form to urban gentrification reappear, this time with one of them running for Jersey City mayor.
Their nefarious plot is to unseat the current mayor--apparently they aren't reading Captain America: Steve Rogers, or they would know there's no reason to fight over Jersey City when they're about to control the whole country, if not the world--but thanks to Ms. Marvel's involvement, the city elects a noble, third-party candidate who wouldn't have had a chance in hell of winning otherwise.
While writer G. Willow Wilson has Ms. Marvel slap down a lot of the traditional rationale people give for not voting, I found the overall story kind of eye-rolling. It ends with the third-party candidate getting sworn in, and a few narration boxes from Ms. Marvel:
Revolutions don't happen overnight. They're long and complicated and messy and sometimes disappointing. But sometimes, if you hold out long enough, they work.Of course, a revolution happening overnight is exactly what this issue was all about.
Like I said, the issue's heart is in the right place, and it is pretty effective in some places, but it undermines its own message with how pat it is.
The final issue of the collection is drawn by Francesco Gaston, and it is a Ms. Marvel-less issue of Ms. Marvel. A kind of check-in with Bruno and how he's doing over in Wakanda, where he's enrolled at Golden City Polytechnic Prep, it features Bruno being reluctantly talked into a dangerous caper by his new roommate, who is not at all who he seems. It features a few pages of The Black Panther.
All in all, it's a pretty strong showing from one of Marvel's most reliable titles.
(If I've done my math right, which is only necessary because Marvel randomly renumbered the book despite keeping the same writer and many of the same artists in the rotating roster, there have been 37 issues of the series so far, all written by Wilson. The original 1977 volume of Ms. Marvel only lasted 23 issues, but the reigning champ is still the 50-issue, 2006-2010 series starring Carol Danvers and written by Brian Reed. Fingers crossed Wilson can hang in there at least another year and a half to beat the record...)
This is the third and final collection of writer Kate Leth and Brittney L. Williams' very idiosyncratic take on Hellcat, and I've gotta admit that this book being canceled? That actually kinda hurts. This was probably tied with The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for my favorite Marvel comic, although I guess I should be thankful it lasted as long as it did at 17 issues; the similarly silly and similarly high-quality Mockingbird only made it to eight issues. (What else to the two books have in common? Female writers who are leaving comics to focus on other stuff, to the detriment of comics in general and Marvel comics in particular).
This volume finishes up the Hellcat vs. Black Cat story arc that was rather awkwardly cut off in the middle at the end of the previous collection, then moves into a weird but fun two-parter wherein Pats catches a bizarre cold (every time she sneezes, reality is altered in a strange but amusing fashion) and her rivalry with Hedy Wolfe is resolved in unexpected and, in the final issue, Jubilee takes Patsy and pals to the mall which, well, it's kind of crazy they went this long using Jubilee as a supporting character and somehow avoided the mall, isn't it?
The last splash page is pretty great, featuring almost every single character who appeared in the previous 17 issues in almost any capacity, all doing something or other at the mall (There's Doctor Strange and Wong, trying on hats at a kiosk, for example, and hey, it's the Cage-Jones family walking by a demon down on one knee, proposing to Hedy).
Farewell, Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat; I fear you were just too good for this fallen world of ours.
I don't hold out a whole lot of hope that we will see a return of the series by Leth and Williams the way, say, Smith's Ghost Rider came back for a miniseries (above), but maybe, just maybe, someday Leth and Williams will reunite for a Jubilee series of some kind. After all, they are so far the only creative team to make teenage mutant mall-crawling vampire single mother Jubilee really work, without ignoring or somehow downplaying one of those aspects, you know?
Alright, let's run through this again real quick. Despite the "Vol. 1," this is actually the third volume of writer Dennis Hopeless' Spider-Woman ongoing monthly, and the second one featuring the presence of pencil artist Javier Rodriquez, Jessica Drew's new costume and new direction (So I'd advise skipping Spider-Woman Vol. 1: Spider-Verse, which is a crossover tie-in in addition to being drawn by Greg Land, and instead start your reading with Spider-Woman Vol. 2: New Duds and then picking this one up...Remember what I said a few reviews ago about Marvel getting in the way of selling their own generally high-quality comic books to fans? The Hopeless/Rodriguez/Fish run on Spider-Woman is Exhibit Fucking A).
Spider-Woman isn't my favorite character, or even one I'm particularly fond of, so this series hasn't really been a particular favorite of mine (particularly since I've had such a goddam hard time reading it in order), but it really is a rather incredible book, and as well-made as anything either of the Big Two publishers have produced in the last few years...hell, it's better-made than about 90% of their books.
A lot of that credit has to go to Rodriguez, whose art isn't just perfectly conceived, designed and rendered, but it is always, always, always perfectly arranged upon the page (this is a good example of not judging a book by its cover because yes, that is a godawful cover). It's not just that the story-telling is perfect, it's that Rodriguez is almost relentless in finding inventive and unexpected ways of handling that perfect story-telling. There are so many splashes and or two-page spreads in this book that are somewhere between beautiful and insane.
This trade collects the first five issues of the latest volume of Spider-Woman, and what appears to be a short, five-page story from the pages of Amazing Spider-Man that brings readers up to speed with what Jessica Drew is up to now: She has stepped away from Avenging on a professional basis in order to open a private investigator business with the Marvel Universe's greatest investigative journalist Ben Urich and reformed Spider-Man D-List villain The Porcupine. Oh, and she's also pretty damn pregnant all of a sudden (the identity of the biological father isn't revealed until the final pages of this collection, although it's not either of the two most obvious suspects; one of them seems like he will be taking on the role of the child's father though, based on the last collection of the series, which, um, I've already read, because of how Marvel numbers this damn thing).
|My favorite part of this sequence is Spider-Man's spider-sense going off as Tony approaches. Although the fact that Tony wears his suit of super-armor to a party when he doesn't even have a secret identity to protect is kinda funny too.|
The next three issues consist of, well, it's Die Hard in a super sci-fi hospital, only Bruce Willis is an extremely pregnant super hero, and instead of Hans Gruber and some terrorists with funny accents, the bad guys are Skrulls who are there to abduct a sullen teenage prince from the cancer ward.
It's pretty far away from what one might consider a "Spider-Woman" story, but given how flexible the character has proven over the years, and what Marvel has done with former Ms. Marvel, current Captain Marvel and Jessica Drew over the last decade or so, it kinda actually is. Rodriguez gets to draw all kinds of wild aliens--the maternity ward waiting room is just a delight to look at--and there are several amazing sequences in which Jessica must sneak through the fantastic settings of the hospital in order to reach one objective or another...when she has to backtrack (while carrying a head in a jar), he even finds a new way to present these settings in new and interesting ways.
The final issue is just as full as the one that begins the collection, as Jessica tries to adjust to motherhood and talks through her various insecurities and anxieties with friends who are almost all completely ill-equipped to understand what the hell she's going through...only The Porcupine, who has a daughter, really understands. Well, he and fellow father Ben Urich, who helps convince a reluctant Jessica to get back in the game by the end of the issue.