Wednesdays with Marvel #1

Marvel Unlimited is the best. Well, I mean there are undoubtedly better things when you cast your net wide enough, but for me, or for the kind of joy I get from comics and the most optimal way to acquire access to that joy, Marvel Unlimited is the best.

I do buy single issues, both digitally and physically, and I do purchase trades and collections. There are things about those formats that – for the right story, at the right time – I find to be superior to waiting 6 months or so for the issue to appear on Marvel Unlimited. Granted, a lot of the time the thing that makes me want it as a single issue is that the comic isn’t published by Marvel and so it won’t be on MU any time soon. But things like ads (yes, I like ads in my comics, we’ll doubtless talk about it some time), the desire to be following a story as it develops, or supporting a creator I like all play a part. I like the history of the Marvel Universe, as a place that has grown with and alongside me. I like that it has a millions of nooks and crannies and inconsistencies and foibles and great things and terrible things. I like to explore, make connections, do “deep-dives” as whomever started everyone saying that likes to say. And for that, MU really is great, and  that’s why it’s become the main way I consume Marvel comics.

On Wednesday, MU has new comics day, like your local shop. Support your local shop, I guess! Otherwise, join me, this Wednesday with Marvel.

Cable #159 by Lonnie Nadler, Zac Thompson and German Peralta

I’ve never been a big reader of Cable, despite really enjoying X-Force at a formative time in my youth, and being real into all the time travel and angsty poetry and shoulder pads back then. (Lol, also now.) I always saw him as a character like the Hulk: good as a supporting character, but not someone where I want to read stories only about them. I’m reminded of how one of the failings of many 21C Star Trek properties is the desire to make Discovery or Into Darkness into one character’s “Solo Ongoing” – I love Spock, but because I love Star Trek, not because I want to read about him on his own.

I do however, have really fond memories of the Cyclops and Phoenix mini-series from the 90s. The one where “Redd” and “Slymm” – misspelt because it is the future; I refuse to believe it’s pronounced “Reduhduh” and “Slime” – spend quality time with young Nathan Dayspring Askani Summers whilst Mad Maxing around the Age of Apocalypse when that shit was still cool. The cover (by Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer, above) of this issue goes straight to that, and I love it.

While it may be understandable, given that this is “PAST FEARS” PART 5, this comic is a shining example of a failed single issue and why “every issue is someone’s first” might be some tired, but still very relevant, wisdom. In it, through the medium of the recap page, we are told Cable is being harangued by some kind of monster who can follow him through time, and that this monster is in some way Cable’s latest dark secret. Spoilers – it’s the way in which IIRC every Cable story from the 90s was called something like “Sins Of The Past, Sins Of The Future”.

stryfe poetry
Sins Of The Past. Sins Of The Future

We then go straight into a Kid Cable flashback, where there are kids taunting Cable about how he can’t possibly be part of the elite ruling class of mutants that oppress them. He has a friend who looks out for him in about three panels, who is called Metus, which is a Stupid Future Name. (Norman Metus, Lead Singer of Wheatus, according to the Official Guide to the Marvel Universe. Honest, I checked) Later, Cable is in the woods just wishin’ he could show people his mutant powers, and a big techno-virus monster shows up (who I assume to be the Big Bad from Cable’s Very Dark Past), and oh gnoes it’s Metus! Cyclops and Jean show up to help, and the day is saved. Cut to the present day, where Cable…uh…sucks the techno-virus out of the monster and it’s Norman Metus, and Metus is dropped off at the Xavier School to grow up proper in the not-Age of Apocalypse. The End.

When I said “failed single issue” before, what I mean is evident in the sequence above: it establishes a character, reveals that he is a bad-guy we haven’t seen yet, and then resolves this with no confrontation. I’m not sure it’d be satisfying even if I had just read the last few issues of Cable, and without doing so, it’s hardly any kind of story.

Reading Next: Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix (1994) #1-4 by Gene Ha and Scott Lobdell

Avengers #1 to #5 by Jason Aaron and Ed Mcguiness

This week’s new issue was #5. Since I’ve been reading Jason Aaron’s (incredible) Thor run, I thought I’d go back to #1 and read through. It’s all one story, not yet complete. But it’s real good, as I’ve come to expect from Aaron.

The first smart thing Aaron does is, in the traditional “Iron Man, Captain America and Thor have a chat about how the world still needs the Avengers and it got pretty hairy back there but this time things will be different” scene, he immediately has all three acknowledge the weird shit that has been going down in their solo books. Iron Man’s been dead, Thor is – as far as I can tell – still not worthy to wield Mjolnir and you know, Cap was a Nazi for a bit. Doing this helps to reconcile the Avengers’ format with the traditional Marvel structure of “superheroes with human problems”. The Avengers as a team now have human problems; their hearts are in the right place, but they’re a bunch of fuck-ups. I struggle to put this into words, but it feels very Of the Now to have, instead of heroes with problems uniting to protect us from something bigger, heroes who have failed us but know it is right to try again – even though victory, or escape from those problems, is never assured.

***Politics just for a second. Hear me out.***

There’s a sort of division between the political and ethical left and right wing. Someone can be ethically right wing, but more politically left wing (this is how the Tory party in the UK continually use xenophobia to get people who hate the idea of smug posh people lording it over them to vote Tory regardless) or the other way (comedians who turn out to be monsters, Marc Millar comics). Superhero comics are often ethically left-leaning (the X-Men is a civil rights parable, Cap stands for the spirit of freedom, not the political aims of America) whilst politically right-leaning (they’re an authoritarian power fantasy). Marvel, in a weird echo of how comics events often tidy up continuity, often uses big events to realign the politics of its central narrative. World War Hulk was a realignment of Marvel’s central narrative with the ethical left, centred around Tony Stark’s acknowledgement that he had to take responsibility for the many hurts his long authoritarian period had caused. His doing so leads to the return of Thor to overthrow the ethical right in the form of the Hulk and his army.  This story also sets up Amadeus Cho as one of the most important characters in the pre-Secret Wars 2016 Marvel Universe, which leads to all the lefty updates of central Marvel characters the right wing folk see as a sign of the End Times, and the wheel keeps turning. Aaron is, I think, trying to do something similar here: we live IRL in a world where a lot of damage has been caused by holding up the wrong people as heroes, but we still need heroes to restore it.

look out for the internet

Lastly, maybe RIP The Eternals? A better death of a long background narrative that few people really care about than is happening in Death of the Inhumans, and it’s happening in a better comic.

Reading Next: More Jason Aaron Thor, Amazing Fantasy #15 (2005) by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa

Immortal Hulk #3 by Al Ewing, Leonardo Romero, Joe Bennett, Paul Hornschemier, Marguerite Sauvage, Paul Mounts and Garry Brown

It’s great, but many places on the internet will tell you that. What I like here is the understanding of the Marvel Universe as a format to tell a story that takes place within it, but is not about it, in the way that say, Aaron’s Avengers or many of Ewing’s other comics are. Bending the tone of the Hulk books back on themselves, but conserving the narrative of both the Hulk as his own story and as part of a long history of superhero stories.

Hey, it’s Sasquatch, from Alpha Flight! I suspect that, like me, Al Ewing might just have read the Alpha Flight backup strips in Transformers UK as a kid. (I think it was Transformers – it was maybe Action Force?) I wonder whether there’s Alpha Flight on Marvel Unlimited?

Coming Soon: 80s Superhero Costumes Are The Best Superhero Costumes, A Memoir

UPDATE: It was, in fact, the backup in Marvel UK printings of Secret Wars  – which both Al and I most definitely read.

Reading Next: Alpha Flight (1983) by Jim Byrne

Infinity Countdown #5 by Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne and Mike Deodato

I’ve been enjoying the countdown to Infinity. I like these events that focus on bringing the shared universe toys of a certain creator, or the continuity hooks of a certain pocket of the MU together. Aaron’s Avengers has this feeling too, and I’m rather assuming this book does the same for Gerry Duggan’s space books. These crossovers are also rather commonly better than the big summer ones – remember how Civil War was the Big Thing and sucked, but Annihilation was actually excellent?

It’s a dislocated point but I hate the new Adam Warlock design. It looked OK drawn by Mike Allred, but none of the subsequent artists have pulled it off.

allred warlock
I am your friend, Kang

Remember from a minute ago how Marvel should still remember that every issue could be a first? These days I rather suspect they should think in terms of how every issue might be somebody’s first, and many newcomers have only otherwise experienced these characters through movies. This comic is actually pretty great for that. If you grabbed Infinity countdown after you saw Infinity War you’d recognise a lot of characters – and they’re quite similarly portrayed to their MCU versions, but with the intriguing deep texture of the MU intact. I enjoy a competent Black Widow and a MU-marinated Turk Barrett interacting with movie-inflected Dr. Strange. (Cumberbatch’s best performance. Fight me.)

Groot. What’s the deal? I am 100% behind leaving Baby Groot in the Funko Pop landfill of history, but I’m not sure about Talking Tank Commander Groot.

Reading Next: Tales of Suspense #59 (1959) by Larry Lieber and Don Heck, Black Widow #1 (2014) by Phil Noto and Nathan Edmondson

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