Saturday, December 12, 2009

Marvel Catchup Reactions

Not all the Marvel I read lately, but the stuff that stuck out at me from the last two shipments:

Black Widow: Deadly Origin #1 -- I knew we were off to a good start when she went into the casino, because I've always argued Tasha was the James Bond of the superhero genre. Also, the artist does not spend the first scene lovingly rendering Natasha's breasts and butt. That may signal low expectations, but this IS the book about the redhead who runs around in the vinyl catsuit, and this IS a Marvel comic. We were at least as likely as not to start out on the wrong foot.

The story tells Tasha's background in flashbacks, with really stylized Russian art. As of this, her most recent origin story she is a lost Romanoff, a baby in 1928. She was active in World War II as a teenager partnered with an older soldier, and it seems like she was a pretty successful agent before being juiced with the Widowserum. All things I like.

I love how Raney draws Tasha's face (his waspwaists could use a little work, so could his Bucky). She's incredibly expressive, and she has a girlishness that pulls the rug out from under the ultra-sexy spy-girl concept. She doesn't have that predatory look that goes with the female Russian secret agent archetype. She looks innocent and fresh. There's a set of expressions when Ivan calls her that just seemed so human to me, even in Raney's cartoonish style. Raney captures the same quality that we see in the Captain America series. We see the softer side of Natasha. She's a warm person that you empathize with, not a slick, sexy construct.

I really freaking like that face for the same reason I like Ross and Epting's Black Widow. They draw expressions and posture that imply an open, caring person. She has a face that people trust, which when you think about it would make her a hundred times more effective than if she looked like she walked out of a 60s spy flick. Someone with that kind of icy, dignified, seductive demeanor--someone like Emma Frost--would be suspect immediately. But a woman like this? She has a variety of social tools at her disposal, a far better operative than someone who only has the option to intimidate or have sex.

Dark Avengers #11 -- Oh my god! They killed Kenny Sentry!

In all seriousness, this issue surprised the hell out of me with two things. First, it features a scene with a lesbian couple that just seemed to me like a couple rather than a porn scene, only they were drawn by Mike Deodato (which is why the girlfriend had such huge breasts, I imagine) and written by Brian Michael Bendis. Of course, I might be overlooking incredibly exploitative parts of the scenes simply because I would expect any flashback to a lesbian love affair done by the aforementioned creative team to be utterly shameless, but this could be any relationship except both characters were female and drawn with large, perky breasts instead of just one character being drawn with large perky breasts.

But I think it had the same sexualization that we would get from any two female characters boxing and drawn by Mike Deodato, and I'm not sure if that expectation says something about me, Mike Deodato, or genre.

Second, it made me empathize with Victoria Hand. This is the first time we go beyond her normal role as Normie's punk-streaked personal assistant, and her situation is surprisingly understandable. I wouldn't call her a "good guy" based on the decisions she's been making, but she displays some admirable qualities. She's certainly got guts.

Also every story arc of this series has involved the gratuitously violent death of a character I hate. Hell, if they were to simply put out a Sentry comic that was nothing but Bob being killed in horribly painful ways and returning the next scene with no explanation so he could die again, I would be on that thing no matter WHO wrote it. (But especially if they gave it to someone like Garth Ennis, because he could get creative.)

Invincible Iron-Man #20 -- That was perfect. Each of those characters reacted in exactly the right way. Bucky and Don just got involved, they're motivated by their own personal moral codes to even listen to the message in the first place. They're certainly not going to leave a man in Tony's situation when they can save him, even if he is a prick. Bucky won't because he's too much the hero, and Don won't because he's too much the healer. Maria and Natasha got through the last storyline by focusing on a mission, and they want to complete the damned thing. Neither woman is the sort to leave anything unfinished, they get too much satisfaction from a victory. None of these four characters should have a second thought.

Pepper, though. Being the only doubter in the room is supposed to surprise us, I think, but it makes so much sense storywise. Pepper just had her superhero origin finish up last storyarc. She's the closest in the room to Tony personally, and she's the only one of the group who spent any time with him after he lost his memory. She watched him deteriorate, she dealt with the fact that the man she cared about was fading away and there was nothing she could do about it. And now she finds out he manipulated an escape? And put her through all that shit without telling her? And her husband is dead and never (welll, as she knows) coming back but this guy who FORGOT her husband existed got out of it? Suddenly that tender time in the bunker is made meaningless because he wasn't really going to disappear, and only she will ever know it happened? She has to be pissed off, but how can you be pissed off at someone you just saw brought so low who now lies in a sickbed? So she's just plain upset.

She understands better than the rest of them that Tony's a good man, but also an amazingly selfish bastard. She'll say yes, but needs some time to be pissed off and upset.

Mighty Avengers #31 -- I've never been one for fridging, but they did something interesting here by stepping him into her shoes. As Kalinara is fond of pointing out, male characters almost NEVER take on the mantles of female characters even though the reverse is common. This in itself is transgressive, and it puts Jan at a higher respect level than the usual dead girlfriend. She's not a tragically lost innocent, she's a role model. She's his hero. She's important for her life, not her death. Other fridgings? They're the mistake, the tragic loss, the event the hero wants to prevent from ever happening to anyone. Hank lost Janet a long time ago. As he remembered it, she went on to be the hero and he became a failure. Now he's invested in living up to the standards she set. He know that even if she returned or hadn't died, he'd never have a happy life with her but he wants to follow her as an example anyway. He wants to make up for her loss to the world not just to him.

And I'd say the message board fanboy discomfort at it, the calling it creepy that he patterned his costume after his ex-wife supports the idea that this is a gusty move and the right move for working on Hank's particular insecurities.

Slott's taken this move and used it to start work on Hank's serious issues. (Eternity was not a bad move either, though the Scientist Supreme title sounds silly to me, having Eternity beat the shit out of Hank and tell him he's not only a valuable and unique individual, but vital to the continuation of existence was entertaining.) For the first time it seems like Hank Pym has some genuine self-respect. The Wasp identity is good for him. It's like he's shed all of his unnecessary ego and posturing in order to don those wings. Because he can take that step and let go of some of that petty ego shit, he's been able to uncover some of his real strength, the purpose he was too busy being insecure to realize he had. He IS a supergenius, and there's no reason he should feel inferior to Tony or Reed because there's plenty of fucking work out there to do and they have their own focuses.

I love Janet, and want her back, but I think when she does come back she should get to be Giant-Woman for a little bit and Hank can hold onto the wings a few more years. It works for him right now, to have an identity that's small but packs a decent sting and can still soar to great heights. Plus, this is the first time he's had a halfway decent costume, and he looks pretty handsome with those goggles.

I liked the little Bucky pat on the back moment he had. He gave his approval to Bucky without being written as an arrogant ass. Bucky managed in a few words to let him know that he always had that founder status and that much of his poor reputation is in his head.

Now, the reason I started picking up this series was for Quicksilver. I think he came off pretty well in this story, it seems like he's accepted the rest of the team. I like that it restored him socially with the Inhumans, but still kept him isolated. That moment between him and Luna? Heartbreaking. Pietro is one of those characters who is never allowed to be really happy at the end, though. His own past behavior keeps haunting him. He can't outrun the consequences of the poor decisions he's made, so he's always a little angsty and arrogant. He's resilient so he keeps coming back to the good side and trying to build a strong home and social circle for himself, but he can never quite get there. He's capable of doing this, but he cuts a corner or loses his patience/temper or panics over something and screws himself up most times.

I like how Pietro contrasts Hank here. Hank is his own worse enemy, and this storyline was him trying to move past that. He gets kicked around a bit and comes out in the end. It doesn't seem like a superficial change, it seems like actual character growth. At the same time, Pietro tries to move past the incredible fuckup of the Silent War storyarc, but it's all superficial. He gets his name cleared, but loses respect where it counts. Two characters with the same problem, themselves, moving in the opposite direction. Hank has some problems ahead, but he's strong enough here after this to move through them. Pietro ends this story shaken to the core, and he has at least one heartbreak ahead and probably more beyond it that will just batter him until he has another breakdown.


  1. I love these reactions -- that's a particularly great assessment of Pepper's response and motivation. And the Hank Pym and Pietro compare-and-contrast, absolutely.

  2. I agree with your reading of Pepper and Tony. Tony just seems to have all the cards, including the "get-out-of-self-lobotomy-to-get-away-from-Osborne-just-long-enough-for-Steve-Rogers-to-come-back-and-to-mend-fences-with-Thor-to-reset-the-world" card. Sigh, Marvel eh.

  3. Early Phoenix Wright spoiler (the lawyer game series)...

    The first post-tutorial case, starts with the death of the protagonist defense attorney's female senior partner. He does then follow in her footsteps and solve her murder, and even post-death she's around to advise and encourage him. I'm not sure if that's quite taking up her mantle, but it gets at that.