Secret Empire #2 Review

Secret Empire #2 Review

State of the Union

Nick Spencer (W), Andrea Sorrentino, Rod Reis (A), VC’s Travis Lanham (L)

Cover by Mark Brooks

Published by Marvel Comics

Price: $4.99

          We’re going to at least do one more issue of this comic on here. I don’t really want to review every issue that comes out, but there are still some things I want to say about this series and how it relates to the current Marvel situation. So here we are with Secret Empire #2.

          Also, I do apologize for not running an editorial to continue my “State of Marvel” thing last Wednesday. I hope to continue it this week. I also apologize for the lateness of this review.

Let’s go ahead and get the plot out of the way so we can move onto analysis and Marvel itself.

The issue opens up with the Underground cleaning up after the Hydra attack in Las Vegas at the end of last issue. Black Widow, in the midst of all this destruction declares, “He has to die.”

We then see Luke Cage and Iron Fist pinned down by a number of demonic creatures while on a medical supply run in New York/the Darkforce Dimension. They look like they are about to be overwhelmed until Jessica Jones makes an appearance and hauls their fat out of the fire.

They return with what they can to Claire Temple’s clinic, but they didn’t find everything. Disease and looting is running rampant across the city, and the demonic creatures are constantly on the prowl. Everything would be pitch black if it weren’t for Dagger at the top of the Empire State Building, but she is losing power and can’t keep the light on for very long.

The comic cuts to a scene of looters holding up a church for medical supplies. They are interrupted by the Kingpin, whom kills the looters and tells the occupants of the church that they are under his protections so long as they remember “it was Wilson Fisk who kept you safe.”

Back at the Underground, Black Widow is trying to convince the others that they have to find and kill Steve Rogers. The hologram AI of Tony Stark tells them that there is another way, showing them a recording that Rick Jones made while in prison. This was the one brought by Rayshawn in the last issue, and it details essentially the events of Steve Rogers: Captain America: Kobik making friends with the Red Skull, her corrupting of Steve Rogers, the apparent death of Bucky Barnes (please don’t be true), and Selvig’s scattering of Kobik’s shards to the four winds to keep her out of Hydra’s hands.

Tony argues that this is a chance to save Steve and everyone else, but Natasha is reluctant. Hawkeye tries to argue that Steve would want them to try this, but Natasha argues that he would want to be stopped by any means.

Back at Hydra, Steve is mulling over the fact that he had to get Madame Hydra to order the attack on Las Vegas. Baron Zemo tries to convince him that it’s a good thing that he is so merciful, and Steve sends him out on a mission to find the pieces of Kobik.

Clint and Natasha continue to debate how to go about ending the Secret Empire, and Hawkeye admits that he may never be able to bring himself to kill Steve Rogers. Natasha decks him after they share a kiss, and she leaves the Underground HQ.

Tony finishes a device to find the shards, and he shows Clint the retrieval team, made up of Mockingbird, Ant-Man, Hercules, and Quicksilver. They know that they have to get out of the country somehow, and Ant-Man has a suggestion for this problem.

Natasha makes it to a shack in Colorado and finds that she was followed by Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man. He tells her that he knows he has to do this because he was the one to kill Steve Rogers in a vision that Ulysses had back in Civil War II. They are joined by Viv Vision, Ironheart, Amadeus Cho (the Totally Awesome Hulk), Nadia Pym (the Unstoppable Wasp), and Joaquin Torres (the new Falcon). After they arrive, Natasha cuts her hand and leaves a blood trail on the wall of the cabin, declaring it the “Red Room” (where she was trained to be an assassin back in Soviet-era Russia).

In Montana, Stark’s Kobik retrieval team arrives at a dive bar, and Ant-Man’s contact turns out to be Sam Wilson.

There is one more section after this which has a pretty significant spoiler, and I’ll discuss that and its implications at the bottom of this article after the score. Stick around if you want to read that.

Nick Spencer has succeeded in creating an intensely bleak atmosphere in this story. It’s been a rough read because of that, but the storytelling quality is there.

Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork is sublime in this issue, and I wish he were the regular artist on this book. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Black Widow calling the cabin “the Red Room” seems a bit interesting given what those words mean to her. I’m curious where that tie-in is going to go with that angle. Perhaps Natasha really is that far gone and without hope, but then why would she treat the Champions like she has been given how horrible she knows that was? Maybe she’s trying to “take back” that title from the Soviet trainers who used it? I guess we’ll see.

It’s also a bit weird that Doctor Strange and Daredevil are MIA given the cover including them both prominently. I also remember the plot synopsis from a Previews issue a few months back mentioning Strange. I’m also pretty sad the Thing didn’t show up at all this issue like he did in the last. *sigh* I miss the Fantastic Four…

As I said in my defense of this series last week, I think this is an expertly put-together story. It isn’t meant to make anyone feel good, and it doesn’t. I feel quite sad while reading this tale of heroes, dictators, and fascism. I’m fine with that. Comic books storytelling and super hero fiction can be more than just high-flying good times. I’ll feel all the better after watching my favorite heroes make it through this one, because that’s how conflict and resolution works in this genre (assuming the payoff works, which Marvel has a notorious problem with).

That being said, I can’t separate the text of the comic from the context of the marketing and Nick Spencer’s announcements about this book. I know that the Steve Rogers: Captain America series is going to detail the Secret Empire’s search for the shards of Kobik. I know about the Underground and Uprising tie-ins. As a result, this issue just feels like a vector to advertise for those comics.

Even if it is advancing the plot, it does feel a bit like advertising snuck into a comic story under the guise of plot points. These plots and angles do seem interesting mind, but I know they won’t be followed up on by the story itself until their conclusion.

It’s still better than Fear Itself, which was nothing but a vector for tie-in stories. However, it did weaken the impact of this issue for me.

I am not a fan of the rotating artist idea. It reinforces the idea that Marvel thinks of artists as disposable when they are what separates a comic book from a novel. Furthermore, artists are crucial to delivering atmosphere and tone. Different artistic styles deliver different feelings in a story. Brett Booth would be a weird artist to enlist for a darker book. Mike Deodato Jr. would be an unwise choice for a lighter and more fun book. Both artists are talented, but they should not be put in situations for which their style is ill-suited.

Charles Soule’s upcoming Astonishing X-Men title is a little shaky for me because of this. I was originally quite excited with the writer and the line-up, but, given that it will also have rotating artists, I’m not quite as thrilled with it.

Back to Secret Empire itself, after reading this issue, I am convinced that Andrea Sorrentino would be the perfect choice as the artist for this series. His art in this issue is grim, atmospheric, and expressive. It really sealed the deal on the kind of world we are dealing with in this story. It’s just a shame that he was put in the weakest issue of the series so far and will be shunted off for a different artist next issue.

Pick up this issue if you’re invested in the story. It’s not bad and does advance the plot in interesting directions. And, again, the Sorrentino artwork is superb.

Final Score: 6/10

 

 

 

 

Major Spoilers Ahead

          So, there’s another Steve Rogers. In the sequence of this comic, the Serpent Society is chasing after a young woman, and she is saved by a bearded, ragged-looking man calling himself Steve Rogers.

Yeah, I can kind of see where this might be going. The Steve Rogers in power is somehow a duplicate and this one will lead the resistance. It would be cool to see an out-and-out heroic Steve Rogers yet again. Nick Spencer is emphatic in saying that this won’t be the case, so maybe this will play another role in the conflict. Who knows.

I do feel that it would behoove Mr. Spencer to not argue against the significance of his plot points, between this and him saying that the Cosmic Cube won’t be the solution to the Secret Empire problem despite it being the main thrust of the Underground and Empire plots in this issue. That makes people feel like the comic they are reading is a bit of a waste of time, and that’s never a good way to make your audience feel.

That being said, may the Cube and this Steve will play a role in overthrowing the Empire and not fixing the evil Steve Rogers problem itself.

I’m not big on speculation, but I felt that all of this needed to be acknowledged in this review. Anyway, until next time, keep reading comics!

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Luke Cage #1 (2017) Review

Luke Cage #1 (2017) Review

You know I gotta say it…SWEET CHRISTMAS

David F. Walker (W), Nelson Blake II (A), Marcio Menyz (CA), VC’s Joe Sabino (L)

Cover by Rahzzah

Published by Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

          It feels like a long two months since the last issue of Power Man and Iron Fist came out, but the man himself, Luke Cage, is back in business suckers.

I was truly sad to see PM&IF go; that is my favorite dynamic duo in comics, and they have a heartwarming bromance to outdo even the likes of Green Lantern and the Flash or Thor and Hercules. Frankly, their friendship is only rivaled by Captain Marvel and Spider Woman in terms of making me happy.

I was still very excited to see a solo Luke Cage comic come back by the same brilliant scribe who wrote Power Man & Iron Fist as well as other great books such as Cyborg and Occupy Avengers, Mr. David Walker. I had high hopes for this comic, so let’s see if this creative team met my expectations.

The book starts with Luke arriving in a small club presumably somewhere in New York. He goes into the basement and beats some ass, arriving at a hostage situation which he handles with cleverness and a flick in the head.

He later receives a call letting him know that Dr. Noah Burstein, the man who gave him his super strength and unbreakable skin, has died in New Orleans. He goes down south for the funeral and is approached by a woman called Dr. Mornay. She worked with Dr. Burstein in his final days, and we learn that his death was the result of an apparent suicide.

Luke leaves the funeral with Dr. Mornay, and we learn through his thought captions that he is feeling a little lost because of Noah’s death. We also see a figure watching the two leave.

Luke accompanies Mornay to a plantation-like estate outside of the Big Easy belonging to a Morgan family. There, we learn that the son of the owner of the estate was saved by Burstein despite him having a condition which all other doctors said was incurable. This was due, apparently, to the experiments which Burstein performed on Luke Cage.

After Luke and Mornay leave the Morgans, Mornay tells Luke that she believes that Noah Burstein’s death was not due to a suicide as the evidence suggests. She also tells Luke of violent outbursts that have been experienced by Morgan’s son as well as unnamed others who have been put through what she calls “the Burstein Process.”

The two are then run off the road by a small crew of men in suits and gas masks. One fights Cage and proves to be super strong like the former-Power Man. He then pulls out a sort of chain sword which cuts into Cage’s nigh-unbreakable skin.

The rogues escape with Mornay, leaving Luke to bleed out in the road. However, the Power Man is saved by the mysterious figure from earlier in the comic who is shown to be Mitchell Tanner, the first person Burstein performed experiments on and a regular murderous foe of Luke Cage. The comic ends on this reveal.

This was a strong first step for what promises to be an interesting series. David Walker is an expert in writing interesting and fun comic books, and Luke Cage looks to be no different.

From the opening with Luke beating down the guys in the bar to the ending with Luke talking smack to the guys who ran him off the road, this feels like a true Luke Cage comic book. There’s plenty of action and intrigue, and it holds your attention throughout.

There are some continuity questions for me, though. Primarily, though I have not read nearly as much classic Luke Cage tales as I would like, I always got the impression he had a tumultuous relationship with Noah Burstein as opposed to this father-son relationship which is shown in this comic. I have nothing wrong with Luke having some negative feelings about Noah dying, but it seemed like he had far more positive emotions directed towards Burstein than I imagined, particularly in reading that Cage: Second Chances collection I reviewed on here some time ago.

The art is gorgeous. It’s a sterile look but in a good way. There are plenty of details, but there are also a lot of clean spaces on the figures and characters. It’s an appealing appearance, and the bright colors help add to that appeal too.

There is the question as to whether or not this sterile appearance fits a comic about Luke Cage, a street hero with a lot of personality who tends to get down into the dirt and grime of the underworld to clean it up. I can’t say that the art perfectly fits Luke Cage, and I do find myself missing the very stylized work of Sanford Greene from Power Man and Iron Fist, but this art still looks aesthetically pleasing and will probably grow on me and anyone else who reads this book.

This is going to come off as a weird observation, but the lettering is actually a bit off in this book. I’ve never paid too much attention to lettering before, but I have read a few articles from professional letterers who explained their art and how it should be done. Here, the letters have been shrunken down a bit and are far too small for the dialogue bubbles. It strains the eyes a bit more than I’d like, and I had to really focus on the words to read what characters were saying. The thought captions do not have this problem to the same degree.

Weird lettering complaints and continuity questions aside, I loved this book. It was a fun read, and I can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead of Luke Cage in this series. Pick this up. Support this B-List character and his talented creative team. This is the exact kind of series which the B-List Defender stands for.

Final Score: 9/10

An Earnest Defense of Secret Empire 2017

An Earnest Defense of Secret Empire 2017

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the perpetual wildfire that has been the advertising of Nick Spencer’s passion project, Secret Empire, and its reception on social media.

I’ve seen copies of the comics being burned, conspiracy theories insinuating that Nick Spencer is a genuine fascist and Nazi, and a myriad of other attacks on Spencer as a person and Marvel for letting this happen. I’ve even freaking seen people digging into his past and finding a political campaign in Connecticut that he may or may not have been actually been running as a Republican.

And I actually really like Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire.

I think it’s a really good story worthy of praise and a genuine chance to stand on its own two legs. Here, I’m going to present my case on behalf of Spencer and his much maligned story.

Let’s start with the heart of the matter: The Red Skull had the sentient Cosmic Cube known as Kobik, an entity with the mind and intelligence of a child, turn Steve Rogers into a fascist, a member of Hydra, and the antithesis of everything he’s ever been before.

You know, I think it odd that this is such a controversial thing. On one hand, I can understand those, like my own father (the world’s number one Captain America fan) who were hoping for a return-to-form Captain America after the extended absence wherein his body was made old and brittle after the expiration of the Super Soldier Serum. I can understand being disappointed that the man himself has been changed by outside forces.

That being said, I don’t see it as the crime against the fandom, the comics, or the welfare of Marvel Comics that many outraged critics accuse it of being. Do you know how many times the Red Skull has placed his mind in Captain America’s body? At least two times of my own counting, one being the classic story that introduced Sam Wilson to Captain America comics and another more recent instance carried out by the legendary Captain America writer, Ed Brubaker. Then there were the instances where replacements such as John Walker took up the shield and suit to carry out their own borderline fascist agendas.

Now I get that these examples aren’t exactly the same as Steve Rogers himself becoming an honest-to-God member of Hydra, the Marvel analogue for the Nazi regime. However, it bears mentioning and repeating that it was an outside force what changed the Sentinel of Liberty into the Supreme Overlord of Hydra. Nick Spencer did not just randomly decide that Steve Rogers was Hydra all along. Even the altered backstory wherein he was raised to be a Hydra sleeper agent is a part of the changes to Captain America’s life made by the Red Skull and Kobik.

I will admit there are other concerns in this controversy that are harder to wave off. Captain America was created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, two Jewish Americans who faced discrimination and hate in their lifetime, not the least of which was at the hands of American Nazi sympathizers who did not like that they created the exploits of Captain America fighting the Nazis before the United States even entered World War II. This is a sticky point that would be unwise to dismiss as easily as the angered rantings of individuals on the internet who simply misunderstand what is going on.

I can’t say that it is not worth pointing out this matter. It is a little awkward that Steve Rogers has been made into an out-and-out fascist given his creation by the late greats, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. The best I can say about this is to reiterate that Steve Rogers has been forced into these monstrosities by his greatest foe, and the story is by no means encouraging or glorifying Nazism. Depiction is not the same as endorsement. Pulp Fiction is not an endorsement of organized crime. American Psycho is not an endorsement of serial murder. Despite what many dude-bros believe, Fight Club is not an encouragement to create fight clubs.

Even with this sticking point, I can’t say that this story deserves to be discounted or doesn’t have the right to exist.

Still, after you’ve read this defense with an open mind, if you still believe that it’s disrespectful to depict Steve Rogers as this type of character given his creation by two iconic and brilliant Jewish Americans, then I can’t say your wrong. All I hope to accomplish with this article is to show why myself and others do not take umbrage with this iteration of Secret Empire.

I forget who said this on Twitter, but there was another complaint about the story that I will admit is hard to argue with. This may be paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of “Captain America is a Nazi in a time I would like to see him punching Nazis.” Given we are currently living in the political dystopia that the Dead Kennedys warned us of, I find this opinion hard to dispute.

But I still really like Secret Empire and highly recommend it.

Moving onto issues more specific to Secret Empire itself, it depicts some heavy, depressing, and infuriating stuff. Reading it myself, I was at times sad, angry, and conflicted. I think that’s a good feeling to get from a story. Not every comic needs to be fun and happy. I was pleased with the negative feelings that the story made me feel because they were directed at the events of the tale itself and the characters within. The original Civil War made me feel the same way.

Steve Rogers does some treacherous and horrific stuff in this comic book, from abandoning the Ultimates, Alpha Flight, and the Guardians of the Galaxy to the Chitauri to the now-infamous murder of Rick Jones. It’s uncomfortable to read as someone who does love Steve Rogers. The death of Rick Jones alone was enough to make me feel cold, and I liked it. Rick Jones is a fixture of Marvel Comics who associated with the likes of Captain America himself, the Avengers, the Hulk, and Captain Mar-vell. Hell, he even saved the world from the Kree-Skrull war way back in the day. It was sad to see him go.

Negative feelings arising from reading a story is not necessarily something one should run from. Now, I do get that comics are valued for the escapism they provide, and Secret Empire is not beneficial for that goal. I get that many are exhausted with the constant deluge of massive crossovers like Secret Empire. I’ve been a vocal critic of this myself. However, and yes this is subjective, this is a good one. Honestly, I think it’s the most ambitious crossover produced my Marvel since the original Civil War. It’s honestly a ballsy play on the part of Nick Spencer and Marvel.

All these criticisms and complaints directed at Spencer and his story also feels really premature, as the story hasn’t ended. We don’t know how the story will end or how the resolution will affect Steve Rogers. We don’t know how this is going to turn out. Waiting until then to lay all of these accusations at the feet of Spencer and Secret Empire, while they will still probably be silly, would be far more prudent. We don’t know how it will end. I do know one thing, though, it still won’t promote or endorse fascism because that’s clearly not the intent of the story.

Sorry for being a bit blunt with this, but these complaints about the book promoting fascism and Nazism clearly come from people who haven’t read the story and don’t know the narrative context to it all.

Also, burning comic books is always stupid, and I will always be against that.

Now, I have to return to the personal attacks and conspiracies being laid upon writer Nick Spencer. Stop it. I’ve seen a lot directed at this man, and it’s really not okay. He’s a writer. He should be allowed to write the stories he wants to write.

I’ve even seen some people who share my own political  questioning Spencer’s political credentials, such as the aforementioned digging and linking him to a political campaign in Connecticut a decade ago. Even if it was him, people do change their opinions over time.

I’ve seen people use this and Secret Empire to weave some sort of conspiracy theory that says he is an “undercover conservative” or “low-key Nazi” or whatever the hell. These kind of make me mad, because they’re A) stupid and B) actively harmful to the reputation of the man himself.

None of that even acknowledges his work in Sam Wilson: Captain America which decidedly does not present or endorse a fascist or any sort of right-leaning ideology. It’s a beautifully-written title about the struggle of a black hero in a world that isn’t ready to trust a black man as Captain America. I highly recommend that title, and it is among my favorite comics being published right now.

I feel the political leanings of Nick Spencer and his writing are also made quite clear by the fact that Fox News famously criticized the first issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America for comparing anti-immigration vigilantes to the Klan (because they practically are the Klan).

I’ve also seen Spencer being criticized for simply not endorsing political discourse being handled at the end of a fist, specifically in regard to Richard Spencer being punched out while being interviewed. While I have nothing wrong with an actual white supremacist being punched, I can respect someone being in favor of peaceful discourse.

Returning to Nick Spencer, he is a mercurial and outspoken personality, especially on social media. I saw the man butt heads with dozens of critics of his work on Secret Empire and Steve Rogers: Captain America. I don’t think we should discourage this type of writer from working in the comics industry though. Without people willing to make a political statement and stick to their guns, you would not have such classic Marvel stories as the Kree-Skrull War, God Loves Man Kills, and the original Secret Empire, let alone the likes of Watchmen.

Unfortunately, I do fear that Nick Spencer has cashed all his chips in on this story. I expect Marvel, despite their willingness to tell politically charged tales, will be reluctant to sign on Nick Spencer in the future given the perpetual controversy that his Captain America work has been, especially given that much of the backlash has come from the clear intended audience of his stories. I also fear that this will discourage them from cooperating other writers like him, which would be a terrible shame.

To bring this to something of a conclusion, please at least try Secret Empire 2017 before you condemn it. I’m going to give an honest rating of both the #0 and the #1 at the end of this article, because I feel it’s a worthwhile story.

Secret Empire is an interesting dissection of Steve Rogers’ psyche and how frightening it is when someone that dedicated to their ideology puts that dedication to the wrong cause. Captain America has always been zealous in his pursuit of all that’s right, so seeing that same person become a genuine fascist is unnerving. It’s even worse given that he still has the same stubborn and gentle personality, hence the also-infamous sadness he displayed after ordering the death of Rick Jones. He’s still human despite becoming an actual Nazi. And no, acknowledging that even the worst monsters are still people is not an endorsement of those monsters, see also David Tennant’s depiction of Kilgrave in another of Marvel’s products, Jessica Jones.

It also makes some interesting political statements and gives the warning signs of a fascist regime, which is a pretty relevant message no matter what side of the political fence you’re on (unless you’re an actual fascist). It discusses the scapegoating of minorities and the changing and ignoring of history. These are important things to discuss, especially at this moment in history.

In summary, I highly recommend Secret Empire, don’t harass or defame Nick Spencer, and keep reading comics.

I also want to apologize for my extended absence. This was my last full semester of undergraduate school, and it was a rough finale. I will return to my posting schedule and have more content tomorrow. I will also return to my “State of Marvel Comics” editorial series, of which this article is a part.

Secret Empire #0: 7/10

Secret Empire #1: 8/10

 

PS: Really Marvel? Cancelling Black Panther and the Crew at #6 just because it hadn’t become a smash hit by its second issue? What the hell is wrong with you guys? That book is fantastic and deserved way more of a chance than this. Ta-Nehisi Coates is freaking brilliant.

Iron Fist #1 Review

Iron Fist #1 Review

The Weapon Loses its Edge

Ed Brisson (W), Mike Perkins (A), Andy Troy (CA)

Cover by Jeff Dekal

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

          So, just to get it out of the way, I actually really like the Iron Fist Netflix series. That being said, I haven’t quite finished the season yet. It’s definitely my least favorite of the four Marvel Netflix shows so far, but that does not make it by any means bad. That bar has been set extremely high by the previous three. Plus, It’s definitely better than any of the DC/Degrassi hybrids that CW peddles.

Anyway, so it’s finally happening. The greatest dynamic duo in comics, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, are being split apart once more. It’s a shame, I love reading about their bromance, but at least both are getting their own solo titles to compensate. David Walker has worked magic with the Power Man and Iron Fist title, so I look forward to seeing what he will do with just the lone Luke Cage.

Ed Brisson’s Iron Fist #1 opens up with a fight club in Bulgaria where a hooded figure approaches while two men beat each other mercilessly inside. The hooded figure drops a bunch of money to participate, and he is revealed to be none other than Danny Rand himself, the Iron Fist. He challenges the entire arena of fighters, and, naturally, takes them all down with ease.

The host of the arena is angry with Danny for taking down his cadre, and Danny says that he was looking for something that he didn’t find there.

The next scene takes us to a plane, and Danny is lamenting the fact that he can’t find a worthy opponent and that he is losing the power of the Iron Fist. We see him fighting in another arena with a massive fighter that he takes down with ease. He then struggles to summon the Iron Fist, and he fails.

He is next in Vietnam, and he goes to a bar. While downing a bottle of whiskey, he is approached by a man who knows who he is and his current struggle. The two enter a quick brawl, but the stranger concedes that Danny would win should the fight drag on. He extends an invitation to a fighting tournament with combatants that are worthy of Danny’s skill. He also implies that this could help Danny regain the power of the Iron Fist. The comic ends with the two on a ship arriving at an island called Liu-Shi.

This is a pretty solid start for the series. It poses a new threat for the protagonist that challenges his identity and his skill. The “losing the power” motif is not uncommon for a book when someone tries to tell their version of the character. However, I’ve not seen that been used with Danny Rand before, so I am curious where Brisson goes with it.

There is plenty of action in this comic to keep the eye drawn. Mike Perkins’ artwork is phenomenal—the best I’ve seen in a comic in a long time. I didn’t actually know until I researched that he did some of the artwork for Ed Brubaker’s Captain America alongside Steve Epting. It makes sense though, because that comic was beautiful too.

The pacing is pretty swift in this book. It is a quick read, but it sets up the story well. It puts you in Danny’s current headspace, so you can get a feel for what is going on for the character right now.

There’s not much more to say. This was a solid read. I enjoyed it, and I hope this series proves to be a great one for the Living Weapon. Give it a read.

Final Score: 8/10

Sam Wilson: Captain America #20

Sam Wilson: Captain America #20

A Righteous Rage

Nick Spencer (W), Paul Renaud (A)

Cover by Daniel Acuna

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

          Some things are really hard to talk about. We stray away from subjects that make us uncomfortable. It’s natural; that’s why we dislike talking about politics and religion. They are subjects that are difficult to broach when people don’t see eye-to-eye.

Like Benjamin Percy in Green Arrow, Nick Spencer has not shied away from taking political issues head-on in Sam Wilson: Captain America. When the comic started out, he was holding no quarter in his criticism towards parts of American culture and discourse with which he disagreed. That’s how you get a white power group using the Sons of the Serpent name while rounding up Mexican immigrants and selling them off to a mad scientist who has a bit of Carnage in him. That’s how you get the Serpent Society becoming Serpent Solutions, a corporate conglomerate. That’s how you get fictional conservative news pundits denouncing Captain America and declaring, “Not my Captain America,” at every turn.

In his more recent issues, his politics have been just as clear, even if he is admitting to the complexity of certain problems. An Anne Coulter-esque conservative writer went to a college and was assailed by armed and angry college students declaring the area a “safe space” that Cap, Rage and Falcon had to stop. Rage and the Falcon have also been wanting to take the fight directly to the Americops, an armed and brutal private policing force, but Sam knows violence won’t get them anywhere.

With the latest arc, the comic has been dealing more directly with the Americops issue. Rage stopped a robbery at a pawn shop being performed by Speed Demon and another C-lister villain I genuinely can’t remember. He was blindsided and the two robbers escaped in time for the Americops to arrive. They immediately assumed Rage committed the robbery and beat him brutally while he offered no resistance. He was then arrested.

Sam wanted to help Rage get out, offering lawyers and the resources of the Avengers. Rage rejected the help, wanting to show people how the system can railroad black youth. He didn’t want to use those resources because most people don’t have them. Meanwhile, Sam used a tool he established to fight the Americops a little while back. He had used his ability to see through the eyes of birds with a chip implanted into his own head to record everything the Americops did through the city’s avian population. As it turns out, a bird was present for the entirety of the exchange between Rage and the Americops, and Sam published the video footage of Rage being beaten for the world to see.

Rage went to trial with an inept public defender. The footage Sam published was considered inadmissible, and Rage was found guilty. New York immediately exploded into riots and protests, exemplified by a young black man painting his face like Rage’s mask and throwing a Molotov at a bank.

This issue picks up from there, with Captain America lamenting how he failed. He tried to stand up for his beliefs and improve the system, and he and the system failed. The accompanying panels show a flashback of what has happened in recent issues. The comic then shows the peaceful protests and the riots. The Americops only see the riots and fire gas grenades into the protesters.

Next, we see Harry Hauser, a pundit who has been criticizing Sam throughout this series, lambasting the protestors, only calling them rioters. He accuses Captain America of inciting it, and he calls Rage a criminal.

Sam visits Rage in prison and begins talking appeals. Rage doesn’t want to go through with it, and he tells Sam this is exactly what he wanted. He wanted the people to see what happens. Sam tells him about the chaos in the city, and Rage reploes that maybe this is what should happen. These people rely on the law to protect them, but it only preys on them.

Rage also tells Sam that he is being moved to Z Block. We are informed by Sam that it is a state prison set up so the state would no longer have to rely on federal prisons and S.H.I.E.L.D to house super-powered criminals. However, the state couldn’t afford the security, so it was outsourced to a for-profit organization to build the prisons. They focus on imprisonment instead of rehabilitation, and the criminals are treated terribly and put in solitary at the drop of a hat.

Sam then goes to a press conference outside city hall. He denounces the rioters, encourages the protesters, and condemns the Americops. He admits in his thought captions that he is not entirely behind what he is saying, implying that he may want the riots to continue. He doesn’t act or speak on these feelings though.

He then goes to his brother Gideon’s church to seek spiritual guidance. His brother prays on behalf of Rage, the protestors, and that things may be made right. He then tells the congregation that he thinks a righteous anger is good in times such as these, and he encourages the congregation to take a stand and show the world that they will not be put down.

The latter portion of his sermon is shown over panels of protests as well as Rage in prison. Rage is approached by other inmates who know he was a superhero. They beat him mercilessly, kicking and stomping him after he hits the ground.

The comic concludes with Sam going to a hospital and being told by Claire the Night Nurse that it was bad. Rage is on life support, his brain is dead, and he is only artificially alive now.

I don’t know why this comic doesn’t get more attention. It’s important. It’s saying important things. I get that it’s controversial. It should be, and it’s incredibly relevant to the times we live in.

This is going to be a little soapbox-y, but I feel like no one can deny that there is something bad going on in our inner cities right now. Black families are starving, black youth are being beaten, arrested, and/or shot, and there is a depressingly high amount of black Americans in jail. Now, poverty knows no race; starvation affects black, white, latino, Asian, etc. families equally. However, a disproportionately high amount of impoverished families are black. The only questions are the how’s and why’s this is happening.

This is where people come to a disagreement of course. Some say it’s a predatory system and a history of subjugation that has put many African American families on the brink. Others say it is a welfare system that encourages idleness and gang culture that encourages a lack of respect for authority. It should come as no surprise that I fall into the former category, and Nick Spencer and Captain America seem to feel the same way. I will admit that there is a point where we do have to take responsibility for our own actions, but sometimes in life no amount of know-how and pulling one’s self up by their bootstraps is going to put enough food on the table for one’s family.

This is a comic review of course and not an op-ed piece in a national publication. That being said, you can’t divorce the content from what it’s saying. I think what this comic is saying is very important, and it shows the source of a lot of anger in this country while explaining it in a manner that many people can see where the comic is coming from with what its message.

There is still the silent fury there, a staple of a Nick Spencer political comic. I have nothing wrong with that. This is a subject that should incite anger. This kind of thing should not be happening in reality, but it does. There have been points in this story arc where many people who would not be inclined to listen would be turned off by the confrontational nature of certain plot points. However, this issue in particular goes about its message as equitably as possible.

The storytelling allows the message to land correctly. The pacing is perfect. The emotions are heavy, and each turn of the knife hits hard. You feel for Sam. You feel for Rage. It’s painful watching all of this going down.

Paul Renaud’s artwork is absolutely gorgeous to boot. The shading, the faces, the figures; everything comes together to make this an emotional comic.

There’s not exactly a lot of comic book-styled action in this issue. I feel that it’s a good thing though. This story is heavy; it’s not fanciful. What happens is all-too real, and having a situation that Captain America can punch into submission is—well, unrealistic and undercuts the point.

The ending was heart-wrenching. This is in part because it was a fairly predictable ending. That’s the point though, it’s depressing because it was predictable. This kind of thing doesn’t have a happy ending. I teared up a little, I’m not ashamed to admit that.

This comic is important. It’s near-perfect in its intent and execution. I will admit it may be hard to hop on at this point if you haven’t been following the series, but it’s not impossible. The comic does a lot to fill the reader in. I mean what I’m about to say more than I ever have meant it before: go read this book.

Final Score: 10/10

Green Arrow #19 Review

Green Arrow #19 Review

Needles and Arrows

Benjamin Percy (W), Eleonora Carlini, Mirka Andolfo (A), Arif Prianto, H-Fi (C)

Cover by Otto Schmidt

Publisher: DC Comics

Price: $2.99

          You know, the world is a really controversial place right now. It seems like very little can be discussed without it turning into a ravenous argument. We all really need to chill out. That’s why, today, we are going to be talking about the least controversial comic book in the world, Green Arrow by Benjamin Percy.

I’m being facetious of course. Look, I’ve always kind of worn my liberal leanings on my sleeve. Green Arrow has historically been a very left-aligned character, and Benjamin Percy has had no qualms about stepping right into the middle of things. This comic, ironically like another archer-led book right now, Occupy Avengers, is dealing with the Dakota Access Pipeline/Standing Rock Reservation dispute. I do get the other side of this argument, but I just don’t think a few more theoretical jobs is worth further encroaching on Native American territory and wrecking our environment even more. This comic definitely seems to agree with me there. That being said, if you want to duck out now to avoid political discussion, feel free to do so.

I like my comic books dealing with controversial issues. I think art should help us discuss and come to terms with the difficult things in life, even when the art centers around people in tights and capes. However, I do understand that comic books are meant to be a form of escapism for many people, so they don’t want to hear about these topics in their preferred medium of escape. I can totally get that.

The previous issue established the premise of this story. Roy Harper aka Arsenal has returned to Washington state to join up with a tribe of Native Americans to protest an oil pipeline being driven right through their homeland. The law enforcement pulled out of the area and were replaced with militaristic vigilantes who want to see the pipeline go through. Arsenal comes to the aid of the protestors much to the leader’s chagrin, the leader being Bird, a man with a past linked to Roy Harper’s childhood. We get a lot of scenes of Roy’s history with Ollie mixed in with the story of the present. At the end of the comic, Green Arrow comes to their aid as well. Roy is not pleased about that.

In the new issue, an open conflict has exploded between the protestors and the vigilantes, a group known as the Wild Dogs. Arsenal and Green Arrow are helping the protestors, and Bird gets wounded by buckshot. When things seem to be turning grim, Black Canary comes to the scene and bails out the feuding archers.

The story cuts to a brief flashback of Ollie and Roy fighting Count Vertigo for the first time. Even then, Ollie is giving Roy hell over every little thing. He is particularly frustrated with Roy’s trick arrow inventions that keep winding up in his quiver.

In the present, the protestors and our heroes are licking their wounds after the day’s showdown. Bird is angry over what is happening, and he is not happy about accepting the help of GA, Arsenal, and Black Canary. However, he still acquiesces to let them aid the fight against the Wild Dogs.

Black Canary talks to Roy and convinces him to go easier on Ollie. Meanwhile, Ollie is watching press coverage of the protest situation, and he figures out that his company is bankrolling the Wild Dogs.

Roy gets some alone time with Bird, and we figure out what their family feud is over. Bird blames Roy for killing their father, and it seems that he may indeed have been responsible due to a drinking binge.

We get another flashback to the times of Green Arrow and Speedy. Ollie returns to his penthouse after an extended vacation in Las Vegas. He sees the place is filled with teens and twenty-somethings having a party. He goes into his bedroom to see Roy passed out with a girl. He throws out everyone except Roy and proceeds to chew him out, calling him a “A loser, a burden, a mistake.” Roy leaves of his own choice after that.

Back in the present, Ollie tells Dinah about his company’s involvement with the Wild Dogs. The two meet up with Arsenal and decide to fight this thing together.

We next get scenes of the pipeline being built interspersed with scenes of Roy taking heroin in the past. Then Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Arsenal reach the construction site with the intent of bringing it to a halt. The comic ends with this scene.

I’m glad we are finally getting an explanation as to what the history between Ollie and Roy is in the new status quo of the New 52/Rebirth. I always thought they had one of the most interesting relationships between any hero and sidekick. They’ve retconned it a bit so that Green Arrow and Speedy always had a struggling partnership, but I think that’s fitting given how it ended.

The bad blood between the two is really compelling. Ollie was just as much of a screw-up as Roy was, and you really feel for both of them. They’re both trying to do better now, and Black Canary plays a good mediator between them.

I dig the conflict quite a bit with the Wild Dogs. Again, I’m a bleeding-heart, so this stuff appeals to me. However, the villains are evil enough so that there is at least a genuine cause for the heroes to get involved.

I love the art in this too. Carlini and Andolfo make a beautiful and stylized comic with great action scenes, and the color makes it all pop even more.

The attempted parallels between the past and the present seems a little off. It’s contextualizing the strife between Ollie and Roy, but it also seems to be trying to compare the two situations in a different manner by pairing the scenes of Roy’s drug use with the construction of the pipeline. Maybe they are both destroying the environment’s that they’re in? If that’s the intent, then it’s a little trite.

Beyond that, the flashbacks do a good job of not railroading the story too much. That is mostly because they are relevant to what is happening in the present in terms of Ollie and Roy, so it doesn’t feel like a waste of time or space.

On the whole, this was a damn good comic book. The character conflicts are compelling, the action is fun, and it’s just a generally good time. If you can get into a politically-charged super hero story like I can, then this is definitely for you.

Final Score: 8/10

Inhumans vs. X-Men #6 Review

Inhumans vs. X-Men #6 Review

Not with a bang but an eh… whatever

Jeff Lemire, Charles Soule (W), Leinil Francis Yu (P), (I), Gerry Alanguilan (I), David Curiel (C)

Cover by: Leinil Francis Yu and David Curiel

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Price: $4.99

          When last we left Inhumans vs. X-Men, I praised it for being a pretty decent crossover in a sea of mediocre-to-outright-awful ones being cranked out by Marvel Comics. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was a pretty cool climax to the friction between the mutants and the Inhumans.

Here we are at the climax of the climax: the final issue to the story. How does it stand up? How does it finish out the tale? Let’s see.

The issue opens up with the big showdown between the X-Men and the Inhumans rallied by Iso and Inferno. The forces of Attilan arrive via Lockjaw to join the fight immediately.

Emma in particular seems more elated about the war than the others. She and the Stepford Cuckoos help the X-Men gain the upper hand by taking control over members of the Inhuman forces. More X-Men arrive via the teleportation of Magik, among them being Psylocke and Archangel.

The X-Men appear to be winning when Ahura and Ennilux arrive to back up the Inhumans. The Terrigen Cloud is also closing in. Iso informs Medusa that this war isn’t about revenge but survival. Moon Girl then presents the queen with the activation remote for a device that would destroy the cloud for good. Medusa presses the button, and the Terrigen Cloud is destroyed.

Emma tries to encourage the fight to go on, but Storm tells her that it’s over. Emma becomes enraged and summons a brigade of Sentinels made to hunt Inhumans (they actually are really cool redesigns of the classic Sentinels). They open fire upon the Inhumans, and the X-Men help them get to cover.

Cerebra moves in on the new Sentinels, but they tear apart her own Sentinel form with ease. Magneto comes to Emma’s aid, but it is quickly revealed that he has been possessed by Emma’s telepathy.

Medusa and Black Bolt conclude that they need to be the ones to end this, so the two approach Emma Frost. The Human Torch destroys the Sentinel that Emma is standing on, and that breaks her hold on Magneto. He prepares to kill Frost, but Havoc shoots him down.

Medusa restrains Emma and seems ready to execute her. Before she has the chance, Havoc blasts her too. He goes to Emma, and the two disappear in a flash of light.

From here, we get snippets of the aftermath. Storm frees the elder Beast from his prison. We see Emma donning a helmet that resembles a hybrid of Cyclops’ ‘X’-mask and Magneto’s helmet.

Medusa abdicates the throne of New Attilan, giving it to Iso. However, Iso would prefer an election for the new leader of the Inhumans. Medusa leaves New Attilan and ends her relationship with the Human Torch. The comic ends with her visiting Black Bolt at his club, the Quiet Room.

Marvel is really bad at sticking the landing on final issues to crossover stories. This is typically because they often take the interesting ideas that drive a story like this, and then they reduce it to half-measures, maybes, and people “not being as bad as they seem.”

The prime example of this, though I was later told that I was late to the game on being privy to this information, was the fact that Black Bolt did not actually kill Cyclops. He died before Black Bolt had a chance to kill him, and Emma Frost conjured a vision of Cyclops which Medusa and Black Bolt destroyed. This all occurred in the final issue of Death of X. I didn’t actually read that story. I read the first issue and decided I wasn’t interested. Now, I will grant that Medusa and Black Bolt had the intent of killing Scott Summers, but it still all feels like a conceit made to absolve the royal couple to a degree.

The fact that the X-Men and the Inhumans forgive one another so quickly to cooperate in bringing down Emma Frost was a little underwhelming. I get it, the necessity of survival and all that. However, it feels hard to believe that Havoc is the only one who bears a grudge over the death of Cyclops and the other mutants killed and/or sterilized by the Terrigen Cloud. Hell, even Magneto seems like he would have helped her if she hadn’t stolen his mind. Also, there was a moment where Emma gets Magneto to say “Emma was right,” and I cringed so hard. This is all without saying how the tension of the conflict was unceremoniously defused immediately by the cooperation between the Inhumans and the X-Men.

The destruction of the Terrigen Cloud has its own set of problems too. Firstly, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but I felt like it was established that the intent of Forge, Iso, and Moon Girl was to condense the cloud down to a manageable size or reverting them to a crystal form. The complete destruction of the Terrigen Cloud seems like the vaguest concept of “stakes” being inserted into this tale when the super minds of Moon Girl, Iso, Forge, and both Beasts seem like they could have found another way.

What also really didn’t work about that was that Medusa, in a thought caption towards the end, proclaims that “Our species’ ability to transform through Terrigenesis does not outweigh the lives of even a single mutant, much less all of them.” This does not work for so many reasons, and it again seems to be trying to morally absolve the queen of the Inhumans for so much that has happened. The world knows about M-Pox and how it was caused by the Terrigen Cloud. Beyond that, we saw the death of Multiple Man on Muir Island at the beginning of Death of X. Lastly, you want to tell me that not a single mutant was killed by the sweeping Terrigen Cloud and the blight of M-Pox? We are actually supposed to believe that the Inhumans and the X-Men saved every single mutant ever caught in the way of either of those problems? Was this just a minor threat that the X-Men just decided to get around to now? What about the potential extinction of the species? What about the actually flipping tagline of this story, “Victory means survival, defeat means extinction?” By the shiny bald head of Charles Xavier, what the hell is going on here? I’m sorry queenie, but there is no way not a single mutant died over this, even if you aren’t counting Cyclops and Multiple Man.

All of this amounts to giving this finale the same impact as a pillow softly hitting me in the face. It’s setting up a new status quo, and it’s phasing out the Inhumans to a capacity. I get that. However, it still didn’t really have me shocked or surprised.

The fight scenes were cool, and the extended conflict between the Inhumans and the X-Men was fairly exciting. This is in no small part due to the always superb artwork by Leinil Francis Yu. He is one of the best comic book artists of the modern age, and I’m glad he came back for this final issue. But he definitely deserved a better story to bring to life than this.

As I’ve said, this final issue was just…there. I didn’t particularly enjoy it beyond the opening fight sequences, and it was far from a satisfying ending to what was a pretty interesting story at its core. I can’t recommend it, even if you were following this story from the beginning (especially at a five-dollar price tag). Just check out the Prime issues for the Inhumans and the X-Men when it comes out. I’ll at least be reviewing the X-Men: Prime here. Give this non-ending a pass.

Final Score: 4/10