Captain Comics: Marvel Universe’s fresh start initiative
Marvel’s rolling “Fresh Start” initiative has reached many of its major titles in recent weeks, re-launching them with first issues and new set-ups. Some new elements are obviously inspired by the movies, but we can also see Marvel correcting what it sees as mistakes. With “Spoiler Warning” fully in effect, here we go:
Amazing Spider-man #1
This is the third first issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” in four years (and sixth overall), so that isn’t cause for much excitement. But it does dump a lot of what has happened in recent years and races as fast as it can to the past.
New writer Nick Spencer is following an acclaimed, eight-year run by writer Dan Slott, whose tenure thrilled some and horrified others. Under Slott, Peter Parker became a wealthy mogul in the Tony Stark vein, the CEO of an international tech company. Part of that was due to Otto Octavius – you know, Dr. Octopus – taking over Parker’s body for several years as the “Superior Spider-Man.”
Slott erased much of that by the time he left the book. Octavius was ejected – he’s currently inhabiting a clone of Parker’s body – and Parker Industries crashed and burned. So he put most of the toys back in the box.
Spencer is finishing the job. In a story titled “Back to Basics” (naturally) Peter Parker is once again broke and forced to share an apartment with two other twentysomethings. (One is old pal Randy Robertson, the other is secretly the supervillain Boomerang.) And as surprise gift to long-suffering Peter-MJ shippers, the always effervescent Mary Jane has returned to the supporting cast – and for the first time since the Parker-Watson wedding was erased by the devil in 2007, once again a possible romantic interest.
On the other hand, some things cannot be un-done. Parker isn’t an anonymous schlub any more: He is actively hated by most of the planet for the failure of his Apple-like products. Also, his PhD was achieved by Doc Ock (while in Parker’s body), which sure looks like plagiarism to everyone else. That “fact” was revealed in this issue – a public humiliation so disturbing that this long-time Spider-reader had to close the book and read something else for a while.
The good news is that the worst should be over, and now Spencer can tell his old-fashioned Spider-Man stories the way he wants to without further agony. And new artist Ryan Ottley (“Invincible”) is well-suited for both Peter Parker scenes and Spider-action, despite my visceral dislike of how he draws teeth.
Black Panther #1
“Black Panther” really isn’t one of Marvel’s major books – it’s never been a big seller, even with acclaimed writer Ta-Nahesi Coates writing the current series. But the movie has elevated T’Challa to A-list, so the comic book’s re-launch deserves some mention.
But there’s not a lot to say. “Black Panther” #1 opens with a huge mystery: A man who looks, acts and talks a lot like T’Challa, but has a different name, awakens as a slave for aliens in an off-world vibranium mine in the far future. Well, that’s what it looks like, anyway. Unraveling this mystery is the book’s point, and for now, any comment would be pure speculation.
Captain America #1
Boy, did this book need help. New writer Ta-Nehisi Coates does his best in this first issue, but there’s a log of ugly to deal with.
First, previous writer Nick Spencer (see Spider-Man above) wrote one of the most hated “events” in Marvel history last summer, one in which history was subtly altered so that Steve Rogers has always been a Hydra sleeper agent, who comes out of the closet (so to speak) and takes over the world. A fascist Captain America infuriated a lot of readers, especially given current political trends, and while history was eventually returned to normal, nobody in either the Marvel Universe or our own has forgotten.
Prior to that fiasco, writer Rick Remender sent Captain America and Sharon Carter to another dimension for a while. While in “Dimension Z,” Carter was aged 20 years or so, which complicates her relationship with Steve Rogers and causes her a lot of personal anguish.
The easy thing would be to just ditch all this unpleasant history, but Coates has done his homework and tackles both of these elements head on.
For example, he deals with Carter’s pain by displaying Agent 13’s essential nature (as a fighter) rather than denigrating her (as a victim). He shows great skill in a conversation between Steve and Sharon on a dinner date, which is the best scene in the book.
He also addresses the Spencer mess. He shows that a lot of people don’t trust Captain America any more, which is a sad legacy of Captain Hydra. But he is dealing with it, and apparently in a fairly hopeful way (which a “Captain America” book should be). And rather than pretend that fascism in the comics doesn’t reflect the real world, at least on some level, he embraces the comparisons.
Fortunately, not all of modern “Captain America” stories have been disasters. Ed Brubaker’s run on the book demonstrated how well it works as an espionage title, and masterminded the transformation of Bucky Barnes into the Winter Soldier. Brubaker established that Bucky has always been a stone killer, extrapolating back to World War II, where we learned that the “sidekick” was doing the dirty work while Captain America was on camera. Coates takes advantage of Brubaker’s espionage slant and Winter Soldier, the pragmatic ice man who calmly snipes bad guys.
Coates puts a lot of balls in the air in “Captain America,” some of which may not pay off for months. (That’s what he does in “Black Panther,” too.) Enjoying “Captain America” may take a commitment by the reader to stick around for a while, but it’s probably one worth making.
Thor Odinson has been MIA in his own book for several years, with Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir as a Thunder Goddess. (Also called Thor. Don’t think about it too hard.) That arrangement ended with the last iteration of the book, where Jane’s human self succumbed to cancer – but was given a second shot at beating the disease by All-Father Odin. She had to give up her hammer hobby, though, and ol’ Goldilocks is back with “Thor” #1.
But here’s an example where the movies have fed the comics, instead of the other way around. Writer Jason Aaron is obviously aware of what worked so spectacularly well in “Thor: Ragnarok,” as one can easily picture Chris Hemsworth voicing some of the dialogue in this story. Long gone is the stoic, Shakespearean Thor of old, replaced by one inclined to self-deprecating humor and sardonic observation on what fools these mortals be.
Also, Loki is as much supporting character as nemesis, and you can hear Tom Hiddleston in his dialogue – especially when he infuriates Thor by drinking his last beer. Another welcome supporting character is Thori, Thor’s adorably murderous puppy, a spawn of Garm, the giant canine who guards Hel in Norse mythology.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbow bridges, though. Thor is currently missing an arm, which is fellow Asgardian Tyr’s gig, and feels wrong for a guy whose physical strength has always been a major draw. And I’m not a fan of Mike Del Mundo’s art, which is a bit on the cartoony side.
But artist Christian Ward does a much better job on the back-up strip, starring the Thor of the far future. A feature Aaron established in previous runs of “Thor,” the ongoing adventures of cranky All-Father Thor and his three cheerfully disrespectful granddaughters is sneaky, snappy fun.
Tony Stark: Iron Man #1
Just like in “Thor,” the titular character has been absent in his own book for quite a while, replaced by a genius teen named Riri Williams, who goes by the nom du combat Ironheart. But Stark is back in the armor in this issue, and acting more like Robert Downey Jr. than ever.
And that’s all you need to know, if you enjoy the Marvel movies (and who doesn’t?). “Tony Stark: Iron Man” is full of big ideas and frantic, funny dialogue, both of which race by pell-mell. Stark is in full manic genius mode, which makes this book, by writer Dan Slott and artist Valerio Schiti, irresistible.
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