Comics Update 2018, Part 2 of 5: My Year in Marvel

Spider-Ham & Lockjaw!

Don’t mind me, just pandering to fellow Spider-Verse fans out there.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. Over the course of the next four entries…I’ll be sharing what I’m currently buying every Wednesday at my local comic shop — series and miniseries alike, budget permitting, broken down by publisher as of the very end of February 2019, including lists of 2018 works that are either done or dead to me.

In tallying the figures, I was a little surprised to discover I’d tried more projects from merry Marvel than from any other company. That doesn’t mean I loved them all unconditionally, merely that so far they’ve held my attention even though I loathe crossovers and avoid team books, which tend to be their bestsellers and constitute some 80% of their lineup nowadays. With the size advantage and with Captain Marvel hitting theaters this Friday, why not let them go first.

Ongoing series and miniseries in progress:

Ironheart – I skipped all of Riri Williams’ prior appearances in Invincible Iron Man, but poet/educator/awesome-comics-newcomer/Doctor Eve Ewing went above and beyond in welcoming new readers who haven’t made the time to go pick up those trades yet. An MIT student by day and a Chicago resident by night when she bothers to go home and get some rest, Ms. Williams has so far hit the ground running with intros to her dual settings, her supporting cast, her budding workaholism, her awkward social skills, and a couple of initial villains to test her mettle and her metal as she invents her own gadgetry and distinguishes herself from whatshisname Stark. It’s a bit odd that they changed artists after the first issue, but I’m enjoying the latest addition to Marvel’s teen-STEM hero brigade.

Killmonger (miniseries) – Michael B. Jordan may not have been long for the MCU, but his Earth-616 counterpart is…uh, last I checked, he’s been dead for years. But hey, give it ten minutes and they’ll find a cure or an alt-timeline substitute. Until then, this prequel means to whet our appetites and, of course, reshape the character into Jordan’s image. Bryan Hill and Juan Ferreyra embroil Our Villain in a fine mess involving other assassins trying to hold their own in a crowded New York City super-villain scene where the competition is fierce and filled with familiar faces from other screens. Naturally Killmonger isn’t about to back down, though it’s good to see him break a sweat as he realizes that strutting around claiming to be the G.O.A.T. only gets you so far.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man – I plowed through the first five Ultimate Comics Spider-Man trades a few months before Into the Spider-Verse turned the teen sensation into America’s Next Top Wall-Crawler. I haven’t read anything of him from Cataclysm up through the last six Spider-Man crossovers, including any of his team-book participation. Fortunately incoming writer Saladin Ahmed only made me feel awkward about his rearranged supporting cast for the few first pages of #1 before I got comfy and relaxed. (More relatives seem to be alive than used to be, but I’m not complaining.) A team-up with the Rhino was a fun idea for an opening arc, so I’m on board for now. At the first sign of a Spider-title crossover, I’m out.

Runaways – I wasn’t among the fans campaigning for any of Our Heroes to leap into romantic pairings, so I’ll leave that part to others. All else remains on track here, especially the gratifying part where everyone is realizing they were a bit too quick to trust the resurrected Alex Wilder, founding member and shady master schemer. In the months since our last update I also got to check out the Hulu series (thanks to an incredible Cyber Monday sale) and can confirm the show and the comic are in very different places, though the unsatisfying season-2 finale felt less like a structured cliffhanger and more like the point when they simply ran out of episodes.

Shuri – Speaking of differences between page and screen: T’Challa’s smarter sister finally gets her own series after spending years in his shadow, but newcomers might be confused at the sight of Letitia Wright turning into a magical murder of astral crows. Nnedi Okorafor wisely spends the first arc showing off Shuri’s sci-fi prowess and divesting her of the non-techie otherworldly aspects, presumably to get down to the business of The Shuri We All Know And Love. I thought Leonardo Romero (late of Hawkeye) was a curious choice of regular artist, but remains solid as always.

Star Wars Comics 2018!

Our 2018 in Star Wars comics. The lone non-Marvel intruder in this bunch will be covered in a future entry.

Star Wars – Still among the few comics my wife and I both read. Kieron Gillen is a lot more fascinated in the world of Shu-Torun than I am, but the most recent arc’s detour to a happy isolationist world sported some of the most fully realized, non-screen characters to appear in this particular series to date, albeit possibly for lack of competition. Obviously this means now we’ll never see them again. I mean, Sana Starros is okay I guess, but too often has to be benched because The Powers That Be insist Luke-Leia-Han must be front and center at all times, even when they’re just going through the motions of being Luke-Leia-Han. I’m not the sort of hardcore Star Wars fan who thinks that’s good enough.

Star Wars: Han Solo, Imperial Cadet (miniseries) – Former Spider-Gwen writer Robbie Thompson and artist Leonard Kirk (I’ve been a fan since his turn-of-the-millennium Supergirl days) achieve the easy feat of delivering a Han Solo prequel better than the so-so motion picture, but they achieve it in style. Han’s team of fellow trainees remind me of Tom Cruise’s crew in Edge of Tomorrow, or possibly the dudes from Stripes — scruffy ragamuffins who just need the least likely leader to turn their sloppy shenanigans into teamwork. Bonus points for containing 700% fewer eye-rolling Secret Origins of Random Original-Trilogy Little Things That Didn’t Need Origins.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – The departure of artist Erica Henderson was a wound from which I thought I’d never recover. So far Derek Charm is keeping me calm, a logical successor after previously working with Ryan North on Jughead. That being said, this year featured not the best arcs. Kraven the Hunter’s trial was one of the most ludicrous courtroom stories I’ve seen outside of 1970s cop shows. “The Death of Squirrel Girl” ended with a nice example of forgiveness, which is cool in and of itself, but had the same problem with pretending consequences for one’s law-breaking shouldn’t have to be a thing. I still laughed a lot with every issue and will still brake for any and every Squirrel Girl cosplayer we see at cons, but her balance of comedy and straight-faced superheroics has been askew of late.

Unstoppable Wasp – I was annoyed when young Nadia van Dyne’s previous series was cut short, and yet I didn’t greet her return with relief because in my mind the selection of Gurihiru as regular art team signaled a reduction to cutesy for-kids-only level, as was the case with all those Power Pack miniseries from several years ago. I was wildly mistaken. Sure, Nadia and her cohorts in G.I.R.L. are back in the saddle and science-ing in the face of evil, but in the last few issues writer Jeremy Whitley has steered Nadia into her deepest waters yet. Her legacy as the long-lost daughter of Hank Pym has come for a reckoning as we’ve learned she inherited not just his intellect, but also her own personalized version of bipolar disorder, in a frightening sequence that forced her friends to make really tough choices. The final pages of Unstoppable Wasp #5 struck an emotional nerve in me that happens extremely rarely with comics anymore. If more fans don’t discover this book and start raving about it soon I will scream.

West Coast Avengers – I broke my no-team-books rule once this year, basically because this ’80s revival is Kelly Thompson continuing her Hawkeye series under a new name and with our premier comedy duo of Clint Barton and Kate Bishop joined by other characters taking up extra room. The sitcom dialogue remains spot-on, but the added familiar faces are only a tad more engaging than Kate’s previous supporting cast. Most of them feel as though they’re coasting on whatever reps they built up in past series instead of showing me why I should think they’re cool now.

Exiles!

A tender moment with Li’l Wolvie and Sheriff T’Challa from Exiles #7. Art by Rod Reis.

Series that were canceled or ended as the creators allegedly planned:

Captain America – Mark Waid’s second Cap run petered out with a predictable alt-future anti-Nazi storyline, and it’s sad when Nazi-punching feels rote. That was shuffled aside for the passing of the torch to celebrated author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose first issue was decently okay Cap, but became a “maybe” that I left behind on the shelf as too many other books crowded it off my list.

Domino – I missed regularly reading Gail Simone outside Twitter, so I hopped aboard here even though I’ve read almost zero previous Domino stories. I was never an X-Force fan, and even now I’m struggling to remember Domino’s real name without peeking at Wikipedia. I think I was secretly hoping Simone would replace her with Zazie Beetz from Deadpool 2, but it didn’t happen. Yet. The same cast and crew are returning soon with the upcoming Hotshots series, but I don’t know how strongly I feel about hopping back on.

Exiles – Alt-universe X-Men titles are far more enjoyable when they’re guaranteed not to be tied to any other series whatsoever. Saladin Ahmed nailed the free-wheeling adventurous spirit of the original timeline/universe-hopping mutant team from 10-15 years ago, and was given free rein to summon old heroes in new styles such as Captain America Peggy Carter and Tessa Thompson’s previously non-canonical Valkyrie. I don’t know if this was cut down in its prime or always planned as a maxiseries, but now I’m down to collecting zero X-Men titles again.

Hawkeye – I concede Kate deserved space to come into her own as a solo superhero without having to cart Clint’s baggage around all the time. Her first few issues as a poor detective reliant on packs of frozen peas for first aid was something we hadn’t seen before, but began to lose some luster till Clint returned and their repartee resumed. The relaunch as West Coast Avengers barely counts as a cancellation.

Marvel 2 in One – Marvel has inexplicably been forcing Chip Zdarsky to suppress his wild side and write stoic drama instead, which is not what I’m looking for in my Chip Zdarsky comics. Before someone in editorial got to him, his reunion of the Thing and the Human Torch hit some right notes and managed to bring in the reformed Doctor Doom as well. The more serious this book got, the more tedious it got. And then it was swept aside for the long-awaited return of the Fantastic Four proper.

Ms. Marvel – After five straight years guiding her most well-known creation through thick and thin, G. Willow Wilson has stepped away and moved on. Her final year with Kamala Khan did fans the favor of bringing her best pal Bruno back from his brooding sabbatical in Wakanda, gave her other friends much more to do, and kinda buried her budding romance with Red Dagger, which is just as well. It’s silly that the book has to start over with #1 yet again, but I suspect her inheritor Saladin Ahmed won’t let her down.

Moon Knight – I nearly quit this book twice because I kept disconnecting from Max Bemis’ visions of the twisted recesses of Marc Spector’s subdivided brain, but I saw it through to its finale. Things didn’t get any more lucid or photorealist, but I respect what appears to be an utter lack of compromise and refusal to settle for regressing a great antihero back to Batman Junior.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – I’m not sure anyone would’ve noticed if Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver had never finished the final two issues after a seven-year hiatus, which is hilarious if not necessarily a record-breaker. It definitely tops the five-year wait between Neal Adams’ Ms. Mystic #2 and #3, which you kids will have to ask an older collector about sometime. But finish it they did. Now if only I could remember what happened seven years ago when last we left Da Vinci, Nathaniel Richards, and…um, was there a third guy?

Star Wars: Darth Vader – Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli managed an uninterrupted 25-issue run, a miracle in today’s field with radically different work standards. Their take on ol’ Helmet-Head ended with a bang and with billions of metric tons of lava, as even a return to a Prequels planet provided new challenges and striking visuals. One of Marvel’s best Star Wars runs to date, particularly for the rousing arc that had the Sith Lord facing off against the greatest Jedi librarian of all time.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron – More intergalactic fun with Charles Soule, which captured Oscar Isaac’s voice and Poe’s impish optimism just right but began to lose steam as the later issues turned more toward the other pilots and set aside his arch-nemesis Terex, who’d better be planning a comeback.

Spider-Force!

How not to recap, set up, or plot a crossover.

Miniseries completed in 2018/winter 2019:

Ant-Man and the Wasp – With strong artwork from Javier Garron (now flexing his muscles monthly on Miles Morales), Mark Waid teamed up old pro Scott Lang with rookie Nadia van Dyne, threw them into other dimensions, gave them a new nonhuman sidekick, and dared them to science their way back to our reality. Honestly, why Marvel doesn’t embrace STEM learning more blatantly and establish a full-on “Science Hero” family of books alongside their X-Men-family and Avengers-family cliques, with its own trade dress and marketing campaign aimed at science fans worldwide, is beyond me.

Black Panther vs. Deadpool – Good comedy has been such a rarity in my forty years of collecting that I get too easily excited whenever a specialist comes along and isn’t immediately chased away. Enter trained comedy writer Daniel Kibblesmith (Late Night with Stephen Colbert), whose recent forays include this unrepentant contrivance. He did his best to cram the stars of two of Marvel’s biggest 2018 films into one story while trying to think of ways for this to last more than a single issue. For the sake of that specific goal, it made sense to establish early on that T’Challa couldn’t easily execute Deadpool on the spot, so Our Heroes had to undergo stressful plot-necessity contortions lest the King of Wakanda be perceived as turning a blind eye on a mass murderer. They didn’t work, but it was often amusing to watch the attempt.

The Life of Captain Marvel – From her various identities onward (Ms. Marvel! Binary! Warbird!) back in the day Carol Danvers was so focused on her assorted careers that she often forgot to make time for having dimensions. Novelist Margaret Stohl finally does something about that while pushing the big red reset button right before Carol’s big motion picture debut. Her old family returns, her Kree background returns to the forefront, and a Major Revelation Out of Nowhere surprisingly didn’t bug me. Possibly Carol’s most entertaining story in years, though this weekend we’ll see if the film can meet or top that, online flame wars notwithstanding.

Lockjaw – A much better case of Daniel Kibblesmith hitting the target, this vehicle for the Inhumans’s beloved pet doggo was in fact a delightful tale for super-pet lovers, the year’s second-best use of Spider-Ham, the best use of loser sidekick D-Man in possibly decades, and the year’s best product attached to the now-contaminated “Inhumans” label.

Marvel Rising – a four-issue crossover between younger heroines Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl, released as four #1s because, uhhhhhh, kids these days can’t handle sequential numbering? A villain with an authentically fleshed-out gaming background was an apt choice for a modern all-ages shindig, but it sounded supremely off-key to me whenever anyone but Ryan North wrote Squirrel Girl’s dialogue.

Multiple Man – I met Matthew Rosenberg twice at C2E2 a few years before he became one of Marvel’s current big-time writers and still strongly recommend We Can Never Go Home and 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank to anyone interested in character-driven, non-costumed comics. I was a little trepidatious about his recruitment to the X-Men writing team, but tried to keep up hope when his first two X-projects were revealed as seemingly self-contained miniseries. His take on the generally unpredictable Madrox the Multiple Man nearly overdosed on imaginatively nonlinear alt-universe shenanigans as some of his clones inexplicably turned into MAD Magazine superhero parodies. When I found out this story would be leading into other X-books, I abandoned ship and never bought the final issue. I am not getting mired in X-continuity again and am more than happy to sever my connection on an unresolved cliffhanger of my own choosing.

New Mutants – A few months earlier, Rosenberg tested the waters with this all-star X-reunion that used his name and the return of Strong Guy as bait to lure me in. It was nice to revisit forgotten teen heroes for a while even if none of them should be teens anymore, but I raged when the final issue led up to a big fat To Be Continued, asking me to go buy one or more X-titles that I have no interest in touching. That entire family of books has felt for decades like one never-ending crossover, and I’m not having it. As far as the comics go, today’s X-Men and I are donezo.

Spider-Force – Christopher Priest may be the last remaining comics creator whose work I consider unconditionally, automatic buy-on-sight. Priest tested me on this stance with a three-issue contribution to a Major Crossover Event about which I knew and cared zero. A few scraps of interactive bickering between a handful of Spider-characters at least gave me some nominal sense of character motivations for the space of this arc only, but it certainly didn’t entice me to wander into the tangled jungles of Spider-crossover gibberish beyond its boundaries.

Star Wars: Age of Republic – Not really a miniseries but a bunch of standalone one-shots under one umbrella — quick, unremarkable shorts starring the main characters from the Prequels trilogy, maybe not a big selling point for some viewers. The lone standout starred Jango Fett and his adopted son Boba, who showed a darker, more disturbing side here than in anything his adult-size action figure ever did onscreen.

Star Wars: Lando – Double or Nothing – Donald Glover comes to comics! Well, his face, anyway. TV writer Rodney Barnes tried to give us more of the Solo good parts, but with mixed results and a few too many stale one-liners.

Star Wars: Thrawn – An adaptation of the Timothy Zahn novel. His most popular Expanded Universe character, among the extremely precious few who survived into the New Canon, now gets an origin tale with lots of talky machinations. Anne skipped reading this because she’d already read the original novel, but I hadn’t and picked this up for myself. It was serviceable but didn’t entice me to run out and pick up where we left off on Star Wars Rebels (which we quit four episodes into Season 1, writing it off as Firefly for Kids). I can see why new fans discovering him for the first time in the cartoon might be excited to see more of him, though.

X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis – Ed Piskor, the creator of Hip-Hop Family Tree, takes the next step in his ambitious project of presenting the Complete History of the X-Men in his distinct indie-art fashion. This project reminds me entirely of Uncanny X-Men #138, which was my very first X-Men comic and was a done-in-one summary of the first 137 issues, from their debut up to the first death of Phoenix. Piskor’s formidable goal is to summarize all X-continuity in a single, streamlined chronology, including several obscure miniseries and even those Classic X-Men backup stories that Chris Claremont and John Bolton did back in the ’80s. Nothing but respect for my X-Men.

Thing-Masters Wedding!

Benjamin J. Grimm and Alicia Masters, happy at last till some future putz of a writer or editor ruins everything. Art by Aaron Kuder, Marte Gracia and/or Erick Arciniega.

Titles I dropped, or tried once but failed to get hooked:

Fantastic Four – I was hoping incoming writer Dan Slott would serve up more space-faring fun a la his wondrous Silver Surfer run. The first arc made good on that hope and ditched all the ancillary characters that been hanging around since Jonathan Hickman’s run, which lost me when I made the mistake of jumping on halfway through only to find myself bouncing off. I was then happy to see the long-overdue, fan-pleasing wedding of Ben Grimm and Alicia Masters, but they couldn’t even get all the way through that momentous occasion before promising that both Doctor Doom and Galactus were totally returning because there are no other FF villains ever. I get that a lot of fans want to read the same comics and the same villain fights over and over again, but I kinda don’t. It’s the same reason I haven’t touched a serious, in-canon Joker story in years.

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra – It’s not the first time Anne and I have given up on one of Marvel’s Star Wars comics. Our interest in the titular dual-class archaeologist-thief-villain-protagonist had dwindled so low that by the time Kieron Gillen handed her over to a writer whose work I’ve yet to care for, I was actively rooting for the evil-twin droids Beetee and Triple-Zero to murder her and take over. When you find yourself wishing a main character was dead, that’s usually a good sign it’s time to save money and walk away.

To be continued!

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