Marvel Entertainment launched a handful of new titles this past week, and I thought I’d peruse the debut issues for my latest batch of capsule reviews. Join me as I discuss the opening chapters of the latest incarnations of Black Widow, Invaders and Marvel Comics Presents.
by Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska & Flaviano
Marvel’s recent repeated relaunches of Black Widow as the titular character in her own series are understandable, given the high profile the character now has thanks to Scarlett Johannsen’s portrayal of the heroine in the big-screen Avengers franchise. However, I feel a bit sorry for the Soska sisters, as the strength of the Mark Waid/Chris Samnee run with the character is still fresh in my mind, and this effort pales in comparison. The other problem is that this new direction for the Widow is based on the events of Secret Empire, a poorly received and ill-conceived event book that’s marred the Marvel brand. I get what the writers were going for here: they wanted to juxtapose the morally centred Captain America against a woman who’s a professional assassin, who’s trying to rediscover herself after being literally resurrected. Honestly, though, I think the story would have been better served without the Cap comparison, as Natasha’s decision to ignore his wisdom and principles casts her in a poor light.
I only recall seeing Flaviano’s art once before — in a fill-in on Power Man and Iron Fist in 2016. He did a solid job of emulating the style of Sanford Greene, the regular artist on the series. Here, his style is slightly different, through still exaggerated, which is in keeping with the tone of the Soskas’ over-the-top plot points. His work here reminded me a bit of the style of Riley (Martian Manhunter) Rossmo. The more extreme tone of his art suits some of the characters, but it doesn’t seem like a good match for the more introspective tone for which the writers strive at times. Furthermore, Flaviano telegraphs which Cap is the evil one in the opening scene by plastering a sinister grin on his face. 5/10
by Chip Zdarsky, Butch Guice & Carlos Magno
Writer Chip Zdarsky approaches the title characters from a different perspective. Instead of a comic about super-heroes who fought during the war, he examines soldiers who happened to have super-powers. Today, we’re well aware of the psychological scars that war leave on the human mind, and here, Zdarsky posits that Namor’s personality shifts, his flip-flops between being a savior to mankind to its bane, might be the result of such trauma. It’s an unusual and intriguing idea, and it turned my passing curiosity about this new title into a real interest. The writer also delivers an accessible script; the audience needn’t be all that familiar with these characters’ intricate histories to appreciate the new plot here.
The two-pronged approach to the art for this issue was a great idea. Butch Guice renders the Second World War flashback scenes, while Carlos Magno illustrates those set in the present. Guice’s looser, grittier style reflects the haziness of memory (referred to in the script), while the crisp detail that Magno brings conveys the intensity and urgency of events unfolding in the here and now. Magno’s style has definitely evolved in recent years; I don’t remember his linework being this tight and meticulous. 7/10
by Charles Soule, Paolo Siqueira & Oren Junior/Greg Pak & Tomm Coker/Ann Nocenti, Greg Land & Jay Leisten
I was surprised when I heard Marvel was taking another run at relaunching this anthology title, as its last one fell flat. Judging from the overall quality of this first issue, this latest attempt will be short-lived as well. Soule’s opening Wolverine story feels like the kind of thing we’ve seen over and over when it comes to the clawed mutant’s adventures. Despite the script’s warnings about the fate of the world being at stake, it never feels like anything is really on the line here. The art, while capable, isn’t terribly remarkable or eye-catching either. Ann Nocenti’s Captain America story is the only one set in the present, and it boasts a positive message. Mind you, Cap’s encouragement for a young woman to pursue her dreams felt a bit too saccharine, with a cheesy after-school special vibe, and the writer didn’t seem to capture Cap’s voice all that well. Greg Land realistic artwork is par for the course for what we’ve been getting from him in recent years, and I was a bit disappointed that both of the women in the story are portrayed as super-model types, always alluring and with just a hint of unnecessary sexiness.
Greg Pak and Tomm Coker’s Namor story was the strongest of the three segments in the book. Like the Wolverine story, it’s also set in the Second World War (I thought it was going to be a unifying theme until I got to the Cap piece), and Pak explores the ethics of war and one man’s disillusionment with what’s asked of him. Since I’d read the new Invaders comic just before this one, it felt as though this story conflicted with what Chip Zdarsky’s trying to accomplish in that other new title, but the real focus here is on the ideas, not the continuity. Coker’s art is quite striking; his darker, intense style suits Namor quite well, and his efforts here reminded me a great deal of the kind of strength and noir appeal we see in Tommy Lee Edwards’ art. Still, offering only one decent story out of three makes it hard to justify asking a consumer for five bucks of his or her hard-earned money. 5/10