Hey folks! I’ll be heading off to Oregon for a little less than a week and plan to read a lot of trades while in transit and during downtime. So expect a lot of silence over the next week, and (hopefully) a bit of action the week after that. This week, Tynion kept me on the line with RHatO, Supergirl continued to please, part three of The Enemy Within was the best one yet, my favorite duo made a big entrance in the Ultimate universe, and the fifth issue of Brian Wood’s fantastic miniseries Mara FINALLY came out.
Weekly Spotlight: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #24
Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez
Fun bit of trivia about me and comics: the first superhero comic I ever bought was Ultimate Spider-Man. I’d like to tell you it was USM 1 but I honestly don’t remember, because after an issue or two I managed to get the hardcover which contained the first dozen or so issues of the series. I was reading at a time when I, too, was a geeky high school guy, and at a time when the upcoming summer promised to bring the first Spider-Man movie that looked an awful lot like the series I’d been reading. The LCS shut down and I moved on to other things somewhere in the mid-twenties of that run, and I hadn’t looked back since. After getting back into comics late last year and looking about, I found that the Peter that I knew and loved no longer existed in any way, and while I had nothing against Miles (I’d heard he was pretty cool), I never bothered to pick up an issue of his book. Until today, when I saw one of my absolute favorite character duos on the cover.
I don’t know why I love Tyrone “Cloak” Johnson and Tandy “Dagger” Bowen so much. I don’t remember what led me to pick up a few issues of their really old miniseries years ago while visiting a comic shop with a friend who actually read comics. I don’t know why I decided to try out Comixology and happened upon their three-issue Spider Island mini and bought that and nothing else. I don’t know why so few people have heard of them or why Marvel hasn’t made a bigger point of showing them off. But with the popularity of Miles and the focus his new “Spider-Man No More” arc is getting, I couldn’t be happier that they are being shown off once more, even if this isn’t the 616.
As the Ultimate versions of these characters, the new Cloak & Dagger are given a new background and origin. I have to admit, I was very nervous seeing previews for the issue because it features the pair going to prom together. People frequently make the mistake of thinking that Tandy and Ty are romantically involved, and having the new (and likely, immediately more popular) versions start out as a couple will probably make that mistake even more common. I’m also a little annoyed that the sharp difference in backgrounds between the two seems to have been toyed with, but I suppose not having the black guy be the down-on-his-luck would-be mugger (he is instead an assistant manager) is probably a more progressive portrayal. It will be interesting to see whether Ultimate Cloak maintains the streetwise roughness which he is known for. Likewise, Tandy seems to have been a lot more socially successful this time around.
So the Ultimate kids aren’t star-crossed societal rejects, and their new origin doesn’t involve them being manipulated by experimental narcotics (a sure sign that these characters debuted in the 80s — superpowers via drugs!). Instead we get a car accident and mad scientists stealing their bodies for experimental research. It actually makes a lot more sense when you consider the nature of the research (dark matter study) in relation to the powers which Tandy and Ty manifest: Tandy becomes the manifestation of light, Tyrone of darkness. Dagger’s, well, daggers make an appearance in the issue, but it remains to be seen just how much of Cloak’s powers — his 616 body is basically a portal into a hellish dark dimension — remain intact.
As the origin of Ultimate Cloak & Dagger, I’d say this is a pretty solid issue. As an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man?
Well, I obviously cannot vouch well for how it picks up the pieces of the last issue since I did not read that issue. If seeing Miles a year after his mother’s death was jarring and emotional, then this book goes for a decidedly lighter, more action-driven feel, with three major foci: the back story for Cloak & Dagger, their current fight in the streets with Bombshell, and the dinner and conversation between Miles & Gwen Stacy which said fight rudely interrupts. The immediate presence of a superpower-driven fight forces Miles to consider his decision to hang up the mask, with Gwen clearly in favor of him reneging. Even with almost no knowledge of either character, I could feel the emotion in the brief scenes between them, largely due to the absolutely fantastic art which Marquez brings to the issue. There are so many fantastic expressions and moments throughout the book, as well as some fairly unique layouts. And that’s coming from a guy who usually doesn’t notice that kind of thing.
It’s hard to say where this story plans to go or how it plans to get there. The confrontation between Cloak & Dagger and Bombshell is decidedly low-key compared to typical brawls, and isn’t quite the catalyst for making Miles suit up and heed the responsibility his powers demand. But it’s a clear push in that direction, and one wonders how many more pushes are waiting for Miles around the corner. Moreover, I wonder what’s next for Cloak & Dagger. They’ve taken Bombshell and fled from the police, but whether that’s going to lead to something bigger in this book or whether this introduction was mostly a prelude to a short-lived cameo, who can tell? These are characters who have spent decades not fitting in anywhere, looking to the streets for kids like them who were never loved or accepted, kids like the Runaways who didn’t have a home. They’ve been rejected by the X-Men because they aren’t mutants, and constantly on the run from the law and folks like the Avengers because they don’t have a place to stay. Yet the Ultimate Cloak & Dagger were kids with great lives whose families and social circles loved them, and were merely, seemingly temporarily, taken from those circles. Will they attempt to reintegrate? If they do become runaways, what will be the reasoning?
I don’t know. But I’m glad to see them in the spotlight, and I hope their getting an origin story at such a critical juncture in Miles’ story means that Marvel has big plans for them. Bring on the next issue, I say.
Mara #5: Brian Wood, Ming Doyle, and Jordie Bellaire have been crafting a beautiful and smart world with Mara, the sort which I routinely complain about for only one reason: it’s a six-issue mini that should have been an ongoing. A months-long wait finally ended today as the penultimate issue arrived, answering the question of how Mara responds to the surprising turn of events at the end of #4 and setting up a serious cliffhanger for the conclusion of the series. The tag-team art from Doyle & Bellaire has not ceased to impress over the run of this series and this issue is no different, with some of the most beautiful panels in Mara to date. There are even penguins! Honestly, I can’t recommend this series enough. It’s unique, it’s lovely, and with only six issues to worry about it’s also a pretty low-risk investment if you’re looking to add something a little different to your pile. ABSOLUTELY start from the first issue, however. Starting at #5 would be like starting a book 5/6 of the way through.
Seriously, I considered using this as the spotlight but that’d have required me to talk about the preceding issues for it to make any sense — and it’s best you just go and read them. Now.
Supergirl #21: I was concerned that after a hilarious opening Michael Alan Nelson would let me down with his second issue on Supergirl. It turns out those fears were completely unwarranted. No, this one isn’t the lighthearted laugh fest that the previous issue was, but that’s a good thing, because by dealing with more emotional and thoughtful aspects of Kara’s life Nelson manages to prove in only two issues that he can cover the full spectrum of the complicated girl’s portrayal. From the tender interpersonal opening to the action-filled center to the brow-raising conclusion, this is a great all-around issue and looks like a good place to jump on before things get decidedly complicated. Oh, and the art is pretty great too, particularly if you’ve been struggling with the series’ usual.
Captain Marvel #13: I said that last week’s Part Two of The Enemy Within felt like treading water before something more important and to a large extent that proved to be precisely the case. Carol is trying to piece together all the attacks she’s been thrust into as of late in an effort to figure out who’s behind them, and she has the help of some good friends and a wise-cracking old lady to make it easier. The second half of the issue is a series of fights around the world with the now numerous sentries which our lately-revealed villain has been pulling out of the ground all over the planet. We get a glimpse at just how big of a threat he poses and, finally, the feeling that this event was worth getting on-board for. By all counts we’re in for a fun ride.
Red Hood & The Outlaws #21: They say a cord of three strands is not easily broken, but in just three issues James Tynion IV has managed to completely pull apart our band of Outlaws. Yet it’s a bit more complex than that, with major players new and old cropping up to give us a hint of just how many (and bigger) fish our trio has to worry about frying. We gain a lot of well-warranted insight into how Roy is dealing with all this, as well as a wink to fearful readers as he explains to Hugo Strange, “It’s like all these people just sat down and decided…Hey, these three buds are having way too much fun. Let’s just go ruin everything in their lives just for the heck of it.” Tynion nails fan fears so directly with that statement that it’s hard to imagine he’s not genuinely on the ball here, and like Roy the only story I care about is the one with these friends coming back together stronger than they were before. But it’s going to be quite the road before we get there, as things feel like they’re just starting to heat up.
Injustice #23: Whatever you thought might happen after the last page of the previous issue, Superman hasn’t completely lost it yet. Or at least, not at first. We get a pretty awesome series of punches (reminiscent of the new Man of Steel) before the function of this invasion, and its impact on the Injustice world, truly come into focus. Though there’s the slightest hint of comic relief as the other characters observe the invasion from a distance, the truth is that we’re witnessing an unprecedented catastrophe. The horrors — both on-panel and off — with which Superman is faced help to make the direction we know he eventually heads down that much more understandable. The ominous words on the final page have me both anticipating and dreading what the conclusion of this arc has in store.