Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Giant Size Review # 6: The Women of All-New Marvel NOW

Marvel has a great history of strong, popular and well-selling female characters. Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue, Kitty Pryde... Wait, hold on a second. Those are all X-Men.

Truth be told, while Marvel has had some great woman superheroes in its non-mutant titles, they were getting crushed in terms of notoriety by the X-Women. But in the past few years as Marvel has shifted some attention away from what was once its hottest property, there has been a strong uptick in quality and popularity regarding women superheroes line-wide. Sadly - despite an overall increase in female readership percentage-wise - this has not always translated into stronger sales. But despite some unjust commercial flops, this is a boom period for female solo hero books.

What I'm going to look at here is the continuation of Marvel's biggest existing female hero, its strongest new character, and, well... a hero that just can't seem to catch a break no matter what demographic switch is going on.


In a masterstroke, Kelly Sue DeConnick's second volume of "Captain Marvel" pairs her with the artist David Lopez, who draws the best Carol Danvers I've ever seen. Having gained a new level of confidence during the first volume, Captain Marvel's determination bleeds off every page.

After DeConnick's first volume - despite its trips through time - was rooted very much around her home life, "Higher, Further, Faster, More" sends the series off in another direction: space. Carol cuts off some of her personal relationships to return an alien refugee named Tic to her home and ends up leading a band full of misfits into epic space battle. Unfortunately, this change doesn't quite fly as well with me. What I really enjoyed about the first volume was the slightly more domestic side, which felt a lot more human.

This is salvaged, though, by a bizarre story involving Carol's cat Chewy who had been forced to tag along because no one was willing to catsit on Earth. When Captain Marvel meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket Raccoon opens fire on Chewy, calling her a "Flerkin." There's just something wonderful about a talking raccoon being thwarted by a housecat. Or IS it a housecat? The second book "Stay Fly" goes madly off in this strange direction, and it's absolutely wonderful. That includes the art, in ALL aspects. Lopez' covers - some having to do with the story, some not - are worth the price of admission alone, including the awesome David Bowie (RIP) homage right at the top of this column.

Rating(s): 7.5/10 ("Higher, Further, Faster, More"), 8.5/10 ("Stay Fly")


In most eras, a run as good as DeConnick's on "Captain Marvel" when it comes to female superheroes would be unchallenged. But she has another female character named "Marvel" nipping at her heels.

People have been calling the new Ms. Marvel the best new character in years and with good reason. G. Willow Wilson's introduction of Kamala Khan has been compared favourably to the debut of Spider-Man. She is a first-class teen hero, and most of it has to do with her background.

Unlike Spider-Man and most other teen heroes, Kamala lives with a big family which makes hiding a second identity all the more difficult. It also completely switches up her sense of duty. On top of this, Khan is Muslim which is boundary-breaking on its own when it comes to superheroes. Her parents are strict (out of love) and her brother is very devoted to his faith. Creating a hero with a family unit comes off as remarkably refreshing, and it's - quite frankly - shocking that more writers haven't gone in this direction before. There's more opportunity for comedy and drama, and the family's strong authenticity gives Khan a level of depth that a lot of heroes - and I mean A LOT - cannot touch.

What's also a big step forward is how the book acknowledges the superhero world around it. Khan is a big fan of Marvel's mightiest, spending some of her free time as a mod on a resource site. So when she enters this bigger world and starts running into the likes of Wolverine and the Inhumans, she geeks out. Just adds to the charm.

Aiding the presentation is Adrian Alphona on art, who draws teens better than anyone else in comics without question. He captures everything so well, from fashion to awkwardness to a false sense of confidence that comes crashing down. The perfect choice for an already outstanding book.

Rating(s): 9/10 ("No Normal"), 8/10 ("Generation Why")


Unfortunately, the good times aren't rolling for every female hero. There are still instances of high-quality work being produced that haven't been able to generate strong readership. And if there is a character that defines "High quality/Low readership" in the Marvel universe, it's She-Hulk. Just like with John Byrne, and just like with Dan Slott, Charles Soule's "She-Hulk" is an awesome read, but it didn't sell enough issues to stay alive. I've said it before and I will say it again: Jennifer Walters' arch-enemy is cancellation.

Soule brings a unique angle to She-Hulk because he - like her - is a lawyer. With Jennifer once again starting a law firm, his experience brings a new angle to that aspect of her work. He staffs the practice with an interesting cast including the mysterious Angie Huang and the surprisingly resilient Hellcat. When I first read this I was pleased to see Patsy Walker getting more work. After her appearance in the "Jessica Jones" Netflix series as "Trish Walker," I imagine this will continue going forward.

What really makes this title great is that it's not so much of a beat-em-up hero book. It's very much a comic spoof of courtroom dramas like "Law and Order" without losing any dramatic punch. Shulkie's cases deal mainly with superheroes and villains. Punches are thrown now and then but it's never as impressive as what happens in court with Doctor Doom's son and the now-elderly Steve Rogers in court, or in a boardroom with Tony Stark. The most intense story development throughout the run is when Jennifer discovers who is across the courtroom in the Captain America case.

Unfortunately, the series comes to an abrupt end after only 12 issues with what feels like a too-rapid conclusion to an underlying story involving a blue folder. Soule insists that he only pitched and planned for 12 issues, but the folder mystery is unwrapped far too quickly and could have stretched for another year's worth of stories or more. Seriously, moments after concluding the excellent Captain America arc we end up back at Jennifer's firm with a clear, out-of-nowhere indication that we are about to get all of our answers. So much for intrigue.

By the way, we're going 3-for-3 in these series when it comes to great art. Javier Pulido is the perfect choice for this off-the-wall title, with a pop art style that is very reminiscent of Mike Allred. Given that Jennifer was just coming off the Allred-drawn "FF," this gives She-Hulk a feeling of quirky continuity. The issues where Pulido is absent are jarring, but not enough to derail what's going on.

This makes three She-Hulk runs that I absolutely love. Again, for the love of Pete... GIVE HER A CHANCE, READERS!

Rating(s): 9/10 ("Law and Disorder"), 9/10 ("Disorderly Conduct")

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