This week’s Marvel Rundown welcomes a pair of new characters to the Marvel Universe. First, the Fantastic Four and Ka-Zar encounter a strange visitor to the Savage Land in Fantastic Four: The Prodigal Sun #1! Does Prodigal’s arrival spell trouble for Marvel’s First Family? Next, spinning out of War of the Realms: All-New Agents of Atlas, the Chinese hero Aero takes center stage in her first English language miniseries! And finally, the latest Darth Vader-centric miniseries begins with Star Wars: Target Vader #1! We’ve got discussion and reviews of all those titles – it’s time for The Marvel Rundown!
Fantastic Four: The Prodigal Sun #1
Written by Peter David
Illustrated by Francesco Manna
Colored by Espen Grundetjern
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Cover by Mico Suayan & Rain Beredo
Alexander Jones: Joe, this week is the debut of an all-new character in The Marvel Universe! I’m curious to hear your take regarding Prodigal to know if you think this new character potentially has a future in The Marvel Universe. I’m also interested to know how you felt about the playful sense of humor writer Peter David brought to the script?
Joe Grunenwald: Peter David’s a writer with a solid reputation for fun comics, and that’s definitely on display here. It’s hard for me to say at this point how much of a future I think Prodigal has, considering we still know very little about who he is or where he comes from, but I found him to be entertaining enough in this introductory one-shot, particularly in contrast to Ka-Zar and the Fantastic Four. How did you find him?
Jones: I appreciate the easy-going personality of Prodigal. He always seems to be a step ahead of everyone else in the room. This issue blends some interesting science fiction genre elements together with traditional superhero work. I was also struck by how great Peter David is at writing The Fantastic Four family. They came off as charming and as irreverent as writer Dan Slott’s characterization of them in recent entries in the main title. I think this issue is a little more complex for it be dubbed simple turn-your-brain off fun, but is definitely an action heavy, brisk issue of comics.
Grunenwald: I agree that there are some interesting, complex things going on in this story. The thing I’m most interested in knowing more about coming out of this issue is, of all things, the social structure of The Savage Land. I’ve never given that territory much thought—I always just figured it was Ka-Zar alone in a land of dinosaurs—but the glimpse that we get of the different groups and their interactions both with the other groups and within themselves has piqued my interest. All of that said, I did really like Prodigal’s interactions with the Savage Land inhabitants, though the ‘let me finish a sentence’ bit wore a bit thin after the second or third instance of it.
Jones: I understand that the issue has an easy-going vibe and tone but even I thought some of these moments were emphasized too strongly at points. I appreciated David for leaning into the humor side of the title so prominently. I’m going to reference The Fantastic Four one more time, as their reactions to Ka-Zar and the invitation to The Savage Land was delightful. I also found Franklin and Valeria’s reactions and character beats really novel. The issue also manages to break a lot of ground in the span of just one issue. I already feel like I have an idea of the character of Prodigal.
Grunenwald: David does a great job with the FF, capturing the absurdity of their lives in a really entertaining way. What did you think of Francesco Manna and Espen Grundetjern’s art on this book?
Jones: I really enjoyed the art! Going forward I’m going to have to keep an eye on Francesco Manna because think his pencils here were extremely fluid. I am really worried about you raining on my parade slightly by hinting that this may look too much like Marvel’s house style. I think the issue is pretty uniform with current prominent artists at the publisher like R.B. Silva and Pepe Larraz.
Grunenwald: I’m going to surprise you there, Alex. While there are certainly elements of Marvel’s house style in Manna’s work, I really enjoyed his work here, particularly when it came to the Fantastic Four and their abilities. His characters all emote nicely, and I agree about the fluidity in his linework. I also thought Grudetjern’s colors brought everything to life nicely. This book isn’t groundbreaking visually, but it was definitely enjoyable.
Jones: For a newer Marvel artist, the work already looks incredibly sleek and polished. I could foresee something bigger and bolder coming down the pipe rom Manna in the future. I thought the artwork functioned really well sequentially and kept a lot of speed and movement. I think one of Manna’s biggest shortcomings is his lack of detail. I wonder if the rapid deadlines of comics effects his art at all.
Grunenwald: I also thought Manna’s storytelling was solid throughout the issue. I’d like to see more work from he and David—I think Manna could couple some physically comedic elements nicely with David’s scripted humor.
Jones: It’s hard to find much else for me to say about the issue. I think David’s script was really brisk and allowed for the action to flow nicely. This a solid debut for The Prodigal Son who could be a promising new hero. I thought there are a couple comics similar to this we have been reviewing lately that can be a little light on plot. The structure of this book gave it a sense of purpose right away that made me appreciate the lighthearted nature of the issue much more. Do you have any final thoughts on the book before delivering a verdict on the issue?
Grunenwald: I think it’s verdict time! Fantastic Four: Prodigal Sun #1 is a solid one-shot tale. The characterization both in the script and the visuals is great, and the introduction of Prodigal is done really well. I left the issue wanting to know more about him, and excited to see his upcoming interaction with the Silver Surfer. This isn’t an essential book by any stretch, but it’s still a really entertaining read. Overall I’d give this book a BROWSE.
Jones: I almost want to score the issue above the BROWSE verdict but there’s nothing essential enough to merit a stronger verdict. This could be the start of something interesting and David writes the script really well. Manna’s art is really solid all the way through. Maybe future issues of The Prodigal Sun will be scored even higher?
Final Verdict: Both Alexander and Joe give Fantastic Four: The Prodigal Sun #1 a BROWSE!
Written by Zhou Liefen and Greg Pak
Illustrated by Keng and Pop Mhan
Colored by Keng and Federico Blee
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Keng
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
Back in 2017, Marvel teamed with a Chinese technology company, NetEase, to bring digital Marvel Comics to China, and to create new characters exclusively for the Chinese market. One such character, Aero, debuted in China in May 2018, and made her English-language debut in May as part of the War of the Realms: All-New Agents of Atlas miniseries. This week sees the debut of Aero’s own miniseries, a title that both translates her original adventures for English-speaking audiences and presents a new tale of the Shanghai-based heroine that directly follows up on the events of All-New Agents of Atlas.
Writer Greg Pak handles scripting chores for both stories. Pak adapts the lead story, originally written by Zhou Liefen, which introduces Aero and her life in Shanghai. The story foregoes an origin story for the character, instead finding her mid-battle with a sentient building before flashing back to give readers a glimpse of her personal life as Lei Ling and a bit of background on how her powers work. It’s a smart strategy, immersing the reader in the world of the story and trusting that we’re capable of keeping up, and Pak’s script does a nice job bringing readers into Lei Ling’s head. The flashback cuts off somewhat sharply, but Pak handles the transition well, and leaves one to wonder where that scene might’ve been going and if we’ll see how the rest of it plays out in future issues. Chinese artist Keng provides the visuals for this tale, and the art crackles with energy as Aero soars through the air, fights a literal building, and faces off against a squadron of fighter jets. Keng’s anatomy is more exaggerated than most traditional American artists, but the artist pulls it off consistently and well. The colors in particular in this story pop off the page, giving the whole story a warm, airy quality that fits the story nicely even during the more intense action sequences.
The issue’s backup story, a team-up between Aero and new Filipino heroine Wave, is entirely written by Pak, with art by Pop Mhan and Federico Blee. The events of this story pick up directly after those in All-New Agents of Atlas, and examine the relationship between Aero and Wave, as well as Wave’s role with the Southeast Asian team known as Triumph Division. Pak brings readers into Wave’s story via Aero, and presents Wave’s origin in a way that’s completely organic and relevant to the situation at-hand. The interaction and comaraderie between the two characters is endearing, and the glimpes the readers get of Triumph Division are intriguing enough to make me want to know more about that team. The linework on this story is closer to Marvel’s overall house style than I ever expected from Pop Mhan, whose work I typically think of as bigger and more bombastic than what’s presented here. This is not a bad thing, as I think both Mhan and colorist Federico Blee turn in nice-looking work, but it was certainly unexpected.
Overall Aero #1 does a nice job introducing English-reading audiences to two new international heroes they may not have met before. Pak presents a pair of entertaining stories, and the art on both tales fits the flavor of each piece well. If you’re in the market for some superheroes who don’t look like most other superhero out there, this book should leave you satisfied.
Final Verdict: BROWSE.
Star Wars: Target Vader #1
Written by Robbie Thompson
Illustrated by Marc Laming and Chris Bolson
Colored by Neeraj Menon, Jordan Boyd, Andres Mossa, Federico Blee, and Erick Arciniega
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Nic Klein
Reviewed by AJ Frost
I’m just gonna start off by saying that the entire premise of the Vader Taken miniseries is ludicrous. It goes like this: a shadow network of bounty hunters recruit another bounty hunter who doesn’t play by the rules to assassinate Darth Vader. Yes, the Darth Vader that is one of the most powerful beings—let alone Force wielders—in the entire Star Wars universe. Great plan, my dudes. But despite the plot armor being thicker than a blast shield door, this outing in Star Wars land is a page-turner and a gripping look at the general lawlessness that is ever-present but often kept on the down-low within the greater Star Wars mythos.
As I’ve mentioned, the main thrust of the narrative contained in this issue—killing Darth Vader—is, on its face, a preposterous proposition. We know Darth Vader’s arc, we’ve seen his life, witnessed his death, and come to terms with his redemption to the light side. So, the first question that obviously arises is: Why write an arc where the intended resolution will lead nowhere because we’ve already seen what happens? It does indeed feel like a burdensome approach to telling a story for a franchise where every piece of minutiae is given a second life on a Star Wars Wikia somewhere. Yet, Robbie Thompson (who so adeptly reoriented our perception of Skrulls earlier this year) takes the inherent challenge of the material and writes a really compelling and fun story.
But it’s not a serious one. Beilart Valance, the miniseries’ protagonist, has a long history within the comics and was recently resurrected within the new canon. An ex-Imperial with a quick wit and quicker trigger-finger, this bounty hunter represents a part of the Star Wars galaxy that isn’t filled with spiritual nuance. He’s a killer. Yet, when readers take a gander at his role in this issue, they’ll see that Beilart also contains a hint of absurdity to him. And that’s perfectly fine for a franchise that fancies itself on being stoic and maudlin. Nothing about Target Vader needs to be taken seriously. Nothing about Target Vader needs to be read in any other context other than a being a side quest to a larger adventure. And in many ways, it takes a Tarantino-esque demented take on humor: massive amounts of (in this case, relatively tame) violence, a ragtag group of misfits, and one pissed-off dude in black.
Target Vader’s secret weapon, so to speak, is the gorgeous artwork courtesy of Marc Laming and a bevy of wonderful colorists. The is a sparkling book, and each turn of the page represents a new opportunity for readers to see a Star Wars that is packed with strange creatures, rusted-out blasters, and seedy characters in lush detail. If there is a detractor, ironically, is that there is something just a tad bit off about how Vader is portrayed here. Maybe he is a bit out of proportion? That could just be Laming’s unique spin on an icon, but I knew there was something stylistically off. This doesn’t take away from the overall experience, but it is something to note.
Now, it may seem that this review of Target Vader might seem negative on the face of it. I’m making light of the work here for sure, but in a loving way. This comic is exactly what I want to see in a Star Wars book: epic action, a team of misfits, and an intriguing cliffhanger that I can’t wait to read about (no spoilers here!). Do yourself a favor: if you’re a Star Wars fan who can’t wait to go to Galaxy’s Edge or wait for Episode IX, pick up this book and take some time to immerse yourself back in the land of scum of villainy. It’ll be the best thing you read all week.
Next week, the Invisible Woman stars in her first solo series!