Marvel’s two biggest titles this week didn’t come out on Wednesday, and they didn’t cost customers a dime. The Free Comic Book Day Spider-Man and Avengers books advanced current storylines and set up at least one of Marvel’s next big event storylines. How did these two books do as entry points for new readers? Plus, the Star Wars: Age of Rebellion one-shot series continues this week with a tale spotlighting the galaxy’s most fearsome bounty hunter, Boba Fett! And finally, Nadia Van Dyne celebrates an important occasion in this week’s Unstoppable Wasp! We’ve got reviews and discussion of all those books in this week’s Marvel Rundown!
Free Comic Book Day: Spider-Man #1
Written by Donny Cates and Tom Taylor & Saladin Ahmed
Penciled by Ryan Stegman and Cory Smith
Inked by JP Mayer and Jay Leisten
Colored by Frank Martin and David Curiel
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Ryan Stegman & Frank Martin
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
One of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings, FCBD: Spider-Man #1 contains two short stories. The first is a story focused around a prelude to upcoming Marvel event, Absolute Carnage. The storyline is a dark, dreary take on the property that falls right in line with the core Venom title. Writer Donny Cates nicely summarizes his take on Venom up to this point in the opening issues of the series. Cates proceeds to establish a darker approach to Eddie Brock that focuses on his previous traumas. The issue depicts a dramatic prison sentence for the character that doesn’t develop anything about Eddie Brock readers didn’t know previously. Brock’s angry captions and dull expressions detracted from the narrative.
The story is devoted to setting up the upcoming Absolute Carnage event but only does so in terms of visuals. Readers get very little new information about the event aside from the violent cliffhanger. Cates does an interesting job grounding the series in a sense of legacy using the cliffhanger. Cates manages to even introduce the plot of the series with relative ease in the first few pages. There are a lot of elements about the title that are impressive individually but don’t amount to a great story.
Stegman’s art in the tale is derivative and unappealing in any sequences with talking heads. The issue fails to capture reader attention in the opening sequences. If readers are able to overlook the odd composition and lack of detail from the previous pages, Stegman does a great job drawing Venom. The loose anatomy that his pencils naturally carry complement symbiote heroes nicely but the simplistic anatomy of humans from earlier scenes are distracting. Stegman may have a hard time drawing characters where he doesn’t have as much freedom with the anatomy. It is still worthy of note that the Venom and Carnage sequences of the entry look great.
Both entries in FCBD: Spider-Man felt slight, but the second entry, featuring Spider-Men Peter Parker and Miles Morales and written by Tom Taylor and Saladin Ahmed, underwhelmed. The story even has art from Cory Smith and features a great roster of talent. Taylor and Ahmed’s jokes fell flat in these sequences and the story just came off as jokey to the point of self-parody. Miles and Peter being more familiar with each other is charming, but on the comic book page, they still haven’t developed that relationship to be so friendly with each other. Cory Smith lends the issue boring, predictable pages that fall on the more obvious camp than I would have hoped.
Both stories in this Spider-Man collection are duds and a disappointing way for Marvel to commemorate a special time for one of my favorite heroes.
Final Verdict: You can SKIP this entirely. Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings are underwhelming. The issue is too silly in one section and too bleak in the other.
Free Comic Book Day: Avengers #1
Written by Jason Aaron and Gerry Duggan
Illustrated by Stefano Caselli and Mike Deodato Jr.
Colored by Erick Arciniega and Frank Martin
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit and VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Ed McGuinness & Val Staples
Alexander Jones: Joe, of the two Marvel titles on the shelves in Free Comic Book Day, I found the Avengers entry to hold the biggest revelations. However, the structure and tone of the entry left me scratching my head. What are some of your takeaways from the Avengers and Savage Avengers stories?
Joe Grunenwald: In the wake of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel’s Avengers FCBD title seems to me to have been in a perfect position to capitalize on the excitement generated by the film and draw in new readers to the adventures of those characters. What the issue actually did was, in my opinion, as far from that as possible while still vaguely resembling an Avengers comic. This is a total misfire.
Jones: I definitely appreciate how ambitious Jason Aaron was attempting to be with the issue, but the dense and confusing alternate line-ups are a distraction and don’t amount to an actual story. Aaron has not built up the cliffhanger enough for it even to be a captivating cliffhanger. The confusing story structure is the worst part of the issue for me. Scenes are short because Aaron has to cram his ambitious script into a smaller page count.
Grunenwald: The scenes are short, and they’re weighed down by heavy narration from Tony Stark. I don’t hate narration, but those captions are so heavily-used. The little meta-nod about DC was clever at first, but it got tired very quickly. I think this story could’ve benefited from excising the narration entirely and just letting the events breathe more. And I call it a story, but what it really amounts to is a series of teases for other things that have no connective tissue. Maybe they make sense if you’ve been following Avengers already, but for a new reader, it’s baffling.
Jones: As a longtime reader, I also found most of these surprises to be baffling. Lots of these were not set up or referenced in the title for a while. The scenes which were supposed to carry a level of narrative impact lost their footing. There are a few moments here and there that merited a laugh and caught my attention. The setting and direction for the Iron Man story is the one slight aspect that redeemed the issue for me. The setup for his section was followed-up with an interesting pay-off. I’m also curious to hear what you thought about the art?
Grunenwald: Stefano Caselli’s linework and Erick Arciniega’s colors were definitely the highlight of the story for me. Casselli’s got a clean, classic style that I really enjoy. He and Arciniega did a really solid job rendering a lot of different locales in time and space, giving each setting a distinctive look and feel.
Jones: I enjoy Caselli’s art usually but this context is different for me. His pencils look like they are influenced by regular Avengers penciller Ed McGuinness. His figures are muscle-bound to a level of parody. Also, the dull red color from the main title is starting to become grating. The series has had the same color scheme since the beginning. The more slender figures show off a more refined level of craft for me from Caselli.
Grunenwald: None of the figures registered for me as being overly muscular, aside from the characters who typically are (looking at you, She-Hulk). Maybe the Squadron Supreme, but I think their inclusion is intended as parody anyway. And the art on the main feature was definitely preferable for me to the art on the Savage Avengers backup story.
Jones: Namor’s abs were pretty crazy here. There are a few more instances that feature a ton of muscle with the Supreme characters already mentioned. I think Caselli’s art is a much more refined version of what McGuinness has attempted to pull off in past issues. Also, I agree with you that this art is stronger than Deodatos Jr.’s! Should we move on to the Savage Avengers story?
Grunenwald: Sure. Gerry Duggan’s script for the back-up felt more like an actual story than the main feature, with essentially two scenes focused on only a couple of characters each. Still, those scenes felt largely disconnected aside from both featuring disparate Hand ninjas. I suspect again this would make more sense if I’d read the first issue of Savage Avengers last week. That said, I ultimately found the backup story more compelling than the preceding tale, and it made me want to find out more about what’s happening.
Jones: The script has a fascinating Infinity Wars hook that I am excited to read about in future issues. It is always interesting when writers connect their own previously-written storylines in shared universes. The script was ambitious and bombastic and sets readers up nicely for the debut issue. The big stick in the mud for the quality is going to remain Deodato Jr.’s lackluster art.
Grunenwald: Yeah, I just can’t get into Deodato Jr.’s art, and the drab colors from Frank Martin aren’t doing the line art any favors. It all just looks kind of muddy. Obviously, this is purely personal preference, and I know there are people who really like Deodato’s work, but I’m not among them.
Jones: I agree with what you said about Deodato having he fans but I don’t think that makes his art good. From a technical perspective, his figures are huge and motion is confusing to follow. His art lacks detail and a sense of refinement I would hope that a Marvel artist would carry. I think there could definitely have been more detail in the issue has been with his art in the past.
Grunenwald: I will say that I liked the splash page of the Hand ninjas descending on Wolverine. That was a legitimately striking image. But the sequential pages are hard to follow, and some of the characters (who it seems like maybe we’re supposed to recognize) are pretty indistinct from each other. In the hands of a different artist, I think this backup could’ve been really solid.
Jones: I’m inclined to agree with you. I definitely recognized the potential in the script. I do think we have seen Gerry Duggan show a bad habit of rushing plot threads and characters together really aggressively and I can see some of that here. The vignettes of flashbacks don’t have a very strong connective thread. I think the debut for Savage Avengers was much stronger than this script-wise. It is also strange that this is a prequel to something that has already been published. The release dates are close together thankfully.
Grunenwald: The strategy actually seems pretty sound to me—if I’m a newbie who reads that story and wants to learn more, I can go back to the store and immediately find another issue instead of having to wait months for the story to continue. Do you have any other thoughts about these two stories, or are we ready to render our verdicts?
Jones: I definitely think this issue is a SKIP. Fans who are devoted to the Avengers property could find a lot to like here. The odd script in the first segment is as dull as the artwork in the second. Each half of the issue has a glaring flaw. I still enjoyed my time with the issue because of the really crazy ideas but hardly find this chapter essential.
Grunenwald: I can’t get over how much this comic is a total missed opportunity. The idea that Marvel put out a free Avengers comic a week after an Avengers movie that is, as of right now, the second highest-grossing movie of all-time came out, and it’s not either a direct tie-in to the movie or at least reflective of the roster in the movies is mind-boggling. I don’t know who this comic is for, but it’s a really awful FCBD offering. This is an easy SKIP from me as well, even at a cover price of free.
Final Verdict: Alexander and Joe both say SKIP this book!
Star Wars: Age Of Rebellion – Boba Fett #1
Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Marc Laming
Colored by Neeraj Menon
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Terry & Rachel Dodson
Reviewed by AJ Frost
Star Wars, despite its well-known flaws as a franchise, always had a knack for creating out-of-the-park villains, scoundrels, and scofflaws. Many of these dark figures have cast an indelible shadow on pop culture the world over and their mysteriousness has made them ripe for exploration within and beyond the official canon. Whether one of these character types appeared for a full hour or just two seconds, the expansive Star Wars literary library allowed readers to delve into the regions of the galaxy that would otherwise be forgotten pieces of cinematic ephemera. Of course, the villain with the most mystique is Boba Fett, the bounty hunter whose blaster does the talking for him. In the original trilogy, he was only a specter—a jetpack-wearing badass—but has since been given a complex backstory that, honestly, diminished his potential to amaze and astonish.
But damn, if this comic didn’t bring back the sparks of joy.
Written by Greg Pak with art by Marc Laming, the one-shot Age of Rebellion: Boba Fett is a visual treat with an alluring sci-fi vibe that also really brings to mind the great Western epics like Unforgiven or Fistful of Dollars. Pak uses the tropes of these Westerns to create a narrative that is simple, easy to follow, and a joy from beginning to end. The issue opens with Boba bringing in a bounty and launching the campaign to bring back another one. This bounty is substantial: an incorrigible rogue named Zingo who may or may not be a known associate of the Rebel Alliance. When Zingo learns that the infamous Boba Fett is after his sorry hide, he goes on a rampage. And although he tries to set up a trap to stymie Boba’s efforts to capture, there can be no outrunning the unstoppable force in the Mandalorian helmet.
I truly cannot say enough positive words about this book. From the first page onwards, I was so giddy, and so happy to read a story that didn’t take a revisionist stance on Boba Fett. Since being introduced in The Empire Strikes Back (actually, before, in the Star Wars Holiday Special, but I digress), the pull of Boba Fett is not only that he looks cool, but that he acts cool. He’s no bumbling Imperial Stormtrooper or scheming politician. Fett is a stone cold professional and an enigmatic figure who can’t be messed with. It’s definitely amusing to see Boba’s reputation treated with so much respect by the creative team and the supporting characters in the comic alike. This isn’t a wink and a nod to Star Wars lore. This IS Star Wars lore in the making.
Pak and Laming weave an unbelievably delightful and strong outing here. For Pak’s part, he keeps the ship tight and, interestingly, gives the majority of dialogue to every character but Fett. That is an ingenious creative choice, one that highlights deeds rather than thoughts. It is an unorthodox approach to take with such a big budget property comic. And the art… my God! Laming’s rendering of the Star Wars universe is, bar none, one of the greatest put to page in a long, long time. It’s not that Laming draws the familiar iconography of the franchise, but that he brings an invigorated sense of fun and respect to it.
I haven’t been as pleased finishing an issue of a Star Wars comic in ages. This book is the real deal.
Final Verdict: BUY! This is the perfect book for Star Wars fans old and new!
The Unstoppable Wasp #7
Written by Jeremy Whitley
Illustrated by Alti Firmansyah
Colored by Espen Grundetjern
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Stacey Lee
Reviewed by Samantha Puc
When you grow up in the Red Room, you miss out on some key components of childhood — like birthday parties and nights out with friends. When Janet learns that Nadia has never properly celebrated her birthday, she calls in some experts to help her throw a truly memorable party for her quasi-adopted step-daughter: Viv Vision and Cassie Lang. Together, they gather up a massive group of friends to celebrate Nadia at her first-ever birthday party. Nadia learns that she has more family than she ever knew, even if their relationships are… complicated. But isn’t that how every superhero family dynamic works?
Jeremy Whitley has done some truly spectacular work in this run of Unstoppable Wasp, especially in the way his scripts handle Nadia’s bipolar and how she’s learning to cope with her diagnosis. In fact, it’s her therapist who notes that the way she grew up means she’s missed out on some key rites of passage. Seeing mental health represented so well in this female-fronted series aimed at a young audience is incredible. That said, the fact that this issue manages to be so fun without taking away any of the gravity of Nadia’s arc so far is even more remarkable.
Unstoppable Wasp #7 features tons of familiar faces, from Bucky Barnes to Kate Bishop. Despite the official solicit text and the cover indicating a massive fight between Nadia and Bucky, that isn’t quite what happens — but Whitley does take care to acknowledge Bucky’s history with the Red Room as well as his history with Nadia and Ying. It’s a delicate balancing act and he pulls it off impressively.
Because there are so many characters in this issue, many of whom haven’t previously made appearances during the run, I expected the art to be chaotic. However, Alti Firmansyah stays true to each character’s most recognizable features and carefully constructs each panel so that the story flows and holds its pace without confusing the reader. It’s not until Nadia’s birthday gift from Cassie is revealed that the art takes on a chaotic feel — and that makes sense, since it’s a big battle scene.
Espen Grundetjern’s color work in this issue is beautifully executed, as well. In party scenes where a crowded background or too many color palettes could distract the eye, simple backgrounds and gradients make for an easy reading experience, which helps the story flow.
My only note is that I wish the ending had been given more space. Unstoppable Wasp #7 ends on a massive cliffhanger that could potentially change everything, but it’s a reveal that happens so fast and so soon after a massive fight spread that it almost feels unreal. Perhaps that’s on purpose, but wedged in at the end of Nadia’s birthday party issue, it seems more like a shock that could have been held until issue #8 in order to maintain a consistent tone throughout.
Still, this issue is a definite BUY. Even if you haven’t been following this run of Unstoppable Wasp, issue #7 literally has something for everyone and the mix of characters is incredibly fun. But if you aren’t following this run, you should start. It’s a beautifully, deftly told story.
Final Verdict: BUY.
Next week, four legacy heroes unite during wartime in Giant-Man #1!
The Beat Staff is an elite group of trained ninjas.