Few series from the House of Ideas elicit as many fuzzy feelings as the Marvel Knights imprint. Launched in 1998, the line was home to acclaimed series starring street-level Marvel heroes including Black Panther, Daredevil, and The Punisher. This week, Marvel Knights returns with a new miniseries celebrating the franchise’s 20th anniversary. Plus, Death of the Inhumans #5 brings the saga to a close, and we discuss the ending and the series as a whole. It’s time for The Marvel Rundown!
Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Travel Foreman
Inked by Derek Fridolfs
Colored by Matt Milla
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Alexander Jones: You guys. Marvel Knights is back…and good again. What did you think of the publisher’s return to the prestige imprint? Did it hail a new era for the publisher?
AJ Frost: Another week, another chance to break down the latest from Marvel with the finest crew this side of Hell’s Kitchen. I wasn’t really in the know when the Marvel Knights line first broke out twenty years ago, though I’ve read some of the compendiums that have been released in the proceeding years. But I gotta say, this book, to me, was an utter slog and not that great. It really didn’t speak to me in any way and I’m kinda bummed.
Joe Grunenwald: I remember the Marvel Knights imprint being a huge deal at the time, and its effects are still being seen today—just look at how hard DC is working to make imprints happen. I like most of the characters generally associated with Marvel Knights, but I have to agree with AJ. This comic left a lot to be desired for me.
Jones: This thing was so cheesy but also so much fun for me. The issue was grim-dark but had this really stupid sense of humor and over-the-top narration for Daredevil. This actually lines up really nicely with Donny Cates’s work at Marvel so far. I think the issue has a really distinct script and overall direction. Travel Foreman’s pencils are also awesomely bizarre.
Grunenwald: The issue is definitely bizarre. I’m all for a comic that drops readers into the middle of things to try to make sense of them, so I’m not sure why this one didn’t quite work for me. Maybe there needed to be just a little more information presented about what’s going on. I don’t need to know the ‘how’ of it as long as the ‘what’ of it makes sense, which, honestly, it did not. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to who remembers what.
Frost: There’s bizarre, there’s cheesy, and there’s overwrought, but these techniques were not used, in my mind, effectively in the slightest. They made the whole affair seems like a jumbled mess with nothing to say. Like, this is Daredevil at his most uninteresting. And it seemed like Cates was doing this editorially-mandated exposition that read like dull weight. Like… who cares (again) that Daredevil has some kind of amnesia and acts like a buffoon? As y’all can tell by now, I was thrilled with this issue.
Jones: You guys are right. I thought the narrative was just so endearingly stupid that I could not deny it. Honestly, this absurd script could fall apart at any second during future issues, but Cates has a pretty solid track record. I mean that first scene with Frank Castle was fun. Also, the end was a nice surprise. Daredevil feels far too many emotions in the issue, but in a good way.
Grunenwald: “Endearingly stupid” is a stance I can get behind.
Frost: I’m glad you dug this book for the camp value. There is merit in that view. I don’t want to be a sourpuss or anything, because I definitely appreciate a cheesy comic, but this was just a misfire on all levels. You mentioned Foreman’s art, which to me on the first read was not memorable or interesting. But on the second read, I appreciate your view. He uses really weird framing that is disorienting. And that’s admirable, but the pencils are not the prestige art that a title of this should deserve.
Grunenwald: I found Foreman’s art very uninteresting, which is a shame since I’ve liked his work in the past. The only impression it made on me was that I did not care for it.
Jones: His art is so odd and otherworldly in this comic. It gave me the feeling of seeing Frank Quitely’s pencils. The anatomy is off and people always have such weird looks on their faces, but the pairing of this really loose and playful script made it work.
Frost: The coloring was odd too. A lot of gradients on flats. Maybe it was supposed to be that way, but it was distracting and weird.
Jones: I hope Marvel will let the line have a separate continuity. I’m not sure how you would line this up with the present day Marvel Universe.
Grunenwald: I get the feeling that everything will be back to normal by the time this story is over. That may be part of why I have trouble with this comic. When I think of Marvel Knights I think of smaller, more grounded stories, not universe-altering events like what seems to have happened here. Then again, if I remember correctly, the first Marvel Knights Punisher series had Frank Castle die and become an angel, so what the hell do I know.
Frost: Let’s just hope any more books in the line are worthy of the name “Marvel Knights.”
Grunenwald: I’ll admit that I did laugh at Matt Murdock almost reveling in the pain he felt at Karen Page’s grave. That’s quintessential Matt. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny, but it made me laugh.
Jones: Cates is in on the joke! That moment, in a nutshell, is why I’m having so much fun. The more I think about the issue, the more I start to draw some parallels to Tom King’s Batman work with some added self-awareness. Even if you don’t like this story, the ambition on display is impressive.
Frost: An interesting point….if not entirely convincing.
Grunenwald: Ambition is one thing, but execution is another. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the latter supports the former in this case. I’m curious to see how the rest of the miniseries plays out, but it’s more of a morbid curiosity than anything else at this point.
Jones: What kind of tone should Marvel Knights take on going forward?
Frost: Probably one with more solid footing and less kitsch factor.
Grunenwald: It’s hard for me to judge the tone of an imprint based on one issue that’s likely set in some sort of alternate reality, but I agree with AJ that I’d prefer less kitsch. I’m interested to see what the other writers and artists bring to this mini going forward.
Jones: What are your final thoughts on the issue?
Frost: I feel that this is a SKIP. I didn’t enjoy it, which is a shame because the Marvel Knights imprimatur is one of quality.
Grunenwald: Remember how Marvel used to bill stories as “offbeat”? This comic needs that stamp on the cover. It’s strange and disorienting, which are good things, but it’s also confusing, and not in a good way. This is a SKIP for me as well.
Jones: I’ll be the odd man out awarding the issue a BUY verdict. The reinterpretation of the Marvel Universe fascinates me.
Grunenwald: “The Most Offbeat Marvel Rundown Of The Year!”
Final Verdict: A polarizing debut! AJ and Joe say SKIP, while Alexander says BUY!
Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Ariel Olivetti
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Alexander Jones: Marvel’s Death of the Inhumans title just wrapped up. What did you think of the final chapter of the Inhuman-based mini-series? Was this week’s second Donny Cates comic better than the first?
Joe Grunenwald: Before reading this series I’d never been interested in the Inhumans. Something about them has always bored me. Now that I’ve read this mini, though, I have more of an appreciation for the concept and the characters. It wasn’t a perfect series, but it was entertaining, and the final issue wrapped it up well, if not perhaps a bit too neatly.
AJ Frost: Most definitely. This was some goofy stuff that, as Joe just said, wasn’t perfect. But it is a lot of fun and it’s been quite a ride.
Jones: I really like the Inhumans and when the comics are good I make a point to read them. I think this issue did a lot of smart things with these characters. This story felt really focused for me. I liked the cohesion Cates brought to the scripts.
Frost: I’m with you there Alex. Despite the absurdist quality of the characters and situations, Cates brings his all here and the story shines for it.
Grunenwald: There’s a lot to like in this series. Black Bolt is utterly compelling as a beleaguered king struggling to protect his people and mourn those he’s already lost. This is his story through and through, which is admittedly to the detriment of the other characters, but it also made me want to learn more about at least some of them.
Jones: There was some tremendous writing in the opening sequence for the issue. Beta Ray Bill is really funny and serves as an excellent form of comic relief. To me, the most disappointing aspect of the comic is how it barely gives the illusion of change by undoing these big deaths. The Inhumans have had so many status quo shifts lately that this is a particular sore spot for me.
Grunenwald: It only sort of lives up to its title, doesn’t it? It’s the death of the Inhumans, but only the ones you’ve never heard of or seen before. Am I wrong in thinking there’s only one member of the royal family who ultimately bites it? Having said that, I think having just a small handful of characters be all that’s left of the Inhumans is an interesting idea.
Jones: It felt like one of those novel concepts that does not make a good mini-series ultimately. If more of the hype and marketing were removed from the confines of the story, I would enjoy it more. I am still not sure however if this is entirely valid criticism of the issue. The script and the art were both strong. This mini-series is also a fun addition to the Inhumans library of titles.
Grunenwald: My only complaint is that the ending was a bit too tidy. Without spoiling things too much (though that ship may have sailed already), I’m not sure how the prophecy is fulfilled by the events that occurred, nor am I certain of how exactly the Vox storyline was resolved. It all happened very quickly, and then the issue was over. That was a little disappointing. Otherwise, I agree with you completely. Cates’s writing is very strong throughout this series, and I think this may be Ariel Olivetti’s best work ever.
Frost: You have to set up the next miniseries, Joe! And I agree with you both, the writing and art here was top notch stuff, and I enjoyed the weird, blue color palette used throughout. Made everything extra trippy.
Grunenwald: Jordie Bellaire’s colors were wonderfully moody, particularly in the early pages as Black Bolt is reflecting on what’s come before. It’s a beautiful series to look at.
Jones: Olivetti’s moody interiors played nicely against Bellaire’s colors. Olivetti’s work was a little more fluid and less precise than what some people expect from superhero comics. The combination of the playful interiors and another script that is grim-dark is pretty interesting. This issue and series almost has a horror vibe.
Frost: There were some sequences that did evoke that horror ethos and made the issue stronger for it.
Jones: The last couple pages were really dramatic. Also, the narration I think adds to that feeling. It is really interesting to compare both books this week because they seem to have a lot in common. This entry is definitely less campy.
Frost: A definite 180 in substance and style, which is really a testament to Cates’s versatility as a writer.
Grunenwald: Agreed. I read this issue before I read the Marvel Knights book, and I wonder if I would have liked MK20 #1 more if I’d read that one first. Death of the Inhumans #5 set the bar pretty high.
Jones: The aspect I’ll probably remember about the series best are those small character moments. There are lots of good sad Black Bolt and Medusa conversations and solid character work for characters like Crystal as well. A big takeaway from this issue setting it apart from Marvel Knights is how the characters are behaving rationally.
Grunenwald: My main takeaway is that I want a miniseries of Beta Ray Bill and Lockjaw going on side adventures.
Frost: Agreed. That was a major takeaway from this issue. It’ll be interesting to see more of what these characters would do if given the time and energy.
Jones: What are everyone’s final thoughts on the issue?
Frost: In contrast to my dislike of the Marvel Knights book, this one was a real pleasure to read. This is a BUY.
Grunenwald: I think I like the Inhumans now. That pretty much says it all. It’s a BUY from me as well.
Jones: This is a great new Inhumans mini-series. I would give it a BUY.
Final Verdict: A unanimous Marvel Rundown BUY from all involved, don’t miss this one!
Next week the children of the atom are back in Uncanny X-Men #1!