We’ve got a busy week here on The Marvel Rundown, so let’s get right into it. First up, we have a spirited discussion on the opener of the latest Age of X-Man tie-in series, Age Of X-Man: X-Tremists. These mutants are banding together in order to fight…love? Next, we take a look at the new direction for Steve Rogers, “Captain of Nothing,” in Captain America #8. And finally, Earth’s mightiest hero—and a pair of plucky teen reporters—take center stage in the Captain Marvel: Braver & Mightier one-shot. This week’s Marvel Rundown is a can’t-miss!
Age Of X-Man: X-Tremists #1
Written by Leah Williams
Illustrated by Georges Jeanty
Inked by Roberto Poggi
Colored by Jim Charalampidis
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover by Rahzzah
Alexander Jones: Samantha, I think it is safe to say Age of X-Man: X-Tremists #1 handles a very important plot beat incredibly clumsily, which greatly effects how I perceive the issue. Before talking about the content of the story itself, I’m curious to hear in-depth your opinions about the content of the story in the full context of the Age of X-Man narrative. Readers are definitely supposed to see these characters as flawed but I can’t help but feel writer Leah Williams was trying to make the cast appear sympathetic, despite the horrific deed committed in the issue.
Samantha Puc: Before I say anything about the issue itself, Alexander, I must admit that of all the Age of X-Man titles, I’ve been most looking forward to X-Tremists. Not only does this run center a fat character and give him a chance to Not Be A Villain, but it centers queer characters in an alternate universe where all love is outlawed, something that hits particularly hard for those of us whose love is and has been illegal for a long time. Now, to address your comments: Since Williams’s characters act as the enforcers in this universe, I think there’s a knee-jerk reaction to read them as the villains — but because of the larger context of Age of X-Man, as well as the fact that everyone is seemingly trying just to survive in this world, I’m inclined to sympathize with them — particularly Northstar, Iceman, and Psylocke.
Jones: Some of the content and deeds previously committed read a little too cold for me. I genuinely believe that seeing the cast of X-Men potentially murder others in cold blood is dark enough to get the kind of impact Williams was looking for. On a certain level, you want to believe that these characters are stronger than mind control. I also wanted to speak about some missed opportunities I felt the story had. We missed out on what could have been some fascinating political elements between Nathaniel Grey and The X-Tremists. There are a lot of ideas missing from the narrative that other Age of X-Man tie-ins brought front-and-center to the crossover. Did you feel any of these same reservations?
Puc: Honestly, no, but again, the fact that canonically queer characters are centered here feels like a hugely political act in and of itself. I think it’s important to remember that in this universe, where Nate Grey has constructed what he sees as the “perfect world,” everyone has been assigned a particular role.
It’s interesting to me that, within that context, three canonically queer characters have been tasked with enforcing this universe’s laws, thereby forcing them to participate in the kind of oppression that they understand in other worlds. Jean-Paul calling out Moneta for use of a slur to refer to their prisoners invokes that in a way that hits hard — at least, for me. Her referring to those who break this new mutant law as “retrogrades” invokes the kind of slurs that are thrown at queer people for being “backwards” or “morally corrupt” or whatever other crap bigots like to throw at us. I think Williams is potentially aiming to tell a really unique, subversive story in X-Tremists, which is going to take more build-up than a single issue can supply.
Jones: Great points and ideas. In the Age of X-Man debut one-shot, we got a much larger bird’s eye view of what was happening in the overall world that Grey built. I felt this issue had a more compact scope that really focused on the team and how they are operating in the field. While I don’t think the idea of a more limited scope is bad per se, I just didn’t find the dynamics and morality explored within the team to be interesting. I didn’t see the consequences of the story like I wanted to. Since Psylocke wipes away memories or bad ideas the stakes of the story are not very high. Plus, this content that has been covered in some of the other tie-in issues. I also feel there is a tonal dissonance in the script as the visuals queue an All-New X-Men vibe yet touches on something much darker later on in the narrative.
Puc: Do villains ever see themselves as villains? I think the overlap makes sense in terms of the fact that the Age of X-Man event is taking place across several mini-series titles, all operating in the same alternate universe. Although we’ve seen these characters enacting their duties in other premier issues, like NextGen #1, we’ve yet to see them work together or really understand what they’re doing and why. I think this issue certainly shows us what they’re doing, as well as why: because this is their assigned role in this world.
As far as stakes, we know from previous issues (namely NextGen) that just because someone’s memory is wiped doesn’t mean they won’t break through that eventually and realize the truth of what’s happening. We also see that in X-Tremists, when the characters they’re after reveal that they’ve been in this situation before. Plus, Blob makes a comment at one point that makes me think they have to repeatedly chase down, capture and erase the memories of some people on a frequent basis. I can understand why you’re so disturbed by them doing this to a woman who’s pregnant, but I would argue that sending Bishop to prison was just as heinous, if not more so.
And again, it’s not the X-Tremists themselves who are controlling this narrative; it’s Nate Grey. So what I’m curious to find out, as the next minis premiere and as the current ones progress, is why he’s decided to outlaw love in all of its forms and push the pawns of this world to such extreme measures to keep that law in effect. Re: the art, I like that Georges Jeanty and Roberto Poggi are illustrating this series this way, because it drives home the fact that the X-Tremists are just Doing Their Jobs. To them, this is normal. Everyday. I can see why that doesn’t sit well with you, but for me, it drives home the disturbing elements of this world really well. I don’t think a darker artistic style would work.
Jones: The team does appear to be sticking to their guns here and following along with Grey’s agenda. They do question his authority and the issue has the element of the guilt of what they had just done rushing back to their heads. I still can’t shake the fact that previous tie-ins like Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #1 were a lot more subtle in introducing the guilt and horror. I really like Georges Jeanty and it is great to see him coming over to Marvel. There are certain points where his anatomy and artwork can look a little rough. Jeanty does a fantastic job giving the cast members a really expressive nature while also producing a slick aesthetic. Jeanty’s unique blend of these two qualities are on display here in good form and a fantastic addition to the narrative. Jim Charalampidis’s vibrant colors give a great level of cohesion to the rest of the line.
Puc: I think at this point in the event, some of the subtlety has to be sloughed away. That being said, the fact that characters like Northstar have been through this exact same thing before, in other worlds, provides a unique, subversive take that I can’t wait to see more of in this run. I’m also a big fan of Jim Charalampidis’s colors, because they’re so vibrant, which again lends to the overall vibe of this mini and the Age of X-Man-verse as a whole. The dissonance between the colors and the content reminds me of things like Camazotz in A Wrinkle In Time: Everything looks perfect on the surface, but underneath, evil lurks.
Jones: I agree with you regarding the art completely. I think some subtlety is good for every story. We saw a really big world when Age of X-Man launched and I desperately wanted some of the context or impetus for the formation of the team. This week we are caught with yet another story where Nathaniel Grey is the true villain which I find disappointing at this point. Even though Grey is a good antagonist for the team, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone else spring up along the way that had a personal vendetta against the team. I think with past Marvel events like Secret Wars, we saw a much more expansive and busy Universe of connecting titles. After the whiplash of the tone and formulaic elements of the tie-in I find it difficult to say much else about the script itself.
Puc: Personally, I’m glad to be reading an event that isn’t focused on combat and Big Baddies lurking around every corner. More character-driven stories that deal with really true-to-life struggles are fascinating to me, so having Nate as the clear-cut antagonist for this entire event and seeing how everyone deals with that is enough to keep me reading. Plus, since this is an entirely alternate universe that seems to be self-contained, getting to spend time exclusively with mutants is really cool.
Jones: I think I might be too tough on the issue because of the way it is released between the tie-in issues. If you are only reading a couple of these tie-ins, I have to imagine your outlook would be more positive than mine. Comics aren’t published in an isolated space and there is a lot of competition on the shelves. Are you ready to award the issue a final verdict?
Puc: Since all of the Age of X-Man minis are exploring one contained world, I think diverse perspectives on the same man playing god is unique and fascinating to read, but I can understand how that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. My verdict for this issue is a definite BUY, especially if you’re picking up the other Age of X-Man minis, or if you’re invested in good queer representation that is multi-layered and nuanced in comics.
Jones: I love representation in comics. I am also very unhappy with how shallow The X-Tremists parts of Age of X-Man appear to be. While the saving grace for me is Georges Jeanty’s pencils, I’m still delivering a SKIP verdict on this one.
Final Verdict: Samantha votes BUY, but Alexander says SKIP!
Captain America #8
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated by Adam Kubert
Colored by Frank Martin
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Alex Ross
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
I think it is fair to say that Captain America is going through a lot right now. Action hero Steve Rogers is still coming to grips with his role in the maligned Secret Empire regime while also trying to function actively as the Captain. Villains are doing anything they can to exploit his weakness in author Ta-Nehisi Coates’s run on the character. In fact, the current Captain America series bears a tone nearly as dark as Secret Empire itself. Watching Rogers painfully come to grips with the way others perceive him has painted a bleak outlook on the current run.
Over the past few issues, Coates and artist Adam Kubert’s “Captain of Nothing” story arc is finally layering on the political tension of the series. Steve’s enemies are mobilizing and getting ready to attack him from all fronts. Coates has done an excellent job playing the long game and slowly revealing the villains. The writer and Marvel editorial have also brilliantly utilized continuity from previous stories to enrich the current narrative. In addition to Secret Empire, there are ties to the greater Marvel Universe and Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s quintessential Rogers stories.
Despite the fact that Coates has an excellent vision and tone for Steve, I can’t quite shake the been-there, done-that feeling of the run. The gloomy tone and meandering villains feels almost too close to Brubaker and Epting’s tenure on Cap. The cold, despondent artwork and writing keeps readers at arm’s length. Bringing Steve to a prison seems like a wild miscalculation for where he should be despite the interesting machinations that led Steve to his sentence. Secret Empire has irreparably damaged Steve’s character and it is going to take Marvel and the various creative teams decades to fix his reputation but at the moment, the restrained, measured approach is striking a slightly derivative tone holding the current Captain America run back from greatness.
Artist Adam Kubert infuses this Captain America run with a loose, more animated vibe. The dark colors from Frank Martin do not complement Kubert’s pencils. At numerous moments throughout the script, Rogers is at his lowest point which contradicts the relaxed tone and visual direction of the artwork. Kubert is a talented penciller and Captain America #8 is not the right outlet for his creative ability. The artwork is technically competent and has good page design and fluid movement throughout the issue. When the script is covering the villains only, Kubert’s art feels particularly out of place in the story with the incredibly bleak script from Coates.
Captain America #8 is by no means a bad comic book. The issue has lots of great ideas in regards to the plotting. However, the personality and tone of Roger’s captions don’t add enough personality to ground the series. With the complicated plotting and creative approach to the narrative, the Coates-written series could achieve a higher level of quality at any moment. Artist Adam Kubert’s pencils don’t complement the direction of the title. Coates is an excellent writer and Captain America is still going to be a book to watch going forward. That being said, this installment of the series is a SKIP!
Final Verdict: SKIP! Captain America #8 is building towards what could potentially be a fascinating plot development but has not yet achieved greatness.
Captain Marvel: Braver & Mightier #1
Written by Jody Houser
Illustrated by Simone Buonfantino
Colored by Erick Arciniega
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Valerio Schiti & Rachelle Rosenberg
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
Carol Danvers is having a big year. Her latest ongoing series launched last month to big sales and much acclaim. You may also have heard that there’s a movie coming (only nine days from today, in fact) of which Carol is the star. There’s Captain Marvel merchandise everywhere in the run-up to the big event, and this week sees the release of Captain Marvel: Braver & Mightier #1, a one-shot tale of Earth’s mightiest hero that’s an entertaining distillation of the core of Carol Danvers.
Writer Jody Houser does a nice job structuring the story in an engaging way. The majority of the issue alternates between scenes of Carol in space and of a pair of young journalists on Earth, waiting for their chance to interview Captain Marvel as part of the Air Force Museum’s Carol Danvers Day. Houser takes what could’ve been a pair of fairly by-the-numbers sequences and infuses them with personality and urgency on the parts of both Carol and the kids. When Carol finally arrives after vanquishing the aliens (spoilers, the aliens don’t win), the conversation she has with the kids is heartfelt and entertaining, and a nice summation of the character (or, at least, of her public-facing persona).
The issue’s visuals are provided by Simone Buonfantino and Eric Arciniega, and both do decent work on this tale. Buonfantino’s lines are loose and cartoony, which works well for the action sequences of Captain Marvel fighting aliens in space. The scenes set on Earth, though, are seriously lacking in visual energy. Admittedly part of that is due to the content of the story – the two kids are literally waiting around at the museum for Carol to arrive – but Buonfantino still could have chosen to make that more visually engaging. The kids are at the Air Force Museum, where there’s no shortage of cool stuff to see (I lived in Dayton, Ohio, home of the National Museum of the US Air Force, for most of my life, and I’ve been there many, many times). Turning their conversation into a ‘walk-and-talk’ as they stroll around the sprawling museum would have allowed the opportunity for more visual interest by incorporating different planes and other memorabilia into the backgrounds of the scenes. As it was, the backgrounds in most of the scenes at the museum were either sparse or non-existent, with colorist Arciniega filling in with different gradiants. The effect is fine, and there’s nothing bad about the work from either Buonfantino or Arciniega, but more definitely could have been done to liven up those museum scenes.
Ultimately, Captain Marvel: Braver & Mightier #1 is an accessible entry point into the character. This one-shot’s story doesn’t particularly illuminate anything new about Carol, and the art didn’t knock my socks off, but the issue does present a nice entry point for new readers coming in after seeing the movie. That’s ultimately the purpose of a book like this, and in that respect Houser, Buonfantino, Arciniega, and co. execute very well.
Final Verdict: For existing fans of Captain Marvel there’s nothing new here, but for everyone else, BROWSE this title to get a taste of what Carol’s adventures are like.
Join us next week as we meet the Skrulls hiding within The Marvel Universe!