Marvel is celebrating yet another milestone this week with the advent of Captain America #700! We’ve got a thorough analysis of the story along with a quick look at some of the huge releases this week including Domino, the issue marking Gail Simone’s return to Marvel with David Baldeon! Next up is Exiles, the brand new series from red-hot writer Saladin Ahmed featuring the artwork by incredible Daredevil alumni Javier Rodriguez. Finally, get a peek at Erica Henderson’s final installment of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
You won’t want to miss this week’s installment of The Marvel Rundown!
Captain America #700
Written by Mark Waid
Illustrated by Chris Samnee and Jack Kirby
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Alexander Jones: Gentlemen, Captain America is next up for Marvel’s circus train of anniversary issues. Plus, Captain America #700 also happens to be the final issue of veteran Chris Samnee’s tenure on a Marvel title for the foreseeable future. What did both of you think of the milestone issue?
AJ Frost: Hey there Alex! I’ve been loving this run and this issue didn’t disappoint. Everything was firing on all cylinders here. It’s always interesting to see authors explore the interiority of Cap because just like Superman, he’s always presented as this embodiment of strength and machismo at the expense of true emotions. Waid likes to lay pathos on the line, and this issue is riddled with it! (In a good way, of course.) And Samnee… he will be missed at Marvel, but he’s definitely a highlight, so no matter where goes next, I’ll follow.
Joe Grunenwald: I couldn’t agree with AJ more. Captain America is a complex character for sure, and Waid does a great job of presenting a complexity while at the same time keeping Cap the unflinching patriot we know him to be. Waid and Samnee have been a dream team on this title, and one gets the sense the goal of this arc was to cleanse the palette from Secret Empire.
Jones: I would agree with both of you as well. Chances are if you have been enjoying what Waid and Samnee have been doing on the title so far this issue isn’t going to let you down. Unlike some of the recent milestone issues we have read, this one somehow happened to feel important plot-wise. I’m happy Samnee got to go down with such an important final note as well. Samnee’s pencils looked great here and there is something to be said about his work with colorist Matthew Wilson. I have to say knowing the run will be cut off from Waid’s hands as well in just a couple issues is a disappointment for me—it feels like both creators were tailor-made for this comic.
Frost: Yeah, but at least it was fun while it lasted. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a hidden gem, but it is proof when Marvel gets the right creative team together, the results are simple: plain, good comics
Grunenwald: I agree it would’ve been great to see them on the title together longer. If there’s anything to be disappointed about here it’s that. Did either of you expect any sort of a personal reckoning with Secret Empire for Steve from this issue? The last comic ended with Cap once again with a huge amount of power in his hands. I was sort of expecting to see him push against it a bit given his recent personal history.
Frost: I get what you’re saying, and a portion of the story here was definitely calculated to wash away bad vibes from Secret Empire. That’s probably why the aesthetic and ethos hearkens back to Golden Age Captain America: a straightforward read of the character’s best qualities while putting him in a context which is easy root for.
Jones: I didn’t expect the issue to reference any sort of revelations regarding the maligned event. Both members of the creative team likely understood they needed to back away from the narrative and let it empower Roger’s inherent goodness. The idea of Cap taking some time away to go finds himself actually works for me as a storyline. He kind of doesn’t know what happened but is still so bold and heroic. This run definitely moved him on the path to redemption I would say–plus it looked great.
Frost: What did everyone think of the Waid and Jack Kirby collaboration?
Jones: I wished Marvel would have presented the story not re-written. I don’t think Waid’s post-mortem explanation of what was going on truly added to Kirby’s pencils.
Grunenwald: For as gimmicky as that sort of thing is, I enjoyed it more than I expected. I found the juxtaposition of the more modern writing style of Waid with Kirby’s art interesting.
Frost: I didn’t dig it, and it didn’t look good aesthetically. It just looked like an ersatz piece of nostalgia, but not executed well. No substance there. It was a zombie collaboration which likely shouldn’t have happened.
Grunenwald: I 100% agree there was no substance to it. I would have traded it for ten more pages of Waid and Samnee together in a heartbeat. But as a snack with no nutritional value, I’ve seen worse. (I’m really heaping on the praise.)
Jones: For an anniversary issue it would have been nice for Marvel to pull together more stories or ideas from more creators. The main story was fantastic and hit the right emotional beats for me but reading the backup and being disappointed upon closing the issue is definitely not the emotion the comic was trying to elicit from me. However, you are still getting the pretty Kirby pages—I don’t want to be the guy who complains about Kirby artwork.
Frost: It’s not the Kirby per se that was off, just the context of using his pages for a modern story. DC is doing the same thing in their upcoming Action Comics #1000 with some Shuster art–I’ll try and keep my mind open.
Grunenwald: (I, too, would like to go on the record as liking Jack Kirby’s art.)
Jones: We really need to turn the attention towards Samnee’s art!
Frost: What I’ve always enjoyed about Samnee’s pencils is the ability to lay out all the action with a clear economy of space. It’s clean and reserved while showing off the chops of someone who respects the tradition while being modern as well. Reminds me a tad of Michael Cho: a great respect for past masters but still forging ahead with the classic characters in new ways.
Grunenwald: Samnee and Wilson are the least flashy team I can think of, and they don’t have to be because they have the fundamentals absolutely mastered. There are panels and pages where so much is happening, but it’s never cluttered and they always lead the eye. Wilson, in particular, does a fantastic job of that on some of the larger fight scenes – the eye is instantly drawn to Cap by virtue of how everything else is colored.
Jones: Gentleman, we are gathered here today at The Marvel Rundown for a BUY verdict regarding Captain America #700. If any participants of the discussion deem this issue not worthy of the rating I have provided speak now or forever hold your true verdict.
Grunenwald: *crickets* Is this a legal proceeding? I’ll allow it. BUY.
Jones: You may re-read the issue.
Final Verdict: A unanimous BUY!
Written by Saladin Ahmed
Illustrated by Javier Rodríguez
Inked by Álvaro López
Colored by Jordie Bellaire and Javier Rodriguez
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald
While it’s not officially part of Marvel’s Fresh Start line-up, Saladin Ahmed, and Javier Rodriguez’s Exiles certainly qualifies for it. The only returning character from the original team is Blink, and she’s joined by alternate versions of fan-favorite characters Kamala Khan, Valkyrie (looking a lot like Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok), and Wolverine, plus Iron Lad of the Young Avengers (I’m sure he’s some fan’s favorite). With Exiles #1, the team begins to take shape, and the threat that necessitates the team’s forming is revealed.
There’s a lot of plot heavy-lifting being done in this first issue, and writer Saladin Ahmed handles it well. He dispenses with most of the exposition quickly and concisely in the opening pages via some ominous narration by The Unseen, then gets straight to introducing the book’s main characters. Ahmed uses their interactions to give readers not just a sense of who these people are but also of the worlds they inhabit, which is vitally important for understanding how the alternate timeline characters ended up the way they did. Readers with foreknowledge of the ‘standard’ versions of the characters will likely take more away from those interactions than those who are coming in fresh off the street; that said, the issue is still accessible to readers who might not know what a multiverse is, without being an exposition-heavy slog for longtime fans
The art on this comic, by the team of Javier Rodríguez, Álvaro López, and Jordie Bellaire, is nothing short of superb. They are tasked with making multiple Earths and their inhabitants distinct while jumping from timeline to timeline over the course of a handful of pages, and still maintaining overall visual consistency throughout the issue. This is a herculean job, and the skill with which they pull it off is impressive. The transition from a post-apocalyptic timeline to a highly-advanced future timeline is initially jarring, but it’s meant to be, and it works on the strength of this team’s work. Rodríguez’s designs for the characters are also worth appreciating for the amount of work they’re doing. The utilitarian, battle-ready look of the alternate Kamala Khan – combat boots, cargo pants, and a heavy jacket over her traditional costume top – tells you nearly everything you need to know about this version of the character and the world in which she lives. The design of the series ‘big bad’, a creature referred to as the Time Eater, is also a personal favorite. The reveal of what it looks like is too good to spoil, except to say I found it at once horrific and utterly silly.
Exiles #1 is a strong debut. The writing is smart, the characters are entertaining, and the art is fantastic. I’m looking forward to the whole team is assembled and the real fun begins.
Final Verdict: BUY if you like alternate timelines and killer art.
Written by Gail Simone
Illustrated by David Baldeon
Colored by Jesus Aburtov
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
Of all the titles I could foresee bringing celebrated creator Gail Simone back to Marvel, I never anticipated a solo ongoing series from Domino would be the book. The founding X-Force member’s lineage is synonymous with a certain period in the 1990’s which always put some distance between the character and a certain audience, thankfully, Simone does a great job bridging the gap between Domino and new readers. Unfortunately, with so many solo titles currently in the roster of series from the greater Marvel Universe, the title already feels lost in the shuffle from the greater context of stories currently published. The non-linear framing device utilized here is a strong way to break up the pacing of the issue. However, with a large amount of solo-led titles making up the current slate of Marvel’s real estate, some of the larger notes tend to fall flat from this debut. Lots of the supporting cast members within the story blend in personality with Domino as she herself doesn’t seem to embody the characteristics of a leading lady. Lots of her internal narration is pleasant but doesn’t stick out from the average solo hero.
Thankfully, the title does bear some darker elements surfacing towards the end of the debut issue. The villains turning up at the end of the issue are slightly ham-fisted and don’t seem to carry a personal feud for the protagonist. The final cliffhanger also doesn’t serve to tie the issue together but leads readers towards a cliched finale not living up to some of the greater expectations the audience carries for a phenomenal writer of Simone’s caliber. Nothing present in the plot is inherently bad, but the installment never comes together as a singular, cohesive whole propelling fans toward the next issue.
David Baldon’s pencils are light and extremely angular. The manner in which the artist distorts his figures can get slightly out of hand in some moments but serve the story incredibly well in others. Baldeon’s more animated style is a good match for Simeon’s lighter script as well. Certain figures such as Deadpool are drawn in a much more precise manner than Domino, making for an interesting juxtaposition of the different heroes in the series. While the distorted imagery in some panels can be overwhelming, Baldeon’s energetic and fluid style matches the energy in Simone’s scripts.
Domino is a serviceable debut and the book certainly has the potential to improve going forward. It is great to see Baldeon and Simone so in-tune as collaborators on the title. Going forward I hope a strong, more distinct voice is established for hero and Simone establishes the stakes of the plotting in a firm direction.
Final Verdict: BROWSE. Even with good intentions and great energy, Domino doesn’t shine above the rest of Marvel’s crowded roster of titles.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #31
Written by Ryan North
Illustrated by Erica Henderson
Colored by Rico Renzi
Lettered by Travis Lanham
Reviewed by AJ Frost
Since the beginning of Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s run on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl three years ago, the series has reveled in being a playful send-up and an engaging meditation on the Marvel Universe. More often than not, the series has played fast and loose with the canon, often using the genre’s tropes as an irreverent commentary on the role of superheroes in contemporary culture. It was often done more with a wink than a heavy hand. North’s scripts were heavy on levity, with jokes stacked on jokes with (more of often than not) even more jokes filling each page. Even though it’s been surprisingly divisive for some readers, Henderson’s visual contributions to the Squirrel Girl mythos (if you could call it such a thing) are always delightful and interesting. And with this thirty-first installment in the series, it is also Henderson’s final assignment as The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’s interior artist.
Bracketing the larger context that underlying the issue, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #31 itself is a sweet reflection on what might be one of the most genuine relationships between characters happening right now in mainstream comics. Since they first met each other all the way back in volume one, issue one, the bond between Doreen Green and her roommate Nancy has evolved from semi-wariness to the strongest of friendships. Through every arc—from giant Norse squirrels attacking to New York to being in a land of dinosaurs—the rapport between Doreen and Nancy has only strengthened. And in a way that is not usual for the vast majority of the mainstream work, the growth feels genuine and earned.
This issue acts both a natural stopping point and a next step. For reasons I don’t want to spoil, Nancy and Doreen get stuck in “hypertime,” a state of existence where the world seems frozen but is actually moving at a glacial pace. It’s an Einstein-ian theorem run amok! But, of course, this being Squirrel Girl, she uses this plane of existence to perform acts of heroism as only she knows how. The problem is: while everyone else exists in this slower form of time, Nancy, and Doreen age normally. Years for them are only seconds to everyone else. Such a predicament is ripe for jokes, and of course, North plunders the barrel for smart laffs and hijinks. But what he does with this conceit, of course, is turn it on its head for a nice emotional turn at the end of the issue. While I’m not going to reveal exactly what happens, it’s a moment of warmness and fellowship feeling warranted and genuine.
And, of course, Henderson steps up to the plate to complement the emotions with the utmost depth. This issue is an excellent summation of her work on Squirrel Girl: light and humorous but with a twinge of melancholy added in for some existential depth. As we comic readers know and begrudgingly accept with regularity, creator changes happen with frequency, so the idea Henderson is wrapping up her run is not a ground-shaking revelation. While the premise of Squirrel Girl has always been pretty ridiculous on its face, Henderson’s aesthetic and North’s stories have always championed the humane qualities of Doreen. Take away the bushy tail and the costume, and it’s always been Doreen’s pull towards empathy and understanding he has made her stand above the rest of the scurry (as it were).
Final Verdict: While bittersweet (and still definitely hilarious), The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #31 is a definite BUY. I can’t wait to see what’s coming up with the creative team, and I’ll wait impatiently to see what Erica has up her sleeve next!
Join us next week for an analysis of Infinity Countdown #2!
The Beat Staff is an elite group of trained ninjas.