With the Marvel NOW! relaunch looming on the horizon following the end of the sprawling Avengers vs. X-Men crossover event, Marvel Comics plans to have dozens of new #1 issues spaced out over a few months beginning in October. That hasn’t prevented them from putting some top talent on high-profile launches over the last month or two, and it seemed as good a time as any to check in and see how those titles are doing.
They might not be part of a massive, coordinated effort, but it’s hard to deny that when you relaunch a fan-favorite X-Man; a member not only of the Avengers but of the MOVIE Avengers; and one of Marvel’s most visible, popular female heroes all at once, the stories are likely to make fans stand up and take note. And, starting with Captain Marvel #1 last month, that’s what the publisher has been doing.
Our reviewer Nick Winstead waxed enthusiastic about Captain Marvel last month, while Kelly Sue DeConnick–the title’s writer and one of the most visible women in comics right now–told an interviewer last week that she wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t last a year.
The second issue of the series hit the stands this week and while I still can’t quite get used to the look of Dexter Soy’s art, there’s no doubting it’s beautiful and well-rendered. DeConnick, meanwhile, has quietly become one of the cleverest, most articulate and refreshing voices in Big Two comics, and only two issues in the title is already in my top five female-led superhero titles of the last ten years, along with gems like Brian Azzarrello’s Wonder Woman and Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter. It’s already up there with Batwoman as one of the best comics in the mainstream market in terms of the way it uses art and panel structure as an integral part of the storytelling, and (like Batwoman again) it uses that to establish an identity all its own and a look that’s identifiable at a glance.
DeConnick does a great job making the character immediately relatable, as the first couple of issues have revolved around Carol Danvers more than Captain Marvel, and have seen her grapple with issues of legacy and the meaning of heroes–that’s the kind of issues that DC usually tends to embrace more than Marvel does, but it feels at home in the title.
It is, of course, very difficult to imagine what the corporate comics machines at DC and Marvel might do, but it seems unlikely that a title as good as this one, with a writer who’s a rising star (recently, she was teased as the writer of an upcoming Avengers title), will die quietly in the next ten months, so we can probably err on the side of assuming Captain Marvel will survive.
Gambit, the series’ first issue just out from James Asmus and Clay Mann, is an admirable attempt to make something out of a little bit of nothing but frankly it comes out feeling a bit like a TV movie. The idea of taking a character back to ground zero–back to the thing that originally made them appealing–is one of the most tried-and-true ways to get superheroes and other characters who exist in serialized storytelling to reboot successfully, but is there truly anyone out there for whom Gambit’s default setting is as a thief?
Further, the whole idea of doing a big, cool heist movie every month could arguably be so cool as to make the readers ignore little things like a story where one of the X-Men decides to just go thieve for a night…because he can. But outside of a few cool moments used in “breaking the security system,” there’s not really a heist to be seen here. Once Gambit gets inside, he almost immediately does something that not only casts doubt on his skills as a thief but also plunges the entire series more definitively back into traditional superhero territory. That’s inevitable, of course, and the heist-movie stuff is just the trappings of the series, but it still would have been nice to see an issue or two where that’s mostly played straight and only hints at the superhero nature of the title.
Gambit is also a title that brings to the forefront an issue that Marvel has in a lot of other places, including Avengers vs. X-Men. Often, it seems as though the house style for coloring and visual effects is treated as more important than giving each title or artist their own unique treatment. The result is that sometimes you get someone with a more cartoon-inspired art style and that by coloring them like a photorealistic artist, you end up with a very surreal, almost odd, color palette that does not serve the art. Luckily, Laura Allred will be coming onto FF with Mike Allred, because with the colorist from Gambit, that series would look just absolutely awful.
Hawkeye is certainly a step up from there. While Gambit isn’t bad, it’s still just kind of unremarkable, and nothing about it feels new or exciting. In Hawkeye, writer Matt Fraction teams with artist David Aja to create a kind of smart action movie. It looks poised to be a monthly version of something like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, minus all the cursing. A smart, fun action story that stops periodically to inform you about something you didn’t know you wanted to know, but is still awesome.
It’s an interesting book; knowing that fans will probably be coming to the character fresh off The Avengers movie, it meets the central challenge of that film–that Hawkeye is just a guy with a bow and arrow, and not particularly “super” considering his teammates–head-on in a way that may draw some inspiration from Geoff Johns’s Aquaman and the way he tackled the apparent uselessness of the title character when that comic was relaunched last year.
It also takes on one of the most obvious pieces of baggage that Clint Barton has carried for years in the comics–the fact that Hawkeye is frankly kind of a jerk. That’s a pretty entertaining thing to watch, and it adds to the action-movie feel, giving us a protagonist who’s not as uniformly and unconditionally good as Captain Marvel but but as pointlessly, recreationally morally gray as Gambit. It’s a nice balance.
At the end of the day, Marvel has a nice mix of new #1 issues coming into the Marvel NOW! relaunch. While Gambit is probably not something I’ll buy again and again, it wasn’t a bad read and the other two have jumped to the top of any sensible reader’s must-buy piles after only an issue or two. If these are indicative of the overall philosophy of Marvel’s upcoming creative changes, we could have a very exciting few months ahead of us.