Fastball Feedback: Marvel Edition - Scarlet Witch #1, Gwenpool #1
The launch of All-New, All-Different Marvel is in full swing (as Secret Wars has finally relented to concluding in 2016) with plenty of new #1's from the House of Ideas dropping every Wednesday. This week there are seven new series featuring a wide variety of talent, characters, and styles. We're taking a look a few of the most exciting debuts to help you decide what's worth checking out and possibly save some extra strain on your wallet.
Scarlet Witch #1
Written by James Robinson
Art by Vanesa Del Rey
Colors by Jordie Bellaire
The beautiful thing about Scarlet Witch #1 is that it utilizes a long established character with nothing that even resembles an iconic interpretation. Much like the beginning of Matt Fraction and David Aja's run on Hawkeye (a character shown in the very first page of Scarlet Witch #1) there's no sacred burial ground that writer James Robinson and artist Vanesa Del Rey must fear treading upon. Instead they are capable of crafting their own mythos and reshaping their main character into the best form for their story. It's something they do well in this first issue, providing an intriguing, if flawed, initial take on this classic Avenger.
Continuing the Hawkeye comparison, the most striking part of this debut issue is Del Rey's artwork. Although she is a known quantity in comics already, Scarlet Witch #1 is likely to bring her an even wider audience. Her style is a perfect fit for the story at hand layered in shadows, wide shots, and brooding forms. This is a comic composed in mood, and that mood is creeping and grim. It complements the concepts of witchcraft and internal darkness in Robinson's script as well. The pacing of Scarlet Witch #1 is every bit as methodical and dark as its style. There are no big shocks or laughs, Del Rey focuses on the slow build instead. When a monster finally appears it is no surprise, even with its terrific horned design. Each page is meant to be digested slowly, focusing on Jordie Bellaire's insightful use of reds against a melancholy backdrop steeped in darkness.
Robinson constructs the issue in a one-and-done style, allowing for future installments but completing this specific adventure. It's built well enough with a beginning, middle, and end, but the structure does not maintain much integrity under any sort of scrutiny. Wanda Maximoff is an immensely enjoyable character to read, the sort of sarcastic loner Robinson excels with (for further proof see Starman). Her caustic tongue transforms her into a surprisingly effective detective. Unfortunately, the magical elements don't work nearly as well. While her discovery and diagnosis of the problem make sense, the origin and resolution to said problem is far less satisfying. Robinson makes an odd jump in retconning the entire French Revolution as the act of an angry demon compelling poor folk to unfairly murder rich folk (something I do not have the space or patience to unpack here). The resolution of the story isn't even convenient in the typical way of magical stories, but hand waves the entire problem. It crosses the line from fantasy to laziness, when establishing a few fundamentals of what magic is could have composed a much more exciting climax.
Scarlet Witch #1 is a comic with a lot of promise. It's premise and creative team deliver a solid first issue, albeit one that could have used a more challenging editorial hand. Wanda Maximoff's voice has never been stronger though, and as long as the depiction of her adventures remains this compelling, it will be worthwhile seeing where she goes next.
Gwenpool Special #1
Written by Charles Soule, Margaret Stohl, Gerry Duggan, and Christopher Hastings
Art by Langdon Foss, Juan Gedeon, Danila S. Beyruth, and Gurihiru
Colors by Megan Wilson, Tamra Bonvillain, Cris Peter, and Gurihiru
Ignore the title, this ain't a Gwenpool special, it's a Marvel holiday special. Sure, Gwenpool is in one story, but this comic is all about loved ones, cheer, and the spirit of giving. That pink-clad blonde assassin may sell issues, but she has very little to do with the content of this comic. And there is a lot of content, as three mini-stories connect the larger tale of She-Hulk saving her landlord's superhero-stuffed building from alien grinches. The result is an enjoyable, but uneven, anthology of Christmas-themed Marvel universe stories just in time for the holidays.
The weakest link of this collaboration comes from, perhaps, its strongest character. Margaret Stohl's Ms. Marvel story takes the charm and uniqueness of the character and reduces it to a one-trick pony centered on her being a Muslim-American at Christmas. Every story beat and joke relies on Kamala Khan's religion, a point that goes from being mildly amusing to stale to truly disturbing. It's an outside perspective pretending to get it like three children in a trenchcoat get being an adult. Luckily, this isn't the norm even if it will leave a sour taste in your mouth. Most of the stories are slight, but enjoyable. The Hawkeyes pity their pal Deadpool, She-Hulk is awesome (as Soule's best character work in any comic continues), and Gwenpool is actually kind of funny.
Looking through four sets of artists and colorists, it's easy to perceive Gwenpool Special #1 as passable. It never offends and never strives to impress. The storytelling is never unclear, but there is not a single page in the comic that will make you linger. This is the sort of construction that fast, efficient corporate comics strive for where readers can be satisfied. Normally, I'd argue that four sets of artists and colorists merit a deeper examination, but the work here is so plain and unchallenging that it simply earns marks for being perfectly fine.
That's the ultimate goal for Gwenpool Special #1, a comic with a cash grab in its title: to be perfectly fine. It succeeds at that. The Hawkeye story did plenty for me as a fan of Duggan's mini-series, while the Ms. Marvel story is wince-inducing, but overall it averages out to complete fine-ness. This is a comic worth flipping through for Marvel fans, but it won't leave any sort of impression after one or two glasses of eggnog.
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