I read these books during Women in Horror month (February), so naturally I focused on graphic novels with female protagonists.
Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears – Baby Talk
Written by Dennis Hopeless, illustrated by Javier Rodriguez
Back in the day, the character of Spider-Woman was introduced to the Marvel Universe to prevent other companies using the name, and since then she has been through numerous reincarnations, of which I believe the stories collected in this volume are from either the fifth or sixth iteration (I have the entire first series, all fifty issues, bagged and boxed somewhere in the garage – collectors please send your bids in sealed envelopes). This time round Captain Marvel is her best friend, journalist Ben Urich is her partner in a detective agency, and the Porcupine, who used to be a bad guy in a silly suit is now a good guy in a silly suit who helps out with the superhero workload. Excelsior! Oh, and our heroine (real name Jessica Drew) is pregnant, which adds an interesting twist as she takes on Skrulls while visiting a hospital in deep space. Overall it’s a lot of fun, with some dazzling artwork, Rodriguez given a wealth of alien creatures to work with and succeeding admirably in bringing them to life on the page. Characterisation is done well, with people and situations you can believe in, and the whole thing with the baby is handled with panache, deftly categorising the perils and problems of having a young one to care for while struggling with the obligations of a superhero, at the same time quite clearly showing the benefits of said infant. It was something different, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears – Civil War II
Written by Dennis Hopeless, illustrated by Javier Rodriguez, Veronica Fish & Tigh Walker
More of the same in this follow up volume. There’s fisticuffs with Tiger Shark to start the book, a visit to Canada where a plague of wendigoes gets stomped on, and to round matters off we have Jessica and baby at the beach while Porcupine tackles the Sandman. All these though are just side orders to the main event, which has Jessica hired by Captain Marvel to investigate a psychic, this in turn leading to a falling out between the two fast friends as it becomes clear what Marvel intends to accomplish using the psychic’s gifts, a standoff that mirrors that between Iron Man and Captain America, Civil War style. To be honest, fun as they were, the side orders were all a bit lightweight and contrived, with the conflict between Jessica and Marvel the real meat of the book. Physically it’s a no-brainer, as Captain Marvel has Spider-Woman totally outgunned, but the emotional turmoil and ideological slant of each character give the narrative its focus. There is a choice too for the reader as to who we support – the one who wants to stop crime before it happens or the one who believes somebody is innocent until they act. There’s also an element of humour to the story, which adds a nice balance to the book as a whole, especially when Jessica, to all intents and purposes, flounces. Add to that some striking artwork, and you have an all-round entertaining book.
Ms Marvel: Crushed
Written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Elmo Bondoc & Takeshi Miyazawa
I believe I also have the entire 25 issue first run of the Ms Marvel safe in the garage, though I could be wrong. Her real name was Carol Danvers and she went on to become the Captain Marvel mentioned above. This time round the identity is assumed by Kamala Khan, the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel comic book, and she owes her shape shifting powers to the effects of terrigen mist (also responsible for the Inhumans). The adventures collected together here bring her into conflict with Loki, a renegade sect of Inhumans who wish to supplant human rule, and a bacteria that turns her classmates into mush monsters (for the latter she has a little help from agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). It’s all good stuff, the super heroics complemented by exploration of what it feels like to be a teenage girl, a Muslim, and a super powered being, taking in the difficulties of dating, and of conforming to the cultural expectations of her family. These themes, all of them in their way just variations on the conceit of the outsider, are handled in a non-judgemental way with intelligence and style. The artwork I felt was a bit uneven, with some panels that really grab you and others where everything seems a little washed out and contorted, with odd angles and distortions of perspective that didn’t really agree with me.
Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian
Written by Gail Simone, illustrated by Aaron Lopresti & Bernard Chang
There’s a lot going on in this book. Wonder Woman must fight the monstrous Genocide, a creation of Cheetah and her allies, whose power is enhanced by the absorption of WW’s lasso. While the Justice League and Green Lantern Corps are helpless, WW must watch Genocide attack all who she holds dear and fight to save them as best she can. Meanwhile Zeus has decided to release the Amazons from their peace keeping mission and replace them with a race of male warriors led by the Olympian, only these warriors think the path to peace requires them to disarm everybody else. Back of it all, with an agenda of his own, is the evil Ares, the two plot strands intertwining and culminating in a moment when Wonder Woman turns her back on the gods of the Amazons. It’s marvellous stuff, the bleakness of the action colliding head first with the beauty of the artwork, with a cast of larger than life characters and epic events that undermine and transform our understanding of Wonder Woman’s world and purpose. Ultimately it questions the role of the gods and argues that their time is past. While it doesn’t have the quite the same sense of cohesion, in many ways this story reminded me of the glory days of the Thor comic, with its epic falling outs between Loki and the God of Thunder, and Odin’s often miscalculated interventions. I loved it.