Writer: Al Ewing
Penciler: Greg Land
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Cover: Greg Land & Morry Hollowell
Variant Cover: Francesco Francavilla
Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
THE STORY: Doctor Strange has been completely mentally overtaken by the Ebony Maw (if you really want more on this, read Infinity). Adam Brashear, The Blue Marvel, is paid a visit in his underwater science lab by The Watcher, and discovers the threat in New York. Luke Cage, Spectrum, Spider-Man, and Spider Hero continue to fight the many and powerful forces of Proxima Midnight. But she has a spear that becomes black light and kills most beings, and she hits Spectrum with it, which severely hurts her and takes her out of the fight. She then knocks down Luke Cage, but the cries of the ordinary people around them bring Luke back to his feet to absolutely STOMP her. At this point some seismic activity begins, and Spider Hero says something is being summoned. Thanos, disappointed with Proxima Midnight’s progress, recalls her, but she warns that what the Ebony Maw has planned is worse. And it is. Doctor Strange, under the Maw’s control, summons from beneath the ground the huge, Lovecraftian monster Shuma-Gorath! Thankfully, the Blue Marvel is flying in and is almost there!
MY THOUGHTS: After last issue’s more relaxed pace that took time to introduce us to the characters and situations, this issue is mostly all punching, and that’s not all bad, but not all good either.
Last issue I praised the use of the event tie-in to quickly get a big villain without having to spend time on introducing them, but this issue is where the story suffers a bit from that. Since this one is mostly fight, you really do feel the lack of a strong motivation or any personal connection. It’s not a bad story – the villain simply wants to destroy New York. It’s a tried and true villain motivation we’ve seen for decades. But that’s the problem. In the opening story of this new series that’s trying to define itself amongst a sea of Avengers books, something we’ve seen for decades really doesn’t cut it. The conflict in this book basically boils down to: VILLAIN: “I want to destroy New York, cause Thanos!” HERO: “But I like New York, cause Papaya King!” BOTH: “LET’S PUNCH ABOUT IT!” And again, that’s fine – it’s just not going to really convince people that they need this $3.99/issue series more than any other on the stands.
But if this issue is going to be all fight, thank goodness Al Ewing knows how to write one! We may be lacking a bit in the original motivations department, but what we’re not lacking in is stakes, spectacle, and some cool moments. The stakes are, of course, huge. In addition to the big, tough foes our heroes are fighting on the ground, we see a constant stream of spaceships flying overhead and you just KNOW they aren’t carrying medicine and pop-tarts. It gives you the sense of scale that reminds you that, as big as this fight is, it’s really just one skirmish in one city when the whole world is under siege. That’s stakes AND spectacle all in one. But on the spectacle side, we also have some great use of the talents of Greg Land and co. with some large panels of these 4 heroes really holding their own against this alien army because frankly they’re all so badass. This series is doing a good job of showing the raw strength and power of Luke Cage when taking on and crushing his enemies. Spider Hero, though his identity is a secret, is clearly an experienced martial artist who knows his way around a fight with multiple combatants. Spider-Man, even if he is a prick, has the awe-inspiring powers of their original (and still superior) owner and is far enough along to be using them well. And Spectrum really is the force to be reckoned with on this team, which Proxima Midnight rightly figures out quickly and takes her out of the equation. It’s akin to those great moments in the few Westerns that portray a big gunfight more accurately (“Open Range” and, yes, “Firefly” spring to mind) when the best shooter on the opposing side is taken out FIRST, rather than the silly “I’ll save you for last” of many of the genre’s films. Because you know what happens while you’re saving the best for last? They’re taking your people out left and right. Because they’re the BEST. Minor rant aside, it’s nice to see the villain here portrayed as if she’s actually fought in these sorts of battles before and knows enough to go after the most powerful. That’s definitely the kind of thing that adds to the threat quickly and effectively.
So let’s talk about the scene that manages to be both a huge cliche but also the coolest moment in the book at the same time. Yes, I’m talking about the scene where ordinary New Yorkers throw bricks at the villain. Now I admit, when I first started reading this scene, my eyes rolled pretty much all the way back into my head. I’ve seen Spider-Man movies and read comic books before, so suffice it to say I’ve seen this particular scene more times than is healthy and it got cliched a long, long time ago. Sure, the old woman had admirable spunk. Sure, the writer made good use of the phrase “No Pasaran!” (which I had to look up, but it turns out is a well known Spanish phrase meaning “They Shall Not Pass” that has been used to stand up to fascism for decades and has seen a revival in the past few years). This bit of the scene is completely solidly written and in a vacuum would’ve been fine, but it does not exist in a vacuum. Considering how many people have seen particularly the first Spider-Man film, it is a total cliche. AND YET – Ewing manages to completely turn around and save the scene when Proxima Midnight tells the crowd to go ahead and see what their words get them, and the old woman changes the chant from “No Pasaran!” to “Avengers Assemble!” Now again, having someone yell out Avengers Assemble and then seeing the Avengers Assemble is nothing new…but this is different. Rather than having the effect of calling together the heroes to join and fight the bad guy, which would have doomed this scene completely to cliche hell, this chant is for the benefit of one man. Luke Cage has been brutally put down by Proxima Midnight at this point, but the chants of ordinary people who need his help, shouting the simple yet powerful phrase “Avengers Assemble!” rouses the clearly tired and wounded hero. The need and the energy of the crowd give him the strength and the drive to rise from the rubble he’s been beaten into. And finally, the cries of the people he is sworn to protect give him the strength to full-on wail on this galactic murderer, preventing her from hurting one more person before her master calls her back in failure. What began as a cliche becomes a truly inspiring scene that is maybe the greatest Luke Cage moment I’ve ever personally read. It not only says so much about his character, but gives him huge badass credit at the same time. I may have started out rolling my eyes, but I ended up cheering.
And even though this one’s mostly about the punching, we do get another nice little character introduction, this time for The Blue Marvel. Some may be familiar with the character from his 2009 mini-series “Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel,” but considering that wasn’t a very high seller and he hasn’t appeared anywhere else since then (except an Age of Heroes short story and maybe a little background here and there), it’s a good bet that this is most people’s first introduction to him. It is certainly mine. And I found myself not feeling lost or uninformed on the character at all. In the space of three pages through just a few captions and Adam talking to The Watcher (more like talking at The Watcher, since The Watcher doesn’t talk back) we get that Adam is a forgotten hero who believes heroes should serve the people (not lord over them as he fears the Avengers sometimes do), the people have turned on him in the past, he is a scientist and humanitarian, he’s seen The Watcher before, he lives in his underground lab, he has kids old enough that they’ve moved out, and he (seemingly somewhat recently) lost his wife. That’s really an awful lot of information in three pages when it doesn’t ever feel like anyone’s giving a speech called “Exposition Time!” Effectively giving the readers necessary exposition without making those readers feel like they’re being forced to eat their vegetables is really one of the hardest things for a comic book writer to do (this is clear since there are many otherwise great comic book writers who are still terrible at it), so Ewing cannot be commended enough for this. It also gives one some real hope for this series going forward, because a writer that can easily introduce new characters and concepts without forcing huge blocks of expository text down your throat really has a huge canvas to work with and you can trust that you won’t be bored when new things and people show up.
We also get a bit more of Doctor Strange in this issue, leading up to his pulling a gigantic tentacle monster out of the ground – oops. And I think Doctor Strange’s appearance in these first two issues is the thing I most don’t know how to feel about. This is the area that, more than any other, relies on what’s going on in the Infinity event for a major plot point of this story. And for Doctor Strange (under the thrall of the Ebony Maw) to be such a major factor, we really do barely see him. But, having read Infinity, I would say I was let down by the development of this same plot point in the main story as well. We’re told that the Ebony Maw ensnares people with just words, but there’s clearly more to it than that. After all, you can’t just TALK to Doctor Strange and turn him dark. Unless they’re magic words (and Ebony Maw does not appear to be a sorcerer), those words simply do not exist. Basically, I just found the entire Doctor Strange bit of Infinity as a whole to be sadly underdeveloped, and that’s reflected here by basically giving him one page per issue and then all of a sudden the next big threat is due to him. It’s especially odd because it makes you feel like Doctor Strange will be important to or a part of this book, and all indications afterwards are to the contrary. He seems to be completely contained in New Avengers, with no signs he’ll be appearing in this book as well.
As for our Spider-Man check-in this time (since, again, this is a Spider-Man website), there’s not much to say this time out. We mostly just see him fighting baddies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The only real bit of dialogue we get from him is when he tries to call in his spider-army, but they’re pinned down elsewhere by Thanos’ forces and he’s very frustrated. We do also later have Luke Cage acknowledging Spider-Man’s scientific skill and asking him to check out Monica, but Spidey isn’t really helpful there (alien energies and whatnot – you can’t blame him). So this isn’t an issue to buy if you’re just looking for Spidey, but his presence is there as much as it can be expected to be for this sort of issue.
GRADE: B- A lot of contradictions between good and bad make this somewhat of a difficult issue to judge, but I came away from it with a positive feeling so it gets a grade in the positive end of the spectrum. But considering this is the weakest issue this series has had so far (out of the first four) it’s still pleasantly high for a low point.