-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
It’s a very Marvel J&STAC this week, with a special appearance by Image. We normally don’t do back-to-back new #1 reviews, but there are a lot of them, one of which got a lot of media attention. You can probably guess which one based on this tweet from Kurt Busiek:
I saw a tweet saying liberals should create their own Captain America. They did. In 1940.
— Kurt Busiek Resists (@KurtBusiek) October 18, 2015
Let’s start with Cap, shall we?
words by Nick Spencer, art by Daniel Acuña, published by Marvel
Synopsis: No longer sanctioned and funded by S.H.I.E.L.D., Sam Wilson faces difficult realities as the new Captain America. Despite a depleted budget and an antagonistic media, Wilson still tries to stick to his ideal of the iconic superhero. This includes facing off against a group of border vigilantes, which puts him in the crosshairs of the villains.
-J.: Holy hell, that was a bold way to kick off this series. Spencer and Acuña weave so many thoughts, hints, statements, motives, prejudices, and emotions into a plot that is quintessential Captain America.
Steph: Yes. All of that. I’m going to need a moment to get my thoughts in order about all of it.
-J.: There were so many things. There was the icy reception from S.H.I.E.L.D. after Cap defeats terrorists. There was the humbling necessity of finding both funding and a way to penetrate media echo chambers to reach citizens. We see how people of different cultural backgrounds react to the same man. And of course, there’s the plot — the storytellers place Cap directly into a very believable and very politically tense confrontation.
Steph: Honestly everything that was said (on both sides of the political view points) are things that I’m fairly certain have been said in real life. The Sons of the Serpent, a group of conservative extremists, blaming immigrants for not only taking their jobs but having to clarify that they prefer English when contacting their satellite providers, I believe every word of it. Of course there was backlash by actual conservatives in the news…
-J.: Not even that they prefer English, but that they are inconvenienced by having to press ‘1’ for English. That amused me, darkly. As did the fact that at least one real-world news outlet parroted the made-up headlines from this issue. Thing is, this does feel like exactly what Sam Wilson as Cap would do. And the final page of this issue is the kind of escalated tension we’d expect to see given the character’s choices. The cover preview for issue #2 leaves this as my favorite new release from the last couple weeks.
words by Tom Taylor, art by Steve Pugh, color by Tamra Bonvillain, published by Marvel
Synopsis: On the Secret Wars Battleworld, in Metropolitia people are being terrorized by Baron Zemo. With S.H.I.E.L.D. under Zemo’s control a small rebellion called Atlas works to save the day.
Steph: I will just say I blurted out ‘holy shit!’ twice while reading this. Twice.
-J.: I can see why. Unfortunately, I had difficulty getting past the Secret Wars / what-if nature of the piece. That’s my own bias — it was a rollicking one-shot with a lot of ‘oh shit!’ moments. It just didn’t resonate with me as much.
words by Gerry Duggan, art by Phil Noto, published by Marvel
Synopsis: Everyone’s favorite wookiee is on a personal mission when his loaner spacecraft needs repairs. As he procures the necessary parts, Chewie stumbles upon a planetary overlord who is using the aftermath of Yavin to justify indentured servitude.
-J.: Phil Noto illustrating a Chewbacca series. That’s all we need to say, right?
Steph: That’s what I said (basically) when I unpacked the stack of Star Wars: Chewbacca books at the comic shop! But obviously that’s not all we’re going to say…
-J.: Okay, if we need more: The issue sets up a simple plot, but the details woven throughout are what really makes this story stand out. From the opening scroll to Chewie’s method of earning income to Zarro’s tenacity, this opening tale does a perfect job of getting you to care about the characters and what happens to them.
Steph: I thought maybe we would get actual words in Chewie’s speech bubbles, since it is his book, but I think the constant guessing of what he’s saying based on the emotion he puts behind the grunts and roars makes his relationship with new companion, Zarro, that much more adorable.
-J.: I’m already looking forward to PK’s discussion of the first trade when the arc finishes next year.
words and art by Stjepan Sejic, published by Image and Top Cow
Synopsis: The Darkness and the Light have had a complicated relationship, but from it came the Witchblade, an artifact that grants the bearer supernatural power and strength. Mary, an ordinary teenager will have to learn fast when the Witchblade chooses her to be its next champion.
Steph: I am a big fan of Stjepan (I have been told by a reliable source that it’s pronounced like Stephen) Sejic. I love his art style, and his writing is perfect mixture of fun and serious.
-J.: I concur. I’m really glad that I was exposed to him during his run on Rat Queens. I’m pretty sure I would never have given this title a shot if he wasn’t the one doing it.
Steph: I’ve never followed Witchblade, or the Darkness, but I think this is a good place to jump in, and Sejic has made an excellent introduction. A bit like Buffy meets the eternal struggle of light and dark, which themselves are not necessarily good and bad, instead of vampires and clear cut ‘evil.’
-J.: It is, though this is another book that I would normally have antipathy towards. The Witchblade stories from 10-15 years ago never really hooked me, so my reaction was very ho-hum through the first part of the book — even with Sejic being the creator. But the issue really hits its stride in the moment when the Witchblade merges with Mary.
To Sum it all up…
Steph has always been a Marvel girl, and with the constant stream of new, well-written Marvel #1’s it’s difficult to argue that DC has been able to keep up. -J. may try, but even he has to admit that the new Captain America series was one of the best opening salvos he’s read from the Big Two in a while.