Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Marvel Catch-Up #1: A-Force

So I decided to do this series alphabetically to avoid headaches. However, this means that I'm throwing part of the concept of the series out the window in my very first entry, because the truth is that I have been keeping up with A-Force all along. I love the characters, I love the creative team, and I think the book is delightful. So this won't be so much a "read along with Adhesiveslipper" thing as I'd like it to be; It's mostly going to be me evangelizing about how much I love this comic and you should too.

ANYWAY, now that I've wrecked my whole format, let's talk about A-Force.

A-Force, Volume 1

Things are going to get a bit weird for a minute, as A-Force is one of the few All-New, All-Different books to spin directly out of the barrage of miniseries launched in support of Secret Wars. It was first announced back before we had any details about what Jonathan Hickman had in store for us with the Secret Wars series, and all we got at first was the cover of the first issue and the fact that it was being cowritten by G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett. And let me tell you, I found both the writing team and the cover art VERY ENTICING.


That cover basically showed a bajillion badass ladies that we all know and love, many of them sporting incongruously outdated costumes, along with one Super Secret Mystery Character(!). When the early previews first hit, I mistook the Mystery Character for Tamara Devoux - a.k.a. Captain Universe - who looks VERY similar, but thankfully a group of nerds on a Heroclix messageboard corrected me on my grievous error and called me a few mean names for good measure! Thanks, Internet!

Suffice it to say, I was very excited about this whole concept. Wilson has won my admiration many times over with her comics work. An all-woman Avengers team appeals on the same level as the all-woman X-Men team Wilson briefly wrote about a few years back (though be warned that the first 17 issues of that series were instead written by noted sexually-harassing grossbag Brian Wood so I can't in good conscience recommend them).

What was this rad-looking, lady-filled comic even about, though!?

Well... That gets a little tricky. I promised myself I wouldn't get too bogged-down in Secret Wars stuff in these articles. So let's just say that the series was mostly about the complex politics of Doctor Doom's "Battleworld" and we can mostly leave it there. I don't mean to write the miniseries off like that, it was actually really fun. The story was full of great character moments, big action, and terrific dialogue. The first issue opened with the kind of GOSHDAMNED GIANT MONSTER FIGHT that is exactly what I want from my comic books, to be honest. It even had a Captain Marvel moment that will live in my heart forever...


...but at the end of the day it was mostly about how the residents of one Barony of Battleworld must never breach the boundaries of another Barony, lest they be cast beyond the Shield Wall by the Thor Corps of God Emperor Doom, blah blah et cetera et cetera. Personally I dug all that mega-detailed world-building, but it's not for everybody... so I'mma just skip over it.

For our purposes here, the important bits of the original A-Force miniseries were:

  1. There was a superteam of badass ladies led by She-Hulk
  2. The above-mentioned Mystery Character fell from the sky at one point.
"I'm... Batman."

The mysterious sparkly blue girl of mystery was eventually revealed to be a small universe, collapsed in upon itself during the destruction of the Marvel Multiverse and somehow given intelligence and sentience, though she remained childlike in manner. Okay, player. She was given the name "Singularity", and she became BFFs with Nico Minoru, and she helped A-Force along their convoluted adventure across Battleworld, and eventually she nobly sacrificed her own life to save her newfound friends. The end.

Now we can safely fast-forward to the comic I'm ACTUALLY here to talk about, lolz.

A-Force, Volume 2

So eventually Mr. Fantastic prevailed over Doctor Doom, the Secret Wars series ended, and we returned to good old Earth-616. An in-continuity A-Force series was launched, co-written by G. Willow Wilson and author/blogger/podcaster Kelly Thompson, who is rad but whom Wikipedia is apparently not yet hip to.

Full disclosure: I love this cover so much that it's currently the background image on my laptop.

The story opens with Singularity sort of just... poofing into existence somewhere in Earth's upper atmosphere, alongside the Alpha Flight space station that Captain Marvel is currently in charge of.

I felt this should have had a sound-effect, regardless of the physics of space. Maybe a POINK?

I should note that I have literally no idea why there is a space station called "Alpha Flight", nor why Captain Marvel is in charge of it. This whole project is about me getting caught up with current comics, and apparently this is one of the things I missed.

Interestingly, the narration in this first storyarc is delivered by Singularity herself, who remains confused and childlike, despite her cosmic powers. I feel like that was a really solid move from a narrative perspective: I love the idea of having a point-of-view character standing out from an ensemble cast. It sort of hearkens back to Kitty Pryde's role in the early-80s X-Men, and gives us as the readers a way to observe all the superheroics from a slightly different angle than we're used to. We aren't put straight into the shoes of the unstoppable badass: We're instead identifying with the confused kid, watching things unfold with a mixture of awe and terror. It really pulls some of the MACHO out of a superhero comic, and I think that's so useful in so many ways. I am also growing really fond of Singularity as a character, and specifically as a Cosmic Marvel character. Her power-levels remain undefined (which I'm fine with; let's learn along with her), but as near as I can tell, she is a human-sized, teen-girl version of Eternity - one of Steve Ditko's coolest creations - which could place her VERY high on the power scale.

So... Upon her sudden arrival in the Core Marvel Universe, it's made clear that Singularity actually remembers the events of the first A-Force miniseries, which sets her apart from most current characters, as far as I know. She immediately uses her... cosmic senses, I guess? to seek out a familiar face, and pays the nearby Captain Marvel a visit.

"HUH?!" I enjoy a good interrobang.

Singularity is surprised to find that Captain Marvel does not recognize her, and begins to piece together that she's arrived on a different Earth after her "death" on Battleworld. As introductions are being made, another cosmic entity poofs into existence outside of the space station. This one is a large red dude made of antimatter, so it's pretty clear from the jump that he's evil. He immediately starts attacking the station, and his ranting makes it clear that he's after Singularity. Captain Marvel jumps out into space and engages in some serious face-punching, but Antimatter seems unaffected. It soon starts to seem like Singularity is the only one who can cause him pain, though it somehow also seems to involve draining her energy/life-essence/whatever. It's vague, but I appreciate that vagueness. Comics that over-explain everything lose something for me: It pulls me out of the story and plunks me down in a classroom.

Singularity, afraid, hijacks an escape-pod and launches herself towards the Earth. She again reaches out for signs of her former friends, and finds She-Hulk at her law office in New York City. She crash-lands her escape-pod and is first spotted by a couple of goofy hipsters that look QUITE A LOT like Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick...

This is not a particularly serious comic.

Singularity quickly finds out that Antimatter abandoned his fight with Captain Marvel to chase after her. He continues his self-aggrandizing ranting, which is right and proper for a supervillain.

She flees to She-Hulk, who - despite the fact that she does not know Singularity and has very little idea what is happening - recognizes the threat and jumps into the fight without much questioning, because she's a goddamned superhero.

Medusa shows up shortly after with an army of Inhumans in tow, and joins the battle as well.

During a brief pause in the fighting, Singularity teleports herself, Medusa, and She-Hulk to Japan, where they crash the wedding of Nico Minoru's cousin. Antimatter quickly catches up with them, and Nico - obviously - joins the fight too.

There is a really sweet exchange at this point where Singularity expresses surprise that these women are willing to help her despite not sharing her feelings of familiarity, or even being from the same UNIVERSE as her, and She-Hulk states her feelings quite simply: Helping people is what we do.

I literally got misty at this panel. Shut up.

As a brief aside, this book has introduced the idea that Nico has been studying languages beyond English and Japanese to circumvent her can-only-cast-a-specific-spell-once-ever restriction. She casts a healing spell on herself in Estonian, explaining that she requires healing spells fairly frequently. This was a very brief moment, only a couple panels on the page, but I felt like it was a very clever idea and a potentially-huge change to the character.

The heroes receive a call from Captain Marvel, who conveniently suspects that a blast of "light energy" could hurt Antimatter. I say "conveniently" because it serves mostly as an excuse for them to once again teleport away and recruit the last member of their team: Dazzler.

Dazzler has in the last couple years been turned into a brooding punk-rocker after some traumatic events in Uncanny X-Men, and we find her at a roller-derby match, competing as "Ali-STUN Blaire". I thought that was cute.

Dazzler joins up with her fellow superheroes, Antimatter appears again, their attack fails again, and they retreat back to Captain Marvel's space station.

Captain Marvel and her team of scientists(?) announces that they have found a way to defeat Antimatter, but it will also mean the destruction of Singularity. The members of the newly-formed supergroup all agree that that is not acceptable. They eventually build a super-scientific MacGuffin that will protect Singularity while blowin' up Antimatter, proceed to blow his ass up, and then they all go out for burgers.

In the final scenes, Dazzler opens up about her trauma to her teammates (I'm not going to dive too deeply into it because it's complicated X-Men stuff, but basically Mystique took her hostage for several months and drained her blood to synthesize special mutant-drugs), and then asks Nico to magic her up a new superhero costume. Which leads to one of Sister Grimm's most adorable spells ever:


Singularity then senses that Antimatter was NOT destroyed, and that sentient pieces of him have been scattered across the globe. The End? Nah, obviously not.

I really ought to mention that I'm well aware how quickly I've blown through the entire first storyarc, four issues long. I don't want you to feel like I am minimizing this comic, because I absolutely am not. I'm keeping things super-brief here for two big reasons. Reason One: I really think everyone should read this book, so I want to provide the barest possible summary of events. I don't want to spoil all of the clever plotting, quite-funny jokes, and brilliant dialogue. Reason Two: The story is simple, but without being simplistic. Despite the complexity of the story and the world it is taking place in, it all boils down to a team of superheroes being formed to fight a random-but-powerful baddie, which is a formula that Marvel has been using literally since the formation of the Avengers in the 1960s.

At issue #5, G. Willow Wilson has left the book, with Kelly Thompson becoming the sole author. Her writing has moved towards a third-person-omniscient narrative, as opposed to being filtered through the eyes of Singularity. The art also has taken a distinctly more cartoonish turn at the hands of Ben Caldwell.

I love Dazzler's straight-up "PEW PEW PEW" pose here.

At the beginning of the issue, Singularity has teleported the team to the location of some sort of rip in space/time. They are immediately greeted by the sight of THOR BATTLING A BIGASS DRAGON OVER OREGON.

There is also a very fun introductory panel for the characters:

They immediately join in the battle, because as She-Hulk says: "I wanna fight it. Hell, one that size has been on my bucket list for a while..."

I love the look of elation on She-Hulk's face as she is being chucked at a dragon's head.

After a sound thrashing, the dragon retreats, and they notice that the Thor they've teamed up with is not the Thor they were expecting...

...but is instead a HOLY CRAP DAZZLER THOR, a remnant of Battleworld's Thor Corps, who reveals that the dragon was actually an evil sorceress named The Countess... who seems to also be from Battleworld, but I'm not 100% on that because she was not in any of the miniseries that I read. If anybody feels like filling me in on that, it'd be rad.

The Countess

Dazzler obviously has some feelings about meeting a Thor version of herself. They all go out to get beer and pie together.

The Countess soon gains control of Nico's mind, and Nico uses her not-insignificant magical powers to put the rest of A-Force in peril. And that is where the latest issue's cliffhanger leaves us.

To put it bluntly, I am loving the hell out of this comic. I wholeheartedly recommend it, and I am really looking forward to future issues. I am a bit concerned that things will take a dark turn, as Brian Michael Bendis has recently killed off She-Hulk in the Civil War II series, but I have faith that Kelly Thompson can push past that Grimdark Garbage Crossover Shit and continue telling a fun, positive story about women and girls who kick ass.

Marvel Catch-Up #0: The Introduction

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