Ms. Marvel #8

by

Or – “War! Hunh! Good gawd, y’all… What is it good for? Absolutely NOTHIN!”

msmarvel1.jpgPreach on, Brother Beavis. This summer’s dueling crossover season has been brutal, in more ways than one. I’ve found that I’m reading more limited series, tie-ins, one shots, and reference materials than I am my regular titles. Some of them are good, some bad, some (like Civil War: Front Line) vacillate between awesome and embarrassing. So, how much damage does a tie-in issue do to a young series that has been mostly enjoyable?

Quite a bit, if this one is any indication. For half a year now, we’ve been reintroduced to Carol Danvers, former Avenger, former Air Force Colonel, and now determined to bust into the upper echelon of heroes in the Marvel Universe. To that end, she’s tried to get her life together, ditched her nondescript “Warbird” codename, and gotten a press agent. Last issue, that all went out the window, as Carol was conscripted into Tony Stark’s personal police force and sent to hunt down “rogue heroes,” including fellow ex-Avenger (and fellow female-version-of-pre-existing hero) Spider-Woman II.

This is actually one of the more interesting bits of the book, in that the parallels between Julia Carpenter (now going by “Arachne”) and Ms. Marvel herself are obvious throughout both issues. Unfortunately, it all stays subtext, and any and all goodwill I might have had for the series and Carol’s role in “Civil War” are completely destroyed in the first three pages. Last issue, Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man and Arana were double-crossed by Arachne, but still netted her boyfriend, the mysterious Shroud. Though the sight of The Shroud in an antiseptic holding cell, strapped into what look like nothing more than a medieval torture device is distasteful, the quick and dirty continuity cleanup is almost more so. It feels remarkably like last issue was written and in the can before somebody in editorial pointed out that Julia lost her powers. Worst of all is Carol’s flippant dialogue when Max shows an emotional reaction.

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Oh, well, that explains everything. That doesn’t even make sense as a stupid rationalization, Carol! The man is in chains, held without bail OR trial, about to go to prison IN ANOTHER DIMENSION. FOREVER! That’s not even considering the loss of the woman he loves. Of course, it’s all about you, isn’t it? That level of self-involvment does a lot to undermine what I’ve liked about Ms. Marvel in the previous issues. And once Arachne’s whereabouts are discovered, what does our erstwhile hero do? She mounts a FULL MILITARY OPERATION, complete with dozens of helicopters and three superhuman agents, IN A SUBURB OF DENVER. She endangers a whole neighborhood (not to mention Julia’s mother and pre-teen daughter) and justifies the whole thing by saying it’s not about politics…

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Now, maybe it’s just me, but I have this little voice in the back of my head that generally wants my protagonists to be, if not heroic, at least not dogmatic to the point of stupidity. The logic goes something like this: The SHIELD agents were hurt, so Arachne was wrong. Nevermind that the agents were ACTIVELY hunting superhumans, a sizable portion of whom would be powerful, ruthless, and vicious than Arachne. Nevermind that Julia’s is a registered combatant, and thus, cannot be arrested as in violation of the Registration Act. Nevermind that Julia will, like The Shroud, be held in violation of any and all civil liberties, and likely fired into another dimension in the name of “safety.” Carol’s actions throughout the entire issue come across as forced, but the point where they really lost me was the moment where Julia (who I think is supposed to be the villain of the piece) takes over center stage and actually acts like a mother AND a hero.

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After a two page preview of some of the most gawdawful art and garish computer coloring Marvel could muster (Anita Blake deserves sooo much more… like actual anatomy, f’rinstance), Carol goes full-on fascist, beating Arachne senseless in front of her horrified family, then forcibly separating mother and daughter with more self-satisfied and self-righteous dialogue. After that affront, we are given Arana breaking down on Carol’s shoulder, and Carol and Wonder Man commisserating on how hard it is to be the mindless tool of a corrupt spy agengy. This is meant, obviously, to humanize Ms. Marvel, but it makes her actions (to me) even LESS excusable. She had reservations, but chose to beat the hell out of Archne anyway? Arana is a sixteen year old girl, and her participation in the issue’s events may be excusable due to her youth and experience. Likewise, I can somewhat forgive Wonder Man, who has always been somewhat weak-willed and herd-following.

Not so much Ms. Marvel. Oh, I understand what they’re trying to do here. They’re trying to show us the humanity behind Iron Man’s side of the war. They’re trying to show us that each side has it’s humanity and that decisions are hard either way. They’re trying, frankly, to balance the editorial decision that Ms. Marvel is on the pro-registration side with the disparate characterization established by this book’s writer, and the seams are not merely visible, they’re about to split. We’ve spent several issues learning to know and hopefully to like this take on Carol Danvers. But, taken together with the head-cracking just-following-orders characterization in this issue, what were previously interesting traits just make her come across as unsympathetic, callous, and World-Class self-centered, like a super-powered version of Marie Antoinette. Moreover, the last three pages, set after a puzzling”One Week Later” caption (which I took to read “after Civil War”), we’re given a strange Maguffin setup featuring a face from the past…

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I know it’s rude to point out a lady’s shortcomings, but Rogue never looks that… broad-hipped in her own book. Isn’t she supposed to be 19?

Overall, this issue was annoying and felt off. In my mind, they’ve hurt this book as an ongoing concern. Before the last two issues, I was enjoying Ms. Marvel as a character study, and an attempt to revitalize a character (in her world AND ours) that most would write off as a stupid knockoff. Now, I’m just as irritated with Carol as I am with Tony Stark. For months now, we’ve been dealing with Civil War hype and fallout, and not only am I sick to death of it, I still haven’t heard a SINGLE WORD that makes the pro-registration side’s case believable. Moreover, I find the party line at Marvel (“Both sides are equally right! Pay no attention to Iron Man shaking hands with that Nazi on national television!”) less believable every Wednesday. Dragging a young title like Ms. Marvel into a giant crossover is always risky, and to do it with a crossover as polarizing and bombastic as “Civil War” is massively so. In this case, though I hope it isn’t true, they may have damaged this title beyond repair. The combination of tie-in that doesn’t make sense without reading seven other titles and a main character acting like an ass for twenty pages earn this one one star. If it weren’t for competent art and Spider-Woman’s actions in the middle of the issue, I might not have awarded it that.

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