After being inspired by this article in Past Magazine, I started assembling my Top 10 list of Marvel Comics that I’m currently enjoying. What I discovered is, I’m actually really digging about 20 of their titles (and reading about 30 — not a bad ratio). I made a couple of surprising discoveries when compiling this list. I’ve always been a big fan of team books. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that our of my Top 20 reads, 14 were solo titles! And of the seven team books I am enjoying, only one is in the Top 10. The reason for this leads to my next surprising discovery. I’ve always enjoyed team books more than solo books because, as you all know, I read comics mainly for the superheroines. Historically, you’d only find superheroines in team books like the X-Men or the Avengers. You might find one or two solo titles about a superhoine, but they usually didn’t last too long. Shockingly, 10 of my Top 20 Marvel titles I’m enjoying right now are solo books about superheroines! It’s really unprecedented, and I am thrilled. I guess Marvel finally figured out that girls read comics too.
As a superheroine-loving, comic-reading youth, I was very excited when Marvel clumsily embraced the women’s liberation movement in the 70’s, publishing titles like The Cat, Night Nurse, and somewhat more successfully, Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel. Carol Danvers, a/k/a/ Ms. Marvel, was an interesting character, and fit right in the mold of what a big comic book company thought a 70’s liberated woman should be. After her title was cancelled, she showed up in the Avengers and the X-Men, and proceeded to have her life ripped apart and over the decades, put back together. And while I’ve always liked her okay, I’ve never really taken to Ms. Marvel. Except for her first run in The Avengers, when she was actually kind of playful — flirting with Wonder Man, teasing Captain America — she always came across as a little flat. Chris Claremont did some work with her after she had her powers stripped from her and her memories wiped by Rogue in a classic Avengers Annual, subsequently boosting her powers to cosmic levels and changing her name to Binary. Kurt Busiek tried to mix it up a little by having her struggle with alcohol when he brought the Avengers back to popularity. Then Marvel decided that Carol, now called Captain Marvel, needed to be their flagship heroine; a character to rival Wonder Woman, and they started pushing her in solo titles again.
I really wanted to love her first solo outing written by the talented Kelly Sue DeConnick but could never really fully embrace it. Part of that was Dexter Soy’s unconventional, and in my eyes, unattractive artwork. So after a while, I stopped reading it. Recently she got a new creative team, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters who relaunched her series with Carol as the commander of Alpha Flight, housed on a space station and protecting the earth from interstellar threats. Her supporting cast includes Sasquatch, Aurora and Puck, former members of the Canadian team, Alpha Flight, with some lovely, streamlined art by Kris Anka and Felipe Smith. The combination is working. The stories are fun, Carol in getting more interesting to me again, and hopefully, this trend will continue. I really want to love Captain Marvel. maybe soon I will.
After the universe reshaping that took place in Secret Wars, the Ultimates came together to monitor and protect the earth from major cosmic disturbances. Their first mission was to stop the planet-destroying habits of Galactus, so you know they mean business. With that in mind, the team packs some major power with a membership that includes Blue Marvel, Black Panther, Spectrum, Captain Marvel and Ms. America, with Galactus as a sort of unofficial member. It’s also an amazingly diverse team with not a single caucasian man in sight. Much of my enjoyment of Ultimates comes from this unconventional line-up. Female-heavy, and featuring Monica Rambeau, aka Spectrum, was also a major-enticement. But Ewing does a great job in thinking big in terms of storyline and is creative in his solutions.
Take his first storyline, when the Ultimates decide to tackle the problem of Galactus. Their solution isn’t to destroy him, or stop his insatiable hunger. Instead, they use their brains and their considerable power to change his fundamental nature from world-destroyer to life-bringer. It’s a bold, and surprising move in comics, and has made for some pretty damn entertaining stories.
Originally created as Marvel’s version of the Justice League and hailing from a parallel earth, James Robinson has reimagined the team as a band of heroes assembled from multiple parallel earths that have all been destroyed. The team holds the Illuminati responsible, and their primary mission, when not helping humanity, is revenge against those who destroyed their homeworlds. In fact, in one of their first missions, they successfully kill Namor, the Sub Mariner. Each member represents the core team of the original Squadron Supreme, including Hyperion, Nighthawk, Doctor Spectrum, Whizzer, and Power Princess. I’ve always enjoyed the Squadron Supreme, but it was the inclusion of Thundra, who hooked up with the team after a few issues, that inspired me to follow the book.
Fortunately, Robinson has set the team up with an intriguing mission, one that is justified, if misguided, and also puts them into opposition of the heroes on our earth. It’s difficult to know how long he will be able to maintain this mission, and how things will evolve longer-term, but with early revelations of a team-traitor, and the addition of Thundra, things are already starting to evolve.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Inhuman Royal Family, particularly Medusa, who is my second favorite super-heroine after the Invisible Woman. Medusa has gotten a lot of play in the past few years, which I really appreciate, but now that Black Bolt is back, I feared Medusa would be taking a back seat to her hubby. Fortunately, so far, that’s not happening. While Uncanny Inhumans hasn’t quite lived up to my hopes for the title; it’s a pretty standard book, it is resolving some dropped threads from the past: like what ever happened to Medusa and Black Bolt’s son, Ahura. That opening arc, which also involved Kang the Conqueror, was a great start, but the book has been floundering a bit since then with a few transitional issues that will hopefully lead into something big coming up. The addition of the Human Torch as the human liaison to the Inhumans is intriguing, but his relationship with Medusa seems a bit more like a plot device.
Still, I have high hopes for this ongoing spotlight on one of Marvel’s quirkier ideas from the 60’s. Marvel Entertainment has put the Inhumans movie on hold, which is a shame, but they’re getting commercial time on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Medusa is certainly getting a lot of face time between this title and A-Force, which will appear a little bit later on this list. So my hopes remain high, and I am enjoying the Inhumans time in the spotlight.
Speaking of the Inhumans, what about all those other Inhumans, including all the new ones created by the Terrigen mists, that don’t fit into Uncanny Inhumans? Marvel has created a second team, this one led by Crystal, arguably one of the most popular of the Royal Family, who is occasionally forgotten about when dealing with the Inhumans. Surprisingly, I’m enjoying All-New Inhumans a little more than the Uncanny version. This group of Inhumans has a very targeted mission — protecting all the new Inhumans created by the Terrigen Cloud that has now having affects worldwide. All-New Inhumans covers some interesting moral ground as the team, nominally on a diplomatic mission wherever they go, uncover all sorts of disturbing behavior around the explosion of new Inhumans.
Marvel has always had a tough time creating new Inhumans beyond the Royal Family and having them stick. Both All-New and Uncanny Inhumans is doing a pretty good job with this, giving them some strong characterization and more to do (Sean McKeever’s brief series in the early 2000’s about a younger group of Inhumans being an exception. Would love to see some of those characters again.) The fact that Charles Soule is involved with both Inhumans’ series is good, allowing for strong continuity and interplay. I just hope that Marvel isn’t going to continue with the idea of Inhumans replacing mutants in their universe, because those stories have already been written for decades. It’s time to try something new.
Okay, things start to get really interesting from here. You can see that most of the team books are in this group, surprising, as they tend to be my favorites. Also notable about those teams is that they’re all pretty much led by women (except for Ultimates, and the leadership there is debatable.) Lots of good stuff from Marvel these days. Hope the quality continues.