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Free Comic Book Day 2022

Finally, Free Comic Book Day is back at the beginning of May! I planned an event at my library to distribute free comics, and thus got a sneak peek at the titles. More than usual caught my interest which is great!

I’ve heard some buzz about this the upcoming graphic novel Clementine, which is set in The Walking Dead universe and is inexplicably based on a computer game. Written and illustrated by Tille Walden, an established YA author, it has potential for younger readers, but adults will notice some plot holes. Where is she going and why??? The issue also includes a story about a machine boy (skipped) and a fantasy piece about a pirate’s daughter that has lovely art.

Marvel Voices is a new series that are a collection of short stories around certain topics that have different authors and illustrators. This FCBD issue pulls together a few from already released collections, giving us an excellent sample so we will want to read the previous graphic novels. I think a YA audience will really connect with this series, as some of the topics addressed are Indigenous Voices, Pride, Words Do Matter, and Personal Heroes. The humor and art are a winning combination.

I always pick up the Spider-Man/Venom issue, despite my ongoing confusion between Venom and Carnage. In the Spider-Man story, Spidey has to battle a magical post office box that had turned into a monster. It somehow has to do with an evil Ben Reilly and Madelyne Pryor from the X-Men- so they are now pulling together characters from two franchises, which has potential. In the Venom story, a one-eyed Eddie Brock wants to keep his son safe, who is a symbiote himself. Don’t know the background for this family drama, but the last two-page spread with other monsters was cool.

I picked up this issue for the creepy front cover, plus I noticed that Jeff Lemire was the author. The art took some getting used to, but I warmed up to it. What intrigued me the most is that this is an introduction to a new horror universe that Lemire and artist Sorrentino have planned called The Bone Orchard Mythos. Stories will weave in and out of this universe in the next few years. This issue did the trick in capturing my interest and making me want to seek out future books by this duo.

Judgment Day sets up a battle between three groups- the Avengers, X-Men and Eternals. The Eternals are portrayed as smug assholes, who wish to eradicate deviants from the universe. So…the X-Men are mutants, thus deviants, and the Eternals have infiltrated their secret stronghold of Krakoa. Will the Avengers stand with them against the Eternals? I’m not excited about this storyline, for a few years ago I read Avengers vs X-Men, and came away disappointed.  The fighting among team members trope is over-done, so I don’t have high hopes, although the art looks good.

My last comic is Primos which introduces a welcome new Latino superhero to a YA audience that ends on a cliffhanger. The story is printed twice, once in English and once in Spanish, which will bring more readers into this new storyline that honors those with Mayan heritage. The art is appealing, and a letter from the author is included that gives some background.

Free Comic Book Day did exactly what it is supposed to do- introduced me to some new stories that make me want to read further into the series and buy the complete graphic novel!

Wastelanders: Black Widow podcast

Just in time for Women’s History Month, we have the third installment in the Marvel’s Wastelanders audio epic, in which we meet Helen Black, the Black Widow!

“Almost thirty years after The Day the Villains Won (aka V-Day), Helen Black arrives at her new apartment in The Onar, a 161-story apartment complex in what used to be Midtown Manhattan. Owned and operated by S.H.I.E.L.D., The Onar has become the very embodiment of the dystopic wealth and inequality that’s engulfed New York City ever since V-Day.”

Houston, We Have a Spider

A young woman, Lisa Cartwright, starts a new job as a security analyst and clues in that Onar resident Helen Black is acting suspiciously. A co-worker Jordan shares his conspiracy theories that it could be Natasha Romanoff or Yelena Belova, but Lisa seems to have secrets of her own. Who is Lisa’s father and what is his connection?

You See More

Lisa comes on too strong on surveillance with Helen and is found out. Helen, who claims to be Yelena, threatens Lisa and forces her to be a mole. Jordan is also acting suspiciously, so he’s now a wild card as to not knowing where his allegiances are. I have to say, Helen doesn’t seem to be covering her tracks that well, but I’m sure it is just part of a big con.

Subtext

Helen goes on a date with Stanley, who might be a drug dealer. Lisa learns some fighting skills from Helen, who asks her to dig deep for Yelena’s case file. Jordan catches onto a conspiracy among some of the Onar residents that includes some high-tech nanorobotics. Although set in President Red Skull’s realm, so far this narrative is less cosmic than the previous podcasts about Star-Lord and Hawkeye, with no mention thus far of the Avengers or X-Men besides Iron Man.

By The Way

An enamored Stanley takes Helen out to a swanky nightclub to meet an associate of his, but her information gathering is cut short when she is arrested for brewing alcohol. Lisa had reported her for this small infraction hoping to throw her work supervisors off Helen’s scent fror the bigger issues. But now Helen is under house arrest, so she blackmails Lisa into doing more for her. Jordan is still suspicious of Helen, but his boss seems unconcerned. At this point, I’m not really digging this podcast. Helen is unlikable and it is not tying into the previous two Wastlanders stories yet.

I Thought About Letting Her Know

Lisa and Jordan continue playing different sides of the investigation of Helen, and more double-crosses are hinted at by other characters involved with the nanotech reveal. Judy and Hank, the bosses at Panopticog Solutions, are playing dumb, but I’m sure it’s a ruse. Who is conning who at this stage?

A Very Melancholy Answer

Why is Helen out of the action for so much of this podcast? Her house arrest means she sends Lisa out to do all her dirty work. Stanley’s partner Crispin and his fiance Samantha are now under watch, with suspicious motivations. Stanley finds out the truth about Helen and is devastated, as he claims he loved her. Jordan keeps poking around for answers.

Temet Nosce

Temet Nosce is a Latin phrase translated as “Know Thyself”. That leads us to Lisa- whose side is she really on? It’s obvious she’s keeping her own secret. An enormous hurricane is on its way to NYC, and the Onar apartment residents scramble to prepare.

Bonus

We finally get some intel! Helen reveals to Lisa who she really is, and explains how it could be and how she lost her anti-aging properties. But…suspicions remain because would the Black Widow reveal the truth 100%? Another secret identity is revealed, and yawn. Jordan and Samantha face off.

The Entertainment

Helen, Lisa and Judy team up, and utilize Jordan, to help them fight Samantha. Now we know who is Natasha and who is Yelena but they are at odds, with Yelena willing to let thousands of people die for her cause.

The Future is Mysterious

The finale did not make any sense! It was a muddled mess and there was no resolution or moving forward for any of the characters. It didn’t connect with the previous Star-Lord or Hawkeye podcasts, so this third in a series was a real disappointment, despite Susan Sarandon voicing Helen. I believe there will be two more- for Doctor Doom and Wolverine, so I hope the final installments will bring it all together in a satisfying manner.

Check out the previous two Wastlanders podcasts: Star-Lord & Hawkeye

-Nancy

Written by Alex Delyle and directed by Timothy Busfield (who is the voice actor of Star-Lord!)

Voice Cast:

Susan Sarandon as Black Widow

Chasten Harmon as Lisa

Eva Amurri as Samantha Sugarman

Nate Corddry as Jordan

Amber Gray as Judy

Melissa Gilbert as K.I.M. (Laura Ingalls aka director Busfield’s IRL wife)

Michael Imperioli as Stanley

Justin Kirk as Hank

Black Cat (2019, Vol. 1): Grand Theft Marvel

Felicia Hardy’s relationship with Odessa Drake, the head of the New York Thieves Guild, is – complicated. She may have complicated it further from stealing a painting from Odessa, but who’s to say? She’s already moved on to bigger and better things. Black Fox, the man who taught Felicia and her father everything they know about thievery, is back in town, and has a job for Felicia and her boys. He’s got one last big job in him before he retires. The hit? The Vault of the New York Thieves Guild. First though, they need to procure some things from the Sanctum Santorum and the Fantastic 4’s house – and that’s just for starters. Simple, right?

This good ol’ heist story had the same feeling as Trail of the Catwoman did. From a story-telling standpoint, I feel this book fared better, even if from an artistic stantpoint I feel the Catwoman book was done a tad more stylishly (to be fair, it’s very hard to top Darwin Cooke). MacKay managed to get some great characterization in despite the non-stop action and breakneck pacing – all while maintaining a light and humorous tone. This was done mostly through flashbacks of Black Fox and Felicia or her father, helping to explain their relationship and how Felicia turned out the way she did. All memories were pertinent to the situation in the present time. I missed the first title card in the first flashback and so was confused until the next one, but this was probably my own fault and not that of the creators or design of the book itself.

Movement was emphasized above all else in the artwork here. The backgrounds, while drawn well, are colored with simple washes to further bring the characters and their actions to the foreground. Thin linework allows the characters to move as they need to. The action sequences (and there are a lot of them) were exciting and well-done. I felt overall that the colors were too dark and muted to really work for such an action-oriented story, but it didn’t take away too much from the experience.

This volume only had Felicia and the gang stop at two famed Marvel landmarks in New York City, promising more in further volumes. I’m curious to see where their adventures lead next and to learn more about Felicia’s character. Fans of Black Cat and and the Spider-verse are sure to enjoy, but Marvel fans in general (I’m sure there are Easter eggs that flew right over my head) and readers who like heist and action stories will also want to check it out.

– Kathleen

MacKay, Jed, Travel Foreman, Michael Dowling, and Nao Fuji. Black Cat (2019, Vol. 1): Grand Theft Marvel. 2020.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

This review is as spoiler-free as possible, as the film is still playing in theaters and is currently not available on streaming services.

No Way Home picks up right where the mid-credits scene for Far From Home ended: with J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle streaming a video of Quentin Beck (Mysterio) revealing Spider-Man’s secret identity to the entire world. Peter is made a celebrity overnight, but he’s not much a fan of that as it puts MJ and Ned in the spotlight as well. Because of their association with him, all three teens are rejected from MIT: their dream school, where they had planned to start over.

Wanting a normal life more than ever, Peter goes to Doctor Strange for help. He asks for a spell to make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Strange agrees to cast the spell for him, but loses focus with Peter’s repeated revisions during the spellcasting to make at least his loved ones remember who he is. While Strange manages to contain the spell, it was very difficult – and didn’t work. People from other dimensions are coming through, all of whom knowing that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. All of whom also seem to remember a different Peter Parker, a different Spider-Man, and their final battles with them before being pulled into a different universe. All of whom, they figure out together, seem to have died during their battles with their own Spider-Men. Peter won’t let that happen to them, and sets about curing all of them. When they are betrayed, Peter must decide what being Spider-Man truly means.

… Wow. Just… WOW. This movie was everything I wanted in a Spider-Man movie and then some. Despite the issues I had with it, especially regarding a glaring plot hole, Husband and I highly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend.

Let’s start with that plot hole which concerns Doctor Strange’s communication with Peter about the spells. Why didn’t he think to tell Peter about the consequences of the first spell he cast, but not the second one at the end of the movie? Because the plot needed him to NOT do that. Nothing in the movie would have happened if they had taken 5 minutes to ensure all of Peter’s loved ones still remembered he was Spider-Man before casting the first spell. At the same time, Strange needed to explain the consequences of the second spell at the end of the movie in order for Peter and the audience to fully understand them. So this was a double-edged sword: a problem, but a necessary one.

The CGI was also sometimes okay at best for a Marvel movie. Some CG characters were (likely) deliberately kept in shadow for most of their scenes, as it’s easier for CG to look better when in shadow. Costumes on characters appearing from other universes were also obviously CG, where they might not have been in their original movies. That took away some of the experience for me, but mostly because I’m old and cantankerous =P

With this being really the first completed Spider-Man movie arc, this Spider-Man’s story wrapping up is extra satisfying. Through the characters appearing from other franchises, we also get a glimpse of their stories being wrapped up as well. This wasn’t just a ploy for the nostalgia-bait trope that’s so hot right now. No Way Home was an opportunity for ALL of the Spider-Men movies to be wrapped up. Remarkably, this doesn’t take away from Tom Holland’s Peter Parker’s arc at all. This Peter was (to me) most believably a teenager with great power thrust upon him, and his struggles to learn to use them responsibly felt authentic and up-to-date for teenage and young adult audiences today. His great sacrifice at the end of this movie not only proved how much his character grew and matured, but gave us an ending for Spider-Man that movies have been trying to give us since 2002.

I’ve read that further movies for this Spider-Man are in the works. I am totally against this. No Way Home was a definitive end for this Spider-Man. A bittersweet, cathartic, yet hopeful, ending, but nonetheless: an ending. There is a case to be made for letting franchises run their course, and No Way Home is the poster child. This Peter is done. Let him be and introduce another Spider-person, such as Miles Morales (MY VOTE, PLEASE) or Gwen Stacy.

No matter which Spider-franchise you’re a fan of, you will find something to love in No Way Home. Please be safe and take every precaution to stay healthy if you venture to the theater for it.

Kathleen

Watts, John (director). Spider-Man: No Way Home. 2021.

Wastelanders: Hawkeye podcast

“Thirty years ago, the villains of the world rose up and killed all the heroes. Well, all the heroes that mattered. The sole survivor of the Avengers, Hawkeye is now a sideshow freak, re-living the worst day of his life for paying audiences. When the Brotherhood Traveling Circus, Carnival and Ringmaster’s Road Show arrives at the Kingdom, Hawkeye gets an unexpected visitor.”

This is the second season in a podcast series about an apocalyptic world that started off with Star-Lord, and will also include Black Widow and Wolverine. Will these scattered heroes be able to find one another and rise up against the villains who took over the world?

Star Attraction

We are introduced to a new section of the Wastelanders world in the southwest, this time in the kingdom ruled by Zemo. Improbably, we discover a blinded Hawkeye (Clint) is the star attraction in a traveling circus, which makes him relive the day that the heroes fell to the villains, leaving him the only Avenger left. The smarmy ringmaster’s narration gives us background on the last few decades, and an edgy teenage girl watches the show in disgust. In the concluding minutes of the episode, we learn her name is Ash and she is the estranged daughter of Hawkeye. After finding him, she asks her poppa if he will help her kill someone for revenge.

Cards Up

Ash explains why she has sought her father out after ten years apart, she wants vengeance against someone who killed her high school best friend. She has figured out that someone in the circus is selling a drug that is dangerous and led to Max’s death in an explosion. Clint, of course, doesn’t want to help her become a killer, and we get some backstory on why he left her years ago. Details are such that you are not sure if she is adopted, and who her birth mother is.

School’s Out

Clint teaches Ash how to shoot, and baits her, pushing her to the edge, but she proves her mettle. We get a bit of Ash’s past, from her loving adoptive mother Bobbi, formally known as Mockingbird, to her high school life and romance with Max. We also learn a secret about Hawkeye and his long wait for revenge.

Trick Shot

It is revealed who Ash’s biological mother is, and I’m not surprised. She says something enraging to Bobbi, and also clues her into Clint’s hunt for members of the double-crossing Thunderbolts. It was interesting to learn more about the Thunderbolts, a sometimes villain/sometimes hero group that were mutants, and I ended up doing some internet sleuthing to find out more about them.

Leap of Faith

A bit of a filler episode- we get some backstory on some of the other circus performers and for Kate Bishop. Everyone is rude and sarcastic to each other and their banter annoyed me, plus I am not warming to Ash as a petulant teen.

Straight to the Heart

Kate is pissing me off! While she might be Ash’s biological mother, she is not her “real” mom, Bobbi is 100%. Kate just wants to sweep in and have Ash fall into her arms, but that’s not how it works. While she wants to throw Clint under the bus with the morally grey things he does, she is the one who choose Clint and Bobbi to raise Ash, whose full name is Natasha Cassandra Bishop Jones (nice shout out to Natasha Romanoff & Cassandra Lang). There was some food for thought in this episode- as Clint’s thirst for justice and consequences does make him a killer, and he choose that life over raising Ash with his wife Bobbi- yet, I could see the validity of his arguments.

Two Graves

“Seek revenge and you should dig two graves, one for yourself” proves true, as Ash discovers someone who she thought dead is alive, and that Clint’s sabotage runs deep. Has he gone too far in his quest for vengeance?

Shot in the Back

Kate and Clint continue to bicker because it is obvious that Clint has something huge planned for the next day when Zemo will be visiting the circus, and Kate hopes to dissuade him. Ash is back after learning what Junior is up to and she continues with being a hot head herself. I hate to say it, but I dislike almost everyone except for Bobbi.

Bullseye

The day has come for the circus performance with Zemo in attendance. Clint is trying to stay the course despite pleas from Bobbi, Kate and Ash to stop, plus details are slipping out of his control. I do appreciate that there are some characters in the circus that are morally grey, who make bad decisions for their own ease but don’t seem like evil people.

Justice is Blind

The ending was predictable- Clint came to realize blind vengeance benefits no one. There is a surprise about Zemo, and a change of leadership occurs. This will now put cracks in the villains’ hold across the former USA, making it easier to overthrow in the future. I thought there would be a lead-in to the next season, but nothing new was revealed in the final end credits.

While I didn’t engage with this season as much as the one about Star-Lord, or some other Marvel podcasts, I am still very much invested in this series and look forward to the next few seasons!

-Nancy

Written by J. Holtman and directed by Rachel Chavkin

Voice Cast:

Stephen Lang as Hawkeye

Sasha Lane as Ash

Michelle Hurd as Bobbi

Tracie Thoms as Kate

Bobby Moreno as Junior

Joe Morton as Ringmaster

Marvel’s “What If…?” Episodes 7-9

There are spoilers for the end of the season ahead. If you need to catch up, here’s my post covering Episodes 1-3 and Nancy’s post covering Episodes 4-6.

The audience continues exploring the Multiverse with the Watcher here, but the last 3 episodes tie each one together:

  • Episode 7 shows us what Thor would have been like if he had been an only child. He arrives on Earth just as he did in our universe – but he’s here to PAR-TAY! His father has fallen into the Odin Sleep and Frigga is on a trip, so it’s the perfect time to have a galactic shindig right here on Midgard. Though Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis try to reason with him (his parties have ended planets before), they can’t help but to give in to his charms. S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill’s attention has also been attracted by Thor – but in a much more negative light. She calls Carol Danvers to take care of him, but things don’t go as planned.
  • Episode 8 explains what would have happened if Ultron had won. Taking over the Mind Infinity Stone and Vision’s body, he defeats the Avengers, killing all but Clint and Natasha. When Thanos arrives, Ultron kills him as well and takes control of the Infinity Gauntlet. In order to fulfill his purpose and bring peace, Ultron and his army begin to murder their way across the galaxy. Upon hearing the Watcher, Ultron learns of the multiverse, and thus starts crossing realities to continue his twisted quest. He crosses into Party Thor’s universe as Clint and Natasha attempt to upload a virus with Arnim Zola’s mind into Ultron’s hive mind. Defeated by Ultron, the Watcher retreats to the pocket universe of Episode 4’s Doctor Strange to ask him for help.
  • Episode 9 sees the Watcher break his oath by recruiting Captain Carter, Star-Lord T’Challa, Party Thor, Killmonger as the Black Panther, and a Gamora who defeated her universes’ Thanos, along with Strange Supreme, to end the threat of Ultron. They lure him to a dead planet where Strange summons the zombie hoard from Episode 5, including Zombie Wanda, to distract him while they travel to Ultron’s home universe to find Natasha and the Zola virus. As the only survivor of her universe, Natasha is reluctant to trust them. After a moment with Captain Carter, Natasha agrees to help, and shoots an arrow with the Zola virus into Ultron’s eye. While Killmonger and the newly-embodied Zola fight over the Infinity Stones, Strange and the Watcher seal them in a pocket dimension, where Strange will watch over them.

Additional scenes with Ultron’s Natasha and a mid-credits scene with Captain Carter and her universe’s Natasha set this series up nicely for a second season, which has been confirmed.

From a story-telling standpoint, this series started out strong for me, kinda sagged in the middle, and picked up again at the end. It seemed as if some of the stories were trope-y and played out, especially the zombie episode. We have seen any and all scenarios involving zombies played out in the early 2010’s… where they can stay, in my opinion. The episodes involving Star-Lord T’Challa and Black Panther Killmonger were the best for me, because they actually did something different. Their universes felt fresh and unlike anything we had seen before. It also allowed for a different look at or expansions of the characters. In a classic Marvel move of undermining their women characters, the taking back of Wakanda spearheaded by Shuri and Pepper was left out – let me watch that or more of Star Lord T’Challa instead of boring zombies!

I also highly enjoyed the Thor episode, because it was everything you would have expected – yet was still fun. The way the worldwide party is ultimately stopped is hilarious and touching, in a way. Also, it was very satisfying to see at least one universe peg Carol Danvers as the resident party pooper.

It was nice to get everything ultimately wrapped up. The first few episodes don’t seem related at all, but these last 3-4 had been hinting. It may be worth a rewatch to see what hints were missed from early episodes.

I never really warmed up to the animation style. Something about it was just too uncanny for me. The action scenes were punchy and fluid, but the lip syncing and facial expressions never seemed to quite match what was going on. Scenes that were supposed to be emotional fell flat for me for this reason – I was too distracted by how weird their faces looked!

Overall, the series is an enjoyable watch. You start out with what you think is a series of fun, unrelated one-shots and by the end, you’ve gotten a big showdown with a different big bad with a different group of Avengers. The animation works for what the series is, but it’s not a personal favorite. I’m hoping that the ending scenes are setting up a real Marvel Women Power Hour in the next season.

– Kathleen

Andrews, Brian. What If…? 2021.

Marvel’s “What If…?” Episodes 4-6

We are back with more What If episodes, as Kathleen posted about the first three, and I’m here with the middle three. These episodes are self-contained story arcs narrated by a being called The Watcher, who takes the viewer through different universes. In these alternate realities, we see familiar events occur differently. All three had dark endings that I quite enjoyed.

What if…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?

To be honest, I never bought the romance between Strange and his lady love Christine Palmer in the movie, so that put me at a disadvantage that I wasn’t invested in their romance in this episode. Strange and Palmer are involved in a car accident that kills Palmer, and in his grief he learns mystic powers that he later uses to try to go back in time to save her. The Ancient One and Wong warn him that he could tear apart the fabric of time, but in his arrogance, he believes he knows better. He doesn’t…

What If… Zombies?!

When Hank Pym goes into the Quantum Realm to save his wife, he inadvertently brings out a zombie virus. Soon not only most of mankind has been zombified, but so have many of the superheroes on Earth. Soon only Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Hope van Dyne, Bucky Barnes, Okoye, Sharon Carter, Scott Lang, Vision and T’Challa are left to try to save humanity. But things don’t go well for a majority of them and even the last rag-tag group of survivors face yet another challenge in the closing moments of the episode.

I thought Chadwick Boseman’s last voice credit was in episode two, but he is featured in this episode plus the next. So these words, that he said as Black Panther, “In my culture, death is not the end. They’re still with us, as long as we do not forget them” were very poignant.

What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?

The quote, “People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth” is proved in this story. Erik “Killmonger” Stevens rescues Tony Stark from an ambush in Afghanistan, and is then heralded as a hero, but is playing a long con and is able to fool almost everyone. He bamboozles Stark with deadly consequences (I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of Stark, he’s too full of himself, so his death didn’t bother me in the least) and makes it to Wakanda to take on the mantle of the new Black Panther. So much death and destruction, and just because Erik has Daddy issues? Only Shuri and Pepper Potts see through his masquerade and begin plotting their own coup.

These episodes are all stand alone stories, so you can watch just the ones that feature your favorite heroes (or villains) without worrying about missing others. The voices are excellent, as a majority of actors and actresses from the movies recreate their roles, and Marvel found good voice replacements for those that didn’t. The animation has been hit-or-miss for me- the coloring is flat, and they seem to have trouble capturing the likenesses of their movie-screen counterparts. I agree with Kathleen’s comment in her earlier review, that they seemed to be trying to emulate a moving comic book, but I feel it’s not translating well. So to me, these episodes are more about the storytelling than the actual art. Stay tuned for Kathleen to review the last three episodes, including one about Thor whom she was most excited to see!

-Nancy

Black Widow: The Ties That Bind

“Something is very wrong with Natasha: she’s…happy?!”

This thin graphic novel about Black Widow surprised me in how much I liked it, despite it being centered around the common trope of amnesia. Chosen as this month’s book club selection for the Goodreads group I Read Comic Books, I felt it was good timing as I’m planning to watch the new DVD release of Black Widow soon.

The story starts out with Natasha helping Captain America with a one-off mission in NYC, but then mysteriously being hit with some tranquilizers and falling off a building. Three months later she is spotted in San Francisco, as an architect, with a husband and toddler son. She seems blissfully happy, and the boy truly seems to be hers. What?! How could she have a child over a year old in three months time?

Clint (Hawkeye) and Bucky (Winter Soldier- why does he always wear a mask??) find her and are as confused as us readers. Do they intervene? Who is behind all of it? Unknown to them, Natasha’s sister Yelena has also found her and is trying to get to the bottom of it. A preposterous villain team has arranged it all (and how Natasha’s son came to be defies credibility, plus the question of her new husband’s past) but we need to have a suspension of disbelief and move on.

Natasha’s facade is showing some cracks as she steps in to help a woman in danger and discovers she had bad-ass skills and no memory of her past. Soon the villain team is after her so Natasha, Clint, Bucky and Yelena need to move quickly to save her husband James and son Stevie, as she rediscovers who she is. While this is supposed to be the first in a series, it feels like a stand-alone story, as the somewhat predictable ending seems to wrap up this chapter in Natasha’s life.

This book has an all-woman creative team which is appreciated and gives more weight to some of the emotional narrative threads. That Natasha has little time to grieve at the end and inappropriately has to comfort Clint and Bucky at the end, was intentional. Natasha carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and needs help in coping, not additional burdens, but isn’t that what women often do- carry not only their own problems but other’s issues too? The art and coloring were excellent, with an illustration change during flashbacks. Little Stevie was adorable, and I believe that Natasha’s time with him will change her. For a story that was a bit formulaic, it worked for me.

-Nancy

Marvel’s “What If…?” Episodes 1-3

The latest Marvel TV show, What If…?, premiered last month. The episodes are self-contained story arcs narrated by a being called The Watcher, who takes the viewer through different universes. In these alternate realities, we see familiar events occur differently.

Episode 1 shows us a universe where Peggy Carter took the Super Soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. While she is now stronger than most men, she still encounters the same barriers as before… just because she’s a woman. When a dangerous mission comes up, she knows she has to go. She’s the only one who can carry it out. She takes up the shield and becomes Captain Carter, with the help of Howard Stark and Steve himself. A strong start to the series where Peggy shows how strong she really is!

Episode 2 shows us a universe where T’challa became Star Lord instead of Black Panther. The Ravagers abduct him instead of Peter Quill! Yondu, his adoptive father, tells him that Wakanda was destroyed. Viewers follow Star Lord and the Ravagers as they attempt to steal the Embers of Genesis (a powerful artifact that creates plant life, and therefore can end hunger across the galaxy) from Taneleer Tivan: the Collector, and the most powerful man in the universe. This was unfortunately Chadwick Bosewick’s last performance before his passing. It was a very emotional episode for me and is easily my favorite so far not only for him, but the high stakes heist!

Episode 3 shows us a universe where the Avengers never assembled. Nick Fury tries to call them together, but they all die under mysterious circumstances. The injection that Natasha Romanov gives Tony Stark is accidentally fatal. Thor is shot dead by Clint Barton, who maintains he didn’t shoot before dying himself in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. In her final voicemail to Fury, Natasha declares, “It’s all about hope!” Can Fury deduce what she meant before it’s too late for him, too? This one might be the most thought-provoking one of the three, speculating what the world would be like without the heroes that have defined the series.

Of the Marvel TV shows to come out in the last year, this one is up there on my favorites list. It certainly is fun to ponder “What If…?” and explore other possibilities for the universe. Since it appears they are setting up other multiverses in other shows, it’s a nice, easy way to explain to viewers unfamiliar with the concept. It’s also easier viewing in the sense that, as mentioned above, each episode is it’s own self-contained story. The only overarching element (so far) is the Watcher himself. Unless there is a big reveal at the end where everything becomes connected, you may be able to watch any one episode that seems interesting to you.

They’ve got most of the cast to reprise their roles for this series. Chadwick Boseman reprised his role as T’challa, as mentioned above. Haley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo reprise their roles, among others that I won’t spoil 😉 It adds a lovely layer of immersion and truly feels part of the universe. If they had used different voice actors for everyone instead of a few, it would feel like more of a spin off.

However, I feel something is off with the animation. A still is nice to look at. Movement seems a little jerky to me, and facial expressions don’t quite capture the intended emotions. Husband compared it to watching a Telltale video game, but I feel as if Telltale animations are smoother than this. Telltale games are more graphic (with the thick lines and blocky coloring) in style; the show seems to be trying to emulate a moving comic book. I appreciate the attempt, but it’s falling a little flat for me =(

Overall, I’m looking forward to more of the series! Even if the animation is falling flat for me, the writing is thought-provoking, action-packed, and funny. My biggest hope is seeing a Thor episode! New episodes premiere on Disney+ every Wednesday. Look for Nancy’s post soon on episodes 4-6!

– Kathleen

Andrews, Bryan. What If…? 2021.

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