Apr 9, 2015

Reading Notes: More Comics (the Marvel edition)

Reading Notes: More Comics (the Marvel edition)

After spending most of my life intimidated by superhero comics, I decided to take the plunge with Marvel. Ms Marvel is partially to blame, as are all the very handy posts Memory has been writing. But a large part of it is simply the fact that I decided to stop worrying and embrace the (occasional) confusion. It’s not the end of the world if a character refers to background events I have no clue about — more often than not, the context tells me all I need to know; if not, Google is my friend.

I jumped into the Marvel universe using the following guiding principles:
a) Pick a character or group of characters I like and follow them;
b) Focus on my pre-existing interests (stories about women).
The results have been, well, a whole lot of fun. As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve brought plenty of new awesome fictional ladies into my life. The past month or so has been so different from the somewhat distressing experience I had when I first tried to read Hawkeye last year. Much to my dismay, I failed to love Matt Fraction and David Aja’s series even though it came with Jenny’s stamp of approval, the art was in shades of purple, and it featured Pizza Dog. This left me wondering what on earth was wrong with me, and secretly suspecting I just might be Too Dumb for the Marvel Universe. I think, now, that I was simply worrying too much. I let every little reference to a character and/or event I wasn’t familiar with pull me out of the story, instead of just rolling with it and trusting my ability to piece clues together. But then Ms Marvel came along, followed by Captain Marvel, and before I knew it my attitude had shifted. What follows are some brief field notes from my latest adventures in Marvel-land, complete with lots of gushing about the awesome women I met along the way.

Hawkeye Vol 3: LA Woman by Matt Fraction, Javier Pulido and Annie Wu

After all of that, of course I had to start with my triumphant return to Hawkeye: L.A. Woman is all about Kate Bishop (who’s Hawkeye along with Clint Barton). Kate is finding it difficult to be around her mentor guy Clint, so she takes Pizza Dog to LA and starts putting her talents to good use by becoming a Private Investigator/Solver of Problems/Superhero For Hire. Then we get to watch her wear amazing purple dresses and be kind and resourceful for over a hundred pages, and it’s nothing short of a delight.

How do I describe Kate? L.A. Woman reminded me of Veronica Mars at times, but that’s more about how the narratives play with noir tropes and about the situations Kate and Veronica find themselves in than about their personalities. The thing about Kate is that she’s kind, though never in a sappy sort of way. This issue sees her babysitting a cat, helping a gay couple recover their lost wedding flowers, and coming to the aid of a reclusive 60s music star. Kate is unfailingly good-hearted and genuinely ones the people she crosses paths with to be okay (unless they’re trying to kill her). For the most part, the scale of L.A. Woman feels human rather than epic, and I liked that a lot.

When she’s not being a friendly neighbourly superhero at your service, Kate is a young woman who struggles with her family, who’s vulnerable and trying to find her way, and who wants to learn who she might be without money and connections she knows she can fall back on at any time. Although the Clint Barton-focused volume 4 of Hawkeye marks the end of Matt Fraction’s run with these characters, I hope there will be more Kate Bishop in my future.

I want that purple bike.

Storm Vol 1: Make it Rain by Greg Pak, Victor Ibañez and Scott Hepburn

Storm was a bit of a daring choice for me, in the sense that it’s a comic that requires more context than any of the things I’ve been reading. As people who aren’t me probably have known for years, Storm is Ororo Munroe, a Mutant with the ability to control the weather. She’s an important character in the X-Men universe, and was the first black woman to become a major character in the Marvel universe. Between that, hearing good things about her solo series from friends, and my new “Why not?” attitude when it comes to comics, I got Make it Rain as soon as it came out.

Before I continue, I’ll have to admit the full extent of my ignorance. Reading Storm did have me asking my partner for a crash course on the X-Men universe (the words “Who is Professor Xavier?” may or may not have been uttered) and hastily googling “What happened to Wolverine?”, but you know what? None of that much mattered in the end.

At the start of Make it Rain, a student at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, where Storm headmistress, accuses her of being a sell-out. This forces her to reassess how she uses her powers, and the result is a series of episodes where Ororo attempts to help people in ways big and small, and which more or less have the same human scale I so appreciated about Kate Bishop’s adventures. I particularly enjoyed the issue where Ororo helps the inhabitants of a village whose crops have been failing due to a draught — she unexpectedly meets someone from her past and there are some tensions surrounding that, but the focus remains on ordinary people.

So yes, a good start to the series, and one that made me want to seek out more titles in the X-Men universe (particularly ones that focus on women). I’m glad I decided to be brave.

Young Avengers Vols 1-3 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie et al

I decided to read Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s run of Young Avengers (collected as Style>Substance, Alternative Culture, and Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space) for the following reasons:
1) Their creator-owned title, The Wicked + The Divine, was all kinds of amazing;
2) Kieron Gillen wrote this and this when Terry Pratchett died, which pretty much guaranteed he’d be someone I’d like;
3) Kate Bishop.
Thanks to Memory, I knew that Kate Bishop first appeared in Young Avengers, and that she was every bit as interesting a character in the hands of other writers as she was in Matt Fraction’s. In addition to Kate, the Young Avengers are Teddy and Billy (who are a couple), America Chavez, Noh-Varr (who has a thing with Kate), David Alleyne, and a young and morally ambiguous Loki. In Style>Substance, an intergalactic parasite accidentally summonsed by Billy takes over the Young Avengers’ parents, which means that until they find a way to defeat it they can never go home.

These books are very past-faced, and after my experience with The Wicked + The Divine I’m starting to suspect that might be a Gillen and McKelvie thing. But, also like The Wicked + The Divine, they have a very diverse cast of characters I quickly grew to love. I love that there’s a gay couple at the heart of the story (neither of whom dies! This shouldn’t be worthy of note but sadly it is), plus plenty of other queer characters. There’s a scene where Kate comments on the fact that she’s the only straight member of the team, to which America replies, “I’ve seen the way you look at me.” Also, the bit where Kate wakes up next to Noh-Varr and quickly decides that she’s neither sorry not ashamed to act on her desire made me incredibly happy.

What else? The dialogue is funny and sharp, the characters’ emotional ties feel real, and there are moments with real heart. If anything I wish there had been more of the latter in-between the action scenes, but that’s probably the character-oriented reader in me rearing her head. I had a ton of fun with these books, and I particularly appreciated that they had a sensibility that spoke to me.


Pop culture jokes!

Ladies with satisfyingly complex relationships!

I’ll be back next week with even more Marvel adventures — I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s a promise or a threat.


  1. LOVE THIS POST!!! Especially for your introductory paragraphs (though I enjoyed reading about the books, as well). I have so wanted to dip my toes in the superhero realms, but have been so incredibly intimidated. For much the same reasons you mentioned. For me personally, it's exhausting feeling stupid 80% of the time as it is, so I figured why deliberately throw myself into something where it's a given that I'll sometimes be clueless. But I love your reasoning in jumping in anyway.
    PS--I think I'm in love with Kate Bishop without even having met her myself yet. :)

    1. We can hold hands and feel clueless together. Come join me in the dark side :P

  2. OMG Storm is a bad ass anyway, but with that hair! Whoa! Love it.

    Ha ha, the book is always better. Loki love!

  3. I think the Internet ate my comment. Blah.

    To repeat myself:


    When I'm sad, I google "Storm cosplayers" and look at pictures of awesome, creative people dressed as Storm (plus a few dressed as Sue Storm. It took me a little while to figure out why there were blonde, blue-clad people in the mix).

    1. Booooooo, Internet. Boooooooooooooo >:(

      That sounds like a most awesome cheer yourself up strategy ♥

  4. Does um. Does this mean -- I'm not trying to pressure you or anything, but does this mean you might maybe read the first two Hawkeye volumes again? To see if you maybe like them better this time around? Cause I agree that any reading in the Marvel world can require you to stop worrying that you don't get absolutely every reference or know every character. I've found that as a rule, the comics will explain what you need to know, and you can proceed based on that.

    Young Avengers! I'm on it! Never let it be said I don't take direction from you and Memory!

    1. The thought had crossed my mind, yes :P We have them at my library, so it's only a matter of getting my hands on them again.

      And yay! Let us know what you think.

    2. ARGH the most frustrating thing, the library catalog said they had all three volumes in stock, but vols. 1 and 3 were shelved under A for Avengers instead of Y for Young Avengers, and vol.2 was nowhere to be found. Foiled again!

  5. I'm working my way through a list of Memory's Marvel recommendations and definitely need to get to Hawkeye! Kate Bishop sounds amazing. Storm and Young Avengers look good too.

  6. I think I might seek out the STORM comic. I am reading a MYSTIQUE one right now... WRITTEN BY BRIAN K. VAUGHAN! I also have volume 3 of HAWKEYE to read. hm. Another thing I might do today. :)

    1. Let me know what you think when you read it! Would I like Mystique, do you think?

  7. PROFESSOR XAVIER IS THE WOOOOOOOOOORST. While I'm not crazy familiar with Storm (not because I don't want to be), there is an eighties series featuring Storm that also features her examining her powers. If you're interested, let me know and I'll dig it up for you.

    Man, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are just amazing.

    1. Aren't they just? <3

      And you might hear from me once I get through my current comics pile.

  8. Ooh thanks so much for this post, I can really use thus as a way to get into Marvel comics myself. I really love the look of Storm, always on the lookout for more women of color comics.
    There's a great looking one coming out soon by the activist Diallo, Patis d'Ami(e)s, in case it's not on your list already, not Marvel though.

    1. Glad to hear you found it useful! And thanks for the recommendation - I'm definitely still interested in non-superhero stuff!


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