Starbrand and Nightmask #6
“Eternity’s Children (Attend University) pt. 6 – Evaluation”
Greg Weisman (writer), Domo Stanton (artist). Cover by Yasmine Putri.
Though the “All-New, All-Different Marvel” initiative has produced some breakout hits, Starbrand and Nightmask is one of the line’s first casualties, ending with this issue. The series sold itself as a fun adventure starring a tag team of inexperienced, wide-eyed heroes, but tonally, this issue felt decidedly inconsistent with that idea.
For a little context, Starbrand and Nightmask were originally characters from Marvel’s New Universe imprint, which was active between 1986 and 1989. The New Universe was briefly resurrected a decade ago in the ill-fated newuniversal, before Starbrand and Nightmask were brought into the main Marvel Universe cannon a few years ago, as part of Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Avengers. Though Starbrand and Nightmask generally played second-string to more recognizable Avengers mainstays like Captain America and Iron Man, they both played a part in Hickman’s larger plan, eventually sacrificing themselves to prevent the collapse of the multiverse.
Then they came back. And here we are.
The elevator pitch for this series was essentially two heroes with incalculable power going back to college, while at the same time protecting the Earth from cosmic forces who would see our little blue ball removed from existence. This issue concludes what was intended to be the first story arc, as Earth’s Starbrand, Kevin Connor faces off against his Kree counterpart. It’s a simple idea on paper, but instead of the usual superhero punch-up, Greg Weisman takes a stranger and more introspective approach – to the ultimate detriment of the story.
There’s a weird message to this book, which posits that sexual attraction is at its core a function of biological self-preservation, which transcends free will. When Kevin meets the Kree Starbrand, he’s immediately and inexplicably attracted to her… in spite of the fact that he knows she just massacred billions of sentient beings by obliterating a planet, and has the same genocidal intentions for the Earth. This is due to a failsafe buried within the Starbrands’ cosmic power sources – to keep them from destroying one another, their aggression towards one another is transformed into attraction. The more the Kree Starbrand would want to kill Kevin, the more she instead wants him to make sweet interspecies love to her. They end up at a standstill, with Kevin promising to follow her around and “make things awkward” if she doesn’t behave herself. It’s a rather cutesy solution that may have worked better if it didn’t take place in the wake of the murder of billions of innocent beings.
And hey, if that weren’t enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth, this issue ends with Kevin figuring out that his recent love-interest, Imani Greene, was the person who was actually supposed to become Earth’s Starbrand, before a cosmic hiccup gave him the power instead. That in turn means that the attraction they felt for one another was part of the same cosmic failsafe, making their sweet college romance into something much more mind-rapey.
While I didn’t like this issue, I’ve got to admit, that’s one hell of a way to drop the microphone on your way off a cancelled title. “Thanks for shit-canning my book assholes. Love is a lie, and free-will is an illusion. Enjoy your existential dread, I’m out.”
Omega Men #12
Tom King (writer), Barnaby Bagenda (artist). Cover by Trevor Hutchison.
JESUS. If Starbrand and Nightmask left you somewhat bummed out, Omega Men is here to make you downright suicidal.
The latest iteration of the Omega Men title featured former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner trying to make peace in the Vega System, wherein warring groups from various planets are occupied by the fascistic Citadel. After his attempts at a peaceful resolution quickly broke down, Rayner join the rebel group the Omega Men in their seemingly endless war against their oppressors.
Omega Men is a pretty clear analogy to the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the larger history of war in the Middle East. Though ostensibly everyone wants peace and tranquility in the Vega system, nearly every party involved has their own political interests – the powers-that-be from Earth are primarily concerned with Vega’s natural supplies of McGuffinium – sorry, that’s *Stellarium* – especially since the destruction of Krypton led to an intergalactic scramble to control the universe’s most precious resources. Not for nothing is Earth’s intervening force in this foreign boondoggle one Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern, who hopes to bring enforced peace to Vega with his trusty White Power ring…
…and naturally, he fails. The Citadel is defeated, but Rayner’s erstwhile allies quickly become despotic leaders themselves, or fall to civil war and crime, while the Earth contemplates its next inevitable incursion into the Vega System. Though Rayner does his best to maintain his noble ideals until the bitter end, they’re meaningless in the face of a harsh reality, and he comes out of the quagmire of interminable war knowing that nothing he did ultimately made any difference.
This issue – and the Omega Men series – ends on an oddly metatextual note, as Rayner muses on his past career as a comic book artist to point out that the typical comic’s rigid panel construction resembles the bars of a cage, creating a false disconnect between reader and story. Indeed, this comic itself was drawn using variations on a measured three-by-three formation, with the only major departure being a full-paged splash at the story’s point of climax. Rayner explains how the disconnect allows readers to remove themselves from the conflict or adventure, isolating violence or horror as abstracts concepts, even as the story they’re reading reflects the world around them.
So what do we, the readers, draw from this comic? Is it a nihilistic treatise on the inevitability of war? Is it a criticism of a jaded society so inured to violence that it’s been transformed into a source of entertainment and pleasure (such as in the very book you hold in your hands)? More optimistically, is it a message to stick to your principles no matter what, to do the right thing not for any hope of reward or success, but because it is tautologically the right thing to do?
Hell if I know. Draw your own conclusions. I’m moving on to something a little less depressing.
Ms. Marvel #7
“The Road to War”
Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist). Covers by David Lopez and Pasqual Ferry.
Real talk – I’m not especially excited for Civil War II. I liked the first Civil War story a lot – the main miniseries more so than some of the tie-in books anyway – but it was very much a product of its time, a culmination of years of character evolution, as filtered through the lens of a post-9/11 political climate. Civil War II feels like a cash-in to a successful movie franchise, nothing more.
Thankfully, this nominal tie-in to the upcoming event maintains the expected light-hearted tone that G. Willow Wilson has perfected on this title. Sure enough, it’s Avenger vs. Avenger, as the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales takes on Ms. Marvel… in a Tristate high school science fair. Though that’s a science fair in the Marvel Universe, mind you, where guys like Reed Richards and Tony Stark frequently rewrite the laws of physics, so things are going to get weird quickly. As much as I enjoy a good superhero dust-up now and then, it’s refreshing to see heroes instead duking it out in the realm of Super Science, with all the explosions and flying sharks that entails.
Ms. Marvel: Your monthly reminder that superhero comics can be uplifting and fun.