Marvel Legacy is around the corner, so I'm recapping the era preceding the new "back to the basics" soft reboot. I already covered the lowest quality books in Pre-Legacy Review Part 1, so the worst is behind us. While not offensively bad, the next five entries aren't particularly good either.
15.) Guardians of the Galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol. 4) #1 - 19)
I’ve never seen a writer stick around on a title they don’t care about for as long as I’ve seen Brian Michael Bendis do so with Guardians of the Galaxy. After over forty issues, he finally took mercy on Marvel Cosmic fans and ended his run. In his post-Secret Wars run, there is rarely anything to make a reader angry, but it truly feels like nothing ever happens. Novel ideas are introduced over the span of this period, but nothing comes of them. Star Lord gains and loses the position of leader of Spartax quickly, squashing potential for character development. His relationship with Kitty leads to cute moments, but it ultimately goes nowhere.
The opening arc for Bendis’s second volume on Guardians has the thinnest plot imaginable with characters constantly beating each other to a pulp. The fights aren’t even entertaining, as Bendis scripts one-sided battles in which a “powerful” villain knocks every hero unconscious effortlessly. Following the characters’ pointless involvement in Civil War II (which did give readers an excellent Gamora vs. Captain Marvel fight), they are split up for the “Grounded” arc, a string of unrelated one-shots leading to an uninspired Thanos finale. One of these issues sets up a Ben Grimm story in Infamous Iron Man while another is a poor man’s Dr. Seuss starring Groot (with some truly ludicrous rhymes).
Despite my dissatisfaction with the majority of this run, there is one story I really enjoyed: “Galaxy’s Most Wanted.” Bendis splits the team into pairs for a mission to free a Badoon slave planet. The character dynamics are strong between the pairs, and the individual parts come together for a satisfying conclusion. Kitty has a touching moment relating the enslaved aliens to Jews in concentration camps, Venom overcomes his Skrull prejudice, and the Thing finds an alien girlfriend. The story is both fun and fist-pumping, a rare instance where Bendis actually seems to enjoy writing Guardians.
Like most modern Bendis comics, the art is the highlight of the comic. Valerio Schiti’s artwork is amazing with fluid characters and clear layouts. He’s particularly good with facial expressions while also excelling in blockbuster action. Richard Isanove’s eye-catching but subtle colors are the icing on the cake.
14.) Web Warriors (Web Warriors #1 - 11)
Web Warriors is the book nobody asked for, and it came about a year too late to capitalize on post-Spider-Verse hype. The biggest problem with Web Warriors is the characters have thin backgrounds and no group dynamic, so writer Mike Costa had little to work with right off the bat. As a result, the characters are all caricatures with superficial connections. An oddball team book like this requires strong character development to survive, and Costa couldn’t do enough to invest readers in the characters.
Perhaps the largest factor that prevented Web Warriors from surviving past eleven issues was the weak opening arc. Costa’s decision to spread his debut out for an obligatory five-issue arc makes a boring arc with lackluster villains last too long. He spends too much time with the army of Electros while he should have been strengthening his characters instead. The title would have benefited from shorter, more character-centered opening issues.
Following the opening arc, Costa begins throwing everything against the wall, giving the book a chaotic energy that its opening lacked. He takes advantage of alternate dimensions and the vast catalog of Spider-centered character to construct truly fun and entertaining stories. Particularly, his issue dealing with Spider-Ham 2099 and Ducktor Doom is my personal favorite of the series, as I am a major Spider-Ham fan. These issues show potential of what could have been done with the title if it lasted longer. If Costa opened with this unpredictable energy, I predict Web Warriors would have survived longer.
As is the general trend for these titles lower on the list, artist David Baldeon’s art is the highlight of the title. The energy and pure dynamicism of his pencils is always eye-catching. He’s an excellent artist for the exciting, action-packed stories Costa plots. His cartoony style is particularly fitting for Spider-Ham. If nothing else, Web Warriors proved we need a new Spider-Ham series with Baldeon on art.
13.) Prowler (Prowler #1 - 6)
This Prowler series was short-lived, functioning primarily as a tie-in to the Clone Conspiracy event. Although many series of the past few years have lasted too long for my liking, I wish Sean Ryan and Jamal Campbell had more space to work with this character.
The actual plot of the six-issue series is thin and often insubstantial. Ryan needed to deal with Clone Conspiracy threads while also creating a satisfying story. At times, this series feels like a recap of the main event, but Ryan does give Hobie Brown a solo adventure culminating in a climactic battle with the female Electro. The odd twist for Prowler at the event’s end put Ryan at a disadvantage, but he handled it as well as he could. The biggest problem is the main plot beats are almost completely out of the writer’s control, so he doesn’t have freedom to tell his own story.
Although the plotting is lackluster, Sean Ryan is excellent at voicing Hobie Brown. The Prowler has always been a side character whose characterization is at the whim of whichever writer feels like using him. Having researched the character, Ryan knows Hobie has fluctuated and failed to find a true voice over the years. His monologues emphasize that the character feels like he is in a world beyond his control. He’s in an identity crisis, constantly confused about what to do next. He never resolves his uncertainty, reflecting how he will go on to be characterized differently by the next writer. Ryan constructs an intriguing meta-commentary of a character out of control of his destiny while he has little say over the plot himself.
12.) Venom (Venom (Vol. 3) #1 - 6, Venom (Vol. 1) #150 - 154)
After the obvious dud of Venom: Space Knight, Marvel decided to swing in the complete opposite direction by bringing back the unbridled rage and obnoxious tongue iconic of the character. Writer Mike Costa turns the typical symbiote relationship on its head by making the benevolent Venom symbiote at the mercy of the controlling, merciless Lee Price. Although Costa begins Price’s story well, the plot falls apart when Marvel announces Eddie Brock will regain the symbiote just issues after the new Venom's introduction. The PR stunt overshadows the rest of the story involving Price’s Venom, and even Costa seems sick of the character, racing to be done with him.
While the opening arc evolved into an inconsistent mess, Costa’s idea to bring back Brock’s Venom has rejuvenated the title. Venom #150 is easily one of the best Eddie Brock stories, as Costa successfully depicts the complex relationship between the character and his symbiote. They’re like a formerly divorced couple trying their relationship again even though they’re still plagued by their old difficulties. This new volume of Venom has been excellent in exploring the symbiote’s personality (with an entire glorious issue devoted to it) and its relationship with Eddie.
Still, Costa’s weakness in plotting plagues the book. While not horrible, his Stegron arc is certainly lackluster after the phenomenal #150. The book should be exploring more dark, street level stories. But, this arc contains a tonally confusing appearance by the lackluster Stegron as well as an editorial-mandated appearance by Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur. Further, while Gerardo Sandoval can draw outstanding pin-ups of Venom in his monstrous glory, this artist lacks in storytelling and anything besides action scenes (which partially handicaps Lee Price’s story). Now, with Mark Bagley taking art duties in a promising Kraven arc, I hope Venom can evolve to be the truly great book that Venom #150 heralded.
11.) Spider-Gwen (Spider-Gwen (Vol. 2) #1 - 24)
No title has confused me quite like Spider-Gwen and a short blurb cannot sufficiently express my complex feelings toward the title. I hated Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez’s book at first, but I’ve come to see the merit in their work. These creators have something interesting to say about power and responsibility, but they often come off as too inexperienced to express themselves sufficiently. With that said, both have improved substantially with more time on the title.
The creative team has fleshed out an interesting supporting cast with complex relationships and clear motives. Captain Stacy is my personal favorite character, the father attempting to be morally upright despite the consequences. As a contrast, Matthew Murdock is a completely amoral, opportunistic crime boss acting as the central villain of the series. Latour uses these characters to construct an interesting discussion of power and responsibility as Gwen makes tough choices and finds herself stuck between her father and Murdock.
While Spider-Gwen is conceptually strong, Latour and Rodriguez have an annoying habit of just missing the point of what they are trying to say. This is especially the case for Harry Osborn, who is suddenly transformed into a seething arch nemesis shortly after he appears. He becomes an overly obvious parallel for Peter, whose death gives Gwen guilt. Latour constantly makes narrative leaps and cuts corners to express his themes, but these tricks often weaken his plots. Similarly, while Rodriguez’s art has improved, his style is often too sloppy and inconsistent to make up for narrative missteps.