Marvel Comics February 2018 solicitations
Credit: Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Marvel Comics

The Mighty Thor #704
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It’s not Ragnarok, but it is a time of judgment for the gods. As Asgardia is ravaged by the singular-minded Mangog, the Mighty Thor lies on her deathbed as the very mortal Jane Foster, unable to defend the Golden Realm without losing her last chance at beating the cancer that’s ravaging her. Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Matthew Wilson’s latest chapter in the ballad of Jane Foster shows these hammer-wielders fighting very different but equally devastating forces that exist ultimately only to kill. Displaying these gods in the moments before their presumed deaths, The Mighty Thor #704 offers these characters the opportunity to express their true strength… or the chance to fall prey to their own weaknesses.

Dauterman and Wilson’s artwork shows these very different moments of fate for Jane Foster, the Odinson, and Loki. With the force-of-nature Mangog acting on his base desires to kill the Asgardian gods and while Jane Foster battles a force of nature in her own body, the art in this issue vacillates between the boisterous and the quiet battles happening in these pages. When focused on the big, fantastic battle on Asgardia, Dauterman and Wilson’s artwork plays a heavy, loud rock anthem, full of heavy drums and screaming guitars. And when the story switches to Jane’s story, the art becomes more introspective and somber, a lone voice crying out in pain and loneliness.

For a comic about gods and mythology, Jason Aaron sets this issue up to be about something very human, the search for a loving and caring god. “Find a god to believe in, Jane,” says, Foster’s own mother, in a flashback from her own deathbed. With that simple line, Aaron recontextualizes the whole story of Jane Foster, from the moments she first showed up as a love interest for the Odinson to her recent history as Thor herself, a god who fought with the intensity of a person fighting for her life. Every scene in this book is about the shortcomings of these beings that we’ve viewed as deities and legend even as we search and long for them. And for Jane, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir could offer her salvation or death, depending on how you view the choices that Jane has to make. She could take the hammer and live out the rest of her days as a god that her mother told her to find, or she could reject it and fight the cancer as any woman or man does — on her own terms.

Foster is given a choice that the Odinson is never given. For him, the battle with Mangog is part of his duty. Maybe this fight is what will make him worthy of his lost hammer, but that is a story for another issue. Yet of all of the gods, it’s Loki who is given a moment of true vulnerability as he tries to convince his mother that there’s no way to save Asgardia, even as Freyja can’t bear to trust the son who once shoved a knife in her back. Like Jane, Loki has to live with the decisions that he has made. He stabbed his mother but as he tries to explain in this issue, it was ostensibly for the right reasons. During Aaron’s run, Loki has been more of a background character, and even more so now as he’s been the Sorcerer Supreme over in another comic series. In this issue, Aaron gets to add a bit to the Marvel mythology of Loki as a hero with moral compass of a villain.

“Old age should burn and rave at close of day…” Old age is either something these characters don’t seem like they will ever have (in the case Jane), or something that they have too much of (in the case of Odinson, Loki, Freya and Odin). If The Mighty Thor #704 is the close of day, Aaron, Dauterman and Wilson tell the story of these characters facing the lives they’ve made for themselves in what could be their final moments. They’re facing their search for gods and love in this issue against villains who fight with an unbeatable fury. Whether it’s Jane’s struggle with cancer and the godhood which could simultaneously save and kill her or Loki’s own acts of betrayal that are done for all of the “right” reasons, Aaron, Dauterman and Wilson explore the tender last moments of these lives, contrasting them against the brutality of these mindless forces of destruction and death.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther Annual #1
Written by Christopher Priest, Don McGregor, and Reggie Hudlin
Art by Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Daniel Acuña, Ken Lashley and Matt Milla
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Robert Reed
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Featuring T’Challa’s three most defining writers, Black Panther Annual #1 works less as an addition to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ current run and more like an all-star game. Christopher Priest, Don McGregor, and Reggie Hudlin each contribute a story that harkens back to their original runs, providing Black Panther fans a celebratory issue just in time for the blockbuster film.

Black Panther Annual #1 opens with a short tale, “Back in Black” by Priest and artist Mike Perkins. Rather than focusing on T’Challa, “Back in Black” sees the return of Everett K. Ross, who reports to his superiors about a wild night with some of Black Panther’s most dangerous foes: Hunter and Malice. Within a brief 12 pages, Priest is able to effectively tap into so many things that made his run shine – Ross’ humor, out-of-order storytelling, and a T’Challa that lurks in the shadows, often steps ahead of his enemies. The artwork by Mike Perkins and colorist is moody, with Perkins using slanted angles in his panels to convey disorienting action beats from Ross’ perspective, and heavy shadows throughout.

As dark as “Back in Black” feels, Don McGregor’s story, “Panther’s Heart” captures T’Challa’s empathy and love. Set in an alternate past, where Monica Lynne is dying, “Panther’s Heart” sees T’Challa race to retrieve the heart-shaped herb in order to heal her. Daniel Acuña handles the art in this section, making “Panther’s Heart” a preview of sorts for Acuña’s upcoming work on the main series. McGregor’s return to T’Challa is fantastic – his dramatic dialogue is finally juxtaposed against a truly futuristic Wakanda, giving the story a larger-than-life feel.

Credit must go to editor Wil Moss for organizing these stories in such a way that they continue to expand, from the stifling CIA interrogation room in Priest’s story, to the nation of Wakanda in McGregor’s. But the annual ends on an even greater expansion, in “Black to the Future Part II” by Reggie Hudlin and Ken Lashley. More than the other two stories in Black Panther Annual #1, “Black to the Future Part II” benefits from familiarity with the original edition and Hudlin’s run overall. Set in an alternate future, T’Challa tells his granddaughter the stories of his great wars with those who would threaten Wakanda. Hudlin plays with the idea that T’Challa was likeable as a man, but utterly ruthless when it came to defending his kingdom. Ken Lashley’s artwork captures the beauty of Wakanda, but also its legacy, as T’Challa and his granddaughter walk through a trophy room of his fallen foes.

Black Panther Annual #1 is a rewarding read for longtime Panther fans who will find something to love here. The issue also works as a backdoor introduction to the tones of three most prolific Panther writers, allowing readers new to the character to find a type of story they like and then seek out the run of that author. It would have been nice to see Ta-Nehisi Coates get a small segment, so that prospective readers could get a feel for the current run without having to jump into the middle of a story arc, but this is a pretty stellar issue, nonetheless.

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