“Ready to Die” (part 3)
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artist: Andrea Divito
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: On a world of gangsters, Storm finds some unexpectedly familiar allies. Meanwhile, the Panther, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are tested in the arena.
Comments: This is one book that took the lemons of Civil War and made lemonade. Hudlin does everything but focus on the Panther these days, but that’s fine, he’s never equaled Priest’s insights into T’Challa’s character. It turns out he doesn’t have to, because the supporting cast has become quite interesting. Adding Storm to the mix turns out to have benefits beyond their contrived wedding; she’s a dynamic and interesting character, and she adds loads of excitement and a more science-fiction power set to the stories.
Furthermore, having Reed and Sue step down from the Fantastic Four and ask the Panther and Storm to serve as interim leaders reconnects T’Challa to his book of origin, and Johnny and Ben are always good for a laugh. Hudlin clearly knows that despite their hijinks, they’re seasoned warriors, true equals to the examples set by the proud King and Queen of Wakanda.
We’ve been dealing with zombies and Skrulls for some months in this title, thanks to the tomfoolery of some malevolent frog statuary, and now with a dose of old Star Trek our heroes find themselves back in the right reality, but on the wrong world. Grimm is familiar with this world modeled after American gangsters, but Hudlin ups the ante by sending Storm on an exploratory mission of her own.
She wonders if this duplicate Gotham even has a Harlem, the home of her father, and not only does it; it also has spiritual leaders named Martin and Malcolm. This might have come off as too ridiculous and obvious, but Hudlin plays it as moral conflict presented to the African Warrior Queen for judgment, and keeping the focus on Storm’s perspective is key. She truly is the Marvel universe counterpart to Wonder Woman (as the Amalgam series so cleverly stated long ago); listen to her reasoning when choosing between passive resistance and militant response: “Reverend, when this is over, you will rule this land with wisdom and love. But right now … it’s clobberin’ time.” Ororo would understand completely Diana’s action against Maxwell Lord.
Storm leads a rescue mission “underground” back to the part of “New York” controlled by the lighter skinned mobsters and their flunkies (the references don’t stop coming in this arc, and while they’re not all subtle, this is the perfect medium to get away with such bold parallels). Meanwhile the Panther and Grimm do whatever damage control they can in the arena.
It’s an interesting detail that the Skrulls, well aware that they’ve only adopted these forms, aren’t conceptualizing the leadership and territory struggle in this theatrical world as a race war: rather, they’re fighting over an ideological difference. Hudlin’s handling of these themes leaves plenty of room between the literal and the figurative for interpretation. And along the way, there are plenty of jabs at the old funny bone.
Andre Divito, fresh off her excellent work in the recent space war, is a welcome presence on the art. Her clear, fluid style (a bit redolent of Scott Kolins’ solid work) is always in sync with the writer’s words, evincing a command of storytelling that keeps the story fast-paced and dramatic, but slows down for the conversational moments as well. This book has found its stride.
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