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Review: ‘Marvel Rising’

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Marvel Rising
Writers: Devin Grayson, Ryan North and G. Willow Wilson
Artists: Georges Duarte, Irene Strychalski, Ramon Bachs and others
Marvel; $9.99
Rated T for Teen

Marvel RisingMarvel Rising is a multi-media franchise featuring various newer, younger, and more diverse Marvel Comics heroes in animation, toys, and, of course, comics. Rather than a comic book spin-off of the cartoon version, however, the recently-released Marvel Rising trade paperback is a comic book story set in the regular Marvel Comics Universe that just so happens to focus on a couple of the young heroes who form the core cast of the Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors cartoon movie and toy line.

Marvel had previously published the story in a series of five confusingly titled and numbered one-shot specials. Instead of just publishing it as Marvel Rising #1-5, for example, there was one #0 issue and four #1 issues, and letters from the Greek alphabet were involved (that is, the second part was published as Marvel Rising: Alpha #1 and the fifth was Marvel Rising: Omega #1). Now that the series has achieved its final form, a digest-sized trade-paperback collection, one need not break the weird secret code of Marvel Comics’ publishing strategy to enjoy it.

And it is enjoyable. Writer Devin Grayson crafts a storyline featuring Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan and Squirrel Girl (the latter of whom debuted in 1991 and has therefore technically been around for 27 years, even though she didn’t really take off until 2015 with the debut of her own ongoing title), and the middle section of the 150-page story being written by Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl writer Ryan North, essentially making passages of this graphic novel an introduction into the particular (and, in the case of Squirrel Girl, peculiar) style of the two heroes’ regular books.

Empire University computer science major Doreen Green (who is secretly Squirrel Girl) is a volunteer teaching a class on video game development to interested high school students, who include Kamala Khan (who is secretly Ms. Marvel). It turns out there is a third super-powered person involved in the class, though, a disaffected young woman named Ember who recently discovered she has the power both to take creatures and items out of video games and to banish people from the real world into video games. This is bad news because her only friend is someone she met online who eggs her on towards super-villainy, a someone who is secretly Arcade, the game-themed master assassin.

As Doreen and Kamala and Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel gradually become friends, and very gradually discover one another’s secret identities when they keep disappearing and reappearing as superheroes every time something weird happens in class, Ember becomes more and more powerful and poses a greater and greater danger. Eventually, our heroes enlist the aid of America Chavez, the super-strong superhero with the ability to create portals by punching through reality itself, and Inferno, a flame-powered Inhuman who picked the wrong day to tour Empire University. (A handful of other Marvel Rising characters like Captain Marvel, Quake, Ghost-Spider, and Patriot appear on covers throughout the book, but not in the series itself).

We tend to use the word “graphic novel” to refer to any sizable comics story that is bound rather than stapled together, but Marvel Rising is actually long enough and substantial enough that it reads like a novel (however bizarrely Marvel originally serialized it).

Visually, it’s somewhat disappointing on several fronts. Though originally published—and apparently drawn—at standard comic book size, the pages are shrunk down a bit in order to fit into dimensions that are as wide but a little taller than the standard digest size. That doesn’t do the art any favors, and that art is the work of five different artists, who come and go throughout. Most of the five are pretty great, but for the most part they work in quite divergent styles that neither mesh nor compliment one another all that well.

Any one of these artists probably could have done a decent job on the whole graphic novel—Irene Strychalski being my favorite, stylistically, as her art most closely resembles that of GURIHIRU, who drew the super-cute covers—but employing them all in a single story, and doing so in such a random way, gives the book an unfortunate inconsistency.

That said, it is still an engaging adventure featuring two of the most exciting Marvel heroes of the last five years or so, and it serves as a good gateway into their ongoing adventures for anyone drawn to this collection through the cartoons or toys.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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