The Next Big Thing is a weekly column where I go back and look at what I’ve been calling “preview anthologies”; one-shots released by superhero publishers meant to establish a new status quo and highlight new titles due for release soon. We’re still in the “Marvel Now” era but now, just to make sure everyone knows it’s a slightly newer era everything is “All-New” but to give the issue a bit of credit, I don’t think the moniker is entirely inaccurate.
I’ll talk more about it over the course of the article, but I think this might be the best preview anthology we’re going to cover as part of this series. Especially when it comes to the quality of comics that come out of it, I’d say there are three great books, two good and only one that’s kind of forgettable. This may be my own biases shining through as I have fond memories of the “All-New Marvel Now” era but I think this issue showcases some of the most interesting Marvel Comics of the mid-2010s.
Loki in “Before The Truth Has Its Pants On”
(Al Ewing, Lee Garbett, Nolan Woodward & Clayton Cowles)
Again, we have another framing device and this time we’re following Loki in his quest to acquire five magic keys from the likes of Red Skull, Captain Britain and Phil Coulson. The last time we saw Loki he was still a kid and manipulating Ms. America into forming the Young Avengers but he’s now a handsome young man on a mission as he heads into a new ongoing series, Loki: Agent of Asgard.
This is kind of the final act for Loki’s story which began with Siege when he was killed by The Sentry on behalf of Norman Osborn. He was resurrected as a child determined to do good and redeem his name despite living among Asgardians who didn’t trust him, but he found himself caught in a trap placed by his older, evil self and was forced to sacrifice himself to allow the old Loki to come back. That’s the Loki from Young Avengers but over the course of the series, Loki realised that he wasn’t Old Loki or Kid Loki, he was a third Loki; the weapon used to kill Kid Loki.
Loki: Agent of Asgard picks up that story beat with The God of Mischief working for the All-Mother to bring back wayward Asgardians like Sigurd and Lorelei but along the way he discovers that the All-Mother has been manipulating him to become Old Loki once more because that is his story. Loki: Agents of Asgard is a brilliant treatise on the nature of stories and a character struggling to break out from expectations everyone has around him and I cannot recommend it enough. The way it takes everything the came before and uses it as a foundation for something new is exactly what I want from superhero comics.
Silver Surfer in “Girl on Board”
(Dan Slott, Mike Allred, Laura Allred & Clayton Cowles)
Silver Surfer as Doctor Who is a really simple concept that Dan Slott and the Allreds were able to spin into something really special over the course of two volumes and about thirty issues, and this vignette is a perfect showcase of the best moments from this run. I’ve found there are two kinds of stories creators like to tell within these preview anthologies; the first kind is like the Loki story in this issue, it’s a straight-up prologue to the main series while the second is like this Silver Surfer story and takes place later the run chronologically but serves as a sample of what readers can expect from the series itself.
Silver Surfer #1 starts with Norrin Radd and Dawn Greenwood as complete strangers who grow to know each other over the course of the first few issues and this story could have done something to contrast the two leads’ lives before they knew each other and it would have likely been good, but it doesn’t sell the premise as well as the in media res approach. Silver Surfer is a great vehicle for the weirdest parts of the Marvel Universe and giving him his own Rose Tyler was a really inspired move that allowed her to serve as a reader surrogate.
There were parts of Silver Surfer that I didn’t like; I didn’t like Dawn naming the board “Toomie” (a play on To me, my board) and I didn’t like the romance angle between the two — I don’t like it when they do it in Doctor Who either — but the inventiveness and unbridled imagination of the series outshone any small criticisms. Just like Loki: Agent of Asgard, this run of Silver Surfer was a real highlight of the “All-New Marvel Now” era and something well worth going back to if you missed it at the time.
Tanalth The Pursuer in “To Tame The Very Gods Themselves”
(James Robinson, Steve Pugh, Guru-eFX & Cory Petit)
I’ve never been a massive fan of The Invaders; whether the stories are set in World War II or the present day, there’s just something about the team dynamic that just does not capture my attention in any meaningful way. I didn’t read this series at the time and I’ve only read one issue of it since — I did a big read of as many Eternals appearances as possible and Ikaris shows up for one issue — but I don’t want to go back and read it just for this piece. I know, I did it for War Machine but I just don’t want to and this is my website, so I get to make the rules.
So, discussing this story on its own merits, it’s less about the Invaders and more about the threat they’re going to face in their new series. The Supreme Intelligence of the Kree tasks Tanalth The Pursuer wiith reassembling The God Whisper, a Kree weapon that can take control of gods, which was lost during World War II and split into three parts. As I said, I have no intention of reading All-New Invaders Tanalth herself will go on an interesting journey beyond this in the pages of Empyre where she’s going to be revealed to be a Skrull all along. Maybe one day I’ll read All-New Invaders but today is not that day.
Black Widow in “Predator”
(Nathan Edmondson, Phil Noto & Clayton Cowles)
Aww man, I really liked this run on Black Widow at the time. Phil Noto absolutely crushed it on art and it was a well crafted spider’s web of a spy story. Unfortunately, stories started to come out about Nathan Edmondson being just a real piece of shit and I can’t in good conscience recommend his work.
Ms. Marvel in “Garden State of Mind”
(G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring & Joe Caramagna)
Let’s wash that bad taste out our mouths with the debut of the breakout character of the 2010s, Kamala Khan! Just like the Silver Surfer preview earlier, this story is set further down the line than where the ongoing Ms. Marvel series starts but it’s notable for being the first full appearance of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. The character appeared briefly in Captain Marvel #17 for like one panel and it was announced there would be a new Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel getting their own series, but until this issue came out we had absolutely no idea who she was, what her powers were or anything. In fact, I remember it being a big surprise that her powers were so different from that of Carol Danvers as I don’t think anyone expected the new character to have mass-distribution powers like Mr. Fantastic meets Ant-Man.
I think this is a great introduction to the character. We see her as Ms. Marvel fighting a big robot in a junkyard and we get a hint towards her larger struggle against her arch-nemesis, The Inventor but we also get to see who Kamala is outside of the costume and what her family life is like, which I think is really key to the character’s success. Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring’s art makes Kamala’s world feel rich and lived-in in a really unique way and it’s the sort of story that makes you want to spend more time there.
I don’t think I need to say where Kamala has gone from here because she’s become one of Marvel’s most popular new characters of the last decade. Her first ongoing series lasted over fifty issues across two volumes — a lot of series like this and Silver Surfer get interrupted by Secret Wars and I don’t think it’s fair to count it as a traditional cancellation — and she’s the main character in a big budget AAA video game in Marvel’s Avengers. This year, we get to see Kamala in live action as the star of her own Ms. Marvel show on Disney+ and she’s going to carry over into the films as a supporting character in Captain Marvel 2. The sky really is the limit for Kamala and I know that mainstream audiences are going to take to her as quickly as we have in comics.
The Avengers in “Short Term Fixes”
(Nick Spencer, Rags Morales, David Curiel & Chris Eliopolous)
The final story in this anthology is setting up Avengers World, a spin-off from Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers that allowed for stories that were more traditionally Avengery, while Hickman was working on the big picture stuff leading into Secret Wars. I do have a soft spot for this story because it stars my favorite Avenger and his best friend, Sunspot and Cannonball, on a mission to infiltrate AIM that ends up with them turning into Hulks but that isn’t really the meat and potatoes of the story. The real story is with Captain America and Maria Hill, bashing out the details of a new collaboration agreement between The Avengers and SHIELD which spins out of Spencer’s work on Secret Avengers and back into Avengers World.
Avengers World wasn’t the most consequential title to Marvel’s line and my own memories of it are kind of fuzzy, but I remember liking the parts that brought into international counterparts of the Avengers, like China’s super-hero team The Ascendants who work for SPEAR, which hearkens back to Hickman’s Secret Warriors. Probably the biggest thing to come from Avengers World was that it allowed Marvel to fill in the gaps of the eight-month time jump which took place towards the end of Hickman’s run and we got to see how Sunspot took over AIM and how old man Steve Rogers began his hunt for The Illuminati. I’ve re-read Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers a handful of times but I’ve never gone back to Avengers World… maybe I should.
I mentioned last time that this was probably my favourite of all of the preview anthologies and I definitely think that holds up. Ms. Marvel, Silver Surfer and Loki: Agent of Asgard are all real standouts here and I think all three books will be titles we’re still talking about in ten years’ time. It’s a shame Nathan Edmondson is a piece of shit because his Black Widow was really good (although his Punisher which came out at the same time was rough and probably should have clued us in to a bunch of stuff about its writer. The Avengers World story gets a couple of extra points for me for having Cannonball and Sunspot, so that leaves All-New Invaders as the only real weak link in the bunch. I’d say that’s a good average and All-New Marvel Now: Point One is a preview anthology worth revisiting.