It’s difficult for superheroes to tackle serious social issues. For someone like Superman, much of what humans struggle with is little more than an abstract. But Luke Cage has experienced injustice all too often. In the masterful Power Man and Iron Fist #8 (Marvel) the creative team of David F. Walker and Sanford Greene use what the comics give them, namely the past of Luke Cage, to deliver a fast-paced superhero book that weaves in themes of racial profiling and the failures of the justice system, by underscoring just how little Luke is trusted, no matter how hard he works.
The arc, taking place during Marvel’s Civil War II event, has a pretty straightforward plot. Somebody has reengineered the city of New York’s facial recognition software so that it matches the wrong faces to the wrong criminal databases. Innocent people, largely black men, have been put in jail, and while trying to stop an incident, Danny Rand beats the hell out of a bunch of police officers, and joins them in jail. Really, though, it’s about Luke Cage and what he struggles with.
Part of why it works so well is that Luke is a reluctant rebel. The book opens with Luke chewing out Danny for rotting in prison when he can put up bond and be out in an hour, telling him to “Stop making a white liberal point only other white liberals understand.” The truth, though, as we move through the book, is that Luke understands all too well what it means to be a black man in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Then Walker masterfully ties it to Civil War II‘s central plot, when Carol Danvers and a bunch of superheroes “foresee” Luke breaking Danny out, and, instead of trusting the hard-working family man who’s spent his life defending innocents that maybe something is hinky here, show up to kick his ass.
Greene buttresses Walker’s points subtly. Greene’s exaggerated, loose style is still present, but he does a lot of subtle tweaks, from making panels feel more claustrophobic to dialing back expressions just enough, to communicate how serious this all is, even when Luke is arguing with a 12-year-old and his IT guy gets turned into a frog. This book still has its sense of humor and brisk pace, but it also invites readers to linger on the deeper themes for a long time. Fiction, at its best, puts the reader in someone else’s shoes and helps them better understand the world from somebody else’s perspective. That’s not generally what you expect from a buddy-cop action comic, but thanks to Walker and Greene, that’s exactly what we have.
Britannia #1, Valiant
Valiant, usually a superheroes publisher, takes an unusual turn into historical horror with this book. Antonius Axia, a centurion who saves a Vestal Virgin from an unnamed horror, gets subject to special spells and, over six years, becomes a detective of sorts. Peter Milligan and Juan Jose Ryp have a lot of fun with the Roman setting, but the book is most interesting as a step away from the modern superheroics and comedy Valiant is known for, and steps towards the fantasy comics with which it occasionally experiments. Britannia is unusual to say the least, but that simply makes it all the more compelling.
Vision #11, Marvel
Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta bring their mix of suburban noir and family drama to a climax in this issue. King subtly weaves the Vision’s origin throughout the story as he squares off against the Avengers, contrasting his first fight with them decades ago, to the reader, and its impersonality to the deeply human and painful reason he’s going up against his friends now. This story has been among the most affecting of all the Marvel books, exploring what, exactly, makes the Vision so different from other heroes, and finds the all-too-human core at the center of a seemingly “emotionless” robot.