Secret Empire tie-in! Rogue and some D-list Spider-villains take on some Dark Force demons while the rest of the team struggles to free Dr. Voodoo from the evil spirit possessing him. Can the Unity squad survive the machinations of Hydra Cap? Yeah, totally, this is a forgettable side story.
This issue brings to a close the understandable but unnecessary Secret Empire tie-in arc that, despite being forgettable and needless, is potentially my favorite story featuring the Shocker of all time. As a New York-based petty crook, it makes sense that Herman would be trapped in the Dark Force bubble that Cap dropped over most of the city, and being forced to team up with a superhero to deal with the larger threat of the literal monsters attacking the city provides readers with a chance to see more of what he’s capable off. And what is he capable of? Eh, not much really. Still, it’s cool to see Shocker (and to a lesser extent Scorpia) be more than just the bank robbers Spider-Man beats in the first 5 pages of a book.
Indeed, the scenes between the Spider-villains and Rogue that are the most interesting parts of the issue, as the B-story surrounding Dr. Voodoo’s possession is very by the numbers and uninteresting. At this point, it’s sort of a trope that the mystic character on a team will get possessed when the team visits a darker place, and this hits all the beats. There’s the sidekick attempting to free the magician from evil’s control, the mystic giving speeches about all the evil things they’re going to do, and then the underwhelming finish where the evil spirit is dispelled from the mystic’s body via some random silliness. The silliness this time is Rogue literally pulling the energy demon thing out of Dr. Voodoo’s mouth. It should be noted that there had been no indication that this thing was at all corporeal so why/how Rogue was able to grab it is odd to say the least.
This is also another issue where we are subjected to mopey, introspective Rogue (my least favorite version of Rogue), whose dour and self-doubting internal monologue ALMOST works when juxtaposed against her determined and heroic actions. I get that the idea is that Rogue’s traumas have put her in a position where she will be the strong and decisive leader we’ve seen her be when she has to, but her mental and emotional states have left her shaken and uncertain of herself and her position within her own team. I also understand that that kind of struggle can span a person’s entire life, depending on the trauma and the individual. The issue I have is that we’ve seen Rogue overcome these issues over and over again, only to shrink back toward this emotional weakness whenever the writers run out of ideas. I just want some growth for a character I’ve literally been following for nearly 30 years, rather than seeing her stuck in the same cycle over and over again.
Another trope I’m tired of seeing? The “local people help the hero” move made most famous by the original Spider-Man film’s laughable “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” scene. In this issue, a group of New Yorkers survivors saves the Wasp from impending demon attacks by using baseball bats. It’s just another cliche’ that doesn’t feel earned. Like if people could fend off these demons “Attack the Block” style, then why haven’t they been? Why would our heroes struggle to fight them at all? Points to the writer for trying to interject some multicultural aspects in the story (one of the locals calling another ‘Ajusshi’ is a relatively subtle nod to Korean culture), but this feels tacked on an underdeveloped all the same.
Art wise, this book leaves a lot to be desired. The big issue is the pencils from the three-person art team of Kim Jacinto, Jahnoy Lindsay and Juanan Ramirez. All the women in the book have the same face, with only their haircuts serving to distinguish them from one another. This is most evident when we get close-up shots of either Wasp or Scorpia, whose haircuts are the same, with only the colors being different. There’s also some wonky anatomy whenever the panels are zoomed out long shots, particularly with the aforementioned Scorpia. Anytime you see her at a distance she gets this weird stumpy half-body that takes me out of the image. Let’s not even touch on the poor rendition of Human Torch, and I’m not even talking about his horrible re-design from the Inhumans line. Credit where it’s due, however, the team’s take on Dr. Voodoo (possessed and otherwise) are great, and the color affects of his astral projections are similarly strong.
Overall, this issue – like the previous one – is fine but skippable. Next month it looks like we’re back to the central narrative of the series, so hopefully this will mean a return to a better developed story less reliant on easy storytelling tropes in order to serve a larger storyline that only tangentially affects our characters.