Breaking The Law: It’s not even springtime, but the Marvel faithful already have a massive event to look forward to in Empyre. (Want to inundate yourself with info? We’ve totally got your back). But that doesn’t mean the publisher isn’t also unveiling other equally important events (regardless of their size/scope). Case in point: Outlawed, in which through a Civil War-esque turn of events, Marvel’s teenage heroes (i.e., everyone under 21) are banned from their jobs of saving the world.
The story actually spun out of December’s Incoming! one shot, and continues on in April through several ongoing titles (Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Magnificent Ms. Marvel, and Ghost-Spider) as well as the launch of a new Champions books and two miniseries for Power Pack and New Warriors. But first, the whole shebang kicks off all proper like with another one-shot, Outlawed. As far as beginnings and story foundations are concerned, it’s an event that could easily give even Empyre a run for its money.
Heartbreak Explosion: The structure of this one-shot is laid out to maximize efficiency while expertly setting the stage for next month’s happenings. Without giving too much away, there’s an incident that occurs at Coles Academic High School (aka, Kamala Khan’s school) that leads into a congressional hearing where teen heroes are given the ol’ heave ho. The way writer Eve L. Ewing pieces it all together, there’s tons of deep emotion built right into the core of the issues, and the sheer anger and confusion the heroes experience is nearly palpable. That kind of emotional inundation is really vital, and Ewing doesn’t waste a second in showing how massively decisive this issue is, which makes it feel all the more compelling by smacking the reader in the face from panel one.
Again, I can’t (or won’t) reveal the specifics of this book, but what matters is the performances of the characters. Ironheart, in particular, really shines bright as a driving force for the teens’ anger. Vivian, meanwhile, manages to drive the plot and complicate the narrative in all the best ways with her heroics. And Khan is a genuine nougat of innocence and bravery, and her role in this story (and the larger event) is that of emotional dynamo (among other facets). It really feels like an event deeply entrenched in the complicated emotional lives of these characters, which makes sense from a narrative standpoint while also making it feel so human you can’t help but relate hard.
Not Your Daddy’s War: In several interviews, Ewing has said that, while she gets the initial comparisons, this isn’t like Civil War in the grander scheme of things. And, beyond the use of an initial event as a massive catalyst, this event feels way different. That massive war was, in a way, about splitting characters based on moral and ethical lines, and then watching every blood disagreements unfold. Sure, there’s bound to be some of that in this event, but as Ewing makes clear in this one-shot, this is about uniting the teens under a common cause. This book is about making the “OK, Boomer” meme come alive, and highlighting the ageism and powerlessness young people grapple with nowadays. (Right down to a stand-in character for climate activist Greta Thunberg.)
No, not everyone’s on the same side or team (no matter how nebulous that all is), but this event will provide these heroes a chance to explore youth culture in a time of great peril as they battle for control in a world that only undervalues youngsters. In that sense, it’s a very universal exploration, as that intense struggle is a pillar of maturity. However, the book is also exploring some rather specific socio-political ley lines, picking up on the troubles and unique cultural makeup of this period (which often feels like the absolute worst timeline). Sure, Civil War felt political, but not even that was able to outline the underlying tension and rage permeating society, an energy the youth are all too familiar with.
An Art Apart: If there’s anything “wrong” with this book, it has to be the art of Kim Jacinto and the colors of Espen Grundetjern. That’s in no way saying their combined efforts are actually bad — if anything, there’s heaps of great action shots and the characterizations of the heroes achieve a proper depth and starkness. That said, I still feel like there’s a profound disconnect between the art and the story, and the two feel somehow mismatched. As I said earlier, there’s a lot of anger flowing through this issue, and we get the sense of just how furious these characters are and how they can’t seem to manage or contextualize a lot of their feelings.
Yet that doesn’t always come across in the artwork. Captain America, for instance, has an impassioned speech but it doesn’t really land as well (or even feels hokey). There’s also the big baddie of this book in the form of a nasty dragon; sure, it’s slightly scary, but it too lacks some of the impact and grit that the story and the dialogue readily facilitate. As enjoyable as the art feels, it’s still not enough to match some of the emotions that the story generates with simple things like dialogue (Ironheart reached critical sass in, like, 10 words). What could have been a huge issue (and which still feels deeply important) is diminished slightly by art that hinders a lot of of the subtext of the characters’ interactions and conversations.
The Beginning Of The End: Here’s how I know this issue is a success: I want to read books I’ve never kept up with at all (I’m looking at you, Ghost-Spider). Ewing and Co. have laid the foundations for a really compelling sotry that’s focused less on world-changing scenarios and more on giving these vibrant characters a chance to understand themselves and their larger role in the MU (which still feels potentially world-shattering).
Outlawed #1 excels because it provides a place for emotion to take center stage, and to let us see characters in that imperfect process of battling anger and uncertainty. Even if the art isn’t always maintaining pace, the story still hums with a genuine sense of humanity and heart. I don’t know what these kids are going through, and I can’t know what will happen. But you’ll want to read and care right alongside, even if it might break your heart.