Before beginning this review, it should go on record that I think Chip Zdarsky is among the best writers working for Marvel at this time. His recently-completed Daredevil run was phenomenal, and he has written equally impressive Marvel titles, including Spider-Man: Life Story and Star-Lord: Grounded. Zdarsky has a chameleon-like talent for writing drama and emotion as well as he writes humor and levity. He’s great!
Unfortunately, Devil’s Reign #2 is not.
While no means awful, the series is so far mediocre compared to the caliber of writing Zdarsky usually publishes. Much like the issue that came before it, Devil’s Reign #2 feels not thought-out and rushed. It manages to get by on its great action scenes and fluid dialogue, but the plot itself is lackluster and unoriginal. If Zdarsky is trying to say something through his script, the message is not getting through.
Issue #2 of the series further inspects the consequences of Mayor Fisk’s criminalization of superheroes in New York City—a premise that has generally been explored to death in the Marvel universe. Going overused stories within a continuity as long as Marvel’s is sometimes inevitable, and can be done well if the creators bring a new perspective to the table. However, Devil’s Reign is not doing that so far. In fact, issue #2 is pointedly depoliticized, instead relying on empty platitudes that do nothing but fill space.
Zdarsky’s handling of politics in Devil’s Reign #2 is at best clumsy, and at worst cowardly. It tiptoes around preserved understandings of the legal establishment in a way that contrasts to the more provocative left-wing concepts brought up in his other work. When the script does try and make a point, it falls flat and comes across as disingenuous amongst the vacant rhetoric that surrounds it.
Marco Checchetto’s art is one of the only high-quality components of Devil’s Reign #2. His action scenes are beautifully detailed, and the level of care that is put into each character’s design is impressive. Yet the issue is further let down by consistent coloring issues on the part of Marcio Meynz. Namely, his coloring of Luke Cage — a Black man — leaves the character only a few shades darker than Fisk. Indeed, along with other comic publishers, Marvel has been called-out many times for the white-washing of POC in their pages. And yet, the problem persists. Devil’s Reign #2 very obviously wants to use Luke Cage to make some sort of social commentary about power and privilege, but between its lazy writing and poor coloring, the creators have not shown much respect for these subjects, nor the Luke Cage character himself.
The lack of reverence given to Cage is punctuated by the fact that his solo title, Luke Cage: City of Fire, has been canceled completely by Marvel. This is an astoundingly transparent decision by the company, given that Devil’s Reign #2 positions him as the leading character of its story. The use of Luke as a prop, rather than a meaningful voice in Devil’s Reign, makes me think back to Ritesh Babu’s insightful piece on the ‘aesthetics of representation’ in comic books. It is worth reflecting on Babu’s words when reading the issue:
‘Optics’ as a White writer once put it to me. Another tool in the hands of many White voices, as the word ‘diversity’ is utilized, to market their work, and present the vision of “This Is Important Work”, “This Matters” (Babu, 2021).
On the surface, Devil’s Reign #2 is a perfectly serviceable comic that gets by on the technical talents of its creators. Yet in skirting past any meaningful discussion of power and authority, it becomes a damning symbol for the virtue-based centrism that corporate publishers often operate on. Luke Cage’s Blackness is whitewashed and used as window-dressing in a plot that does not dare upset the status-quo. Writer Chip Zdarsky has shown that he is capable of writing stories of significance, but his work here is symptomatic of the racism and whiteness that exists in the industry overall.
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