“The ballad of Clint Barton and Wanda Maximoff”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: Gustav Klimt was scared of spectral ladies clad in gold and arcane hieroglyphics, and so is Clint Barton.
Comments: This lackluster story is what passes for subtle in this year’s bombastic, empty writing by Bendis on this title. Solo issues remain his forte (over teamwork or large casts), but as his star this issue is dead for at least the third time, the spark never really takes off. Maleev’s bleak pastel art matches Bendis in tone, in what is essentially a ghost story.
What do we get rather than any new information on the fates of Clint or Wanda? We get to hear Dr. Strange refer yet again incongruously to “the magics,” like they’re some dangerous thingamajig he’s never aheard of way out here in Butcher Holler, mister! C’mon, Master of Dialogue, are you ever going to actually nail down the good Dr.’s manner of speaking? Milligan can do it. Vaughan can too. Heck, even Giffen can when he’s making weak puns. Let me give you a clue: Stephen Strange is not flummoxed, or annoyed, or confused by magic, even if you are. He’s the freaking master of the stuff on this Earthly plane.
He’s apparently ready to concede that there is chaos magick after all, though, despite his own (preposterous) earlier statements.
Where’s Wanda in this story ostensibly about her? In the same enigmatic shadows Bendis has shrouded her since he disassembled her title. She’s still not the star. Rather Clint is, and Clint finds just what Bendis has always found concerning Wanda (and what Maleev illustrates so moodily on the cover): an enigmatic, insoluble mystery named woman. Seeing only a shadow, a surface, a superficial appearance, Bendis confused the pointy tiara and the scarlet dress for a demonic vamp long ago.
She might as well be still colored the mistaken snake-y green from her first appearance on that old X-Men cover. She’s all temptress this issue, looked at but not even interested in looking herself, as pretty and vapid as they come. Wanda was arrogant, true, but her arrogance wasn’t of the “I’m Magneto’s daughter!” variety. It was the arrogance to believe in her own decisions and choices before she even knew her heritage and to rail against it when she found out.
If she saw weakness in the men (or women) around her, she pointed it out. She respected her colleagues for their bravery, including keeping up a flirting friendship with Clint. She loved both Vision and Wonder Man, but if she had an idol on the team, it was Captain America. It was he who inspired her own leadership mantle when she took it, he whom she was proud to fight beside.
Instead she’s a single woman in a small village whose food is stolen by children. When she’s done being a victim, she falls into the other mode Bendis has for his non-emotionally crippled women: lover. Clint has come to her for vengeance, for answers, for absolution. But all he finds is sex, and he settles for that. Wanda’s frequent references to her spooky, unseen Aunt Agatha (obviously the crone to her maiden, still no nurturing mother to be found in her sterile world) hint at a deeper female enigma to be plumbed, but Agatha’s not really the ghost of this story. Neither is the confused, frustrated Hawkeye. Rather, that role falls to Wanda, because Bendis has stripped her of everything, including her color.
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