The conclusion to the anthology series intended to shine some light on some of the lesser known or unseen corners of the Marvel universe as “The Heroic Age” begins, concludes with an epilogue to “Doomwar”/a prologue to “Klaws of the Panther,” a story about Steve Rogers’s influence on the Inuit who found him in the block of ice, two pages of Zodiac being awesome, and one page on Cloud 9 whose point escapes me. It’s a very hodgepodge issue that offers a little bit for a variety of readers (emphasis on the word ‘little’), but none of it coheres together, making it questionable who the intended reader is.
Black Panther fans who want to bridge the gap between “Doomwar” and “Klaws of the Panther” get the most focus here with an 11-page story centering on the new Black Panther, Shuri, as she deals with the ramifications of Wakanda losing all of its vibranium at the end of “Doomwar.” With Wakanda’s economy and defenses in shambles, she struggles to hold it all together, especially with the newly created Parliament made up of various factions and tribes, none of which have any confidence in her. Shuri is an easy character to get behind and this new status quo is interesting, but the story becomes overly simplistic by the end when her problems are solved by beating someone up. All that does is remind you that superhero comics tend to raise interesting, complex ideas only to boil them down to boring, uninspired acts of violence.
Shawn Moll’s style is clean and sleek and suits Maberry’s writing. The new Black Panther looks agile and imposing as she takes on some AIM guys at the beginning of the story and Moll’s choreography is strong there. Later in the story, however, his art falters a bit when it comes to the political scenes with overly rendered faces that are scrunched up in masks of either rage or pain, it’s hard to say.
The other long story has a clever idea behind it: an elderly Inuit man talking about the time he and others found Steve Rogers in a block of ice and thought him god. Elliott Kalan takes it a step further by having the man still think of Rogers as god, explaining how the god and his angel (Namor) helped him get the woman of his dreams. It’s a fun little story with Brendan McCarthy on art, giving the entire thing a somewhat odd feel. McCarthy manages to play up the absurdity of the plot somewhat to work with Kalan’s narration that grounds the proceedings. The story is so absurd that it doesn’t seem possible and, since it’s told by the Inuit man, it’s hard to know how much of it is true, something that McCarthy’s style plays up.
The final three pages of the book are little more than teases. A two-page reunion of Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, and Jose Villarrubia to provide a quick update on Zodiac now that the “Heroic Age” is here has some cool ideas and stunning visuals, but goes nowhere. Casey’s take on the villain-that-loves-being-a-villain is fantastic and I would love to see more than just two pages, especially if Zodiac’s girlfriend, Death Reaper, is going to run around in a Captain America costume while performing oral sex... why, yes, that does happen in this comic!
The one-page Cloud 9 story by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton offers a hint of closure for the character, but doesn’t deliver anything more than a hint. I’m somewhat baffled as to why this was even included since what’s here doesn’t provide much of a context for unfamiliar readers and there’s so little that fans of the character don’t get much.
What “Age of Heroes” #4 boils down to is an 11-page Black Panther story that fans of the character would, understandably, be hesitant to pay four dollars for, a fun quasi-Captain America story, and then two teaser ‘stories’ for low-interest characters. Again, I’m not sure who the target audience for this comic is. On an individual level, most of the stories are well done and offer something for those interested, but there’s no overriding theme or idea that ties them together, making this comic work as a whole.