It’s the climatic conclusion of this first adventure from Marvel Rising, as writer Devin Grayson is joined by illustrators Georges Duarte and Roberto Di Salvo along with colorist Rachelle Rosenberg. Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl and The Gang must face off in a final confrontation with the dreaded Arcade who has now gained the awesome powers of Emmulator. And you just know that mayhem and hi jinx in sure to unfold.
Adolescence has not been easy on young Ember Quaid. She’s been quite lonely, rather depressed and maintains a grossly diminished sense of self esteem. Her mother has moved her from town to town, city to city, continuously looking for a new place to start over and all this has left young Ember feeling adrift and rudderless, no friends, no sense of constancy… convinced that she might as well not even try making a life for herself in that it’ll be only a matter of time that her mother uprooted them to start over someplace else.
And if that weren’t enough, Ember is also an Inhuman. Her latent Inhuman genes were activated following exposure to the Terrigen Cloud. It took her time to realize it, but Ember’s Terrigenesis had actually imbued her with tremendous powers… the ability to take in electrical energy and reconfigure it into all manner of hard-light constructs.
Multiplayer online video games had been Ember’s one respite, the one place where she didn’t feel powerless, where she’d didn’t feel like a loser. She excelled at these games, loved playing them and they became her one true escape from the difficulties of real life. That is until a group of chauvinistic boys took exception to their being so fully trounced by a female player. Before she knows it, Ember has been frozen out of her gaming accounts and the one bright spot of her life, her one respite from a difficult life, has been taken away. It was all enough to break poor Ember’s spirit and leave her highly vulnerable to being influenced and manipulated by nefarious forces.
Utilizing a renegade faction of A.I.M., the villain known as Arcade had identified Ember and the tremendous power she possesses. Arcade slithered his way into Ember’s life, presenting himself as an anonymous online friend and commiserator. It was he who actually froze Ember out of her gaming accounts and he who coaxed her into using her newfound Inhuman powers to extract vengeance on all those who had wronged her.
Individuals like Ember, lonely and desperate for acknowledgment and attachment can be especially susceptible to being manipulated; and a cad like Arcade knows all the tricks needed to seize upon such vulnerabilities and get their victims to do all manner of things they normally wouldn’t. It’s all rather creepy, yet by no means unbelievable… indeed this sort of situation can happen quite often in real life.
Meanwhile Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Doreen Green (Squirrel Girl) just so happened to be involved in the same programming class as Ember. Kamala has been taken the class for extra credit while Doreen is teaching the class as part of her undergraduate studies. As such, both were on hand when Ember’s powers began to flare up and she unwittingly created numerous digitalized constructs who wreaked havoc on the school.
The marvelous Ms. Marvel and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl worked just as well as a team as one might expect and they succeeded in driving off the video game-looking creatures that Ember had manifested. And this acts to further compound Ember’s feelings of despondency. She had been bullied, created these constructs to get back at these bullies, and yet they were stopped by superheroes. Aren’t superheroes supposed to fight for people who are picked on and marginalized? If she and these shiny, happy heroes are in such opposite corners, does that make her a villain? It’s all quite confusing for her.
All the while, Arcade continues to egg her own. He doesn’t reveal his identity, but is instead just a mysterious online presence… some guy out there who knows just how Ember feels and is able to manipulate her loneliness and longing for connection to get her to do all manner of things she might not otherwise do. He coaxes her further, gets her to escalate things into full fledge into super-villainy.
Using her powers to don a new look, Ember takes on the guise of ‘Emulator’ and takes over a power plant in New Jersey… using its abundance of energy to surcharge her powers and unleash total havoc on the unsuspecting citizens of the city.
Through luck and happenstance, Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl manage to recruit Ms. America and Inferno to their cause. They battle the various monsters and oddities Emulator throws their way. Ultimately they end up in some sort of otherworldly realm, created by Emulator’s powers… a realm quite similar to a first-person-shooter video game and then later a multi-player online roleplaying game. And it takes everything our heroes can muster to make their way through and eventually escape these treacherous realms. Time moves at a different pace in this realm, hours feel like days; and the squad ends up with quite a lot of time to hone their skills working as a cohesive team.
Meanwhile, Arcade ups the anti on Ember, using his influence to coax her into fastening herself into some sort of scientific-looking body-harness. Here, Ember finally begins to suspect that this online friend may not be as well-intentioned as he may seem. Yet it is too late, Arcade has his hooks in too deep and he is able to browbeat the young woman into doing what he demands. Ember gives in and connects herself to the creepy-looking harness. Of course this is a terrible mistake and the machine proves to be some sort of power-transferring device that takes Ember’s Inhuman abilities and offers full control of them To Arcade. And it is here that he reveals himself, laughing at Ember and crowing on over how a young woman in need of acceptance can be so easily manipulated.
It’s here that the heroes finally escape the video game realms and are ready to take on Arcade. Yet Arcade is now has control of Ember’s powers… powers he uses to send the heroes into yet another digitized realm of peril.
Arcade has always been obsessed with creating his own little worlds that he can be a merciless god over. These ‘Murderworlds’ used to be analog, comprised of various traps and robots. With Ember’s powers, however, Arcade now has the ability to create this world in a digital format unencumbered by the limitations of the real world. And he revels at the opportunity to send more and more victims into this 2.0 version of Murderworld.
Struggling in the harness, Ember demands that she will stop him, that she find some way to regain control over her powers. Arcade merely laughs. He has attached some sort of power syphon device to the machine and he gloats that he has full influence over Ember’s abilities.
Meanwhile, our heroes find themselves facing yet another dangerous realm where they must all manner of fierce and fearsome creatures. Arcade is not as creative as Ember and he basically reuses her ideas, throwing at heroes numerous threats lovely based on video games. The whole matter is shown to be something of a beta test for Arcade’s plans to entrap The X-Men and gain a much sought after revenge.
The team continues to work well as a cohesive unit, although they’re all quite anxious to escape this realm, apprehend Arcade and save Ember.
While fighting these monsters and whatnot, the team encounters a wisp a sort of guide that is actually created by Ember so to help them. The wisp leads them to ‘final boss’ level all based on the classic arcade game Donkey Kong. Where Kong himself is represented by Arcade, Ember is the captured princess and our heroes have to play the role of Mario, leaping over flaming barrels and making their way up the treacherous scaffolding.
They manage to prevail and Arcade appears defeated. Yet just as it look that all is well, Arcade reappears and again takes over control of the realm. As long as he has Ember’s powers he can control this entire world and the only way to take it away would involve removing Ember from the harness… an action that would kill her.
It’s all too much for Ember and she decides to take matters in her own hands. She regenerates the digital gorilla and uses it to tear apart the harness. Ms. Marvel and the others try to stop her, realizing that it will kill her, yet it’s too late.
The harness is destroyed and they are all sent hurdling back into the real world. Arcade has been defeated and de-powered, but he’s escaped, having run off the moment that he realized he had lost. Much worse, it appears as though the process of freeing them has indeed cost poor Ember her life.
In the last moment, however, it is revealed that Ember had built one last feature into the digital realm she had created. The gift of an ‘extra life’ is an endemic feature to many video games and Ember built one into her own game. This extra life is presented in the form of a digitized heart and it acts to bring Ember back to life.
Weeks have passed by and the heroes have returned to their various lives. Still their experiences together have bonded them and they meet up to hang out and catch up. Together they travel to New Attilan where Ember has been offered a place to learn to better control her Inhuman powers.
Ember still feels like she is a loser, but she is at least more at peace with her sense self. More importantly, she feels a sense of belonging here in New Attilan… a sense of constancy and acceptance. It’s a very welcome change for her and she is quite happy to see her new friends come to visit her.
It makes for a happy ending to a very enjoyable series.
Most of Marvel’s events (both in the comics as well as the movies) tend to get bit long and drawn out in the final act; and this last issue is sort of similar. All the action and adventure in the issue is fun and neat to look at, but a touch perfunctory. I’m not sure it was altogether necessary to see the heroes venture again through another digitized landscape.
Still, Devin Grayson clearly had a lot of fun scripting all the characters’ dialogue and it is equally fun to read. You can tell that Ms. Grayson is a legitimate gamer… al the gaming lingo feels quite natural and unforced. Nonetheless, it’s the non-gamers, Ms. America and Inferno, who manage to get the best lines. And the action as depicted by the art team of Duarte, Di Salvo and Rosenberg is crisp and dynamic.
After the last issue’s journey into first person shooter games and multiplayer roleplaying games, I’m glad that this issue culminated with the original old school arcade game. These are the kind of games I’m more familiar with and I’d lost many a quarter trying to rescue The Princess form the clutches of Donkey Kong.
I’m also quite glad that Ember got a happy ending. She had been a wonderfully sympathetic villain and I never really rooted against her. She was just a lonely kid manipulated and taken advantage by a true villain.
The new world of digital media that impacts so many of our lives has lots of benefits, yet also lots of detriments. It can be easy for a kid like Ember to get swept up in it all and manipulated by unscrupulous type like Arcade.
The story offers up a lesson, although not a lesson that is preached to us but instead shown by way of a cautionary tale. Most all of us seek out that same sense of attachment and connection that Ember so needed. It’s a very normal desire. And the need for it can create a distinct vulnerability to manipulation.
At risk of seeming rather corny, it ended up being a sense of friendship and authentic connection that ultimately enabled Ember to free herself from Arcade’s influence. She saw that Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl and the others were legitimately concerned for her and worried about her wellbeing. And this empowered her, offered up the strength needed to resist Arcade and create that wisp that helped the heroes escape… as well as the power to recreate the digital gorilla and break herself free from the harness.
Yes, it’s corny… but also how things really do work. Healthy independence is indeed born from healthy dependence. Autonomy and self agency is built upon knowing that others are looking out for you. In short Ember’s ability to form a real bond with Ms, Marvel and Squirrel Girl is what enabled her to wiggle free of the fake bond that Arcade had entrapped her with.
This whole series has been a joy to read from beginning to end. I recommend it to everyone. Four out of five Lockjaws with this last issue…
…and five out of five Lockjaws for the event as a whole. Here’s hoping we will see much, much more of Marvel Rising in the future!