The Avengers and X-Men’s Epic Battle is over. Scott went insane. Charley took the dirt nap. Hope and Wanda made everything better. So Now what?
Well, NOW is the time for Marvel to shuffle the deck and play a new hand. It’s relaunch city as The House of Ideas brings us 20-something new #1s with all-new creative teams over the next 5 months. What will the new 23 have in store for us Marvel Zombies? Well, be sure to check out this column each week as we dissect the first issue of every new title under the Marvel Now Banner. And I don’t mean Bruce Banner…..well except when the title has the Hulk in it….you get what I mean. So sit back and relax as we check out what’s new in the 616.
The Avengers. At one time, just another super group in the Marvel Universe. But for the past 8 years or so, The Avengers have stood as the premiere team at Marvel. Casting a much larger shadow than the Fantastic Four and having more relevance to readers than the X-Men, The Avengers have slowly but surely become the flagship franchise of the company. It’s safe to say that if you are the shepherd of the Avengers Books, you’re more than likely involved in every major event that’s planned for their fictional version of New York, if not the world. And out of all the Avengers books out there, the one title that has become the top of the heap when it comes to importance is single Avengers book. No adjective necessary. This book means business and gets right to the point. With all the big moves in talent during the beginning stages of Marvel Now, it’s safe to say one of the major goals of this re-launch is to marry big name books with top name talent. A strong example of this is putting Jonathan Hickman on The Avengers. Some would say that like the shift in importance to Earth’s mightiest heroes themselves, Hickman has gone from an up and coming writer to one of the Marvel mainstays and is well entrusted with the bigger characters of the company. He proved his A-List status while working on FF. Now he’s been given the ball on the top Super Team at the House of ideas. Armed with a fantastic artist in Jerome Opena and a literal army of characters to choose from, Hickman has the keys to the kingdom. Now the question remains, will he choose wisely. A question not easily answered after reading the first issue.
Our story begins at the beginning. In an almost biblical fashion, the first page starts with a very brief creation of the Universe. We are then presented a very vague image of the future. One where the Avengers are outnumbered and possibly defeated. Then the story focuses in on two men: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the long considered heart and soul of the Avengers. The two discuss how to make the team better and the suggestion is given that they “need to get bigger”. We then jump ahead in time one month to the planet Mars where, after creating a sustainable vegetation and atmosphere on the red planet, a trio of villains await the arrival of the new big six. Thanks to the success of the film, The Avengers’ top tier talent is now seen as Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye. This team lands on Mars and a rumble ensues. One by one, the team is taken out by these new villains until it is just Captain America left standing. Being just a man, he is quickly attacked by Aleph, one of these villains who has a striking resemblance to a version of Ultron or Brainiac. Even though Cap is outgunned and is taking a beating, he refuses to yield. The response is not to kill this brave leader but instead to send him back to earth as an example that he is not seen as a threat. The others are held captive and all seems lost. That is until Cap is ready back on earth to put the “new” plan into action. The word is given and the army I mentioned before in the preamble actually shows up as they heed the call, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!
This book, much like Hickman’s work on S.H.I.E.L.D. and his own Manhattan Projects which is released through Image, is not easily explained. There are elements of traditional Avengers stories mixed with a layered look at our heroes that borders on Bible passage or an old folk tale. It’s almost as if he’s trying to say that there’s more than just heroes and villains fighting in this book but instead dynamic forces of nature that must meet in order to ensure the preservation of our existence. Cap and Iron Man are more than just leaders. They are architects for the new age. By “leveling up” their team, they ensure that there will be a human race alive and free for years to come. But all of this is told cryptically. It’s just the first issue and so Hickman is taking full advantage of that fact. He doesn’t have to explain him self. He just has to set up the idea. He’s also brought a very epic scope to the proceedings. The main fight takes place on a different planet. The new villain,s Aleph, Ex Nihilo and Abyss, may as well be Gods with the power at their disposal. And the Earth appears to be doomed. Big stakes. The other thing that really caught my eye was his choices to approach many situations with the same equations as always but with an entirely different execution. Case in point, Cap’s refusal to yield. Cap is known for doing this in stories. He states “as long as I’m still standing, you can never claim victory”. What usually happens is the villain then proceeds to beat the shit out of him until he passes out. Here, there’s a slight variation. He once again stands up to the “gods” in his path and once again gets his head beat in. But this time, he’s opposing right up to the point of his own possible demise. This both causes Ex Nihilo to respect him and to pity him. This is what leads to his casting out instead of capture. It’s a subtle twist but a noteworthy one. However, there are points where Hickman decides to go the “tried and true” method. The use of the Hulk springs to mind. Once again, we see The Hulk easily manipulated and used against his teammates. I really don’t understand why Banner and Stark don’t find a way to inhibit this as it appears that the Hulk has a tendency to leave them at a disadvantage like this often. Also, due to the necessity of a LOT of plot coming at the reader, there really wasn’t any time left to explore the characters, leaving the whole affair with a bit of a hallow feeling. But that’s par for the course these days when it comes to 1st issues: All set up, not much substance.
A great deal of the substance that was there was conveyed through the detailed line work of Opena. His use of facial expression fused with that almost oil painting look that is accentuated by the colours of Dean White really sets the tone for the piece. You get the feeling that we’ve left the street-level crime behind. From here on in, The Avengers take on world-level threats and nothing but. There are brief moments when the artwork takes on almost an ugly facade. I find that this is done for dramatic effect and only lasts a panel or two, subconsciously giving the reader a feeling of unease, like you know the situation is dire. I would’ve eased up some of the shadows at points but other than that, a very regal and majestic presentation for Earth’s Mightiest.It’s funny to see Hickman’s influences on the visuals. Much like his other books (FF, S.H.I.E.L.D., Manhattan Projects), there is an emphasis given to circles. From the layout of the title pages to the subtly of the panels, there are circles everywhere. It doesn’t matter the artist. If you’re working with Hickman, there are going to be circles. Just something I’ve noticed. Not good or bad. They’re just there.
I’m not saying this is the best first issue that Avengers has had. It doesn’t have that special feeling you got when you first read New Avengers #1 almost a decade ago. But what it does have is the right tone for a book of this stature. The Avengers were formed to fight the battles that no single hero could withstand. Depending on the hero, it’s up for debate how much could be withstood in most stories. This issue does a great job of raising the stakes. The fate of the world is on the line and everyone’s favourite Sentinel of Liberty is at the forefront of saving it. The Avengers are in the worst state they’ve been in a while. What better time to rise above. And that is what I think this book is destined to do. While not the greatest beginning, The Avengers #1 shows the promise of something more. And that’s really all we can hope for with a story of this magnitude. I for one am intrigued and look forward to issue #2. If you’re an Avengers fan you should definitely pick this one up. And if you just like stories on the grand side of the scale, this book might be for you as well.
So this 1st Issue is done but there’s plenty more to come. Check back here in the coming week’s to find out which books are worth your time which are a waste of it.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!
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