Monday, 7 March 2011

Avengers Assembled: Part One

In early 2010 Marvel published the 4 issue event ‘Siege’, a story that ended an almost decade long saga of storylines, largely focussed on the Avengers, which had begun with ‘Secret War’ back in 2004. The villains that had tormented the Marvel Universe were vanquished, at least for the moment, and the Heroic Age began. 

Along with the arrival of the Heroic Age the various Avengers books ended and the Avengers franchise was re-launched, heralding the first time in over five years that new readers come begin reading Avengers books without fear of stifling amounts of continuity. In this two part first review I’ll be looking at the first volumes of each of the four current Avengers ongoing series, Avengers, New Avengers, Avengers Academy and Secret Avengers.

The problem is that this jumping on point is only of any use if any of the new books are any good, so the question I intend to answer is “are any of the Avengers books worth reading?”

Avengers Volume 1- By Brian Michael Bendis

With Siege out of the way and the classic Avengers line-up all friends again (they had various fall outs, mostly to do with taking opposing sides during the Civil War event) we finally got a classic Avengers team containing the three all time iconic Avengers, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America (not the original, his successor, but it’s close enough) as well as newer members like Spiderman and Wolverine.

When these four series launched Avengers was the title I was looking forward to the most, after all we were getting a team with the best of the old and new Avengers, so it couldn’t go wrong, right? Unfortunately, it goes very wrong very quickly, making it by far the most disappointing of the four Avengers books and also the worst. Oh, and the plot involves time travel and an apocalyptic war in the future between superheroes and a killer robot and yet it still manages to be boring.

The art by John Romita Jr has gotten gradually worse over the years and this book is no exception. My main issue is and always will be the way he insists on drawing lines everywhere, every single person he draws is covered in inexplicable lines and it bothers me more with every panel I read. He also tends to draw every character with the same face, which isn’t a problem when the characters are in costume but when the masks come off it, like the lines, begins to grind.

The story itself sees Steve Rogers, the original Captain America and new head of SHIELD forming a team of Avengers in the aftermath of Siege. Shortly after the team’s formation time travelling villain Kang the Conqueror arrives and delivers a dire warning to the Avengers, that in the future their children will take over the world and destroy it, as well as time itself. And so begins the new team’s debut quest to stop their successors and save... well, everything. It’s an impressive upping of the stakes for an Avengers storyline, which have been more insular and focussed on the Avengers themselves over the last few years as opposed to a large scale story like this one.

Despite the interesting set up the book fails on multiple key levels, the worst offense being that the entire story could have been told more effectively in half as many issues. The story meanders about several times without going anywhere, for example in issues 2 someone turns up to fight the Avengers for a chunk of the issue, whines a bit and then leaves, nothing is achieved and we don’t find out why this is happening. The worst example is the entirety of issue 3, 90% of which could have been cut without affecting the story in the slightest, a villain unrelated to the plot shows up and brawls with the Avengers before disappearing, but whereas the character in issue 2 only took up a portion of the book, 16 pages, about three quarters of the issue, are dedicated to this largely pointless fight. Even if the scene were essential it could have been cut down to two or three pages easily without detracting from the story. The entire story stinks of time wasting and I strongly suspect that writer Brian Michael Bendis simply dragged out his story beyond its time purely to suit its inevitable TPB release.

The story comes across as being a contrived way to show off a timeline hinting at future Marvel events and storylines; we see this time line drawn on a board across two pages which carry the rest of the storyline. That is the ultimate problem with this story; it is not a story in itself but a vague prelude for more interesting stories to come.

There are also major problems with the team itself, and this is a problem that I’ll bring up in the other Avengers books too, the team is too large and unwieldy. The likes of Thor, Iron Man and Noh-Varr get plenty to do but several of the characters, particularly Spider-Woman, spend the story standing in the background presumably feeling awkward and useless. Spiderman spends most of his time wise cracking as he always does which at least gives him something to do, but Bendis insists on making everyone crack jokes which gives the story the feel of a parody more than a dangerous quest to fix time itself.

In short I can’t recommend this book on any level; it is a poorly drawn, boring, plodding, mess of a story full of wasted potential. The only reason to read this is because the glimpse of future events will no doubt prove to be important somewhere down the line, but if you really cared about that you would have read it already.

If you MUST buy it you can find it in Hardcover and Paperback, but please don’t. A poor introduction for new readers and a bland nothing for veterans, avoid.


New Avengers Volume 1- By Brian Michael Bendis

Whereas Avengers feature Steve Rogers forming a team of Avengers this series focuses on the New Avengers, a team who originally formed in 2005 after the Avengers disbanded in the 2004 story ‘Avengers Disassembled’. The line up went through changes in the early days, mostly due to the Civil War, but in the later years of the initial New Avengers run the team solidified under the leadership of Luke Cage (formerly known as Power Man).

Due to Rodger’s respect for Cage and Cage’s quite frankly adolescent issues with authority (he throws a hissy fit when Rodger’s asks him to be a part of his wider Avengers group because Rogers is now an authority figure, even though Rogers has never given Cage a reason to doubt him and led the anti government control faction in Civil War), Rogers lets Cage continue to lead his team and recruit whoever he wants to it with near total independence. This lets writer Brian Michael Bendis write both an iconic Avengers team and also the team he created.

 As a quick side note, Cage is allowed to ask anyone he likes from his old team to stay on, presumably save for the current Captain America, and he does so, also asking the Thing of the Fantastic Four along, everyone except for Spiderwoman that is. Dude, that’s cold, I don’t like her either but still...

The plot of this opening arc focuses on an invasion of the Marvel dimension by an unknown attacking force and all our heroes know is that it is somehow connected to the Eye of Agamotto, the mystical talisman belonging to earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, drawing former SS Doctor Strange and  current SS Doctor Voodoo into the mix, as well as Daimon Hellstrom for some reason. And so with their various magical allies the New Avengers must fight off the invaders and save the dimension.

The art here is a lot better than that in the Avengers but has notable flaws of its own.  Whereas characters in Avengers suffered from lines all over their skin in New Avengers they are unfortunate enough to lose their eyes unless they’re either surprised or taking up a large chunk of the panel. Immonen also seems to get very lazy when it comes to drawing characters in the background, they become little more than ill defined blurs and the sloppy colouring of Laura Martin doesn’t help, in one panel in the first issues Hawkeye, a purple suited hero, is a blurry, eyeless, yellow blob only recognisable due to the ‘H’ on his head.

Despite some minor art failings this book is better than the main Avengers title, but only enough to make it exceedingly average. A major problem with Bendis’ writing is that regardless of who he’s writing they constantly talk and talk and talk and talk, this isn’t a problem with books like Ultimate Spiderman where the cast is made up of teenagers, a group of people endlessly in love with the sound of their own voices (I’m not condemning here, I was the same way) but it doesn’t really fit, there’s no real need for Ms. Marvel to throw in a quip whilst other characters are discussing how to save their entire dimension. Once again, as with Avengers, this works for Spiderman but not for the whole group.

Bendis seems to be more comfortable with this cast than the cast of his other Avengers book, after all he’s had the last five years to shape this team and let them gel as a cohesive unit, and it shows, everyone on this team gets their moment to shine, even while sharing the book with three magical allies and a horde of inter-dimensional horrors.

A minor issue I have is the presence of Spiderman and Wolverine on this team as well as the main Avengers team, it seems silly to me that with all of the superheroes in the Marvel universe there should be overlap between the two main Avengers teams. There are after all many former Avengers who’ve been left out in the cold apparently without being asked to come back as well as plenty of heroes who would make great Avengers if only they were given the chance. *cough* Storm *cough* But no, instead we get more Spiderman and Wolverine, because we definitely don’t see enough of those guys around.

The story flows better than that of Avengers and manages to stay interesting and reasonably focussed throughout, which made a refreshing read in comparison to its sister title which spent most of an issue on a largely pointless fight scene. It isn’t a great story and it will largely be remembered due to the killing off of a character towards the end (not a spoiler, the cover of that issue announces an impending death) rather than for its own merits.

Ultimately, this book is okay. It’s a solid start for the series, albeit one that may be hard for new readers to jump into unless they know about the back-story of the Sorcerer Supreme, which makes me wonder what the point in the renumbering was if Bendis intended to immediately pick up a plot point from the first volume of New Avengers.

As a last minute note I’d recommend picking up the first paperback of the original NA run instead of this, it’s a lot better than this story and is free of the problems that would come to plague to book throughout most of the original run.
Mixed art, decent story, good characterisation. I neither recommend nor condemn it, unless you REALLY want it I wouldn’t bother. You can find it in hardcover with paperback on the way.


And so ends part one, next week in part two I’ll look at the two lower selling, less ‘important’ and best books of the current Avengers crop, Secret Avengers and Avengers Academy.


Note: Looking back I think I was overly harsh on the art of New Avengers, 95% of it is fine, but the eyes/background thing definitely bothered me. Still, it definitely didn't deserve the amount of criticism I dumped on it, I stand by hating the Avengers art though. 

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