Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Avengers #1 review

On Mars, a figure named Ex Nihilo is firing 'origin bombs' at Earth. Millions of ordinary people are being transformed into beings of the future, strange, gnarled souls. Earth's mightiest heroes fly to the former Red Planet - suddenly it has become a verdant landscape - but are defeated by Ex Nihilo and his comrades, Aleph and Abyss. Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Black Widow are bound, to be evolved by Ex Nihilo. Captain America, though, is rocketed back to Earth, to warn Man not to intefere with his judgment.

Mistake. Captain America and Iron Man have been making plans, for a bigger squad of Avengers to deal with bigger threats. After three days recovering from his wounds, Cap sends out the call: Assemble at dawn ...

Writer Jonathan Hickman makes a confident Avengers debut, introducing new threats, promising big things and couching it all in a framework that manages to feel mythic, but not pompous. Ex Nihilo, apparently a 'Higher Evolutionary', has the calm arrogance of the supposed superior being, while main Avengers players Iron Man and Cap carry the assurance of men who have stared down gods, and beaten them. The capture of  five Avengers, prompting Cap to break out the new team, has echoes of the All-New X-Men's debut with Krakoa, but it's a classic set-up because it works. And the difference here is that Iron Man saw that something this big was coming, so he and Cap have spent the previous month signing up new recruits, putting them on call.

We see some of the new members on the final page, along with existing Avengers, and I love that I don't recognise them all - one of the joys of growing up an Avengers fan was occasionally being introduced to fresh characters (Who's that bald woman? And the girl with antennae?). Another was seeing neglected favourites step up to the ranks of Earth's Mightiest, and here we're teased with Cannonball and Hyperion. And I'm delighted to see Falcon back with an Avengers squad. Yep, I think I'm going to like this Mightier Avengers; the idea has been done previously, but not for an extended period of time, as seems to be the plan here.

There's a hint of things to come in the upcoming New Avengers relaunch, as Cap dreams about the Illuminati, and of a massive space battle that will presumably be played out here. Hickman is trying his best to  hook readers, hoping we'll commit to spending $3.99 every fortnight, and while I can fault the price point and frequency, I can't argue with his enthusiasm and craft.

There's also commendable work on display from artist Jerome Opena. Whether he's drawing intimate conversations at Avengers Tower, or awe-inspiring space vistas, Opena pulls us into the story, constantly finding the interesting perspectives that make even the most familiar scenes seem new.
Apart from his monkey-man Hulk, the only thing I don't like is Opena's Captain America redesign, which is sinister and terribly fussy (yes, I've been negative about it in other reviews, but this is the first time we've seen Opena himself draw it in a book). I mean, will you look at those gloves ...
And don't mention that panel two nose!

Ex Nihilo, though, he works - he's bulky, like a space minotaur, and an omega chest symbol gives him a familiar hook. Aleph - why an apparent alien is named for the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is something we'll hopefully be told later - is a pretty generic robot-type, while Abyss is also unremarkable, though her floaty hair is a nice touch. Dean White deserves a big nod for thoughtful colour work throughout.

While the pagination here is above that of most Marvel Now! books, a full spread given over to title, credits and indicia is a terrible waste. There's also a page showing an Avengers graphic on Iron Man's screen which looks to be one of Hickman's patented designs. Again, I'd rather have story, but if we didn't have this we'd likely just have a house ad, so let's go with it.

I'm not keen on Dustin Weaver's cover illustration, with Cap towering over us like Giant Man, and everyone lost in a storm of flashes. Plus, that new logo is a very dull thing indeed, I hope it's there for the first few issues only.

Looking at the big picture, though, this is a fine first issue, with story and art gelling into a coherent whole. There's a credible threat, new team dynamics to look forward to and signs of a vision, an actual reason for yet another new Avengers book to exist. Avengers #1 is nicely assembled.

19 comments:

  1. Looking at Cap's gloves, I'm wondering if they've re-instituted the "magnets on Cap's shield and gloves" gimmick used briefly in the 1960s.
    It was dropped, because Cap felt the magnets threw off the shield's balance, making it travel erratically.

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    1. Excellent notion, Britt - if Marvel haven't, I hope they nick the idea from you.

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  2. Without doubt... The best issue of Avengers published in the past 10 years

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    1. I enjoyed a lot of Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers issues, but yes, I agree. It actually feels like an Avengers book, for starters.

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    2. It seemed a very weak issue

      Very pretentious story telling, lots of striking of dramatic poses and portentous dialogue intended to create some sort of faux iconic feel. No real characterization to speak of. Pretty colors, and a few nice panels (Hulk vs. Thor) but the designs of most of the villains looked like they came from a Transformers cartoon, and the less said about Monkey Hulk the better.

      Also... "we have to get bigger." At the moment, the Avengers have absorbed just about every superhero in the marvel universe, and half the time seem to run the government. There are so many and so powerful avengers that these days Marvel heroes no longer really fight villains - they just fight each other, in endless civil wars. The least thing the avengers need is to get bigger. Cut the team down to seven or so iconics, fire the rest, and let's see situations that can't be resolved by "rent a mob" heroics.






      .

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    3. Hello Trixbat, thanks so much for putting another point of view. (I've never actually seen a Transformers cartoon, maybe they'd be my cup of tea!)

      I agree totally about the seemingly endless superhero civil wars; if nothing else, at least there's an outside threat here.

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    4. Well, there is a well-written Transformers comic, but it actually transcends the subject matter ...

      I do agree Marvel desperately needs some new villains who have some ability to deal with 30+ heroes and aren't Norman Osborne.

      (Adding to this problem is that Marvel has for at least the last 25 years preferred to reform its more popular villains. The X-Men, in particular, have gradually lost much of their rogue's gallery this way, but they aren't alone.)




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    5. You're so right about Marvel reforming their villains, or at least having them hang out with the X-Men (Sabretooth, really?, David. And I like Norman Osborn as a Spidey exclusive.

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  3. I believe the Aleph was a reference to the work of Jorge Luis Borges. In his short story Aleph, Borges says that Aleph "is a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion".(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Aleph_(short_story))
    as the robot is a kind of a Recorder type, I believe that was the reference.

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  4. Aha, thank you Thomaz, my well-read friend. That makes lots of sense.

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    1. you're welcome. Just one of the few times in which living in Latin America was helpful in order to understand a comic... Yet it is not very clear and it may be over reading, actually. I just assumed that was the reference by his role as a 'Super-recorder/analyzer' in the issue. As Abyss seemed to be inspired in Nietzsche's aphorism (she sees things as they are) I think Hickman was inspired in literature when he chooses the names here. Plus... I was myself planing to use a reference to Borges' Aleph on a amateur comic I'm writing =(.

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  5. Oh man this comic didn't do anything for me. It's easier just to repeat what I said earlier about it on CBR's forum here to best explain my reaction to it:

    "And when I say yay, I'm hestiant about it. I'm not sure how to feel about this comic. I don't find myself learning much about these individuals outside of the very basic bit of their nature from their dialogue or actions, and for a first issue, I think that's a problem. I should want to know more about them and understand more of their personality, not have to read other comics to figure out what makes these guys tick. As much as I'm not a fan of Morrison's JLA, he managed to introduced the main cast in the first issue and give us enough insight to understand these characters. Not here and as a new reader, that's very disappointing.

    The story also just knocks out most of the cast in one issue except for one person, so it gives us the impression that these guys aren't all that strong for being apparently, "the Earth's mightest heroes" or that great of a team. That's never good to undersell the characters. You got to show us why we should care about them.

    The artwork... does nothing for me. It's neither bad nor good like I said earlier. Nothing eyecatching to it outside of one panel from the opening part that felt like a movie trailer, but nothing that is a pain to look at. Just okay. Of course, art is the most subjective thing about a comic, so maybe it would appeal to someone.

    There were other things, like the fact I don't think the villians are interesting, a weird moment where rearrangement of two panels and dialogue balloons could have made the scene not sound out of order, a weird time skip that kind of lessens the attack on earlier (it's better to see it happened then to be told it happened to fully grasped the situation), and it's underwhelming. For an opening issue for probably the biggest title of Marvel Now that everyone has been looking forward to, it's not that great. Also, the price point of 4 bucks doesn't feel right. You don't get enough from this comic to justify the price.

    The comic does have the potential to get better of course. I'm seeing the possiblity of this getting more interesting as time goes on once we actually flesh out these heroes & villains, the story, and a few more things. Right now, there's enough for me to give this comic one more chance, because I do want to like it despite not being overly excited, but just one more chance."

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    1. I'm off to respond to your comment at CBR ...

      Kidding! Like Trixbat. you make some fair points. What was the moment where the dialogue and panels could have been swapped?

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    2. It's when Tony wakes up Steve. The dialogue goes like this:

      Panel 1:
      Steve: Nhhmmm?
      Tony: Wake up, old man.

      Panel 2:
      Tony: I haven't been able to sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about something you said, and , well... I've been busy.

      Panel 3:
      Tony: I'm sorry. I know it's late.
      Steve: It's fine, Tony. I'm grateful.
      Tony: Bad dreams?

      Panel 4:
      Images of Black Panther & others

      Panel 5:
      Steve: Something like that.
      Tony: Come on, I'll buy you a coffee.

      This whole dialogue exchange sounds off and weird. Like Panel 2 should come after panel 5 or in panel one, Tony should say something first and Steve respond with a half awake response. This whole page feels like it needs a quick rework to iron out this problems. This whole scene and exchange doesn't feel nature and feels out of order. It kind of bugs me.

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  6. Thanks for that. It all seems fine to me - Steve's half-awake response ('NHMMM' or however it's spelt) comes in response to Tony having switched the light on, and the convesation follows on from there.

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  7. I found the issue boring and dry. Bipolar Stark was interesting a bit but it just was paint by numbers. And why is the villain sharing the same as a recent Dial H Big Bad? Is there some literary Ex Nihilo I'm unaware of that both Melville and Hickman are homaging?

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    1. It may be that zeitgeisty thing whereby if one film is being made about the Titanic, you can bet a second is.

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  8. "Aleph - why an apparent alien is named for the first letter of the Greek alphabet is something we'll hopefully be told later"

    The first letter in Greek is alpha ( the last is omega.. ) where's Aleph is the first letter in Hebrew..
    and Ex Nihilo comes from latin ( it turns out ) and means "out of nothing".

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    1. Hi Govner, thanks for the catch. I remember looking that up - it should be 'Hebrew' rather than Greek. I'm a stupid boy.

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