Sunday, 12 May 2013

Avengers Assemble #15AU review

Ultron's drones have taken over London, leaving a ragtag band of heroes as the UK's only hope. Residents Captain Britain, Excalibur and the Black Knight, holidaying Avenger Captain Marvel, forgotten hero Computer Graham and schoolgirl Magic Boots Mel huddle in the British Museum, protected by magical artefacts, trying to come up with a plan.

Having given up the Age of Ultron series after the first couple of issues, I've not been bothering with the tie-ins. But the buzz around this book over the last few days sent me back to the comic shop, and I'm so glad it did. 

The art, by veterans Butch Guice, Tom Palmer and Rick Magyar is stellar, with imaginative yet clear compositions, well-individuated characters and sharp finishes. The emotions on the faces of the good guys really sell the idea that it's the darkest of days, while Ultron's robots mimic a pleasing madness. The colours of Frank D'armata notch up the drama, and Clayton Cowles' letters are clear and complementary. The entire art team works well together, making a great case for a regular gig. There's a splendid cover, too, courtesy of Nic Klein - action-packed, but not cluttered, and just screaming 'Britain'. 

It's the script, though, that makes this issue really special. Al Ewing, who also handled the Avengers Assemble Black Widow spotlight, makes 20 pages feel twice that size, filling panel after panel with meaty drama and believable humour. Captain Marvel is Ewing's point of view character, and I bet regular Carol Danvers writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is cheering his efforts - he captures Carol's grit, wit and intelligence, both strategic and emotional. Her opening encounter with new character Computer Graham  ('I'd just like to say, I didn't call myself that') is a mini-masterclass in combining character with exposition. 

Graham himself is a quiet chap with the power to communicate with, and even enter, machines, influencing them. He's not the showiest of heroes in battle, but is potentially very useful when you're facing an evil AI. 

The other new character, Magic Boots Mel, is a pupil at Braddock Academy, the school Captain Britain runs, according to the new Avengers Arena book (the series is obliquely referenced, without it getting in the way of this story). The mystic football boots - the story goes with soccer, pah! - she wears means she never misses a shot ('any kick, any distance - back of the net every time'). It's a weird power, but older British readers (ahem!) will be thinking Billy's Boots, a vintage comic strip. And she's not the only homage character, with Computer Graham influenced by one Computer Warrior. Finish this review, then pop over to Freaky Trigger for the scoop. 

One homage that immediately leapt out was the image of Ultron's minions marching down the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, a compositional salute to this famous Dr Who moment - imprinted on my childhood mind by the UK's Super-DC reprint monthly - and one the show itself recreated in recent years. 

Former MI-13 teammates Captain Britain, the Black Knight and Excalibur all receive care and attention from Ewing, making me hope Marvel gives him a shot at a UK-set superhero book. Ewing's skill with authentic dialogue isn't wildly surprising, him being a Brit and all, but I've rarely seen one of my countrymen so immediately at home in the Marvel Universe. He understands the milieu, the characters, the conflicts and finds new things to say about them. 

One thing I really like is that the heroes here aren't battle-scarred, and world-weary, unlike the Avengers in the main Age of Ultron series. No, they're exactly the same as when we saw them last, right down to Carol's current medical problems. This makes it easier to accept the story as occurring in the 'real' MU, not some alternate, easily erased corner. 

Ewing also writes a fine fight, with Carol's opening sortie with the drones moving from Tottenham Court Road to the British Museum a few streets away in thoroughly entertaining manner, thanks in equal part to Guice's intelligent, fluid layouts. 

Then there are the little touches that just make me smile, such as the bombastic introductions as each character has a defining moment ('Faiza Hussain IS Excalibur'), and the shout-out to our excellent, under-threat National Health Service. 

I've said a lot about this issue, but not really. There's so much to enjoy - the little moments, the big beats and how they meld to produce a fantastic story that can be enjoyed without having to follow the event title. I'll read this one again and again, as a discrete gem of a superhero comic. The heroes haven't yet overcome Ultron, but the readers have already won.

14 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more. It's an excellent issue. I thought your point about the characters not having been traumatically changed by Ultron's attack was a fine one. Yes, one or two folks may well crumble or retreat into total selfishness when faced with terrible events, but the idea that an entire community of massively experienced super-folks would just psychologically collapse is ... is hyper-uber-melodrama a word? It was a relief to see AA#15 use the end-of-the-world to investigate character while also telling a rip-snorting tale.

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    1. Hi Colin, I am so nicking 'hyper-uber-melodrama' (if that's OK!).

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  2. Great review Martin.

    Captain Marvel is the only Marvel book I read, and I really like the character.

    Is there a way to know when a character is going to be in a different book?
    It happened a few times now that I missed something like that and only found out months later.

    --Eki

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Eki - as far as I know, the only way to find out who SHOULD be in a book is by keeping up with solicitations, but as you know, contents can change. I don't bother reading much in the way of advance info, so can get caught by surprise, as I was with this one ... I'm lucky in that my workplace is five minutes from a comic store, but it's tougher for many others. I hope you manage to get everything you might want!

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    2. Thanks Martin. I was hopping there would be a list somewhere, like DC had last September in their books. I guess I'll have to get back issues when I find out I missed something.

      On a side note this weeks episode of Doctor Who is titled "The Doctor's Name". What do you think Martin, are we going to find out what his given name is?

      --Eki

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    3. Hi Eki, I reckon not - characters will learn it, but we won't. Not long now!

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  3. The thing I couldn't figure out until the Age Of Ultron storyline came along was whether this Avengers Assemble book was actually part of the regular Marvel Universe; I was under the impression it was a separate continuity until now.

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  4. To be fair to Marvel, they always said the book was set in the current Marvel Universe ...
    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=36873
    ... but the first few Brian Bendis issues with the Zodiac seemed to be taking place in a world where the Avengers had never met a version of the team. So yeah, muddy. Since Kelly Sue DeConnick took over, the book has seemed firmly 616.

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  5. Why was I not informed of a Black Knight appearance? Thanks for the heads up! I will grab this one on Wednesday!

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    1. So that's at least three of us who didn't know what was coming in this book. I dunno ... anyway, enjoy Dane, when he reaches you!

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  6. That St Paul's Cybermen image was also cemented in my brain by Super DC. Was it issue 2 and was it 1970? Certainly it was the greatest British comic of that year.

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    1. I'm not sure offhand, I had the collected edition:

      http://snipurl.com/superdc

      It's a joy indeed - I wonder whatever became of the Skipper? Or was it the Captain who answered the letters?

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