“Lionheart of Avalon, Part 3”
Writer: Chuck Austen
Artists: Sean Chen (p), Tom Simmons (i)
An Avenger crosses the line, and so—unfortunately—does writer, Chuck Austen. In “Lionheart of Avalon, Part 3” with fill-in art by Sean Chen, the Avengers wallow in the aftermath of a civilian’s death and unconvincingly transform into angry, inconsiderate, and out-of-control fools, more appropriately found in a morally bankrupt reality show than in a book about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The premise of this issue is simple—the Avengers lash out at each other over the surprising death of a mother, previously caught in the crossfire during a battle with the Wrecking Crew. Yet, although the premise is simple and initially interesting, and although the set-up of character themes is promising, the story abruptly nosedives. The rampant character inconsistencies and sloppy storytelling are atrocious. She-Hulk misplaces her brain as she not only allows Hawkeye to waltz the kids into their mother’s death chamber, but gladly accompanies them—although in the previous issue she was well aware of the woman’s severe injuries and should have warned Hawkeye, who had yet to see the damage. Captain America misplaces his heart as he callously refers to the woman’s sacrifice as “stupid” and ceaselessly harps on Hawkeye. The Captain’s odd behavior could be excused as a form of aggressive grief, but Austen then goes on to show the character as simply, emotionally impotent—incapable of comforting a mourning child who already idolizes him. Then, there are Wasp and Yellowjacket who somehow misplace years of maturity. It’s reasonable that Austen revisits the spousal abuse theme which has haunted the couple for over twenty years now. Yet, he explores this theme in an inexplicably extreme manner—erupting the relationship from a recent, friendly and scandalously sex-filled vacation in Las Vegas to an all-out war. This escalation is ridiculous, unwarranted, and horribly contrived. Austen has transformed a never-ending—but ever-evolving—tension into a circus. And speaking of circuses…
**MAJOR SPOILER (IN MORE THAN ONE SENSE)**
Until now, Austen has presented an admirable grasp of Hawkeye. Yet here, Austen “crosses the line,” taking the character way too far—from a brash hothead to a bungling would-be-killer. Hawkeye seeks to kill Thunderball in cold blood but unwittingly releases the entire Wrecking Crew from their cells and is then pummeled. Now, even for readers unfamiliar with Hawkeye, it may be difficult to accept the concept of an established hero attempting to kill. Take this a step further to readers who are familiar with the character, and this concept becomes impossible. Excuses could be made—being an orphan himself, Hawkeye may empathize with the newly-motherless children; and being impetuous, he does often act on gut emotions. But those same readers, familiar with the archer’s history and behavioral patterns, will also remember his staunch belief that nothing ever justifies killing—over half the span of the West Coast Avengers dealt with Hawkeye’s inability to forgive his wife for allowing her rapist to die; and more recently, during his reign in The Thunderbolts, Hawkeye’s unfaltering morals were consistently reinforced. Hawkeye is a rule-bender, but never a killer. It can only be hoped that with all the hints of supernatural forces in the story, that Hawkeye is secretly under a sorcerer’s influence, rather than purely being written with no regard to his well-known principles and heroism. Because, in Hawkeye’s case, he has lost his entire character.
Although there are a few sketchy moments, the art is a redeeming feature. Chen is a smooth fill-in for Copiel and excels in capturing facial expressions. The extreme range of (albeit inappropriate) emotions that overwhelms Hawkeye is movingly rendered. Particularly powerful is a scene where Hawkeye stands in a hallway, listening to the children’s anguish. Holding his head, the archer leans against a pillar and perhaps relives the pain of a similar scene when he faced his own parents’ deaths. Additionally, the children’s grief is heartbreaking, especially as the little girl wails in She-Hulk’s arms.
The issue ends in a double cliffhanger that may maintain reader interest; but by that time, the characters have become so abruptly unrecognizable that it’s hard to accept the events as real. Suspension of belief has been compromised, particularly for Wasp/Pym and Hawkeye fans. In fact, Hawkeye fans may want to stick solely to Hawkeye’s own title for the upcoming months.
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