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The Avengers #79 (#494)

Posted: Sunday, March 7, 2004
By: Kelvin Green



ďLionheart of Avalon Part 3 of 5Ē

Writer: Chuck Austen
Artists: Sean Chen (p), Tom Simmons (i)

Publisher: Marvel

The most interesting thing about this comic is that itís quite obvious that Chuck Austen is trying. Heís not simply resorting to hack work here, and delivers instead a number of characters with complex motivations and behaviours tackling some serious issues. Unfortunately for Austen, the characters, complex or not, are all wrong, and the issues heís using them to tackle, while valid and important, arenít really the proper subject matter for this comic.

Austenís Captain America becomes a blithering idiot, alternately screaming at his teammates and insulting civilians. Hawkeye appears to have become the Punisher, and Hank Pym seems to have been characterised as a wife-beating lunatic. Ironically, The Waspís bizarre accusations aside, Austen does a much better job with the female characters, traditionally the weakest part of his writing. She-Hulk gets very little dialogue, and appears more in the background than anyone else, but Austen writes her in a sensitive care-giving role which is at once both an interesting departure from her usual attitudes, which would not be appropriate in the context of the story, and a fitting extrapolation of the characterís personality. Itís by no means a stretch of the imagination to imagine that She-Hulk is the sensitive caring type.

Much less successful is Austenís approach to Writing An Avengers Story. Whether itís an editorial directive passed down to writers in order to compete with the more realistic Ultimates, or just that Austen is trying to create something important and worthy, this story of gender-issues and abuse is not really working. Iím sure that such issues could be sensibly and effectively done even within the constraints of the bright colourful superteam comic, but Austen doesnít have the skill to pull it off. The division between the superheroics and the big issue are all too obvious, with the female characters walking around delivering quotes from self-help books about insecure men, power fantasies and emotional detachment, and the men delivering lunkheaded opinions on how women should be protected by the big strong males. Itís like a horribly unsubtle morality play, with the characters standing in for beliefs or attitudes rather than holding them. Hawkeye handily tells Cap why Cap is feeling like a failure, so the reader doesnít have to strain their poor brain in working it out for themselves from the characterís behaviour. Thereís no depth, and no subtlety here. Yes itís a quintessential superhero comic, but that doesnít mean that we have to put up with such simplistic writing.

Sean Chen turns up to fill in for absent penciller Olivier Coipel, and is a good choice, as their styles are similar enough that reading the story arc as a whole there will be no distractions due to art changes. While Chen does a solid job on the art, the storytelling is a little stiff and static, and there is something disconcertingly sterile about the linework. The sudden appearance of New Yorkís skyline in the background of an English park is also something of a surpriseÖ

All in all, this isnít a bad comic as such, but Austenís run does deliver far, far below expectations, even for a mainstream superhero title, and when the main interest in the storyline is seeing which classic British hero will join the team, you know youíre in trouble.



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