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Sunday Slugfest - Avengers Finale

Posted: Sunday, November 14, 2004
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Alex Maleev, Steve Epting, Lee Weeks, Michael Graydos, Eric Powell, Darick Robertson, Mike Mayhew, David Mack, Gary Frank, Mike Avon Oeming, Jim Cheung, Steve McNiven, George Perez (p), Mark Morales, Mike Perkins (i), Neal Adams (cover)

Publisher: Marvel Comics





Average Rating: 6/10

Jason Cornwell:
Keith Dallas:
Kelvin Green:
Shawn Hill:
Dave Wallace:






Jason Cornwell

Plot:
In the aftermath of the Scarlet Witch’s attack, we see the Avengers have assembled, and they learn that this time the team might not be able to put itself back together. As Tony Stark states that he can no longer afford to bankroll the team, we also see numerous members of the group decide to call it quits. As the issue ends we see the remaining Avengers are left to wonder what to do next.

Comments:
In my book this issue is not a must read as while there are a handful of effective character moments (with Quicksilver’s brief appearance being the most powerful), most of this issue is devoted to the Avengers looking back on better times while a number of the Avengers decide to call it a day. I mean the opening scene where Tony Stark steps forward and states that he can't financially afford to keep the Avengers together makes for an interesting hurdle, and for the most part the reasons that several Avengers give for their various departures did an effective job of trimming down the cast to a more manageable number. I’ll also confess there are a couple moments that caught my attention, as I’m genuinely curious why the Falcon seems to be of the mind that it might be best if he quit the hero game completely. She-Hulk’s guilt also adds an intriguing new dimension to the character. However, for a double-sized final “kick at the can” this one-shot is a little too padded for my liking, as it essentially spends half the issue repeating the same scene as various Avengers head out the door, before taking an awkward trip down memory lane as the remaining characters recall their favourite Avenger moments. Their fond memories are little more than an unabashed collection of the Avengers’ greatest hits. In the end it was nice to see Brian Michael Bendis using this issue to examine the aftermath of the Scarlet Witch’s actions, but this issue simply doesn’t offer up enough new insight, and the memory lane sequence felt like little better than an excuse for the assembled artists to deliver a series of pinup visuals.

The cover by Neal Adams looked a bit strange, but the interior art is an amazing collection of some of the best artists in the industry. Now most of the artists don’t really have much of a connection to the Avengers. Of the dozen-plus artists who worked on this issue, the only ones that I can remember working on the title are Steve Epting and George Pérez. However, I can’t deny that there are some wonderful looking pieces of art in this issue, as the moody art in the opening half of this issue does a great job of selling the downbeat nature of the material, and the second half of the issue is a delightful collection of images, as some of the best artists working today offer up their versions of classic Avenger action. From Gary Frank’s version of the Korvac saga, to Steve McNiven’s version of the “Ultron Unleashed” climax, the art alone was almost enough to earn this issue a recommendation. Plus, while it’s only six pages, George Pérez closes the book with a powerful reminder of why he’s the best artist to ever work on The Avengers.





Keith Dallas

The Avengers as we have known them for the past 40 years receives a more fitting, if unspectacular, coda in this 37 page Avengers Finale than it did in Avengers #503, the last chapter of “Avengers Disassembled.” In Avengers Finale, long-standing Avengers reunite at the still devastated Mansion, three months (comic book time) after the Scarlet Witch’s destructive dementia. They reminisce and then provide believable, albeit convenient, reasons for leaving the team.

I’m having a tough time determining if Avengers Finale is meant to be mostly a retrospective of Avengers history or an account of the emotional aftermath of “Avengers Disassembled” on the surviving members. The issue doesn’t completely succeed at either purpose. Half the issue presents Avengers history in the form of two page splashes. But since only eight moments of Avengers history get presented, the comic book doesn’t provide much of a substantial recap. I understand the point might not have been to summarize Avengers history thoroughly as to have various Avengers reveal their most cherished Avengers memories, but the commentary provides little new insight to these characters. There are very few vivid character moments here.

My biggest complaint about Avengers Finale is that most of the artists used here have no ties to Avengers publishing history nor are they appropriate Avengers artists. In previous years Steve Epting and George Perez have, of course, made a substantial mark on The Avengers, but Alex Maleev? Lee Weeks? David Mack? They’re all good artists, but they’re not Avengers artists. Using them for an Avengers send-off makes as much sense as using John Romita Jr., Mark Bagley, and Howard Porter for a Legion of Super-Heroes send-off. Instead of using artists that Brian Michael Bendis favors, why not use artists who contributed to The Avengers over the years? A Neal Adams cover is fitting, but how about tapping Sal Buscema, Rich Buckler, Alan Davis, Oliver Coipel or Michael Golden for these two page splashes?

Unsurprisingly, the George Perez pages at the end of the issue are exemplary. A page of close-ups show the Avengers honoring each deceased member (from Swordsman to Hawkeye) and then in a somber re-interpretation of the “new Avengers line-up” scene that has been regularly displayed over the past 40 years, the final two page splash has the remaining Avengers standing before their adoring public.

But other than this, Avengers Finale just doesn’t close this version of The Avengers in an extraordinary way.





Kelvin Green

Well, this is a bit clumsy, I suppose. It seems to be trying too hard to make the Avengers seem important in the context of the Marvel Universe, when those heroic actions really do speak for themselves. Nowhere is this better exemplified than the last couple of pages, which do a better job of exemplifying their status in the Marvel Universe than the whole rest of the book. To be fair though, most of it works quite well (for instance, Cap’s despair is very effectively conveyed), but it just seems to be trying too hard, which makes me suspect that perhaps Bendis really doesn’t have as strong of a grasp of the Avengers concept as he seemed to have during the main “Disassembled” plot. Quicksilver’s little scene also seems more like continuity-smoothing (and House of M miniseries promoting) than a natural part of the proceedings. In a story about his sister going loopy and killing off the world’s greatest superhero team, you’d think that her over-protective brother might have more of a role than turning up, saying “check out House Of M in 2005 to see what happens next,” then buggering off back into X-obscurity. Oh well.

In terms of art, this is one of those “jam” issues, although there’s a complete lack of fruity sandwich spreads on display (sorry...). As with the average jam issue, the art is a mixed bag, and the difference in styles is often jarring. That said, this is better done than most, as with the exception of Alex Maleev’s opening pages, the rest of the issue has a fairly unified look. The flashbacks have wildly different visual styles to the main plot, but that’s acceptable within the context, and they all look suitably impressive. On the other hand, the opening shot of the Mansion in flames is a shameless bit of cheap Photoshopping from Marvel (would it really have been hard to draw a new image? Really?), and I do have to wonder why no one apart from George Perez seems to be able to draw Beast correctly...

It might seem like I hated this, but I really didn’t. It’s clunky and clumsy, but it gets more right than it gets wrong, and those final few pages get it exactly right. This is a fitting end to the “Disassembled” arc, and as such I wonder why it simply wasn’t included in the main title’s run.





Shawn Hill

Plot: It’s months after the devastating events of Wanda’s killing spree. The injured Avengers have recovered physically, but their hearts are heavy as they reconvene one last time amongst the ruins of the Mansion.

Comments: It’s not enough. All the quite reasonable conversations, explanations and reasoning that are to be found in this issue aren’t enough. Nothing could make up for the travesty of "Avengers Disassembled." Those deleterious four issues were truly vile. They were out of the blue, unjustified, and worked greatly against Bendis’s natural low-key style and rhythms. They were rushed, unfunny, crude and blunt, where he has heretofore been known for his subtlety. It was a bad idea, poorly executed and unsatisfying in the extreme.

It also, apparently, all took place in one afternoon. In some strange antidote to decompression, Bendis crammed a mere few hours with an unprecedented series of calamities. Call it "Recompression," I guess. I think (there was a hint only in one splash page in #503) that all of the events were supposed to be connected as some kind of “everyone’s greatest fear/worst nightmare scenario" (i.e. the oldest trick in the book, second only to “let’s trap everyone in a different cage"). Spooky Wanda was implied to be some sort of fear goddess, rather like Projectra at her best or Phobia, perhaps? But this was subtext, and didn’t come off in the story, so intent on showing pain and suffering instead.

What’s interesting: This issue, however, plays to Bendis’s strengths. It’s all talk. Nothing at all happens. Unlike "Disassembled," all the pivotal actions have already happened off-screen. When those actions involve healing, recovery, quiet contemplation and financial clean-up, however, that’s reasonable enough.

These survivors gather at the site of their defeat, to pick through the ruins and try to begin healing as a group. Bendis has stacked the deck so they can’t, but let’s ignore that for now. What we’re treated to is a series of vignettes, some character spotlights, and some reminiscences. This technique reminds me of two issues in my Marvel collection, both of which I treasure.

The first is Uncanny X-Men #138, the issue after Jean’s death, in which Cyclops leaves the team, and Claremont and Byrne treat us to a wonderful history of all that had gone before for the team. As someone who jumped on in 1975, barely aware of the team’s origins, this was an invaluable primer that spoke of the wonder of stories waiting to be discovered.

Most interesting: There’s something similar here as each teammate remembers a moment of Avengers lore, and each memory is realized anew by a different artist. Let it be said here, Bendis has great taste in artists and works with them better than any other writer I can think of. His books have all looked great, in distinctive ways (even Daredevil’s Maleev apparently has fans, not including me).

In my misery over #503, I poured through my volume 3 issues, and rediscovered issue #27, the first Monster issue to include pertinent reprints for not much more than regular price. This was the first cast shakeup on Busiek’s team, and the reprint chosen was Avengers vol. 1 #150-151, which was also a mix of flashbacks and new story as each character pondered staying or going with the team for character-based reasons. It was co-written by Steve Englehart, Jerry Conway and Jim Shooter, and celebrated the past as it set the stage for the future. Also included was the bit from #16 used for #503’s grating coda, here given much better context and import.

Bendis is too busy dismantling here to set up anything, but the emotion and gravity and humanity missing from his Avengers issues have returned. The speeches these characters make are impassioned, and mostly in character. For example, Jan and Hank are making a go of it again. She sounds more like herself than she did during Austen’s entire run, a seasoned heroine, and why not leave her and Hank in iconic companionship if you’re not going to use them? Jennifer shows up in human mode, full of guilt but not unlike the character we’ve been reading in her solo title. Carol, ever-emotional and brash, is full of rage at Wanda, perhaps reasonably so. Tony is wounded, and Epting draws him as a gaunt and haunted figure. And Pietro … he finally arrives--much too little, and much too late, but the one thing he, Wanda and Magneto share is their aloofness, so I believe it when he says he’s been reading alone in a private cabin for months. Why not? He also seems to know some details of Wanda’s care, as a brother should. It’s my favorite part of the issue, bar none.

Usually, in these sorts of things (as in the classic examples I mentioned above) there’s hope for the future, or at least hints of where it might go. That’s the part Bendis leaves out, and it makes the touching tribute in the final pages (with George Perez art!) ring a little hollow. Fittingly, our last view of this team is from behind, their faces obscured, the opposite of every other regrouping they’ve ever had.

Bendis didn’t earn this tribute issue, and it galls me that he’s the one to write it. But, damn it, he does it well.





Dave Wallace

As a stand-alone title, Avengers Finale makes little sense to those who haven’t been keeping up with events in the regular series. The madness of the Scarlet Witch, the destruction of the team and the events from the last few issues are all taken as read, so it’s a shame that this couldn’t have been billed as the concluding chapter of Brian Bendis’ first Avengers outing rather than a nostalgic afterthought. Details aside however, what this finale/epilogue to the main “Disassembled” event does manage to achieve is a palpable sense of loss, sorrow and regret at the team ending, adding more of a human angle and level of emotion than any of the “Chaos” chapters managed to provide.

The book takes the multi-artist approach of some of Bendis’s other “special” issues (on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil) giving it a patchwork quality that can sometimes prove tricky to pull off. Luckily, the artists chosen to represent the scenes in current continuity gel together very well, with other more stylistically-defined guest artists providing some lovely splash pages that recap key moments of Avengers history, as apparently chosen by the Avengers themselves. It’s testament to the effectiveness of the art that even a non-Avengers-fan like me can feel the impact of some of these series-defining moments, as how can one not love the retro-goofiness of the original line-up (complete with the “robot” Iron Man) or the classy maturity of David Mack’s rendition of loving couple Vision and Wanda in happier times. Whilst all of these artist showcase issues are always going to have some moments that aren’t to a given reader’s taste (mine was the angular work of Mike Avon Oeming in the Thanos flashback – it just didn’t work for me) the technique as a whole works well to provide an affectionate portrait of the team’s rich history.

The issue is fairly disposable story-wise, acting as a bridge between the two iterations of the Avengers which has to explain a few details (Tony Stark’s withdrawal of funding from the team, the individual fates of the now-defunct members) and tie up a few loose ends. We get an appearance from Quicksilver, an update on Wanda’s condition and other general winding-down last-day-of-term elements. However, there are a few worrying plot subtleties outlined as an addendum to the “Chaos” plot – Wanda’s reality-altering powers in particular look like a potential crutch for any writer who wants to explain away plot elements that don’t really make sense (such as the apparent Quicksilver appearance a couple of issues ago) – but as long as such elements are only referred to sparingly and utilised wisely, the future team should be on safe ground.

The scenes set in current continuity this issue manage to capture an understanding of the team dynamic which was so absent from Bendis’s other issues so far, and the candlelight vigil at the issue’s end is a respectful tribute to the old line-up. Avengers Finale as a whole serves as a line drawn under old Avengers continuity so that the new “all-star” group can take over next month. This all bodes well for the New Avengers series: let’s just hope that the quality of the writing there is more like this issue than the dull four which preceded it.



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