Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Scott Kolins
He invades the Avengers’ world, threatening to dominate them, to exploit them, to modernize them. No, it’s not Brian Bendis; it’s Kang the Conqueror! In this fourth issue of EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES by Joe Casey and Scott Kolins, colorful inspiration meets haunting characterization amidst an intense, classic battle. The result is an enormously fun yet thought-provoking issue.
On the surface, this mini-series seems like a simplistic rendition of the Avengers’ early years—complete with larger-than-life characters, theatrical Old School dialogue, and popping-off-the-pages color. On the surface, it’s easy to snicker at Kang, doused with acid, sinking to the floor, and doing his utmost to look and sound like the WIZARD OF OZ’s Wicked Witch. On the surface, it’s completely expected that Captain America will break into a classically cheesy sermon: “We do this for the simplest of reasons…because it’s the right thing to do!” However, looking deeper, beyond the effortless fun, this mini-series simmers with the essence of complicated heroism.
In spite of stating the contrary, Captain America finds nothing simple about doing the right thing. Here, he is terrorized by inner conflicts—needing to be a hero yet yearning to destroy a life, struggling to focus on future battles yet finding it impossible to escape his past. His predicament is fascinating; equally fascinating is the budding team of heroes and friends that gather around him. Finally, in this issue, the Avengers’ teamwork flourishes and their personal bonds take root. A touching example is during an exchange between Captain America and Thor. After a lengthy battle with Kang, Thor’s previous resentment of the Captain’s preoccupation melts under newfound respect and concern. Thor compassionately reaches out to his fellow warrior, although the advice he offers Captain America is somewhat disturbing. Still, the characterization is strong and compelling here, as with Iron Man, who Casey seems to have the best handle of. Iron Man’s shrewd business brain continues to scheme, turning the Avengers’ victory parade into a PR stunt that helps solidify the Avengers’ status with the United States government. Victory, in many ways, is achieved in this issue; the Avengers become established heroes, earn their security clearance, and defeat a major global threat—none of which, however, provide relief to Captain America. And so, this intriguing character exploration continues. Good.
As always, the art in EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES is a treat; Scott Kolins is entirely suited to the high heroics of this series. Here, however, with the focus being on Captain America’s spiraling despair, Kolins is challenged to drastically darken the book’s tone to portray the nightmarish psychological state of a tormented hero, and he impressively succeeds. Kolins’ tendency towards playfully rounded figures and open space is utilized eerily here, as the innocence that usually imbues his art is oddly married with a darkness, a warped, cursed perspective, as seen in the opening pages of the issue where Captain America’s flashbacks merge with his current reality. Kolins does an outstanding job in visibly conveying Captain America’s dilemma, not only in his portrayal of the character but also in his choice of atmosphere—leaden clouds unleash a barrage of sizzling lightning and crackling rain, all of which help manifest the desperation within Captain America. Further emphasizing the gloom, Wil Quintana’s color scheme of dark blues and purples imparts the sense that we’re entering a bruised world, the world of a damaged hero. However, the issue isn’t entirely dark. In fact, much of it is remarkably vibrant during the Avengers’ battle with Kang and their subsequent victory parade. These scenes also brim with wonderful detail—the big puffs from Iron Man’s boot thrusters, the swirling futuristic design of Kang’s ship, the parade’s hilarious marching Kang-heads and dancing Thor hammer.
In short, the art is as enjoyable yet as complicated as the writing. And it’s a pleasure to see the Avengers portrayed both as familiar superheroes and as evolving characters within the premise of classic comic book fun.
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