Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frank Cho, Jason Keith (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of Mighty Avengers arrives in stores this Wednesday, March 7.
Regular readers will know that this is where I whine about how Bendis is an awful choice as Avengers writer, not because he’s a bad writer, but because he just doesn’t understand how superhero comics work, not unless he can reuse other people’s plots (Ultimate Spider-Man), or just write a crime book and occasionally have a superhero pop in (Powers, Daredevil, Alias). His New Avengers is a great big pile of misguided rubbish, and the fact that Marvel rewards his ineptitude with a second ongoing Avengers title, instead of getting Jeff Parker or Robert Kirkman to write it, shows we’re living on Bizarro World.
Well, not quite.
Many of Bendis’ usual flaws are in evidence in this new title. For a start, there are far too many splash pages and large panels; he’s a truly wasteful writer, and doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the basic fact that too many of these huge panels reduce the very “wow” factor he’s going for. Bendis is also doing that thing again where he’s only interested in stuff he wrote, so we get endless references to previous Bendis storylines, and audacious claims such as that at no time in Avengers history has the team been picked rather than drawn together by fate, despite Kurt Busiek doing exactly that at least twice in his run, which really wasn’t so long ago that editor Tom Brevoort couldn’t remember it. It’s a minor thing, admittedly, but Bendis does it all the time, and it’s easy enough to fix.
The biggest flaw in the issue however is a new one for him: a weird, almost comedic, tone throughout, as if Bendis seems to equate superheroics with silliness, and is embarrassed by dirtying his hands by having superheroes actually living up to their name. Not helping matters is his strange, almost manga-esque, use of thought balloons during conversations; it not only creates a whimsical tone totally at odds with Bendis’ occasional attempts at seriousness, but it, like the “wow” panels, is overused to the point of becoming noise. I’m glad that Marvel’s cretinous moratorium on thought balloons and narrative captions has been overturned, but Bendis has gone wild with the new freedom; he’s a writer who seems to work best under restrictions, and there’s only trouble when he’s left to his own devices.
Otherwise, this isn’t too bad at all. I quite enjoyed a lot of the banter between the team members, when that strange sense of writer’s embarrassment didn’t creep in, and while I probably shouldn’t encourage it, the suggestion that half the team are trying to get each other into bed was quite fun; the Sentry doing his dashing hero schtick with the female team members was particularly funny, especially as his angsty emo nonsense got boring a long time ago. Best of all though is that Bendis has (finally!) got the scale right. Giant monsters trashing Manhattan is exactly the kind of thing Avengers should be dealing with, rather than ninjas, or unfinished X-Men plots, and they’re actually dealing with it instead of letting Emma Frost or Doctor Strange come in to save them. This is proper Earth’s Mightiest Heroes stuff, and while it’s not particularly complex, it’ll do for now.
Frank Cho delivers big bouncy (literally!) cartoony art, and Jason Keith’s bright solid colours further the larger-than-life tone. It’s a good job by any standards, but it’s particularly refreshing to see such energetic and enthusiastic visuals from Marvel, which has too long been obsessed with dreary, grimy, allegedly realistic, art styles, even on the big superhero titles. A great deal of the exuberant joy of this comic is down to Cho and Keith’s artwork, and they also prove their versatility with darker visuals towards the end of the issue, although the torrential rain is a bit of an obvious and cheap effect. Also, Cho’s character designs are a bit choppy in places, lumbering the Wasp with an awful haircut, and Porno Grip Ultron II (I assume the royalty cheque is in the post, Marvel?) looks utterly bland and unimaginative. But on the whole, this is a good-looking comic.
I’m still baffled as to why Bendis needs two books to do what forty years of Avengers writers did with one, and his editors really need to crack down on his excesses, but this is a pretty strong start. That said, Bendis’ first New Avengers arc was pretty good, especially by his later poor standards, and even Chuck Austen managed a decent first issue in his run. So, let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic for now.
After his performances on “Avengers Disassembled” and New Avengers, many people have questioned Brian Bendis’ ability to write superhero team stories. Whatever opinion this reviewer may have had previously, as far as I’m concerned this issue proves that he can.
Though not perfect, this issue is fun from start to finish. This came as somewhat of a surprise given that this is the post-Civil War Marvel Universe, which I was fully expecting to be marked by remorse, doom and moping around. Instead, we get an Iron Man who has a clear vision of the future and an Avengers team that really brings out an old-school feel whilst offering a new line-up and some interesting new character dynamics. Sure, reference is made to Captain America and Civil War, but these aren’t the central themes of this issue that highlights the Mighty Avengers battling monsters in New York. In fact, those references made to Civil War are more critical than anything, with Ms. Marvel pointing out how useless (and pointless) The Sentry was during the whole thing and Ares, God of War, calling the whole thing a “slap fight.” Nice.
This first issue includes the obligatory “gathering the team” scenes, and these are actually rather good. As anyone who read New Avengers will know, the last time Bendis assembled a super team, it took quite a while. Here, it’s all done in one issue via several flashback scenes which are interspersed throughout an ongoing battle raging in downtown New York between the Avengers and a horde or monsters, dinosaurs and Subterreneans, until it’s interrupted by an old Avengers foe who’s undergone quite a drastic sex change. Iron Man has chosen Ms. Marvel to lead the Avengers as he’s rather occupied at the moment playing Head of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, as always when Iron Man “officially” delegates leadership, he still can’t resist butting in and influencing the team selection. The team’s roster is an intriguing one that can most definitely carry the title of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.” The inclusion of each member is justified through the conversation between Tony Stark and Carol Danvers, with some witty and amusing quips thrown in for good measure. The interaction between these two strong-willed superheroes and the way they react to the inclusion of the different members shows a lot of promise for some pretty interesting team dynamics and Bendis getting to do what he does best: banter.
The fight scene allows for the opportunity to highlight each Avenger, as we start to see how they feel about being on the team, what they think of their colleagues and just what they bring to the outfit. Ares is the biggest surprise. Though I had serious doubts when he was first announced, Bendis manages to make his inclusion seem perfectly sensible. After all, though he has been an Avengers adversary in the past, he isn’t exactly evil; after all he’s a God, and having a son appears to have had a genuine effect on him. As Carol describes, he is Thor and Wolverine in one, with a real tough guy and sexist attitude to boot. From Wonder Man just being happy to be back on the team to The Wasp eyeing up The Sentry, everything just feels right. I do have doubts regarding the inclusion of The Sentry. Based on his appearances in New Avengers and Civil War, he has yet to convince me that the Marvel Universe needs such a character, a sentiment that Bendis appears to be aware of when he has Carol voice that opinion. However, I find myself with a lot of good will regarding this line-up and will give him a fair chance. The other complaint I have is Carol referring to Hank Pym as Jan’s “loser of a husband.” Can we please move on from this? He’s past all that crap now (check out Beyond!) and after the events of Civil War, there are many heroes far more deserving of that description.
The old-school superhero feel is further reinforced by the surprise return to a Marvel comic of thought balloons and an almost excessive use of onomatopoeias. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many “Chooms,” “Fooms,” and “Booms.” In fact, these elements have been absent for so long that when I got to the first thought balloon I found myself momentarily distracted by its presence. I wasn’t crying out for their return, but I must say I rather like it.
Frank Cho is best known for his drawing of curvaceous women. Here however, he doesn’t overplay the cheesecake factor. None of the female Avengers’ forms clash with how they’re usually portrayed and overall he just draws some rather nice superhero action. His Iron Man armour somehow appears rather squat, but other than that it’s nicely rendered. His Ares actually looks like a cross between Thor and Wolverine, or rather a Wolverine who’s more than 5 feet tall. Though hardly a traditional superhero artist, Cho’s art does somehow add to the whole superheroic feel of the book, with the Avengers ripping and cutting their way through hordes of monsters without it ever feeling at all gory or wrong. There’s a small mistake with Wonder Man appearing in a panel when he’s just been swatted into the distance. Other than that the only complaint I have about the art is that it gives a classic Avengers foe boobs! One has to wonder if this was done simply because Cho likes drawing large-chested women as it appears to be completely unnecessary.
This is without a doubt the best, or at least most fun, Avengers issue I’ve read in a good long while. Nearly everything about this comic works as Bendis seems to effortlessly combine good old superheroics with his usual trademark banter. This isn’t an issue that relies on reader nostalgia. It’s a new take on the Avengers that incorporates many of the elements that fans have always looked for in this team. A surprisingly great start to a promising series.
Take a look at the credits page on this book a little more closely and you’ll see that Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Cho aren’t distinguished as writer and artist. That’s a very telling detail, because although I don’t see any of Bendis’ influence in the artwork, this is obviously a book which has been written with Frank Cho very much in mind. Cho has talked in interviews about the fact that Bendis asked him to contribute ideas to the book (even going so far as to let him choose team members), and that contribution has resulted in a book which is very visually-based as opposed to being particularly driven by plot.
Bendis’ writing tics are still in evidence though, and he manages to add a little colour to the kind of straightforward member-picking story which befits a team book’s first issue. The discussions he presents between Tony Stark and Carol Danvers give us a rundown on the team members and their powers, and even if we don’t get a strong sense of the group dynamic from this first story, we at least get a sense of the light, bright tone that Bendis is aiming for. I’m sure a lot of people will talk about his resurrection of thought balloons here, and although they’re a stylistic choice that conjure an old-school vibe for the book, they’re used more to add humour to the dialogue than to give us any real character insight (bar a couple of interesting contradictions between what Stark and Danvers are saying and what they’re thinking).
Frank Cho’s art is as slick, well-defined and colourful here as it was during his short stint on New Avengers, and it suits the light, bouncy tone of the book to a tee. I can even detect a slight John Romita Jr. influence in places (particularly the panel in which Wonder Man blasts through a giant monster) which speaks highly of the artist’s ability to tell the story clearly through his visuals. Of course, Cho has become popular for his cheesecake art, and the inclusion of Black Widow, the Wasp and Ms. Marvel gives the artist plenty of pendulant breasts and chunky round bottoms to render to his heart’s content. The final page revelation promises more of the same next issue (answering the prayers of anyone who ever wished that Ultron could take the form of a well-endowed, naked woman), but these elements are only ever going to have a niche appeal for a certain sector of the audience and will only reinforce the sexist reputation of the superhero genre for others.
There’s too little substance to the book to really be able to recommend it as a good read, but some may find its relatively carefree and old-fashioned tone more pleasing than Bendis’ decidedly different take on the Avengers that he’s been presenting in their New title for the last couple of years. He gets the new team up and running in the space of a single issue, gives them a big high-level threat to deal with, tosses in a couple of super-villains and peppers his banter with plenty of action. If that sounds like a fun read for you, then you’ll probably enjoy Mighty Avengers, but if you look for a little more than the usual in your superhero titles then you might find yourself disappointed.
First of all, I can understand Marvel’s need and/or desire to have multiple Avengers titles: profit. The sheer numbers of heroes available in the Marvel Universe should readily outfit at least two distinct squads for two monthly books, or as close to monthly as Marvel is putting out now. I mean, hell, there are six X-Men titles on the stands any given week, and they only have 198 mutants to choose from now (and Wolverine’s taken!). Of course, Marvel’s tried this before with the West Coast Avengers back in the ‘80s, which lasted for about 100 issues (I read about half the run until it became a soap opera, not a superhero book), so I can also understand that the timing would need to be right for another attempt at another Avengers franchise.
The Civil War and its change in the status quo of Marvel heroes (I’ll be using that “status quo” line a lot in the near future) would seem to bring about that time. But who should be on the team? As Tony Stark says in the first issue, the Avengers have always represented “the best and the brightest” (oh yeah? Explain Dr. Druid, then), so this time around Stark gets to hand pick his team: the Wasp, Wonder Man, the Sentry, Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, and Ares make the cut. This group of heroes is meant to be able to take on any threat that comes along.
And there’s the initial problem I have with this squad: it smacks of artificiality. Beyond Stark’s (and Bendis’s) whims, there’s no real reason for this group to be together; in fact, Ares is in a sense blackmailed. Say what you will about the New Avengers, at least that team had the prison breakout that drew them together. Stark has a line about the outdated notions of fate, “whimsical nonsense,” but heroes have always risen through fate, from Beowulf to Batman, Odysseus to the X-Men. Stark has placed himself in a position that has historically been the position of the gods, and it feels wrong.
I suppose most of the talk about this issue will be about the female Ultron that makes her appearance at the end of the issue, but right now the only reason Ultron is female appears to be titillation, emphasis on the “tit.” Cho’s artwork is fantastic, as usual, but unless Bendis has a damn good reason for making Ultron into a Battlestar Galactica-type Cylon, it’s nothing but a cheap marketing ploy, much like the entire concept the Mighty Avengers seems to be. We’ll see if Bendis proves me wrong.
A few years back, I decided to buy the first volume of Powers (written, of course, by Brian Michael Bendis) because Craig Lemon told me how great he thought the series was. I found that first volume to be competently written, but it didn’t grab my interest enough to buy the series. In fact, I traded the book back to the store.
A few months later, I read what a breath of fresh air Ultimate Spider-Man was because Bendis had taken the concept back to Peter Parker’s high school days and was retelling the original stories with a contemporary approach. I bought the collected first volume in hardback. I found it to be competently written, but it didn’t grab my interest enough to buy the series. I’ve tried to trade the book back to the store, and I’ve tried to sell it on e-Bay. However, I can’t get anyone to give me anything for it.
Later, I began to read on the SBC message boards about how terrible New Avengers is because Bendis was doing something called “decompressed storytelling” (which means “slow pacing” as far as I can tell). Also because Bendis has his characters engage in lengthy conversations in which he attempts to capture the idiosyncrasies of actual speech.
It seemed that these readers of New Avengers wanted more action and less slow-paced stories that were filled with pages of characters just talking to each other. In fact, their complaints prompted Beau Smith to develop a ratio of talking to movement to action for comic book storytelling.
I became intrigued by these complaints because I actually prefer less “action” since comic book fights often seem forced (like WWE “wrestling”). Instead, I prefer stories that evoke a sense of verisimilitude—which is one of the reasons that my favorite movie is My Dinner With Andre (a two-hour film that mostly shows two men having a conversation while they eat dinner at an expensive Manhattan restaurant).
However, the reason My Dinner With Andre is my favorite movie isn’t because it’s about two men talking; it’s because the conversation is interesting. Andre and Wally engage in an intellectually challenging discussion—which is the only way to make a two-hour movie about a conversation work.
As it is, many people hate that film because they want to see action on the screen, not just two men talking. Imagine, though, the reaction it would have received if it had been a two-hour movie about two men having a completely mundane conversation instead of an intellectually engaging discussion. Even I would have hated it then.
Anyway, that about sums up what Mighty Avengers is like for me. It’s ten inane pages of a forced battle between heroes and giant monsters interspersed with fourteen pages of mundane conversation between Tony Stark and Carol Danvers (albeit mixed with some sexual tension that Bendis has forced into their mundane conversation).
To be fair, though, I should mention that there are also six pages that take place at the scene of the battle with the monsters but which mostly show Iron Man standing in one place as he watches his built in TV screens in order to see news of meteorological and geological disturbances from across the globe.
Oh, there are also three pages of Iron Man and Ms. Marvel talking to Ares atop a skyscraper construction site as they try to convince him to join the Mighty Avengers. I found those three pages to be the most interesting.
So, you ask, why am I giving this book three bullets instead of one or two? Simple, it’s a competently written book that passes quickly when you read it, and it isn’t too distasteful while you “consume” it—sort of like drinking a Cherry Pepsi (I prefer Cherry Coke).
I also liked the fact that it uses thought balloons—even though this long-lost comic book convention had already been resurrected in Hawkgirl #50 and All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #4 (or was it #2?—whichever one had Batman and Dick Grayson driving around in the Batmobile forever). Here, however, the thought balloons reveal only small snippets of trivial information—such as Tony being able to do advanced differential calculus computations in his head.
We were also given thought balloons that revealed the gist of what Tony and Carol really think of each other—such as Tony wanting to shag her. Oh, speaking of shagging—there’s a nice panel that takes place at the skyscraper construction site that shows a construction worker getting a face-full of Ms. Marvel’s barely covered ass (superbly illustrated by Frank Cho).
And you were wondering why I gave it three bullets!
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!