Sunday Slugfest: Avengers #12

A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese & Shawn Hill
Despite every Avenger in history gathering together to face the Hood, we really only need . . . the Illuminati.

Jamil Scalese:
Shawn Hill:

Jamil Scalese:

After last issue’s splash-fest, I was hoping that this arc-ending issue would be a little more understated in it’s storytelling. It was not.

This edition of Avengers was neither subtle nor beneath the service. The action was explosive, and the characters were very much “in your face” for the whole ride. Still, even though I wasn’t as impressed by the narrative, I will admit here, in the public forum of the Interwebs, that I giggled like an excited fifth grader when I opened to the double-splash page toward the middle of the book.

That majestic double splash involves two characters who probably aren’t recognizable to anyone outside of a general Marvel fan. If you don’t like The Hood or Red Hulk, or aren’t at least open to liking them, then you probably weren’t a fan of this story. It’s very apparent that the Infinity Gauntlet adventure that has been at the center of this particular arc has been a vehicle to elevate these two characters in terms of depth and charm.

Considering that Hood and Red Hulk duke it out three separate times in six issues, it appears that Brian Michael Bendis wanted to do something new with a title that has been so steeped in tradition that if some sort of combination of Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, and/or the Odinson doesn’t show up then fans are reluctant to consider it an assemblage of Earth’s mightiest heroes. This arc, as epitomized by this issue, offers us clear character-defining moments for these two recent players in the Marvel mythos.

Initially I was not a fan of Red Hulk--mostly based on his paltry, Loeb-penned, introduction as a mysterious, nearly unstoppable world-beater. However, under Bendis, I can at least see a justification for his need for redemption--as turning yourself into your most hated enemy is in some form “rock bottom.”

In the case of Parker Robbins (a.k.a. The Hood), this is his rock bottom. While he’s lacking some of the depth that made him a dynamic character (namely his apathy for everyone but his young family), his strive to regain power has showed us a side of the character previously unseen--savage disdain for anything that doesn’t serve his cause.

Even if it made him a flatter personality overall, I still got chills as Hood stood over Red Hulk and told him he cared about nothing but power. That attitude is what a villain is supposed to do--make me afraid for the heroes. Anything else is fluff, even if it’s well-written.

The other narrative thread that gets addressed, and advanced, in this issue is that of the relationship between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Their feud is well noted, and their interaction it prickly, even in reconcilation.

The Captain America/Iron Man disagreement has been one of my favorite events of the past decade. It was well-justified and pregnant with possibility. I’m a little sad to see it go, though I don’t think it has been mishandled. I know some people feel as though it was--especially in this title--but since Stark lost his memory he has been nothing but extremely remorseful and apologetic about the Civil War. Bendis didn’t take that approach; blame it on Fraction.

In fact, since the title reboot, Iron Man has been possibly the most fascinating big-name character on the payroll. From a future Stark handing him a world-ending bomb he had yet to invent, to wielding the power of the Infinity Gems, Iron Man has provided some of the run’s best moments. By the look of the last page, it appears Steve Rogers is ready to join in on the fun.

The art in this issue is mostly at a high level, but I have to knock John Romita Jr. for a mail-in effort on some of the pages. Outside of the Thanos panels, my much beloved double-splash, and the final page, there are real flaws throughout. A lot of the figures lack detail, and though Romita Jr.’s style is somewhat blocky at times, I was a bit upset at how little rendering there seemed to be. I expect more from JRJR. Hopefully, his lesser effort here means Kickass 2 will be on schedule in the future.

Additionally, the red tones that dominate the issue make everything seem little drab, but maybe that’s because most of the main players (Iron Man, Hood, and Red Hulk) are crimson-clad.

I would be naive if I didn’t suspect that a lot of readers will be disappointed by this issue. I’m aware of that, but I don’t agree. I liked it a lot. It wasn’t the most novel or inspired story, but it managed to do some new things on top of an old, musty backdrop. And not once did Marvel ever sell it as “The event that will change the Avengers FOREVER.” Kudos.

Shawn Hill

Waitaminute, that's it? One Red Hulk punch to the noggin, and the Hood's little reign of terror is over?

This issue hit the reset button so hard that my head is still spinning. So . . . not only was it all about big glowing fisticuffs, it's only been about ending up exactly where we started. Except we've swapped out an Inhuman for a Super-Soldier.

Of course I knew when Tony Stark wished the Infinity Gauntlet away that he was up to something. All the Watchers and Sorcerers Supreme and Thanos wannabees in the world will tell you that you can't just erase fundamental forces of existence. Yet, it's beyond anti-climactic to just spread them out again amongst the devious Illuminati (who had been shown the error of their ways by THIS VERY STORY just a few issues ago), with the weak admonition to "find better hiding places." Yeah, because those always keep thieves out.

I also don't buy Steve joining up. The whole point of the Heroic Age can be summarized as Steve Rogers having been right about Civil War, and Tony having been wrong. Now Brian Bendis muddies the waters again--implying, I suppose, that Cap will lie just like Tony if the ends justify the means. The writer just doesn't set that thought process up in the story as presented.

And how is it that the Illuminati remain all-male, again? Medusa showed up to represent Blackbolt as his widow, and she got to nag and moan about the arrogance of the guys a little bit. I guess since the Inhumans no longer live on Earth, her membership has been revoked, but what's Cap supposed to do? Keep 'em honest? Good luck with this crew. Wouldn't Maria Hill have made much more sense?

What did I like, you ask, considering the middling bullet score?

Well, Steve's little fake-out as Thanos was pretty clever (and what a relief not having to deal with the reality of that blowhard). And JR Jr's art was impressive, as he's adept at the cosmic scale required by the story. Even if splash pages have become endemic to this book, and even though the alternate realities that Hood throws at Red Hulk were pretty much excuses for art swipes (something Bendis always scripts in when he's running out of ideas). It was funny to see all those alternate Avengers, if only for a second.

Though it wasn't as violent or deadly as some of the previous arcs, this Infinity Gauntlet story has been yet another version of Bendis's typical shock-and-awe tactics that he substitutes for actual epic storytelling. That the Hood, the gems, and the heroes end up exactly where they started just reveals the usual wizard behind the curtain.

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