Sunday Slugfest – Avengers #501

A comic review article by: Craig Johnson, Jason Cornwell, Michael Deeley, Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Jim Kingman, Michael Lucinski, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
“Chaos, Part Two”

Jason Cornwell

Plot:
In the aftermath of the devastating string of attacks that have befallen the team, we see the Avengers make an attempt to pick up the pieces, but the multiple injuries, and frayed nerves have the team at each other's throat. As the team looks to be on the verge of coming apart at the seams we see Captain America and others arrive back at the ruins of the Mansion where they find an unexpected surprise waiting for them.

Comments:
I have to say I'm not as impressed by this story as I expected to be, as truth be told the action feels a bit too event driven, and while this issue makes an active bid to examine the emotional impact that the attacks had on the Avengers, the simple truth of the matter is that rather than coming across as a emotionally devastated group, instead the cast comes across as self-absorbed, and too caught up in personal hysterics. I mean Hank Pym's insistence that Tony admit that he was drunk felt like that character was taking an aggressive stance simply to service the needs of the story rather than engaging in an intelligent discussion of the events. Now I realize the heated emotions will often surface in the face of adversity, but given the Avengers have a long history of not losing their heads, it seems odd that the reoccurring theme of this issue is a steady parade of the Avengers throwing hissy fits, instead of focusing their energies on the situation. I also have to say that while I love the idea of all the previous Avengers gathering together, the final page reveal felt a bit strange, as it's a bit like a group of fire-fighters arriving at a scene long after the fire has reduced a building to rubble and ash. Still, I can't deny that there is a very real sense of anxiety present when I pick up these issues as I continually worry about my favourite Avengers, and these first two issues have done a pretty good job of projecting the idea that no character is safe.

When the book is piling on the action the art does a very solid job of capturing the intensity of what's happening on the page, though I do have some quibbles about how clearly some of the action was laid out on the page, as the art doesn't really clearly capture the idea that She Hulk had crushed Captain America under that truck, and the blow that sends the new Captain Britain flying didn't look to be one that would send a comic character to the hospital. Still the shot where Yellowjacket towers over the battle's aftermath is a great image, and the impact of that final double-page spread is undeniably powerful. There's also a lovely action shot where Iron Man brings a halt to She Hulk's rampage, and the emotion of Hank's bedside conversation with Janet was nicely handled. The cover image's generic quality is a big disappointment though.




Michael Deeley

After the excitement and violence of last issue, the team takes a breather to tend to their injured and figure out what happened. Tony is insulted when Hawkeye thinks he’s been drinking and leaves. The Wasp and Captain Britain are in critical condition. She-Hulk is under S.H.I.E.L.D. arrest. The Vision is still in pieces. The Call goes out for help and everybody answers. And I mean everybody.

Couple things bug me about this issue. First, that armored guy behind and to the left of Falcon in the issue-ending crowd scene? I think that’s supposed to be Darkhawk. But they drew him wrong! DH’s helmet doesn’t look like that! If that’s supposed to be someone else, let me know, because that sure looks like a badly drawn Darkhawk.

Second, Hank Pym’s bedside speech. It’s touching stuff. It could lead to Pym quitting the Avengers for good, possibly even killing himself. But when he says Janet has been “bending over backwards” to make his life miserable, I had to say, “What”? I know I haven’t been reading ‘The Avengers’ much lately, but what’s Jan been doing to make Pym unhappy on purpose? I don’t think she’s ever been that vindictive or cruel. I always thought she and Pym were civil, though separated. Maybe Hank is accusing Janet of deliberately doing things that hurt him, even if she didn’t know they were hurting him.

Overall, this issue is a quiet space between battles. There’s great art and good dialogue. Best of all, there’s the unspoken question, “What’s going to happen next”?




Kelvin Green

There are some people who just aren’t getting this. They claim that it’s just cheap shock tactics, and that it’s all being done as a desperate grab for attention, with no respect for the characters. Well, I suppose that those people have to complain somewhere now that X-Statix has finished, but this is Avengers, not an experimental Grant Morrison project. It’s really not hard to understand, and as such Bendis shouldn’t have to explain the plot to those too feeble-minded to comprehend, but he takes the time to do so, through Hawkeye, this issue. With any luck, that’ll stop the moaning.

To be fair, Marvel’s promotional people are going for the cheap shock tactics with all the “Next issue: one of these Avengers will die!” and “Follow the carnage at Marvel.com” crap, but it’s pretty clear that that’s not what the story is about. Even as a big fan of classic Avengers, I have to say that I think Bendis hasn’t put a foot wrong so far. They’re a team who play a very high stakes game, and people are going to be in danger, and they’re going to get hurt. It’s not that I’m enjoying seeing my favourite Marvel characters getting ripped apart, but that I’m enjoying seeing them finally face challenges worthy of their talents. It’s not sadism, it’s (relative) realism.

A related aspect that Bendis gets just right is that he understands the villains and gives them credit. Whether or not the team are right about Ultron’s plan, it’s an excellent plan, much better than taking over unimportant eastern European nations, and the very fact that it’s been brought up shows that the writer knows what he’s doing. That said, much as I think Bendis is spot on as far as the concept of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes goes, his writing isn’t perfect. I’m not having as many problems with the dialogue as some are, but in some spots, I agree that it just doesn’t work. Iron Man just doesn’t sound right, for example, sounding more like a teenager than an adult. Perhaps Bendis didn’t get the “Teen Tony” memo. It’s also a shame that Bendis has to use the ill-advised “damaged” version of Hank Pym that was bequeathed to him by Johns and Austen, as Hank just doesn’t come across as he should here. On the whole, however, a couple of dodgy bits of dialogue and having to use a character ruined by previous writers shouldn’t, and don’t, detract from Bendis’ achievements.

I’m still rather unimpressed with Finch’s art, even though it’s a bit rougher this issue. That said, I am finding it hard to get used to his tendency to put characters’ eyes up near the tops of their heads, rather than closer to the middle, which gives the impression of everyone having enormous chins. I suppose it’s a stylistic choice, but it does grate a little bit. The naysayers like to point out Finch’s habit of leaving artistic inconsistencies lying about as an example of why this is soulless, manipulative crap from Marvel. The logic of that argument quite obviously doesn’t flow, but it is worth questioning why the editorial department aren’t picking up on these things. Cap doesn’t have ears on the cover, and towards the end of the issue we see people walking their dogs and having picnics in the park. Fair enough on that latter point, you might say, until you realise that the park is just across the road from the burning, devastated, Avengers Mansion. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t any voyeurs in the Marvel Universe, but sitting down with some sandwiches and a thermos of tea and watching the world’s most popular heroes burn seems more like an error than a representation of what people on Earth-616 like to do for fun. Those glitches are more funny than anything else, however, and certainly don’t detract from the story. Far worse errors were committed in pre-Bendis storylines (“Red Zone” and “Lionheart Of Avalon” are packed with so many that they seem like those “spot the deliberate mistake” stories The Beano used to do), but of course, no one complains about those. Well, I did, but that’s beside the point. As I said, they don’t harm the story, and merely suggest the possibility that Marvel might want to check that their editorial staff are actually turning up for work.

And you really can’t complain about an artist who pulls off such a wonderful closing image as Finch does here, even if some of the characters involved shouldn’t be there (okay, maybe you can complain…).

I may be in a minority, but I think this is excellent stuff. There are, I admit, some niggling problems with art and scripting, but there have been much worse problems in the very recent past, and it seems that more fuss is being made of them now because this is a high-profile event. True, Marvel’s promotion of the storyline is shameful on many levels, but the story itself works very well, largely due to the fact that Bendis is the first writer in years to have understood what the Avengers are about.




Shawn Hill

Plot:
Iron Man takes a rampaging She-Hulk down, as Jan is rushed to the hospital and the team finds they’re not handling this outrageous crisis well at all.

What’s interesting:
Emotionally, this is a very intense issue. Still reeling from the unprecedented shocks of last issue, the team tries to regroup and finds that it can’t. Most of it is entertaining, and all of it is beautifully illustrated and colored. While there are some odd notes, there’s only one really glaringly off one, and that is the bedside scene between Hank and Jan.

Yes, I know it was Johns who set the battle-scarred couple off on the wrong path with his ill-considered Vegas non-wedding issue. If ever there was a case when the happenings in Vegas should stay there … and then Austen only expounded on the problem by throwing Jan at Clint and treating Hank like a lovesick puppydog. So this misstep can’t be laid fully at Bendis’ feet.

But Hank is not a love-besotted fool, and he hasn’t been for some time. This series is making the same mistake as Identity Crisis, i.e. treating our heroes like foolish children with insufficient maturity to take responsibility for their flaws.

And Jan’s no idiot even though she can now grow big as well as small. So this teary confession that he loves her even though he hates her, and the gross implication that their marriage failings have anything to do with her, don’t jibe at all with the man who long ago accepted his failings, and has since stroven to correct them. Not at all. Clint being a wiseass, sure. Tony being insecure about his alcoholism, fine. But whiny idiot Hank? No.

Even the infighting going on in the hospital corridors I might buy, if it weren’t so over-the-top and uncharacteristic for this seasoned team. A possible explanation is that the mind-control in evidence last issue is continuing in more subtle form now, but that’s very ambiguous from the text. And if the foe is that powerful, what good is an entire cadre of non-active Avengers going to do, showing up like the cavalry on the last page? Aren’t they all just as vulnerable to these unnamed and mysterious attackers?

I suppose I could go on about three women being knocked unconscious in this crisis, too, but I’m just not as disturbed by that as I was by the rapes and murders blighting the maligned DC heroines in Identity Crisis. These gals are tough, and while I’ve always found Bendis to be aware of sexism, I won’t say he creates it so much as depicts it. This story is still going somewhere, maybe even somewhere good, but the mix of awkward human miscommunication and catastrophic events reads uneasily, as if a full-on grasp of the real scope of these characters caught up in these events is proving elusive.




Jim Kingman

“Chaos: Part Two” looked good. And it read well. But it didn’t feel right.

It is obvious that Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is being mind-controlled here. It may not be obvious to everyone, but given that the attack on Avengers Mansion coincides with Stark’s bizarre behavior while addressing the United Nations (as seen last issue), you would think that under the circumstances he would be given the benefit of the doubt (as not seen this issue; well, okay, just barely by a couple of loyal colleagues). And in the midst of the accusations of being drunk, why didn’t Stark just say, “Do you smell alcohol on my breath? Would you like to perform a blood alcohol content test on me?” He has every right to defend himself here. Instead he stands accused and bewildered and a tad hurt by the reactions to his rash statements. Maybe he’s just in shock over everything that has suddenly happened.

But even that bothers me. This is not the first time the Avengers have ever been attacked. It’s not even the twenty-third or forty-second. I’m not saying they should be used to this kind of thing even though it happens all the time, but I don’t think they should act like it’s the bloody first time they’ve ever been assaulted as a team. They act like they were unprepared and it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Haven’t attacks like this happened to them for over forty years? Or are the Avengers starting all over again as with Doom Patrol?

And what’s with the cliffhanger ending? Marvel’s Finest Superheroes stand outside the gates of Avengers Mansion with grim expressions on their faces, all basically with the same pose, glaring at the Avengers as if the team has done something wrong! I don’t get it. Half of Avengers Mansion has been blown away, half the team is either crippled or dead, and long-time friends and allies such as Nick Fury and the Fantastic Four appear as if they’re ready to chew this battered team’s head off! Heck, the Avengers’ wits are practically all they have left!

On all counts, you’d think that the Avengers were some novice group under fire for the first time instead of the experienced super-group that they really are. In the story’s defense I’ll reiterate that it’s an exciting, intense read and the artwork unquestionably shines, but the implausibilities that abound here are unfortunately marring my enjoyment of the comic.




Michael Lucinski

Plot:
The Avengers not incapacitated last issue struggle to control She-Hulk’s rampage, and face her wrath as a result. Tony Stark loses his position as Secretary of Defense for his belligerent comments at the United Nations. As the Wasp lies unconscious in the hospital, Hank Pym wrestles with tremendous guilt about creating Ultron and reveals he still has feelings for his ex-wife. The team begins to fracture as Captain America and Hawkeye return to discover something surprising at Avengers Mansion.

Comments:
This is the second issue of Bendis’ “Disassembled” story and we haven’t the faintest clue of who is behind this destruction. Yes, the Ultrons attacked last issue, but how does that account for Stark’s behavior? The Avengers’ confusion ends up rubbing off on the readers. The havoc wreaked on the Avengers is too much a blunt, frontal assault to plausibly rattle, much less kill, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Given the physical strength of many members, shouldn’t such frontal attacks be easily repelled? Though death and injury are traumatic, aren’t these the same characters who got stuck in a pocket dimension, found their way back, picked up their lives and reformed their team while fighting the Thunderbolts and Morgan le Fay in the span of less than a month?

Bendis has enough knowledge of Avengers’ history and chemistry to deepen the story beyond the “Who dies next?” phase. Hank’s guilt certainly falls within the character’s previously established parameters. Hawkeye’s observation about the Avengers’ lack of foresight is a typical Bendis insight into the unrevealed corners of characters’ actions. The final splash page does leave the reader with a sense of anticipation about the next issue.

When Bendis first made his splash at Marvel with “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Daredevil,” his popularity equally stemmed from the quality of his writing and its uniqueness. By systematically putting his stamp on most of the Marvel Universe, Bendis eliminates that which made his writing most unique – its scarcity. Familiarity breeds contempt. Which (non-Ultimate) Marvel characters with monthly books has Bendis not touched in some way? The Incredible Hulk, the Punisher, the Fantastic Four, maybe one or two others. How long until the Marvel brass gets tired of the non-Joss Whedon X-Men books and brings Bendis on board? Six months? A year?

Any story with pretensions of greatness needs the art to be at an equally high level. Finch gives the Avengers a slick, modern look they’ve lacked for a while. Finch’s representation of Stark teleconferencing with White House officials is innovative and refreshing. His unmasked male Avengers look eerily similar to how Andy Kubert would draw them – good company to be included in.

Final Word:
The Avengers don’t know what’s going on. Neither do the readers. Since the Wizard World Chicago show revealed a post-“Disassembled” lineup featuring Spider-Man and Wolverine, Bendis must work hard to make reaching that point from this point exciting and plausible. It’ll be a difficult challenge for Marvel’s mightiest writer.




Jason Sacks

Since Avengers #500 was an all-action issue, I guess it follows that issue #501 should be a breather before what promises to be two final straight exciting super-hero issues. This might do well in a TPB but as standalone issue this one reads like nothing too special. Tony Stark is pushed to resign as Secretary of Defense (why is he standing in his underwear when he resigns, though?) before flying to Avengers Mansion to help subdue a rampaging She-Hulk. Then what follows is some talking, some more talking and then a pretty cool conclusion. That's about it, really. Not a lot of plot progression, a typical bit of Bendis dialogue, and then the promise of something intriguing next month.

It's all okay as far as it goes, but it's nothing all that special. For all that fandom loves Bendis and hates Chuck Austen, both men's characterization of the Avengers is about of par with each other. There's a scene where Hawkeye and Iron Man argue that just doesn't fit the grand tradition of the team. These are men who have been teammates for as long as time, but they argue like people who barely know each other. Bendis has been brilliant at building back-story in the life of Jessica Jones, so it's strange to see him fall so short here.

At least the last two-page spread provides a nice fanboy jolt. It's just the sort of thing that promises more fun next month. I just hope Bendis can deliver next time.




Dave Wallace

My reaction to Avengers #500 and the beginning of the “Chaos” storyline was that it was an over-hyped, shallow and meaningless event piece: not Bendis at anywhere near his best, not an intelligent superhero comic, and not what an anniversary issue should be. Happily, Bendis’ second foray into the world of the Avengers steps things up a notch, by slowing down and actually exploring the implications of the events of last issue through the eyes of the rapidly-diminishing team.

The opening She-Hulk rampage gives us some action that actually evokes emotion other than bewilderment for the team, and as such it is much easier for the reader to empathise with what they’re seeing on the page. Tony Stark’s troubles are also explored further, through a long discussion which sets up more internal splits within the group in an imaginative if somewhat contrived manner. Yellowjacket’s own sense of guilt is also explored, and it’s interesting to see how each team member is reacting to the crisis differently. It’s simply the fact that we get to see some emotional response from the team that makes this issue so much more compelling than the first, whether it’s highly personal grief such as that of Hank Pym, or the more general concern shown from strong-willed characters such as Cap or the Falcon. Whilst it’s still not quite up to the entertainment levels of the team dynamic in the Ultimates, it makes for a far more cohesive effort than last time, especially for a new reader on the title.

Unfortunately, a truckload of flaws still persist: The style of speech is, as many have pointed out, fairly interchangeable for the most part between characters, making little of Bendis’ gift for dialogue-based characterisation. The deaths continue to feel like shocks for shocks’ sake, and this isn’t exactly helped by Marvel’s morbid death-tally on their official website. Tune in to see who dies next, true believers! If there’s a cheaper way to cash in on an already shallow sales gimmick, I haven’t seen it. There are also a couple of problems with the art this month, as the explosive (if empty) antics of last issue give way to more talking heads - some of which seem occasionally deformed, especially in close-up (notably during Yellowjacket’s heated argument with Captain America and Tony Stark). It’s a shame, because most of Finch’s other artwork is so good: The opening Hulk-out, Iron Man’s majestic soaring through the skies and Janet Pym’s deathbed vigil are all great examples of an artist really gelling with his writer’s script, as well as his inker. It’s just a couple of bugs that show up and spoil some pages.

The final problem is that this issue’s big finish has unfortunately been spoilt by having it splashed all over the web for the last month – and I personally preferred Finch’s alternate final panel, presented on the letters page – but there’s no denying that the ending opens things up for a compelling third issue from Bendis. If he can continue to improve, maybe there’s hope for his new Avengers title yet.



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