Sunday Slugfest – Avengers #502

A comic review article by: Craig Johnson, Jason Cornwell, Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Shaun Manning, Jim Kingman, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
“Chaos, Part Three of Four”

Jason Cornwell

Plot:
As a small army of former Avengers cluster around the ruins of the Avengers Mansion, we see this collection of heroes is on hand when the place comes under attack from a full scale assault by a Kree invasion. As our heroes struggle to figure out why the Kree are attacking we see the team faces a devastating loss when a long-standing member of the Avengers looks to be killed while performing a heroic deed. An important clue as to the identity of person responsible for this string of attacks is also revealed on the final page.

Comments:
It's fun to watch fans getting so upset when it comes to this issue's big death, especially when this week's issue of Astonishing X-Men features the return of a character who suffered a similarly sales motivated death. Now it's likely newer readers will fall for this gimmick as they haven't been exposed to the sheer weight of evidence that would suggest that the Avenger who dies in this issue is going to be back. However, I don't quite understand the indignation of some readers when it comes to these deaths as if history has proven anything when the character is resurrected the company tends to make a big deal out of their return, and this renewed attention tends to result in a monthly series (e.g. Aquaman, Green Arrow, Hawkman). Than again I guess if these fans didn't kick up a fuss, and make it known how upset they are than the comic companies wouldn't have any way of judging how popular the character was, so I guess I should be thankful there are readers who don't realize this is a sales gimmick. As for the actual issue, I have to say I wasn't overly impressed, as it's starting to feel like Brian Michael Bendis is simply cut and pasting various threats into the story, and hoping that readers won't notice that he's offers up the same exact plot for the past three issues. Still, there are some fun moments in this issue, like Nick Fury's comments to the gathered heroes who are polluting his crime scene, and I have to say I'm genuinely intrigued by the final page revelation.

David Finch turns in about as good a job as one could've hoped for, as he's called upon to deliver a popcorn movie style action sequence that featured dozen of heroes doing battle with a Kree invasion fleet. This in turn results in some wonderful big impact visuals from the double page shot where we get a look at the sheer scale of the attack, to the arrival shot of the Avenger who is fated to die. Now I have to say I wasn't overly impressed by this hero's final moments as the art takes a rather detached viewpoint when it delivers the moment where our hero performs their heroic deed, and I couldn't help but feel the scene would've had more punch if the art had taken us in closer. However, I have to say it was great to see Hercules in action, and no matter what other fans say I can't help but love the scenes that show Spider-Man battling alongside the Avengers. The final page arrival of the final guest-hero was also a solid visual.




Keith Dallas

When you think about it, there’s an interesting dichotomy between Identity Crisis and Avengers Disassembled, the two highest profile comic book “events” launched this late summer by DC and Marvel respectively. In both series, mysteries are afoot: Who killed Sue Dibny? Who is responsible for this relentless assault on the Avengers? But while Identity Crisis has presented and shifted focus on numerous suspects, Avengers Disassembled hasn’t given us hardly any clues about the person(s) responsible for the chaos we’ve read in the past three issues. When Doctor Strange presents himself to Captain America at the end of issue #502 and declares, “I thought by now you would understand the true nature of these attacks,” I wish Cap had responded, “Hey doc, are you for real?” (Some bright message board posters have theorized that the Scarlet Witch is somehow responsible for the devastation, which is an intriguing premise, but the only “evidence” to support this theory is the Witch’s conspicuous absence (she only appeared in issue #500 at the United Nations after Tony Stark delivered his drunken tirade against the Latverian ambassador) and the coincidence that the Avengers’ story arc is titled “Chaos,” and the Scarlet Witch wields “chaos magic.” A thought just occurred to me: is Loki the god of chaos or just of mischief? It would be appropriate if Loki, who is responsible for the team’s formation, was also responsible for the team’s disintegration. But I digress…) My point is that I think the revelation of the killer in Identity Crisis #7 will produce a “Wow! How didn’t I see that coming?” reaction from the reader while the revelation of the culpable party in Avengers #503 will produce a “Huh? How COULD I see that coming?” reaction.

Of course, this issue has been heavily promoted as one in which an Avenger dies. You need only look at the cover to realize the victim. Not only is Hawkeye more front and center than the other three Avenger “candidates,” but the Avengers logo is outlined in purple, the color of Hawkeye’s costume. That’s a dead give-away (if you’ll pardon the pun). Avengers Disassembled has killed several characters in order to give the story more impact, more significance. But how truly significant are these deaths and what kind of meaningful impact do they make? The deceased include:
 Jack of Hearts (who was already dead BEFORE Avengers Disassembled as far as we knew)
 The Vision (who, unlike Humpty Dumpty, can be easily put back together again)
 Captain Britain (who isn’t really dead yet, but don’t we all want her to be?)
 Ant-man (who… who?)

And now Hawkeye get added to the list. In Avengers #502 Clint Barton does his best impersonation of Randy Quaid sacrificing himself to blow up the mother-ship in the 1996 movie Independence Day. Putting aside the issue of the appropriateness and derivativeness of this kind of death, certainly Hawkeye’s demise is the most attention-grabbing and noteworthy of the lot. Kill off some super-heroes who rarely appeared in Marvel titles other than Avengers, and readers shrug, but send a long-time Avenger who never could carry his own title but was always cherished as a supporting character to the grave, and the message boards are buzzing. The reaction has run the gamut from those calling Bendis every profane name uttered in Glen Gary GlenRoss to those who applaud the move as necessary to progress the title.

But for those of you upset that Hawkeye has died, guess what? I’ve seen reports that Kurt Busiek will bring the hero back, so be assured that the death displayed here has no permanency.

And for those of you out to prove that Avengers Disassembled is one of the most meaningful Avengers story arcs in the past 40 years, guess what? I’ve seen reports that Kurt Busiek will bring the hero back, so in the end this story arc will have NO lasting impact other than to get the Avengers out of the United Nations and out of the Mansion (which aren’t bad ideas), and to get Wolverine and Spider-Man onto the team (which makes sense only from a marketing perspective).

I must echo the sentiments of Dr. Mike Robinson whose letter was printed in the back of Avengers #501: “Ultimately super heroes are meant to entertain, to give us a good story, and to be fun…. This was not fun.” Hear, hear.




Michael Deeley

The good news is, around 30 heroes have shown up to help the Avengers any way they can. The bad news is, the Kree pick that moment to attack. Yes, Hawkeye dies, that is true. But there’s something wrong about this Kree attack; it’s not their style. And their spaceship isn’t made out of metal. Dr. Strange appears and reveals there is magic at work.

And Cap figures out who’s behind it all.

Now, Hawkeye does not make my list of all-time favorite comic characters or favorite Marvel heroes. If I wrote out the list, he’d be behind Darkhawk, Madrox, and the Beyonder. But I liked the guy. To me, he was the Avengers’ answer to Ben Grimm. He’s the blue collar, meat-and-potatoes, beer and whiskey Average Joe that reminds the team who they’re protecting. “We’re the guys people can count on because they know they can’t really count on anyone else”, he says here. And he’s a tough bastard too. When he realizes he’s been fatally hit, (from the expression on Cap’s face), he gets in one last swing. His last act is to bring down the Kree spaceship and give our heroes the advantage needed to win. Great way to go, Clint Barton!

BUT! MAYBE! HE’S NOT REALLY DEAD!

Magic is being used. The Kree ship seemed to be a fake. Maybe the Kree were illusions. Maybe magic powers were used to create the Ultron army. Maybe someone cast a spell to make Tony Stark act drunk. But who has that power? Well, I can think of only two people.

And Loki’s been busy.

If it is who I think it is, then the issue of motive is brought into question. Why? Why do this now? Why do this at all? Why this change of heart? Or could there be a noble reason behind it all?

If it is who I think it is Bendis has a hell of a lot of explaining to do next issue.

That mystery is enough to earn this book , even though I’m disappointed we don’t see many heroes in action. I’d have taken out that first shot of the approaching Kree ship, used the double-page spread of the armada as the “arrival” scene, and used the extra space to show every hero in action. I know that’s a lot to draw, but would it be so tough to draw one image showing the heroes featured flying or throwing a punch? Finch already drew them in a group shot; why not another group shot with all of them moving?

I’m afraid that after all this build-up, and hints and allegations, issue #503 will be a huge disappointment. Then again, since the first three parts have raised my interest this much, Bendis & Co. have done their job.




Kelvin Green

This issue should be the one that shuts up the naysayers, but it won't be, because this issue also features the "death" of a popular character, and the moaners are going to be so busy complaining about that they're going to miss what's really going on.

In fact even I, in my enthusiastic defence of the direction this title is taking, missed it. Over in Amazing Spider-Man, Straczynski is badly fumbling a mystery-based plotline. With this issue of Avengers, Bendis has shown that he's working through a mystery too, but in hiding it behind a high-profile action story, he's made the mystery all the more tantalising. The deaths, the explosions, they were all misdirection, and it worked. It's fitting that Marvel's greatest magician turns up on the last page, hinting that this whole storyline has something to do with magical manipulation, because Bendis has acted as the stage magician here, using the big bangs to divert our attention from what's really going on.

And what's really going on is still a mystery. I was expecting the villain to stand revealed by now, but I'm still baffled, but in a good way, and that's keeping me interested. I can't wait for the next issue, I have to know what's going on! There are clues all over the place, but how they fit together, I don't know. It’s been a long time since I was so excited to see the next issue of a comic, so that at least is a worthy achievement by Bendis and co.

Bendis does stumble in a couple of places, though. Fury's reaction to the heroes turning up to support the team seems a bit over the top, unless it's all part of the mystery (and I suppose it could be). The Avengers and SHIELD have always been close allies, and for him to tell them that they're radiation-leaking freaks and that they should bugger off seems a little harsh considering the circumstances. I'm also rather unsure of Bendis' use of the word "assemble". As a battle cry it's fine, but Bendis keeps having characters use it inappropriately. If you want the team to attack a fleet of Kree starships, you say "attack those Kree starships" not "any Avenger who can fly--assemble". It's a little odd. Not comic-experience-ruined odd, but odd enough to make me step back from full immersion in the story.

I'm also a little disappointed art-wise. Finch and Miki did a good job in previous issues with bringing a gritty look to the proceedings, but they seem to have gone too far here with the jagged lines. It looks less gritty, and more scrappy, as if Finch and/or Miki are drawing all their lines with a hacksaw rather than a pen. Otherwise, it's a good art job. The storytelling is clear and exciting, and while it's been criticised elsewhere, the colouring is top-notch, fitting the mood perfectly.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I liked this issue, as I've defended this storyline throughout the many criticisms it's received. It is a surprise, to me at least, that I found myself as deceived as those critics. I liked what I thought was going on, but it turns out that I wasn't looking hard enough and that there's much more here than I'd imagined. And guess what? I like that too. This is great stuff, and if you've not been impressed so far, I urge you to take a second, deeper, look.




Shawn Hill

Plot:
All the Avengers in the world aren’t enough to stave off a Kree Invasion, only these are some damned confused Kree, if you ask me.

Comments:
Oh, great. Just what they need. It really is every Avengers nightmare at once, isn’t it? Ultron. Dark Vision. Ghostly remains seeking vengeance. [she-] HULK SMASH! Drunken Tony. Jan in the hospital. Clumsy Hawkeye?!

I’m not as bothered by all this as some, as it feels all too familiar. My first issue of Avengers, #137, featured Jan in the hospital (recovering from a Whirlwind attack I believe), and the Beast dodging a field of aerial land mines. I know when things go bad for this crew, they sometimes get worse. And that the team has recovered again and again over 500 issues.

It’s all just too wacky at once to be anything but on purpose. Which is why a certain doctor’s appearance on the final page makes all sorts of sense, while filling me with dread.

Two line review:
Finally it’s a guy who bites it instead of a girl! It’s been a long, bloody summer.

Sort of interesting:
Bendis piles on the word balloons here, and Finch isn’t the perfect collaborator for that, even though he excels in other areas. I don’t care that the Avengers gets their UN charter revoked. It’s happened before, and I really don’t need Hawkeye’s judgmental prattling about it. When did he turn into Oliver Queen? Though I do think he’s right that super-heroes are outside the law to an extent, and should be. They’re not the police, they’re an alternative to the police.

Most interesting:
Finch excels at the invasion fleet, and I love seeing the old-school blue Kree in action. This is, strange as it may seem, an example of the Authority Influence done right. The Avengers haven’t been changed to reflect the moral slippery slope of those would-be conquerors; but the threats have gone widescreen nonetheless.

Though Carol is the only woman to speak, Finch makes sure we see Crystal, Warbird, Captain Marvel in on the action alongside Falcon, Quicksilver and Quasar. This issue truly has an epic feeling, and balances that sense of scale with more believable examples of human frailty and anguish in the dialogue.

Conditional:
If the hints at the end point to the strangely silent Witch (she’s been on every cover, but had little to do inside), I may direct my ire this way, though I probably won’t drop the book as I have the schlocky Identity Crisis. I’d rather have an evil or insane Wanda than a dead one.

Summary:
I’m still enjoying this story, but only because I know nothing in comics ever lasts.




Jim Kingman

First day of Autumn, first comic read: Avengers #502. On the cover is a nice group pose: Yellow Jacket, Wasp, Hawkeye, and the Scarlet Witch. The cover blurb declares, “One of these Avengers will die!” Well, that’s healthy and optimistic.

One of these Avengers is indeed struck down. Initially, his equipment is. Maybe his back has been singed, I’m not sure. Hurting but heroic, this Avenger takes a Kree warrior on a one way trip with destiny, into the engine of a massive Kree space vessel. There’s a major explosion (and there have been many explosions in this series) and the Kree ship seems to magically shrink in size so as to crash within the boundaries of the already ravaged Avengers mansion (victim of a prior explosion). This guarantees no civilians are hurt. Alas, the heroic Avenger appears to have been killed in the explosion. A piece of his equipment is found. No body. So for the time being an Avenger is indeed dead. I give it two years, and then we’ll get his explosive return.

Into reality pops Dr. Strange. Dr. Strange doesn’t exactly say the following to the Avengers. I’ve embellished it quite a bit. “Hey, I know you guys have been under attack for the past few hours and your membership has been either wiped out or mind-controlled to the point of having your reputations disgraced for life, but didn’t it occur to any of you that this assault on your selves and senses is magically based? Did I have to come all the way here from my brand spanking new miniseries just to inform you of this? How annoying!” Dr. Strange is much more formal in the actual comic book. But this is basically what he’s saying.

In response to Dr. Strange, Captain America does say, “Oh no.” And that’s where we’re left at the end of this issue. With a big “Oh no.” I don’t call this a cliffhanger, I call this a ‘cut-off.’ The allotted twenty-two pages have been used up. Too many one to two-page spreads to cram in, I guess. Oh no.

Captain America is out of character in this series. I’m beginning to think he’s mind-controlled, too.

Nick Fury gets the best lines. The Avengers themselves are in disarray. You’d think they’d never battled for their lives or the life of Earth or the life of the universe before. I could’ve sworn they had but maybe that was in a different Marvel Universe. This new Marvel Universe, with its emphasis on new characterization of established personalities and infinite destruction of Marvel landmarks, is a far, far cry from the Marvel Universe of the 1960s and 1970s (the Marvel Universe I know).

Nice dark red skies, though. Not since DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths have I seen so much dark red sky.

Another month before more explosions can resume! My review space has abruptly filled! It’s time to cut-off! Oh no.




Shaun Manning:

It’s a bad day for the Avengers. Jack of Hearts returned from the dead, only to blow up Ant Man and half the mansion. Tony Stark got drunk on fumes at the U.N., costing him his job as Secretary of Defense and the Avengers their official sanction. She-Hulk went berserk and knocked out Wasp, Vision, Jarvis, and a few bystanders before taking the taser treatment and heading lock-up. Then, in Avengers #501, the survivors talked about it. It’s all downhill from here. But now they have friends. Five hundred or so heroes show up at the crater formerly known as the Avengers mansion to offer their help. So naturally, an equal number of Kree ships descend on the Earth.

The cover states loudly that ONE OF THESE AVENGERS WILL DIE!, with the choices being Hawkeye, Wasp, Pym, and Scarlet Witch. Being that rumors have been heavy for months regarding a certain archer’s demise (and that he’s the only one of the quartet to appear in the issue), it can’t be much of a surprise that Hawkeye takes one for the team. How he gets there, though, is… worth seeing.

Having the entire issue in tones of scarlet gives the book an insomniac quality, giving shape to the fact that, yes, the Avengers have been up for a very long time, and they’ve got a long way to go until dawn. Bendis and Finch both do a superb job this issue portraying the utter calamity in the lives of our heroes, keeping up the tension even in the quieter moments.

While fans are up in arms about the plight of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Brian Michael Bendis has done what no writer has been able to do prior–get me to care about the Avengers. There have been other enormously talented writers on the series (Chuck Austen notwithstanding), writers that I really enjoy in other contexts, but as a team the Avengers just never “did it” for me. This is even more strange considering that usually I don’t care for Bendis’s work. Score one for “Disassembled,” but no promises for the Avengers relaunch.




Jason Sacks

When did everyone in the Marvel Universe get so stupid? When did rationality escape from the brains of every character in certain comics? In Avengers #502 every character is stupid. They all make stupid mistakes and make stupid decisions, and when bad things happen to them, it's because of their own stupidity and not because they are being beaten. Take, for instance, the cool two-page spread on pages two and three where many former Avengers gather to offer their help to the team in their time of crisis. Okay, the spread is cool in a fanboy geek sort of way, but you have to wonder: did anyone think of calling first? Did anyone pick up a cell phone and call the Avengers Hotline to see if their help was needed? No, they're stupid people, they just show up and stand around waiting for someone to talk to them. None of them think to do anything to help investigate the crisis, none take the time to check in with whatever authority was surely put in place when the crisis arose; no, instead they all show up and just stand around. What's worse, it never occurs to any of them - not Daredevil, the longtime detective, not Reed Richards the smartest man in the Marvel Universe, not the Sub-Mariner, a goddamn king - that maybe they shouldn't tread all over a crime scene waiting for their buddies to come back. Only Nick Fury has the intelligence on par with the police detectives on Law & Order to ask that people not trample all over their evidence. It also never occurs to Quasar or Captain Marvel or any of the other cosmic-powered heroes to think that their radiation might throw others off their trail. Why should it? their whole reputation is based on these powers and they are more aware of them than any other living being. Why should it occur to them that they might cause problems?

Or take the most controversial scene in the comic - the apparent death of Hawkeye. I say "apparent" because we never actually see him die, and if Colossus, Jean Grey and Green Arrow can come back, then so can Hawkeye. But maybe the dude deserves it. He gets shot in the back and his arrows catch fire. Instead of remembering his elementary-school lessons of "stop, drop and roll," instead of asking for help from one of his teammates who surely had some way of putting out the fire, hell, instead of having a costume that wouldn't catch fire in the first place, Hawkeye throws himself into a group of Kree warriors as a way of sacrificing himself for the greater good. I suppose the Marvel Universe is better without heroes with an IQ under 80, but you have to ask: this is a guy who puts life and limb on the line every day and he takes no precautions whatsoever?

In this year's other controversial comic, Identity Crisis, part of the fun of the book lies in how true to their histories all the characters are. The twists and turns of the plot make sense because they are logical extrapolations of the characters. In Avengers Disassembled, however, just the opposite happens. Things happen to characters because the plot demands it, not because their characters lead them to actions. Consequently, the story lacks any sort of emotional impact. Things happen because the plot dictates that they should happen.

Brian Bendis built his reputation on creating interesting and believable characters. Jessica Jones, the ultimate Peter Parker and the detectives in Powers are fully-fleshed out and thoughtful. Here, however, he does just the opposite. The characters are as shallow as can be. Far from being fleshed out, these characters are complete ciphers. This might be the worst series Bendis has ever written.




Dave Wallace

Let’s ignore the hype for a moment; let’s ignore the morbid “One of these Avengers will DIE!” text splashed all over the cover; let’s look at this as a story on its own merits. Well, whilst Finch and Miki’s artwork is fairly solid, it fails on just about every other level for me.

This issue provides more of the same mindless and meaningless action that I thought we’d got over with issue #500. Whilst last month’s story showed some promise, with some nice writing and a more thorough exploration of the themes that the “Chaos” arc was going to concentrate on, this issue is a return to the inconsequential bland shock tactics of that first instalment. The political awareness that Brian Michael Bendis has squeezed so satisfyingly into some of his more recent work is here diluted into a weak subplot involving the United Nations, underdeveloped in favour of more issue-filling splash pages and indistinct reddish-orange fight scenes. I was hoping for a realistic, grounded look at the Avengers from Bendis: instead, we are left with a mess that, after 3 issues, still makes little sense.

Whilst I wouldn’t normally complain about an action-packed issue like this in the normal climate, the battle with the Kree comes off as more of an indistinct kerfuffle than a full-on open-air alien assault. With the entire pantheon of Avengers and ex-Avengers to play with, Bendis instead opts to concentrate on a few key players in the hope of upping the emotional ante. Sadly, this has the effect of making a superhero team comprised of nearly all of Marvel’s big players look laughably inefficient against the relatively simple threat of an alien space fleet. The “death” feels forced and unnecessary and only reinforces the feeling that if all of these heroes are going to show up, well, shouldn’t they all be doing something? Finch’s artwork keeps the story going to a certain extent, but even his impressive large-scale visuals can’t fill the hole that is left by the absence of a good story.

The sad thing here is the knowledge that BMB is better than this. This is not the Avengers story I would have expected from him, lacking as it does anything in the way of witty writing, satisfying characterisation or even a distinctive writer’s voice. Marvel’s summer hype event was a golden opportunity to pull in lots of new readers - myself included - and tell a knockout Avengers story that kept us plugged into the title for months to come. As it is, I’m regretting even giving this title the four-issue break I thought it deserved: I should have gone with my instincts and ditched it after the first instalment of this meaningless, confusing and (most unforgivably) unentertaining arc.


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