Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis vol. 1 (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Collects: Avengers (vol 4) #1-6

The Avengers are not a team that I've ever really cared to follow for a long period. Obviously, it's the premiere team book at Marvel and is branded as the "Worlds Mightiest Heroes". Problem is, the Avengers always struck me more as the "Worlds Mightiest C-Listers". I'm sorry, but I cannot give a goddamn about a chick who bangs crying robots or a dude from Eros whose power revolves around giving people orgasms without sex. With people like that it's easy to wonder if Cap just let anybody join off the street. Meanwhile, Spider-Man and Wolverine - two of Marvels best characters - didn't join for forty years.

Bendis kind of rectified this with New Avengers - Spider-Man and Wolverine were finally on the team - but Thor was gone at the time and the book had a different tone. Mighty Avengers restored the tone but went back to a bunch of C listers, Iron Man and the Sentry being the only holdovers of the "big guns". This is the first time all the stars seemed to align for the kind of Avengers book I was looking for; a team mostly comprised of A listers, a big sweeping threat, a large scale and even some time travel thrown in for good measure.

So, now we have the setup I've always looked for - the best of the best taking on the things no one hero can - but is the book any good?

Good might be subjective - Bendis has his fans and detractors - but I think it ranks pretty well. More than that, it's fun. Bendis just throws everything at the wall here; this thing has Kang, Ultron, an old Hulk that resembles Maestro, a cameo by Devil Dinosaur, Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen, Killraven, Martians. We even see the Next Avengers from that animated movie. Bendis plays the "broken timestream" angle to the hilt, ably showing the chaos or eras and alternate timelines slamming together. As such, there is no shortage of cool things to look at.

The overall plot is fairly straightforward; the timestream is wrecked and only our heroes can fix it. It doesn't sound too much different from other Kang plotlines in Avengers. That said, Bendis has some nice moments throughout. It's nice to see Thor just flat out smack Kang several blocks away as soon as he shows up, mid-speech; sure, he was actually there for their help this time, but it's not unreasonable to assume he was there to try and take them down for about the billionth time. I also liked how the storyline looped around in the end, giving context to the first pages of the first issue.

I'm not so sure about his Tony Stark though; while he has several moments where he tries to humanize him, he also plays the characters smarmy douche side to the hilt. That's not necessarily a bad take - it's not like Iron Man is new to being portrayed as kind of a dick - just not one I'm sure the character needs right now when Matt Fraction has worked overtime to get the character back on track after Civil War wrecked him.

JR Jr.'s art is something I'm a bit split about. There are aspects to it I love, such as how rounded and slick he draws Iron Mans armor, almost as though he were a sleekly designed robot. He's also good at drawing a number of crazy things, which is exactly what you need in a story involving time travel. Then there are the glaring instances of his style seeming to almost change; one page things will be slick and simple while the next will be sketchy or scratchy. There's an inker change for the last two issues of the story, too, so there's a noticable shift there as well; it's especially glaring when two pages from the beginning of the story are reprinted at the end in a scene giving context to what we saw at the beginning.

Love the colors though. Bright, flashy and striking. It helps give this book that "over the top heroics" feel it needs as opposed to the darker, muddier coloring prior Avengers books dwelled in for a good while there.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

Maybe I like this because it's my first big scale Avengers story. Maybe it's just because I haven't read Avengers Forever, which I've seen called as the ultimate Kang story. Regardless, I enjoyed the opening of the "Heroic Age" quite a bit. It's not perfect - and JR Jr.'s art can be weird at times - but it's a solid opener that delivers the Avengers I'd hoped to see for a long time. It's worth a look.

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