Sunday, July 29, 2012

Avengers: Some Assembly required

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AVENGERS ASSEMBLE  # 1 – 5  (May –September 2012) Brian Michael Bendis, writer.  Mark Bagley, penciler.  Danny Miki, inker.  Paul Mounts, colors.  VC’s Clayton Cowles, letterer.

When I first saw the announcement of a new monthly Avengers book in PREVIEWS  I wasn’t very excited.

Aren’t there enough Avengers books?  Why glut the market with yet another one?  Who could possibly make up the roster of this team?  Isn’t every non-X-Men hero a member of one Avengers team or another?  Who’s left? 

When I learned that this new AVENGERS ASSEMBLE team would mirror the characters in the wildly popular AVENGERS movie I immediately concluded = marketing decision.   The AVENGERS movie just might create new interest in these characters and drive new customers into comic stores and book shops in search of Avengers books to read. (Barnes & Noble mostly – sometimes I wonder how well they do with comics sales. I believe they cornered the market for manga.)  Why not put something out there they recognize and get them comfortable?   I’m not against that marketing decision - - it’s a smart business move, especially since the movie has exceeded all attendance expectations and is the summer movie of 2012  the others want to beat.  (I suspect BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES might be just a little too dark to accomplish that.)  But, I also suspected that AVENGERS ASSEMBLE would be geared towards the general public (less familiar with the source material) and not necessarily a book for true fans.   I was wrong.

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With Bendis writing the stories and Bagley illustrating them Marvel has re-united the long running team from ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.   That got my attention.  I would have to check out the first issue at least.  I’m now well acquainted with all issues, right up to the current AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #5. 

If you can only read one AVENGERS title, this is the one.  It stands apart from the other books and is not inter-connected in story line (all of them crossing over into AVENGERS VS X-MEN presently).  What you will find is a fun read, both amusing and entertaining while it holds your attention, and the best art I have seen from Mark Bagley in a long, long time. 

Just to help new readers identify this book on the newsstands, the first three covers feature the full team.  They don’t depart from this format until Issue #4, which features an awesome scene of an arrow-riddled Hulk holding an unconscious Thor in one hand and raising his hammer with the other.  Issue #5 is a sultry cover featuring Black Widow and Hawkeye in a passionate embrace sure to make every male extremely jealous of Clint Barton.  (Yeah, I know that Hawkeye’s appearance has now been altered so that he more closely resembles actor Jeremy Renner.  And, with AVENGERS ASSEMBLE we are also treated to a Hulk with facial features similar to actor Mark Rufalo).

I’m not going to regurgitate very many plot elements here.  Suffice to say this is a good book worthy of your time.  Here are some of the highlights:

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  •      ***  A new Avengers tower that serves as headquarters and housing for the Avengers.  (Sure - - of course it resembles Stark Tower from the movie).
  •      ***  A re-vamping of the Zodiac team of super-villains (going way way back in Avengers lore).  The new team has powers that more resemble the signs of the Zodiac rather than representative costumes.  Aquarius converts to a giant water spout/form and Taurus has incredible bull-like strength and looks to boot.  (He almost takes down two very powerful Avengers single-handedly.  This mysterious group is empowered by a behind-the-scenes benefactor, apparently not from Earth and displeased with humanity.  We only get to see the new Zodiac in action briefly in Issue #3 before the Avengers figure out how to beat them.  It’s a little disappointing  - - there’s a lot of potential and I hope to see Zodiac again.
  •     ***   The art!  The art!  Wow! Bagley out-does himself. Very cinematic, probably purposeful.  But I’m not complaining. It’s great!  There are great visuals every single issue.  Look at what the art team put together for the two-page spread of galactic battle in Issue #5.  The inks and shading really enhance Bagley’s pencils.  More wow!

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    ***   The return of the Ultimate Nullifier,  a favorite weapon/tool/power device of Marveldom.  And to pair it up later, add some Infinity Gems. These items don’t belong together, unless you can match them up with the Cosmic Cube.  What a trifecta!

    ***  The return of Nick Fury’s floating sports car  (as in the original NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. series from the old STRANGE TALES comic).

  ***  Thanos is back, big and bad as ever.  It makes sense to feature him after the ending of the Avengers movie.  Why not bring the curious in to see what this villain is all about? 

  ***  Tony Stark contacts President Obama (portrayed in shadows, but that’s a distinctive profile)  to inform him:  “Mr. President.  This is the difference between our existence and our not existing.  We are at Def Con One Thousand, sir.  . . . Blow the place.”   What?  Giving up?  Read this to find out more.  Check out the outstanding centerspread in Issue #4.

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   ***  This is where it gets a little crazy and I’m not as sure I’m liking the direction.  Just as the Avengers are concluding that they are in over their head, another team with more-suited cosmic field experience shows up to assist = THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.  (Wanting to create a little buzz for that movie announcement, perhaps.)

Still, in spite of all that clutter, I’m gong to see this story line out.  It also appears to be the one and only storyline as AVENGERS ASSEMBLE seems to end with Issue #8 to make way for Marvel Next.  That makes it a neat little collection for someone who doesn’t want to pursue a huge volume of work.

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