Alpha and omega are not only ancient Greek letters, but mean “the beginning and the end” from the book of revelations in the Bible. They also are the opening and closing titles of the pair of one shots which began and end Marvel Comics’ spring crossover, “Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill”, which should be a clue as to the level of pretentiousness offered within. On the whole it is a simple story where an attempt to run a better prison for super villains goes wrong, the villains riot, and teams of heroes stop them. It is a fairly routine story for superhero comics, and writer Nick Spencer executes it all well enough. Yet he can’t escape an air of pretentiousness to the affair, as if this was the jailbreak story to end all jailbreak stories; nor can he avoid some dubious use of Marvel Comics’ currently shaky sense of continuity.
In theory this installment takes place directly after the events of the previous issue, “Alpha”, but in practice it also takes place after roughly two months of crossover chapters with roughly seven ongoing series. Thankfully, the events which occurred throughout don’t seem to take anything away from this issue, which is presented as a straightforward action finale. Baron Zemo has taken command of Pleasant Hill, a prison organized by SHIELD director Maria Hill to safely house super villains via recreating them into docile new people with the power of Kobik (a Cosmic Cube evolved into a toddler). He’s liberated the entire super villain population under his command, taken the SHIELD staff hostage, and even captures Kobik for his latest world takeover plot. Unfortunately, Zemo’s failed to prevent two teams of Avengers (the “unity” squad from “Uncanny Avengers” and the “unofficial” team from “All New All Different Avengers”) as well as the Winter Soldier from arriving to stop him. Led by a newly rejuvenated Steve Rogers, not even over a dozen superheroes are enough to stop Zemo until a brand new Quasar arrives to blast through Graviton’s force-field. Once the crisis is over, Maria Hill is finally called to task for her reckless actions by the SHIELD board of directors as the latest batch of new comic titles are essentially advertised with various epilogues (which would be “Steve Rogers: Captain America” and “Thunderbolts”). Art for the over-sized one shot is provided by Daniel Acuna and Angel Unzeta, with Matt Wilson as co-colorist, and the action packed tale with dozens of characters ripped from the official handbook of the Marvel Universe gives both a chance to show off their amazing talents.
Considering the absurdly low bar for narrative quality within Marvel Comics crossover events (which are always editorial advertisements rather than stories), Nick Spencer presents a fairly efficiently told hero versus villain conflict. Maria Hill’s arrogantly ambitious plan to build a better prison failed, as such things always do. Baron Zemo got to reestablish himself as one of Marvel’s premiere villains due to his frequent ability to rally armies of random costumed criminals around him just by barking orders. There are a few entertaining lines delivered by the heroes before the satisfying butt kicking sequences ensue. Equally satisfying is seeing Maria Hill finally taken to task for many of her actions, which in the previous installment were gratingly arrogant. And as nakedly obvious as some of the promotional pushes were, it is great seeing Steve Rogers in full vigor again. With the actual stories to most of Marvel Comics’ recent crossovers ranging from “terrible” to “terribly awful”, the fact that Spencer manages to churn out a perfectly average action tale is a success overall.
Yet as always with such stories, there seem to be glaring gaps in logic both to the overall yarn as well as to its grander place within what passes for continuity within Marvel’s universe. Just because the story itself notes how often these “ultimate super villain prison” plots fail doesn’t absolve it from being yet another example in a very well worn trope. In fact, this tale bares many resemblances from the first arc of “New Avengers” from 2005 in this regard. After much ado about Steve Rogers being an old man (again) for a year and a half, Kobik has simply restored him at a whim. And considering how rife the files of SHIELD must be with examples of how creating a new superhuman in a lab and seeking to control or manipulate them to one’s own ends has backfired violently literally every time it has ever been attempted throughout the entire history of her universe, it is beyond the pale that Hill couldn’t see such things happening with Kobik (a toddler with near omnipotent power). Other continuity “corrections” just occur under the explanation that “Secret Wars warped reality enough in January”. Wendell Vaughan, who has been a “space ghost” for roughly a decade, is not only alive and dressing like John Constantine, but is passing his quantum bands to a random SHIELD agent. Rather than resurrect the last woman who served as Quasar (Phya-Vell, proud lesbian lover of Moondragon and biological daughter of the original Captain Marvel), readers are introduced to a completely random woman named Avril Kincaid who gets to save the day in the climax from out of nowhere. Kraven the Hunter, who gets a two page sequence working alongside Zemo to trap Kobik, acts nothing like the version seen in “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” and “Howard the Duck” as recently as last week! The Red Skull’s daughter Sin, whose own face was disfigured since 2010’s “Captain America: Reborn”, is now back to her “typical comic book beauty” standards with no explanation besides the unofficial rule that all villains who are women have to be conventionally attractive (or at least not “ugly” or “disfigured”). The current Red Skull is a clone of the original housing psychic powers stolen from the corpse of Charles Xavier, but this seems to be enough to engender both Sin and Crossbones to be as loyal to him as to the original. There also is a significant moment within the finale where Steve Rogers appears in his elderly form in one panel despite being restored to youth earlier, which appears to be a rather glaring error.
Ultimately, “Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill” has been a perfectly mundane crossover event which didn’t do any real harm. One can imagine some of the secrets revealed within it (such as SHIELD creating a living weapon and seeking to rewrite reality in small doses) being brought up during the upcoming “Civil War II”, which will disrupt the theme of unity which Steve Rogers sought to instill. “New Avengers” easily got the most hay out of the crossover. For those seeking the latest brawl between random superheroes and super-villains who are willing to omit the giant gaps in logic or continuity hiccups, this has been perfectly serviceable fare.