At Marvel Comics, it seems to always be the season for crossovers. With “Secret Wars” (circa 2015) ending in January, and “Avengers: Standoff” beginning in earnest this month, many of those “all new, all different” relaunches only had a few issues to find their feet before having to dive into the deep end of editorial maneuvers. Retailers and readers only had a month’s break between crossovers as well. Considered a “smaller” prelude event to this summer’s “Civil War II”, “Standoff” merely involves seven ongoing titles crossing over for one or two issues. For the record, that’s roughly half as long as “Maximum Carnage” from 1993 (which involved five ongoing series crossing over for two to three issues apiece), which was in many ways the template to many modern day “small” crossovers at Marvel. The challenge for an ongoing series which becomes part of a crossover is, naturally, for the series’ creators to craft an issue which is appealing both to their longtime readers and any potential short-term readers who are merely grabbing it to complete a checklist (which these days, are few in number than a decade ago). The flagship series for the Avengers line and the “all new, all different” era, “All New All Different Avengers”, faces this same dilemma much as any other series does. Writer Mark Waid, artist Andy Kubert and colorist Sonia Oback manage to power through this challenge with solid character work, at least for half of the issue itself.
This semi-official team of Avengers have only been together for seven issues (eight if you count last year’s “Free Comic Book Day” story), which translates to roughly three or four complete adventures in today’s era of storytelling. All of those battles connected back to Kang’s latest scheme, which was foiled last issue. However, this left the team with more emotional collateral damage than physical. Sam Wilson found out who the new Thor is, which is a terminally ill Jane Foster (whose cancer treatments are undone every time she transforms). And the Vision’s time as Kang’s brainwashed pawn caused a rift with the team’s younger members (Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, in particular). So the first half of the issue sees Sam and Jane have a pleasant yet emotional discussion about her state (and what seemed to be a romantic overture on her part towards him) while Vision does his best to make things up to Kamala by offering her a gift in his usual mechanical, unintentionally creepy way. What follows is two genuinely powerful and entertaining scenes, even if they end in two different ways. Things heat up when Iron Man and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) stumble into a battle with the Night Phantom (who was last seen back in 1969’s “Iron Man #14”) and the rest of the team rally around them. Maria Hill immediately turns up to apprehend the wayward villain and the team wind up headed for “Pleasant Hill”, her secret prison for super villains. Things steadily get more confusing as there seem to be more than one Maria Hill, and the squad quickly run afoul of the “unity squad” from “Uncanny Avengers” (who are led by the gun toting Cable and include recklessly unstable members like Deadpool, Human Torch, and Quicksilver). Fights and reality warping children ensue!
Andy Kubert always excels at action as well as far out sequences featuring many characters, and this issue offers a lot of that. From Vision’s gift to two battles with the Avengers, this issue does have plenty of action and shout outs to older comics for eagle eyed fans. Aside for those who are avidly invested in the crossover, the first half of the issue offers stronger stuff than the second, which devolves into a fairly routine hero vs. hero brawl of misunderstanding. At the very least, Mark Waid respects his readers’ intelligence and has Iron Man act savvy enough to realize what’s going on and attempt to end things and “make nice” as soon as he can. It is the character stuff in the first act of the issue which really makes this issue shine above plenty of others this week from Marvel. The scenes between Sam and Jane, and then Vision and Kamala, are well crafted and very satisfying.
The challenge of any writer is topping themselves, and that’s a challenge which Mark Waid sees all around him at this stage of his career. He has both past and recent successes to be compared to, such as his Eisner award winning run on “Daredevil” or even his much beloved run on “Fantastic Four” roughly a dozen years back. On those he managed the proper balance between characterization, clever plotting and pulse pounding action. With “All New All Different Avengers”, he’s nailing the first and last of those three dynamics, with the plotting aspect tending to slip through his keyboard. Even his longer Kang arc boiled down to, “boss super villain has minion super villains trash stuff for some grander unexplained purpose”, which is a standard plot for a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980’s. Fortunately, good character writing is ultimately more important than good plotting sometimes, because audiences usually respond more to characters themselves and their feelings towards them more than the plot of the week. On the other hand, generic plotting makes a series seem less impressive than it should, which may be the biggest criticism this series has right now. Atop of this, the crossover does Waid no favors since seeing superhero teams fight each other due to a misunderstanding or manipulation is one of the oldest tropes in fiction. When even his cast act as if they’re going through the motions of such a brawl, it only cements those plot details as obligatory.
Regardless, this issue remains a great read if only for the more focused scenes in its first half and the terrific art throughout. Other Marvel comics this week dive into the “Standoff” pool but it is this one which seems to swim the best. It will be a shame if by the time Waid is free of crossover obligations and able to craft this series as he sees fit for, heaven forbid, longer than one sales quarter, that it won’t be time for yet another relaunch.
Below are marvelous honorable mentions. They’re all solid comics, but they’re not quite on par with Mark Waid’s Avengers this time!
New Avengers #8: Guest artist Marcus To (“New Warriors”, this summer’s “Nightwing” relaunch) joins regular writer Al Ewing and colorist Dono Sanchez Almara for the first of three crossover issues with the “Avengers: Standoff” event. And considering that the team is based out of Roberto Da Costa’s anti-heroic leadership of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), it makes sense that they’d find themselves defending the rogue hacker “Whisperer”, who turns out to be perennial Marvel Comics supporting character Rick Jones. Deciding to help out SHIELD’s public enemy number one when he calls for help, the team is split down the middle as some decide not to fight the powers-that-be while the rest appear gung ho on the idea. This leads to an explosive prison break and a battle against some “Agents of SHIELD” such as Deathlok and and Quake, as well as a genuine mole within the team besides the often rebellious Hawkeye. The last page offers a tease to what could be an over the top issue next month. To’s artwork is incredible while Ewing puts together a rollicking issue despite the plot being fairly thin. The voices for his cast seem right and he always manages to roll with the best punches that crossovers give him. Considering that these New Avengers aren’t exactly mainstream, it makes sense to cast them in the position they have. A solid issue overall, even if it seems the next one will cater more to Ewing’s wild imagination.
Patsy Walker a.k.a. Hellcat #4: The all woman trio of writer Kate Leth, artist Brittney L. Williams and colorist Megan Wilson craft another funny and exciting issue around one of Marvel Comics’ longest running heroines. After her well documented woes with gainful employment, Patsy does some networking and finally lands a gig as the secretary for a tattoo parlor while meeting Tara Tam, a pal of former “Defenders” associate Howard the Duck. As she is mentored in the rules of Tinder, her old enemy Casiolena continues to plot an alliance of super villains alongside her newest lackey, Bailey (who Patsy dubs “Bag Lady”). Unfortunately, a critical legal meeting with her “frenemy” Hedy Wolfe seems to come at the same time as a team-up with Valkyrie to get to the bottom of everything. Williams and Wilson craft a delightful world for their star and her cast while Leth does an amazing job of utilizing long term continuity from generations ago for use in a tale which is easily accessible for newer readers as well! In fact the only disappointment is that Patsy’s ex-husband Mad Dog isn’t in the issue itself that he’s on the cover of, as one could only imagine the interesting version of him that Leth and Williams could create. Perhaps that is a tease for the next arc. Fans who enjoy the manic antics of “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” should be right at home with Patsy, who helped forge the path that the tailed one now bounds across.
Totally Awesome Hulk #4: The circumstances under which Amadeus Cho gained the powers (and the curse) of the Hulk are finally revealed as Frank Cho wraps up his run on art for this series (which is written by Greg Pak and colored by Sonia Oback). Having been captured by intergalactic monster collector Lady Hellbender, Cho has to risk going all out as the Hulk to save everyone (such as his sister Maddy Cho and fellow heroes She-Hulk and Miles Morales) from the legion of monsters from her ship. The result is another jaw dropping action spectacle with plenty of amusing one-liners and banter between the cast members. The next arc will see another vivacious woman, Enchantress, match wits with Cho, and Pak may risk repeating himself in terms of premises. It is a twist seeing the super genius Amadeus suddenly become the strongest “jock” in the Marvel Universe, but his struggle to balance his brains versus his brawn is a new dynamic for him which feels genuine, considering his long time association (and friendship) with the Hulk. After all, Hulk’s first teenage sidekick Rick Jones got to be transformed into a gamma-monster twice. It’s still early days for this series, but it certainly has seemed to eke out a unique niche for itself within Marvel’s line up. It’s an over the top action book, and proud of it!
The Ultimates #5: The “science team” of Avengers complete their journey to make it outside of space and time (literally) to take stock of the state of timeline itself, but not without quite a hefty price. Writer Al Ewing, artist Kenneth Rocafort and colorist Dan Brown collaborate for another exciting issue of exploration and wacky comic book super science. Few mortals are allowed to see the essence of time and Eternity himself, and just as the Ultimates seem to sacrifice themselves to breach that barrier of reality, they run afoul of Eternity’s agent – Galactus, who has become a life-bringer thanks to their intervention in an earlier issue. What follows is an interesting depiction of how fluid time is in the Marvel Universe, which literally canonizes the fact that writers and editors change things at a whim with endless “retroactive continuity” stories to the point that even the past is eternally changing. Meanwhile, Galactus gets a look at how truly messed up the cosmos is as Thanos recovers from his second death scene in less than a decade with relative ease. This remains a brilliant series for showcasing a great character like Adam Brashear/Blue Marvel (who is like Mr. Fantastic only more powerful and less unintentionally abusive to women) as well as giving readers a taste of superhero exploration of space now that the Fantastic Four are split up. Highly imaginative and dynamic, no issue is ever predictable.