Monday, May 11, 2009

In Review: The Avengers (Free Comic Book Day)

I was always a Marvel kid. The first comic books and characters I loved were Marvel books and characters.

But since returning to comics reading in the last few years, the love just hasn't been there. I still follow a couple of Marvel books and enjoy reading older issues, but overall, I don't like the current direction of the line.

The recent Avengers Free Comic Book Day offering is a perfect example of why.

I won't complain about the size (it's significantly smaller than a modern comic, which is already significantly smaller than golden age comic), as some have.

Nor will I complain about the art. Jim Chueng is a great draftsman (his work looks like Chris Bachalo and Oliver Coipel genetically spliced together) and a pretty good storyteller.

The problem lies with the script by Marvel it-writer Brian Michael Bendis. The basic story is good enough: The Avengers face a pissed-off Norse ice giant called Ymir who has just taken out Thor. The problem is in the execution.

Spider-Man narrates, which is all fine and dandy if you're behind the idea that Spider-Man should be a full-time Avenger. I'm not. I always liked the idea of him being a reserve called in for extra special occasions. It makes more sense with Peter Parker's lifestyle, too. I'm even more against Wolverine being an Avenger. It's not strictly because I dislike the character (which I do a little bit), but more because he's already ON THE X-MEN! It's a stretch to me that he would even be on one team, let alone two.

That aside, this is an interesting Avengers line up. With Ms.Marvel, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Spider-Woman, Hawkeye (now Ronin) and Mockingbird, it's like a dream team circa 1977. Captain America (Bucky Barnes in shiny armor) rounds out the group.

But in actuality we only get four pages of the Avengers (some of them don't speak more than two words the whole issue) before a whole other team of Avengers shows up. It's the Dark Avengers, led by Harry Osborn, formerly the Green Goblin, currently the Iron Patriot. Having helped beat back the Skrull invasion, he is currently a hero in the public eye. Of course we all know he's bat-sh*t crazy. He has brought along his own team of analogue heroes who are actually villains going by the names of heroes. Confusing, yes, and Spider-Man even acknowledges this. Of this group, Ares emerges as the focus of the issue, while everyone else is relegated to background noise.

Ares aside, it seems like the inclusion of the Dark Avengers was unnecessary and took space away that could have been spent telling us more about the Avengers themselves, their powers, their personalities, etc. Look, I'm not one of those people who thinks every issue of a comic needs to be contain a primer for a new reader. I believe the average fan is savvy enough to pick up what they can and fill in the backstory as needed. But seeing that this was a Free Comic Book Day book, and it was a good opportunity for Marvel to try to lure me back into the fold, it's just a wasted opportunity.

There's also the matter of Bendis' trademark wordy dialogue. Comic dialogue has never been an especially subtle or realistic thing, and I'm all for elevating the art form, but this isn't how I'd go about it. Basicaly, everyone on the team cops the same sarcastic hipster voice. It works for Spider-Man, 'cause that's who he is, but does the whole team need to speak this way? It's like watching Dawson's Creek, or a Kevin Smith movie, where every character speaks in the voice of the writer. Witness the first exhange of dialogue between the Avengers:

Luke Cage: Damn.
Mockingbird: Well put.
Luke Cage: I am a wordsmith.
Captain America: What is that?
Ronin: You know what...I actually know what that is. It's a Norse ice giant.
Iron Fist: Great, okay, just tell us how your beat it the first time and we'll --
Ronin: Well, uh, a big giant fire god came and they beat each other out of this dimension.
Luke Cage: Do you know any fire gods?
Ronin: I do not.
Luke Cage: So nothing you said helps us at all.

Blech. There are "cute" exchanges like that all over the place. I'm all for a little levity, but it just doesn't work for me. And it doesn't seem to fit with the tone Bendis is trying to set in his stories. Anyway, superhero comedy has already been done. It was called Justice League, by Keith Giffen, J.M.DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire.

The story wraps up with some mumbo jumbo about a "twilight sword" and an never-acutually-gets-going throwdown between the two Avengers teams. Like I said, promising premise, disappointing execution. Besides the art, the only thing I truly enjoyed was Thor's badassitude at the end. "You and I shall have words another day," he tells Osborn and it brings to mind the beat-down he gave Iron Man in issue 4 of his most recent series. I might be on board for a repeat of that.

But am I going to buy any new Avengers comics? Or anything that Bendis is in charge of? Not based on this issue. Marvel, keep trying. You'll get me back one day.

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