Comic Book Review – Avengers #1

Anghus Houvouras reviews the first issue of Marvel NOW!’s Avengers…

The greatest heroes in comics together on one unbeatable team! The Avengers ‘go large,’ expanding their roster and their sphere of influence to a global and even interplanetary level. When Captain America puts out his call – who will answer? Big threats, big ideas, big idealism – these are the Avengers NOW!

I’d have to imagine it’s been an interesting year for the people at Marvel Comics.  Their characters have never been more popular.  Five years of successful comic adaptations under the Marvel Films banner led up to a triumphant, box office record shattering debut for The Avengers movie.  It managed to be a major success with fans and finances.  As a brand, Marvel has achieved previously unreached heights.

And yet, in the publishing world, Marvel has managed to fall behind the competition.  After last year’s massively successful revamp of their lineup, DC Comics has managed to take away significant market share and surpass Marvel.  For the first time in nearly two decades, Marvel was the number two name in comic books.

It must be baffling to have a stable of characters with such recognition and yet the publishing arm has not been able to capitalize. In an effort to remedy that, Marvel did some creative shuffling and have revamped a number of major titles under the banner of Marvel NOW!  It’s an interesting creative moniker, sounding like almost like a mandate from management.  “MARVEL NOW!” exclaimed as executives slam their fist on the table trying to figure out how their brand has been unable to capitalize in cinemas but not shops.  If not now, when?

I’ve read a few of the Marvel NOW! titles.  So far they’ve been a mixed bag.  Rick Remender and John Cassady’s Uncanny Avengers has been a woeful experience, while Matt Fraction & Mike Allred’s FF was one of the best first issues I’ve read all year. 

And now we have Marvel’s flagship title The Avengers relaunching with a new number one.  The book is being plotted by Jonathan Hickman and gorgeously drawn by Jerome Opeña.  And thankfully it’s a stellar relaunch of the world’s most famous super team. 

It’s not perfect mind you, but it does an exceptional job of bringing everything back to basics and doing a great job of foreshadowing big events coming down the pipeline.  We are treated to a prologue that hints to major events including a glimpse of intergalactic war and the return of Ultron.  It doesn’t look like things are going to get any easier for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. 

The story starts with the two most famous members of the team, Iron Man and Captain America, discussing recent events and the idea that the Avengers need to expand their roster.  With the aftermath of the latest incarnation of the Phoenix saga, Tony Stark enthusiastically declares that that “we have to be bigger” and puts a plan in motion to recruit new members.  membership drives have always been a big part of the Avengers.  The rotating roster of characters has been it’s major strength.  The entire series was originally conceived by Stan Lee as a place for second tier characters to gather.  Where God’s of Thunder can hang out with Ant Man.  Where the Black Panther can team up with The Hulk. 

It’s nice to see that basic concept addressed in the first issue.  The current team is made up of the six characters from the movie.  Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow.  They are forced to deal with an off world threat as a trio of villains have terraformed Mars and started an evolutionary war launching bio-bombs to Earth in an effort to create a new world.  The villains are interesting enough.  The world razing Ex Nihlo (Latin for “out of nothing”) wants to create a perfect world.  His associates motives might not be so pure.  And there’s an inference that they may be working for someone else.

The Avengers show up and have their asses handed to them in record time.  Captain America is sent back to Earth as a warning to anyone else who would try to stop their plans.  Once back, Captain America makes his way back to Tony Stark’s computer where he finds the recruitment plans Stark had already put in place.  In order to activate it, he simply has to utter a phrase:

“Wake the world.”

And with that, the series is off an running.  It’s a fantastically plotted first issue and lays the foundation for what could be an epic run.  There’s some wear around the edges.  Nothing about the story is terribly original, but it does a good job of reducing the Avengers to what works best.  Big threats, epic battles, and heroes coming together for a common good.  The final page gives you a good preview of the expanding lineup.  There are some familiar faces (Spider-Man, Wolverine) and some unfamiliar ones as well.  It seems like Hickman is going to be using Hyperion the way Bendis used the Sentry.

So, I’m happy to say Avengers #1 hits all the marks.  Well drawn, well plotted, and I’m interested to see where it goes next.  Hickman did a great job with the characterizations of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.  I’m hoping he can bring those dimensions to the rest of the ever growing cast.  If so, this could be a great start to a great series. 

Anghus Houvouras

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