Avengers Next #1-5

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Or – “Hey, Cap’s Daughter Ain’t Dead, And She’s Just As Cute As A Button!”

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Okay, she’s not actually Cap’s daugher, at least not explicitly so, but they’re sure implying a little sumpin-sumpin went on. American Dream, aka Shannon Carter, Sharon’s daughter, grew up idolizing Captain America, and eventually stepped into a skin-tight suit to emulate him. There’s no mention of a father that I can find in the book, and I think we’re supposed to assume that Sharon either didn’t tell Cap he had a child, or that somehow they came to an agreement that Sharon would raise her. In any case, in the pseudo-future of the MC2 Spider-Girl universe, American Dream has finally stepped up to the big leagues. Having been bequeathed the adamantium shield when this universe’s Captain America sacrificed himself, Shannon has taken up the leadership of the Avengers, a team left short-handed due to the events of Last Planet Standing (Short version: Galactus showed up and the heroes of Earth came together to stop him) and now they face their greatest crisis ever. Well, actually, it’s pretty run of the mill, but why split hairs when she looks that good in red, white and blue?

anext1.jpg1988 was a pretty good year, I suppose. Nothing overwhelmingly wonderous occurred, a disaster here and there, Reagan in the White House, but overall ’88 doesn’t have the kind of “Oh, now I understand!” weight you’d get if you mentioned 1941, 1492, 1066, or even 2001. If years were actors, 1988 would be Danny DeVito, a year that had highs like “Taxi,” and lows equal to “Twins,” but wasn’t entirely memorable. That said, why do you think that Tom DeFalco loves it so much? The MC2 titles (a short-lived companion line to Spider-Girl circa the year 2000) took place in a future overwhelmingly influenced by that period of time, and this series continues that tradition. But, as his run on Thor and Fantastic Four proved, Tom D does nothing better than nostalgia, and combining that retro philosophy with a book that sort-of takes place in the future gives the MC2 universe a weirdly timeless appeal. Doesn’t matter when you last read comics, you won’t get thrown by what goes on in this limited series. That’s its strength, and in comic tradition, its greatest weakness.

Our tale begins at Avengers’ Mansion, with an angry American Dream confronting her few remaining teammates with the headline from the latest Daily Bugle: “Does The World Still Need The Avengers?” These ragtag Avengers (J2, son of Juggernaut; Blue Streak, evocative of Quicksilver; and a powerless Kevin Masterson, son of former Thor host Eric) try to argue yes, but American Dream runs down the Joe-Bob totals. Stinger quit, Spider-Girl retired, Freebooter injured, Mainframe in Washington, and Ghost Rider never had kids! As the team discusses a recruiting drive, the intruder alarms go off, as someone is trying to steal something from the protected vaults. Blue Streak rushes the thief at superspeed, but just bounces off the wall as he teleports out. The unknown ‘porter (who reminds me of Black Hole from Howard The Duck a million years ago) heads back to his secret lair…

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Holy moley! Is that… Joe Fixit??? Naaah. But mad props for rockin’ the pimp hat and coat in a 475 Long. Anyway, our teleporter (named Warp, proving his verbal skills as boring as his costuming abilities) has brought the hulking lummox and his wizened crone of a boss a true treasure: genetic samples of Avengers, past and present. The alarms go off at Avengers Mansion again, this time heralding the appearance of an old foe, the Wolverine-knockoff called Sabreclaw. American Dream accuses him of being in on the theft, but Sabre comes in peace, wanting nothing more than a safe place of his own to narrate his history…

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And the alarms go off AGAIN! My word, but it’s an eventful morning! (And if Sabreclaw’s a tiger/wolf/animal guy, what’s with the big yellow lightning bolt on his chest?) American Dream accuses Sabreclaw of setting them up for an attack by his old pals in the Revengers (a team which makes the bad name effect Olympic level, by actually having a member called The Big Man, whose power is… getting bigger), but it turns out to be… ZOMBIES!!! Worse than that, they’re Marvel Zombies, decomposing version of virtually all the Avengers, including Dream herself! (What? No Suydam cover??) The Avengers plus Sabreclaw leap into action, and across town, a young high school student named May Parker (hey, that name sounds familiar!) gets a desperate text for help. At this point, she’s given up being Spider-Girl, but still puts on a hoody and ninja mask she had lying around (!) and leaps into action, racing to Avengers mansion. The team fights all the dead folk, not realizing that the real attack is inside, as Kevin Masterson and Jarvis are attacked by the Purple Pimp, who rips off his clothes to reveal himself as Ulik the troll, foe of Thor! Spider-Girl encounters the creepy old woman in an alley on the way to the mansion, and by distracting her, makes the zombies disappear. Unfortunately, their real target has already been attained.

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Dun dun daaaanh! What does Kevin have that none of the others do? I’m guessing ties to Asgard, here, especially since the cover for issue two promises me “Thena, daughter of Thor.” Thpectacular thtuff, eh? That’s a ton of action for just one issue, isn’t it? Well, buckle up, cause here comes part two! Some time has passed since Kevin’s kidnapping, as they’ve had time to call in the reserves for help, in the form of Stinger (daughter of Scott Lang, Ant-Man, and yes, I am aware she’s called Stature in the real Marvel U… Can’t decide which name is worse.) Stinger has called in some help, needing an energy expert to help track Warp’s teleport signature. Since this is an MC2 comic, we need somebody from 1988…

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“…Katherine Power.” Oh, yay, Power Pack! As Katie uses her “energy expert” skills to try to track Kevin, we find the actual version chained up and being threatened by Ulik. Masterson isn’t cowed, and reminds Ulik that his Avenger pals will be there soon to save him. He’s not afraid of a troll, his dad spent a summer as Thor for tax purposes! Ulik can’t take the illogic, and since he isn’t allowed to twist off Kevin’s head like a Nehi cap, he checks in on the eeeevil plot of great eeeevil.

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So, the stolen genetic material was just a red herring, but now they need a source of great power to achieve their final goal of… something. Luckily, Croney O’Ancientevil knows where they can get a power sources like that… from the Avengers themselves! Wait, so now you have to break in AGAIN? WTF? Sudden change of scene time! Last issue, we briefly saw Nova (YEAH!) and The Earth Sentry chasing a rock through space. This silly subplot bears fruit now, as the rock crashes to Earth, landing right in front of Avengers Mansion, and splitting open like a big gray egg full of statuesque blonde in skin tight blue leather…

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…to reveal, THENA, daughter of Thor! I’ve already made a lisp joke, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but believe me when I say it’s taking an effort not to thay thomething thtupid. Nova, Sentry, and the Avengers crack skulls with Thena, as Croney, Warp, and Ulik teleport to a hidden underground base somewhere… in… the world? It’s never really made clear, and frankly, it doesn’t matter much. Just as they break in, we return to the fight, and watch with glee as Thena shatters her mallet against J2′s big rubbery head. (Mjolnir broke? No, it’s just a Franklin Mint replica her daddy gave her, but it has all sorts of sentimental value, darn it!) Thena freaks, but thankfully, there is an actual adult present. Katie “Energizer” Power (no relation to Austin “Danger” Powers) zaps her into submission, and also lectures her into stupefaction, while Ulik and Oldy McMagicpants reveal their secret weapon…

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Whoa! Ultron Extreme! Makes me wanna shotgun nauseous green liquids and ride my kayak through the Quik E Mart! EXTREEEEME!!!! WHOOOOOO! Oy gevalt, but the naming conventions just get worse and worse as we go on. It’s actually a weakness of the whole MC2 line, with J2, Stinger, and Mainframe being among the worst and most prosaic offenders. As issue #3 begins, the team is doing what superteams do: sparring, speaking in exposition, and watching videotape that allows the writer to explain quickly who in the bloody hell Ultron is. I know already (Check here if you don’t), so I’m more interesting in a side plot: J2 and Thena’s weird “pigtails in the inkwell” flirting.

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You have to love the drama, but what’s with J2′s ever-so-subtle giant phallus helmet? Kind of an odd choice for a superhero, and his penile silhouette makes me suddenly aware of the fact that virtually all the actual Avenger children are girls. It’s nice to see female characters, although I find the fact that they’re all wearing modified versions of Daddy’s costume to be disturbingly Freudian. Katie Power, meanwhile, has tracked Warp’s energy signature, and the whole team plus hangers-on leap into action (after Jarvis gives Thena a new adamantium hammer he happened to have lying about) to find their lost pal. Unfortunately, when they land, they are ambushed by Ultron and Ulik, a battle brought to you by the letter “U”. The battle isn’t quick, but it isn’t really spectacularly awesome either, so the recap goes: punch, punch, zap, slice, hammer, hammer, hammer, and Ultron falls to the ground drained of all his energy. Wait, what? That seemed far too easy. The kids find Kevin, and get back aboard their Quinjet, ready to enjoy a Milk Bone in an Ultron-free world, when somebody points to the “3 of 5″ on the cover, and all hell breaks loose… again.

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Kevin isn’t Kevin at all, but Dr Croney Von Evildurlanpants (could somebody get this broad a NAME already?), who blows them all up reeeeal good. So, Ultron wasn’t the main evil plot point either. I haven’t seen this many red herrings since the Great Long John Silver’s Fire of ’04. Anyway, issue four starts with Mainframe (who I think is the mind of Tony Stark in remote android bodies, rather than the Mainframe from Guardians of the Galaxy, who was The Vision’s mind in remote holographics bodies) dressing down Earth Sentry and Nova about The Avengers hanging out with Sabreclaw and those rotten kids being on his lawn and leaving their footballs in his driveway and stuff. He’d probably be nicer if he knew all the kids were vaporized last issue. Or WERE they? The name on the book is Avengers Next, so the question is –

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Of course they’re not dead, ya big goofs! We don’t kill Avengers without notifying the A.P. wire first! No, they’re all safe and sound in a standard-issue-villain-clear-tube-trap, teleported to safety by Warp. Croney and Ulik make some noise about “wanting the Earth,” which makes Warp nervous. After all, he’s a villain with a heart of gold, and he doesn’t want to HURT anybody, he just wants to get rich, or pay for his aunt’s operation, or get his wrongly accused Daddy out of prison or something. Kevin Masterson uses his wiles to try and talk Warp over to the side of the angels, but it doesn’t work… yet. Croney reveals her secret plan, more secret than the three plans we’ve seen before it.

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Wah huh??? The plan was to capture the world’ superheroes, channel their energies into your special “Simon” game, and then transform their powers into energy to power a magical spell? Could this be more convoluted? Well, yeah, because the clones are now going to fly out and touch other heroes, transforming each of THEM into flying energy clones as well, sort of like zombies. When Thena awakes, she drones on about the power of Asgard, blah blah blah fishcakes, and Croney blows her off, transforming into her TRUE self… Syrene, daughter of Loki! Because, honestly, if you’re gonna go with a cliche, you gotta commit! Sylene explains to Thena she’s isn’t turning Thena into a flying eyebeam ghost, because she’s part of the spell, and chucks her into a mystical cauldron full of energy! She also needs Kevin Masterson, a changeling, to turn Earth into a duplicate of Asgard, eaten by Galactus in “Last Planet Standing.” Warp finally reveals his true nature, and blah blahs something about not signing up for this, and teleports away with Kevin, ruining the spell! For about five seconds, before she realizes that J2 has turned back into his normal identity of Zane Yama, (!) which makes him a Changeling, and she chucks him in the pot. Kevin and Warp go the only place they can for help… Avengers Mansion.

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Game over man! I say we just nuke the whole city from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. No, wait, that’s not the Marvel Universe way. No, in the Marvel Universe, there’s only one thing we do to deal with a situation like this (or indeed, any situation at all, right up to being irritated at the girl ahead of us at the Pik N Save). We fight! Kevin ends issue #4 with a big pep talk, (“Did The Original Avengers quit when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor???”) only partly undermined by the beginning of #5 and the onslaught (No, not THAT Onslaught) of eleventy-zillion flying laser eyed ghosts…

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Warp sure is a jumpy little guy, isn’t he? Luckily, Masterson’s Thunderstrike experiences have taught him to stay cool, grabbing The Grim Reaper’s scythe and attacking Ulik from behind. As a diversion, Warp teleports in an old Iron Man armor, then manages to steal the remote control device for the eye-beam-ghosty-making machine. Warp gives it to Jarvis, then teleports Ulik to the moon, as my head snaps back again from rapid fire plot points. J2 wakes up in some sort mystical cauldron, near his new dream girl from Asgard, and realizes that it’s time to get Juggy wid’ it! Sorry… I’ll never do that again, I promise. Transforming into his silver-bullet-headed alterego, J2 muscles his way out of the cauldron, while the rest of the team manhandles Sylene. Juggy busting free disrupted the spell to turn Earth into Asgard, but Sylene is still more than a match for the Avengers, even with Kevin shooting her with Grim Reaper rays. “I can not and will not accept defeat, Masterson!” cries Sylene. Thena, returned to consciousness, but apparently still thick as a brick, suddenly steps back, and realizes, “You are Kevin Masterson? My father bid me find you to settle a sacred debt!” A little dose of Asgardian magic later?

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To quote Brian Johnson… “You been… THUNNDERRRSTRUUUUCK! Ayeahyeah yeahyeah YEEEEAAAHHHHHH!!” Wow, I’m really sorry about that, too. I should have stuck with the lisp jokes. Mainframe, meanwhile, realizes that the only way to stop her is to take severe measures, so he pushes his satellite headquarters (!!!) out of orbit, and aims it directly at the center of the conflict. That seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? I mean, yes, she’s evil, but a SATELLITE to the HEAD? Overkill much? At least I’m finally sure that Mainframe has Tony Stark’s mind. Warp teleports everyone but Sylene away, and one big Kablammicus later, no more problems with Sylene. The team takes about five seconds to wonder if she’s dead before posing heroically in triumph.

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Boy, we’re just Sleepwalker and Slapstick short of a complete late 80′s/early 90′s reunion there. So, after this marathon of recapping, what’s the final analysis? The plot is labyrinthine and complex, without all the silly restrictions of “making sense.” It really feels like classic 70′s Marvel “seat of the pants” plotting, where they just throw more stuff on the fire until they have to end it, like the Kree-Skrull War. Zombies, stolen genetic material, the spell to recreate Asgard, Ultron’s resurrection and immediate defeat, and the eventual triumph through the use of oh-so-very excessive force all roll together into a big blur of “What?” Ron Lim’s art came straight through a time portal from ’88, identical to his work on Silver Surfer, X-Men 2099, and… well, pretty much everything Ron Lim draws. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unpleasant to look at, but it’s not in any way impressive or memorable.

Overall, it’s nice to see more stuff set in the MC2 chronology, but it’s also somewhat easy to see why J2, A Next, and Fantastic Five disappeared in the first place. The “sons and daughters of The Avengers” bit is interesting, but that’s really is the only thing that separate this book from the “Legion X-1″s and “U.N. Force”s of dead comic companies past. The plot’s not boring, but not memorable for anything other than its convolutions, and all told, the total effect of the miniseries is pleasant, but not impressive. It’s a solid comic book with it’s own logic, and would make a good “starter book” for a hypothetical niece or nephew you want to give the gift of reading. It’s a two star effort, with nothing really sticking out as bad, but nothing exceptional to push it beyond average.

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