REVIEW: The Avengers #1

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Or – “I Think This Is Volume Four, But I’m Not Sure It Matters…”

From the ashes of the New Avengers comes…  the old Avengers!  Or at least a reasonable approximation of their membership.  With the Green Goblin replaced by the Super-Soldier, the time has come from heroes to step out of the shadows, free of the fear of government interference and do their Avengery thing in broad daylight.  Two questions remain, though:  What is Steve Rogers’ ultimate goal and WHO will he choose to populate the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?

Avengers #1
WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILS: John Romita JR.
INKS: Klaus Janson
COLORS: Dean White
LETTERS: VC’s Cory Petit
PUBLISHED BY: Marvel Comics

Previously, on The Avengers:  It was a dark day when the treachery of Loki caused his half-brother Thor to team up with the greatest heroes that the nascent Marvel Universe had to offer.  Soon after, the Hulk left the team, Captain America joined, and the world’s shiftiest roster began to form the world’s greatest super-team.  The nucleus of the Avengers seemed to solidify around the leadership of Captain America, the resources and technology of Iron Man, and the raw power of Thor.  Unfortunately, these three heroes have had their differences in recent years (and I believe each of them spent some time dead, for tax purposes) leaving the Avengers without a center.  After the events of Siege, Steve Rogers has returned to duty, although not as Captain America, and has been given the authority to run things his way.  With roughly eleventy million active Avengers to choose from, whom will the super-soldier choose to ramrod his new squad?  (My suggestion of 3-D Man, Johnny Blaze, Venus, The Texas Twister, The Smithville Thunderbolt, Juggernaut, Captain Ultra and Phoenix was voted down, by the way.)

The time is nebulous, but some date in the future.  The place is a rainy wasteland, a scene of great destruction.  A man familiar to most long-time Marvel fans kneels in defeat, as the shadowy forms of his attackers move closer.  “I am Immortus, MASTER OF TIME!” he screams.  “And for what you’ve dong here today…  I WILL WATCH YOU DIE!”  His rant is cut short by a bolt from the blue, and a bored group of teenagers in quasi-Avengers garb stand watching.  Smash cut to the present day, as the Steve Rogers gives his impassioned recruitment speech to someone.  I love JR Jr’s art here, with Steve’s expression showing sheer determination and the clear expectation that he has a plan to fix this.  Bendis then gives us one of his patented “Page full of heads responding to an off-panel questioner” sequences, featuring a number of Avengers (War Machine, Black Widow, Justice, Spider-Man, Hulkling, Wolverine, Captain America IX, thor, Tigra, Patriot, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Mockingbird, Dr. Strange, teen girl Hawkeye, Speed, Stature, Wiccan, The Vision, Spider-Woman, grown man Hawkeye, The Wasp and the Beast) responding to his question.  Cap meets some resistance, as Wonder Man insists that the problems that have besieged the the superhero community are BECAUSE of the Avengers (specifically the core three Avengers.)  Steve insists that he’s wrong, but as a faithful reader, there’s a lot of truth in what Simon has to say…

A short time later, we see Steve with his assembled Avengers roster, and the master of motivation explains to each of them what it is that they bring to his round table.  The real show here are the side conversations, as Spider-Woman and Wolverine discuss whether they belong here, Iron Man questions whether he belongs here, and Hawkeye and Spider-Man talk about identities.  “Yesterday, your were Ronin, today you’re Hawkeye,” says a confused Spidey, and Hawk smiles in confirmation, asking if he needs a proclamation.  When Spidey says yes, Clint awesomes back, “Today… I am Hawkeye.”  Heh.  The meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Kang, who cries out that he has brought a warning…  before Thor attacks and knocks him halfway across the island of Manhattan.  Kang warns them all that he’s here not as an enemy, but as the only person who can help them to offset a horrible catastrophe involving the Avengers’ children.  (“Spidey! It’s your KIDS, Spidey!”)  Kang exits, stage yesterday, and the team wonders how they’re going to get to the future to save it.  Wolverine reveals that he knows who will help, as we cut forward to see Kang arriving home and addressing his mysterious master.  The master of the future (who I will tell you is actually a founding Avenger himself) swears that he’s going to prove to the Avengers that he is the smartest one there is…

The issue ends with a long text piece called “The Oral History of the Avengers” which kind of undermines my goodwill for the actual story with a lot of glib dialogue that kind of works against the mystique of the Avengers (and makes some of the members sounds really goofy in so doing) but overall I’m not unhappy with this issue.  It addresses the question of how Steve and Tony will work again, it answers the question of what it’s like to work with Thor, it answers the question of Hawkeye’s change in raiment, and whether all the Avengers will be able to get along.  There are some flaws, in that most of these question are answered in a flippant and offhand fashion, but at least we’re seeing some progression and not an issue full of mysteries that have to be unraveled and known characters behaving in odd ways.  It’s everything that I like about Bendis:  strong dialogue that mostly works, an interesting menace/quest/macguffin, and an array of personalities that will make the trip interesting.  Romita’s art has been the subject of skepticism by many Spoilerites, but I have to say I enjoy it, and that his characters are well-rendered and his evil dystopian future evil, dystopian and futurey.  I’m still wary of a tendency by Marvel (and Bendis) to put so much energy into the setup that the denouement is disappointing, but based entirely on it’s own merits, this is a good’n.  Avengers #1 starts off the new franchise in a good way, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’s not the lineup I would have gone with, but it’s a good one nonetheless…

Rating: ★★★½☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Week:  Steve’s Avengers are Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Captain America and a player whose identity is not shown in this issue… Given 8 chairs to fill, what would be your dream Avengers lineup and why?