Sandwiched between the recently-wrapped SECRET WARS and the big summer event of 2016, CIVIL WAR II, comes AVENGERS STANDOFF. This crossover running through Marvel’s Avengers books has been billed as a prologue of sorts to Civil War II, but is it required (or even enjoyable) reading?
AVENGERS STANDOFF: WELCOME TO PLEASANT HILL
Writer – Nick Spencer
Pencils – Mark Bagley
Inks – Scott Hanna
Colors – Paul Mounts
Letters – VC’s Clayton Cowles
Editor – Tom Brevoort
Publisher – Marvel Comics
Cover Price – $3.99
Previously in AVENGERS STANDOFF: As our first introduction to the series, this issue does a fine job of standing on its own. However, it is building on themes currently running in Captain America, namely that SHIELD has been experimenting on the Cosmic Cube. Ramifications of those experiments play a big part into the mystery surrounding the sleepy burg of Pleasant Hill. The first hero appearing in this issue is Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, and his pre-Secret Wars position as “Man on the Wall” is addressed and dismissed in quick fashion. That said, the issue is pretty easy to jump aboard if you have not been following Captain America or Winter Soldier stories.
AN UNSETTLING MYSTERY
Before going any further in this review, let me first say that the issue is fantastic. So fantastic that I will do my best to tiptoe around major plot points…Spoiling the mystery surrounding Pleasant Hill would make it a much less enjoyable read. Hopefully the Stephen, Matthew, and Rodrigo take a crack at this book on the podcast.
What I will do in this review is give you the basic premise and hint at some of the intrigue. The book opens as the Winter Soldier picks over the scene of a failed SHIELD experiment. After a moment of foreshadowing, Bucky is taken down by SHIELD agents, and we fade to black.
Jarringly, the book transitions to the town of Pleasant Hill, where from the get-go, things are creepy and unsettling. Pleasant Hill is an obviously manufactured town based on the classic Midwest-stereotypical hamlets such as Topeka, Kansas. But in Pleasant Hill, secret agents lurk behind trees, electrical experiments occur at night, and those who try to leave the town are dealt with harshly. Our protagonist, Jim, finds himself new to the town and struggles with his new reality, until a series of events find the curtain drawn back, allowing both he and the reader to understand the chilling truth of Pleasant Hill.
CLASSIC MARVEL ART
Mark Bagley pencils this issue, an artist who has consistently done great work for Marvel. A story like this requires busy backgrounds and a range of facial expressions, all provided admirably by Bagley.
BOTTOM LINE: VISIT PLEASANT HILL
Secret Wars started out with a bang, but lost steam for me after delays and what I felt was unnecessary padding. Event fatigue is a real thing, and for a book to get my dollars these days, it has to provide something substantial along with the flash and sizzle. Pleasant Hill is a Pleasant Surprise. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the book as much as I did. At its center is a very serious dilemma involving human rights and a hook that has me invested for the rest of this crossover. Give it a try.