What makes this latest relaunch of Marvel Comics’ main Avengers title “all new” and “all different”? It is a worthwhile question considering how many times either the main Avengers title or its many spin offs have been restarted with a fresh “number one” issue within the past decade. The fact that it arises after (or during) the latest annual crossover isn’t enough of a distinction, as that has become rather routine. A change in the title dress and the creative team is a good enough reason, as well as a drastic change in the roster itself. Out of seven superheroes, two of them are women, three of them are teenagers, and three of them are people of color (and one of them is a robot). Considering how many rosters of Avengers seemed to consist of one woman and/or one person of color flanked by five or six white men, it is a noteworthy distinction in the call for diversity in mainstream superhero comics. It also features an A-list creative team in writer Mark Waid (at the peak of his popularity due to an Eisner award winning run on “Daredevil”) and artists Adam Kubert (“Wolverine”, “Uncanny X-Men”, “Superman”) and Mahmud Asrar (“Dynamo 5”, “Supergirl”, and “All-New X-Men”). With an over-sized debut issue such as this, the end result is what can easily be one of the best debuts of the “all new all different” era of Marvel Comics this year, even if it does bare some warts.
Despite the fact that Marvel’s “Free Comic Book Day” offering this year offered a quick adventure featuring the entire team, Mark Waid has chosen to go back to the tendency of the mid 2000’s to slowly “build up” towards gathering the entire team that is featured on the cover over multiple issues. Sam Wilson is still getting used to being the Captain America in terms of throwing a shield or being judged by both the media and everyday citizens due to his race, while once again Tony Stark’s fortune isn’t quite what it used to be despite him still having all of his hi-tech toys at his disposal. This has forced him to sell off the former “Avengers tower” to a far more malicious tycoon who has secrets of his own along with an eagerness to team up with a random alien warrior who beams in. Miles Morales, one of the sole survivors of the “Ultimate” universe, seems to be on scene as Spider-Man by sheer coincidence, and stumbles into the other two heroes by similar serendipity. Meanwhile, both Ms. Marvel and the new Nova turn out to have met each other during a crisis in Jersey City involving a monster from the Microverse, and neither make a memorable first impression.
Totaling over thirty pages of story, each segment is broken up between both artists. Adam Kubert draws the main “Avengers Assemble” section while Mahmud Asrar draws the Ms. Marvel/Nova meeting, titled “You’re a Jerk” (in a clever homage to Kitty Pryde’s famous line in 1983’s “Uncanny X-Men #168”). The color work for both sections (Sonia Oback in the former and Dave McCaig in the latter) is amazing, and visually the entire tome is a feast for the eyes. Kubert, as always, is a master of showing flow and action, managing to make what could have been a routine rescue with Sam look more incredible than it deserves to. Asrar, who has made a career of drawing teenage superheroes, excels at a story which is about an awkward first meeting despite there being spandex or a monster involved. Much as with his work on “Daredevil” or other comics, Waid’s strength seems to be in his voices for the characters. Both Sam and Tony sound and act as they should, revealing their differences without being immature about them and still coming from positions of mutual respect – which is rarer in superhero comics than it should be. Elsewhere, Kamala Khan and Sam Washington’s misadventure together manages to showcase what makes both interesting characters even while having them bungle their meeting in every way (mostly by Sam overcompensating for one miscue after the next with her).
In fact, the only flaw in the issue is the plot itself. The arrival of a random alien warrior serves no purpose other than to give the neophyte team something to unite against. This would be fine were this still an era where an entire team could meet and mobilize within twenty two pages. Unfortunately, Waid is returning to an era where it may be anywhere between three and six issues before the team is assembled, and it is hard to see a boring brick with shoulder padded armor being very fascinating for long. Considering that the “free comic book day” issue featured a classic villain in Radioactive Man, it seems like a missed opportunity to not feature a more memorable rogue for the team’s opening mission. Neither Vision or Thor even appear within the comic itself, which some sticklers will consider a cardinal sin. However, it is the characters that count in a team title more than the threats, and while the story may be moving along at a slower rate than is ideal, it looks like Mark Waid and company are intent on nailing what counts. It may not be as flawless or even as progressive as Marvel’s promotions imply, but it does look to be the great start to what may be the best core Avengers title in years.
Below are honorable mentions. They’re both solid comics, but can’t quite match the above standard.
Spider-Man 2099 #3: Four words which may describe this issue may be, “too little, too late”. The last page “reveal” in a finale brought to readers by Peter David and artist Will Sliney (and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg) is that they haven’t decided to play up the tired “women in refrigerators” trope dead straight. Unfortunately, shifting from narrative incompetence to mediocrity isn’t as commendable a leap as it seems. Most of the issue features a modestly exciting battle between Miguel O’Hara (in his awful new costume) and the cybernetic Doctor Cronos. Naturally, Miguel is angry and seeking revenge, and most of Cronos’ jokes fall flat. There isn’t much depth to the proceedings here, and a last minute saving throw may not be enough to redeem a title which has fallen far from last year’s peak. For better or worse, whatever spark of vigor that David and Sliney had with this series was sucked dry during the “Spider-Verse” crossover, and has yet to return. It will remain to be seen if it ever will.
The Ultimates #1: Despite the title, this series has nothing to do with the previous Ultimates of the Ultimate Universe. It simply is a clever way to maintain a trademark as well as not have to come up with adjectives to place before “Avengers”. It is the second Avengers title written by Al Ewing, and much like his other (“New Avengers”) it involves science and superheroes. But rather than a team of heroes using plunder from mad scientists to save the world, this team seeks to use super-science to solve intergalactic problems. One virtue this issue has over “All New” above is that Ewing actually manages to include his entire team within this debut issue without it seeming out of place. Black Panther keeps the United Nations informed on the team’s efforts to save the universe one day at a time, as Spectrum and Miss America Chavez bond over punching menaces in another dimension. Meanwhile, two Marvels (Blue Marvel and Captain Marvel) unite to find a unique solution to one of the most dangerously consistent threats Earth has ever known – Galactus the world eater! The art by Kenneth Rocafort and Dan Brown is a bit rougher and edgier then a fantastic space team seems to imply, but Ewing sells everything with spot on dialogue and some ambitiously big ideas. It’s similar to a lot of what Jonathan Hickman did with Avengers, only without neglecting the humanity of the characters to do so. Although overshadowed by Mark Waid’s latest superhero jam this week, this may actually have more potential than “New Avengers” and be one to watch.