In one corner: the first contemporary presence of DC’s premier superhero team in current continuity, fresh from the flashback volume establishing how the band got together.
In the other corner: a team of Avengers based entirely off those featured in Joss Whedon’s 2012 masterpiece, but still remaining within regular Marvel continuity (so no Scarlett Johansson, unfortunately).
Both feature their current main team lineups, both are intended to appeal to new and old readers, and both are written and illustrated by some of the top talent from their respective comic book companies. Also, they’re both really bad books.
But which team comes out on top, and which ends up seeming worse than Daniel Way’s Deadpool run?
The premise behind Avengers Assemble could not be more simple if it was a three-word cliff note written on a piece of toast. While sticking to the established Marvel continuity as opposed to spinning out of the film ‘verse, the team lineup from the movie get together (for reasons never clearly explained) to fight the latest incarnation of supervillain team The Zodiac. Oh, and the Guardians of the Galaxy and [SPOILER] show up. That’s about it really.
Justice League: The Villain’s Journey
instead goes for a more introspective, character-driven story that fails in two elementary areas; first, the main focus at the beginning is on Wonder Woman’s lovelorn ex-BF Steve Trevor, who more and more seems to resemble DC’s attempt at a Nick Fury character. That focus tries way
too hard to be deep and heartfelt, and just comes off as tacky. Since we’ve been frequently informed by DC editorial that almost everything pre-Flashpoint
is effectively non-canon, that means there’s little to actually suggest any kind of deeper relationship between Wonder Woman and Steve other than what we’ve seen in the books since the reboot. That means the book’s whole angle of Steve being rejected fails in trying to garner sympathy for him. All I keep thinking is “man, glad my superhero team isn’t being led by this angsty, whiny bastard”. I think I’d hand over my costume and go into economics if Steve Trevor ran my Justice League – being an economist isn’t anywhere near as boring, repetitive and aimless.
Second, the Green Arrow chapter sucks. Seriously, it couldn’t be more slapstick if it was Sideshow Bob stepping on rakes. He tries so bloody hard to join the League and whinge that he should be with the likes of Superman and Batman, and I just cringed for that entire portion of the book. I’ve only read a little of the Green Arrow comics since the reboot, but I’m pretty sure he’s not that much of a needy bitch when Jeff Lemire writes him.
Having said that, JL wins the point in the storytelling round. I’m really not exaggerating about Avengers‘s story, it really is that basic. And while newer fans may possibly find that accessible, I just find it tedious.
This is far and away the hardest section to judge conclusively – for all their faults, both books have some bloody
good artwork in them.
Avengers Assemble employs old Bendis stablemate Mark Bagley, who manages to alternate really well
between high-intensity colour and washed-out pales to play with light levels. You’d think a tie-in book like this would try to resemble the film characters they’re emulating, but to Bagley’s credit he does a decent effort at keeping them consistent with their regular comics appearances rather than making Black Widow resemble Scarlett Johansson. Where problems arise is in the action scenes – the panel layouts and coloured overlaps can get very confusing and disorienting, and sometimes it seems like particular action moves (particularly during the first fight with Zodiac at the start) are just added in smaller panels for the hell of it, when other moves could’ve been expanded into larger panels that would’ve looked far more marvellous. Overall, damn solid effort.
Justice League earns points straight away for featuring Jim Lee and Scott Williams, not only from the first volume but from far too many other books for me to recount here again. Some of those points get snatched away thanks to some really basic artwork done by other dudes during the first two chapters of the book, before the actual plot gets started. The work done by Lee and Williams looks as glorious as ever, but thanks to those early un-Lee-and-Williams bits their score takes a hit. Also, newbie villain Graves looks far too much like a combination of Doomsday and the Thing from Fantastic Four, and not the least bit scary. Lee, you can do better.
In the end, Avengers takes the point.
Yet another sticking point for both books, since they feature dialogue roughly on the same level – that is, it’s terrible.
I’d be inclined to give this fail straightaway to Avengers since it feels like it was written by Michael Bay, with incredibly transparent characterisations, hollow dialogue and not one good witticism between any of the protagonists. Rocket Raccoon has some good stuff a little later on, but it’s far too little, far too late.
Justice League has the aforementioned whiny dropkick Steve Trevor on hand to provide some truly awful attempts at pulling our heartstrings, but for the most part the other JL members stay as they’ve always been…until the ending. At this point I’ll issue a SPOILER WARNING, but honestly I’m pretty sure anyone with a net connection knows what I’m about to get into.
The finale featuring the much-touted kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman tries so damn hard to be poignant and connective, but fails utterly. For one thing, as with the Trevor and Wonder Woman example above, there’s almost nothing to suggest either of the superheroes had feelings for each other than went beyond the friend zone, and yet here it’s presented as if they’ve been making eyes at each other for a little while. There’s too much tell and not enough show, ironically, so as with Trevor I have little to no emotional investment in either of them as characters or as part of a relationship like this. Hell, Alana and Marko from Saga
managed to make me care about them as a couple in less time than this book took to hook Supes and WW up. Give us some background, especially since you want us to assume everything before 2011 never happened.
The dialogue in this scene almost feels like something from a Haley Joel Osment film, way too overdone and attempting to be eye-wiper material. It’s so bad that it derails the entire book for me, meaning both it and Avengers have an equal shot at winning the “which book sucks slightly less” competition presented herein. There can only be one, however, so the book that’s only marginally less horrible is:
Justice League: The Villain’s Journey. But it’s really not by much; the story and pacing are laughable in the worst way possible, the artwork suffers too many hits for artists of their caliber, and the dialogue swings between the poles of “decent” and “melodramatic”. Also, Steve Trevor.
Avengers Assemble is only worthy of a read if you’re extremely bored, liked the movie and can’t be bothered to read anything intelligent or thought-provoking. Or if you’re a hostage-taker needing to road-test a new torture method.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE VILLAIN’S JOURNEY
BEST QUOTE: “I hate being saved by Wonder Woman.” – Green Lantern
BEST QUOTE: “I am Groot.” – Groot