[MARVEL NOW] Avengers: Avengers World

Hi, DC?

Yeah, this is Marvel. We win.

I imagine this must’ve been a phonecall made somewhere along the line after both companies’ respective rebranding-relaunchy-rebooty things. Seriously, I’ve now checked out roughly half a dozen of Marvel’s new NOW books, and compared to the first half dozen New 52 stories I read it seems that Marvel have a significantly stronger upper hand here.

It may be complete, blind luck that I managed to snag titles that kicked ass all in one go (or the really bad stuff hasn’t been released yet, in which case I’ll gladly bake some humble pie and beg Batman to take me back), but so far Marvel’s new offerings have been awesome. Part of it’s because the writers are top-notch, part of it’s because the company seems to be (at least so far) treating their characters with respect, and a big part of it is because previous continuity still matters a damn. DC Comics might be raking in the big bucks in the comic world right now, but Marvel are kicking ass and taking names to such a degree with storylines and characters at the moment that I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney buys  DC out and fuses the two companies together. You could call it MC – Marvel Comics.

Oh, wait.

So while I may have tipped my hand a bit early with this review, allow me to say that Jonathan Hickman’s new take on the Avengers is frikkin’ sweet. I could just wrap it up there and give no further elucidation, but I wouldn’t be the semi-professional comic critic I pretend to be if I didn’t at least go through the motions a little.

Following a need to reinvent the characters we like, as well as pare down the truly immense roster of members that’s as easy to keep balanced as a truck on a volcano lip, Hickman cuts the team down to the core six from the films – Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye. After a mission to a terraformed Mars ends with all the heroes bar Cap getting captured by the creepiest evolutionist cult to exist since the Four Horsemen in Uncanny X-Force, the team expands by taking on some former members – like old-hands Wolverine and Spider-Man – and some newbies that most casual and even long-time fans, myself included, wouldn’t know at first blush. I mean, how many of you have heard of Sunspot or Cannonball?

Don’t answer that question.

After the initial arc dealing with said cult, the book does one of the most intelligent Avengers moves
I’ve ever read; namely, instead of having six million heroes on the page at once in each issue, it takes key members of the roster and explores them for a while. A handy little diagram, nicknamed the Avengers Machine (pictured right), shows at the beginning of each story which particular members they’ll be focussing on for that issue. On top of that, we get some more in-depth character exploration with one or two of the newbies each time, since we all know by now the deeper motivations of characters like Iron Man and Hulk.

It’s a really unique take on an Avengers title, showing us the underdogs alongside the old guard while still presenting a story that feels fresh and looks awesome. In a clear break from recycled stories by long-time scribes like Brian Bendis and Dan Slott, where a bunch of heroes show up and kick the ass of the threat-of-the-week, Hickman gives us the superhero element alongside ideas of metaphysics, human psychology and creation myths that seem inspired by his indie work on titles like Red Mass for Mars and Pax Romana. The result is a story that, for me, was never boring, kept me engaged and had a great variety of unique qualities to offer as far as superhero stories go.

The artwork looks aged, but that’s not a hit against it; I mean to say it looks like a weathered, towering oak, aged by time but no less imposing. Jerome Opena and Adam Kubert do a great job at giving us the old in a new way, and while there is a clear distinction in palette and shape between the old Avengers and the newer ones it doesn’t get too jarring. There are a few moments where battle scenes can get visually confusing and colours can overlap a little, but overall it looks fantastic.

Plus, they seem to make Captain America look a little more grizzled and a little less cherry-cheeked here, which I kind of like. He looks wearier, has got more stubble than usual and has a bit of a gaunter jawline thing going on. That, combined with his newer costume, really brings him back to the soldier roots that defined him as a character – he ain’t shiny and clean, he’s gritty and ready for a fight. That’s the kind of Cap I haven’t seen since Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier, and it was a nice little touch.

Dialogue is pretty good, though I’ve yet to read any that feels specifically Hickman-esque. Right now we seem to be mostly getting character voices derived from who they’ve been for the past seven decades without any real new input from the author, or anything that feels distinctly like a Hickman line, but that’s ok. This is still early days, and I’m hoping that further down the line we’ll start getting characters with some more Hickman bite in their dialogue.

Overall, Avengers World kicks ass and takes names we may not have heard before, and is definitely worth your time. As Avengers stories go it’s a very intelligent read, which might put off someone looking for a good, honest superhero punch-em-up, but if you’re after a slightly denser read then it behooves you to check it out. If nothing else, it’ll make you question just how a character called Sunspot thought it was a good idea to name himself after something that causes cancer.

STORY: 5/5

OVERALL: 14/15

BEST QUOTE: “Hey…when we get home, remind me to put “get pies” on Jarvis’ to-do list.” – Iron Man

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