It’s an Avengers World, and we just live in it. At least that’s what the name of this title feels like, a gentle reminder from Marvel/Disney that the Avengers rule our cinematic pop culture, and they own ’em. All this Avengers mania feels a wee bit odd for me as a long time comics reader, because it feels like not that long ago, The Avengers was a book that was always nipping at the heels of the high and mighty X-Men franchise. Then in 2004, Brian Bendis came in, disassembled and re-assembled the team, added Spider-Man and Wolverine, and suddenly, the Avengers were the biggest thing since sliced bread, finally a major franchise all their own with multiple books, just like the X-Men. It only took about forty years to get there.
After writer Jonathan Hickman’s stellar run on Fantastic Four a few years back, he took over the Avengers book last year, and his arrival was just the shot in the arm the franchise needed. Although Bendis did a lot of great stories over his several year run, he kind of overstayed his welcome a bit. Ok, maybe more than a bit. Hickman brought back a grand cosmic scale to the Avengers, inspired a bit, it seemed, by Grant Morrison’s run on JLA in the late nineties, where the ideas and the team membership just got bigger and bigger, and so did the threats.
In a bit of corporate synergy, the first issue of Avengers World begins with SHIELD Director Maria Hill making a deal with Captain America and the Avengers: you work with us but not for us. They even issue a press release. (Everyone issues a press release these days.) Considering that for the average person now, the kind who has seen the Avengers movie twenty times and counting, making the connection between the two organizations explicit in the comics is just smart marketing. And from a story point of view, it makes sense as well. After all, it is the job of SHIELD to monitor global threats, and it’s the job of the Avengers to smash global threats into putty. Why haven’t they been working hand in hand since day one?
The Avengers is a huge team this time around as well, rivaling any superteam I can think of at the moment, this side of DC’s the Legion of Super-Heroes. Members include all the movie Avengers (corporate synergy!) so we’ve got Cap, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. Iron Man is on the cover, but nowhere to be seen in this issue, which is odd. I imagine he’ll turn up soon. Also included are Marvel mainstays like Captain Marvel and Shang-Chi, former New Mutants Cannonball and Sunspot, Hyperion, and, well…. a bunch of characters I barely know, like Smasher. Then there’s the character that really threw me, Nightmask. Having fallen off from Hickman’s last run on Avengers after the first few issues, I hadn’t yet encountered Nightmask before. All I know is that he’s a hot buff black dude in a flowing glittery black dress, shirtless but wearing shoulder length black gloves, and with glowy shoulder pads. I think his powers are teleportation and being fabulous. I’ve only ever encountered him in this one issue and he’s already my favorite. Can I have a Nightmask ongoing series and a movie, please?
The basic plot of issue one has SHIELD monitoring what seems like various random threats on Earth all happening at the same time. Director Maria Hill knows better than to think it’s a coincidence, having stared down a global apocalypse or three in her time. Hill has been around long enough to know that in the Marvel Universe, if there are that many natural disasters happening all at once, chances are it is being manufactured by someone, usually someone in an evil organization that has an acronym for a name. Various units of the Avengers then go to each of the corners of the globe, each team encountering a different kind of threat. Some of these threats are cooler than others, but the coolest is what happens to the tiny island nation of Madripoor, once Wolverine’s favorite hangout. I won’t spoil it here; I’ll just say something BIG happens to that little island.
If I have a complaint about Hickman’s writing, it’s that he often sacrifices characterization and personality for grand scale and ideas. Someone like Grant Morrison can do both, but it is something that Hickman still struggles with a tiny bit, although I don’t know if I should blame him or his new writing partner on the book, Nick Spencer. It’s a minor nitpick, though, because the book so far delivers on the kind of big fun that only comic books can still manage to do. Believe me, there is stuff that happens in this issue that puts the Avengers movie to shame in terms of major scale and just plain WOW factor. it’s nice of Hickman and Spencer to remind us all that there are things that can only still happen in the comic medium. The artwork done on this book by Stefano Caseli is beautiful, although there are panels where it feels slightly rushed. Again, a minor nitpick, as most of the book looks rather beautiful, and unlike with some artists, I’m never confused with what’s going on during the action – coughChrisBachalocough – so that’s a positive. Caseli, like All New X-Factor artist Carmine Di Giandomenico, is also Italian. Must be something in the water in Italy these days, because it is producing some really great new artistic talent that Marvel is smart to take advantage of.
I’m definitely on board for the first couple of issues of Avengers World, I just hope Hickman and Spencer continue to bring their A game to the title. This is a book that has the potential to get unweildy pretty fast without the right hands guiding it.