Well Marvel? You’re 4 for 5 with me. Avengers #1, one of the Marvel NOW anchor books, is everything it ought to be. Coming from the pen of Jonathan Hickman, it’s a very wide lensed start to a book that promises to be to comics what “Justice League Unlimited” was to cartoons. After phoning in the last few issues of his amazing run on Fantastic Four, we finally get the writer I looked forward to month after month. Here in our opening salvo Hickman makes some bold narrative choices that hit all the notes I was looking for coming into it. Art by Jerome Opena is sorted affair, but he’s obviously drawing up to the script laid out before him. There’s plenty to cover here, kiddos. Buckle up.
The basic gist of Avengers #1 is nothing new, per say. Tony Stark, forever the futurist, gets the notion to expand the ranks of the titular team. Apparently he never checked the shelves before, because there’s never not an abundance of books with ‘Avengers’ in the title. But I digress. The intro is as we would expect from Hickman; broad strokes of narrative direction, fancy psuedo-science, and beneath it all… a sense of duty and friendship.
Shortly after what I believe is the 17th title page (Hickman is nothing if not a bit melodramatic) we cut to a completely new scene, forward in time. Amidst a ‘Garden’, we find the demi-god-like Ex Nihilo, Aleph, and Abyss. They wax poetic in sweeping prose, gleaned somewhere between a watered down Sandman graphic novel, and Grant Morisspeak. Seems after terraforming Mars, these would-be world shifters set their sites on Earth. Well, Ex Nihilo does. Abyss and Aleph seem more apt to blow it up. Or not. It’s not easy to decipher the Matrix, you dig?
And with that, the book lurches forward without any of the tropes one might have expected. No amassing of heroes. No quippy introductions of each team member (I’m looking at you, Thunderbolts…). We get right to the punch-kicking. While the jerk in time is not handled well (I checked 3 times to ensure I didn’t miss a page), Hickman eventually catches up with himself. Save for a wasted “Let’s have Hulk fight Thor for 3 seconds”, every beat comes with a freshness I honestly didn’t expect. And for that, he gets the A for effort. After the action settles down, and the series die cast, we double back to the core concept—building the Megavengers to support a bi-monthly publishing schedule. While my wallet will no doubt beg for mercy soon enough… if the stories hold together and contain this much intrigue throughout, it will be well worth the investment.
As I’d stated in my intro, the art duties for this issue are by Jerome Opena. I freely admit I know nothing about him, his pedigree, or any previous work completed. And to stay impartial (also known as being lazy), I’ll judge only by what hit the page. It is clear that Jerome employes the “bumped up pencil” approach to his pages. Rather than have an inker clearly define his final lines, Jerome builds up pages with only pencil, and then during the color process, these pencils are darkened, colored, and cleaned up. In parts, this makes the book have an etherial quality to them. In other parts, it feels merely unfinished. Opena’s figures are both fluid and static. In some panels they seem to float, swing, and pound on the page. In others, they stay stuck in time, like statues. Suffice to say: the good outweighs the bad, and the book definitely looks unlike most other major Marvel books being put out. If I would be so bold as to nit-pik though? The coloring by Dean White seems to favor an odd reversing of the outer-line in parts, and it’s jarring as all get out. And you just can’t make me like a Hulk that looks like a caveman. But I digress.
One more point to make before I wrap things up. Does anyone else out there use the Marvel AR app? I downloaded it last week, and decided to jump into the 21st century. And boy-howdy, I’m glad the app is free. Upon scanning the 4 different trigger points in the book, one is treated to: a narrated promo video by Tom Brevoort that is as dynamic as eating paint chips, a pair of pencils-to-color videos that are not given any other set up other than a slow crawl up and down the page, and lastly, a spoiler-filled reading of the last passage in the book. I say spoiler because I was under the impression one uses the app when they see the trigger on the page. Well, nothing like seeing the next part of the book 3 pages ahead of schedule, right? Maybe I’m in the dark (clearly I am), but I thought the AR content was supposed to be “extra content” that was actually related to the book at hand. Aside from Tom reassuring me Ex Nihilo and friends were brand new character (saving me the time and hassle of looking them up on Wikipedia), the ‘bonus’ content was a waste. And it was presented as such. If this is what entertains the generation after me? Consider me the angry old coot now. And I’m 30.
Grumpy Luddite ranting aside, Avengers #1 is a solid book. The characterization is strong. The dialogue is a bit ham-fisted, but well-suited given the gravitas Hickman is trying to employ. The villains have that ‘shades of grey’ thing going for them, which always makes me happy. And at the end of the day, we get the promise of a rotating cast of Avengers who will show us the breadth and depth of the 616. Where DC’s flagship title was treading water for me by the end of their first issue, Hickman delivers a wide-screen book that doesn’t waste time with annoying tropes we’ve come to expect. For taking the high road, and giving me a few surprises along the way, I give this book my highest recommendation—two fins up.