Comics

Avengers – NOW! to Infinity

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I love the Avengers.  Always have and always will.  It’s a book where you can tell big stories with big characters and more often than not one of your favourite characters from the Marvel pantheon will be on the team.  It could be Captain America or Thor or Iron Man; or it could be the Falcon, Stingray or Doctor Druid.  It could even be Luke Cage.  Even him.  Over the years, there were many great eras with great writers and artists and great larger than life stories and sometimes, there were not.  It is a big legacy to live up to and sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

We currently find ourselves in a new Avengers era – one with a successful film under its belt and one that has been re-launched as part of a line-wide phase under writer Jonathon Hickman.  And it is good.  The re-launch is really good.  Hickman has taken control of the main two books of the franchise, Avengers and New Avengers, and restarted them to great success.  The last few years have seen the books meandering a little, with Bendis’ reign on them getting a little stale and far less exciting than when he started his run.  Hickman’s first few months are fresh and thrilling even, and more jam-packed with cool ideas then the books had been in quite awhile, even into his more current issues.

It is that fresh take and fresh approach that has been sorely lacking for some time.  The new characters he has brought on board are excellent choices as well.  It was a little tiresome of it always being the Wolverine and Spider-Man show.  Now there is a wide-ranging roster to pique anyone’s interest.  Captain Universe, a concept more than a character is now on the team as is Hyperion, created by the late, great Mark Gruenwald.  Characters re-imagined from the New Universe, Starbrand and Nightmask as well as former New Mutants Cannonball and Sunspot have been put on the roster as is Shang-Chi the Master of Kung-Fu!!  Stalwarts Cap, Iron Man and Thor are present too.  There is at least one character that everyone will find enjoyable and if there is not, Hickman is so talented that he will make you like them as he did for me with the New Universe members.

One of Hickman’s best attributes is that he looks at the bigger picture and is in for the long haul.  Each issue of his run on both books has led up to the big Marvel summer event – Infinity.  His introduction of new characters such as Ex Nihilo in Avengers and Black Swan in New Avengers are like a breath of fresh air by giving them meaning and purpose instead of just the ‘bad guy of the week.’  Every hero, villain, theme, plot and story is part of a larger scheme whether you realize it or not.  He rewards the long-time fan with every page and excites new ones with modern takes and sensibilities.

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New Avengers is particularly enjoyable as it contains elements from Bendis’ run and the continuation of storylines from Hickman’s Fantastic Four run.  The cast is made up of the Illuminati members – Black Panther, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Beast, Iron Man, Black Bolt and the Sub-Mariner.  As such, the deal with universal trouble and world breaking threats – literally in the main story and do so behind the scenes as it were with no one the wiser.  We also get some fallout from Fear Itself and the pre-Marvel NOW! FF run between Namor and the Black Panther.  The direction on this book is wider and grander than Bendis’ ‘street level heroes’ take ever dreamed to be and is frankly refreshing.  Funny enough though, spinning out of Infinity is a new Mighty Avengers book focusing on the street level hero type characters and actually looks quite good.

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Avengers on the other hand deals with more global threats and has a much larger roster to do so and draw from.  As of the most current issue there are 20 members on the team.  Many of them are new members, some of which were mentioned previously and because of the varied membership it presents the readership with many new situations between characters and new ways of dealing with threats and fascinating new stories.  We were even treated to the obligatory Savage Land tale, though it was 10 times more enjoyable than the last 20 Savage Land tales.  On a related note, why is there not a Kazar book?  It is nice to see such a large roster and it truly plays to the Marvel fan.

The art on both books has been nothing short of phenomenal as well. Steve Epting, Mike Deodato, Jerome Opena and others knock it out of the park on each book.  The settings the teams find themselves in are drawn so well it’s ridiculous.  The Garden on Mars, the various hotspots on Earth, the various dimensions in New Avengers – all are fantastic.  Each team member looks like who and what they are supposed to look like and instead of the differences in art styles possibly being jarring – they are not and mesh quite well from issue to issue.  This is another thing that makes these books work so well – the perfect combination of writer and artists.  The exact sort of thing a top tier book needs.

What I want to see happen from Marvel is a nice collection of all 17 issues of Avengers into one fat, affordable priced trade – say twenty bucks.  Call it the Road to Infinity or some such and do the same with New Avengers.  They would probably sell a million copies if they did such.  I would gladly purchase it again even though I have all of the issues.  Sadly, we won’t see anything like that unless it is in the usual 50-60 dollar range which would guarantee me not buying it.  But one can dream.
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In summation, there really aren’t enough good things to say about these books.  Hickman is a master storyteller working with some of today’s finest artists.  It is definitely worth going back and picking up all the single issues or the collections that are available.  Also, you can get in on Infinity#1 which was just released this week and get onboard for something truly awesome.  So start picking up Avengers and New Avengers, and buy them every month.  Support a great book that does not disappoint and give your mind some imagination candy.

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