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Avengers Assemble!

Thank you, Mr. Alex Ross.

Debuting at Comic-Con 2010, as part of the Marvel Artworks series is this awesome painting by one of comic-doms most revered legends. Entitled “Avengers Assemble”, this is truly a homage to the beloved team from the 1960s, Marvel’s first decade, and arguably the ones everyone truly associates with the name “Avengers”.

The art is gorgeous in its complexity and stunning in its simplicity. Janet van Dyne’s Wasp is almost camouflaged in front of the team, but proves her centrality and recalls her later chairmanship by being placed ahead of the “Big Three” of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. In contrast, the gigantic Goliath aka Hank Pym is kept in shadow at the back, with only his eyepiece visible, perhaps a reminder of how his whole Avengers tenure was marred by him never really being all there.

Perhaps the only disappointment is that members Hercules and Quicksilver are absent from the painting, having joined the team just before the likes of Black Panther and Vision. Nonetheless, Ross’ art is a true gem and one that I hope I have the money to purchase at Comic-Con this year. As an Avengers fan, this is something I hope to keep almost sacred.

Which I guess, in my roundabout way, brings me to my mixed feelings about the current Heroic Age Avengers titles.

The Heroic Age has reintroduced a new era of Avengers stories, or so they would have you believe. On face value, things do seem pretty sweet – the main Avengers title begins with a time-travel story featuring Kang the Conqueror, Secret Avengers sends this new team to Mars, and New Avengers dabbles in the mystical and magical with Doctor Voodoo and Daimon Hellstrom making appearances. So far so good, right? Well, not exactly.

New Avengers to me seems to be the real sore thumb – mainly because despite the big reset on issue numbers, this is still very much the same story that Bendis began back in 2005 in the aftermath of Avengers Disassembled. Now, there’s nothing wrong with Bendis’ ability to tell a good story, and his prolific writing makes him the envy of many and a worthy investment by Marvel. But adding the ‘New’ prefix is not enough when it’s tacked onto a team name like the ‘Avengers’.

While I’m happy to see that Hawkeye and Mockingbird remain the team, and thrilled that Ms. Marvel continues to be out of the shadow of Iron Man, the fact remains that this New Avengers team is very much a Brian Michael Bendis creation and ignores, if not outright rejecting the forty-year legacy of the Avengers. There is no doubt about this as you read issue 1 of the new volume, right from the beginning when Tony Stark sells Luke Cage the Avengers Mansion for a dollar.

Avengers Mansion. For a dollar. (Let’s not forget that it was also Bendis who destroyed the Mansion back in Disassembled.)

I appreciate how it’s played up for humour, and the idea of avoiding “gift tax”, though not specifically mentioned here, further establishes Tony Stark as the lovable though slimy hero he is. Yet, it just feels like an insensitive slap in the face to Avengers fans from before this decade, who’ve invested much, much more than a dollar into the superheroes that have come in and out of that Mansion. It feels like Bendis is saying, this isn’t your father’s Avengers, sure they’re still around and there are movies being made about them, but Luke Cage is moving into the Mansion, and he’s bringing along his family to stay. Oh yeah, and we’re calling them the Avengers, just because we can.

There’s one particular page which really gets my goat, which is ironic, because in any other book – it would have had an entirely opposite effect. That the scene where Luke Cage brings in Ben Grimm and gets him to meet the others in the team.

The whole team is sitting at a table having a meal. Burgers, fries, beer bottoles, bread, tossed salads, all kinds of food being shared. It’s a family. Which I appreciate, honestly… except for this little exchange.

Grimm: You call this the Avengers?
Cage: This is the NEW Avengers.

That’s right, these Avengers are no longer a gathering of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but a family of superheroes. It’s a paradigm shift that I wish Bendis wouldn’t continue to inflict on long-term Avengers fans. Honestly, the roster looks a lot like Heroes for Hire or the Marvel Knights team, with most of the superheroes being relatively street-level, the exception being Ms. Marvel.

All that being said, I cannot deny that New Avengers #1 is an excellent read that flows much better than the main Avengers title. Bendis’ choice to bring in the mystical aspect of the Marvel Universe is a good way to prove that the street-level heroes aren’t limited to just punching and kicking their way through a messy situation. Penciller Stuart Immonen is also at the top of his game, and even Ben Grimm looks happy to be drawn by such a talented artist, not to mention Ms. Marvel and Mockingbird, who are sexy without looking overly sexualised.

I’ll never get used to calling this team the Avengers, ‘New’ or otherwise, but I’ll be sticking to this title for a while.

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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