By: Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Jerome Opeña (Artist), Dean White (Color Artist), Cory Petit (Letterer)
The Review: It’s fitting that for a first issue Avengers #1 should be so obsessed with new beginnings – a new team, new enemies, a new philosophy. When you’re tasked with relaunching one of comics’ highest profile titles, one that’s been guided by the same authorial voice for the best part of a decade, what alternative do you have but to tear down the old walls and build the castle anew? Even more puzzling, how do you even start such a comic book? If you’re Jonathan Hickman you open with the Big Bang and work your way outwards from there: “There was nothing. Followed by everything.” Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, haters.
And haters there may well be, as all signs point to Hickman getting ready to spill our toys on the carpet and personally stomp all over ‘em. And I do mean the ‘personally’ part. In FF #23 (the final issue of a brilliant series) I felt it was inferred that Hickman was issuing his farewells to the cast and audience of the book through the guise of the grown-up, time-travelling Franklin Richards, a character who could easily be adapted to be the author’s mouthpiece. If Hickman is represented by any individual in Avengers #1 I think it’s probably the strange and seemingly all-powerful Ex Nihilo – a new enemy launching attacks against the Earth from his base on Mars – who makes his mark by being the catalyst that forces the Avengers to fight smarter and “get bigger.”
He does this in the most direct way possible by, with the aid of his allies Aleph and Abyss, laying an unholy smack down on the Avengers. Cap gets the worst of it (it may be off panel but it’s still enough to make you wince) but he’s also the only one who makes it back to Earth, sent home by the trio of insurmountable enemies, unconscious and bound in the ship he arrived in to show that “These heroes were the best [Earth] had to offer. And they were found wanting.”
From there Cap puts into action a plan formed by Tony Stark to assemble a larger, more diverse group of Avengers; an expansion of the core roster designed to deal with the increasingly bizarre and deadly high sci-fi threats that Hickman is sure to throw their way, with the final page bringing the new team together for the first time.
It’s a terrific start to the new series, with strong characterisations and promises of big things to come. Out of all the Marvel NOW! relaunch titles, Avengers is similar only to Captain America in its apparent desire to offer something completely removed from what came before. In so doing, I suppose there is a chance that it may alienate some readers; the Avengers you know from the movie are all present and correct but here they’re mercilessly outclassed. However, while Hickman sets up shop by disassembling our heroes at the earliest opportunity in order to rebuild them from the ground up, it’s done with less trauma than Bendis’ opening gambit (the deathgasm of Avengers #500) and a love and reverence for the team which is obvious. After all, Captain America is still firmly ensconced as the beating heart and indomitable soul of the group. This isn’t rebirth through destruction; as Hickman/Ex Nihilo remarks, “I choose not to waste life…I choose to transform it.”
As my reliance on script excerpts proves, this book is eminently quotable but it’s also a real looker too. Jerome Opeña and regular Colorist Dean White seem to effortlessly maintain the form that brought them near-universal acclaim on Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force. They’re given much to do – strange alien worlds, space armadas, flashbacks to some of the Milestone moments in Avengers folklore – but they do not falter at any stage. Their treatment of the Avengers themselves is exemplary with some of the best depictions yet of Thor and Cap’s latest uniforms and I really like the designs they’ve come up with for Hickman’s new villains. The punches looks like they hurt (again, poor Cap!) and while I don’t quite get Abyss’ weird anti-matter-bubble powers I at least dig the aesthetic. It’s also rare that you can commend the writer for aspects of the art, but Hickman’s the exception; the graphic-designer-turned-Marvel-Architect once again provides all manner of beautiful pictographs and logos that subtley enhance the whole book. He’s been wowing us with this stuff ever since The Nightly News, and it’s just as effective now.
In fact,if you’ll pardon me the indulgence, a quick look at Hickman’s meteoric rise to comic book stardom confirms what made him the perfect choice to take the Avengers into uncharted territories. His work at Image on titles like Pax Romana, A Red Mass For Mars and The Red Wing proved his talent for engaging and thought-provoking sci-fi (and right now Marvel seem big into sci-fi) while his time on Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four showed his skill for revitalising established characters and successfully introducing original ones. But for me, it was his work on Ultimate Comics Ultimates which was really the audition for this gig. If you haven’t already read it, or if you’re wary of the Ultimate line in general, please give it a try; it’s about a decimated group of Avengers going up against an enemy that outnumbers and outguns them so drastically that their defeat is all but inevitable. They have to ditch the old attack patterns, move the battle lines and try their best to out-think their opponent to avert destruction, and even then, it’s almost a Pyrrhic victory. Something similar appears to be brewing here, and the idea of that happening in the traditional Marvel Universe is really pretty exciting.
Long story short? Avengers #1 is brilliant. I love it. It’s even better than I expected, presumably because with Jonathan Hickman you never really know what quite to expect. While the bold direction he’s chosen may alienate some, I’m sure it’s bound to excite many more, and there’s little getting around the fact that this is exactly the shot in the arm that the series needed. And we only have to wait two weeks for the next instalment? Christmas has come early my friends…Santa Hickman has made it so.
Filed under: Marvel Comics, Reviews Tagged: | Avengers, awesome, Black Widow, Captain America, Cory Petit, Dean White, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, Jerome Opena, Jonathan Hickman, Marvel, Marvel NOW, Marvel Reviews, The Avengers, Thor