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Avengers #1 Review

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.”

*Begin Spoilers*

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.

*End Spoilers*

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.

Grade: A

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12 Responses

  1. I didn’t read Avengers, but I’m a bit confused. Ex Nihilo? Abyss? Aren’t those both characters that China Mieville introduced in DC’s Dial H in the last six months? Seems like quite a weird coincidence that both of those names would be used in another book together and so soon. What the heck?

    • Holy crud David, is this true? That’s a crazy if so and one would hope/assume just coincidental…I only picked up the first couple issues of Dial H (for my sins) and that was a while ago. Can you remember the issue numbers they appear in?

      P.S. I know (thanks to Wikipedia!) that ‘Ex Nihilo’ is latin for “out of nothing” and felt that this further tied the concept of “Hickman using the character as a mouthpiece” to the destruction/creation he’s bringing to the title (though, y’know, I could be totally off on that). Is the same thing thematically true of the Dial H character? Sorry to blurb at you ^_^

      • Most definitely – the Ex Nihilo character is introduced in the first issue, I believe, though not named until issue 2 or 3, I want to say that Abyss appears in issue 3 or 4 (you can check the reviews on this site to confirm). E-N is a “nullomancer” – a wizard/scientist who works with nothing, and Abyss is the embodiment of nothing. Thematically, I would not say that there is a similar approach to the use and purpose of the characters to what you are suggesting Hickman is up to, though Mieville and Hickman are on similar wavelengths when it comes to fantastic science (I would think the man who is writing the Manhattan Projects would probably be the kind of guy who would dig Mieville’s novels). I’m not looking to cast aspersions on Hickman (never read his Marvel work, thoroughly enjoying MP), but the confluence of names is striking, yes? I was just surprised to see that none of the Avengers reviewers brought this up – guess the venn diagram between readers of Dial H and Avengers is low.

  2. I didn’t love this to be honest. I really love Hickman and the writing does have that snap to it. He’s really good at making us *feel* like we’re watching something EPIC happen even though we know – deep down – that it’s just another disposable Avengers story. Funny how some writers have that gift and others don’t….

    The more tangible flaws I found was that it was written as if everyone already knows precisely who all the good guys and bad guys are. Honestly, I only vaguely know who Hyperion is. Ditto for some of these other B-list Avengers that Cap is summoning. And, I don’t love the idea of Avengers being a big family of all the heroes. I’d rather it be like when I was young and there were ~5 people on the team and there were defined issues where ______ would join/leave instead of all the heroes being on-call.

    I also wasn’t clear on who the bad guys were/are, but they were presented as if I should know about them.

    The art didn’t quite float my boat as much as I expected. I thought there were a lot of panels where Opena left too much for Dean White to color and that left the issue stiff.

    I dunno. I’m tempted to say that this will be a “drop” for me, but I do trust Hickman. Do we know who the artist will be after Opena drops off the pace? That would make a difference.

    • There’s a lot of valid points there, no doubt.

      You’re right that the bad guys are introduced as if they have some history – it took a good 5-10 minutes trawling the interwebs before I embarked on this review to make sure that they didn’t have some hidden Avengers history that ran in the book a few decades back.

      I’m also unsure about Hyperion and the whole Squadron Supreme thing. I even picked up a standalone Hyperion graphic novel one time and found it impenetrable. My only other experience with him was recently as a temporary character in Jeff Parker’s Thunderbolts. In that he was pretty deranged, definitely not Avengers material, and would seem to be a Sentry-level handicap for the team rather than a boon…

      However, I felt that a lot of issues I had with the book were cleared up with a second reading. When I first jogged through I was scratching my head a little but after the second read I felt at home and by the third I loved it. Of course, I generally only re-read the books that I’m reviewing and otherwise find that a lot of comics operate on a ‘love at first sight’ basis…but still, I find it daring in the all the right ways, and after so much time with Bendis’ take on the concept I’m ready for anything that looks to completely rock the boat.

      Plus, like you say, I love that Hickman ‘Epic’ feel – can’t get enough of it- and thought the art was lush. Can’t imagine dropping it anytime soon. Hell, I’m already eyeing up the runts of my pull list litter to see what I can sacrifice to make up for the $3.99 bi-monthly price tag ;)

      • Yeah….I hear you. Hickman just has a knack for making things feel important. Ehhh….I spent $3.99 on a LOT of lousy X-Men Legacy issues, so I should be able to find a place for Hickman in my pull list.

      • One funny thing I saw on another site was that the villains were a great example of the Worf Effect. It made me laugh and check out one of those youtube compilations of Work getting beaten up over and over. :)

  3. Have you given a majority of Marvel NOW books A’s?

    • HI Bill!

      Hmmm, interesting point. I certainly felt like I had, that was my immediate feeling, and so far my grades have been as follows:

      All New X-Men – #1 (B+), #2 (A)
      Deadpool – #1 (C)
      Indestructible Hulk – #1 (A)
      FF – #1 (A)
      Iron Man – #1 (A)
      Avengers – #1 (A)

      So by majority, yes. Believe me, I’m surprised that this is the case. I wasn’t entirely sold on the relaunch but have been more than pleasantly surprised by most of the top tier titles. I should note that I haven’t reviewed them all either – I guess I would have graded Fantastic Four a C+ , similar for X-Men Legacy, a B for Uncanny Avengers #1 (though maybe a C for #2) though Thor would have gotten another A – love that book. I’m reviewing Thunderbolts next and won’t be singing that one’s praises to be honest…

      Still, I can only offer my own subjective opinion though I think with the sound editorial decisions taken re: the creative teams on most of the books there was always a good chance of this outcome. A lot of the teams have just clicked perfectly, for me at least.

      We do have an ‘E’ grade for ‘Exceptional’ too – still haven’t found cause to whip out that bad boy yet though ^_^

      • I hate finals! I haven’t been able to even read God of Thunder #2 yet and it is glaring at me, but I have 155 essays to grade (no joke). I was going to skip Avengers, but after the feedback, and your review, it looks like some more DC is going to get the ax, and this and New Avengers are being added.

        Next week, I WILL read/review Cable and X-Force. I’ve been anxiously awaiting that. I will make the time, somehow.

        • Awesome Roman, I look forward to your Cable and X-Force review!Just seen the preview pages and Larocca’s artwork looks great, plus it’s got Havoc’s first real test as the leader of Uncanny Avengers: ordering Cap around. Gotta see how that pans out…

          Which DC titles you thinking of dropping? I hate to admit it but I’m thinking of losing The Flash and Batman Inc. I think I like the concepts and art of the titles more than their actual execution – maybe my head was in a funny place but I read the most recent issues yesterday and just felt completely confused by them…shame on me maybe, but as I’m
          currently picking every Marvel NOW! title (my wallet is inconsolable over this fact) it’s time for some tough decisions!

          • I was very excited when the New 52 started and signed up for 15 titles…I’m down to 5–two of which were not even part of the original 52. Hopefully the NOW! titles won’t do this. And yes, Larocca’s art looks amazing. Even the writing in what we saw was great. “Cap….Stand down.” Holy hell, I can’t wait to see where this goes.

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