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Revisiting Avengers Forever

by Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern (Writers), Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino (Artists), Steve Oliff, Olyoptics.com, Graphic Color Works (Colorists)

There are several stories that are hold with high regard in the industry. Marvels, Kingdom Come, Watchmen and many others are such stories that people are still talking about to this very day, leaving an impact that can be debated for hours amongst fans. Most of them are cherished for their unique stories or with their presentation, which is the stuff that comic fans are living for. Still, amongst all of those critical darlings, there are some stories that represent either a specific character or concept at its best, like Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again, which can be used as the summary and explanation of why this specific character is great.

Avengers Forever is sometimes referred to as one of the very pinnacle of the Avengers franchise, namely the pre-Bendis era of the title. Written by Kurt Busiek of Marvels and Astro City fame, it tries to hold the very essence of what makes the Avengers what they are while telling a story of cataclysmic proportions. Still, with the present era of Avengers being definitely different than the previous one written by such like Roy Thomas or Kurt Busiek himself. With such a big disparity between styles, can this book actually provide entertainment with a more modern outlook on it?

To this book’s credit, there is a lot going for it, particularly with the concepts. With the story revolving around a bunch of Avengers from the past, present and future teaming up to defend Rick Jones from the clutches of Immortus, Busiek and Stern plays with a good number of really ambitious ideas all throughout the story. With a Captain America that lost faith in his country, the crazed Hank Pym donning the Yellowjacket persona, a saner Hank Pym wearing the Giant Man suit, present day Wasp, a future Captain Marvel, Hawkeye and a Songbird from a future in which she is an Avenger, all teaming up to protect Rick Jones at all costs. With a few more characters and surprises, both writers give readers plenty to delve into as the 12 issue series shows the past, present and potential future of humanity and the Avengers.

Of course, another standout element in this is the characterization, with several characters being written very well and in concordance to where they went or might have been going to. The depressive and indecisive Captain America is a neat contrast to the leader he was shown to be in other titles, while the much more cooperative and professional Songbird is very different from the one shown in Thunderbolts. Throughout the story and their actions, each character comes with a clearly designed personality that allows for a lot of surprises and some treats for old Avengers fans.

Perhaps the best character in all of this, though, is Kang the Conqueror, who is defined and also redefined throughout the whole series. Shown as a warrior, a conqueror, a ruler and someone with a clear goal and understanding of what is at stake, the character shines through his actions and how he participates in the whole thing. The issue focusing on, the 9th one, is a particularly strong issue in the narrative of the whole story, with some revelations about the character that manage to make him infinitely more interesting with each additional page.

However, the book is not without its flaws. For one, the pacing is rather slow at times, with the story really taking its time in some issues. The development of the story moves at a snail’s pace sometime, with a lot of moments being given to properly explain each and every situations the team find themselves in.

Part of this problem is due to the over-reliance on narration and exposition. While it does help bring many readers up to speed and does help in building up the characters and their evolution, there is an overbearing presence of text in some pages that amount to a rather heavy book. While many of the dialogue and interaction between characters does try to add some explanation for readers in order to bring some concepts up in a neat and concise manner, it does so perhaps a bit more often than it should.

Of course, this reliance on narration is caused by something that this book does well, yet not always. The manner in which Busiek and Stern bring up obscure Avengers history is fascinating and does add up to a rather intriguing experience for the uninitiated as well as for the fans, but it also slows down the story in the process. While most of his explanations and retcons does add to the story being built in a way that makes sense, most of them also steal a good amount of page that could be attributed to development instead. The history of the franchise ends up being both a blessing and a curse at the same time, though results may vary for each readers at that point.

What’s also variable in terms of appreciation is Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino on artistic duty, though I have to say I rather appreciated the effort of both on this book. With a clear energy in terms of action and a willingness to put in a large scope that fits in with the script, Pacheco ends up giving the story the arts that it deserves. With evocative poses and a certain playfulness with details and characters, many of the panels pops up on the page thanks to their precision and elements. The sceneries, for the most parts, are rather creative and really expressive in terms of tone and themes, which plays well with the time-travel part of the story without being too weird or too much.

Where it loses some points, however is in how chaotic some of the pages and panels are. While it does reproduce the general aesthetics of a true battle really well, there are several instances in which Pacheco goes a bit too far with the number of elements in one page, resulting in a certain lack of focus that hurts some of the best scenes in terms of concepts. It ends up being big and bombastic, but perhaps a little too much at times.

The same could unfortunately be said of the colorization, with moments of great talent being brought down by pages with a diversity that ends up being a bit too rich for its own good. While some of the pages focusing on some characters and details ends up playing very well with contrasts and the alien sensation of time-travel, the battle sequences ends up being a bit too chaotic for its own good. With so many palettes and color designs clashing together, there is no major contrast to latch onto, but several, which ends up not helping the story in several scenes. It has its moments, but the coloring is a bit too uneven to be considered great.

The Conclusion: The concepts, the characterization and the art in general are very strong, yet they are brought down a bit by a rather slow pacing caused by lots of exposition and dialogue. It isn’t exactly the masterpiece that some say it is, but Avengers Forever is still a worthy reads that encapsulate very well a lot of the strengths of the pre-Bendis era of Avengers comics.

Grade: B

Hugo Robberts Larivière

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11 Responses

  1. Scalera is vastly better on Black Science because his art fits the genre. I still think he is not right ( the art is actually horrible) for a book like Hulk. Allred and “zany” concepts like X-Statics – sure, but not on books like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America. Not intertested in such experimentation.

  2. Experimentation and diversity are fine as long as they have to fit the genre. Case in point – some of the recent artwork in Indestructible Hulk by Scalera or Paolo (I forget who) was simply atricious in my opinion. The Hulk was downright hideous looking (again my opinion). Another example was Juan Bobillo’s art in FF vol. 1. This was not a good match as evidensed by fan outcry and his swift removal from the title and replacement by Nick Dragotta. In closing I want to offer an example of what would work and would be a failure – Mike Allred (sorry if the spelling is off) would probably be a good fit on Daredevil, but absolutely not on Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc.

  3. If you think about it, we’ve gone from a era of perhaps too much exposition (but at least you could understand what is happening in the story), to now minimal exposition with an overreliance on the art to convey the story (with the art failing to do so in many instances). As a result many modern comics are incomprehensible. I prefer old school narration and true superhero artwork.

    • I’d have to say I disagree on that statement. While some older comics did rely a bit too much on exposition and were still great for it, there are still a good lot of comics today that use art very well to tell their story. After all, comics are a visual art more than anything, which makes the art particularly important more than anything.

      Also, I am afraid I might be a tad confused about your last statement. What exactly constitute true superhero artwork? What makes artwork superhero worthy and what makes it less so?

      • Yes, comics is a visual art. I am not sure how modern comics are written today (besides the whole writing for the trade mentailty), but it seems to me there was greater synthesis between writer and artist in the past. This synthesis I am referring to resulted in better pacing, better transitioning from one scene to the next, and stories that were actually conprehensible and very satisfying. if the words on the page are going to be minimal then the artist bears a much greater burden of being able to tell the story in pictures. IMHO many modern artist are incapable or unwilling to do so.

        By true (i.e.: traditional) superhero artwork I am thinking of the likes of Deodato, Epting, Davis, Pelletier, Reis, Frank and Mahnke to name a few. IMHO the art of Akuna, Paolo, Bianchi, Shavey, Scalera and Larraz is better suited to independent, i.e.: non-superhero, books, because the art is either scratchy, cluttered, indeciferable, or the characters look emaciated or indistiguishable (and many times downright ugly). That’s not to say their artwork is necessarily bad, I just don’t care for it on my traditional superhero books.

        • I rather disagree on that point. Many of the artists (though not all) mentionned that you think would fit better in independant works. I think the fact that superhero books nowadays have a plethora of different style makes it much richer.

          Sienkiewicz, Maleev, Ribic, Opena, Weaver, Dragotta, Allred, Klein and many more all brought their specific style to some superhero books and it worked very well. As a person who admire diversity and experimentation, I think we need such artists to challenge our perceptions of what could qualify as superhero artwork.

          Per my humble opinion, I strongly disagree with your evaluation and statement on art in comics nowaday. I believe we actually have it great, with a certain willingness to mess around and just try new things. The same also goes for colorization, with did evolve quite a bit from the previous era.

          I get that it’s your opinion, but I do not share your point-of-view at all.

          • Experimentation and diversity are fine as long as they have to fit the genre. Case in point – some of the recent artwork in Indestructible Hulk by Scalera or Paolo (I forget who) was simply atricious in my opinion. The Hulk was downright hideous looking (again my opinion). Another example was Juan Bobillo’s art in FF vol. 1. This was not a good match as evidensed by fan outcry and his swift removal from the title and replacement by Nick Dragotta. In closing I want to offer an example of what would work and would be a failure – Mike Allred (sorry if the spelling is off) would probably be a good fit on Daredevil, but absolutely not on Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc.

            • I think experimentation is vital, as boundaries of any genre can be stretched further. There are some artists that would have probably not worked on superhero books based on their style, yet curiously did. Esad Ribic has a style that is much more akin to European comics, yet his style is a great match th Thor.

              It’s, of course, a matter of personal taste. I rather liked Scalera on Hulk, with some good imagery from him. He is a bit better on Black Science now, but I’d say this raise in quality is also due to Dean White and the general script.

              I’m a huge believer in trying something different, as superhero books have the ability to adapt to other styles and genre very well. Cosmic, fantasy, science-fiction, street level and close to everything can be connected to this genre. I think the same can be said for several art styles, with some artists showing amazing work throughout capes books.

              Also, I believe Allred could fit anywhere, as long as the tone of the issue/series fits with his own. If it’s something a bit zany, Allred can do great work there, just like on X-Statix and FF.

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