I remember looking at the solicitation for U.S.Avengers in September 2016 and thinking ‘cute’. A fair share of ‘Cute’ and a little bit of ‘why?’ What purpose does the latest rebrand of Al Ewing’s ever evolving Avengers have? I mean, I knew I was going to buy it because Ewing writes some truly spectacular team books, but what does a weird, maybe jingoist Amurca-themed Avengers team bring to the table? I didn’t know yet and, honestly, if you’d told me then or possibly even handed me the issue then, I’m not sure it would have answered my question.
But that was then and this is America in 2017 and, in whatever way and to whatever degree, we yanks are all wondering what it means to be American in an era when American products are MADE IN CHINA and patriots raise the flag of the enemy from our bloodiest war, and black lives matter, but it’s not clear if they matter more or less than 3/5ths of what white lives do. So while I’m having terror flashbacks to my grumpy Bush-era adolescence and all the lame jokes about patriotism that went with it, it actually kinda is time that we had some American heroes again.
And who better to remind us what it means to be American than an Englishman?
U.S.Avengers gives us a fun, simple, easy action story about a S.H.I.E.L.D.-backed Avengers team going up against a fantastic, pulpy enemy of the state. It’s comic book candy, delivering moment after awesome moment for the members of the team. In a few words and a few panels, Ewing can take you from surprisingly tense cliffhangers to deeply satisfying easy wins. Plus it has a squirrel air-force, so you might want to pick it up just to see that!
The action is rad and the writing is eloquent in its effectiveness. But that’s only half the story and, in my opinion, not the more interesting half.
The other half of this issue is a series of talking heads examining what being a U.S.Avenger means to the team. It’s a familiar trope these days and, at times, it can feel a little thinly justified, but it’s used very effectively. Ewing takes the opportunity to cut the bull and give you a real look at the characters you’ll be buying this series for. Maybe it lacks some of the craft we expect from comics story structure, but we Americans can appreciate a comic that shoots from the hip, at least this one can.
As an old New Mutants fan, I adore the care with which Ewing ties Sam and Roberto’s American Dreams into their time among that team, effortlessly giving a sense of time and scope to the series and integrating the force of the X-Men’s core ideology into this series without becoming another X-book. Things like this make Marvel’s universe feel alive and this book makes it look effortless. Even better, these stories don’t feel like they were chosen for nostalgia or just to explain the characters, but because they honestly form an integral part of the heroes’ connection to America.
Ewing has invested a good deal into these characters over the years, as evidenced by how many different ways and in how many different forms they’ve popped up in his work, and it’s clear that he gets them. Those among us who aren’t impressed with Toni Ho or Dani Cage might well feel like it’s time for him to stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen, but I think it’s kind of great to see how much milage Ewing can get out of their archetypal power.
All of that said, the dialogue falls flat on more than one occasion. A number of moments don’t feel authentic, no matter how smart or how lacking the concepts are they just don’t sound right coming out of the character’s mouth. People don’t talk like that and, even though the precedent of the character’s histories often mitigate that, they read awkwardly, like Ewing was trying to punch up their unique speech patterns and lost his grounding. One of my favorite moments in this comic is a pretty terrible pun near the end that manages to be clever, poignant, and wonderfully/terribly a dad joke, but it falters because it doesn’t work when spoken aloud. Some minor punctuation probably could have fixed it, but it feels representative of the little awkwardnesses that nip at this issue’s ankles.
I also admit that I opened this issue assuming that Red Hulk was Thunderbolt Ross. Now that it’s done, I’m not sure I’ve changed my opinion. Robert L. Maverick was introduced a while back and is a logical adoptee of the mantle, but he’s just too similar to Ross in function not to raise an eyebrow. Perhaps that’s intentional, a knowing replacement for the general who can no longer fill the roll, but it is distracting.
My final complaint is how hollow the action sequences can feel. Especially as it just kind of fades out, the showdown with the Secret Empire lacks a lasting impact. The pacing does wonders for it, but readers looking for something that feels ‘important’ will go away wanting. This issue is wholly honest about its priorities and, while it does right by its fight scene, it clocks a distant third to introducing the cast and setting up future developments.
Paco Medina brings a solid balance of bombastic ‘blockbuster’ appeal and subtle character moments to Ewing’s script and it pays off pretty significantly. That said, there’s a slight feeling of being a jack of all trades but a master of none, straddling the line between A-List expectations and those for a slightly generic house style. It may not have the same stylistic oomph as New Avengers or The Ultimates did, but it feels right for the tone of this series. It also helps that Medina is at his best when he’s drawing the weird, fantastic, and ridiculous, and doomsday volcano helicarrier manned by the Secret Empire definitely applies.
There are a couple of places where faces or anatomy are wonky, but they’re generally balanced out by moments that step up in regards to specificity or drama.
I also want to quickly mention Jesus Aburtov’s colors, because they’re subtle but really effective. Aburtov is great at using limited color to support the page. For every amazing action panel lit by fire or cool, pulsing energy, there’s one in an interview that shows the value of muted tones.
Objectively, U.S.Avengers #1 is a solid book that will appeal to people who like the New Mutants, reasonable conservative authority figures, or queer Iron Patiots and multi-racial Captain Americas. The first issue is really more of an introduction than an adventure you’ll remember forever, but the character work is superb, even if the plot is a little light.
It’s a workmanlike production that leans heavily into some of the most interesting ideas that superheroes play with and gives a spotlight to some great characters, but in the world it was published in, it becomes something pretty special. Ewing and co. make a fantastic statement about America without obnoxious preaching and set the stage for some big, awesome adventures. So while the issue has some minor flaws, it’s one that I can whole-heartedly recommend you try.