There is perhaps no more powerful moment in life or in fiction than the one where ‘us’ becomes ‘them’ and vice versa. It signals redemption and self-discovery and atrocity. And it just so happens that there is a group in the Marvel Universe who specialize in one particular form of ‘us-them’ turns.
Occupy Avengers slows down a bit this month as Clint and the gang stop to get their ride repaired. It’s an utterly mundane experience, even with the former Hawkeye calling in some super science favors, but, unfortunately, it’s not mundane enough for the town they discover.
Anyone looking to pin David Walker with the humorless SJW label needs look no farther than Dungston, Iowa. Though it’s certainly a slight deviation from expectation, Dungston immediately radiates charm as strong as its odor. It’s equal parts comforting americana and never-knew-you-wanted-it magical realism.
The unanimity of the town is overpowering, even as Walker gives us glimpses into the differing personalities that populate Dungston, and, particularly in this moment in time, it can become unsettling. The swiftness and preemptiveness of their response immediately summons a sense of paranoia in the reader to match their own. Walker is playing with expectations brilliantly here. What war did Lovett fight in? Is the mysterious man in the prologue hunting him or hunting for him? And what kind of story is Walker really telling.
Even as hints of crime and superpowers enter into the equation, Walker and Walta do a fantastic job of keeping the fear of a town that will kill to maintain its quaint way of life in your mind. It’s all too easy to take a bunch of unusually normal people seriously as antagonists when even the slightest hint of ‘outside’ or ‘unknown’ whips the town into a panic. It’s timely without being ham-fisted and demonstrates just how aptly suited Walker is to telling stories like these. But, of course, it’s not that simple and Walker’s ending flips the script around, revealing all new concerns and reflections of life.
That slow build proves tense and potent as the various factions wind their way towards collision and, once they get there, well, it’s pretty impressive. Walker and Walta are clearly a strong pair, utilizing panel size, crosscutting, and page composition to sell the moment beautifully.
Unfortunately, the one of the issue’s strongest attributes also fosters some of its greatest weaknesses. Put simply, the pacing in this issue serves a grand purpose but doesn’t always hold up page to page. The frequent meetings between neighbors don’t always differentiate themselves and, though it’s often cute, the team’s everyday struggles and foibles don’t make for the most engrossing comics. Watching Clint struggle to come up with a half-decent lie is both charming and character-building, but it takes the better part of a copy-dense page to sell the gag. Likewise, the burgeoning romance and/or restraining order between Red Wolf and Tilda is a fun and different team dynamic, but it doesn’t move beyond the chuckle-worthy.
Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire are easily one of modern comics’ most impressive artistic teams. Even without the aforementioned synergy that Walta and Walker seem to share, he and Bellaire are an automatic infusion of class and detail to just about any book you put them on.
That’s true here, but Occupy Avengers #5’s pacing problems are mirrored in its art. Walta shines in moments of tension and suspense, but simple talking heads and the flat, dusty colors of Dungston don’t bring out he or Bellaire’s best. Walta’s anatomy doesn’t always hold up perfectly face on and there are some pages that lack energy in layout and execution. In his defense, I expect that this is largely intentional, with these pages almost uniformly featuring Barton undertaking mundane tasks in a town trying its best to seem normal, but that still leaves things a little underwhelming.
But, as I said, this is still a Walta/Bellaire book and, particularly in the last section of the issue, it can look simply gorgeous. Walta’s knack for capturing emotion, both in faces and in composition, is on full display and the more dramatic the lighting gets the stronger Bellaire’s work seems to become.
The limited colors present in the early section of the issue make the arrival of Clint’s specialists all the more stunning and marks a clear change, not only for the art, but for the mood of the town.
David Walker’s history as a film maker and critic is keenly felt as he and his team combine classic montage and lighting techniques to bring the story to life and do so without falling into the traps of ‘widescreen’ comic writing that the term cinematic usually conjure up. Unfortunately, the careful slow build of this issue requires a little bit of time to get to know the setting and brew tension and neither the art nor the writing fires at full force through these early moments. The thankful flip side of that coin is that all throughout Walker is doing some incredible things with simple fears and expectation and, once things begin to come together, they do so spectacularly.
Though it suffers a bit for its responsibility to its own arc and the needs of issues yet to come, Occupy Avengers #5 is perhaps this series’ best example of how clever and multifunctional socially aware stories within Marvel’s universe can be. Walker proves even more subtle and thoughtful in this issue than in its predecessors, combining the realities of our world with the familiar magic of Marvel’s universe in a way that will leave you asking, ‘how did I never think of that’ through a big smile.