With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Frank Cho, Mark Bagley
Issues: Mighty Avengers (2007) #1-11
At the end of the superhero Civil War the rebellious New Avengers were defeated and went into hiding, spurring new SHIELD Director Tony Stark to sanction his own official Avengers team. He dubbed them the Mighty Avengers – inadvertently coined by Ms. Marvel.
Stark of course joins the team making him a bit of a Wolverine in this era in terms of how spread out he is: here in Mighty Avengers, his own solo Iron Man series, as a major character in Captain America, etc. He chooses Ms. Marvel to actually lead the team (given her military background and experience), and together the two pick and choose the best of the best.
In New Avengers the team came together organically over a major crisis – a supervillain prison breakout, and the heroes that showed up and worked together ended up forming a team amidst the chaos. None of that happens in Mighty Avengers; instead it goes the Armageddon route and simply goes around recruiting people in a page by page montage (with flashbacks to their recruitment throughout the first few issues). Carol and Tony discuss people like they’re trading cards (“we need a Wolverine”) and then go recruit them. It’s all a bit silly and not terribly interesting, but at least they select a fairly varied team in terms of power level and background.
The initial team that joins Ms. Marvel and Iron Man are The Wasp, The Sentry, Wonder Man, Black Widow and Ares (“He’s a Wolverine and a Thor!” Ugh). Before they can even get an official Welcome to the Group meeting, Iron Man is suddenly melted and transformed into a weird, naked lady version of Ultron after a seemingly random attack by Mole-man. In the “Ultron Initiative” (#1-6) Fem-Ultron hijacks some weather satellites and tries to wreck havoc on the whole planet, while our heroes unsuccessfully hurl themselves at it.
As a side note, I completely hate the Sentry. What started off as an interesting take on a Superman-level powerful hero with severe mental issues has devolved into a Get Out of Situation Free card for comic writers. He has the power of a thousand exploding suns! Great.
The story is incredibly dumb and I detest the way Bendis writes each panel. He includes the inner thought bubble of all our heroes, sometimes in the middle of them talking. This makes every page have an insane amount of words and often makes just trying to suss out a single dialogue session a confusing mess. I generally like Bendis’ dialogue and writing but this method just fails spectacularly. Trying to do the inner monologue thing (normally reserved for solo books or single character focuses) for half a dozen characters is a nightmare and doesn’t add anything to the story.
I’m also not a fan of Frank Cho’s art work. It’s not terrible but it’s just slightly worse than what I consider base-line brightly colored action-adventure comic fair, and includes a hefty does of constant T&A from the women heroes that I wasn’t a big fan of.
To put a cherry on this ill-conceived return of Ultron (who mostly just stands there for five issues and occasionally throws a charging hero to the ground), they enlist the help of Hank Pym, Wasp’s ex-husband, to create a computer virus and introduce it to Ultron.
Yep, they Independence Day Ultron. Good job guys.
As a side note I really enjoy how Bendis writes Hank and his dialogue with Janet is especially delicious, but even his enjoyable guest-starring isn’t enough to save this train-wreck of an opening story.
Volume 2, “Venom Bomb” (#7-11) is a massive improvement, picking up right after the last panel of New Avengers #31. Issue #7 has Spider-Woman showing up at Stark’s bedside with the glaring body of Skrull-Elektra. The titling of the issue has the Secret Invasion stamp on it, acting as an early prologue to the upcoming event. The entire issue is mostly just Stark and Jessica Drew talking about the ramifications of a possible secret Skrull invasion, and it’s actually pretty great.
Their talks end with Spider-Woman officially joining the Mighty Avengers, effectively switching sides, and Stark grants her a slot much to many of the team’s chagrin. Before anyone can really voice a complaint, something suspicious falls to earth from the wreckage of Stark’s weather satellites from the previous story arc. It’s a venom-style symbiote! Only this one acts like a virus and beings mutating everyone in New York City into Venom/Carnage monsters.
The Mighty Avengers are on the scene, and finally we get some action-packed scenes of our heroes kicking ass. Granted they soon have to pull up once they realize that all the monsters are really just possessed people. To create more chaos the New Avengers show up also as venom symbiote monsters (save Luke Cage), and there’s a funny bit where Wolverine’s healing factor keeps trying to push out the symbiote. Poor Wolverine.
The whole thing is over in a single issue as Stark simply goes to his lab and synthesizes a cure, then blasts it over New York. Very anti-climactic and short, but it leads to the team discovering the “Venom Bomb” belonged to Dr. Doom, so it’s off to Latveria! As if battling hundreds of symbiotes weren’t enough our heroes throw down with hundreds of doom bots after Ares crashes a plane right into Doom’s castle.
No less than three full two-page spreads of the team fighting off doombots jump out as a lovely feast for the eyes. Mark Bagley is an improvement in the art department, and it’s very much that classic modern comic book feel that is very appropriate to the tone and feel of the series.
The attack on Doom (whom quickly becomes one of my favorite villains and I adore Bendis’ treatment of him) leads to he, Iron Man and Sentry being thrust back in time to the 60s via Doom’s time-travel device. While an opportunity for some funny and cheesy moments are mostly wasted, I did love the old Jack Kirby, Silver Age style in which the time-travel issue is drawn.
Like all their problems it’s solved with a combination of Stark’s ideas and Sentry’s insane power level and they quickly return to their time an issue later. The entire story arc of Volume 2 is a rapid fire of big events happening every single issue. If the idea was to make up for the lackluster and boring “Ultron Initiative” it definitely succeeds.
Dr. Doom is finally apprehended as Iron Man gets his Respect Mah Authority moment. I’m annoyed that throughout these two first volumes the focus centers on Iron Man more than anyone else. I get that he’s obviously the most popular hero (although Ms. Marvel was also gaining popularity at this time with her own solo series) but as I mentioned before, Iron Man is damn near everywhere. As stupid as heroes like Ares and Wonder Man are (answer = very, very stupid) I wouldn’t mind seeing at least a bit more team dynamic, drama, in-fighting and characterization that’s in every other successful team-up book.
With too much focus on Iron Man, a silly team and a terrible first outing, Mighty Avengers is off to a very shaky start. It definitely feels like the Michael Bay of comic stories – some fun action if you can mostly shut your brain down. I did like the way that it incorporates the greater continuity and the nonstop action in the second volume is an admittedly fun ride. But, come on Tony, let the rest of the team do something every once in awhile.