Returning to the last review and Avengers Disassembled, I’ve now read the full graphic, instead of it being a monthly piecemeal, and come to the conclusion that this is one of the finest pieces of story-telling in comics today. It’s an exciting, full of blood and thunder, well-paced tale with fine art and mood setting colouring. With its examination of the heroic ideal, it’s a fine addition, not only to the Avengers canon, but to the epic sagas of the past.
Write Brian Bendis and artist David Finch also manage to depict the serious side of super-heroics without falling into the trap of making it “relevant”, “meaningful” or scoring cheap points over the very idea of a superhero or villain. Something that was brought home very forcibly by- of all people- Alan Moore in a recent edition of Chain Reaction on Radio 5. Moore got a cheap laugh from the audience by pointing out the psychological inadequacies of someone who dresses up as a bat. But he didn’t make the distinction that the moment a writer introduces a character such as Superman, or The Bat-Man or Spider-Man or Captain America or even his own Dr. Manhattan or Miracleman, then the whole structure of a story becomes different (though to be fair to Moore, he did investigate how super-heroes would change the world in Watchmen and Miracleman, especially how heroes can turn themselves into real, living gods. But it was still a cheap shot). That the world such a person would inhabit is most definitely not our “real” world and the “real world” rules no longer apply. It may look the same, and by doing so give the reader a grounding he or she can relate to, but it IS different and has to be so in order to create, what is after all, a fantasy tale. If real “reality” was introduced too much into stories than we’d see and realise that someone like King Arthur was nothing but a sad cuckold, James Bond is a misogynistic woman-beater, or Gandalf was a manipulator of the highest order.
In fact, the only complaint I have in worlds such as the DC or Marvel Universes is that these are obviously high tech ones with many wonders and that none of the general public seem to share in such innovations. Transporters, life saving suits of armour, quinjets, Blackbirds, easy inter-galactic space-travel-none of these are readily available to the man on the street. Not even the Pym Particle (which helps Ant-Man to change size) is used in surgery to aid without the means of intrusive measures (except during the Kree-Skrull War Saga. One of the best Avenger tales,” Journey To The Centre of the Android” whereby Antman has to explore the Visions body in order to help repair it in a way reminiscent of Fantastic Voyage. This is all beautifully and weirdly depicted by Neal Adams and made quite an impression on me when I first read it many years ago), Pym even laments in Avengers Disassembled that the only thing he’ll probably be remembered for (as well as being a wife-beater and schizophrenic) is creating Ultron, a constantly updating homicidal robot with genocidal plans for the whole human race. The most the general public will get is an ATM that’ll them in a nice, friendly, Douglas Adams way that they are overdrawn and won’t get any money.
But I digress. One of the major themes in Avengers Disassembled is how reactive groups like the Avengers or the JLA are. Most of the time super-heroes will just sit around waiting for the next big crime or alien invasion to occur. Very rarely are characters worried about cause and effect. We, as readers, know full well that The Bat-Mans world would be much better off, and fewer people would die, if he just simply killed The Joker. And that if all the heroes are made to disband, the villains would run rampant (something not addressed at all in The Incredibles, but to good effect in Powers (Bendis/ Oeming) and Wanted (Miller/ Jones)).But of course this leads to the moral dilemma that heroes do not kill and they are then left with the somewhat vague hope that it will all turn out alright in the end. This is namby-pamby, woolly thinking and it is such a case of misjudgement that brings down the Avengers. As said in the last review Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) is the source of the Avengers one bad day. A brutalised woman since childhood, she believed that she deserved some happiness in her chaotic life. Only then to see it crudely taken away from her -the Avengers colluded in the removal of all the memories of her imaginary children. Upon finding this out, one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe, with the ability to change probability, has a breakdown and seeks revenge on those she feels did her harm. Cause and effect. Something not seen too often in the world of comic books.
Amidst all the Bruckheimer explosions is some of Bendis’ better dialogue. Realistic in its tenor, with the right amount of confusion and hesitancy that something beyond your control would bring, but also with the lighter moments that conflict can bring:-
S.H.I.E.L.D. Grunt #1: “I’m not trained for robotic defence systems”
S.H.I.E.L.D. Grunt #2: “Sucks to be you.”
Characters hit just the right notes. Captain America is firm and authorative, Hawkeye bullish and gung-oh. The Wasp confused and hurt by what is going on around her, fruitlessly pleading with the She-Hulk to calm down after tearing apart the Vision:-
“Jennifer, PLEASE, please don’t do this. You’re NOT your cousin. You’re in control. This isn’t you!! You can control it!! Don’t. Please- not today–”
The calming effect that Dr.Strange has on all the Avengers as he relates what has been occurring under their very noses. The regret that Hank Pym feels in what he has done with his career and married life. The betrayal that Tony Stark (Iron Man) feels when he believes that everyone thinks he’s started drinking again. All of it is pitch perfect, leading to a more fuller and enjoyable reading experience. Even the deaths of Hawkeye, Scott Lang (current Ant-Man) and the Vision, which led to outrage on the fanboys forums gives a feeling of un-expectancy. That we are not just reading the same old, same old, and that this is an exciting and unpredictable story, taking no prisoners. Reading it as a serial I couldn’t wait to read the next instalment and this is the kind of thing that has been missing a lot in the comic book world of late (and something that the producers of the latest incarnation of Dr.Who have taken to heart. No leaks on set, no fan visits, no idea of what or who the stories will contain. Too much information can be a bad thing).
Sure, it all sounds a little bombastic but this is offset by some fine detailed art from David Finch, There is no doubt that a lot of his characters can look the same, but his expressions are faultless and situations wonderfully depicted. The destruction of The Avengers Mansion, the meltdown of The Vision, She-Hulks rampage, the Kree attack and Hawkeye’s subsequent death, all the while surrounded by the ensuing inferno given a dark and brimstone feel by Frank D’Amarta’s excellent use of colour. One splash page in particular can be used as a good example of this as Giant-Man looks down upon the devastation before him, we, the readers look up to him and see behind him a clear blue sky and New York skyscrapers. Coming from the fire and ashes of the previous pages we fully realise how small and tight the area of conflict was in.
Avengers Disassembled is a rip-roaring tale with good, solid performances from everyone involved. A mature look at how not resolving your battles can store up problems for later and the regret that one can feel at this (even Magneto, with his small cameo, feels it: – “I failed you” he says to his now comatose daughter). By the end the Avengers have disbanded and the Mansion left standing as a monument to their failings, but even now there is hope as the final gathering remember their past achievements and their fallen comrades (Thor is also dead. Ragnarok finally coming to Asgard, whether this was due to the manipulations of the Scarlet Witch remains to be seen), and the final panel as the Avengers stand silent before thousands of New Yorkers in a candle-lit vigil brought a lump to the throat of this old fanboy. Great moments abound throughout the history of The Avengers and this is one of them.
Speaking of great moments in comics there has been a couple of them lately and I just want to quickly go over them. Both have come from the pen of Warren Ellis and whilst he has been cruising of late (a lot of bottom of the drawer work given a dusting) and the always superb Planetary is worth waiting for, his work on Ultimate Fantastic Four and the new Iron Man has been exemplary. The Ultimate FF is a fine addition to the Ultimate Universe, with logical explanations for the four and their powers (especially Johnny Storm’s) and it’s the final panel from issue 15 that really sent a creeping feeling up my spine. The FF are exploring the Negative Zone for the first time. Long time readers of the regular FF will know that the Zone is an anti-universe adjacent to theirs, with all its attendant inhabitants and problems. In the Ultimate FF, the Negative Zone is pretty well the same, but a vast empty universe that is slowly dying. For a long time the four come across nothing (leading up to a joyous moment when the Thing goes for a space walk and laughs himself silly with the happiness he feels) until they come arrive at a huge space station that is seemingly lifeless. They make contact with its inhabitants and prepare for docking and then to go and meet their first alien contact. Ellis and Kubert depict all of this as standard until the last panel when you see Annihilus looking out of the porthole and regular readers of the FF all go “Ooohhh Shittttt”. Honestly, a very horrible feeling went up my spine when I saw him/her/it? A great moment.
The other came from the reboot of Iron Man after The Avengers Disassembled storyline. The moment comes when Tony Stark is interviewed by, of all people, John Pilger the investigative journalist. Pilger starts off the interview giving Stark an opportunity to explain that although he is a weapons designer, he is not a weapons manufacturer and that the Iron Man suit is used to help promote peace and aid. It soon comes clear though that Pilger has an alternative motive and reveals how some of Starks military designs have maimed and injured people. Pilger ignores Starks protest that although his designs have been used like this it has also led to advances in medicine and public life (a truism in this real world as well. Many wars have led to better surgical procedures) in which the public have a better life style and expectancy. Pilger, in his usual sanctimonious way, ignores all of this until an irritated Stark asks him if Pilger believes that anything he (Pilger) has done has changed the world. Pilger replies that he doesn’t know wherein Stark says the same but he does know that most of his inventions have led to a better world for most of its inhabitants. Stark rubs it in even more by letting Pilger know that he is a cultural ghost. Most people don’t know who he is or the work he has done (a fact borne out that when I related this part of the story to Kat, she also asked who John Pilger is) and is therefore unimportant, someone always sniping away in the sidelines. There is no doubt that people like Pilger have brought to the worlds attention miscarriages of justice or genocide, but their strident ways of doing it, and hatred of anything that doesn’t conform to their world view has begun to turn people off. Therefore becoming the cultural ghosts Stark says they are. I don’t know if Ellis intended it to be an insult, but it certainly works and again another classic moment.
Avengers Disassembled is by Brian Bendis and David Finch, published by Marvel Comics, priced £10.50 and available from all good comic book stores.
Ultimate Fantastic Four is by Ellis and Kubert, published monthly by Marvel Comics
Iron Man is by Ellis and Granov, published monthly by Marvel Comics