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Picks of comic book week: Just call them the Avengers of soul

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Mighty Avengers #11

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Book of the week: Mighty Avengers #11

How does one tell when a franchise is being stretched too thin? It could be when one can count roughly half a dozen titles as part of the franchise on a monthly basis, and the quality of some of the titles can't save them from suffering from over saturation of the market. Enter into this equation Al Ewing's relaunch of "Mighty Avengers". Years ago, this title was one of merely three regular Avengers titles; now it is one among seven. Although it has outlasted similar spare Avengers title like "Avengers A.I." and is outselling "Avengers Undercover" (the sequel to "Avengers Arena"), sales continue to diminish and it seems unlikely to last a second full year. After a brief interlude of exceptional artwork by "young gun" artist Valerio Schiti, the series continues to be bogged down by Greg Land, who is to "art" what "airbrushing" is to photography. The series' only hope is how well this obligatory crossover with "Original Sin" (the "crossover du jour") boosts sales and for how long.

Fortunately, Ewing continues to make up for Land's glossy, lifeless "art" with a weird and wide spanning narrative which isn't afraid to tinker with the past while forging ahead for the future. He also embraces the raw potential of past continuity for future stories with a relish that may seem similar to that of other writers such as Dan Slott. The angle for "Original Sin" is that a zap by the severed eye of the murdered Watcher has caused Marvel's heroes to suddenly learn previously unknown (or "made up five seconds ago") secrets to their lives. Among them is the leader of this team, Luke Cage, who confronts his father James Lucas for the first time in years for a harsh talk about the past. It turns out that Luke's current involvement with some vague magical villains called "the Deathwalkers" ties into his father's own past as a plucky police detective who formed an alliance with some strange characters in 1972. Two of them turn out to be members of Luke's current team, Adam Brashear/Blue Marvel and Blade, while another is an old enemy of Doctor Strange. An investigation of a bizarre murder causes James to wind up ankle deep in some of the more bizarre areas of the Marvel Universe.

As the cover suggests, this issue tells this flashback tale using the style and character designs of 1970's "blaxploitation" films. This may seem out of place now, but long term Marvel fans may remember that at the time, Marvel fully embraced that era of cinema. Luke Cage himself emerged from an attempt to capitalize on this era, alongside other characters such as "Brother Voodoo" and no end of martial arts heroes (like Iron Fist). Although Marvel utilizes a "sliding scale" to their timeline to claim their universe is never more than 10-15 years old, they are forced to accept previous incarnations of characters who dressed in styles of their real life times. In example, "Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl" may act like it took place at the turn of the century, but for the sake of accuracy everyone still is dressing as if it is the early to mid 1960's. Thankfully, Ewing is able to capitalize on the life life spans of some of his cast to establish that some of them were active in the 1970's. Readers also see a return of Blade's original "funky" design by Gene Colon. Narration by James sews the flashback together, as well as Ewing's trademark snappy dialogue.

Crossover tie-in's can often derail a regular series for nothing more than a cheap stunt. Ewing is wise to take advantage of the crossover to help propel his current story with the Deathwalker and Blade's abduction to add an extra layer to the coming conflict. Jay Leisten, to his credit, does a valiant job of inking Greg Lang's "pencils" to the point that the entire issue looks as good as possible, while Frank D'Armata can always be relied upon for solid colors. When "Mighty Avengers" debuted, it brought some attention by being Marvel's first superhero team dominated by heroes of color; thankfully it turned out to be a riveting read as well. It is therefore unfortunate that Ewing's series has to face the risk of cancellation woes before a fifteenth issue merely because it was one of seven Avengers books that Marvel hurled into the shops. Readers weary of the soulless space stories often told by Jonathan Hickman would be wise to embrace this fun, smart, and savvy street-wise team while they can.

Honorable mentions:

Archer & Armstrong #21: Fred Van Lente and regular artist Pere Perez (alongside regular colorist David Baron) continue with the second part of the "American Wasteland" arc. As seems typical for this series, it seems the titular duo are once again chasing a magical MacGuffin across the country which leads them into a plot which is, as usual, hilariously bizarre. This time, a quest for Archer's biological mother has led them into a trap set up by a deranged cult who have used the "wheel of Aten" to construct an endless extra-dimensional hotel. Unlike the previous issue, this one seems to narrow down the mechanics of the hotel better, by suggesting that it draws power from the faith that people have in certain people and ideas. In the ancient past it would have been gods or saints, while in modern America it is pop icons like Elvis, Bruce Lee, or even Lee Harvey Oswald. The final page seems to suggest a time bending origin for Archer involving his love interest Anna-Maria, which begs more of an explanation before being taken at face value. As always, Van Lente makes up for any glazed eyes from the techno-babble with witty back-and-forth banter between his characters as well as one outrageous obstacle after another for his heroes to overcome. So long as one is willing to see JFK assassination theories exaggerated into easily made villains as much as one was willing to see Communists exaggerated into radioactive cyborg monsters in many Marvel comics of the silver age, the content within will bring about a smile. Perez's art always favors both physical comedy and fast paced action, as this series continues to delight fans of great buddy comedy comics.

Amazing Spider-Man #1.2: What is essentially "Spider-Man: Year One" continues as Dan Slott and Ramon Perez's "Learning to Crawl" reaches its' midway point. The gist of the series is that it takes place between "Amazing Fantasy #15" and the first few issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" from 1962-1963 which involves the effect a rookie Spider-Man had on his first major fan. As Peter Parker struggles to deal with the loss of Uncle Ben and being the sole breadwinner of his home with Aunt May alongside being a pariah in school with spider-powers, his biggest fan Clayton Cole has been inspired to become the costumed Clash. Seeking a road to fame and riches similar to what he perceived happened to the wall-crawler (who landed TV gigs after a freak wrestling debut), Clash decides the fastest way to do that is to defeat Spider-Man in a fight. Unfortunately, despite being paid to throw the match for the delight of the cameras, Peter Parker is in no mood to lose again. Perez' artwork is a fantastic homage to Steve Ditko while still being a unique work unto himself; even the 1960's fashion trends are mirrored. The script and premise by Slott has its' hits and misses between voices for the characters and story mechanics. Attempts to modernize silver age stories with current props is always a hazardous one, and this series is no exception. Slott wishes to claim that modern say social media helped create Spider-Man's brief pop culture career, yet by dating this yarn a decade ago, it actually pre-dated much of that media such as YouTube or "viral videos" or so forth. Using retroactive continuity to add weight to what may otherwise been a thin villain has long been an easy step for writers, and it is a shame to see Slott indulging in this sort of thing the longer he controls the destiny of "Amazing Spider-Man". Clash is a perfectly designed and crafted foil, but without the added weight of this "untold tale", he'd be dismissed as a knock off of Mysterio (who himself has roughly three incarnations of his mantle). Overall, this is a past dwelling mini series which has some great moments that don't always quite hold up to the sum of their parts.

She-Hulk #5: In just four short issues, writer Charles Soule has crafted an entire world around his heroine alongside regular artist Javier Pulido. Unfortunately, Pulido needed a break and the fill in artist, Ron Wimberly, simply cannot fill the gap in quality. Equally unfortunate is that Soule's script is unable to overcome this in much the same way Al Ewing overcomes Greg Land's limitations. This issue picks up on a dangling subplot involving "the blue file", a legal case which involves She-Hulk and a number of heroes, villains, and associates from the past that neither she or anyone else can remember. An investigation into it quickly leads her into an entertaining confrontation with the Shocker, while Hellcat finds herself fighting against Tigra. Even the often bizarre Angie Huang finds herself caught in the cross hairs in North Dakota. Wimberly's art seems fascinated with some exaggerated poses and angles, but more often than not they simply call more attention to themselves than serving the plot. The colors by Rico Renzi pop and this is still a readable issue, although not quite up to par with previous issues. Pulido's return cannot come soon enough.

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