This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on March 11, 2016.
A couple of weeks ago we tooks a look at Marvel Comics’ current lineup of X-Men comics reviewing each of the five significant titles (Extraordinary X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men, Old Man Logan, and All-New Wolverine). This was written under the nominal excuse of discovering whether Marvel really planned to cancel the line. That’s all a bunch of rumor mongering nonsense from comics clickbaits sites though. In actuality it was a way to review a series of titles and perform a “checkup” on the health of a brand.
This week we will be setting Chase Magnett on another assessment of Marvel mainstream titles. However, this time he’ll be taking a look at those with the greatest connection to Marvel Studios: The Avengers. So how are the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes performing? Are they involved in quality comics or putting out the same saddening mediocrity we observed in the X-line? Stay tuned to find out.
Avengers Standoff Assault On Pleasant Hill Alpha #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Jesus Saiz
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Event comics already come with a negative stigma. Taken as a whole, they generally trend in a negative direction for all aspects of quality. The intense combination of plot machinations and loads of characters coupled with even more rigorous scheduling makes it difficult to pull off a great event. Even with a reasonable handicap applied for these considerations, Avengers Standoff Assault On Pleasant Hill Alpha #1 (henceforth known as Avengers Standoff #1) is an absolute, interminable mess; it is a slog that fails to deliver even the slightest rewards over the course of 32 pages.
The script for Avengers Standoff #1 bears a greater resemblance to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe than any Avengers comics currently being published. Much of the book is devoted purely to exposition with characters explaining key concepts, character arcs, and previous events to one another. The narrative flow of the book crawls like a sludge-filled river serving primarily to string all of this explanation together. Most pages are packed with captions and word balloons focusing the act of reading almost entirely on prose. Letterer Clayton Cowles does an admirable job of making all this text fit and function, but the good placement of poor writing still leaves poor writing on the page. It could be claimed that all of this is meant to build towards a cliffhanger, but the plotting of Avengers Standoff #1 fails to either build excitement or construct a conclusion that will leave readers shocked.
That stilted scripting of never-ending exposition provides very little opportunity for visual exploration in any case. Most panels feature only a few characters talking at one another. They don’t utilize even basic techniques like “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work” to make these coma-inducing scenes engaging in individual panels though. The workmanlike hacking of the words is matched by similar artistic techniques. A painted quality of panels fails to evoke any sense of wonder or admiration as colors are sloppily layered upon one another. In the rare instance when a panel does manage to form a dramatic perspective, like when Maria Hill flies towards a diner on a helicopter, it’s only a sad reminder as to how long it has take to read the rest of the issue. Even the big finale of the issue falls flat as everything goes off the rails. The conclusion of this issue has been broadcast not only in Avengers Standoff itself, but in another one-shot that essentially touched upon the same beats. Action is a longtime coming and when it finally hits, it is only a montage of undramatic chaos.
Struggling under the demands of explaining so many concepts and establishing so many scenarios, Avengers Standoff #1 does not even reflect a sense of style. Attempts at pop culture-based humor and references to American politics all fall flat. One S.H.I.E.L.D. agent pokes at the scandal around Hillary Clinton’s e-mails in a joke that is neither funny nor inciting; it just is. Other mentions of things like The Simpsons are dropped on readers with the assumption that a passing knowledge of television can be passed off as a sense of humor. This is the sort of “cleverness” that a college freshman ought to be disabused of in his very first workshop. Whether the ties to reality are sunk in only a cursory viewing of CNN or a lack of respect for reader’s intelligence, they fail to lift ample dialogue above a drone.
If a justification for providing this comic any sort of rating must be given, then let it be this: If you read Avengers Standoff #1 you will comprehend what is on the page. The massive exposition dumps may be baffling and it might be a struggle to keep your eyes open, but the comic is a cogent narrative that could be summarized in a book report. Avengers Standoff #1 displays a comprehension of how comics are assembled, and that’s the nicest thing to be said about it.
Watching The Avengers Wrap Up
Based on this review alone you might be inclined to think that Marvel’s lineup of Avengers comics are in bad shape, but that’s not true. Avengers Standoff is a unique low point amidst a set of titles that generally fall in the range of mediocre to great. While the [Insert Adjective] Avengers titles all fall into the basic sets of tropes in team superhero comics, most offer at least something of value. The Ultimates takes the title of best Avengers title showing what science-fiction, superhero, and Marvel comics are all capable of. It’s the crown jewel of this lineup and one that shows the Avengers line is far healthier than the current crop of X-titles.
This might just be a matter of luck with the two best Avengers books both being written by Al Ewing. Excluding Avengers Standoff #1 though, the entire set hits a much more consistent set of highs. Even with the generally lackluster and safe comic All-New, All-Different Avengers, there’s something to be said for reliable entertainment. There appears to be greater attention and effort being paid to the Avengers right now. Well, it’s that or Ewing just makes this group look good.