False Starts, Part One of Three: Avengers #1 and Secret Avengers #1

Posted by on June 14th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Avengers #1: Brian Michael Bendis, writer; John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, and Dean White, artists; Marvel Comics; 24+ pp., $3.99; Color

Secret Avengers #1; Ed Brubaker, writer; Mike Deodato and Rainier Beredo, artists; Marvel Comics; 28 pp., $3.99; Color

In the abstract, one might assume that the first issue of a new series would represent a fresh start, and that one might pick it up and simply read it, without wading into a morass of back-story dozens of titles wide and hundred of issues deep.

In the Marvel Universe, at least, that assumption would be wrong.

I had some hope for the Avengers and the Secret Avengers.  Bendis and Brubaker are fine writers — among the best working in the superhero genre.  But in these issues, they haven’t just gotten lazy with the work, they don’t merely seem bored with it — they seem to not be paying attention at all.

Consider, for example, the opening scene of Secret Avengers #1:  A short, fat, bald, mafia-type walks through a mansion, past heavily armed bodyguards; he has a tall, beautiful, busty woman on each arm.  Once in his suite, he tries to get fresh with one of these ladies, and she punches him in the jaw and then throws him into a bookcase.  We’re quickly informed that the two women were not the prostitutes they appeared to be, but instead “Valkyrie, one-time shield maiden of Asgard” and “Black Widow, Ex-Soviet Super-Spy.”  While Valkyrie punishes the bad guy for his wandering hands, Black Widow radios for “Extraction in ten.”  A platoon of bad-guy paramilitaries rush in to confront them, “Steve Rogers, the first Captain America” rushes in to save them, and after a couple pages of fighting the good guys take whatever it is that they came for, and leave.

In outline form, that sounds all right.  Not particularly inspired, but fine.  In execution, however, the mechanics of the story misfire at nearly every step.  Why did the superwomen bother posing as prostitutes?  Was it to convince their client to show them where he was hiding the stuff they’re after?  He doesn’t, and in fact, they don’t even ask.  Was it to breach the tight security of this powerful organization?  Steve Rogers does that much more expediently by simply crashing through a window.  In either case, why is Valkyrie, who is posing as a prostitute, so unprepared for what happens when the client tries to treat her like a prostitute?  And then, why can’t two top-notch spies overpower one short, pudgy crook without alerting the entire compound to what is happening?  Within seconds, there arrive 14 uniformed guards; where did these guys come from?  What happened to the two big suit-and-tie bodyguards who were standing just outside the door approximately one minute earlier?

The fighting that follows is within the normal range of superhero absurdity: the bad guys have automatic weapons, and they lose; the good guys have between them a single magic sword, and they win.  But at the end of the scene, Rogers congratulates his team:  “This was good work, you two. . . .  We won and we’re getting away with no one knowing who we are.”

That last line made me go back and look again at the fighting.  I had to ask myself, “So, did they kill all those people?”  Because it doesn’t really look like they did — and if they didn’t, then aren’t the guards going to come to in a few hours and tell their bosses, “I don’t know about the women, but the man was dressed like Captain America”?  Or are the heroes counting on the bad guys to be confused, since Captain America was so recently dead?

Bendis’s work in Avengers #1 manages to be even more annoying.  Nine pages are occupied with the Avengers standing around talking about how great it is to be the Avengers, and what an honor, and about putting the past behind them and looking toward the future — and so forth.

The plot, such as it is, finally starts — all at once — on page 12, with a full-page spread and an announcement:  “I am KANG! the conqueror.  Listen carefully, you who think of yourselves as heroes.  I have traveled through the great reaches of time to bring you a warning —”

This is one of those moments where Bendis decides to advance the plot by suddenly dropping in a surprise cameo, as if he expects the reader to think “Holy crap! It’s Kang!” — rather than, “um, who?”

Kang’s appearance sparks a fight, which is mercifully brief once he points out he’s in possession of “a doomsday device” — another of Tony Stark’s many gifts to mankind:  “It’s a dark matter accelerator.  If he wants it to. . .  it’ll turn all of us inside out.  The entire city.”  (Actually, to be fair to Stark, by this point in the story, I was hoping that the thing would detonate.)  Kang then orders the Avengers to travel through time and save the future from their children.  “Reality is coming to an end and it’s mostly their fault.”  Suddenly everyone is back in meeting mode, arguing about the possibilities of time travel, and their moral obligations, and on and on.

There are two moments, in all this mess, when Bendis seems to admit exactly how wrong the story is going.  One comes when Steve Rogers asks Wonder Man to join the team.  Wonder Man’s response is perfectly frank:  “Are you completely out of you mind? . . .  Putting the Avengers back together is a terrible idea.”

He’s right, it is, and not just in the world of the story.

The other instance is more subtle.  “Do you know who I am?!!” some villain or other rages, in the very first panel.  He’s already beaten, but he doesn’t know it yet.  He continues with self-important proclamations, and threats, and so on until the end of the page, when — “KRAKOOM” — he explodes, or is hit by lightning, or something.  We turn the page, and the heroes remark on what just happened:

“That guy liked to talk.”

“Really? Wasn’t even listening. . .”

Next:  Racism and Boobs in Astonishing X-Men

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One Response to “False Starts, Part One of Three: Avengers #1 and Secret Avengers #1”

  1. Paul Chadwick says:

    I have to say, though, that “Reality is coming to an end and it’s mostly their fault.” is one gigglingly great line.

    Time travel stories. I’m illustrating one now, and one must struggle with the dispiriting logic that no goal, no desired outcome, could ever be final in a time-travelable world. It throws an existential meaninglessness upon the proceedings.