Beef Up Your Avengers

Gail Simone’s question of the day reminded me that I’ve been fairly cranky of late. And, honestly, since the snark is all intended toward the betterment of … betterness and suchlike, it’s probably time I gushed about something other than a series that’s been cancelled for over a decade.

Just in time, I finally succumbed and used one my bookstore gift cards that I got for my birthday of unrevealed age.1 I was in an illustrated story mood, so some comics collections were the order of the day.

Aside: I’ve developed a slight fear of picking up books based on exciting interviews with the creators. You see, there are at least a couple of creators who are–honestly and without sarcasm–fascinating to read philosophize about their books. It’s not just a lot of “this was really fun to write and I hope people enjoy it.” It’s some real, digging in and unpacking ideologies and craft and experimentation talk.

I get excited about comics in general when I read these folks talk about their own. I get excited about their books in particular. But then, sometimes, I find that the execution of those specific books isn’t nearly as impressive as the interviews and essays themselves. So, there develops a hesitancy, where I don’t want to discover that awesome philosophy isn’t always awesome practical application.2

So, after reading interviews with Kelly Sue DeConnick, as well as this bit of honesty and coolness on pre-ordering, I was a bit worried. Still and all, while Captain Marvel wasn’t on the shelf, Avengers Assemble: Science Bros was, and I had a gift card, which is just like free, right? So what the hell, Jason, stop being a fraidy-cat cynic.

Aside over, and collection read, and much happiness to be had in saying: not disappointed. Actually, given that the Assemble book at first seemed to be just a transparent attempt at corporate synergy with the Avengers movie, it was so much extra not-disappointment.

The synergy here wasn’t corporate nonsense. It was good humor balanced with drama over a pile of action and crazy concepts. So, the elements to the writing that I enjoyed in the movie. I can’t complain about that. That’s the kind of synergy I want. But also: I should retire that S word pretty much yesterday, because it’s wearing on me and also threatening to take me into Jem and the Holograms flashbacks. You don’t want me singing that theme song.

I suppose the book diverges from the film in that these Avengers are, you know, friends. Each of the two main stories in the volume penned by DeConnick start out making a point of that. There is much joking and razzing of one another, but it’s clear there is affection in all directions. I could say it’s a lot of space spent on atmosphere, but I think, in both stories, the closeness between the Avengers in question is central to one or more points of the plot.

You need to see, for example, the affection The Hulk has for Spider-Woman early in the first story to help understand the latter’s actions at a more crucial stage of the game. Plus, of course, the chummy-competitiveness between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (which, honestly, may be more from Stark’s side, but Hulk Not Like Lose) is basically the driving force that puts our Avengers in the middle of the crazy situation they’re in.

Likewise, the history between Hawkeye and Black Widow, and the joking-but-maybe-not-completely jealousy Spider-Woman displays to it, becomes important during some of the payoff of the second story. Or, at least, informs my reading of the climax of that particular story. It also handily acts as a reason why Hawkeye and Spider-Woman are tagging along as Black Widow tries to pay of some off the blood debt she’s accrued from her years as an assassin.

Beyond the joking and the chummy, though, there’s also big crazy ideas, of course. World domination schemes, underworlds, genetic experimentation gone awry, ancient stuff that should have stayed buried but of course doesn’t because: world domination. There is hitting and stabbing and monsters and derring-do.

There’s a third story focused on the Vision, by Christos Gage, from the book’s annual. It’s a different animal than the others, at least tonally, as it doesn’t seem to have quite so much of the humor as the DeConnick stories. It makes a fair point about the way The Avengers handle their android member, but is more of an internalized story than the others. While it’s a reasonable thinker of a piece, and well done, it seems a bit at odds with the other material.

I’ve not said much about the art, probably because I always feel like I don’t have a reasonable vocabulary for these sorts of things, but Stefano Caselli and Pete Woods both provide solid, heroic forms and clear storytelling for the DeConnick stories, which fit well with the tone. Likewise, the darker (shadowy-er? moodier? I did mention my lacking visual vocabulary, yes?) work by Tomm Coker fits the tonal shift in the Gage tale.

If I lean a bit more in Caselli’s direction on the favoritism front, that’s probably due to the extra beefcake in the story he illustrates. What can I say? Especially in the story where the loser of the bet between Tony Stark and The Hulk will have to parade about the New York streets completely nude, good beefcake skills should never be de-valued.

So, anyway, that’s what I’m happy about from Marvel today. Tomorrow I’m sure there will be more teeth to be gnashed, but today: hooray fun comics.

1. No. Stop asking. I am young of attention span if not of heart. Maybe I’m young of heart, too. But there’s something shiny in the corner and I can’t be bothered to check.

2. Again: no. This isn’t about Whos. Go listen to Suessical for that. It’s not even an indictment of essayists or ideologists or experimenters in comics. I want all of them. And I want them to keep doing what they’re doing, because even when it doesn’t work in practice for me, I’d 345% rather have people who give a shit and are excited to try something doing just that than have a field full of perfectly-executed pap churned out by folks bored with every waking moment. I do not relish a world of bored and unfulfilled artists. Bored is the opposite of Art.

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