Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fair Trade -- Mighty Avengers v.5: World's Mightiest

Most people who talk to me about comics know that I like the Avengers.  I might be more of a DC guy nowadays, but the Avengers were my super-team of choice for years and years and years.  The adventures of the World's Mightiest crew was something to look forward to every month.  Now that may have been helped by the fact that I got into the team right before the end of Volume 1.  Which means that I suffered through Volume 2, yes, but it also means I got the unspeakably awesome Busiek/Perez run to start Volume 3.  That made me an Assemblers fan for good.  From there, I started to get back issues and Essential volumes, and kept up with the current title.

All of that changed a few years back, after Brian Michael Bendis (hereafter refered to as "F'n Bendis!") took over the book and revamped it into his New Avengers.  Now, I was on board for this title as well.  New Avengers was a maddening title -- one month it would be gangbusters awesome, and the next month it would be boring and dull.  Reading this series was a rollercoaster.  But that all came to a head in the leadup to what I call "Plan B," also known as Civil War.  F'n Bendis! penned several of the absolute worst Avengers comics -- nay, comics in general -- I had ever read.  #22, featuring Luke Cage, was laughably bad, and remains the ultimate piece of evidence that while F'n Bendis! likes the idea of Luke Cage, he does not like the charater of Luke Cage.  (And frankly, my non-comics-fan wife came up with a better rationale for Cage to be Anti-Reg then he did.)  But the last straw was #25, which featured Iron Man laid up due to an EMP/virus/plot device created by Random SI Employee #45826, and then being harragued by said employee for 22 pages.  With that debacle, I called up Marvel and ended up mail order sub, and swore off the Avengers books until F'n Bendis! was off of them.

When Dan Slott took over Mighty Avengers, F'n Bendis!' supposed take on "classic Avengers" type of storytelling, I was not really impressed.  Slott had distinguished himself to me by writing some incredible bad Excalibur in the 90s and some really politcally-motivated She-Hulk stories which did nothing but tear down Iron Man, stand-in for the GOP and all that is wrong with America.  So I didn't pay it any mind.  I kept hearing on message boards about how it really was an "old school" title, and how much fun it was, but I paid it no mind.  I heard on podcasts that this was a title for disenfranchised Avengers readers, and I paid it no mind.  Finally, I picked up Slott's first issue for 50 cents at a con.  And... it was pretty darn good.  So I decided to take a bite on the first collection, and with that roundabout introduction, here we are.  

In the wake of Secret Invasion ("Plan C," by the way), the Scarlet Witch gathers together a team of Avengers to fight a reality warping evil which threatens to tear the entire world apart, including Hercules, USAgent, Iron Man, Stature, the Vision, and Hulk.  Leading this group of misfits is the chief misfit, Hank Pym, now taking to calling himself The Wasp in honor of the fallen Janet Van Dyne.  But neither the threat nor this team is what it seems on the surface, and after run-ins with the official Avengers and the Fantastic Four, the world itself has a new set of heroes, ready to go wherever they are needed.

First off, let me say right off that this is, in fact, about as close to old school Avengers as we are likely to get on the shelves in 2010.  That having been said, this team is more akin to the West Coast Avengers than anything else -- the "second string" team which is "not the official team" and all that.  But there's nothing wrong with a modern day incarnation of the West Coast Avengers, as that book was often just as good if not better than the senior title.  This is definitely a team of second stringers, but that's fine with me.  The action quotient is high, the plots make sense, and there is a distinct lack of standing around talking once the team is assembled.  Slott throws around plenty of creative touches, including the various defenses in the Baxter Building (including a room that literally stretches on forever), or the various technological tricks and tools that Hank Pym busts out.  This book is fast and fun, like an Avengers book really should be.

It's not all wine and roses (or in my case, beer and pizza), though.  Slott cannot resist his politics, this time using Norman Osborn and his Avengers as his GOP cut-outs.  And he cannot resist taking shots at Iron Man, making him alternately weak in the face of danger or cruel to his friends.  His hatred of this character is pathological.  But these problems are not that bad in the grand scheme of things.  Shellhead leaves after the first story, so that problem takes care of itself.  The politics... well I guess I need to just accept the fact that Slott is a leftist and roll with it.  Because he still writes this crew really well, his politicking notwithstanding.  He clearly has a lot of affection for these characters and has somewhere he wants to go with them, a trait I always like in a writer.  What he has done with Hank Pym -- the clear star of the title -- has made me change my opinion of him.

The art is a mixed bag, but most of it is quite nice.  The first story is by Khoi Pham, and is very dynamic and dramatic, a great fit.  The second story is by Rafael Sandoval, and it doesn't really do much for me, but it is servicable.  The third and final story is handled by Stephen Segovia and is very quirky, but not unappreciable.  All together its an eclectic mix, but it's not unpleasing to the eye.  Makes you wonder why the book can't keep a regular artist though!

All in all, I have to say that I should have checked out the title when Slott took over, because so far this has scratched my Avengers itch.  I have actually restarted my sub for Avengers, but but for Mighty this time.  Those of you out there still waiting for F'n Bendis! to move on could do a lot worse than this volume of Mighty Avengers.

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