On Wednesday, Marvel Comics ushered in a new era for its flagship team book The Avengers, releasing a new No. 1 issue from writer Jason Aaron, artist Ed McGuinness, inker Mark Morales, and colorist David Curiel. The book built on plot points Aaron originally dropped in the massive Marvel Legacy one-shot last fall, and it marked the debut of this year’s new Marvel season, Fresh Start (although, no mention of Fresh Start was made by the book’s marketing, which I found interesting...).
Most importantly, however, this comic book was actually really very good. For real. The art team was cohesive and precise, giving the over-sized debut a polished feel, an almost high-budget aesthetic that seemed to declare this is THE Marvel book of the hour. What I found most engaging, however, was that Aaron’s plot and script seem to understand the enduring appeal of The Avengers in a way recent incarnations of the team have at times missed.
And that’s what we’re talking about here today. This book is not a throwback, not exactly—despite the traditional core of the team returning—but it does pay homage to some the most beloved and enduring aspects of The Avengers, without at all feeling dated in the process. Here are four of the major elements Aaron and the team simply get right about The Avengers...
1. The Threat
The Avengers were formed originally because there was a threat that demanded they exist. In recent years, however, I think the concept has become a bit perfunctory, taking a wink-and-nod attitude that the team exists because the publisher, the fans, or whoever else expects/demands it. This book immediately gets away from that, establishing a convincing and compelling threat that spans millennia and brings our team together, even if some of them would rather not (more on that in a second).
This galvanizing threat is what made Avengers #1 work so well for me as a reader. I enjoyed Mark Waid’s preceding run on the franchise. I mean, he’s Mark Waid, and he just gets superheroes, but under Waid the book always seemed like an auxiliary title, rather than the publisher’s flagship, as that honor seemed to go to whatever event was beginning, middling, or ending (usually middling—boom, roasted!). In summation, Aaron’s run seems to be at the forefront of the publisher, giving it an exciting and dynamic sort of energy.
2. The Reluctance
Reluctance has been part of The Avengers DNA since the early years, when the original lineup minus Steve Rogers quit, leaving Cap to marshal a group that included Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, all of whom were at that time villains. We get that reluctance here early and often, starting with a great buddy-buddy-buddy scene where Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Thor Odinson meet in a bar for a beer, a shirley temple, and roughly three giant flagons of mead, respectively.
Not only is this reluctance foundational to The Avengers, it is in many ways the heart of Marvel superheroes all together, the main thing separating them from DC, whose heroes mostly run, fly, or grapple-hook eagerly into battle. Marvel heroes by comparison are more real and more flawed, like all of us, and they don’t always rise immediately to the occasion, like all of us again, with, of course, a few exceptions—thinking here of Carol Danvers. Aaron gets that right throughout, and his debut issue of The Avengers is better for it.
3. The Relationships
All great teams have iconic relationships, be it the antagonistic banter between The Thing and Human Torch in Fantastic Four or the love story between Midnighter and Apollo in The Authority. I think it’s fair to say, however, that The Avengers have slightly more characters with special connections to their teammates, characters like Giant Man and The Wasp, or The Vision and Scarlet Witch, or Wonder Man and The Beast.
Right off in this debut issue, Aaron makes great use of existing bonds, specifically those between Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, while also laying groundwork for some new ones. My favorite scene in this entire book was actually when T’Challa and Doctor Strange used their individual expertise together to investigate a shared concern. It’s a somewhat odd pairing, I suppose, but it yielded surprising chemistry. I’m really hoping for more of that kind of interaction.
4. The Rotation
My all-time favorite run on The Avengers was by Kurt Busiek and George Perez in the late ‘90s, and part of what I liked about it so much was the feeling that week-to-week the team’s roster was dynamic, that new members could be incoming and existing heroes could be on their way out of the mansion. Mark Waid did a bit of this in his run, although it really amounted to just one big splinter when the younger heroes departed to form The Champions.
Going into this book, however, Aaron has said in interviews that one slot on the team will be essentially reserved for a rotating member, and for this first arc that slot goes to Doctor Strange. I like that idea, although my hope is that the rotating concept is a wider one, not limited to a neat one-in, one-out setup that takes place like clockwork each time we start a new arc. I’d rather see roster churn happen organically (and maybe even surprisingly) as a result of our plot.
Plus, One Minor Complaint
So, I guess everyone—characters, writers, publisher, fans—is just fine now about the whole Hydra Steve business? I know this is comics and change is the only constant and HUGE events one month have little impact the next, but this man was seething with evil to the point he oversaw the destruction of a major American city, like as recently as last year, which is even shorter in comic book time.
Obviously, we have to get this behind us, and Secret Empire did the heavy narrative lifting after its climax to explain what happened and get us moving in a better direction. Plus, we got a brief and rehabilitative Captain America run from Waid and superstar artist Chris Samnee. Still, all I’m saying is a bit more of a grudge held by other heroes might feel cathartic for us all, regardless of what our feelings were toward Secret Empire as a concept. The good news is this is just one issue, and there’s still time to dive deeper into that idea, plus other dynamics. I know I, for one, am looking forward to Aaron unpacking the presumably large baggage between Tony and Carol following the second superhero Civil War.
Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at@zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.