The late nineties of superhero comics have always been such a fascinating wild west to me. I know so little about this period that is building off the industry’s most significant recession. With so few eyes drawn to it, it’s ripe for uncovering fascinating hidden gems or unreadable stinkers. This year I’ve dug up the series and burgeoning franchise “A-Next” to sink my teeth into. Which category will this spinoff-of-a-spinoff fall in? Let’s find out together, dear readers!
Scripted by Tom DeFalco
Plotted and Illustrated by Ron Frenz
Finished by Al Milgrom
Colored by Bob Sharen
Lettered by Jim Novak
The ninth issue of “A-Next” is interesting because it serves as a bridge between the series thus far and the potential climax that we’ve been building up to for a while now. Stinger quite literally makes mention of this issue that the team needs to tie up any loose ends before they go “running off to some other universe”. Of course, the threat in question is the monster-in-the-basement portal revealed in the last issue to have Scarlet Witch sealed away in hypersleep as a psychic defender. DeFalco barely touches this huge twist, however, mentioning it casually in a debrief. We don’t see Scarlet Witch in any shape or form, or even get to really find out if she’s alive or dead. The tension from that moment is so immediately dispersed and ignored in such a strange way and takes away from what felt like a real bombshell, course-changing moment.
In the midst of the team discussing their next moves, we see a great intrusion from J2 who proves more and more to be an interesting and thoughtful character. If the Avengers of years past risked their lives stopping this unknown threat, why should they reopen a can of worms that has long been sealed just for the sake of curiosity? It’s a valid point, and DeFalco chooses to have J2 and Thunderstrike discuss the ethics of it rather than getting involved in a physical or verbal spit. Moments like these are so few and far between in superhero comics, especially of the Marvel variety, and it builds each character a great deal whilst strengthening their already-tight relationship.
For the most part, the issue is cleaning house in various forms. Stinger and her father Scott touch on the point that they still don’t know who hired Ion Man to kill Cassie, which I assume will have some ties to the looming threat. The real meat of the issue, however, is the small amount of time that we get to see between Bluestreak and Freebooter. Being late additions to the team, we’ve never had a decent moment with this pair, so DeFalco attempts to remedy that here, whilst adding yet another mystery to the fold. The pair are checking out the portal whilst discussing a mysterious third party that trained them to be Avengers, adding another tie to the team of yore. Frenz and Milgrom have fun moving these unique personalities around the panels as they chat about their past. The top of the page featuring them has one of my favorite panels of the issue. Bluestreak is looking directly at the reader with a knowing grin and tilting her glasses, yelling “BORRRRRRRRING!”, whilst Freebooter stands in the background with clearly agitated body language.
The other cleaning house plotlines are interesting but don’t feel as compelling as they could be. American Dream and Crimson Curse hang out around the mansion with Jarvis discussing the threat. DeFalco tries channeling some raw emotion with Jarvis, who’s concerned that the same thing will happen that occurred with the old team years ago. However, he comes off more as a grumpy old sod who doubts the team’s capabilities rather than the concerned father figure that the narrative sets him up as. The other biggest plot thread involves Thunderstrike battling the Soldiers of the Serpent amidst a parade. In this fight, we’re introduced to a new superhero: Blacklight, who seems to have Green Lantern-esque hard light powers. Frenz and Milgrom really carry this character, drawing her with a full face mask that allows her to have a more cartoonish form, almost reminiscent of old Bruce Timm animation. Plus, the constructs that they come up with are clever and interact with the environment well. However, she and the battle as a whole feel like an excuse for the whole issue to have some kind of new draw and action sequence, and they wrap themselves and disappear almost as quickly as they arrived. DeFalco introduces a potential tie between Thunderstrike’s father and the Soldiers of the Serpent, but it’s so briefly touched on that it feels insignificant.
The issue winds down after all these disparate plot threads reach a kind-of conclusion, with my fave J2 discussing with Mainframe the ethics of being proactive rather than reactive, and the fact that everyone knows he’s a robot now. It’s another great moment that really cements J2 as the spirited heart of the Avengers. Later, the team finally all meet up, and decide that the next course of action is to traverse the portal, having wrapped up all plot threads they could at this point in the story. Jarvis exerts his concern for the team one last time and finally comes off as genuine, with Frenz and Milgrom rendering a delightfully cute panel of Thunderstrike shaking the butler’s hand whilst American Dream kisses him on the cheek. The final send-off has mixed emotions, with the team looking spirited as they leave, before a final panel with Jarvis alone in the room, silhouetted in a way that makes him look remorseful and lonely. The tagline for the next issue is fantastic too, noting “NEXT ISSUE: RAGNAROK! ‘NUFF SAID” which gives readers so much potential fodder to chew on for the next issue. Drop by next week to see where we end up!