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    Review: Avengers Assemble #1

    By | March 15th, 2012
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Written by Brian Michael Bendis
    Illustrated by Mark Bagley

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    Unless you’re dead or visiting another planet, you’re probably aware there’s this movie coming out in just a few months featuring Marvel’s and Earth’s mightiest heroes, The Avengers. If you didn’t, then come home soon and/or you have our condolences. Kicking off what’s lining up to be a year of Avengers related events is this week’s “Avengers Assemble” #1, a new ongoing series that joins the existing family of Avengers titles, but starring (mostly) the six main players who make up the movie Avengers team. For those of you taking notes, that’s Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

    But is “Avengers Assemble” really worth the price of admission? Comics’ admission, that is. As in telling people you read it. Hit us up after the jump and we’ll give you our take.

    Let me start by saying, that while I’m eager to see The Avengers, I have some reservations about the whole thing. Not like “James Sturm, let’s boycott the movie” reservations, but just a general nervousness about how it’s going to turn out. But putting my own anxieties aside for a second and focusing on just the “eager to see” part, and well, that statement isn’t really breaking any new ground, is it? Seriously, just about everyone I know who’s even remotely interested in anything is a little bit excited to see this movie, and in a sub culture made up almost entirely of cynics and internet critics, that’s saying something. Unfortunately, that same kind of optimism and sense of togetherness is a lot harder to come by when an actual comic is involved, especially one that seems to be getting wagged pretty hard by its own tail.

    But before I tell you what’s wrong with the book, let’s look at the positives. Truly, the best thing about “Avengers Assemble” is that Marvel’s doing it. Really, they’d be idiots not to. Having a book out there that exists for the sole purpose of pushing these six movie characters together is just good business. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a good comic. What matters is that it has the soon to be six biggest superheroes in the world on the cover, and that’s far more important to Marvel and any newbies thinking about picking it up.

    Ignoring outside marketing opportunities altogether and looking strictly within the direct market for a second, this book opens the door for even more people to jump on Marvel’s bestselling title. I’ll talk about this more in a minute, but consider that Brian Michael Bendis has been shepherding the Avengers franchise since 2004. That’s a long time to stay on a book, especially these days. With that much history, it’d be easy to scare off a lot of potential new readers, but Marvel and Bendis deserve some praise here. They’ve managed to keep the book accessible without losing what they had to begin with. They build in a jumping-on point every year or so, and really, “Avengers Assemble” is just the current version of that. 

    Of course, this can also become a bad thing. Before, Marvel’s usually had some kind of big, shared universe event-type-thing leading up to one of the aforementioned jumping on points. And typically, realizing that some of us have been around a while, Marvel tries to give us old-timers something to sink our teeth into as well, thus doing what they’ve historically done better than any other comics company, and engender a unique kind of brand loyalty between fans, new and old alike. Other big launches have at least tried to keep things fresh and relevant, but with “Assemble” it just doesn’t feel like anything special’s going on. At the risk of sounding like an entitled old fan, don’t we lifers deserve a book that impresses us as much as it baits those who’ve had their interest piqued by the movie? If the answer’s “no”, why do I need to own this book? Why should I own any Avengers books for that matter?

    Continued below

    There’s very little continuity in the book, which makes sense considering what they’re going for. However, those of us reading Bendis’ other Avengers books are left wondering exactly when “Avengers Assemble” #1 takes place. Early on, both Captain America and Iron Man make mention of Avengers Tower having been leveled at some point in the past (“Fear Itself,” specifically), but we’re not told in story when, how or why, which confuses me, too, since they clearly don’t want to scare off any new people. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just not mention anything that’s come before, and start fresh with the movie Avengers doing something… movie-ish?

    What frustrates me about all of this is that I genuinely like Bendis and his Avengers stuff. For me, his Avengers ranks right up there with Morrison’s “JLA”, the Giffen and DeMatteis “Justice League”, and Claremont’s “X-Men”. Admittedly, I’m a guy that absolutely loves team books, and the Avengers especially — they were MY team book growing up — so he’s got that working in his favor — but when he’s on, dude is on. And regardless of whether you like what he’s done with the Avengers, his name has become synonymous with the entire franchise, and without him (with some help from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch) we’d probably be watching X-Men X: Wolverine Returns in May instead of The Avengers.

    Sadly, what makes him the best guy to work on “Avengers Assemble” also kind of makes him worst. At this point, it’s almost impossible for him to not serve two masters. On one hand, he knows the current versions of these characters better than anybody. They’re his toys. Asking him to write them any other way than how he’s written them for the last eight years would just be wrong. But a high-profile launch like this could have really benefited from a less-involved set of eyes, and new to this cast Mr. Bendis is most certainly not.

    And then there’s Mark Bagley, an artist whose history with Marvel makes him very nearly the penciller equivalent of Bendis. Bagley’s drawn these characters so many times over the years that he probably can do it with his eyes closed, although it never looks like it. His pages here look great, and they’re super kinetic and exciting; he does just a really solid job. Seeing what he did here brought back fond memories of his time on New Warriors and Thunderbolts.

    Overall, it’s not such a bad comic. With talent like Bendis and Bagley driving the ship, you could sure do a lot worse. There’s some fun stuff going on, sure, and it’s not bad to look at. Still, “Avengers Assemble” does a poor job of introducing the Avengers to a new audience or keeping the existing one fully interested. In the end, it feels like everyone involved is relying just a little too much on the hype machine to do the heavy-lifting, which seems pointless considering how hollow it is on the inside.

    Final Verdict: 6.75 — Who cares what I say. You already bought it.

    Chad Bowers

    Chad Bowers has been reading comics for most of his life. His transition from fan to professional is a work in progress. He’s the co-founder of ACTION AGE COMICS, creator of the webcomic MONSTER PLUS, co-creator of AWESOME HOSPITAL, THE HARD ONES, and DOWN SET FIGHT (coming soon from Oni Press) with Chris Sims. He reviews comics, writes G.I. JoeVersity, and co-hosts The Hour Cosmic for Multiversity Comics! If you've got nothing better to do, you can follow him on Twitter or Tumblr.