Friday, January 1, 2016

Too Young To Be An Avenger: The All-New, All-Different Avengers

“YOU’RE A JERK!” That’s what the new, teenage Ms Marvel shouts at the new, teenage Nova on the very first page of Marvel’s ‘All-New, All-Different Avengers’ book.
The line-up in Marvel’s new Avengers book could be said to be composed of two groups. One group is the ‘old guard’, with a ‘new twist’: (the African-American) Captain America, (the female) Thor, (the speculated-to-be-different but original) Iron Man, and the Vision.

The other group is the new, teenage members: Spider-Man (the ‘Ultimate Comics’ version, not Peter Parker), Ms Marvel, and Nova. Hence, about half of the current team is of high-school age.

When I think of the Avengers, I tend to think of a team full of strong, athletic (admittedly mostly white) men and women in their late twenties to late thirties. You can see this in my dream Avengers line-up: there is not a single underdeveloped jaw among them.
My first exposure to the Avengers was ‘Avengers’ #300 (1989), which was drawn by John Buscema, and featured a team which included Captain America, Thor, Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman – all definite mainstays of the Marvel Universe. Big John Buscema’s characters were strong and dark, with solid brick walls as their backdrop. In that issue dark demons flew through the streets; foes to be handled by warriors, not kids a few years older than me.
The other Avengers team at the time, the West Coast Avengers also featured a team of Marvel mainstays, not a fresh face among them. It was drawn by John Byrne, who like Buscema, had a very classic, dramatic, semi-realistic comic book drawing style.
These were the comics that shaped my view of what the Avengers was and should be. Even the word Avenger back then, before they let everyone in, had connotations of having earned your stripes – characters had usually been kicking around the Marvel Universe for a few years before they were invited to join.  Therefore, having half of the team filled with ‘new, teenage’ Avengers will take some getting used to for me.
“YOU’RE A JERK!” It’s the type of petulant saying that you wouldn’t think you’d see in an Avengers book. It’s a preview of a mini-story at the end of the first issue in which Ms Marvel and Nova first meet, and Nova makes all the wrong impressions. Nova tries to be heroic by bringing down a giant foe; Ms Marvel – who knows the neighbourhood – goes ballistic at him for not thinking about the property damage. And then when Ms Marvel is angry at him Nova overcompensates by sharing his secret identity with her. Take away the superpowers and it’s more akin to the interactions you see in writer Mark Waid’s current ‘Archie’ stories than your traditional ‘Avengers’ comics.

The style of the art, especially in the Ms Marvel/Nova story by Mahmud Asnar, is lighter and looser than your traditional Avengers comic as well. Perhaps because of what I was first exposed to I’ve never been huge on the cartoony or manga-like style of drawing in American superhero comics, used by artists like Humberto Ramos and Joe Madureira. It seems to me you can’t do a true, epic, super-hero saga with figures like that. Assuming that is what you want to do …
The kids are alright though. Miles Morales the new Spider-Man, and Kamala Khan the new Ms Marvel, are two of Marvel’s most interesting and most acclaimed new characters from the past five years – aside from their adding some much needed diversity to the Marvel Universe. Their dialogue is light and slightly amusing. In line with this tone the ‘adults’, like Captain America and Iron Man, have lighter dialogue as well. If you can get into the fun of the book then it works.
Still it seems like the Avengers are in a bit of a lull, a notion supported by the sales figures. The fault to me mostly lies elsewhere – ‘All-New, All-Different’ seems the only somewhat consequential Avengers title now; ‘New Avengers’ has barely a member that matters, and ‘Uncanny Avengers’ got smothered under its use of continuity a while back. Further, Marvel’s other long-time pillars are in trouble: the Fantastic Four no longer has a title, the X-Men are far from their glory days, and even Spider-Man has seen better times.
If ‘All-New, All-Different’ has an important shortcoming then it is that it lacks the significance to make it seem like the Avengers, or even the Marvel (comic) Universe, matter anymore. Jonathan Hickman’s run may have been a downer tone-wise, but it had weight. In shedding this weight the ‘All-New, All-Different Avengers’, enjoyable as it is, carries the risk of being too slight to hold its ground.

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