Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Avengers 11, originally released May 8th, 2013.
Drew: Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run has been all about mystery. Issue 10 found the Avengers vowing to keep some mysterious secret, but all along, there have been more questions than answers. Ancient alien races, disturbing, otherworldly biotech, and other insane sci-fi concepts have given Hickman full control over just what we understand, and when. It’s thrilling if you’re along for the ride, but can be incredibly frustrating — even off-puting — if you don’t have faith in Hickman to explain everything. In issue 11, Hickman offers proof that he can do answers as well as questions, turning his meticulously cultivated confusion into straight-up intrigue, as the Avengers go into spy movie mode (with a little Kung Fu thrown in, for good measure). The result is a breezy, fun story, that any fans can point to as proof positive that Hickman can handle character-based stories as well as his sci-fi weirdness.
The issue finds Carol, Natasha, Jessica, Shang-Chi, Sam, and Bobby hoping to infiltrate some kind of weapons buy in Macau. They suspect A.I.M. is aiming to sell a new bioweapon to the highest bidder, and have identified a few potential buyers. Carol takes point on Dr. Deeds, A.I.M.’s negotiating party leader, while Sam and Bobby do their best to gain the trust of A.I.M. agents. Everyone else is tasked with identifying potential buyers. They have…mixed results. Jessica and Natasha successfully identify several buyers, but Natasha shoots them all in the head. Carol is sniffed out immediately, but is still able to pump deeds for some info: A.I.M. isn’t here to sell, they’re here to buy. Sam and Bobby basically gather the same intel, spending the night carousing with a few misbehaving A.I.M. agents. Shang-Chi is the most successful, discovering that A.I.M. is looking for an army of assassins.
I absolutely loved that fake-out. It wasn’t just that their intelligence was bad, it was specifically bad. We’re told from the start that A.I.M.’s bioweapon is called “S7” which I was quick to assume referred to “Site Seven,” the seventh origin bomb — the one the Avengers don’t know about. We’ll have to wait a bit longer for the Avengers to figure out what’s going on on A.I.M. Island, but knowing that they’re amassing an army should put them on the trail. Is this just A.I.M. being A.I.M., or is it something else? I can’t help but wonder if the origin bomb — which Ex Nihilo suggested might be for self-defense — could be making them paranoid and aggressive.
The issue itself was a pleasure. I was reminded heavily of the “Hawkeye does Bond” arc we saw in Hawkeye 4 and 5, which also dropped costume-free heroes into some kind of terrorist auction in a ritzy casino. The parallels may sound too close for comfort, but it’s a tone that’s struck so rarely that it’s always refreshing. Hickman casts a bit wider of a net with his references, too. The ladies are all Bond, but Sam and Bobby are tapping more into more of a comedy vein, while Shang-Chi’s scenes are straight out of Enter the Dragon.
I have no familiarity with this character, so while this seems like an obvious reference — hell, it might be the obvious reference — I enjoyed the hell out of it. Shang-Chi referring to himself as “the Dragon” might make the reference a bit too explicit (is he actually just Bruce Lee?), but I was so enamored of the specificity elsewhere that I’m willing to forgive it.
I also had a blast with the somewhat bro-y Sam and Bobby. I’m not entirely convinced that the A.I.M. agents aren’t just putting one over on them, but I did like their “we can beat you up now, or we can just have fun for the night” case. It was fun to return to their antics later, and see that the least cooperative agent’s mask had been given to the girl Bobby was dancing with.
Carol and Jessica and Natasha’s stories are much more straightforward, but I was intrigued at the friction between Natasha’s methods and everyone else’s morals. This is played for laughs at the start of the issue, but with a bunch of dudes dead (and Jessica calling their murders “Unnecessary”), it seems like Hickman might be angling to address how Natasha’s methods fit with a crowd of more moral superheroes. I’m used to supers having “no killing” rules, but it seems like the Avengers, as an offshoot of a spy organization, might have to be a bit more flexible. Still, killing dudes in cold blood seems like it might cause some tension in the group.
What did you think, Spencer? This kind of one-off is unusual for Hickman’s run so far, but I really enjoyed it. Incidentally, it made for a more natural jumping-on point than any of the other issues since #1. I’m sure all of this will come into play going forward, but it sure felt like breezy fun. Did you like this irreverent detour as much as I did, or are you anxious to get back to all of the weird sci-fi stuff?
Spencer: Did I like this irreverent detour?! Drew, this is easily my favorite issue of the run! Jonathan Hickman seems to be best known for his big ideas and concepts, and this reputation is certainly well deserved, but I think we’ve been selling his character work short. For all its epic sci-fi weirdness, my favorite moments in Avengers so far have all been character work, be it Smasher’s heartwarming origin story or the gag of how the team recruited Spider-Man by telling him “we have money.” (“Thank God!”)
In fact, I thought the last few issues of this title had been a little weak specifically because the characters were getting lost in all the grandeur. The Avengers barely appeared in recent issues, staying at the fringes of the action, and it really started to test my patience. In that sense, this issue is just the shot in the arm this title needed. It’s brisk, fun, and moves the ongoing plot along, but more importantly, it keeps the Avengers as the center of attention. It also manages to give everyone unique voices—even the random henchmen—despite the large cast. Only poor Spider-Woman seems a little bland, but she still has an important role: representing heroes with a no-kill rule in general, in contrast to Natasha.
Then there’s Shang-Chi. Your Bruce Lee comparison is apt, Drew (although I’d say he’s Bruce Lee but with crazy kung-fu strength; he did slice off a godlike robot’s leg with his bare hands back in issue 3, after all), but what interests me most about Shang-Chi’s role in this issue is how it mirrors many of the themes that have been present throughout this entire series. By taking up a weapon to fight Chimera, Shang-Chi has adapted, evolved. It’s not only similar to how the Avengers have been expanding since Ex Nihilo’s arrival on Mars, but it’s also evocative of how the Earth itself is adapting and evolving ever since the Origin Bombs went off. I’m curious to see what it all means, and just how far Hickman will take this evolution.
The subplot with Natasha and Jessica did start off a little unclear to me, however. As a professional spy I feel like we should take Black Widow’s ideas on how to extract information seriously, but not only was she not involved in creating the plan at all, her initial ideas were played for humor.
Yeah, it’s a funny joke, but are we supposed to think Natasha’s plan is good, or not? If not, why is it so bad? Getting information is kinda Natasha’s thing, so shouldn’t she be better at it?
By the time this plot is finished, however, we’ve actually learned quite a bit about Natasha. Murdering those buyers makes it impossible to get any information out of them, making her whole mission moot, so it’s pretty telling that Natasha still felt like it was her only possible course of action.
Each of those buyers were criminals and terrorists responsible for hundreds of deaths apiece. It speaks well of Natasha’s sense of justice that she couldn’t let them escape just to get information. Yet, why murder them instead of capturing them? Was it less complicated that way? Does she think they don’t deserve mercy? Does she have issues with the criminal justice system? All things considered I don’t think we can chalk it up to callousness, but as befits a master spy, Natasha’s full thoughts and motives are murky at best.
Mike Deodato’s art, meanwhile, is a perfect fit for the issue. His characters are classy and elegant, really selling the spy movie tone, but what impressed me most was that each character was instantly recognizable. Despite no one ever wearing their costume in panel, I never had any trouble figuring out who was who. I was also impressed by the fashion choices, especially for the women; all three of their dresses managed to be distinct, fashionable, and sexy without being exploitative. Bravo.
Deodato used some effective layouts, too. What stood out to me in particular was his occasional use of diagonal panels, be it to emphasize a particular line of dialogue, show us some action, or to shake up a scene like the following:
The first panel, full of chaotic reverie, is diagonal, but as the threats and conversations begin, things get boring and grid-like. As soon as the fun starts back up, though, so do the diagonal panels. It’s a neat little trick to bring the page full circle and show just how much fun Bobby and Sam are having.
I’m nearly out of space, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the million dollar question: why does A.I.M want an army? Drew, your theory is a valid take, but I initially read it a little differently. A.I.M has been secretly investigating Site Seven, and thanks to last month’s issue, we’ve seen the horrors the Origin Bombs are capable of. Meanwhile, A.I.M. seems to be mostly made up of scientists, and their bodyguards don’t look to be much more than rent-a-cops in Lego helmets.
So what if A.I.M. isn’t going on the offensive here? We know they’re gearing up for war, but what if they’re just trying to protect themselves from whatever the Origin Bombs have cooked up? After all, if the Avengers can evolve, and the Earth can evolve, what’s stopping A.I.M.?
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