Today, Spencer and Mikyzptlk are discussing Avengers 12, originally released May 22nd, 2013.
Spencer: One thing I’ve never really associated with Marvel Comics is sidekicks. While there was once a point in DC’s history where nearly every hero had a young partner at their side, Marvel’s adolescent characters tend to act autonomously or stay out of the fray entirely, and even Peter Parker premiered as a full-fledged Spider-Man. There are upsides to both approaches, but what it boils down to for me is that, while I could write volumes on how Batman or Green Arrow treat their protégés, I really have no idea how most of the Avengers fare as mentors. In Avengers 12, Jonathan Hickman (and new co-writer Nick Spencer, of Morning Glories fame) mine this unexplored territory for both laughs and some insightful character moments.
Iron Man, Thor, and Hyperion are observing the creatures that hatched from the Origin Bombs back in Issue Four, noticing that they’re completely self-sufficient, and never need to eat, drink, sleep or even breathe. Hoping to help integrate the Hatchlings into society, the Avengers travel to the Savage Lands to teach the children lessons on trust, honor, accountability and the like, with mixed results. Just as Thor seems to be making some headway, vicious beasts attack, and though Hawkeye defeats them, they were simply a distraction; four of the Hatchlings have been snatched away by the High Evolutionary!
Hickman hasn’t shied away from this series’ theme of “evolution” (which even gives this issue its title), and that theme becomes quite literal in the form of the Hatchlings, who are much closer to something Asgardian than anything human. Throughout this issue, the existence of the Hatchlings leads the Avengers to contemplate what the Origin Bombs have in store for the future and what role they’ll play in it. This issue gives the future a vibe both foreboding and exciting, but what surprises me is how plausible all this feels. I know that real change in comics is almost always an illusion, but this issue really makes me believe that the Marvel Universe is on the cusp of a major transformation, and that’s a pretty spectacular feat.
How do the Avengers fit into this rapidly changing future? Their expanded roster may have been the first step, but it appears that the Avengers might become mentors to the world, ambassadors between humanity and those evolved by the Origin Bombs, teaching the Hatchlings how to flourish and the humans how to benefit from Earth’s rapid evolution. If that’s half as entertaining as their attempts to teach in this issue, then I’m totally on board.
Despite his spotlight issue a few months ago, the Avenger I understood the least going into this issue was Hyperion. That might just be on me, but regardless, this issue does wonders in fleshing out the character, giving him a strong mission statement in just one panel:
Hyperion’s always been a Superman pastiche, but it looks like he’s modeled specifically after Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman: an infinitely powerful, saint-like guardian of mankind. Hyperion wanted children back on his homeworld, but sacrificed that privilege so he could focus on his duty. Now he seeks to help mold these Hatchlings, and despite his obvious talent in this area, he’s still a little too aloof to really connect with them in the way Thor does. Hyperion is obviously lonely beyond belief, and it helps humanize a character who, despite being aspirational, is almost too otherworldly to relate to otherwise.
Not all the Avengers make great mentors, though. Hawkeye, for example, has a pretty skewed definition of accountability (surprising no one).
Still, Clint comes through in the end. More worrisome is Spider-Man’s lesson on trust, but I’ll circle around to that in a little bit. First, I want to talk about the High Evolutionary. I had to do some digging to understand the character, but he seems to be the perfect villain for Hickman’s run, given his connection to evolution. His aspirations for himself and for Earth seem in line with Ex Nihilo’s, but his methods much cruder. What does he want with the Hatchlings? Is it something sinister, like experimenting on them to discover the secrets of the Origin Bombs?
Perhaps, but I’m choosing to view the High Evolutionary as a dark mirror to the Avenger’s roles as mentors in this issue. For some time, the Evolutionary helped lead and care for a group of similarly evolved creatures, the New Men. It’s possible that he might want to take the Hatchlings under his wing in the same way. The question is, can he be trusted to do that without harming or corrupting them?
This is where “the Superior Spider-Man’s” lesson comes in.
The thing is, Otto isn’t completely wrong here. Trust isn’t something that should be handed out to just anyone; it’s something that needs to be earned. The real problem with Otto’s lesson (besides the supervillainous tactic of using trust like a weapon) is that he doesn’t teach the Hatchlings how to determine who to trust and not to trust. There’s no evidence that the kidnapped Hatchlings were in Spider-Man’s group, but I’m hoping they were, because watching how they choose to deal with the Evolutionary would be an excellent way to explore the effectiveness of Otto’s lesson.
The execution of the kidnapping frustrated me, though. The Avengers just stand there as the monsters fly off with the Hatchlings! Iron Man and Hyperion don’t try to chase them, Hawkeye doesn’t try to shoot them down, they literally just stand there slack-jawed and watch them get carried off, despite having plenty of time to take action! It’s frustrating and not very heroic, especially since the victims are children.
So, Mik, there’s a lot to dig into in this issue. What’s your take on the omnipresent theme of evolution? Do you think this run can really alter the trajectory of the Marvel Universe? Did you enjoy Mike Deodato’s art? And be honest, which Avenger would you want to be your mentor? I call Thor!
Mikyzptlk: Thor’s a great choice, I mean, he’s like the party school of mentors, so you know you’re going to have a good time! Since you’ve already chosen him as worthy, I’m going to have to go with Captain America. He could finally get me into shape and we could trade crappy comic book drawings (I know I have more than my fair share). Speaking of crappy comic book drawings, Deodato’s are anything but. He’s got a great sense of anatomy and his characters look larger than life, which is exactly what I expect from my superheroes. Something I particularly enjoyed from him in this issue though, were his creatures. There’s certainly an established variety in the Savage Land, and Deodato seems to have a lot of fun bringing many of those creatures to life. Just take a look at this one panel alone, I don’t even know where to start!
To answer your question, Spencer, I’ve been extremely intrigued by Hickman’s use of evolution as theme in his run, and the Savage Land is probably the most appropriate setting for it. I don’t know too much about it, but the Savage Land has always seemed to be a place where life finds a way, and then another, and another, seemingly without end. The Saber-toothed tiger is extinct right? Don’t tell that to the Savage Land, it’ll just toss ya some dragons, dinosaurs, and whatever the hell else is going on in the image above as a response. It’s almost like the Savage Land is free to let evolution do its thing so, as a setting, it fits quite snugly with Hickman’s evolutionary elements.
Hickman’s Avengers has certainly been a wild ride so far, both with epic set pieces and heady, high concepts. This issue toned down the action quite a bit though, and allowed us to really dig into some more of the philosophical stuff. This issue is really just a bunch of people talking about life and philosophy with just a bit of action and suspense tossed in. It kind of reminded me of classic Star Trek (of which I’m totally including The Next Generation at this point), and you can never go wrong with that. Spencer, you mentioned the various Avengers mentoring the Hatchlings, but my favorite by far had to be Thor’s lesson (though evil-Spidey came in at a close second).
If superheroes are a personification of all the good and heroism that humanity is capable of, then Thor is almost like a personification of that personification. He’s just so damned earnest and heartfelt in his convictions and it’s great seeing him tell the same old stories he always tells, but in a way that has become nurturing and even educational. Thor sends them on a “quest” to find a “treasure” but declares the victor to be a Hatchling who chose to save his friend instead of finding the treasure first. It’s a nice little moment in the issue, and it makes a great case for why the Avengers are in charge of leading the could-be next stage of human evolution.
Spencer, you asked me if I think this this run will alter the trajectory of the Marvel Universe and I’ve got to say that I think it totally will, for a while anyway. Like you said, Spencer, change can often be viewed as illusory in comics. At the same time though, Hickman seems hell bent on leaving his mark in the Marvel U. Anyway, with the promise of something as cosmically grand as Infinity on the horizon, I’m enjoying the ride far too much to care how long any of Hickman’s changes may last.
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