Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Avengers 15, originally released July 3rd, 2013.
Drew: I have a buddy who doesn’t like Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films — but it’s not because he doesn’t like fantasy. In his mind, the story is a too simple escalation of “then they fought an even bigger villain” repeated ad nauseam. He has a point: that narrative is particularly focused on building to the final boss battle, but I’d argue that that focus is exactly what prevents each encounter from feeling routine. We understand the importance of Frodo’s quest, so there’s actual tension to be garnered from any obstacles that might pop up along the way. More importantly, having that goal laid out offers direction after each villain is defeated — there’s none of that “wander around the woods until you find something else to fight” RPG bullshit. Unfortunately, Avengers 15 lacks that kind of focused direction.
The issue opens with the Avengers still grappling with the bugs from the communication origin bomb site AND the blockheads from the self-repair site. Thor helps cinch the win, but not before Aleph, Abyss and Ex Nihilo’s robot buddy, is alerted by the bugs’ signal. Also, whatever was in the self-defense pod on A.I.M. island is awake and on a rampage. Also Also, some Skrulls have managed to slip through S.W.O.R.D.’s defenses. And are maybe in a mega-zord? Or maybe the mega-zord is an additional, entirely separate threat?
Point is, at least two (and maybe three) new big threats are introduced here, but without a sense of what the end goal is, it’s hard to get invested in these side-quests. Our heroes barely understand what’s going on — let alone what they hope to get out of it — which robs the proceedings of any real tension. The immediate introduction of several bigger villains lacks any sense of narrative arc — it just feels like piling on.
Part of my problem is that the threats themselves are so ill-defined, it’s kind of difficult for any sense of tension to develop naturally. The issue opens with the Avengers seemingly overwhelmed because it is dramatically convenient, but they’re able to completely turn the tides because of course they are. It’s hard to have any reaction to “how are they ever going to get out of this pickle?” when the answer is always a disinterested “I don’t know…super powers?” I don’t want to be too hard on this issue — basically all heroes’ journeys boil down to contrived obstacles being overcome via equally contrived heroics — but when an issue concludes one giant fight scene only to set-up an equally giant fight scene, it’s hard to not feel like it’s treading water.
That’s particularly frustrating, given how satisfying this victory could have been. Sure, there are still a few other origin bomb sites to worry about, but seeing the Avengers beat the snot out of these weird-ass aliens is a fist-pumper.
I’m humming the theme from The Avengers just looking at that panel. Unfortunately, we don’t get to revel in that victory — we just go straight into the next boss battle.
Between the fight in Perth, the S.H.I.E.L.D. station, S.W.O.R.D. headquarters, A.I.M. Island, and wherever Manifold takes Captain Universe, this issue has a lot of pieces in play, and it’s obviously about getting them in place for Infinity. The problem is, I still have no idea what Infinity is going to be about. Will it be this Origin Bomb stuff? Will it be the incursion business from New Avengers? Will it just be Thanos ruining shit? Will it be some kind of absurd dogpile of all of these things? I’m not even sure what the Avengers are fighting in this title — I’m a little worried what adding a few more mythologies might do to the dynamic.
It’s not a bad issue, but there’s so many little things going on, I’m not entirely sure what we were meant to get out of it. The signal the bugs sent out was apparently noticed across the galaxy, but like Bruce points out, we don’t know who it was meant for. Aside from more things for the Avengers to punch, I have no idea what the next issue might bring.
Patrick: I went to the Marvel Infinity panel at C2E2, and rather being a never-ending panel about Spider-Man and Wolverine, it was all about what was “going to happen” in this event. The problem with that was that Age of Ultron hadn’t yet wrapped – in fact Wolverine had just murdered Hank Pym – so basically any information could have been considered an Event-Spoiler. Tom Brevoort was kind enough to offer the following about Infinity: this is going to be about the Avengers fighting a war on two fronts – one on Earth and one out in space. And I think we’ve been spending these first 15 issues of Avengers coming to understand what the threat on Earth is, but not what it means. These origin bombs are bad bad bad news – essentially a sentient extinction event on their own. If the “outer space” part of the event is going to be any fun at all, it simply has to tie back to what we’re already sort of invested in.
That’s where we have to either trust that Hickman has given us an effective prelude or not. There are too many puzzle pieces on the table right now, but have you seen the list of titles involved with this thing? It’s a big puzzle! And when I hold this experience up to waiting for other events to start, I start to notice a few recurring patterns. The Battle Cry of “I don’t even know what _____ is going to be about!” is totally common. The only time I can remember “knowing” what an event was going to be about was Ultron – and my assumptions about that were grossly inaccurate. These issues are so forward-looking that it’s hard not to play the game where we try to predict what’s coming up next and then get frustrated that all we can do is speculate. I’m not condemning your read of the issue, Drew, I’m totally stuck doing it too.
I do find it fascinating how similar this issue is — in the abstract — to the previous. Both show our heroes using their powers to address the problems set forth in the first three issues of this series. The huge damn difference being that the powers at play last time were all of a non-violent variety, and now they’re reduced to being punch-machines. I can’t help but feel like this is Hickman embracing the spectacle of violence simply because he neglected it last issue. I also can’t help but hear his voice in that of Otto Octavius, who simultaneously cheers the efforts of the Avengers’ mega-punchers while also noting that it’s a much less elegant, interesting solution.
If the last issue was subtle problem-solving with smartly applied superpowers, this issue can certainly be described as a “less aspirational brute.”
I do wish we would have seen more of what was happening on A.I.M. Island. Maybe I just love a good Alien-esque story, and maybe I just can’t get enough of those haz-mat suits, but I could have read an entire issue that just tracked a small band of faceless A.I.M. goons as they fell one-by-one to this creature. I love the introduction of the armored A.I.M. guy (and I love that dumb design of his uniform – gotta keep that helmet on!). We’ve seen the Avengers beat up bugs before, but our bad guys are resorting to shooting deserters — not just deserters, potential deserters — that’s new.
How fun would a monster/survival be wherein all the people are expendable?
So, do I know what’s going to happen next? No. Am I particularly excited for it? Not really. Comics do tend to hold the meaning of their bigger stories close to the chest until they’re ready to play those cards. It’s all part of that passive serial mystery – we keep coming back to find out whodunnit, but the “who” in that portmanteau is a “why.” Death of the Family didn’t coalesce until Joker got into why he was messing with Batman in the last issue. But that’s the nature of the beast right? The most satisfying shit comes last, and not before the story even starts. Lord of the Rings lays out the why in the first half hour, and while the mini-whys morph and evolve along the way, there’s one constant throughout – that ring’s gotta go. We’ll get that kind of unifying justification, but will it by then, will it be too late?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?