Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Avengers 17, originally released August 7th, 2013.
“Bigger?” Look, it’s not for one of the new guys to say, but — feeling kinda crowded around here already.
Drew: In our discussion of Avengers 16, I complained that the bloated story and cast was collapsing under its own weight — far from making me excited, the sheer scope of the story was preventing me from fully engaging with any subset of elements. It’s a feat that writer Jonathan Hickman can keep all of these plates spinning (and these are only half of the plates he’s writing in this event), but that triumph of multi-tasking unfortunately precludes any real emotional connections. That is to say, the story here is already too big, but as this issue concludes into Infinity proper, we pile on even more Avengers, and widen the scope even further. And there are still only, like, two showers.
Each issue of this run has featured a handy schematic of the current Avengers roster, with the logos and names of each member featured in the issue highlighted. The fact that such a diagram might be helpful should indicate that the cast is too complicated (or at least too full of second-stringers everyone will need a reference guide for), but this issue absurdly highlights them all:
Also absurd: the continued presence of empty spaces in that diagram. It was an interesting tease early on, but after realizing just how ungainly a cast of 18 is, the thought of adding more is daunting.
The issue opens with A.I.M. coming to extract the self-defense monster that laid waste to the Avengers throughout the previous issue. They stick the creature “in the space between two dead universes,” and also collect DNA samples from the entire Avengers roster. Manifold arrives to spirit the goons away, and to collect the team. He then presents Universe’s instructions to “get bigger,” forcing Tony and Steve (and Bruce) to reluctantly reach out to both Ex Nihilo and Abyss AND Nightmask and Starbrand.
I have to admit, the closing sequence of this new team assembling got my fist pumping, but after the previous issue had me complaining about its infinite size, you know the thought of growing simply doesn’t compute. I mean, what threat could really warrant the attention of “world builders and world breakers”? And how could a team that needs those power sets value the efforts of the world’s best archer? Mostly, I think I just have “you won’t believe how big this next threat is” fatigue. Growing to address a problem is one thing, but the Avengers have yet to encounter the actual threat here — they’re just getting bigger because Captain Universe said so. Unfortunately, we feel every bit of that obligation, leaving a team whose most distinctive characteristic is their ridiculous size. They’re bigger: now what?
Speaking of too many team members, I was a bit distracted by the trio of artists on this issue. Stefano Caselli is as detailed as ever, but the Mars sequence is so stylistically different as to feel dropped in from another title. I was particularly distracted by Cap’s face during that scene:
Your guess is as good as mine as far as what’s going on with his upper lip there.
Spencer, the last time we talked about this series, you were enjoying it a bit more than I was. I’ve since grown even less patient, and I’m wondering if the polish has started to wear a bit for you, as well. In that time, we’ve gotten bogged down with four “Prelude to Infinity” issues, which I think could have easily been collapsed down to one. I’ll accept that the self-defense monster (which might just be chilling between two of the dead universes we’re already familiar with from New Avengers) might be some kind of Chekov’s gun (though it will feel more like a deus ex machina if the story is solved by a method introduced outside of the main series), but otherwise, this main thrust of this prelude seems to be that the Avengers are huge — even huger than before. Is that more exciting than I’m making it out to be?
Spencer: It’s certainly more exciting than it has any right to be, that’s for sure. I’m straddling the fence a bit, Drew, in terms of how much I’ve enjoyed this prologue. As a whole, I think the storyline has been a bit of a mess, but there were enough fun elements in play to make this my favorite issue out of the entire prologue.
Avengers has been entirely plot-based for the last few issues, and that hasn’t been to its advantage. Hickman and Spencer have an epic plot brewing, but it’s been brewing so long that it’s become nearly impossible to follow, and new threats have been teased and elevated so many times across the course of the series that the introduction of even bigger and badder enemies has lost all meaning.
So yeah, it’s kind of a shame that Avengers has been investing so much energy in a plot that’s become increasingly bloated, because most of its best scenes are the ones that have nothing to do with the plot. That running gag about the lack of showers, for example, showed off some impressive comedic timing and had a great pay-off.
Manifold emerging as a force to be reckoned with, meanwhile, is thrilling, and an inventive, impressive use of a normally utilitarian superpower. A.I.M. likewise gets built up into a much more sinister threat; honestly, before this I never thought of them as anything besides pompous scientists in Lego-Helmets. Technically, I suppose that actually is all they are, but at least Hickman and Spencer have finally shown us why pompous scientists in Lego-Helmets are a force to be reckoned with.
Yeah, A.I.M. just took down the monster that defeated The Avengers (ever heard of the Worf Effect?), and yeah, that’s as impressive as it sounds.
Yet, for every standout sequence that works on its own, there’s another sequence that could be a standout, but suffers a bit because it’s caught up in a nearly impenetrable plot. You were right, Drew, that those last few pages of recruitment and the new Avengers assembling are thrilling; how can this spread not get your blood pumping?
Unfortunately, then I remembered that the book already has a huge cast and a lot of characters that have barely been touched (I’d love to see more of Falcon and Smasher, for starters). I get the impression that the new recruits are the characters that Hickman has wanted to write about from the very start, but that leaves even less of a chance to see some of the other characters take the spotlight, and that’s a shame.
There are actually some pretty interesting theories presented in this issue as well. Early on, Superia’s superior’s at A.I.M. mentions that she “wouldn’t be the first to confuse evolution and adaptation.” Later in the issue, Ex Nihilo imparts his own pearl of wisdom: “The way we thought things were is rarely how they turn out to be.” Both of these quotes likely have deeper meanings tucked away within this book’s ongoing narrative, but that narrative has become so convoluted that I just don’t have the context necessary to speculate anymore.
It’s a shame, but I think that this series will read much better in trade, once Hickman’s (sure to be epic) run has reached its conclusion. I legitimately have faith that Hickman knows where he’s taking this story and that the clues he’s seeded all have real meaning, but I have no idea when/if they will ever be answered; in the meantime, the wait for answers is starting to become exhausting. I’m still invested enough in this story to stick around and see how it ends, but I imagine that, from now on, I’ll be approaching future issues with a practiced air of “cautious optimism.”
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