Today, Ethan and Drew are discussing Avengers Assemble 18, originally released August 21st, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Ethan: Ever since the birth of the film industry, it’s been a race for the technology and craft to keep suspending our disbelief as we become desensitized to each decade’s best special effects. Every once in a while, a filmmaker pulls off an innovation that jumps way ahead of our expectations, and the medium feels special again. And even while fancy visuals can surprise us, if the movie forgets that it’s supposed to have a plot and just chucks those visuals at our eyeballs for two hours without going anywhere, it feels like a waste. We talked about the long build-up to the Infinity arc, and then the first issue felt like a much more violent version of the grand finale at a fireworks show. With so many pyrotechnics and most of the characters strapped in to acceleration harnesses, it would have been easy to become distracted by the spaceships and forget the people inside of them. To balance out our view of that battle, Avengers Assemble 18 rewinds all the way back to the pre-launch scene and tells the story all over again from the perspective of one character: Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman.
After the pep talk from Captains America and Marvel, we see Carol pick Clint (Jessica’s ex) as her co-pilot, planting a seed of jealousy in Jessica. Then: the battle. The alliance hides and ambushes the Builders just like last time, and the surprise Builder reserves overwhelm the alliance. This time around, we see Quincruiser 1 get T-boned by a builder ship, fusing the two together and blocking the Avengers’ retreat. Jessica and the Hulk fight off the boarding party and separate the vessels, but in the excitement Jessica gets left behind when the Qunicruiser pulls away. After she almost kills herself by accidentally snagging her air tube on a piece of space debris, she’s rescuedby a Skrull and returned to her ship, just before Manifold teleports them all away from the chaos.
I’m glad Kelly DeConnick decided to revisit the battle from a more personal perspective. The first time we saw it all go down in Avengers 18, the fight itself was a bit of a blur. Between the recent rapid growth of the Avengers team, the variety of aliens and their ships, and the challenges of presenting the scope and motion involved in a confrontation like that, it was hard to get digest — Sunspot’s comparison to Star Wars fell a little flat for me. We loved watching Han and Luke blast TIE fighters and zoom through hyperspace because it was easy to get to know their little ragtag group. With the “bigger is better” direction the Avengers have taken, its starting to feel like a Tolstoy novel, and the huge cast just doesn’t play well in this context.
Why the hell are Natasha, Jessica, and Bruce even along for the ride aside for face-time and cutesy cheerleader high-fives at touchdown? (Yes I’m including Bruce in the cutesy cheerleader bit — look at that face).
Even if the space battles remain a bit inaccessible, Deconnick’s strategy does help ground things at the start. How better to remind us of the human element of this conflict than some good ol’ fashioned petty jealousy?
I’ve never really liked Jessica as a character, but I suppose you do have to give her a little slack. She lost her parents early in life, and spent a lot of time around a lot of bad people working for HYDRA in her youth. More recently she was kidnapped by the Skrull and replaced with an imposter. Her double joined the New Avengers while also working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA as a double-agent for both. After the imposter was discovered and real-Jessica returned, she did a stint with S.W.O.R.D. for a bit, before finally ending up with the Avengers. All of that can tell us a bit about her and why she seems a bit juvenile on the topic of Clint and Carol.
First, there are the obvious abandonment issues that go back to the death of her parents. Then you’ve got the feelings of being expendable — it must have been pretty rough to show up after years of someone else living your life, only to realize that none of your friends noticed that it wasn’t you. She also seems to have trouble finding a place where she feels like she belongs, judging by the way she keeps joining and leaving organizations (that or she just has a thing for all-caps acronyms). Oh! And let’s not forget her pheromone powers, which she’s used to seduce people for work and which have flared up at times and caused people around her to have empty infatuations with her. All of that taken together makes for someone who’s likely to be a little fragile in relationships. Clint certainly didn’t help matters by cheating on her (or just making the assumption that they weren’t exclusive, depending who you ask). Not that any of that justifies her wishing unhappiness on her friends, but at least she starts thinking a little more clearly once it looks like they might be in trouble.
And by trouble, I think we can all agree that a falling into a singularity qualifies. Drew — I liked your theory about a showdown of Hulk vs. Black Hole, as silly as it would be in execution. Your other remark about hoping that the ship hasn’t actually fallen into the singularity started jogging my memory about the weird characteristics of black holes, and the funny thing is — even if the ship had crossed the event horizon, you wouldn’t actually be able to tell as an outside observer. Watching something fall into a black hole, from the outside, time dilates to the point that it would appear to take an infinite amount of time for something to cross the event horizon. Even if Carol and Clint are already getting squished beyond all imaginable squishing, to us they’d just look like they were parked.
Since you’ve already given your two cents about the black holes stuff, Drew, what did you think about Jessica and her multiple pity parties? Did she humanize the space scenes at all, or did you think it was too forced? Or, looking forward, any ideas as to how the Avengers are going to stop the Builders, or do you think the Builder problem and the Thanos problem will come head-to-head and cancel each other out in their race to Earth? Or (my current theory), is Thanos secretly a fuzzy-wuzzy teddy bear who just wants to give the Earth a huggy-wuggy?
Drew: I have to hand it to DeConnick for finding an angle for this issue that manages to carry the emotional through-line from her recent The Enemy Within mini-crossover, while still fitting quite naturally into Infinity. Jessica isn’t being arbitrarily jealous here: she knows from experience that Clint can’t be trusted, and it really isn’t clear what Carol remembers about her life before the events of Captain Marvel 14. Having your best friend have amnesia would obviously be an emotionally complicated situation — one that is only further complicated by the potential for jealousy here. Actually, that jealousy might not just be of the romantic variety — Carol, in her obliviousness, picked Clint as her co-pilot, which might just leave Jessica feeling unwanted as a friend.
Of course, it turns out that Jessica’s feelings are the least of her problems. Ethan is right to point out how useless the non-pilot folk seem to be in battle, but it seems that they were there specifically in case they needed to fend off a boarding party. Jessica herself makes a comparison to baseball, where most players aren’t asked to do much of anything for the vast majority of the game, but are then called upon in extremely high-stress situations. For whatever reason, Jessica’s nerves seem totally shot, but she manages to handle herself just fine when it comes time to zap some Builders.
Her day doesn’t kick in to full-on no-good-very-bad status until she’s accidentally left behind on a hunk of space debris. That’s sure to make a body feel undervalued. She seems to acquiesce to her own imminent death (which is especially surprising, given that she happens to know a guy who can teleport), which is an understandably private moment. To have that time interrupted by a Skrull is more than she can handle. The silver lining for her is a budding friendship with Natasha, who (like the rest of the crew) heard Jessica’s private musings as she prepared to die alone in space. After all that, I think I can forgive Jessica for not thinking more about her maybe-drifting-towards-oblivion friends.
Barry Kitson’s art here is a little wonky, never quite achieving clarity of action or of emotion, and relying on some perplexing design choices. I’ll always have my issues with artists who chose to draw Carol Danvers with a mullet (though, to his credit, Kitson will randomly draw Carol with a better haircut every other panel or so), but it’s Jessica’s chestless space-suit that really has me scratching my head.
We tend to make a lot of jokes about female superheroes getting hypothermia from skimpy costumes, but this is ridiculous. That’s the fucking vacuum of space. Depending on how far away this action is from a star, the external temperature could be as low as -270 C. A single layer of lycra isn’t really going to be enough to keep her warm. It boggles my mind that, knowing full well the ire directed at Power Girl’s design, Kitson would add a boob window to a spacesuit — perhaps one of the few outfits where the functionality isn’t up for debate. It’s a purile ploy to keep Jessica’s boobs in view, which has appropriately caught the attention of Escher Girls.
Aside from the art, I relished the opportunity to go back for this closer look at the battle from Avengers 18. As Ethan noted, this added a much-needed human element, creating a much more nuanced account of that sequence. Jessica was the strangely perfect choice for adding a human perspective, bringing her own baggage to lend a sense of scale to the chaos around her.
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I think my favorite running gag from this issue is Manifold constantly asking whether it’s time for him to teleport people yet (until Cap snaps at him). I suppose if that was my only power I’d be pretty eager to use it too.
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