Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Mighty Avengers 1, originally released September 11th, 2013.
Patrick: My older sister has two children: a son who turned one in April and a daughter who turned four this summer. They live on the other side of the country, so I don’t see them very often. One thing that I discovered upon welcoming tiny, helpless people into our lives in that you suddenly become aware of the reality you’re introducing them to – the house, the town, the world, their relatives. Suddenly, your decisions feel weightier, like you no longer exist in a vacuum, but as a functioning cog in a machine and all you want that machine to do is not disappoint this kid. I started working out. I starting writing seriously. I moved out to LA to make good on my long-held threat to actively chase my dreams. Essentially, I became an active participant in my own life, determined to show my niece that her uncle has some kind of agency and the world he’s contributing to is something of merit. Mighty Avengers casts Luke Cage in that role — the man who realizes he has to do something of merit — in one of the more honest getting-the-team-together stories I’ve ever read.
Luke Cage leads his Heroes for Hire in the least glamorous heroing job to date: they guard some shipping containers with Horizon Labs tech from a villain calling himself “Plunder.” Power Man and White Tiger do an admirable job of fighting off Plunder’s goons, but they’re quickly revealed to be irrelevant when Spider-Man himself shows up. Spidey ably apprehends Plunder and trash-talks the whole “Hero for Hire” concept — while also letting it slip that he’s always looking to hire more henchmen (I would have loooooved to see the shit-eating look on his face when he said this). White Tiger takes this to heart and resigns, while Power Man and Cage go out to get some coffee and reassess their priorities.
Already, in those first 6 pages, Mighty Avengers hints at what’s so unique and valuable about this concept. Too often, superhero teams are assembled out of external necessity. Take Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers as an example: the core Avengers recruit another dozen members to they can fight Ex Nihilo and Abyss on Mars, and then grow even bigger so they can fight off the Builders in space. That’s an in-narrative reason, so it’s already better than most. One of the principal questions we’re been asking about Justice League is “why does this team exist?” When the narrative refuses to supply it, we’re left with the conclusion that the team is obligatory – there’s a Justice League because there’s always a Justice League, there are Avengers because there are always Avengers. And, like, all of these stories show how much superhero teams butt heads internally — how often have we seen the “and then the heroes fight” trope in the last couple months?
It’s premature to even say that there’s a team forming here — never mind the title for a second — but it is clear that these are characters with drive and purpose, who might be motivated to start a team not because it’s necessary to accomplish a goal, but because they themselves need that sense of purpose. Luke Cage, as leader of the Heroes for Hire, and principle advocate for change, suffers an existential dilemma brought on my his own changing life. He has a daughter who’s old enough to walk, and it pains him that he’s not doing more to make the world she’s growing up in a better place. It’s a shockingly human motivation and one that comes well before the Infinity-tie-in invasion.
On that topic – the rest of the issue! The focus shifts over to Spectrum as she thwarts a robbery before visiting her tailor. Spectrum is loving what she does and LOVING the way she looks. And let’s be honest – she does look great doing what she does.
And then Infinity sets in and Proxima Midnight — one of Thanos’ generals — attacks Manhattan. Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Spectrum all arrive on the scene to fight her, but Spectrum is weirdly joined by a mysterious figure in a neon Spider-Man Halloween costume. He calls himself the Slendiferous Spider Hero, and no, I’m not making that up.
Mighty Avengers feels like it’s striking a tone that’s all the rage in Marvel comics these days. There’s a sense of self-awareness and humor that underlines the proceedings, but the characters are all portrayed more or less honestly. It’s kind of asking the question: “okay, what if this were actually true?” The result is at once humanizing and sort of alienating. The Spider Hero is a prime example of this – the dude charges into battle in an off-the rack costume and a pair of nunchucks. Is that quirky and charming and a winking reference to fact that everyone’s basically wearing totally non-tactical clothing? Or is it just post-modern wankery, embracing the weirdness just so Al Ewing can make some insubstantial jokes?
Also, what’s up with the “previously on…” page.
I get that it’s tied to Infinity, but it’s also a number 1, so a little context might be in order, but I can’t imagine a cork board in the world that would have these fliers on it. Plus, that ripped-paper effect is atrocious. I’m normally so happy with these things in Daredevil and Young Avengers, but it’s just really ugly here.
As fluffy as the non-Cage stuff felt to me, I have to grant Ewing the benefit of the doubt on this series. He writes a piece for the letters column describing his affinity for the second and third tier characters because they’re allowed to change, and mature, with time. It’s easy to read that maturity in Luke Cage, but anyone else is a harder sell — partially because there’s so much frivolous costume-trying-on and Spider Hero. What do you think, Shelby? Is Ewing trying to both have and eat this cake? Is it unreasonable to ask that the cake simply be a reflective, mature exploration of why a father would want to be an Avenger in the first place?
Shelby: First and foremost, I’m so glad you pointed out that torn-edge effect. Seeing that first thing when I opened the issue set my teeth on edge. Come on, it’s obviously just a paint brush effect in Photoshop! I can see the straight edge of the shape layer underneath! Pull it together!
Patrick, you are absolutely correct with the tone Ewing is striking this issue. One of the reasons I find myself turning more and more to Marvel is they just don’t seem to take themselves so seriously. I do feel that comic books can and should be read critically for the art and literature they contain, but that doesn’t mean the publisher needs to see comics as Serious Business. It’s Tony Daniel’s exaggerated grimaces compared to Kieron Gillen’s sparkling teen-aged dialogue; even when they’re being serious, more and more Marvel books are just more fun to read. There is little more serious than a man actively working to leave the world a better place for his child. In Ewing’s hands, that scene has all the gravity it should without getting swallowed in dour pathos. Even though we’ve got a rag-tag team of heroes at odds facing certain galactic annihilation, there’s just so much glee in this issue.
A lot of credit for that glee goes to artist Greg Land. Patrick’s example of Spectrum is perfect; look at how happy she is! I haven’t seen that kind of joy in a character since Babs’ first night out as Batgirl so very long ago. Or what about Blue Streak, cheering himself on as he rollarblades (what?) away with the loot? Even the baddies get in on the fun; just look at that grin on Proxima’s face.
Granted, she’s grinning at the joy of destruction; even still, it’s so genuine! That’s really what makes this issue a winner for me: it’s genuine. I don’t know anything about Infinity or most of the characters in this issue, and yet I feel like I know them already. They have such real, believable reactions to what is happening around them that I find myself completely invested in the story and this team, despite the fact that it’s only the first issue and they aren’t actually a team yet. Though I will venture to say the Mighty Avengers are more of a team now then the Justice League has been yet. That’s right, I went there.
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