Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Avengers Assemble 19, originally released September 25th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Patrick: The Avengers is a fairly masculine construct. I recognize that most superhero teams are, but this one in particular makes you really look for the contributing female members. On a team that just recently exploded to include over 20 members, there are five women in group, two of which are bizarrely abstract concepts (Abyss, the Universe). They don’t perceive the world or act like human beings, let alone as human women. That leaves Captain Marvel, Black Widow and Spider-Woman – none of whom have gotten much attention in the main Infinity series or either of the flagship tie-ins. Kelly Sue DeConnick has been tasked with injecting a little feminine energy into the saga. Unfortunately, she’s made to retread the same events endlessly, and ground the same emotional beats into a fine paste for easy digestion. Well, Infinity fans, open up: we’ve got a piping hot serving of emotional paste for you… I just can’t promise that it’s fresh.
At the Behemoth Ringworld, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Manifold and Shang-Chi aid in dealing with the refuges of the first disastrous attack against the Builders. “Comforting” isn’t really any of their strong suits — very little punching involved — but they make due. When the Builders launch their attack on the refugee space station, our heroes snap into rescue mode, which is marginally more comfortable for them. When it comes time to launch Cap’s counter-offensive, this quartet volunteers to board the Builder ship that holds the imprisoned heroes from Captain Marvel 16. The rest of this we’ve seen before… a couple times… Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Sunspot and Cannonball redirect their rescue team to the bridge so they can continue the rescue-tour with Starbrand, Nightmask, Abyss and Captain Universe. Then Starbrand blasts the Builder command ship into a million shiny pieces.
I wanna pause there. The events of the later half of this issue have been portrayed in three issues, but that specific instant of Starbrand cutting loose has been featured in four. It’s such a badass moment, but only because he’s doing it on his own. Part of what makes Kevin’s exercise of his power so exciting is that it’s a singularly righteous act – a godly-powerful being drawing a line and saying “no more.” Every time we see that moment repeated, it is a little less unique, a little less isolated. I know all the depictions are showing me the same event, but with enough exposure to it, the Starband Show starts to feel commonplace.
Anyway, back on an Alliance Ship, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye share a confusing moment – the clarity of which they exacerbate by talking circles around it.
Spencer, I have precious little to say about this issue that we haven’t covered elsewhere. One thing that stood out to me is Jess’ over-reliance on her pheromone powers. She calls it a “cheat” when she uses it for crowd control during the evacuation of the Behemoth, but it seems like a pretty effective use of her power. Look – they’ve all got calm smiles on their faces.
Later, she tries to use the same ability against the Alephs. What effect she’s hoping for isn’t exactly clear, but like, they’re robots, so they’re totally immune. Instead, everyone else starts talking about whether robots have souls and whether having a soul is necessary for death. Kinda interesting, even if it doesn’t make that much sense – but then Jessica denies deploying her pheromones. So like… what the fuck happened there?
This issue has a really strange image book-ending it, and try as I might, I can’t really make sense of it. Jessica digs through a box of toys, hoping to find something for one of the refugee children, and she comes up with a cute stuffed squid monster. But the child says that the toy may be better suited for cheering up Black Widow. That same stuffed squid comes back at the end of the issue, providing the literal hit-in-the-head to Hawkeye’s request for a metaphorical one. In both instances, Spider-Woman is chastising herself for being no good at everything from superheroing to maintaining her relationships. But this is a cute reminder that she did do something very right: she comforted that refugee alien kid and then helped save her from certain doom. Plus, she saved her friends – even if they can only offer vaguely sarcastic thanks in response.
Spencer, it always crosses my mind to ask, but is there any context where Spider-Woman’s costume doesn’t look ridiculous?
Spencer: Probably not? My biggest issue with the costume has always been the fact that it seems specifically designed to highlight her belly button somehow, even though I don’t think any fabric could possibly be that tight. Also, it has precious little to do with spiders, but hey, I suppose there’s only so much that can be done with the concept with Spider-Man running around already.
(Also, Patrick, you totally forgot Smasher in your roll call of female Avengers, but that’s okay, the narrative of Infinity seems to have forgotten her too. Considering the Shi’ar’s extensive role in the conflict I keep waiting for her to take the spotlight, and keep being let down.)
It really is frustrating that the myriad Infinity tie-ins keep repeating the same couple of scenes and plot points over and over. The idea of revisiting a scene from another character’s perspective could be a fascinating one, and a chance to focus more on character in the midst of a very plot-driven event, but ultimately these issues have just ended up feeling redundant. I think the biggest disappointment for me is that I just haven’t learned much of anything about these characters that I didn’t already know. DeConnick and co-writer Janet Van Meter characterize most of the primary players perfectly fine, but don’t dig beyond the surface with any of them, leaving much of the proceedings a little flat.
Besides a few nice moments with Black Widow, most of DeConnick and Van Meter’s attention is focused on Spider-Woman. Spider-Woman was a character I initially had a hard time “getting” when I began reading Marvel monthlies; throughout her appearances in Avengers and A+X she was just the “bland” one. I’ve since learned more about her; the fact that she grew up trained by terrorists and still has a little trouble functioning around people seems to be the primary point people hit with her, and it seems to be what DeConnick and Van Meter are most interested in in this issue. There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s a very important and valid part of the character—but I still want to learn more about Spider-Woman, and I just can’t seem to do that.
Actually, I did learn one new thing about the character, and it came from those bookend scenes with the squid doll. Patrick, I actually think you’re spot-on with the meaning behind those scenes—you certainly figured it out faster than I did, at least. What I got out of them is that, while it’s true that Jessica is still a little awkward due to her upbringing, she’s also very, very hard on herself, moreso than anyone else is. Spider-Woman needs to give herself more credit. This is a nice emotional beat, but it’s about the only “new” thing in this story, and that’s not enough to hang a whole issue on.
There’s one point where the redundancy of this issue actually hurts Infinity itself. Patrick, you already touched on it: I’m talking about the scene with Starbrand blowing up the Builder ship. The scene is losing its punch, but what bugs me about the repetition of the scene is that the circumstances behind it keep changing with each telling. I originally praised the scene as a powerful character moment for Starbrand, but in this issue’s interpretation, the whole moment becomes a chance for Captain Marvel to give the Builders the bird. I love Carol as much as the next guy, but I’m bummed about her stealing what should be a defining moment for poor Kevin.
There was more wrong with this issue than just redundancy; there were a couple of moments that were just plain confusing to follow. Patrick supplied us with one; I’ll highlight another:
Okay, so in that first panel, I assumed it was Shang-Chi talking to Jessica—he’s wearing Shang’s armor—but that makes Shang popping up in Panel 2 very jarring. (Actually, the transitions between all these panels are especially jarring, but that’s besides my point.) In Panel 5 we discover that the guy’s actually Bruce Banner, a choice that seems deliberately misleading. These two panels are Bruce’s only appearances in the entire issue, he adds nothing that any of the other characters couldn’t have contributed, and he doesn’t even show up in the Avengers’ Roll Call—what gives?
Actually, that whole Roll Call is a little confusing:
I actually like a lot about it—Carol’s “flies, zaps, punches” is perfect and the descriptions of Hickman’s Avengers are surprisingly accurate and helpful—but I don’t follow the logic behind who is included and who isn’t. Starbrand, Nightmask, and Abyss spend pretty much their entire time in this issue in a tube, and Falcon, Sunspot, and Cannonball barely get cameos, yet they all earn a spot in the Roll Call while Bruce Banner, who actually has lines, goes unlisted. Hyperion shows up several times in the issue, yet also goes unlisted—why is he specifically excluded? I realize these are petty complaints, but this Roll Call feels especially arbitrary, and it really irks me.
Much like the rest of the issue, Barry Kitson’s pencils are also a bit of a missed opportunity. He draws pretty, expressive, and clear characters and scenes, but his work is muddled by the inclusion of four separate inkers. The transitions between them are quite jarring, and the latter half of the book looks much more rushed than the first half.
Ultimately, this issue just feels pointless, which is a shame. I’ve been enjoying Infinity far more than I ever expected, but the pointlessness of some of the tie-ins are starting to dull me on the whole event. Also, I’ve heard so many good things about DeConnick and Van Meter, and I really want to like their work, but every time I check them out they end up saddled with intrusive, redundant crossover work. I’m sure I’ll sample their work again, but as for Infinity, I know the tie-ins I’m avoiding in the future.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?