Today, Spencer and Ethan are discussing Avengers 23, originally released November 20th, 2013. This issue is part of the Infinity crossover event. Click here for complete Infinity coverage.
Spencer: Guys, I’m just gonna be frank with you; I’m getting kind of tired of Infinity. I thought it started out great, with immense threats, exciting action, a fun war-story vibe and a colorful cast of alien supporting characters who were fleshed out just enough so that the scenes featuring them weren’t boring, but Infinity never really broke away from or added any depth to that formula, and after over ten issues of it, I’m thoroughly tired of this interstellar war-story. Maybe writer Jonathan Hickman is too; it would explain why this issue of Avengers feels so pointless. Or maybe he just thinks that the infiltration of the Peak is important enough to devote two whole issues to; unfortunately for us, it’s not.
The Avengers are ready to return to Earth and lend a hand in rescuing their world from the Mad Titan, Thanos. Unfortunately, first they must free the Peak space station from Black Dwarf and defeat his armada surrounding the planet (because the Avengers won’t just let Manifold teleport them planet-side for some reason). When the Armada is unable to free the station from the outside, Manifold teleports himself, Black Widow, and Shang-Chi inside, but they’re quickly overtaken by Black Dwarf and his men. Manifold returns for reinforcements but finds that the other Avengers have already left for Earth, so he instead returns with Gladiator, Ronan the Accuser, Kl’rt the Super-Skrull, and Annihilus, who finish off Black Dwarf once and for all and continue to hold off the Peak’s defenses while the Avengers head for Thanos.
Don’t let the length of that summary fool you—not all that much happened. Last issue I complained that too much space was spent detailing the plan to retake the Peak instead of just allowing us to experience the plan in action for ourselves, and my fears were realized this issue when things went down almost exactly like Cap planned and I wasn’t at all interested in it or surprised by it (My complaints about the handling of Manifold’s ability stand too). In fact, there was only one real surprise in the plan, and it ended up becoming an element that added absolutely nothing to the issue:
Man, Hickman, it’s rough when you promise us Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon running amok in a space station then don’t deliver (And as an aside, just let me say that, with the casting of Chris Pratt as Star-Lord in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie, I just keep daydreaming about “Andy Dwyer, Space Ranger” and wishing it was an actual thing). I’m guessing this is probably explored more in a tie-in, but I would have preferred these scenes in this issue to what we actually got.
I suppose that’s my biggest gripe about this issue; why was retaking the Peak so important that we devoted two issues to it? I could not care less about the Peak, and nothing about the attack on it was interesting enough to change my mind. Sure, let the Council fight Thanos’ forces and retake the station, but it’s not a fight that needed to be shown, and certainly not a fight that needed two issues devoted to it.
In fact, showing the fight against Black Dwarf just weakened the characters in this issue. Did Hickman forget that Black Panther defeated Dwarf in one-on-one combat? That would lead me to believe that Shang-Chi would at least stand a chance against him, but instead it took four powerful alien warriors—one of whom has all the powers of the Fantastic Four—to take Dwarf down, and while that certainly makes T’Challa look all the more impressive, it just makes the heroes of this issue look weaker in comparison.
And why were Gladiator and his cohorts the stars of this issue? I’m sure there are veteran Marvel fans out there thrilled to see more of these characters, and I’ve even enjoyed the characterization they’ve been given through this event, but I read Avengers to, y’know, actually see the Avengers, and they all too often feel like supporting characters in their own book. Sometimes I feel like Hickman would rather be writing about anybody other than the Avengers, and it’s frustrating.
Now I don’t want to sound like there was nothing good about this issue, because that’s not true. Leinel Francis Yu’s art looked a little rushed in places, but he still has an excellent handling on the interstellar warfare and alien characters and tech that is often beautiful to behold, and Hickman makes Cap’s thank you speech to the Council a touching moment, but all these elements just aren’t strong enough to hang an entire issue on. It’s a bad sign when the most interesting event of an issue is right on the first page, but that’s exactly what happens here.
Honestly, I’d read a whole issue of Tony Stark inexplicably hanging out with lions. In fact, make it a bi-weekly book. It’s a strong concept.
Ethan, normally this is where I’d ask you if you got anything out of this issue that I didn’t, but since I didn’t really get much out of this issue at all…did you? And does that sentence even make any sense?
Ethan: Spencer. Seriously: you take the Rocket Racoon shout-out AND the lion shout-out and then you expect me to have anything substantive to say in my reply? There’s rules about hoarding all the fuzzy character panels, man, and you broke ‘em.
To be honest, I did actually enjoy this issue more than the previous ones, but I’ve been having trouble putting a finger on why that is. I appreciated the moment between Cap and the council that you mentioned, and I really liked the way Iron Man started the issue likening the current, Thanos-occupied state of Earth to his parents’ house after he trashed it with a party while they were out (pardon the re-post).
So much of this storyline has been about hiding in asteroid belts and conquering planets and Big Space Stuff, it’s good to zoom back in long enough to see characters exhibiting a sense of humor. So often, Hickman’s dialogue leaves me feeling like the the characters on the page are still somehow absent – like they’re lines in a script instead of people – so Tony’s banter was a pleasant surprise.
And yet, right after this exchange, Tony admits that Thanos found the planet-destroying weapons the Illuminati has been stockpiling to destroy rival Earths, and Steve doesn’t so much as bat an eyelash.
No, really, thanks to Yu’s signature artistic style, Steve looks a little statuesque – it doesn’t look like he’s capable of blinking. I know that the Illuminati did a mind-wipe on Cap to make him forget about the whole conversation that led to the development of the doomsday weapons, but no matter how much Steve’s just trying to help everyone stay calm, there’s no way I can believe that he’d be so blasé about Tony saying that Thanos has managed to get his paws on them. If there was ever the perfect setup for an “I told you so,” allowing a genocidal psycho from space to steal the world-killer bombs that you built – despite the explicit condemnations from the very person you’re breaking this news to – this is it. Maybe Tony’s just so contrite that Steve’s giving him a break, but it makes Steve feel even more alien than the statue-meets-poster illustration style.
Don’t get me wrong, I love most things about Yu’s work. It lends a stoic, mystical quality to the people, like a neo-classical / Mucha mashup. His composition is so bold and the images are so straight-up beautiful that it’s fun to drink them in. Sometimes though, it does push the reader away a bit, like you’re in a gallery instead of reading a narrative. Maybe it’s just me. The one thing that’s downright irritating is his hyper-sexualization of the ladies. When I was wondering to myself why you’d only send a couple of superpower-less humans on an infiltration mission to take back the space station, I pretty much concluded that it was almost exclusively to give Yu the chance to play around with Black Widow’s crazy curves.
‘Nuff said. Maybe it’s just an exercise in idealized figure drawing for him, but the genre has enough objectification troubles without this kind of thing, guy.
If he occasionally merits an eye-roll with his female forms, he at least infuses a very cool, retro vibe into his space battles, to great effect.
I can’t help thinking about the cover of my copy of A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge when I look at this scene. Yu’s done a fantastic job at visualizing what it might look like when two armada’s smash together. The membrane of nuclear fire he paints in the center of the fight is striking. At first it looks like the spaceship equivalent of when two Dragon Ball Z characters are fighting for control in a showdown, their conflicting energies held in a temporary balance, but the weapons in play here probably don’t work that way. No, it stands to reason that the fuel for that inferno is all the tiny interceptors hammering each other and getting shredded in the cross fire between the capital ships. The scale of carnage implied is pretty incredible.
All in all, I agree that it felt a little stilted, but I did find some fun in the reading.
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?