Drew: Superheroes are a lonely bunch. They’re generally unlucky-in-love. Many of them are orphans (or had other close loved ones die). They also have isolating responsibilities and power-sets that can make them difficult to relate to. Unless, of course, they’re trying to relate to other superheroes. Characters like Iron Man and Captain America seem peerless when surrounded by everyday schmucks, but they act as serviceable peers to one another. That emotional support can be lost in stories that attempt to justify their team-ups with ever-bigger baddies to punch (coughInfinitycough), but can be a goldmine for savvy writers. Kathryn Immonen goes a step further in the Avengers Annual 2013, making the subtext of superhero loneliness the text, and giving the Avengers a reason to team up besides a giant bad-guy.
It’s Christmas Eve in New York, and Shang-Chi is doing some community service, taking “talented and misguided” youths on a tour of Avengers Tower. One of these youths, a girl named Zamira, secretly stays behind as everyone — including the Avengers — leaves for the night. It just so happens that Zamira has the ability (or is it a curse?) to manifest the voices in her head as different, antagonizing versions of herself. Also, these voices happen to sound exactly like the Avengers. Also also, the new security system is entirely voice-activated. They Thing-1 and Thing-2 her pretty hard, and soon enough, all of the defenses are turned on and tearing the tower apart. The Avengers, having nothing better to do on Christmas Eve, manage to re-assemble in time to put out the fires, but ultimately, it’s up to Zamira to set things right.
It’s a cute enough story — made all the cuter by David Lafuente’s bright, cartoony art — but relies on an array of bizarre coincidences to set up a premise that I can still only kind of get my head around. I appreciate that the voices in Zamira’s head might come from the world around her (the first one we meet is her mother), but I’m not sure why every person she meets is immediately manifested as a voice in her head, nor why her impressions of them would be so immaculate as to fool voice recognition software — especially if they’re also played as over-the-top caricatures.
Granted, she never actually meets Thor, but that only points back to my confusion about why these characters are manifested as voices in Zamira’s head. I’m also not sure why those voices run amuck like deranged Animaniacs. The issue posits them as manifestations of Zamira’s anxiety, but these are far from the nitpicking, controlling voices implied by the mother voice. Most of them just seem interested in getting her in trouble.
My problems with the voices aside, this issue was quite a bit of fun, and is surprisingly reflective for such a zany one-off. Indeed, we spend eight pages with Captain America as he heads out to a local soup kitchen and befriends a similarly lonely former soldier. Moments like Cap giving the guy his coat and imploring him to register with the V.A. seem to be in there just to highlight his own loneliness, a theme that reverberates throughout the issue, as each Avenger returns to the tower as their own (equally lonely) plans fall through. After wrapping things up at the tower, all of the Avengers decide to drop the pretense and admit they want to spend the holiday together. Immonen takes us right to the line of calling them a family (replete with a Christmas card freeze-frame ending), but stops just short, keeping the issue from veering into overly-saccharine holiday special mode.
The best part of this issue, though, has to be Immonen and Lafuente’s sense of humor. I already mentioned the over-wrought language of Zamira-Thor, but the issue is packed to the gills with one-liners from Tony and freeze-frame gags, and Lafuente seems to take special delight in selling the more absurd tower defenses.
It’s goofy as hell, but it’s right at home in the tone Immonen establishes from the get-go. I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile that zaniness with the existential weight of Cap’s loneliness, or how either of those fit Zamira’s anxious teen story, but it works beautifully as a frivolous bon mot.
With that, I’d like to introduce my buddy Dan, who was reading comics back when we were both in short pants. What did you think, Dan? Were you as charmed by the humor here, or did Immonen and Lafuente lay it on too thick? Can you make any more sense of Zamira’s storyline? And, most importantly, do you know where I might be able to find a “Fat Ninja” hoodie?
Dan: Thanks Drew. Look, I’m a fan of the superhero genre generally. With the anatomically impossible people, ass kicking and (especially with Marvel titles) witty repartee, it’s easy to get caught up in the, often times, dense story lines. For this reason, I often find it tedious — if not downright boring — when comic writers turn their sights on the emotional and seek to tug some heart strings to draw in the reader. The comic medium seems a poor place for this type of emotional investment. If I were editor Dan Buckley, the urge to avoid these story lines would be overwhelming. “Our base readership doesn’t want this kind of touching namby-pamby crap! Costumes! Elaborate insidious death machines/creatures/dimensions! Etc.!” Imaginary-Buckley has a fair point here, but Immonen does an admirable job of striking the proper balance between Buckley’s simplistic (and frankly Neanderthal) opinions of what super hero comics ought to be and the overly emotionally wrought.
This is not to say I thought the issue was a standout. There were some problems. While I thought the emotions on display were, mostly, tastefully done, the choice of Captain America as the lead for the story was a tough sell. Sure: Christmas; another veteran at the soup kitchen; bonding — I get it. This is all very ‘Murica. The problem is Captain America has the acting range of a six year old. Ridiculous statement, I know, The Cap as portrayed by Lafuente and Immonen is visually perfect and his lines ring true enough but for some reason the this artistic manifestation doesn’t seem to step off the page very well.
Sure, the characters “pop” well. They bulge and preen well. When you stand these super humans next to regular schmoes they do indeed seem peerless. Until they open their damn mouths. They are all, like, emotionally retarded. Sure, as The Cap shows, he is plenty capable of empathy in an ill-defined sort of way but in dealing with his own problems and neurosis, he is less capable. Stark gives him an out early in the book and Cap promptly brushes it off.
Besides Cap’s epic struggle to let his guard down, the meat and potatoes of the issue was this new one-off (I assume) character Zamira. She has the power to be all freaky-deaky and manifest her schizophrenia into walking, talking versions of people she has interacted with, except they are her, except they aren’t and they’re kinda’ douchey. Drew’s observation here is accurate: this is weird considering how demure this Zamira seems written. The plot seems to falter after Cap, Stark, Widow and Hulk find out there is trouble afoot. Well, no, it faltered before this. It faltered all over the place.
I think I get the device though. Zamira is mirroring the loneliness that all the Avengers are feeling. The mental projections that are conjured by her powers are weak-ass projections of what she wants or needs or something. The “company” that she has is no company at all, but really a living hell of sorts. Just like the loneliness that the Avengers are feeling which Zamira’s powers threw into sharper focus. Yeah, let’s go with that. I mean, I know it’s a superhero comic. The whole premise of her powers just seems a little goddamned silly. However, this may be a poor place to quit suspending my disbelief. Also, what’s up with the fact that Zamira’s mental projections seem to be able to tear apart a building effectively they can’t be touched!?
Over all I actually liked the book. The humor blended in well and the emotional content rarely veered into the saccharine. A little levity around the holidays is always good to temper the rampant cynicism (clearing my throat loudly) that some of us choose to embrace. I’m in such a cheery mood now is probably a good time to gift wrap that Fat Ninja sweatshirt the Amazon Drone just dropped off.
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?