Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing Avengers 1.1, originally released November 9th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: Take 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 1.1-1.6 (which told a previously untold story set in Peter Parker’s first few months as a hero) and mix it together with Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s JLA Year One (which retold the Justice League’s post-Crisis origin in a modern setting) and you’ll get something resembling The Avengers 1.1. Waid and Kitson take their trademark stylistic combination of classic storytelling set in the modern day (which Waid has also been employing in his modern-day Avengers stories) and use it to tell an “untold” tale of the Avengers’ past. If you have any experience with the aforementioned stories or creative teams, then the result is probably exactly what you were expecting.
Avengers 1.1 retells the tale of that time all the founding Avengers quit the team, leaving Captain America to essentially rebuild the Avengers from the ground-up with a new roster consisting of Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch, all of whom were just coming off stints of criminal activity at the time. I’m no Marvel historian — DC is my specialty in that regard — but my guess would be that this move was made in order to give the Avengers creative team some characters they could dig into and develop themselves, instead of being constrained by whatever Stan Lee was doing over in Thor or Iron Man at the time.
Waid and Kitson aren’t taking full advantage of that chance yet themselves, only giving us quick glances at a seething Pietro, a melodramatic Wanda, and a showboating Clint. I hope to see the creative team dig more into these characters in upcoming issues, but I’m pretty confident they will — JLA Year One likewise started with its cast already established as heroes, and took its time unraveling their personalities and private lives. In the meantime, though, Captain America carries much of Avengers 1.1; Waid and Kitson focus quite a bit on Steve’s trepidation about not only leading a new team of Avengers, but introducing them to the world.
“That time Cap had to rebuild the Avengers with unknowns” isn’t exactly an untold tale — it’s actually one of the more famous moments in Avengers history — which leads me to think that this series will be less about this line-up’s adventures and more about their transformation from bumbling newbies to a team worthy of being called the Avengers. It’s no doubt why Waid and Kitson open the issue on a battle between the original Avengers and the Masters of Evil — the Avengers wipe the floor with the baddies, and in return receive adoration and adulation from the public. In contrast, Cap’s new team are aggressively interrogated by the news and jeered by the public, and effortlessly defeated by the Frightful Four (who, compared to the Masters of Evil, are nobodies).
For Clint, Wanda, and Pietro, living up to the Avengers name will mean proving that they can be heroes at all, but for Cap it means transforming from a soldier to a superhero, from a leader of troops to a leader of men and women with fantastical abilities.
Cap does take command here, but his instructions betray his relatively limited experience as a superhero and his relatively limited understanding of the combatants. Cap picks some of the worst match-ups possible: what can he do to Sandman of all people? Why would you put Quicksilver, the speedster, up against an opponent who can trap him in place, or Hawkeye up against an opponent who can intercept anything he shoots at her before it ever hits? It isn’t just the newbies who have a lot to learn, it’s Cap too, and I’d reckon that’s going to end up being the most intriguing aspect of this story.
There’s a lot of charm to Avengers 1.1‘s nostalgic, retro aesthetic (including a classic letters column — are these actual letters, or something the creative team put together themselves?). Waid and Kitson don’t eschew modern elements entirely — the Avengers are jeered by a cable news team, for example — but it’s easy to see them aiming for timelessness; continuity and costumes firmly establish this story as taking place at a very particular point in Marvel’s history, but there’s no fashion or technology to betray the actual year this is supposed to be taking place in. I support that decision, but am a little turned off by some of their other choices when it comes to “classic” elements. For example, the villains are generally bland and generically motivated, and much of the dialogue, again, feels bland and interchangeable.
While Hawkeye generally rises above that flaw, the greatest exception to this is the Wasp.
Wasp’s internal monologue just crackles with personality (which is why the cliffhanger prospect of her rejoining the team fills me with joy). The retro stuff actually helps when it comes to Wasp’s dialogue; lines like “High-Pockets Hank” are so old-school they’re fun. I like Wasp pointing out the male Avengers’ sexism too — the original Avengers comics would’ve paired Wasp against a female opponent because it’s just what was done at the time and never commented on it, but Waid manages to point out what’s wrong with the concept without condemning the male Avengers in the process. It’s a smart way to approach retelling an old story in a more modern setting, and I hope to see similar acknowledgments and self-awareness in future issues.
Ryan, I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this one, especially since mine are so mixed. I think this story has the potential to be really fun, but it’s going to take some work to fully reach that potential. What’s your take?
Ryan M.: I found the issue’s timeless yet classic style to be charming, but I agree that the dialogue (excepting Wasp) was less engaging. The pages before the title page artfully communicate so much about the confidence of the OG Avengers as well as glimpses into their personalities. When Waid ends the “cold open” with Cap getting keys and a new team, you expect a music sting and a cut to commercial.
The rest of the issue seems to lose a bit of that narrative zip. Wasp’s internal monologe is a great bookend for the issue. In his scene with Jarvis early in the issue and Hawkeye later, Cap becomes our point of view character. Outside of those scenes, the issue feel inert. We don’t have enough backstory with Wanda and Pietro to care to spend an entire page with them as they decide whether to stay.
There is some meaty stuff here. Wanda’s expression of shame and the weakness of her language “sins we may be guilty of” could make for intriguing character work. Because her first real dialogue is with her brother, Wanda is too vulnerable. It’s too nakedly true and takes what could be characterization and makes it more exposition.
The same can be said for the Frightful Four. Their clubhouse scene was primarily exposition and didn’t add any fresh insight to the characters that we do care about. However, Waid gives us a brief moment before the battle that more effectively communicates character.
With a single line, we get more insight into Medusa than a page of Wanda talking to her brother. Waid may or may not have any interest in further developing Medusa’a character in the series, but this glimpse is much more engaging than if she had given a speech about her reasons for villainy. I’ve written before about the first issue as first date. The same principle applies to the problem here. We are too early in our relationship with this world to want to hear baldly stated motivations and emotional truths. Those things deserve moments of earned intimacy. It’s not a matter of playing coy either, it’s letting the reader see the character be themselves. Later, we can get into bedroom confessions in the dark, when they will have more emotional weight.
The scene with Cap and Hawkeye is a great example of that kind of character in action. Clint has his bags packed at the first sign of trouble, ready to leave his new team as easily as he joined.
In addition to Kitson’s rendering of Clint’s first authentic smile of the issue, Waid gives us more understanding of Clint’s internal wiring. Between the scene above and his performance at the press conference we get a clear picture of his motivations for being an Avenger. Again, a speech about his love of performance and drive for attention would have been much less engaging.
Like the second generation Avengers, potential exceeds performance, but there are glimpses of what this book could be.
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