U.S.Avengers 1

us-avengers-1

Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing U.S.Avengers 1, originally released January 4, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Patrick: There are more flavors of Avengers out there than there are flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins.

That’s not an entirely true observation. Baskin Robbins always carries 31 flavors, and even at it’s most, Marvel only publishes 5 or 6 Avengers series at one time. But I’m too in-love with the ice cream metaphor to let it go, so stay with me. Like Baskin Robbins, U.S.Avengers is an exercise in indulgences, cramming in as much fun, color, and sugar as humanly possible. This cartoonish excess is also unapologetically American, leaning in to everything that even remotely expresses that cultural identity.

The team is made up of a lot of orphans of writer Al Ewing’s previous series about an Avengers team – New Avengers. It’s the crew lead by Sunspot Citizen V, a.k.a. Roberto DeCosta, and the no-longer-that-recently repurposed A.I.M. Seemingly as a sign of good faith to both the U.S. government, and the readers, that acronym now stands for American Intelligence Mechanics. Which is hilarious – even when Roberto made A.I.M. work for the Avengers, at least he let them keep the “Ideas” part of the acronym intact. An Avenger identity is one thing, but an American identity? That’s loud, and it overrides pretty much everything else.

And Ewing totally goes for broke in expressing that American identity: the heroes are immigrants, dual-citizens, culturally and sexually diverse; they’re introduced via reality show confessionals; their enemies are a thinly veiled jab at Donald Trump and the White Nationalist movement. We could probably burn two-thousand words discussing what the American identity is as expressed by this series, but I want to focus on how Ewing and Medina achieve the breathless pacing of this issue. All six heroes get a proper introduction, with pages committed to how each one of them thinks and operates on the battlefield. Plus, they take down some kind of flying volcano thing and tease both a time traveling Captain America 2099 and a new gold-skull-masked villain. It’s an almost feverish pace, and it’s shocking that it works as well as it does.

I think a lot of it comes from knowing when to slow down. Dr. Toni Ho, a.k.a. the new Iron Patriot, gets perhaps the lengthiest introduction, with her confessional spilling over into a second page. This is a great character, one that is both principled and self-aware enough to know that she’s lightly ripping off Tony Stark. She’s also a little bit aloof, and has a relationship with Aikku — all of which comes across in her interview. My favorite part of it is the smash-cut to Toni in the armor, impatiently asking:

iron-patriot

That’s followed by some chatter between Toni and General Maverick that clearly, and actively, establishes Toni’s aversion to guns (and Maverick’s attitude toward that attitude, which is a microcosm of the gun control debate). So, we’re still establishing Toni, while laying the groundwork for Maverick’s introduction in a couple pages and transitioning into Aikku’s introduction. And all of that plays out during the raid on the volcano base.

If there’s one short straw in this fist, it’s Squirrel Girl, who doesn’t really have an opportunity to do much of anything. She gets to be cute and funny and maybe that’s all we need to really get the gist of who Doreen is, but Iron Patriot, Engima, and Red Hulk all get such definitive action beats, that it’s hard not to think that she and Cannonball got the least attention of the field agents.

Sam does get a nice confessional video after the action is all said and done. It mirrors Roberto’s interview in a lot of ways – both tie their American and Mutant identities together. The difference, and where I think Sam is a more interesting character than his counterpart, is that Sam finds himself in a world where his heroes are dead. He namechecks Xavier, claiming that he had an American dream of his own, but then is only sheepishly able to assert himself as one of these U.S.Avengers. Sam is used to living in the shadow of greatness, so the idea that he might have to be that greatness going forward is totally alien to him.

And then vwwzzz – Captain America 2099 shows up! Taylor, does the insane pace of this issue work for you? How about the pastiche of an American identity we see projected by this team? Oh and if you had a big red button on your forearm that you could activate once every day and a half to do something extraordinary, what would it allow you do to and what would be the text printed on it? Maverick’s Hulk button just says “SMASH” and that’s about perfect.

Taylor: Oh man, do I have to settle for just one? I guess if I had to choose I would have a button that just read “FUGUE” that would send me into state of productive amnesia. Dishes need to be done? FUGUE. Got a lot of papers to grade or write? FUGUE. Boring meeting to attend? FUGUE. I mean, what could be better than completing all of the drudgeries of life but never feeling like you actually had to do them? Maybe not as cool as a “SMASH” button but it might make me a lot happier.

In some ways this issue feels like the product of a fugue state. As you so well put Patrick, these twenty pages are crammed full of information. Despite disseminating so much info, the issue really does break into two primary themes: Introductions of the A.I.M. team and introductions to the overarching themes of the series. While the sheer amount of information presented here is amazing, the overall message is a bit muddled.

Take for instance Toni, aka Iron Patriot. She claims that she is against lethal violence yet her suit is still chocked full of weaponry that while not lethal, still accomplishes much of the same aims as conventional lethal weapons.

institutionalized-weapondry

These nonlethal weapons basically read like a wishlist for a riot police squad and incidentally also happen to be the same type of weapons used in the real world on protesters. So even though Toni comes in spreading a message of peace and understanding, her development of weapon tech is ostensibly the stuff governments use to keep the masses in order. These U.S. Avengers obviously are a response to to Donald Trump and fears of authoritarian government, so why is Toni portrayed as being enlightened when her very skill set would help the things she’s fighting against? This sends a confusing message where I’m not sure whether the U.S. Avengers are actually what the world needs to confront evil.

The ease with which the Avengers save the day also confounds the theme of this issue. The problems the A.I.M. members pledge to tackle in their interviews are those which happen to be the most difficult to solve. Intolerance, inequality, and hate are all things the various members mention as motivating them to be heroes. These are issues that can’t be solved by punching a bad guy or destroying their ultimate weapon. They take years, maybe even decades, of hard work, conversation, and the gradual shift in an entire populations’ mentality. In this issue though, these problems are all fixed in one page.

if-only-real-life-was-so-easy

Just send in the Red Hulk and all of the nations’ problems are solved! Would that it were so easy to defeat the issues facing our country. Naturally, an Avengers comic needs to have explosions and battles and such, it’s what it expected of such a title. But if this title really is going to focus on current events in America, I can’t help but think a more nuanced approach to this theme is needed.

Ultimately, though, this bombast makes this issue an entertaining, if sugary, read. There’s a lot that goes into creating this tone like flying squirrels, one liners, and bright colors, but for my money what makes it the most fun comes in the closing pages. The leader of $kullocracy is a dude wearing a golden deathshead who is championing greed and a world with no principles. As far as I can tell, he is delivering this diatribe to a group of pirates, who are dressed similar to himself.

pirates-threatne-america

Honestly it’s hard to make any sense of why pirates and this golden skulled man are dressed the way they are and what that says about them as characters. But it doesn’t really matter so much. It’s a bit goofy but it’s also just fun. How these antagonists play into the promised themes of this series will be interesting to see and I can’t help but wonder if their appearance belies more sinister motives. For now, it helps create a bit of levity in this issue that saves it from caving in under the weight of its convoluted themes, which I appreciate.

I guess you could say it’s like a nice scoop of ice cream after large meal. Perhaps excessive, but 100% American.

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?

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One comment on “U.S.Avengers 1

  1. Why do I keep giving Ewing a chance on team books?

    I will admit, Ewing probably does a better job than he has with New Avengers and Ultimates in this issue, which is damning with faint praise. The ‘Why I am an American’ section does a bad job in making you care for the character specifically (there just isn’t enough to them), but a good job at selling a vibe. Where New Avengers had constant identity problems (the final issue literally has AIM’s master plan be about something that has nothing to do with every other issue) and Ultiamtes constantly undercuts its own narratives through poor execution (WHY IS EVERYTHING SO EASY!), USAvengers is clear. A vision of the United States as a globalist society, a vision of togetherness and inclusivity. THat’s great, and makes me wish I cared about the characters. Because outside of those videos, the characters are just a bunch of catchphrases. I it cool to see Maverick choosing to smash? Yeah. But what else is there to the story, except people smashing stuff? In the end, they just punch and punch.

    Hell, the character who is supposed to be the rejection of this idea instead just highlights this. The problem isn’t just that Toni Ho’s armour is packed full of weapons. Everything about her makes her appear hypocritical. Iron Patriot is basically American militarism gone wild. That is the point. Norman Osborne created the identity for himself as part of his Dark Reign. Iron Man Three has AIM upgrade the War Machine armour into the Iron Patriot armour, as part of a plan to push American militarism. That is the point. And that is Toni Ho’s superhero identity.
    This book could use her to redeem and recontextualise the name, but it doesn’t. For some reason, her suit, that has no traditional weapons, still has a giant cannon on its back. Why? And yeah, when you put Toni Ho in a name associated to militarism, keep the obvious signifiers of weapons and then have her brag about all the weapons she has, she ends up failing to be what she says she is.
    In New Avengers, they had her in a Rescue suit. Maybe that was Ewing’s original plan, before finding out that Bendis has plans to have the original Rescue suit up again in Infamous Iron Man. Rescue works, as the entire point of the Rescue suit is that it was built with no weapons and that any combat capability it had was only through careful application of tools designed primarily for rescue operations. But it is hard to make that argument when USAvengers is about patriotism and it is hard to imagine they don’t want the identity with the red, white and blue colour scheme.

    Hell, here’s a dark take. USAvengers have Citizen V, Iron Patriot and Red Hulk on their side. That is a list of villain titles. Hell, there have been villainous Captain Americas (and not not counting about reality rewritten Steve Rogers here). Maybe the dark joke is that they are ultimately hypocrites. I mean, I described their vision of America as globalist, which is to a degree an oxymoron – especially in a world where nationalism is winning elections. Maybe the big twist is that the USAvengers, for all their beautiful words about inclusivity, globalism and nonviolence, are ultimately going to be a group that punches threats to America’s national identity and acts entirely for America’s self interest. Maybe the twist is that despite their best intentions, they become the bad guys , hypocritically fighting the very thing they said they stood for because ‘we’re the USAvengers, that’s our jobs.

    Still doesn’t change the fact that the issue itself is pretty poor. Big threat boringly dealt with. Catchphrases instead of characters and a big ending that is as simple and boring as ‘Shock! Character X has appeared from nowhere’. Disappointing

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