by Taylor Anderson and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Taylor: In middle school, my favorite book was a archaeology tome titles Ancient Mysteries. The book is exactly what you would think — a survey of all the unsolved mysteries archaeologists have studied such as how the inhabitants of Easter Island made their statues and the relevancy of the Atlantis story. I was entranced by these mysteries because they suggested a history of Earth that was far bigger and far stranger than anything I had imagined up to that point. This was exciting at the time, and to this day my interest is still piqued by random archaeology articles on the BBC. It’s maybe for this reason that Avengers 1 intrigues me so much. It points to a deep, weird history of Earth I want to know more about.
Clues to this history are presented right at the start of this issue when Earth, 1 million years ago, is shown. A group of super-powered beings, essentially the Proto-Avengers, are mid battle with mysterious, cosmic giants. Cut to the present, and the current Avengers (just don’t call them that) suddenly have to deal with these same giants falling dead from the sky. Obviously these two events are linked but the mystery of how they are linked is what interests me the most about his issue. T’Challa and Stephen Strange find some enticing clues to regarding this in the center of the Earth.
They have found symbols representing their superhero lineage miles below the Earth’s surface. As Stephen realizes using his magic, these symbols are indeed direct connections between them and the Proto-Avengers shown in the opening of the issue. However, that’s all that can be known at this time. Why these symbols are here, what the Proto-Avengers were, why the cosmic giants were buried in the ground and how they disappeared, are all mysteries that will have to be solved another day. This mystery is interesting though, and I’m eager to find out if Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness are forging some sort of ur-myth which explains the origins of all super-powers on Earth. That’s ambitious, but certainly could be fun.
This possible myth-making isn’t without its conundrums though, the sort that need to have a good explanation because they could derail the series. A million years ago, as the Proto-Avengers prepare for battle, Odin’s having a grand old time getting drunk on some mead, just like his son in the present. Some early humans, though certainly not Homo sapiens, are drawn to it, which leads to some unflattering comments.
The appearance of these early humans raises questions about the history of the Marvel Universe — mainly, what is the time and how does human development fit into it? The Proto-Avengers shown here are all human in form. In other words, they are presented as a more evolved version of the humans seen ogling Odin’s mead. Many of these Proto-Avengers are gods or some sort of other ageless being, but that doesn’t explain their modern human appearance. Are these Proto-Avengers beings without time who just choose to look like modern day humans? It’s unclear what the answer may be to these questions, but by showing us an Earth a million years ago, Aaron is asking us to consider what Marvel’s version of human history is. That issue needs to be addressed or this series will be certainly disappoint on its promise to explore Earth and Avenger history.
The way these humans are drawn in this issue also stood out to me. Ed McGuinness’s style is a mix between traditional comic book art and a more modern hybrid involving manga. His characters have large, expressive eyes and it follows that the rest of their bodies are also drawn with slightly exaggerated features. For some, this might be fine, but the chunky style is problematic for me. Look at this full body shot of Doctor Strange:
His left hand looks like solid block, his shin and calf are about the same size as his thigh, and his neck is nearly as thick as his head. The result is a character design that is overtly blocky. I grew up in an era when this is what all video game characters looked like, so to me this reminds me of low quality, if not quite passable graphics. So I have a little bit of a gut reaction here that tells me this character design isn’t good. I suppose it’s a matter of taste, but for grand narratives spanning millions of years, I prefer an art style that is more elegant and befitting such grand themes.
Drew, do you have the same reservations about the art as I do or do you fancy it better? Any ideas what some the events here tell us about the early days of the Marvel Universe? Are there any weird, middle school obsessions this book calls to mind?
Drew: Actually, that this eon-spanning narrative gives us a window into evolution (and especially that of humans) definitely does touch on some of my own favorite subject matter from my tweens. And while that familiarity with the subject matter could make me even more sensitive to this issue’s almost fatalistic take on human development, I’m happy to handwave most of that away as sci-fi nonsense. I mean, the Marvel universe is a place filled with beings from other planets and dimensions that look almost indistinguishable from humans (and often speak perfect English). I’m willing to accept that Asgardians, for example, have just always looked like modern humans, even before modern humans existed. I think the actual reason for this is that humans are ego-centric enough to imagine that God (or gods or aliens) must look like us, but the result is that “evolution” in science fiction tends to somehow invisibly pull all sentient beings towards humanoid forms. And I’ll accept that as an explanation for the appearance of these proto-Avengers — I think everyone besides Odin is a proto-Human, but touched with some power (be it the spirit of vengeance or the phoenix force or the mystic arts) that has “evolved” them into the more advanced humanoid ideal that exists in sci-fi. It doesn’t need to be good science so long as it’s good fiction!
And I do like the hook of this particular Avengers team. Aaron has highlighted basically every Marvel hero that has a legacy that could possibly stretch back a million years, and then thrown Iron Man and Captain America in because it’s the Avengers. Or, more elegantly: this is a problem big enough to warrant the attention of the Avengers, so of course Steve, Tony, and Thor will be there, but this is also somehow directly connected to the legacies of the rest of the cast, so they’ve got to be there, too.
Er, except for Captain Marvel. And I guess She-Hulk? It’s clear enough from McGuinnes’s character design of the ancient Star Brand that he’s a Hulk analogue, but like, isn’t Star Brand a more direct analogue? I love Jennifer Walters, and would much rather have her on this team than Star Brand (who bores me to pieces), but it seems unfair that she should have to clean up a Star Brand mess just because that particular Star Brand happened to look kinda Hulk-y. The Captain Marvel one is a bit harder to explain. Is she the analogue for the Phoenix or for the Iron Fist? And again, wouldn’t the actual Iron Fist and/or Phoenix host be a more logical choice? If T’Challa and Doctor Strange’s legacies make them “already involved” in whatever the heck is going on, shouldn’t the same be true for Danny Rand and…Jean Grey? Quentin Quire? (I admit, I have no clue what’s up with the Phoenix force these days, but I’m pretty sure Carol Danvers has nothing to do with it.) As with She-Hulk, I think Captain Marvel is a better choice than Iron Fist, both for team dynamics and my own investment in the story, but it’s too bad the logic of the team has to bend a bit to draw those parallels.
Aw geez, I really didn’t mean to spend a paragraph nitpicking bullshit — I really did have fun with this issue. Or, at least I had fun when this issue got out of its own way enough to be fun. This issue has some great moments — I’m particularly tickled by Hulk/Star Brand getting angry drunk on Odin’s good mead — but was often bogged down with too many talking heads. Which I think might get at at least part of your problems with the art here, Taylor. McGuinness is a thrilling artist when he’s given something to do. I mean, just look at how dazzling he can be in this issue:
That’s a hell of an epic image, and McGuinness packs in a ton of fun details — it was only now that I noticed the flaming path Ghost Rider’s mammoth left when he tore off like the goddamned Back to the Future DeLorean. Maybe the setting is putting The Flintstones in me head, but I can just imagine the cartoony sound effects that thing must have made before it took off.
Unfortunately, as I suggested earlier, this issue doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for McGuinness to really flex. Instead, we get these oddly long conversations where Tony expresses reluctance to reform the Avengers, or Robbie Reyes just kind of aimlessly broods. Those are text-heavy sequences, but that text spills over into the action beats, burying McGuinness’s artwork under mounds of text. I suspect this is simply a symptom of first issue exposition — I trust both of these creators, and have high hopes for this series — so I look forward to seeing where things land as this team settles into itself.
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