I should have read these in TPB (I read them monthly on Marvel Unlimited). As each issue came out, I was certain that I’d missed some intervening chapter. In an effort to spread the focus around to a lot of the near 40-member squad of Avengers, the plot literally jumps from issue to issue. Each opening page introduces a new team, each last page leaves them in a cliffhanger. From month to month, that makes it extremely difficult to remember what was happening back in that first cliffhanger when the story finally comes back around.
I am curious how much of this is Jonathan Hickman and how much is Nick Spencer.
The first plot is on A.I.M. Island with Smasher, Cannonball, and Sunspot investigating the new Scientist Supreme. I adore the new Smasher, she’s a fantastic addition to the Marvel U. With her WWII-era super-hero grandfather and her status as a Shi’ar Superguardian, she’s got possible plot points all over. Plus her dynamic costume and hard-headed personality make her a perfect Timbotron favorite. (The other Avengers spend their time locked up, not doing much.)
The second trouble spot is Madripoor, which is now located on the head of a gigantic dragon. (Comics!) Shang-Chi. Like in the first chapter, the supporting Avengers Falcon, Black Widow, and Wolverine really don’t do very much. This is almost a full-issue throwdown between Shang and the Gorgon, the top-level baddie from Mark Millar’s Wolverine arc. It’s a pretty great fight, with kung-fu proving to be almost the equal of the big bad’s powers. I really enjoyed the way Shang channeled the memories of ancient fighters to assist in battle. (Although isn’t this similar to how Black Panther’s Necropolis powers work now?) This was probably my favorite of the one-shots in the opening collection.
The third trouble spot is the city of the dead, where the boring Starbrand has to deal with his mass-murdering origins. I don’t care about Starbrand at all, and his companion Nightmask isn’t much more interesting. So this was a bit of struggle for me to get through, especially when I found myself pining for a different issue that gave me more pages dedicated to Hawkeye and Spider-Woman.
Manifold takes center stage in the last issue in this trade, as he starts to lead a squad of veteran Avengers in rescue mission to the trouble spots, As I said, I had a hard time remember exactly where all those stories left off without a re-write. The added callbacks to Infinity made it even harder for me to remember where we’d left off with Manifold. I like the character; he’s got a good look, powerset, and seems like a heroic guy. But it is hard to make teleportation more than a support power. Porters are necessary for plot, but they don’t always have a ton to do during fights, which limits their appeal to me.
The art is uniformly strong, with Stefano Caselli continuing to impress me. I’ve always loved his work, due to the heroic figurework, strong facial expressions, and his ability to direct nice, kinetic action sequences. He does a fine job making all these newbies look like they belong alongside the more experienced Avengers. It seems silly, but the weight and texture that Caselli gives the costumes makes the rookies seem like they fit in; that they are truly top-tier heroes deserving their spots. (I’m weird, I know.)
This is a FAIR book. I appreciate the focus on the lesser-used members of the Avengers, but man, the approach to pacing really confuses me. I had to re-read the entire run before I read issue 5 because I couldn’t remember what was going on with each group of Avengers.