I’ve not read the Avengers regularly for years – too many characters I’ve no fondness for, storylines that drag on. But having read the series for most of the Bronze Age, I could not resist a cover that features the call to arms, while nodding to those brilliant ‘the old order changeth’ issues.
Illustrator Steve McNiven and colourist Morry Hollowell’s wonderful image nicely teases what’s to come – the return of veteran Avengers to fight the foes no single group of heroes can withstand. In this case, they’re out to stop the planet being razed by intergalactic warriors. It’s not that the Kree and the Skrulls want to destroy our world, but their mutual foes the Cotati do, and if Battleground Earth happens to die in the process, they won’t shed a tear.
Coordinating Earth’s defences is current Avengers leader Black Panther but, as the cover hints, it’s a certain Living Legend of World War II who gets to make the big speech. Cap doesn’t go into action this time but the small groupings of heroes we do see are no disappointment. First up are the Vision and Dr Nemesis, called to investigate strangeness in Central Park by Luke Cage.
Then, Mockingbird, Wonder Man and Quicksilver defend a Mexican town as the Kree/Skrull Alliance fights Cotati warriors – plant people who want nothing more than to destroy the fleshy folk of the universe.
And finally, Black Knight, Doctor Voodoo, Scarlet Witch and Ka-Zar find the Savage Land under assault.
I had a ball with this comic. There is a recap page for the Empyre event, but writer Jim Zub gives us everything we need… not too difficult, given that it’s early days for this crossover between the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Splitting the book between small teams a la the Silver Age Justice League of America is always a smart move, making it simple to spotlight individual members. It also evokes Marvel’s own classic Avengers-Defenders war, which homaged those same Gardner Fox tales.
What I really appreciate is that there’s no in-fighting, with the inevitable ‘Quicksilver’s a bit of a pillock’ being the closest we get to conflict. This is what I want, heroes being heroes. And I love the humour (‘Hello, stupid robot’).
The only thing about this story I don’t get is why the plant people dress like Arabian Knights types. Because it looks cool?
Actually, I can live with that – heck, the whole book looks wonderful courtesy of Carlos Magno (a name which, I’m only now noticing – and this is shameful for an old Arak fan – is basically ‘Charles the Great – rather apt). Magno’s layouts carry the eye across the page and he fills the panels with good looking active, good guys and bad guys. OK, he can’t make that weird new version of Mockingbird’s uniform look good, but I doubt anyone could. It is hideous. And when did Jericho Drum start dressing like a cartoon witch doctor… is that not offensive? It’s a tribute to Magno’s craft and stylish finish that I‘m swept along regardless. Instead, I enjoy the urgency with which he makes Quicksilver run, how he brings off tough perspective shifts like on the opening spread, the serene nuttiness as Wanda casts her hexes.
I also notice the unusual sculpting of the faces, courtesy of colourist Espen Grundetjern – it’s tough to describe, a kind of dappling effect. Let me show you.
The landscapes, meeting rooms and streets are all gifted tones to set them apart from the players, while inciting the eye to take in Magno’s art. I’m particularly impressed by the depth given to a Savage Land scene of carnage towards the end.
The lettering of Clayton Cowles is as sure-footed as ever, crisp and attractive.
I’m not buying into this whole Empyre event, there are too many chapters at Marvel’s jumped-up prices, but I’m with this mini-series for its concluding two issues. It’s the first Avengers comic in years that’s felt like ‘my’ Avengers.