Astonishing Avengers — Avengers #1 Review

Avengers #1 starts the new series off with writing that aims for a deeper and grander story for Earth’s mightiest heroes.

Though the Avengers are led by Captain America who is the first and oldest of them all, credit for the team’s relevance into the present is given to Tony Stark — possibly because Marvel’s movie properties have garnered so much popularity and cash with Iron Man leading the way. Only a decade or so ago, Iron Man was a B-lister in Marvel’s universe, and the cinematic universe has propelled him to become Marvel’s poster child for both its movie and comic properties. It seems now that Stark and Rogers are on equal footing as co-leaders of the Avengers, and we find them chatting and discussing Avengers matters.

The idea, started by Stark and implemented by Rogers, is one based on a global force — a bigger team for bigger threats. Anyone who’s seen the movie understands the premise and the call for an Avengers team that isn’t limited to a core team battling earthly threats. There are bigger and scarier things out there, and Avengers #1 dives right into the mix.

Avengers #1 feels like a fresh start, and it’s apparent in the presentation and execution of this issue that people will either grasp what’s at stake here or be faced with being left behind as the train speeds away. There’s no hand holding here as Ex Nihilo, a new character in the Marvel universe, turns the red rock of Mars into a lush world filled with life. With him are Aleph and Abyss, his cohorts who have their own plans and mindsets — the mechanical and one-track Aleph wants to raze all life from Earth and the cold and calculating Abyss sees humans as a destructive force that need to be eliminated.

Meanwhile, Earth’s been attacked, and the response is urgent and immediate — the Avengers venture to Mars and attack the inhabitors on sight.

The word for this issue is big. Along with the notion that the Avengers have bigger fish to fry, there’s evidence that writer Jonathan Hickman isn’t settling for a middling story even if the issue will sell because of number on the cover. Looking at the names of the new three characters — Ex Nihilo (out of nothing), Aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), and Abyss (which has several definitions including “the primal chaos before Creation” or “hell”)  — and the first panels, Hickman’s story with its religious elements holds clues to what’s going on, what may happen, and where he’s plucked the ideas out of.

Not that Avengers #1 is an interpretation or a literary form of a religious text, or is a means for Hickman to proselytize — no, this Avengers story looks like it’s pushing for a more meaty plot through the use of subtext. It might require a primer because of its lofty ideas, but it’s ambitious, and so far, the sense of mystery is compelling. It’s a higher form of storytelling that ends with a beaten Captain America being sent back to Earth as a message to humanity — Earth’s best has been defeated.

Or in more colloquial terms, “Come at us, bro.”

The urgency of the new threat is matched by Jerome Opena’s pencils that hark back to fantasy posters and Conan the Barbarian covers. Dean White’s flat colors contrast against each other, and the panels rock with epic imagery that still delivers a compelling story even if one were to remove the words from the bubbles. The only gripe would be Captain America’s pudgy chin and the Hulk’s lack of one — though Hulk’s character design might be due to his appearing in this series as an anger-driven monster rather than an intelligent scientist/brute amalgam — but the rest of the book flies so far above what’s expected out of a comic book, that it’s a middling gripe easily overlooked.

If and when Hickman and crew go back to tried and true threats and obstacles, will the audience for this new series be happy with returning to familiar old villains with human origins? The bar is set high, and there’s a saying that could temper expectations — At the top, the only way to go is down. But who’s to say this is the peak of this creative team’s potential?

Now, that’s an idea worth exploring.

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Avengers #1 (2012)
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Words: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: Jerome Opena
Inks: Jerome Opena
Colors:  Dean White
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit

Next Issue: Avengers #2 Review

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