The Avengers #1

I’ve decided to change things up a bit. For a while I tried reading the first thing that interested me on a particular day. Then I went through the Spider-Island story. From there I’ve been reviewing Ultimate Spider-Man. While I am loving the Ultimate run, I do see the need to kind of have some variety. As the old saying goes, you can’t live on bread, or just Spider-Man alone. So with that, I’m going to have a schedule.

  1. Sunday-The Amazing Spider-Man
  2. Monday-Civil War
  3. Tuesday-Age of Apocalypse
  4. Wednesday-Death of Wolverine
  5. Thursday-Ultimate Spider-Man
  6. Friday-Fear Itself
  7. Saturday-The Avengers

This of course will be subject to change. Whether it be boredom or finishing up a particular story line, there will be times I shift to another series or event story. In the end, I think this will give me the variety I want plus more exposure to more writers and artists.

So what is there to say about The Avengers? For one, I really enjoyed how the backbone of the story has stayed pretty consistent throughout the years. There have been changes of personnel and relationships among the group have changed over time but the basic premise for the story has stayed surprisingly consistent. Contrast that with DC Comics titles from this time the you’d be hard pressed to find a story that bears any resemblance to their modern counterparts.

To me this speaks well to the genius of Stan Lee and the other contributors at Marvel. The only reason I single Stan out of course is that he’s pretty much the figure head for the writers and artists that Marvel have employed throughout the years. And for the longest time Stan was the man behind the words in all the comics Marvel put out which, even using the Marvel Method (where Stan would provide an artist a basic story outline, the artist would draw the entire comic, then Stan would furnish the story for the written work), is an amazing feat we won’t see from a major comics publisher again.

So what works in this issue? To me, it boils down to simplicity. A bad guy, Loki, wants to fight Thor, frames the Hulk for a crime he didn’t commit, and inadvertently gets a number of other heroes on his case before he is ultimately defeated. While it goes without saying that you would probably get a much deeper appreciation for the story if you have read the stand alone issues for each of these characters, another wonderful part about The Avengers is that the story for the most part stands alone. Prior knowledge of events that happened in other comics is not needed to enjoy what is happening, yet you will find plenty of editor’s notes indicating which comics in question you can read to find out the back story you may be interested in.

One character I haven’t really gotten used to is The Hulk. I will admit that this is because I grew up on the old Incredible Hulk television show which for my money is still one of the best comic book shows ever made. Since getting back into reading comics, I have found it quite strange to see the Hulk more cantankerous than I remember him to be. And the Hulk talking? Come on. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Hulk in this. Apart from him suddenly joining the team after being hounded by them all issue, he’s a wonderful character that I want to see more of in this story.

The only real complaint I have about this issue is Stan’s penchant for filling the pages up with as much text as possible. I fully appreciate that this story was written at a time where most folks were still used to radios being the main form of entertainment even though by this time radios were pretty much being regulated to a secondary entertainment tool in the home. The story comes across like a radio play. I found myself annoyed at some instances where Stan is describing what is going on when there was no need to do so because the art clearly showed what was going on. Again, this comic was a product of its age. If the comic were written today it would be much different. (As evidenced by this great reimagining from Joe Casey and Phil Noto.) Despite that, the story holds up incredibly well. The flaws for the most part add charm to the story because it is very much the type of feeling you get when a team gets together for the first time.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read. That goes without saying. This issue is one of a few issues in comics history that stand as a true corner stone of what make comics great. While Joss Whedon didn’t follow this comic at all when he created the first Avengers movie, I was surprised at how much of a spiritual remake of the comic that movie was.

The art work is crude by today’s standards but make no mistake, most artists wish they could achieve a tenth of what Jack Kirby created. While images have gotten more streamlined and outfits of our heroes have changed over time, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t say these characters are the same as the ones in the comics today.

Interestingly, you can also say this was the time where the Fantastic Four handed over the mantle of Marvel’s most important team. Spider-Man and to a lesser extent Wolverine and The Punisher, may be the money cows of Marvel. For my money, The Avengers teaming up was the most important act Marvel could have made during this time even though admittedly if it weren’t for a little team at DC called The Justice League, who knows if The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, would have heeded the call and joined together.

Black Widow #17

black widow

One of the first comics on Marvel Unlimited I came across after I sped read through the original Ultimate Spider-Man series was Black Widow. As I have stated before, I LOVE Black Widow. To me, she is the most fascinating character today in the Marvel Universe. Yeah, Scarlett Johansson has done a great job with the character in terms of introducing her to a greater audience but she’s been around for many years.

She got her start as a baddie. She was a Soviet agent that was looking to defeat Iron Man. As luck would have it, thanks to the novelty idea of a woman bad guy, she turns to the side of baseball and apple pie and becomes a force for good. From there she has many, many adventures through the years for SHIELD, The Avengers, and others she’s involved in.

But what I love about that character is she’s so complicated. When she was bad, she wasn’t bad for the sake of being bad. No, she truly believed in her cause for the Soviets until she learned the error of her ways. Since then she’s dealt with guilt. The beauty of the current series from Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto has been their detailing Natasha’s efforts to make amends for her past sins.

Everyone has something in their life that they want to make amends for. Granted, that something for some folks is nothing major. Just a simple matter of an apology or something of the like. For some folks we’re talking about something more than words or simple actions. For a spy, you have to imagine the level of guilt that could sweep through your brain if you actually sat back and thought of all the collateral damage your life has caused.

This series as a whole has been great at personalizing the character. You feel closer to Natasha with the simple scenes of her and her cat than you do when she’s kicking ass out in the field. The movies don’t have the luxury of little character moments that comics and television can give characters. While people like Joss Whedon have done amazing work with Natasha in the movies…

…the personal moments with the character have been lacking to say the least. Yeah, they forced a potential love story between Bruce Banner and Natasha in The Avengers: Age of Ultron but the keyword there is forced. There was no hint whatsoever in previous movies that Natasha and Bruce had any sort of interest in each other. At the end of The Avengers, I sensed that she understood the anger that Bruce went through which allowed her to slide off the attack she went through when he changed into The Hulk but I never got the idea that the man who brutally beat her and almost killed her was suddenly a guy who set her panties afire. Maybe, just maybe, she sees him as a damaged soul just like she sees herself but again, there was no setup for that love story. They had hinted at her being interested in Hawkeye and maybe Captain America. Not The Hulk.

The art work in this series is beautiful. Instead of going the typical over the top super curvy sex symbol that barely resembles a real woman, Natasha Romanov looks real. Her face shows such emotions throughout. When she’s having a vision of her and Matt Murdock on a boat in the middle of nowhere, the pure joy on her face is real. The anger she experiences when she realizes it is a vision is real. The locations where she’s at in this particular issue are real. This is some of my favorite artwork in comics today.

I also liked the fact that she was drawn beautiful but not stereotypical. Like any red blooded American male, I think she’s hot. But there’s more to the character than just her physical appearance. If this story were just meant to showcase page after page of her in sexy outfits and poses, it would be Barb Wire. But Natasha Romanov is very much a real woman in this world. She looks like someone you could actually meet in real life, not the caricature you see in some comics. And to me, this makes Natasha more beautiful than in any other iteration I have seen her in (apart from the movies. Cause come on.)

Bottom Line:

You have to read this comic. If ever there is a perfect marriage of story and art, it is this comic. For all I know, this comic may not go down in history as the greatest comic of all time. And I’m not going to argue that it is necessarily but it is still pretty amazing. It tells a simple story of a woman making amends for her past. While it is set in the world of spies and superheros, her struggle is very much real and very much presented in both word and art as something we all go through. I also love how she is presented in the story. As I wrote this, I showed my wife the cover and some of the art work for this issue and she appreciated that Natasha was presented as a regular woman. One turn off for her in comics and comic book movies has been the treatment of women and rightly so. Women have LONG been given the short end of the stick, if they’ve even been given a part of the stick at all. Take Black Widow in the movies. We have Scarlett Johansson, an actress with incredible range who has been a part of a LOT of great movies over the years, perpetually kept as a side kick in these movies when she has shown that she can carry a movie on her own. You have a movie company that has made every effort to keep her off the marketing for the movie unless it is on a poster in a suggestive pose. What woman could relate to that?

This comic, while set in that world, is something that people, women especially, can relate to. I highly recommend it and like all Marvel Comics today, will be sad when it comes to an end.

Hulk #1

Hulk

Yet another number 1 issue, this time dealing with The Hulk. Marvel as of late it seems have been doing what television has been doing for years and having self contained stories involving their popular characters during a set issue limit. Basically, we’re getting a season involving one story that will come to a close. We’re past the time in Marvel at least where we see issues get to issue 100, 200, or 500.

This starts off with the premise that Bruce Banner has been shot in the head. A group claiming to be SHIELD takes a brain surgeon to operate on him. Turns out this doctor has a history with Bruce since they had gone to college together and he had teased him. That gives the doctor a chance to reminisce on their history together and to ask himself what he could have possibly done to have changed Bruce Banner’s path towards being the Hulk. We then learn that the people we thought were SHIELD are another group altogether looking to use the Hulk as a weapon.

I like the decision the doctor has to make. He realizes that as a doctor he has sworn to protect life at all costs but he also realizes that if the Hulk were manipulated by anyone else he’d be a dangerous weapon that could be used to kill people the world over. The conscience decision that he has to make is a great element of this story.

I also like the fact that what ultimately saves everyone is the actions of someone who had happened to be saved by the Hulk in the past. While the Hulk is certainly guilty of lots of destruction over the years, LOTS of destruction, he still ends up doing the right thing at the end of the day. It was a nice little nod to his past that helped shape the course of this story without having to rely too much on past events.

For the most part I liked how the past is used to service the story at hand. While you do have to have a base knowledge of the Marvel Universe as a whole coming in to simply know some of the basics like The Hulk himself or SHIELD and the members of SHIELD we encounter like Coulson and Maria Hill, this does not stop you from enjoying the story at hand. What I would have liked to see though was a little more explanation as to how and why Bruce Banner was shot. I have no clue as to what was going on so I did feel a little lost at the start of the story.

The artwork was pretty solid. The locations appeared quite small which did hold back from the believe-ability of the story at hand. It’s my biggest complaints with comics as a whole. The story needs to feel big. It needs to feel like it is taking place in a real location. Yeah, not all stories need Sergio Leone type of locations to be included in it but it does need to feel real. The main location for this story, the hospital room where the Hulk was being operated upon, felt like a set which, hey, I’ve watched enough television over the years to suspend disbelief but it did throw me a bit.

Bottom Line:

This is a good start. You do feel a little lost if you don’t know some of the hows and whys as to how the Hulk was shot but that shouldn’t take away your enjoyment of the this issue. A strong majority of the issue dealing with back story is used to enhance the story at hand. I give this story a strong 6.

The biggest issue most folks have with comics is the sheer volume of stories told over the years. You don’t know where to start. You also fall into the trap of starting at a certain point only to find out the greatest friend a comic book writer ever had, Captain Ret-Con, can change elements of stories that you may like, such as writers deciding Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker should no longer be married. (Oops. Spoiler.) Much like the television show Doctor Who as well as the mother of all great modern television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, comics today, mainly the stories coming from companies with characters who have been around for many years, should focus on having a series be a finite set of issues, a season involving one story if you will. The next season can reference what happens in the previous season if it wishes but letting a comic line for a character like the Hulk go past fifty issues at the very most will just intimidate people and keep them from diving into the story. I am not saying back story should be done away with. As was done in this story, the history of characters can be used to great effect to further the story at hand. The thing is the average reader should not have to take a college course just to get a primer on the action at hand.

The art work, while average, does not really disappoint. It’s not sloppy like some comics like to do today which is nice. My biggest issue has to do with the locations in the story. It comes across like it is being filmed or drawn if you will on a sound stage. I like depth in the scenery of my stories. For that, I have to give the artwork a 6 as well. It was good, it served its purpose, but it is easily forgettable.