Travelling Man's Blog


Review: Avengers Issue 1 by Travelling Man

avengers issue 12Written by Mark Waid

Art by Adam Kubert

Colour art by Sonia Oback

Letters by VC’s Cory Petit

Cover by Alex Ross

Published by Marvel

‘You’re a Jerk!’

Written by Mark Waid

Art by Mahmud Asrar

Colour art by David Mccaig

Letters by VC’s Cory Petit

£3.60

 

With a team like that on the book, not to mention a team like this IN the book, most of you will be inclined to pick this up without any words from me.

Go do it, it’s GREAT.

Need convincing anyway? Okay. Waid gets these characters on a level few other authors do. The absolutely killer cold open confirms that, but it’s the interplay between Sam and Tony that will sell you. One is a man wearing the shoes of a mentor he’s estranged from, the other is…well…kind of broke right now. Both of them are starting from zero and Waid cleverly sets up a playful friendship between the two that’s very different to that between Steve and Tony. It’s closer in tone to the Ollie/Hal ‘Hard travelling heroes’ era from DC. Two guys, both with lots to prove, both with little to rely on but each other.

That need for these characters to do something bigger than them looks to be the foundation stone of this new team. Along with that other classic Avengers motivation; crisis management. Waid cleverly folds the aftermath of Secret Wars into the story, giving the characters a motivation, foe and serious problems all in the space of a few pages. He also hands us the single best Iron Man suitup sequence you’ll see in comics this year. All of which is presented with precision, subtle colouring by Oback and almost casually impressive detail by Kubert. This really is a ludicrously good looking book with plenty of narrative muscle under the hood.

But the story that stays with you is the backup. On paper it’s deceptively simple; Nova tracks a monster to Jersey City, Ms Marvel helps out, they bicker. What makes it brilliant is the way Waid refuses to back down from the hormonal apocalypse that is adolescence. These are arguably the two sweetest natured characters in the Marvel universe right now and they do almost nothing but piss each other off even as they’re frantically trying to do ANYTHING ELSE. It’s an incredibly accurate account of teenage horror, and the chemistry between the two is all the sweeter for how vastly bad they both are at it. Plus Asrar’s art is just flat out stunning. It’s got an open, friendly quality to it but with clever character work that Mccaig’s colour work really helps bring out and Petit’s letters land with crushing accuracy. You will cringe at how badly these kids mess up around each other. I certainly did.

Another strong entry in the relaunched Avengers titles, this has buckets of heart, a ton of humour and gets a lot done in its first issue. Highly recommended.



Review: Invincible Iron Man Issue 1 by Travelling Man

invincible iron man issue 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by David Marquez

Colour by Justin Ponsor

Letters and Production by VC’s Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel

£2.85

 

Tony Stark can build anything. Tony Stark can fix anything. Tony Stark can own anything. Tony Stark’s a superhero, an avenger, a Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist.

He’s also kind of an asshole.

And he’s juuuuust realized that.

One of the first books out of the post Secret Wars gate, Invincible Iron Man’s best joke is baked into its title and premise. Iron Man is invincible, especially with the all new, massively mission adaptable all-in-one armour Tony’s built. Tony on the other hand is something of a hot mess. But he’s trying, and for the first time in a while he’s trying in the good way.

Bendis and Stark are one of those perfect matches. Bendis has adapted his talky style over the years but he’s still wordy. Putting him on a character who loves the sound of his own voice is a masterstroke and his Tony is instantly rather sweet. This is Stark reimagined as the start of that Mitchell and Webb sketch with the Nazis; ‘are we…the baddies?’ turned into ‘Am i…a jerk?’. You honestly feel quite sorry for him, which makes the moments of vintage Stark playboy-ery all the more jarring and neatly spotlights the most interesting aspects of his character. Tony’s both self centred and has almost no sense of self, always talking but rarely listening to himself. Now, at last, he’s finally getting to the point where he’s not only listening, but not liking what he’s been saying. It’s a subtle, internalized hero’s journey and a good solid foundation to build a book like this on.

Bendis’ script is great but it’s Marquez, Ponsor and Cowles who put the book over the top. Marquez’s clean, angular style makes the new suit and Friday, Tony’s wonderfully sarcastic new AI, really stand out but is stronger on subtle character beats. There’s some wonderful awkwardness to the ‘date’ scene as well as the best Thor joke ever. Plus the final page hits with exactly the pulpy glee it needs to, with Cowles in particular seeming to have a lot of fun. Ponsor impresses throughout, especially in that closing scene, balancing holographic characters, armoured characters, mayhem and comedy with equal ease and giving the book a consistent, subtle colour palate.

This is fun and I can’t think of many recommendations higher than that. It’s a logical starting point for Tony and a book that does new things with him, both as a character and as a comic, very well. The double page grids of panels take a little getting used to, but as long as you start top left and keep going until you run of comic before dropping down a level you’ll be fine. Witty, surprisingly sweet and still full of armoured face punching. Welcome back, Tony.



Review: Civil War Issues 2 to 4 by Travelling Man



civil war 2Written by Charles Soule

Pencils by Leinil Francis Yu

Inks by Gerry Alanguilan

Colours by Sunny Gho

Letters by Joe Sabino

Published by Marvel

£2.85 per issue

With one issue to go, this remains one of the real standouts of the Secret Wars event. That’s partly due to the fertile background material the story draws from. Civil War, the occasional horrifically bodged note aside (Here’s a major black character! Who we’ve now killed! Why are you not applauding?) remains one of the most interesting premises Marvel have ever run with and Soule clearly relishes playing with it here.

civil war issue 3The big reason though is just how damn good this team is. The book has a remarkab;y consistent look throughout, and a big part of this is down to Yu, Alanguilan and Gho. Together they create a world that’s not a hundred miles away from Fury Road. This is the Marvel universe as blanched desert with two warlords fighting over the last resources left. Neither knows why the war’s still going on, neither can trust their opponent and neither is prepared to back down. It’s Shakespeare with added punches, Greek tragedy with extra power armour. And every single beat, especially the horrific site of the massed armies going to war, is brought to painful detail by the art team. Yu’s detail heavy style, Gho’s hot desert colours and Alanguilans subtle inks all combine to create a book that never looks less than amazing.

Thanks to Soule, it reads brilliantly too. This is a calm, assured story that cleverly shows how Tony and Steve are alike. Both send agents into the others’ territory to investigate, both are tired of the war and both are crippled with guilt. The way the two men handle that guilt is the meat of the book and paints Steve in particular as an overtly tragic figure, especially in issue 4. It also sets up some interesting perspectives on their senior staff, especially a tired, principled, angry Carol Danvers and an unusually bloodthirsty Bucky Barnes.

There is also, of course, an absolutely kick ass She-Hulk plot. Soule’s fondness for the character is reflected in some brilliant touches, and Jen gets the line of the series. Trust me you’ll know it when you see it.

civil war issue 4Sabino’s letters close the circuit, giving the dialogue an extra clip and urgency that raises the book even further. An immensely strong note in the surprisingly successful Secret Wars, Civil War doesn’t just tell a story, it makes an old crossover, and a new one, better. Excellent stuff.



Review: Civil War Issue 1 by Travelling Man

civil war issue 1Written by Charles Soule

Pencils by Leinil Francis Yu

Inks by Gerry Alanguilan

Colours by Sunny Gho

Letters by VC’s Joe Sabino

Cover by Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho

Published by Marvel

£2.60

 

Six years ago, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark went to war. The Superhero Registration Act and the Fifty States Initiative combined to promise a brave new world of licensed, government trained and protected superheroes. But that world’s dark side was too much for Rogers and civil war broke out between the Avengers. It was brought to a halt, originally, by Rogers realizing the damage they were causing and surrendering.

But that was before Battleworld…

 

If there was a Marvel event made for Charles Soule to play with, it was Civil War. The fascinating legal issues that the original series raised (And, towards the end, shoved to one side) are ample fodder for Soule’s legal experience and detail-oriented writing and this sits with Carol Corps and Marvel Zombies as one of the best Secret Wars series to date. The reason for that is, on the script side, due to Soule’s exploration of the effects of deadlock and what happens when a war doesn’t so much end as stagger to a pause.

There are two scenes here, very clearly designed as bookends, that tell you just how finely balanced this world is. They both feature a young superhuman exhibiting their powers and being talked down by a member of the armed forces. On the Blue’s side, run by Captain America, it’s stature. On The Iron’s side, run by Tony Stark, it’s Carol Danvers. Both scenes are gentle, kind moments that see veterans pass their wisdom onto the young. Both scenes finish with hanging questions. Both scenes make it clear neither side is blameless. It’s a subtle, effective storytelling technique that echoes up and down the book. From the bridge where the peace talks are held to the different heroes holding positions in each army, Soule continually plays with expectation. There’s a cameo from one character that I was particularly happy to see and a take on Spider-Man that honours the approach taken in the original series but, bluntly, works much better than that ever did. It’s an immensely clever, heartfelt script that never loses sight of the people in the middle of these events, or the price they pay for being there.

The art takes each one of those themes and elements and builds on it. Yu’s gravelly precision is exactly the style needed here and the two generals in particular look great; Rogers a mass of green fatigues and anger, Stark still in a suit but carrying a lot more grey hair. All the characters look like they’ve been through the wringer but all of them also look like they’ve evolved. This is what the world would look had the Civil War ended disastrously and the pain of that battle is etched on every face Yu shows us. Alanguilan’s inks add to that tight, weary feel and give the world a slightly desolate, blasted look that suits it to a tee. Finally, Gho’s colour work not only drives that home but gives each character a unique signature. Rogers’ uniform, Tony’s suit, the armour worn by their forces. All of it feels lived in and worn and real. Finally, Sabino’s lettering deals with a lot of information with absolute ease, keeping you in the middle of the two armies and the two immense egos driving them.

 

This feels like a Greek tragedy with added punching. It’s an immensely successful, confident open to what was arguably one of the stickiest wickets in the entire Secret Wars run, raising serious questions about all the characters we meet and setting up a hell of a mystery. If you were looking for a Secret Wars title to try, try this one.



Series Overview: She-Hulk by Travelling Man


She Hulk

Written by Charles Soule

Art by Javier Pulido and Ron Wimberly (Issues 5 and 6)

Colours by Muntsa Vicente

Lettering by VC’s Clayton Cowles

Covers by Kevin Wada

Published by Marvel

 

The three best titles Marvel put out right now are Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel and She-Hulk. Each one has found a different way to do the same thing; take a character who either has no history or one defined by others and turn them into a richly defined, fun, lead. In each case they’ve done this by finding a new perspective on the character. For Ms Marvel it’s the collision between her family, her powes and her faith. For Captain Marvel it’s the pragmatic compassion of a military mindset coupled with the test pilot’s desperate need to pick a fight with the world and for She-Hulk?

It’s because she’s a lawyer. And so is Charles Soule.

That crossover expertise gives the book a feel unlike any other in the Marvel universe, and one that fills a vital role. Jen’s cases repeatedly show us not only the human cost of the Marvel universe but what it’s like to live there. The first issue sees her forced to go into business for herself when she realizes she’s a political hire at her old firm for example, and that constant need to prove herself as an individual instead of an Avenger drives the book. It also gives her the same common touch as Kamala Khan and Carol Danvers. All three are characters who have to work for a living and all three are both tougher, and kinder, than many of their compatriots as a result.

That’s reflected with Jen over and over through the book’s run. The first issue sees her deal with an Intellectual Property dispute that takes in Iron Man’s technology, a failed supervillain and a potential PR disaster for Stark Industries. And she solves it, bot through punching things (Well, not just through punching things) but because she’s both the smartest and most fundamentally decent person in the room.

That theme continues throughout the book too. Later stories see her go to war with Doctor Doom to help his teenage son decide if he wants to defect, help a friend deal with some potentially deadly miniaturization technology and try and understand the deeply unusual lawsuit she’s involved in. Every story is defined by three things; characters, the law and how both interact in the Marvel universe. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be dry, difficult stuff. With Soule at the helm, the only books Marvel publish that are this light on their feet are, you guessed it, Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel. Time and again, he defines Jen not just as a superheroine or a lawyer but as a person. She’s compassionate, direct and at times desperately unsure of herself. One of the book’s strongest elements is her friendship with Patsy Walker. Hellcat is one of Jen’s best friends, extremely impetuous and, subtly, feels more than a little overshadowed by her. The way the two women talk about this, and work through it, is one of the book’s best elements. Jen’s always willing to learn and is refreshingly honest about knowing when she needs help. She needs Patsy, and it takes them both a little while to realize that. Similarly, a pitch perfect cameo from Daredevil, that sees Marvel’s two best lawyers hanging out on the Golden Gate, is both a note perfect character beat and a neat set up for the next big plot. This is an utterly confident book, Soule balancing Jen’s two jobs, her life and an examination of how law works in a universe as chaotic as Marvel’s with total ease.

The art is just as on point, with Javier Pulido’s graceful, burly style a perfect fit for this character. There’s a light touch to every line but each character has real weight and strength to them. It’s a little Kirbyesque without slavishly imitating him and meshes with Soule’s scripts to ensure all the book’s jokes, and emotional beats, land. Wimberly’s work is very different in feel but shares the spacious, open feel that Pulido defines. Vicente’s colours match the slightly poppy stylings of both very well and help give every scene impact whilst Cowles’ lettering is a perfect transmission medium for Soules’ dialogue.

The end result is my favourite book of 2014. She-Hulk is a perfect mix of humour, action, intelligence and wit that takes a character that’s languished since the Dan Slott days and raises her to new heights. This is a definitive run that will define She Hulk for years to come. It’s also colossal fun from top to bottom and even inspired her new theme tune. Give it a try. After all, you never know when you might need a lawyer. Especially a superhuman one…



Review: Iron Patriot Issue 1 by Travelling Man


 

Written by Ales Kot

Art by Garry Brown

Colours by Jim Charalampidis

Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel

£2.85 or £1.99 with that Stark Industries SuperCardGo! Of yours

 

Iron Patriot is a name with lots of connotations, none of them good. Originally used as Norman Osborn’s identity during the period where the Dark Avengers were active, the name is synonymous with oppression, arrogance, fear. Jim Rhodes is planning on taking the name, and the heroic identity behind it, back.

Ales Kot is one of the best writers working in western comics right now. His work on Zero is exemplary, his Secret Avengers run is off to a great start and everything he’s produced to date is intelligent, challenging and shot through with colossal narrative confidence. Iron Patriot is different, in one, single, respect. This is a book built from the ground up.

In one issue Kot gets to the heart of why Rhodey is a strong, vital character in his own right. It’s comparable to the approach taken with Sam Wilson in The Winter Soldier. Both men are highly trained, experienced soldiers defined by their compassiona as much as their martial ability. The fact that Rhodey’s family is part of the book really drives that home, with his conversations with his father providing the emotional core of the story. He’s a good man, raised by a good man, but neither of them are perfect. The fact Rhodey keeps trying and has absolutely no ability to back down makes him one of the most admirable, and sympathetic, figures in the Marvel universe. It’s a pleasure to see him written so well.

On the art side of things, Garry Brown excels in the quiet conversational sequences in particular. He’s just as at home with action too and there’s some really fun action beats with the armour. Charalampidis’ colour work is absolutely on the money as well, especially in the ‘in helmet’ sequences and one striking underwater panel. Just as the suit is an extension of Rhodey, the art is an extension of the script; versatile, hard working, shot through with character and warmth.

Rounded out by yet another impressive turn by Cowles, this is a book that wears its heart on its sleeve, or, perhaps, on the chestplate of its armour. Political, clever, grounded and humane it’s a welcome addition to the Marvel universe and a neat expansion of the Iron Man mythos. Highly recommended.



Review: Loki, Agent of Asgard Issue 1 by Travelling Man

Written by Al Ewing

Art by Lee Garbett

Colour art by Nolan Woodard

Lettering and production by VC’s Clayton Cowles

Published by Marvel

 

Good LORD this is fun. Hitting the ground at a dead run, Al Ewing’s take on everyone’s favourite Hiddlestonian Mischief God is shot through with energy, verve, great jokes and pure, abject joy. Ewing’s been on an absolute tear for a while now, working on the best Dredd story in at least a decade, doing great things with the Mighty Avengers and just announced as the writer on one of the new Doctor Who titles. He’s an immensely gifted, hardworking writer who I had the honour of seeing start out. Seeing what he’s doing now, is, if anything, even better.

 

The premise here is lovely; Loki is now an agent of the All-Mother, tasked with deniable work for Asgard. He, it being Loki, has restrictions placed on him and, it being Loki, works around them with style and aplomb. Most importantly, he finds absolute joy in his work. This is the happiest Loki’s been in a long time and it comes across as a sort of just-barely-straight-faced exuberance. He’s on the right side, doing the right things he’s just…having a little fun along the way. It’s completely charming and Ewing, being as good as he is, uses it as a contrast to the very dark things going on under the plot. The two elements of Loki; exuberant sort of adventurer and black hearted sorcerer look set to be the core of the book and based on this issue, it’s going to be essential reading.

The art is absolutely top notch too, and Garbett’s Thor is especially good, a surly, hulking mass of Hemsworthian grump and presence. In fact, he and Ewing get to play with the entire Avengers roster here and it’s difficult to say what’s funnier; the effortless way Loki subdues them or the little touches like Hulk’s awful haircut.

Rounded out by great, atmospheric colour work by Woodard and the always reliable Cowles, this is a delight. It’s fast paced, clever, does about four things at once and is crammed with character, humour and sheer flat out fun. One of the best books Marvel have put out in ages and worth it for the single best Hawkeye joke since ‘Okay…I know this looks bad.’ Unmissably good.

 



Review: New Avengers Inhumanity by Travelling Man

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Simone Bianchi

Colours by Adriano Dell’Alpi

Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel

£2.85

The Infinity War is over, but its consequences are still being felt. On Earth 23099 the illuminati meet to discuss the coming dimensional incursion. On Earth 616, the illuminati are walked through how to make a ‘lens’ to view other universes. They are about to witness one end.
Hickman’s epic, multi-strand approach to the Avengers has incorporated the illuminati to great effect for a while now. He uses them to discuss the big societal issues that superheroes create in a way very few other writers have done and, crucially, he’s made the illuminati fun again. Here we see two versions, ours and ‘their’s’ and the differences are immense. Our illuminati are driven, often ruthless but fundamentally concerned with their actions. Their illuminati are driven, direct, brutal and doomed.

Hickman continually throws the idea of what constitutes heroism under the spotlight as we see Earth 23099 get dismantled with contemptuous ease despite the best efforts of their heroes. It’s a neat echoing of the ticking clock that’s been in New Avengers from the start of Hickman’s run. He also gets some nicely handled dark humour from Black  Swan and also explores the idea she may be the variable that saves this world. They’ll need all the help they can get too, and this issue shows what’s waiting if they fail. The Black Priests are a terrifying, almost contemptuous threat but even as we see what they’re capable of we get an idea of what else is out there. The Mapmakers, the Ebony Kings, all shining monstrosities watching us come closer, universe spanning monsters all waiting for the chance to consume the Earth. It’s a grim, almost Lovecraftian approach that’s helped beautifulky by Bianchi’s spidery artwork and the feverish colours of Dell’Alpi. Special praise to Caramagna for the incredibly creepy way the Black Priests’ speech patterns are represented.

This isn’t an essential chapter of Avengers by any means but it is a very interesting one that, I suspect, sets the tone for what’s to come. The Infinity war was the start. What’s coming is much, much worse and only the illuminati can save us. Whether they can do that, and avoid damnation, looks set to be one of the dramatic engines of the next phase of Avengers comics. I can’t wait.



Review: Avengers: Endless Wartime by Travelling Man

Written by Warren Ellis

Illustrated by Mike McKone

Cover by Jason Keith and Rain Beredo

Letters by VC’s Chris Eliopoulos

Book Design by Rian Hughes

Published by Marvel

£14.99

The first in a new series of original graphic novels, Endless Wartime is one of those books that shows off everything that works best about both the creators and the characters.

On the creative side of things, this is Warren Ellis on top form. A lot of Ellis’ favorite tics and subjects turn up (mortality, world war 2, the no longer quite human, good natured and massively articulate bickering) but they’re always in harness to the story. There’s no grandstanding here, and considering this is a book where half an island explodes in the opening pages, that’s quite an achievement. On the art side of things, Mike McKone is given a chance to show off not only his wonderfully burly design work but how good he is with characters. Make no mistake, this is a full cast Avengers story and McKone brings something distinctive to each one. His Banner and Hawkeye are especially great as is the sheer scale of some of the later action sequences. Finally, Eliopoulos’ lettering is as precise and expressive as anything he’s done and Hughes’ design work is elegant and somehow minimalist whilst still being information heavy. Make no mistake, this book could not read or look better than it does.

Over on the fictional side of the street, things are just as impressive. Fundamentally this is a story about the two oldest Avengers; Captain America and Thor, and an event that ties their pasts together. It’s cleverly handled as we see the two approach a problem from very different directions at similar times, only for it to resurface in the present day. This leads to a feel that’s very close to that of the Avengers movie, but still takes some serious left turns that mark it out as a piece with its own voice.

For a start, this version of Cap is still deeply unsettled by his presence in the modern day. Ellis portrays him as a good man but an uncomfortable one, and he clings to the good-natured inter-service rivalry he has with Captain Marvel like a drowning man clinging to driftwood. This Cap is principled, upright, honest and just a little hypocritical. Logan is under used here, and the book is frankly better for it, but his appearances are almost all confrontations with Cap. The two world war 2 veterans have very different views on how to get things done, and the script cleverly folds that conflict into the central plot. It also does it in a way that means neither man is right, or wrong, enough for a definitive answer. Logan has no problem killing. Cap has every problem killing when he perceives it as unnecessary. Both men are tested by the events of the story.

Elsewhere, Black Widow and Hawkeye get plenty of fun stuff to do as well, with Hawkeye pretty clearly the luckless slugger of Fraction’s extraordinary title rather than the Renner-ized, dead eyed killer. Hawkeye is the engine that drives most of the jokes but his best scene is his last, whilst Widow is a fiercely competent woman with no compunctions about reminding the living legend and the God just how mortal she and the others are.

Tony Stark, in the meantime, is…Tony Stark. This is, again, clearly influenced by the movie version and again works very well. It’s also a nice circular moment to see the movie version, itself influenced by the classic Ellis story Extremis, in turn influencing another comic. Ellis’ trademark dialogue sounds great coming from Tony Stark in particular and he also gives the former weapons designer moments of real dramatic weight. Stark still has a slight hint of the debutante to him at times and this story knocks those edges off with casual violence. This Tony Stark is still learning and, it turns out, he too has a moment from the past that he’s working through. Many of the books’ best scenes are just the Avengers talking to one another and Stark has one of the absolute best. The line ‘I react to his ghost badly’ is one that’s still in my head over a week after reading the book.

Weirdly though, the breakout characters here are Thor and Captain Marvel. Ellis has a unique handle on the God of Thunder that makes him an absolute pleasure to read. This Thor has moved past the boisterous warrior thug of his youth and finds himself haunted not just by the past but by that younger self. He wants to be better, wants to be the king his people deserve but doesn’t quite believe he can be. It’s a subtle take on the character and one that really lets him shine. Likewise, Captain Marvel is given some major moments here and positioned solidly in the Avengers’ big leagues. She’s endlessly calm, endlessly resourceful and has precisely no idea how to back down, getting some particularly impressive moments in the closing sequence. I’ve long been a fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s take on the character and that’s just who we get here; a fiercely competent, professional pilot and soldier who grounds the team even as she helps them fly.

This is a tremendously good book. It places the Avengers in a position that’s both unique and stylistically in keeping with where the movies are going and gives every single one of its creators and characters a moment to shine. Marvel couldn’t have picked a better launch for their OGN line and if you’re an Avengers fan, you couldn’t pick a one-shot book better than this.



Review: Avengers Assemble Volume 1-Science Bros by Travelling Man

‘Science Bros’

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Stefano Caselli (Issues 9-11)

Pencils by Pete Woods (Issues 12-13)

Inks and finishes by Scott Hanna (Issues 12-13)

Breakdowns by Mark Bagley (Issue 13)

 

Annual 1

Written by Christos Gage

Art by Tomm Coker with Mike Mayhew, Mike Deodato, Luke Ross & Valentine De Landro

Colour Art by Daniel Freedman

 

Yes this is a collection named after the ‘Science Bros’ meme that sprung up post-Avengers. And yes, that is a selling point. Also yes there are many glorious things behind that link, some of which may not be safe for work. Tread lightly, for you tread on your office’s IT policy. Or something.

You get three stories here, two by DeConnick and one by Gage. ‘Science Bros’, the first one, is an absolute joy. It opens with a gag so pitch perfect you can see Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo doing it, as Tony addresses ‘definitely not the TED conference’ and sings the praises of science along the top of the page.

Along the bottom, Banner talks to five bored students about how doomed we all are.

A bet is made which is of course never an idea that ends badly. A joint colleague of the Avengers’ biggest brains has gone off line and Stark and Banner agree to race there. Whoever’s team gets there first wins. The loser has to walk from the Baxter Building to Avengers Tower and back.

Nude.

This is immense fun, and DeConnick writes inter-Avenger banter like no one else on the planet. The sequence where they’re picking teams and Thor good naturedly messes with Tony is especially great. However, the flip side of the story is a well-handled and very dark story about the sort of scientist that Stark and Banner could be but aren’t. This is a story about ambition and greed and what happens when they’re allowed to run loose. It’s nicely handled, the gears shifting between the two tones with tremendous ease. There’s some great action beats too, especially a fight that starts with Cap battling ninjas on a plane in mid-flight and finishes with him jumping out of that plane as Captain Marvel races to catch him. This is big scale, big screen action but with Caselli turning in fantastic art and  DeConnick at the helm it’s also entirely character driven. These people are the best in the world, and they trust each other completely. That undertone of respect gives the book weight but, given that this is the writer who gave the world Princess Sparklefists, there’s always a well-timed joke. As a result it feels like the most human of the Avengers books and that carries across into the other stories.

 

And yes someone gets naked. And no I’m not telling.

 

‘The Widow’s Ledger’ sees a near total change in tone and cast. Focussing, again, on an element of Avengers (Widow’s ‘I got red on my ledger’ line), it opens with Natasha Romanov still working as a killer for the KGB. She takes a shot, downs a target and thinks no more of it. Until she gets a marker in the post and realizes there’s a debt to be paid. Widow, it turns out, sent markers to the families of the people whose deaths haunt her. They can call those markers in at any time and she’ll do whatever she needs to do to try and make it right.

What follows is again a two level affair, with Widow, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye heading to Russia to clear the debt. Again, DeConnick’s character work sparkles and I could honestly read entire issues of just those three talking. However, there’s emotional heft to the story too. Their investigation leads them to the sewers beneath Omsk and the discovery of just what’s down there. DeConnick combines real life, and horrific, drug krokodil with a fairly traditional monster story to great effect, especially in the closing pages. It’s not quite the equal of the first story but DeConnick writes Widow particularly well, and shows us just how damaged and guilt-ridden Natasha is without ever expressing it out loud. The story lives and dies in the final scenes though, where the true extent of Widow’s heroic need to atone is shown and we see another character in a very different light. All of this is carried effortlessly by Scott Hanna’s precision character work and breakdowns by the legendary Mark Bagley.

The first Avengers Assemble annual closes the book and sees another shift in rosters on and off the page. Christos Gage’s story is focused almost entirely on The Vision. Gage, like DeConnick, is a character writer first and foremost and that’s certainly true here. He combines the increasingly erratic, tragic Iron Man villain Sunturion with a corporate espionage story and the Vision’s own search for a greater connection with humanity to huge effect. Vision’s always been an iconic Avenger and he’s especially well served here; cold but not distant, concerned but not emotional. The contrast between him and a third-stringer like Sunturion is especially well handled and the ending is sweet, honest and ties the book into the wider Avengers-verse. All of which is presented in the deep reds and deeper shadows of Coker, Mayhew, Deodato, Ross, De Landro and Freedman’s art.

 

The Avengers books, as I say, are on a tear at the moment and this is a perfect place to start, especially for new readers. The characters and situations will feel familiar to fans of the movie but the creative teams expand them out into the comic Marvel universe with tremendous skill. It’s a hugely entertaining, fun, sweet trio of stories that’s as good an advert for what Marvel do best as anything on the market now.

 

And, also, Science Bros. How could you pass this up?




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