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Roundtable Review: ‘Avengers Prime’ #1

ComicsAlliance writers Laura Hudson, Chris Sims, Caleb Goellner, David Brothers, and David Uzumeri sit down for a roundtable discussion about the newly released “Avengers Prime” #1. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

David U: AVENGERS PRIME! The metaphorical Bifrost bridge between Siege and the Heroic Age. Written by Marvel mastermind Brian Bendis, with art by inseparable pencil/ink team Alan Davis and Mark Farmer with colors by Javier Rodriguez. In other words, this book is gorgeous. It serves the function of a sort of modern version of “Civil War: The Confession” — clearing up the arguments between characters — but while that was a low-key conversational issue, the Steve/Tony/Thor reconciliation takes place in the context of a cosmic adventure. The basic concept: After the Siege of Asgard, Heimdal’s observatory yanks Steve, Tony and Thor to elsewhere in the Nine Realms. Big Three vs. Lord of the Rings ensues.

Laura: And we begin in the ashes of Asgard. “Thor, tell us what you need and you will have it.”

Laura: That’s generous. He should ask for a pony.

Chris: Guys, I’m about to shock the world. Brace yourselves.

Laura: *braces*

David U: I have a feeling you’re not about to shock me.

Chris S: This was PRETTY AWESOME.David U: Knew it! I’d, for the sake of posterity, like to quote myself on Twitter this morning: “I think even @theisb will like ‘Avengers Prime’.”

David B: It was aight. I didn’t get awesome out of this.

Laura: It was ok. For someone who’s supposed to be as good as dialogue as Bendis, the Tony/Steve confrontation felt pretty by the numbers.

Chris: No, you guys, I really liked it. All of my usual problems with Bendis — the dialogue and the pacing especially — are actually done well here.

Caleb: This comic was old school, in a good way. Like, it felt like the adventure stories I read as a kid.

Chris: Exactly, Caleb!

David U: I thought getting the argument out of the way at the beginning was great. Like, here we go – here’s Steve vs. Tony, here’s the basic argument, here’s Thor trying to be “Dudes, dudes, let’s catch a beer.” Here’s what you need to know. AND NOW: STEVE ROGERS VERSUS A BAR OF GOBLINS.

Chris: In that opening scene, my actual thought was “oh brother, here we go again. More talking.” But unlike a lot of stuff, it addressed something that needed to be addressed, and then moved on and set up a really great problem for them to deal with. Totally old school, totally great. Also, Alan Davis!

David B: My first thought is that Alan Davis is always worth a look. This is a good looking book. Alan Davis and Mark Farmer are a classic and genuinely great duo, and Javier Rodriguez’s colors are on point. Eliopolous’s lettering is great, too.

Laura: I mean, I don’t have a problem with the fact that they argued — they had to, eventually. It just felt… rote. They were arguing because they had to and they just walked through it.

David B: I agree with Laura. Haven’t they had this argument before?

David U: Not since 2006, I don’t think.

Caleb: I think the point was that this isn’t the same Tony Stark exactly, and he’s brainwiped, so he said something that set Steve off.

Chris: It’s true that this argument doesn’t really bring anything to the table, but at the same time, it’s their old argument.

Laura: Which is fine, but if they’re going to have it again, it had better be dynamic, and it wasn’t. It’s like anything in comics — if you want to show me the same thing over and over, that’s fine, but you had better make me glad to see it more than once.

Chris: I really think that’s on purpose. You’re supposed to get the “Here we go again…” vibe, but then Thor cuts it off and we get on with the adventure. Maybe that’s giving Bendis too much credit (more than I usually give him, anyway), but whether it was on purpose or not, I really liked how it played out.

David U: Laura, if that argument WEREN’T there – just random question – if this were a hardcover you picked up, wouldn’t you feel confused as to why they’re angry with each other?

Laura: If I were a new comics reader, I’d still be very confused. It doesn’t give enough context for someone with no context, either.

David U: I mean, I took it almost as recap more than resolution. “Civil liberties!” “My armor!” “Dudes, let’s go do something productive.”

Laura: Yeah, it was a recap — exactly. It felt more like a recap than a conversation, or a moment that I was really experiencing. And you know, we can totally have recaps. Write a paragraph and slap it on the first page. That’s cool.

Chris: David, do you think that might be a summary of what the Heroic Age is all about? “Enough with the Civil War.” 30 years ago, it would’ve been a footnote: “For more on why Cap and Shellhead are cheesed off, check out recent issues of TALES TO MILLARSTONISH! — Smilin’ Stan and/or Rascally Roy!”

David B: Maybe it was Avengers being set after this that made it feel so boring. We’ve already seen them bring this argument up and kinda sorta reconcile.

David U: I think the timing is really questionable, Dave, I agree.

Laura: I approve of these as plot points, for sure — narrative choices that move us from one place to the next. My problem is with execution, but maybe I’m asking too much. Ultimately, whatever: They clear the decks (I guess? But I’d bet money they have this conversation yet again) and then there’s a giant cosmic tornado.

David U: The thing is, I enjoyed the conversation. Honestly, I read it a week ago when it was a preview, and it felt long coming for me — this is the first post-Civil War conversation between these two. And one of them doesn’t even remember Civil War! But then again, I’ve always been a fan of Bendis’s “superhero boardroom” (Was it Wolk who coined this?) style. And maybe most important, Steve and Tony’s word balloons in that argument never obscured Davis’s totally awesome art.

David B: I like that style, but it didn’t work here as well as it did, say, when Daredevil was getting called out by his friends in a city park.

Laura: No, I changed my mind. I’m not asking too much. If Bendis is going to decompress stories to the degree that he does, the focus ends up being very concentrated on the experience of these moments and these conversations. And if that’s the way you choose to go, they’d better be worthwhile. If the majority of the story is breakneck action moving you from plot point to plot point instead of dialogue, and you’re really packing it in, I’d be much more inclined to score you on those plot points. The reverse is also true.

David B: I don’t think you’re asking too much at all. Especially considering that this is a bimonthly miniseries.

Chris: I really disagree. If this conversation had gone on one panel longer, I would’ve been sick of it, but as it stands, I’m just ready for it to end. But at the same time, I’m a jaded Marvel reader, so…

David U: Honestly, I agree with your point there — that the moments had better be worth it — but to me, I thought they were. Steve just suddenly being a dick about Tony’s armor felt totally natural, Tony’s reaction did, the entire WELL LETS YELL AT EACH OTHER until Thor — who wasn’t around during Civil War to say shut up, that’s why this works!!!! — says “hey, can’t we do something else?” Like, we had a little mini-Civil War brewing, and then the Odinson goes “Guys. Guys.” and moves on. It shows, to an extent, why Civil War could have only occurred without Thor. Also, it shows how, to an extent, Thor’s friendship binds Tony and Steve together. Haven’t you ever been friends with someone where it really only works when someone else is around?

Chris S: You know what occurs to me? Laura and I are Cap and Tony. Uzumeri’s Thor.

Chris S: Right now. And everyone reading this is like “Can we please get on with the review?”

Laura: Are you Cap or Tony?

Chris S: I think you’re Tony, because you’re less likely to remember what you did last year. #sickburn

David U: I am perfectly comfortable with being Thor in ANY metaphor.

Laura: Does anyone want to break down the Asgardian history of the Rainbow Bridge that somehow turns into a dimensional portal?

Chris: Bifrost is the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard to Midgard! This is maybe the third or fourth time it’s been broken. It is also, according to Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, a miracle.

Laura: All I’m learning from Google about the Rainbow Bridge right now is that it’s some kind of pet memorial service.

Caleb: The broken Rainbow Bridge formed DC’s Lantern Corps. And it tastes like Skittles.

Chris S: The thing is, Bifrost doesn’t actually lead to the other nine worlds. It’s just a bridge between Asgard and Midgard.

David B: They talk about Heimdall’s Observatory, then the Rainbow Bridge appears even though they were talking about a portal, and then they get zapped to various mythical locales.

Chris: Essentially, it might as well have been called the Plot Device Room. The MacGuffin Portal. But that said, I don’t think it’s bad. Whether or not Brian Bendis got the details entirely straight of a magic rainbow bridge that was made up a thousand years ago by people who couldn’t read and then later adapted into comic form so that Thor could hang out with a guy in a robot suit and a big green monster who comes from nuclear weapons doesn’t really impact my enjoyment.

David U
: Well, the thing is — doesn’t it seem like they’re IN the remains of Asgard? The Godless remains? I mean, I figured they went to Asgard minus the Asgardians, and that’s why it’s totally Goblintown USA. Which, now that I think about it, could have been brilliant of Bendis wanted to do some Green Goblin/Asgardian Goblin goblin symbology or metaphors or something.

David B: It’s kind of unclear.

Chris: Yeah, see: There’s really no point for Bifrost in the current Asgard, because it connects Asgard (which is a realm) to Midgard (which is a realm), and right now Asgard (which is a city) is in Oklahoma (which may be a realm but probably is not). So I don’t know where this crazy portal room is coming from. Whenever Thor wanted to go someplace before, he just hopped on his goat chariot and went there, as far as I know.

Laura: Here’s some mythological commentary about the Rainbow Bridge in Norse mythology, via Wikipedia: “In his translation of the Prose Edda, Henry Adams Bellows comments that the Grímnismál stanza mentioning Thor and the bridge stanza may mean that ‘Thor has to go on foot in the last days of the destruction, when the bridge is burning.’”

Laura: Any thoughts on where Tony goes? The land of purple ferns?

David B: Tony’s place is a complete mystery to me.

Chris S: This is just the Simonson Thor nerd in me, but to me it sort of looks like he’s in Karnilla’s realm.

David U: I mean, yeah, Asgard is a city over Oklahoma, but — ever notice it’s just Asgardians? They always seemed to have to protect their city against like goblins and ice trolls and stuff.

Laura: Yes, where is the underclass? Maybe they have some underground city, like in Midgar in FF7.

David U: Now that I think about it, if goblins and ice giants were roaming Oklahoma like a gigantic Final Fantasy game, that would be the greatest thing.

David U: Midgar was not underground!

Laura: You are incorrect. There was totally a huge underground component to Midgar: “Following the construction of the plate the land beneath was taken up by the poorer residents of Midgar and their ramshackle slum dwellings. Like the city above, the slums are divided into the eight numbered sectors punctuated by walls and gates. Quality of life in the slums is often very low due to the upper plate trapping all the pollution of the slums underneath it whilst at the same time blocking out the sunlight (although the sun is never shown to shine above the plate either).”

Chris: NEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDD

Chris: Wikipedia Hudson is the new Encyclopedia Brown.

David U: Laura, I’ve played that game at least seven times, and I just now realized the below-the-’pizza’ area of Midgar was supposed to be underground. I just figured it was a big raised city. At least. I honestly just figured they were all enclosed by metal! In retrospect, I was the dumbest ninth grader ever. Anyway, my point here is that if I could play a Final Fantasy game set in Asgard starring STVE, TONY and THOR, I’d be the happiest man alive.

Chris: Do you nerds want to keep nerding up this nerdfest? Nerds.

David U: Anyway, the way this tangent relates to our main point is that Bendis’s Nine Realms is not only setting the stage for Matt Fraction’s upcoming run, but heavily dependent on the Simonson take on the character.

David B: In terms of where they all end up, I feel like Cap was going up against dark elves, which would place him in Svartalfheim. I can’t tell where Tony is, but it looks and feels vaguely heavenly. Thor’s definitely in Vanaheim.

Caleb: Can I just say I like Iron Man’s miniature toolkit?

Chris: I thought it was hilarious that Tony’s repair kit is an X-Acto Knife, a couple of screwdrivers, pliers, some watch batteries and 16 microchips. Like, how great is that, seriously? That’s all he needs to fix his armor that can blow holes in tanks. It’s a great, almost subtle “Tony Stark built this in a CAVE!” moment.

Laura: Also that one panel that creates a little circuitry pattern over his head when he starts looking in his armor with a microscope is great.

David U
: What’s great about that is that, as a reader, I actually believe it.

Laura: I’m surprised by Cap’s naivete here, when he enters the tavern. Like, he walks into a room of elves that clearly look evil and announces that he’s with the good guys. Surely he must have heard the omnious music? Or the record scratch?

Chris
: The scene with Cap was the only thing I have an issue with.

David U
: Laura, I didn’t take it as naivete, I took it as giving them a fair chance. I LOVED that scene, because it was him — he KNEW they were gonna screw him, he was ready, but because he’s Captain freaking America, he gave them the benefit of the doubt.

David B: I don’t know if he was aware of that fact they were gonna screw him. He comes across very sincere.

David U: Maybe he thought they’d normally be scared of Thor? And normally they WOULD be, but with Asgard gone, they’ve gotten ambitious? Or, with Asgard City gone from Asgard. And, in Steve’s defense, he might have accidentally come across a town of good goblins or something. I mean, from our vantage point, goblin=evil, but… he’s trying not to be judgmental.

Chris: See, that’s the thing. He’s been to Asgard before. As a soldier and as a super-hero, he should know better than to throw around Thor’s name in a situation where he didn’t know what was going on. Especially because dude straight up looks like a Norse God already; he’s 6’4″, blonde, blue-eyed and jacked.

David U: But yeah, throwing Thor’s name around was dumb. I can’t argue that one.

Laura: I mean, not that I think he believed anyone in that room was a real danger to him. I guess if you’re a nigh-invincible fighter you have to worry less about subterfuge and espionage? But then again, that’s about to be his entire thing in “Secret Avengers.”

Chris: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great scene? I loved him just throwing down against the goblins. Just, you know. The guy knows how to act behind enemy lines in unfamiliar territory. Or maybe he just doesn’t give a crap. That’s likely too.

Laura: Yes, yes, the goblin fight was fun. So D&D! Fighting evil elves in the tavern! Cap rolls a natural 20 every time.

Chris: Nerd. (I was going to say it but you did first)

Laura: When he grabbed the shield at the end, there was something very “Return of Bruce Wayne”/”S.H.I.E.L.D.” about it. He’s still Cap, somehow, in any universe.

David B: Yeah, this was probably the scene of the book for me. Davis does great faces and great action, and the action was well done. Although it is is a little convenient that he finds a shield and blue chainmail.

David U: Man, Alan Davis. Look, for a while, Davis has been matched with Nathan Fairbairn as a colorist. And he did some pretty good superheroish coloring, but Javier Rodriguez — this is honestly some next level s–t. I’ve always claimed that coloring is exponentially more important to a comic than people usually think, and this proves my point — this looks AMAZING, and Rodriguez has a LOT to do with it.

Chris: Yeah, exactly. That’s one of those big Bendis Moments that usually falls so flat, but it works so well. And I think a lot of that has to do with Alan Davis, who is friggin’ awesome. Also of note about Davis: Sweet angle on that last page, bro.

Laura: Any other thoughts?

Caleb: The Enchantress’ skirt is hilarious.

Chris: The designs for the Asgardians are some of the craziest things he drew. Have you ever really looked at Thor’s boots and tried to figure out how they work? They’re insane. I love ‘em.

Laura: Would you tell people to buy it, or skip it?

Chris: This issue is essentially the opposite of Avengers #1. Maybe Bendis just works better with a smaller cast, but the pacing is so much better, and the establishment of a clear threat/problem puts it two steps ahead of my feelings about that comic. It’s just really great fun, and it’s exactly what I’d like to see Bendis do more of.

David B: It feels a little light to me. I like the art, but I’m not impressed yet. Alan Davis fans are in for a treat, though. He’s done a couple of Thor one-shots and Fantastic Four: The End in recent memory, and he just keeps getting better.

David U
: Loved it, and even at $3.99 I felt like it was worth it. Tom Brevoort deserves an award for pairing Davis and Rodriguez.

Caleb: I’d wait for the trade, because I read this in 5 minutes.

David B: It’s worth noting that you’ll be waiting about a year for the trade. Five issues, bimonthly schedule. But yeah, I’d wait. It had one good bit and a lot of bits there were just okay.

Laura: A little light to me as well. Bendis stacks the deck against himself with his style on the Should I Just Read Wikipedia? scale, so he’s got to deliver even more.

David U: I love the idea of the Should I Just Read Wikipedia? scale. That’s basically the ultimate insult. If a Wikipedia summary of your comic is better than the comic, you’re f–kin’ done, son.

Laura: A Wikipedia entry is free, though, versus $3.99. And takes like 5 seconds to read.

Chris: It’s like I was saying about Rise of Arsenal: We already know how this story ends, so the only thing it has for it is whether or not it’s executed well. And this is executed very well. I think it’s the best single issue Bendis has written since… 2003?

David: I’d disagree pretty hard with that. A bunch of issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, some of New Avengers…

Chris: …are all terrible and David Uzumeri is stupid for thinking they’re not. (I’m kidding, don’t put that in the article)

David U
: The Shocker issue of USM was a friggin’ masterpiece.

David U: SIMS, MORE LIKE DIMS BECAUSE HE IS DIM.

Chris: Would you say this is better than the issue where Ultimate Spider-Man cries in his basement?

Chris: Or the issue of Avengers where Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch do… something?

David U: What about the one where the one hero dealt with his girlfriend?

Chris: Or that story arc in Daredevil where a bunch of people sat around a church basement talking about a devil baby for like five issues?

David U
: You know the one, the one where they had a serious chat about the hero’s heroism.

Chris: Because I think this blows those bad boys AWAY.

David U: Joking aside, the one thing the Daredevil Decalogue blew away was every other cover that year.

Chris: Yeah it was great how a story named and structured after the Ten Commandments only had five parts. And I really wanted Daredevil to covet someone’s wife, too.

David U: Here’s the one commandment: Don’t be boring.

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