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Roundtable Review: ‘Avengers’ #1

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

David U
: 2010! The Heroic Age! After the culmination of Brian Michael Bendis’s five-year detour into Eventville, he’s decided to give writing the classical-style Avengers a try. Reuniting the Captain America/Iron Man/Thor triumvirate for the first time in years, it kick-starts Marvel’s new “Heroic Age” status quo and, ostensibly, a return to titles finding their own path rather than being cogs in an epic universe-wide narrative machine. I am sure that there will continue to be a number of crossover points between “Avengers” and its upcoming sister title, Bendis’s “New Avengers” — as well as Ed Brubaker’s “Secret Avengers” and Christos N. Gage’s “Avengers Academy” — but the general concept of the Heroic Age is business as usual, rather than a shocking status quo change we’d never seen before.

Chris S: So this is them putting the Internet back together after cracking it in half every six months since 2004?

David U
: My status on Bendis: “New Avengers” #1 came out around when I got back into comics, and I picked it up and – you know what, I’m not going to lie, I’ve never been able to get into the Avengers before Bendis. I’ve tried ever since, and while I love that big heroic boister with DC titles a lot, I just never seemed to click with the title’s tone. I honestly couldn’t tell you why.

Chris S: This is the first Avengers book I’ve read since the annual where Jessica Jones and Luke Cage got married.

Laura: I’m a longtime Bendis fan — “Powers” actually got me back into comics — but that annual was the exact point where I first realized that Bendis’s dialogue had started to give in to its own excesses. Does anyone edit him now? How many word balloons were in that first Captain America splash that didn’t need to be there?

David B: Laura, do you mean the one where Captain America provides catchphrases for each of the “new” Avengers?

Laura: No, the one where’s he’s standing on the roof and talks to himself for like five minutes in one panel.

Chris S: I think she means the one where Cap inadvertently references the beautiful music of Burt Bacharach:

David U: <cut to the Star Sapphires>

David B: Ah, yeah, that’s silly, and actually has something that bugs me about Bendis’s dialogue. “And for this I have picked you” isn’t necessarily bad writing, but I can’t think of a situation where it actually sounds like something anyone would say.

Laura: Seriously, the dialogue on that page should stop after the first three panels. And yet there are eight more.

David B: It’s this kind of stilted, faux-Stan Lee sort of thing that doesn’t work at all. It’s an attempt at the bombast that made Marvel get up and go, but it falls short.

Chris S: I don’t think I’m breaking new ground here when I say that I don’t care for Bendis’s dialogue because everyone kind of sounds the same and they all talk way too much, but man. There’s just so much of it that it’s overwhelming. It’s like Rob Liefeld and pouches: We’ll stop talking about it when he stops doing it.

David U: It’s funny that everyone has the same voice, which is somewhat true, when his understanding of characters and their motivations, and mapping them out, is absolutely superb.

Chris S: It’s interesting that you bring up Stan Lee, David, because I was just thinking about his old rule — and this may be apocryphal — that you should only have 20 words in a given panel. Now, I’m not saying Stan the Man is the best dialogue guy in the business (he is not), but it does sort of lead to a clipped way of getting a lot of information across in as little time as possible. And that’s just completely chucked out the window with Bendis (and others), which leads to scenes where people just go on and on and on and on.

David B: I think Bendis’s strength in characterization comes, at least in part, because of his talkiness. It lets us get acquainted with the character, sometimes to an absolutely aggravating extent, but it also doesn’t work on big team books as well as it does on something like Daredevil or Ultimate Spider-Man.

Chris S: I mean, guys: This is a talky issue. Like, even by the standards of Marvel, whose entire deal as a company is that people stand around and talk a lot, there is a LOT of just standing around reminding people, some of whom have been the Avengers for the past six years, that they are the Avengers now.

Laura: Listen, I am someone who loves it when characters stand around talking to each other, but here it just feels very surface in these busy scenes — it’s all on the same level, and everyone’s riffing with each other, but with no depth or variation.

David B: I mean, is there a functional difference between Hawkeye and Spidey in this issue?

Chris M: I actually thought Spidey and Thor were the only two with a distinctive voice.

Laura: But ok, sometimes it’s still really fun. Like:

Chris S: I will admit that he got a laugh out of me with the “Today, I am.. Hawkeye!” line, even if it feels a whole lot like he’s making fun of the stilted old-school Marvel writing style while at the same time trying to cover up that nobody bothers to explain why things happen.

Laura: Yeah — it’s funny because it’s a meta-commentary on some level. Speaking of which, is Wonder Man a stand-in for some of the readers who are hating, by basically being sick of it all?

Chris S: If Wonder Man is a stand-in for me, that’s even more insulting than Kick Ass.

David U: Considering Wonder Man is on the #2 cover, I’m pretty sure he’s gonna feature in. And isn’t supposed to represent anything other than “is Wonder Man, and is being a dick.”

Chris S: Maybe Bendis is trying to reach out to me and my well-known hatred of Wonder Man. But! Just so I’m not the crabbiest one in the room, I will say that the fact that this is a story that opens up with THESE guys…

Chris S: Is pretty awesome!

David U: The thing is, I like the cadence of Bendis’s dialogue. It isn’t poetic like Morrison or economical like Brubaker, but — I guess, if I’m going to read a Bendis comic, this is his approach. I think it’s one he’s still perfecting, and he’s willing to experiment, as his (I loved it but everyone hated them) first six issues of Mighty Avengers showed.

Laura: I like that he’s talky, and he can do great snappy banter sometimes and keep it tight. He’s capable of it. He just doesn’t all the time, and when he’s at his worst nobody stops him.

Chris S: And why would somebody stop him? People love his stuff. They cannot give him their money fast enough. I mean, I know why someone SHOULD stop him, so that they can make better comics. But really, if these are the comics people want…

David U: I’m pretty much exhibit A here, I buy basically everything he does based purely on his name. Under basically anyone else “a girl from Portland starts a new American Evolution while putting tic tac toe on her tits” would make me yawn and walk away, but I’m always willing to give Bendis a chance, because it’s always INTERESTING.

Laura H
: Yeah, I’m still a fan, I’ve just grown increasingly tired of his excesses, where he doesn’t know when to stop and it’s boring and tiring.

David U: In general, I’m willing to forgive stylistic tics as long as I’m not bored. Then again, I guess getting bored is when I know the tics are too much.

Chris S
: I think in his way, Bendis and Liefeld are the same. Which sounds like I’m seriously dissing Bendis, I know, but they’re both hugely successful superstars that play up their own excesses. Which everyone does to a point, but Bendis is as inescapable now as The Rob was in 1991.

David U: The thing is, while yeah this has unquestionably Bendis’s signature dialogue, this is pretty unlike anything else he’s written.

Chris S: How so, David? It’s a bunch of guys standing around and then they have a little fight and then someone says exposition for three pages. That’s like a lot of comics he’s written.

Chris M: The multiple characters all getting a line on a two-page spread is straight out of his stuff on Powers. Anywhere else he used that?

Chris S: He even uses the same double-page talking heads trick that he’s used in everything, starting with Powers. He did it in other Avengers books too, didn’t he?

David U: He uses that ev-e-ry-where. Like, I can’t name a Bendis book where he doesn’t do that. Avengers, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, Siege, Secret Invasion, Secret War, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Six, Powers, Scarlet.

Chris S: And again, I’m not saying it’s not a good device, and it’s certainly a great showcase for John Romita Jr., but it’s an old trick. It’s like Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire and the cover to Justice League #1. It’s used so much that it becomes a recurring gag, but there’s no gag to it. It’s just the same thing. I do sort of wonder why Iron Fist is hanging out in the Dippin’ Dots factory, though.

David B: You were referring to the type of story he’s telling being different, though, David?

David U: It’s different because he’s spent his entire career focusing on people, and characterization. And while I’m sure that’s going to feature into this, this is his first time trying to engage a story about ideas rather than people. Going for that big metaphorical cosmic level.

David B: I think Bendis trying to do “big,” for lack of a better description, shows both his strengths and his flaws in a really obvious way. Kang appears, there is brief action, and then there is a lot of talking and posturing. Brief Action-> Exposition-> Brief Action-> Exposition.

Chris S: You make a good point, David: This really is the big Everything You Should Like About The Avengers book, but it just totally doesn’t work for me, which I think is down to the structure and the dialogue. It just doesn’t feel like it has weight to it between all the catchphrases. But at the same time, it’s clear that Bendis is actually trying something new, and even if he’s trying something new using his same old tricks, I can respect that, even if it’s not for me.

David B: For a brand new status quo, it still feels like a Bendis Comic, for better or for worse.

Chris S: He got a shiny new bicycle and then put his old comfy seat on it.

David B: Yeah, that’s actually a pretty good metaphor. It’d be like getting Matt Fraction to do his version of the Kree-Skrull War. Something familiar, something new, and something doesn’t quite mesh in the guts of it.

David U. The other thing that bugged me was, and I’ve been told it’s no longer true but I don’t think it’s the case but whatever, but Kang coming back is sort of dependent on the opening scene where they ice him as Immortus.

Chris S: Also — get ready for a Nerd Moment — in the Marvel Universe, you can’t stop the future from happening. It just splits off into a parallel future. So if Immortus gets killed in the future and then comes back to the past, that’s always going to happen for that Immortus. And yes, I know, it’s Kang. They have a history. It’d be like Rich Johnston showing up to offer us a hot news tip: It’s probably not on the level.

Chris S: (SSSSSSSSSSSSSICK BURN)

David U: And then, a last-page reveal of the Maestro! You’ve got elements of the Busiek HEY HO WE ARE THE AVENGERS, elements of the Morrison “All Time is Now, also the universe is like an organism” and elements of the Loebian ALL YOUR FAVORITES “Oh hey, bet you didn’t expect to see THIS fanboy wet dream!” approaches.

Chris M: What bothers me the fact that the threat facing them is waiting in the distant future, there is almost no immediate dramatic tension. Bendis tries to justify it with the “all time is happening now” speech, but that didn’t work for me. Doing a time travel story to begin with is asking for trouble. Doing a time travel story in a shared universe and then trying to establish your own rules of how it acts for this arc is almost narrative suicide.

Chris S: “Almost?”

Laura: I like how Tony tells everyone Kang has a Doomsday device and then keeps clarifying over and over that now Kang has the upper hand. Yes, that is what a Doomsday device means.

Chris S: Remember that scene in Return of the Jedi where Leia’s in disguise and she’s all “Because I have a THERMAL DETONATOR”? Because Brian Bendis does.

David U: Laura, just because Kang has a doomsday device doesn’t mean Tony doesn’t have, like, an anti-doomsday device. It’s like that scene in The Big Hit with the tracebuster and the tracebusterbuster.

Laura: Also, why are they all so insanely shocked that they have kids? Did they ALL think they’d NEVER have them? I mean, Luke and Jessica already do.

Chris S: I think they’re freaked out because they think they have kids with EACH OTHER. Tony and Cap all looking at each other, wondering which one’s the girl…

Laura: The fact that they automatically assume that says a lot. A lot.

David U: If it’s only kids of people on the team, then Spider-Woman is like the Dream Girl of the Avengers. Because holy crap, this team is a sausage party.

Chris S
: Does it feel to anyone else like there’s too much setup here?

David B: Judging by the “let’s all have coffee and talk about being Avengers” scene and the pages of text at the end of the book, there is definitely too much setup. If he’d gone directly into the drama, Siege-style, I think I would have liked it a little more.

Laura: And yet I feel like we didn’t get grounded in these characters in the way we should have in an initial issue. Like, Tony and Steve have a conversation about their differences, but I don’t feel any emotional weight from anyone. I reach the end and I just feel empty.

David U: I was a big fan of the Tony/Steve stuff, but you’re right, this book definitely depends on a previous emotional attachment with the characters. This isn’t Avengers #1, it’s Avengers #568. (And yes, that number is accurate.)

Chris M: I think I winced a little every time Tony and Steve joked about killing each other. And yes, it might have been better if they formed the team, did something, and we got the Kang exposition next issue.

David U: I guess I’m looking at this like the early stages of a chemical reaction. I mean, it’s #1, and Bendis is a pretty quickly adapting and evolving writer. What’s this going to look like two, three arcs down the road when the entire cosmic thing isn’t so new to him?

Chris S
: I mean, I know it’s a #1 and that those are generally devoted to setting things up, so this may be a completely insane complaint, but I really wish they would’ve taken it like the Marvel Adventures Avengers. Do we really need a double-page spread of people agreeing to be on the team, and then ANOTHER double-page spread of people being told they’re on the team? Why couldn’t they just have gone right into the action? Who is reading this that doesn’t know who Captain America is, and if they don’t, shouldn’t they be able to tell through the story by the end of it?

David B: You know, this may be a dumb complaint, and I never thought I’d be the guy making it… but this issue really needed an “Avengers Assemble!” It’s entirely too quiet.

Chris S
: There’s a ton of telling and not much showing. The only guy who does anything is Thor, and while that reinforces the idea that Thor’s the Big Gun (who Bendis has never gotten to play with), it also enforces the idea that what the hell is f–king Spider-Woman going to bring to the team that Thor can’t handle himself?

David B: Laura’s right in that a lot of this feels like treading water/pointless recap. It needs weight, more of a punch. If this were the ’90s, this would be Avengers #0. It would set up the series, and then we would join the story already in progress.

Chris S: There’s just nothing to it. Talky talk, Thor hits a guy, talky talk, “YOU NEED TO GO FIGHT THIS GUY!” “Okay how do we get there?” “I DON’T KNOW. FIGURE IT OUT YOURSELVES, B-TCHES.” “Okay, let’s call–!!!” Who will they call?! Tune in tomorrow, same Brian time, same Bendis channel!

David U: Who will they call?! Tune in …. behind your retailer’s counter, at the variant cover, which has the team in issue #1 plus Protector/Noh-Varr/Marvel Boy/Worst Costume Ever!

David B: Haha, seriously? Why does he have a time machine?

David U
: Other-dimensional Kree can, apparently, do whatever the hell they want.

David U: Where for god’s sake is Oubliette?

David B
: Busy shooting Mickey Mouse in the face.

David U
: I’d like to imagine that theme park was actually Mickey Eye‘s. And I just now — I’m talking just now, I’m serious, this is how absolutely dumb i am — realized Mickey Eye was named after Mickey Mouse.

Chris S
: … Wow, you are dumb.

David B
: David, I refuse to believe that you didn’t know that. That’s ridiculous.

David U: I’m glad I never finished that Seaguyde, because I would have been a scrub beyond scrubs.

Chris S: But again, I really liked that he threw in the Avengers Next cast, who to my knowledge have never appeared in the comics. It was an actual surprise that I really enjoyed seeing… but then Bendis doesn’t do anything with it. He literally has Kang show up and tell them what the readers saw on the first two pages. I swear to God: There is literally a three-page recap of two pages IN THE SAME ISSUE.

David B: I hadn’t realized that until You said it, but you’re absolutely right. If the Next Avengers stuff had been moved to the end, and taken the place of Kang’s “Oh crap you guys” speech, it would have been much more effective.

Chris S: Yeah. The one real instance of showing that Bendis does, he tells us about later.

Chris M: In Bendis’ defense, though, if you haven’t seen Next Avengers you have no idea who those kids are.

Laura: Yeah, could we have maybe gotten some captions there? Also maybe on that giant grid of like a billion heroes? Because maybe possibly a new reader might pick it up?

Chris S: All you’d need is “20 years from now.” Or cut back to the present with “20 years ago.”

David B: Yeah, if the Next Avengers pages had been captioned, bam. Instant mystery (Who are these kids?), instant malice, instant drama. So Avengers kind of has it both ways, doesn’t it? It introduces the Avengers to us again via Super Hero Brunch, and then doesn’t actually introduce the antagonists?

Chris S: And it’s like, we know who Spider-Man is. What we DON’T know is who they’re fighting and why. But the one that’s actually explained is Spider-Man, via the world’s most overused catchphrase. Chris Claremont WISHES he could’ve thrown “no quarter asked — and none given!” into as many comics as writers have put “power and responsibility.” Can we all agree that writers should have to pay a fine if they use the words “power and responsibility” in a comic with Spider-Man? Seriously, there should be a rule. “You can do it, but it’ll cost you $3,000.”

David B: Also, not introducing the Maestro. Which I feel is a nod to the original reason why the Avengers got together, the Hulk rampaging in the desert.

Chris M: I think there’s an intention to keep these characters mysterious. But Chris is right, I don’t see the hook to keep going.

David B: There’s cliffhanger mysterious and then there’s “Wait, who is this?” mysterious.

Chris S: I can’t imagine being a kid and reading this and wanting to read more. I mean, I’d probably want to read more about Thor, since he’s the only one who does anything? Iron Man’s main contribution to the plot is — again, I swear to God — writing something down and not building it. What did Spider-Woman do in this issue? What did Hawkeye do? What did Spider-Man do? What did anyone who is not Thor or Steve Rogers do in this comic? If you look back at great team books — Morrison’s JLA, Giffen and DeMatteis JLI, Stern and Busiek’s Avengers runs — people don’t show up and then NOT DO SOMETHING. I mean, it’s Chekov’s Gun in super-hero form.

Chris M
: Hey, hey, Iron Man called Reed Richards on his helmet phone. But Reed wasn’t home. And I guess they couldn’t wait until he was so he could build them a time machine to get to the future.

David U
: Maybe it’s just that I’m conditioned for it, but that didn’t bother me even in the slightest. I’m used to the six-issue arc structure, and I come to expect it.

Chris S: A comic called “Avengers #1″ needs to have the Avengers doing stuff AS A TEAM. This comic has Thor doing stuff while everyone else stands around. And it’s frustrating, because there are aspects of it that I really like, and it’s obvious that Bendis wants to do stuff with these characters, but whether he’s just trying to save it for a future issue or what, he doesn’t. So there’s no reason to care.

Laura: Yeah, and meanwhile we’ve got these huge page-sized pictures of Steve and Kang. Endless conversations that could have been collapsed into half their length and lost nothing. So much could have been done with that space.

Chris S: There should’ve been a complete story in this issue that led to an overarching plot for the series. We don’t need an introduction to the characters, we need an introduction to THIS TEAM, and that’s not provided.

David U: I hate to be pedantic, but I’m rereading Morrison’s JLA #1 *right now* and Wonder Woman does barely anything, J’onn is gone for most of the comic, Batman shows up on the last page to be a dick, Superman does absolutely nothing and barely says anything

Chris S
: NO ONE LIKES YOU DAVID.

David B: What happens in JLA #1? Can you do a quick summary?

David U
: It was all setup, with like one scene of Kyle Rayner saving some dudes. It starts with the Hyperclan coming to Earth, goes to some people watching it on TV, then they save (or fail to save) some people in space, then they finally meet at the end and Batman acts like a dick.

Chris S: JLA #1 opens with aliens showing up and immediately doing stuff. Things are happening. People show up and do stuff, and there’s a clear reason why the JLA is going to do stuff in the next issue. Morrison spends time building the threat rather than introducing us to seven guys that we already know. Bendis introduces us to guys we already know, and then they don’t do anything. (Except Thor.) Whose “nobility and strength” means that when a guy shows up and goes “I bring you a warning,” he blasts him through a wall. Nobility, folks.

Laura: So wait, did anyone love this book?

David U: I think I was the only person here who dug it. Even the A&E Biography transcript at the end.

Chris S: I didn’t even read that. But to be fair, I read this comic for my job, not for my own enjoyment. There was part of me that was hoping it would be the Big Turnaround, but if it wasn’t my actual job, I would’ve passed anyway.

David B: I only read words that are accompanied by pictures.

David U: I’m looking forward to around New Avengers #6 or whatever when the Oral History is just nothing but Hank Pym crying about why he’s a useless piece of sh-t. (He is)

Chris S: “Oh boy, MORE text? There wasn’t enough in the comic!”

David U: I liked it? I thought it was a promising start?

Chris S: I didn’t. I can see why someone would like it, but it’s definitely not for me.

David B: I… didn’t hate it? I’m with Sims.

Chris M: Ditto.

Chris S: Wow, I’m glad I didn’t go with “I can see why someone would like it if they were dumb and didn’t know who Mickey Eye was.”

David U: I said i didn’t get the name reference not that I didn’t know who he was for god’s sake

David B: Hey David, I’m gonna blow your mind real quick… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_the_Tuna

Chris S: baaaaaahahahaha

Laura: ahahahah.

David U: I really wish I could play this cool and pretend that I totally knew about this, but you just blew my mind again.

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