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Wide-screen action through words?


Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World novel review

Wide-screen action through words?

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Marvel Comics editors often say their world-spanning event comics are like movies with unlimited budgets. Special effects have come a long way, but hard-working artists can still lay more down on a page than VFX artists can in the computer room.

But artists aren’t exactly free, either, and the really good, meticulous ones you’d want to put on an all-inclusive mega-story don’t come cheap. So why not eliminate the visuals altogether?!

You might think a prose novel is a strange thing to attempt for a property that began in and is ostensibly still defined by comic books, but Avengers:  Everybody Wants to Rule the World isn’t the first of its kind. In this re-issue from Titan Books, classic comic scribe Dan Abnett does his best to convince readers that pictures can be exchanged for 350 pages of words.

And he mostly succeeds. Everybody Wants to Rule the World would be ambitious even for an event comic, with villainous meddling from Baron Strucker, MODOK, the High Evolutionary, Ultron and even Dormammu, over just as many varied locales. It would take an extra special artist to accommodate all that variation, and do so in any kind of timely fashion.

Abnett flexes muscles he normally wouldn’t have to use, describing action that would usually be in the purview of his artist. He does a fine job of it, but one can’t help but wonder if this format would benefit from less action to begin with. A punchy, double-page spread is a beautiful thing to behold, but recounting a blow-for-blow fight scene in words might feel like wasted space when you’re more interested in what comes after. Abnett seems like he’s still writing for a visual medium at times.

At other times, Abnett takes full advantage of the readers’ imaginative investment, enriching the mental visuals in ways no artist could. He describes the sound of wind in a skydiving Hawkeye’s ears, the momentary change in Black Widow’s demeanor to trick an adversary and even the science behind some of the plot points.

Abnett also does something frowned upon in modern, more cinematic comics: elaborating on the characters thoughts and delivering extended inner monologues. This is one area where prose has an advantage over the more traditional superhero medium, giving us a greater connection to the protagonists, and Abnett employs it well.

There are some strange, repeated ticks in his descriptions, though. All the characters sure do shrug a lot for some reason. The novel falls into some of the same pitfalls as all superhero media, too, namely a lot of coincidences and last-minute saves from previously unseen characters. And the pacing is a little strange. The climax is barreled toward appropriately, but it feels like a few of the early scenes could have been dropped, getting there sooner and shortening the overall book.

Overall, Avengers:  Everybody Wants to Rule the World succeeds more than it fails in utilizing the prose medium to bring comic book characters and plots to life in ways that more traditional delivery methods can’t. There might still be an overemphasis on action, but Abnett does take advantage of the more thoughtful opportunities, too. Of course he understands the individual voice of each character, as well, making for a unique experience that will please the ordinary comic reader as well as the curious movie fan who’s looking for more Avengers action in a medium they’re more accustomed to.

Avengers: Everybody Wants to Rule the World
Is it good?
It takes advantage of the non-standard delivery mechanism for superhero stories to expand on things not normally contained in comics. There are a few stylistic crutches and maybe too much action (a comics holdover?), but Everybody Wants to Rule the World is still a unique and satisfying experience.
Now THIS is an unlimited budget
Elegant descriptions of settings
Nice character insight through thoughts and inner monologues
Good pacing for the most part, but some sections in the first half seem superfluous
Abnett nails the character voices, of course
Description of action is kind of tedious
Strange, repeated ticks -- why is everyone so shruggy?
Same overuse of coincidence as in all superhero stories
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