As a manga fan, I’m no stranger to tournament arcs. From Hinata vs. Neji to Bakugo vs. Uraraka to the entirety of Hunter x Hunter‘s Heavens Arena arc, tournaments have been the springboards for many a memorable battle. They’re a less common trope in American comics, though, so the premise of the current Avengers storyline caught my eye. The Phoenix is back on Earth and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are…facing off for the right to wield its power? Huh, okay. Is the execution better than the idea initially sounds? Is Avengers #42 good?
The issue opens up with a fight between Namor and Echo, but the focus is all on Namor. The whole scene is captioned by Namor recounting an incident when he was a child and killed a shark in cold blood. His mother was disapproving when she found out, and Namor…had a sudden unexplained change of heart. At first Namor’s story seems like a promising start to the issue and a good chance to see vulnerability from such a steadfast and confident character.
Unfortunately, we move from point A (senseless murder) to point B (grief) with no real sense of what actually triggered such a monumental change in Namor’s attitude. This is quite a problem given how writer Jason Aaron hypes the event up as being the last time the future King of Atlantis ever cried, and not only that, but he cried so hard sea levels rose. That sounds like a joke or exaggeration that couldn’t possibly be true, but it’s delivered in such a straightforward manner and from a character who’s never been known for anything approaching flowery language, so the only response I’m left with is: Huh?!
The issue then cuts several times across multiple battles of yellow bird-armored Avenger versus yellow bird-armorer Avenger. By and large the conflicts feel rather inconsequential and Wolverine asks what I believe many readers like myself will be wondering: why are the Avengers trying to take the X-Men’s space nonsense and make it their own? Don’t they already have enough cosmic shenanigans to draw upon, from the Skrulls to the Kree to everyone’s favorite King of Space between them?
Of course, the dipping into X-Men lore isn’t actually a problem in and of itself. This is a shared universe, after all. The silliness comes from the premise that all of these teammates would suddenly turn on each other this way, and unfortunately the motives or character building necessary to justify such seemingly nonsensical actions simply are not there. The only character in this issue who gets anything resembling thoughtful exploration is Wolverine. He’s seen how this fiery force has impacted those closest to him, so his connection to the Phoenix feels more meaningful. With that said, even his resultant actions don’t feel all that in line with the Logan I know and love.
Visually, this issue is…fine. I enjoy David Curiel’s bright color work, and I don’t think VC’s Cory Petit has ever done a bad job lettering a comic. Artist Luca Maresca also has an appealing the style. The battle choreography throughout is solid, with composition choices that make the action easy to follow. With that said, there’s not much sense of depth. There are some instances where characters look almost like they’ve been dragged and dropped over their surroundings via different layers in an image file. In an issue where the fight scenes are so integral to the overall enjoyability (they make up the bulk of the page count, after all) it’s just disappointing not to see much attention paid to the way these characters are responding to their environment or using it to change the tide of battle. Even the Phoenix’s White Hot Room is disappointing to look at. That’s a space that could be rendered as feeling stunningly empty, like a massive sea of nothing. When the rest of the imagery doesn’t actually feel alive and multidimensional however, the White Hot Room doesn’t feel like much of a deviation from the norm.
Miscellaneous final notes: It’s always fun to see Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, not to mention Broo. Maresca’s renderings of Thor look quite cool as well. It’s a shame that his involvement in all this looks like it’s going to be wrapped up in an upcoming retcon-reveal that may tie characters’ histories together just to add some sense of meaning and consequence to a conflict that feels deserving of neither.
All in all, this isn’t a bad comic book. Petit and Curiel deliver legitimately good work and Maresca’s art has its charms. Unfortunately, nothing about this story’s premise or execution feels rooted in believable actions taken by the protagonists. Rather, the issue’s end hints at a shoehorned relationship between characters meant to justify the presence of conflict where none organically arises. Add in a matching sense of flatness to the art where most of the backgrounds look about as multidimensional as those found in decades-old 2D fighting games, and Avengers #42 just doesn’t beg to be picked up from the stands.
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