For people suffering crossover fatigue — that sense of exasperation at the oversized reading lists, new titles to be collected, and a feeling not unlike the study anxiety before a large exam that surrounds events like this year’s King in Black or its dozens and dozens of predecessors — huge, world-altering stories with massive, incredible threats might as well come with a trigger warning.
Sure, superhero books often tend to contain huge conflict, but most ongoing books carefully build the stakes over time, meting out revelations, twists, and betrayals at their own pace.
Not so in the Avengers stories by Jason Aaron, Sarah Pichelli, David Marquez, and Ed McGuinness, which feature six-to-eight issue arks that feel like big summer blockbusters, each with their own world-threatening conflict, character-defining moments, and universe-spanning ensemble casts. The book offers these sorts of stories without the drawbacks of a major event, particularly the most damning drawback: never once do these stories hijack any other series. No other precisely plotted ongoing gets derailed for an issue or four while our heroes, who are in the midst of their own precarious intrigues, suddenly find themselves fighting goo-monsters from outer space, psychically-conjoined nemeses, or Hulks.
In the first oversized hardcover of Avengers, the entire history of the Marvel Universe is rewritten (or lightly revised); unknowable cosmic forces are felled and political lines are tested. You can feel how fragile the status quo really is. It’s a feat of expansive inspiration and a delicate understanding of what makes both the characters and the concept of the Avengers as a whole so special.
Indeed, the Avengers have not felt so deeply essential to the universe for a long time; the threat at hand, in the first six issues, is outrageously huge, insurmountable by anything but a powerhouse team like the one presented. Aaron’s selection for the series harkens back to some of the tried and true members, but keeps a toe in the mystic-and-mysterious realm he’s worked so hard to explore in his Ghost Rider, Doctor Strange, and Thor runs.
Ed McGuinness’s artwork in the first six issues perfectly highlights his strengths: big, bold, and action-packed, he’s the perfect match to the threats at hand. His thick, weighty characters feel up to the task of battling giant Celestials, all of them bombastic and absurd in dimension and action poses. Nearly every panel — even panels in which characters are simply speaking to one another — feels laced with tension and action, and the characters seem custom-built to be action figures. The density of this artwork makes each blow almost tangible in its gravity. The Celestials have never felt more massive.
In contrast, David Marquez’s issues deal with much more terrestrial matters—the establishment of an Avengers HQ and international political intrigues both above and below sea level. Marquez renders our characters in a way that seems delicate in contrast to McGuinness, less powerhouse and more expressive as if the book has scaled down and inward to reflect the shift in narrative direction. The characters’ concerns are plainly written on their faces, and they are given room to breathe in wider shots with more space, establishing an intricate world and a population overshadowed by the cosmic action of the preceding issues.
Pichelli is set aside for only two issues of the hardcover, dealing with the series’ most unique, novel, and world-redefining aspects: a hidden, primordial history of the Earth, rendered in her usual beautiful, emotive hand. Tight closeups show the concern knitting the brows of gods, the fragile frame of a pre-historic child. She renders a unique series of horrors in issue seven of the series, revealing the gruesome and unembellished terrors which lead to the first Spirit of Vengeance, and it’s her specific, grounded rendering that makes the story feel earnest and real, despite the far-flung and untouched portions of history in which it is set.
We conclude on the verge of another epic, hooking the reader for an adventure with elements both classic to Avengers — space, the cosmic — and rare — supernatural, vampires.
This volume provides an almost perfect sampling of the wide, weird Marvel Universe, and provides an Avengers experience unlike any that have come before. The narrative scope deftly jumps dimension, effortlessly exhibiting the diversity of tales that the Universe’s central team can be used to tell.
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