Trade Waiting is a new (ish) series where Super buys a new (ish) release trade paperback on Amazon and then decides to publish his reviews here instead of over there (on Amazon).
This time, it's Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis: The Complete Collection Vol. 1. Here are the publishing details:
Collects: Avengers Prime #'s 1-5 (originally released between June 2010 and January 2011), Avengers (Vol. 4) #'s 1-12 (originally released between May 2010 and April 2011), New Avengers Annual (Vol. 2) #1 (September 2011), and Avengers Annual (Vol. 4) #1 (January 2012). Yeah, it's beefy.
Number of pages: 504
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Cover Price: $39.99 US $52.00 CAN
Creative Team Info:
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencilers: Alan Davis (Avengers Prime), John Romita Jr. (Avengers), Gabriele Dell'Otto (New Avengers and Avengers Annuals)
Inkers: Mark Farmer (Avengers Prime), Klaus Janson (Avengers), with Tom Palmer (Avengers #'s 5, 6, 7, 9, 10), with Scott Hanna (Avengers #9),
Colorists: Javier Rodriguez (Avengers Prime), Dean White (Avengers #'s 1-8 & 10-12), Laura Martin (Avengers #9), with Paul Mounts (Avengers #'s 7-8, 10), with Rain Beredo (Avengers #7), with Morry Hollowell (Avengers #9), with Matt Milla (Avengers #9), Ive Svorcina (Avengers and New Avengers Annuals)
Letterers: Chris Eliopoulos (Avengers Prime), Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit (Avengers and Avengers Annual), Virtual Calligraphy's Joe Caramagna (New Avengers Annual)
Series Editors: John Denning (Asst), Lauren Sankovitch (Assoc), Tom Brevoort (Editor)
Collection Editors: Caitlin O'Connell (Asst) & Jennifer Grünwald (Editor)
There are going to be spoilers ahead so, y'know, SPOILER WARNING.
Brian Michael Bendis spent a long time on the Avengers franchise, beginning with September 2004's Avengers vol. 3 #500 (in which volume three reverted to it's original numbering, including every Avengers issue to date) and ending with January 2013's Avengers vol. 4 #34 & New Avengers vol. 2 #34. There were a lot of highs (ex: Dark Reign) and lows (ex: Disassembled) during that run but it's hard to argue the impact he had on the franchise. I mean, it's basically because of him and Marvel's refocusing on Earth's Mightiest Heroes that the Avengers IS a franchise. Remember, back when Marvel was Ultimizing their heroes, the Avengers was rebranded as the Ultimates (March 2002) largely because the Avengers name was no longer trusted to sell.
And also because "The Ultimates" is an excellent name that had to be used.
After the initial Avengers: Disassembled event, the Avengers series was cancelled and replaced with the first New Avengers series. After this book gained sales and interest, a second title, Mighty Avengers, was added. Later on, we'd get Avengers: The Initiative and Dark Avengers as well. It wasn't until May 2010, however, that the original book would return to store shelves. Avengers came back was a shiny new #1, heralding the end of the Dark Reign era at Marvel and beginning the Heroic Age; a time when Marvel's titles would shift away from all that darkness and focus more on traditional heroes versus villains (in theory).
This year, Marvel has been recollecting Bendis' entire run on the Avengers franchise in Complete Collections. These are essentially over-sized compilations, usually collecting two or three trade paperbacks' worth of material. This book contains three: Avengers Prime and Avengers By Brian Michael Bendis Vol. 1 & 2. It also includes New Avengers Annual (Vol. 2) #1 and Avengers Annual (Vol. 4) #1 which weren't collected until the trade Avengers By Brian Michael Bendis Vol. 5 but fit more naturally here.
This thing's got its own highs and lows.
When I started writing this review, I gave a detailed history of the Marvel era that immediately preceded it, the Dark Reign. That's because it's possibly one of my favorite times reading comics. The tension and story elements introduced during that year (or so) long storyline had me excited. Hell, I wrote detailed synopses for every Dark Reign book released and loved almost every minute of it.
It's probably natural, then, that the following era, the Heroic Age, would kind of bore me. It's not that I don't like more "traditional" super-hero stories or anything like that. It's just that something about Dark Reign captivated me and while I'm not sad that it was over, there was nowhere to go but down.
All that said, some of this rereads better than I remember. The Avengers Prime story, in particular, is much better the second time around. With art provided by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, Bendis details how the Avengers trinity (Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor) started getting along after all that Civil War strife. It's mostly about Steve Rogers and Tony Stark learning not to kill each other. Thor's actually pretty chill.
Don't you just hate it when your bros fight?
Avengers Prime takes place immediately following Siege, which is the bookend event to the Dark Reign era where Norman Osborn (Green Goblin) tried his level best to destroy Asgard (which was currently residing a few miles outside of Broxton, Oklahoma). Asgard needed a lot of rebuilding, much like our heroes' relationships, but the bulk of this adventure took place in the other Nine Realms from Norse mythology (or Marvel's version of it, at least). These realms were all twisted on top of each other, terrorized by Hela, the goddess of death, and her Twilight Sword. Long story short: Steve Rogers and Tony Stark helped Thor defeat Hela and her army while getting in some bro time. Read all at once, it does a really good job making you believe that Steve and Tony don't want to kill each other anymore.
But, as will become apparent as the main series starts, it's not all forgive and forget. Rogers and Stark might not be actively fighting each other but there is still a sense of trust lost. The Avengers portion of this book includes two separate adventures. The first details the formation of the new Avengers team before diving head first into a war between Kang the Conqueror and Ultron that has broken the concept of time itself. The second focuses on the Hood gathering up the Infinity Stones and a combined force of Avengers preventing that.
The art for all twelve issues is penciled by John Romita Jr. with inks mostly by Klaus Janson (Tom Palmer and Scott Hanna help out). This isn't JR Jr's most inspired art no matter who is inking but what really hurts the art is the inconsistent coloring. You'll notice up above that it took an army to color all twelve issues but even on the first eight, colored exclusively by Dean White, some pages look amazing while others look just above flat colors. It's too bad because the good looking pages are so promising.
Anyway, let's switch back to the story. The Heroic Age introduced four different Avengers books, all with team members recruited by Steve Rogers.
Here are your heroes. And Beast.
You'll notice that I'm calling him "Steve Rogers" and not "Captain America." That's because the Captain America appearing in this book is actually James "Bucky" Barnes. Steve had been promoted to Nick Fury's old job as Top Cop of the World/ US (probably not the official title) and instead of doing this through an organization like SHIELD, Rogers decided that the world needed more Avengers. The team appearing here was the public team, featuring Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine. Later on, the Protector (the multi-dimensional Kree warrior originally known as Marvel Boy) joins and even LATER, the Red Hulk signs up. Based in Avengers Tower, this team focused on the big, visible threats. Which apparently meant waiting for someone to crash into the Tower because that's how both stories get Avengers involvement.
Bendis had done an Ultron story before but this was his first time trying his hand with Kang the Conqueror. In a nutshell Kang gathered up a bunch of heroes and villains throughout time in an attempt to defeat Ultron at the height of the robot's power. He failed but retreated, gathered up another army of heroes and villains from around the time stream, and tried again. After multiple failures and reattempts, Kang had thoroughly screwed up the timestream and it was up to the Avengers to put everything back to normal.
This is what breaking the time stream looks like.
As an added bonus, "Ultron at the height of it's power" was actually 100 years (or so they say) in the future and was based off the Next Avengers cartoon movie released in 2008. This gave us a comic book version of the Next Avengers line-up, comprised of the children of the Avengers, as well as elderly versions of Tony Stark and the Hulk.
On paper, this adventure seems like it would be a rollicking good time or whatever the kids are saying these days. But... on ACTUAL paper... and illustrated... it's not actually as grand as it wants to be. Again, this might have been exacerbated by the inconsistent art but it's not helped by Brian Michael Bendis' script. Bendis still has his moments here and it hasn't completely devolved into Bendis tropes yet but maybe I wasn't the only one who ran out of steam following Dark Reign? The charged storylines from that era are gone. It's just inadequately executed.
And if THAT was poorly done, the following storyline goes even further downhill. Maybe it's because even after all these years, I am STILL absolutely done with the Hood but what I didn't need was another Avengers book featuring the Hood as the villain. His story outstayed its welcome but reached a pretty good stopping point at the end of the previous volume of New Avengers. Sure, we all knew he would show up again but after only a six issue break? We needed a whole lot more time.
Go away, the Hood!
Beyond the Hood, this story arc isn't completely terrible. Someone gathering up the Infinity Stones is a great start to an adventure, especially given the fact that the Infinity Stones were currently being held by the individual members of the Illuminati, Marvel's secret little group of world changers that included Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Professor Charles Xavier, and Black Bolt (who was deceased at the time). This story dragged the Illuminati into the light, revealing their actions to the other Avengers teams.
That Namor is a rascal!
And, yeah, I said "teams." This is where the focus on the public team is lost and instead it's all three Avengers teams working together, mixed with the Illuminati. Everything is crowds of characters. We were only six issues into the new book and it had already lost its team, giving way to a micro event that just happened to take place exclusively in this particular Avengers book.
All that said, this story had its moments. Just making the Illuminati public knowledge is a huge draw. Some of the scenes between characters are really good. Xavier's "I wanted to be a school teacher" line is excellent. This story also pushed Rogers' and Iron Man's friendship back to the edge when Stark's involvement with the Illuminati is revealed. Red Hulk's inclusion as a new Avenger also works well considering he's a Hulk who is actually in control of himself.
While every Avenger gets a moment or two throughout these twelve issues, I find myself being most drawn to Iron Man. It never isn't an ensemble cast but I think this is actually HIS book. His Avengers. The person in charge of this Avengers squad is presumably Maria Hill but Tony Stark is almost always at the center. Since I'm a huge Iron Man fan, maybe I'm reading into things a bit more than I should but it's still nice to see him regaining everyone's trust and respect this far removed from Civil War. Don't worry! He'll lose it again...
Simmering during these twelve issues is a subplot involving Wonder Man. Simon Williams was a long-time Avenger who became completely burnt out on the whole concept of the Avengers and gave each member of the Avengers trinity the ultimatum to end the Avengers before the team caused more chaos. This culminated in the two annuals included in this collection. This was Wonder Man's endgame play to shut down both main Avengers teams. Gathering up a team of like-minded heroes called the Revengers, Simon Williams attacked Avengers Mansion, home of the New Avengers.
Running into a wall would probably hurt no matter your size.
After beating the snot out of that Avengers team, Wonder Man and his Revengers set their sights on Avengers Tower but their assault wasn't met with more Avengers injuries because the public team was busy helping the New Avengers recover.
Only a real friend (and hero!) would beat you up and then leave you unconscious in a pile of rubble created by your house.
Later on, Simon Williams called a press conference, threatening to reveal all of the Avengers' dirty secrets if the teams didn't disband. Both squads show up and shut Wonder Man and his team down, instead.
I never get that kind of crowd when I call press conferences...
Of course, the downside to this is that the press started to question what secrets the Avengers had been hiding from the public. Since Steve Rogers is the worst at public relations, public trust in his Avengers team started sliding. You'd think they would already be overly critical following the Civil War or the even more recent Dark Avengers but it turns out that citizens of the Marvel Universe are really short sighted.
Like, more short sighted than the heroes.
Art for both Annuals is provided by Gabriele Dell'Otto and it is awesome looking. LOOKING. The storytelling here is a lot more challenging than it should be and sometimes it's unclear what's happening. But it's pretty.
And that wraps this Complete Collection up. It's a massive amount of comics and while I seem less than enthused with the individual stories, I can't say I'm disappointed with the book. The execution for the Avengers issues is problematic but the underlying stories are interesting. It starts strong with Avengers Prime and ends strong with the two Annuals. There are no crossovers or events to ruin the flow. It's a beefy 504 pages... maybe I just really like how massive this thing is?
The collection is sparse when it comes to extra content. Every chapter/ issue begins with a look at the cover art from the issue. At the back of the book, there's a collection of nine alternative covers from various issues, including a depiction of Marko Djurdjević's combined cover that was originally released as variant covers for Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1, Avengers Academy #1, Avenger #1, New Avengers #1, Secret Avengers #1, and Avengers Prime #1. The combined artwork comes out pretty small which is a shame because it's a nice looking image.
Let's do a little math. If you were to buy every issue included in this collection individually, you would be spending $77.81 US (which would really make me rethink buying singles if I hadn't already stopped doing that). To buy all the trades included in this Complete Collection, you would be spending $56.97 US (and this doesn't include the two Annuals). This collection will run you $39.99 US. Since I picked it up at $25.05, I'm fairly satisfied with my purchase. Sure, it's not the greatest collection of Avengers books... hell, you can tell Brian Michael Bendis was running out of steam... but it's still a fully readable collection, looks great on a shelf, and includes a little slice of Avengers history.
Yeah. This is probably my collector mentality getting the better of me...