When I first started reading the Marvel Now Avengers run, a song began going through my head on a regular basis. It was Panda Bear’s “Comfy in Nautica,” a chillwave meditation of coolness using a sample of a song sung by Melanesian natives in Terrence Mallick’s The Thin Red Line. It came to represent for me the epic nature of Jonathan Hickman’s writing as the latest incarnation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (as well as with companion book New Avengers) faces enemies and events of an epic nature that went beyond even those of classic Avengers’ stories like The Kree-Skrull War and The Celestial Madonna.
That feeling has been lacking in the past few issues, as Nick Spencer stepped in to co-write with Hickman as he prepared for the coming Avengers-centric crossover Infinity. That changed with Avengers #17, which started firmly back in “Panda Bear” mode, and didn’t let up until the end.
Issue seventeen starts out by picking up the pieces from the Avengers’ fight with the Earths’ newly born defense mechanism. Well, it was A.I.M. picking up the pieces, to be honest; an event which, as it doesn’t seem to tie-in with Infinity, will probably be resolved at some another point in the future.
The main focus of the book then shifted to Stark Tower with the Avengers’ reaction to Captain Universe telling Manifold that the already eighteen-member team needed to “get bigger” to confront The Builders. A few members are skeptical of her message, as they “confuse damaged with delusional” (to use her words from last issue). Still, with the direction of the team still pretty much in the hands of Captain America and Iron Man, what they think really doesn’t matter.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to be, but Bruce Banner decides to party-crash Cap and Stark’s discussion of increasing the Avengers’ ranks. Banner has had some of the better moments over the past few issues, and that includes this issues’ best line as he recovers from another transformation into The Hulk (“I’m naked and have no idea where I am...So just a regular Wednesday”). The panel that focuses on his eyes as Stark asks him “You wanna take a little trip?” is loaded with meaning, as the reader can easily imagine Banner’s feelings about Stark’s machinations in Avengers mixing with the ones involving his exile to Sakaar by Stark and the original Illuminati. Whether that’s setting up for events here or in New Avengers or in The Indestructible Hulk remains to be seen.
Credit the panel’s success partially to artists Stefano Caselli, Marco Rudy & Marco Checchetto, who manage to express the serious of the events in the book, while maintaining a balance between realistic and more cartoonish art. The only complaint may be that Cap looks like he’s 80 years old and was never frozen in come places, and Ex Nihilo (the main villain from the first story arc, whose actions have shaped many of the events of the series since) looks more androgynous in some places, including the cover. Of course that could be explained by having some type of morphing abilities, and a nature for evolution and uh, experimentation.
As for the newest Avengers, all I’ll say is they’re characters who have played roles throughout the Marvel Now Avengers series run. One may turn out to be the unnamed narrator who has popped in and out of the current series, who has provided gems like “It was the spark that started the fire--A legend that grew in the telling. It happened after the light, Before the war. And before the fall” and “They were perfect...They were heroes. And we...we were broken.”
In one aspect these first seventeen issues of Avengers can be compared with The Fellowship of the Ring, as characters have been gathered and events set in place for not just for Infinity, but for a cycle that seems to be heading into the direction of first epic glory, then possibly, great tragedy and chaos. The team declared Earth to be an Avengers World. As events in Avengers and New Avengers slowly come together may either make the universe an Avengers Universe, or come close to destroying it in the process.
For readers wanting action, this issue will probably be a disappointment as the physical action is at the beginning of the book. What it does instead is complete a process of the Avengers’ evolution that began in the first issue, as the book focus shifted into a type of epic storytelling as much on the scale of Lord of the Rings as it is with events like the Kree-Skrull War. The time of the light is over. The War and the Fall are yet to come.
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