Sunday Slugfest – Avengers #500

A comic review article by: Craig Johnson, Jason Cornwell, Michael Deeley, Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill, Jim Kingman, Judson Miers, Jason Sacks, Dave Wallace
“Chaos, Part One of Four”



Jason Cornwell

I have to say I entered this issue a with a great deal of concern, as the current line-up of the Avengers contains a number of my favourite characters, and Brian Michael Bendis' claims that he was going to royally mess up the team left me hoping for the best, but truly expecting the worst. Now the action is still ongoing, so there could still be some developments that leave me crying foul, but at the moment I have to confess I'm relieved that all my favourites look to be alive and kicking. Now I'm going to hold back discussing the major developments that play out in this issue, as even though most of the issue has been made available online, I suspect I'm not the only Avenger fan who made an active effort to preserve the surprise until the issue actually arrived.

In fact the only real comments that I will make are that the issue does deal some pretty serious body blows to the team, as in addition to a couple deaths, there's also a number of cooler than heck moments for Avenger fans to latch on to, from Hawkeye's explosive arrow attack, to She-Hulk rampage which has an amazing climax moment. I also have to say I was surprised how effective the scene was that involved Tony Stark and his trouble, as in addition to providing a effective escape hatch to remove the character from the position of power that he's currently entangled within in the pages of his own title, it also makes for a powerful character moment when Tony details what exactly is wrong with him. In the end this opening issue certainly lives up to the promise that it would rock the Avengers to its very foundation, and I have to say I won't be breathing easy until this arc has finished, as there's an ominous pall hanging over the entire story.

David Finch is a great artist and I'm delighted to see he's made the jump with Brian Michael Bendis to the Avengers, as he's a fantastic action artist and this opening issue is the ideal showcase for this ability, as it's jam packed full of big impact moments that I'm sure all artists love to spot in a script. I mean the Avengers Mansion takes two major attacks in this issue, with the second being a wonderful sequence as before the moment of impact there's a nice moment of revelation. I also enjoyed the series of panels where we see Hawkeye's big attack had no effect, and She-Hulk's rampage stands up as one of the most impressive displays of power the character has ever received.




Michael Deeley

Since it’s almost guaranteed that every Marvel comic reader in the world (and a few others), is going to read this book, any review to persuade you to buy or not buy this book would be irrelevant. So I’ll just relate my thoughts as I read it.

Pages 1-2: Guys do talk like that, but not in front of women!

Page 3: You know it’s a Bendis script when two characters say the same thing three times. In the same panel.

Page 4: This is the stupidest thing Scott Lang has ever done.

Pages 5-6: Boom. Cool.

Page 7: What am I seeing on Captain Britain here? Are those supposed to be her breasts? Is one pushed to one side? I think I see what was supposed to be a bit of nipple. Not to sound perverted or anything. I’m just having trouble identifying exactly what body part(s) I’m looking at.

Page 8: How could a hand bone survive an explosion that breaks stone statues? I’m thinking that’s Jack Hart’s bone. Lang’s skeleton should be ashes.

Verb PSA: Whoever decided to give ultimate Wolverine a soul patch should be beaten.

Pages 9-12: When Tony’s drunk, he talks like Edward G. Robinson. I never knew that!

Page 14: Cap kind of looks like he has Downs syndrome here.

Pages 16-17: Yeah, they retraced the same panel. But at least they added a little something to each copy. It’s more than they do in ‘Spectacular Spider-Man’.

Pages 18-21: Another big boom. Finch and Miki has now successfully copied ‘The Authority’.

Page 22: And lo, there shall come a Vision. Somehow all the crap that’s going to go down is the Avengers’ fault. Was there someone they should have Avenged but didn’t? Where have they failed as a group? Well, there was ‘Avengers’ #300, and that cartoon a couple of years back. . .

Pages 23-24: Secret Ultron army. Good one! Better check Alkhema for the same thing.

Nickelodeon Magazine subscription card: What the hell is this doing in here? No one under the age of 16 reads Marvel comics anymore. In fact, I’d be a little wary of letting a 10-year old read this comic. We got a drunk guy, a redneck talking about what woman he wants, an exploding corpse, the Vision getting torn in half, and, (let’s be honest here), some of the finest breasts ever drawn. Hey, it’s a comic, made by men for men. All the women look hot.

Page 26: It would’ve been great if Hawkeye’s arrows had actually worked. It would have been hilarious! For three seconds. Then the other Ultrons get up and kill.

Page 28: Cap doesn’t use his shield to cut or hack very often, which makes this move a bit shocking. That means Cap is still portrayed as someone who isn’t needlessly or excessively violent. That’s hard to find in today’s comics.

Page 29: Every time I read/hear someone say, “Sucks to be you”, I remember this God-awful Euro-Techno pop song about a guy whining about being dumped by a girl. The chorus is a girl trio chanting “Sucks to be you”. The next time I hear someone say that phrase, I’m breaking their jaw. That piece of mind shit is going to rot in my brain forever.

Pages 30-31: When’d Falcon get so strong?

Pages 32-35: Damn, this seems out of character for She-Hulk. Maybe it’s the same force making Tony act drunk. At least it better be!

Page 37: So Cap dies. Really. See the black-out panel? Means death. Really and truly.

Avengers Disassembled checklist: Who are they trying to kid?! Lemme tell you what’s happening in the “crossover” issues. Peter Parker is being turned into a giant spider by someone named The Queen in ‘Spectacular Spider-Man’. Iron Man fought a giant robot, then seemed to go crazy and kill people in his series. ‘Captain America and the Falcon’ has stuff happening. I don’t know what, but there’s a virus, a gang, a Super-Sailor, and Scarlet Witch is driving a cab. On the plus side, ‘Thor’ has an all-out war between Loki and his evil monsters, and Thor and the gods of Asgard. By Michael Avon Oeming. Read it and be rocked. Robert Kirkman is writing ‘Captain America’. If that wasn’t great enough, Diamondback, Cap’s ld girlfriend, is working for the Red Skull. Awesome! Don’t know what will happen in ‘Fantastic Four’, but I’ll bet it’ll be irrelevant too.

Page 38: We are now taking bets on who these two people are. Leading contenders are Loki and the Enchantress, Baron Strucker and Viper, the Fenris twins, and Paul Levitz and Karen Berger.

So, overall, it wasn’t bad. We get some nice action, great art from Finch and Miki, and the usual Bendis dialogue. It’s clearly a set-up for something big. I just hope it delivers.




Kelvin Green

Hurrah, huzzah and all that! Finally, a halfway decent issue of The Avengers, the first since about #42 during Kurt Busiek’s run. Of course Bendis has to kill off most of the team, but if that’s the only way to rescue the book from the talentless hackery of Messrs Johns and Austen, so be it.

I find myself surprised at how much I like both story and art here. I’m not a huge fan of Bendis’ usual style, and when I heard that he was to take over my favourite comic, I was sceptical. However, Bendis is a skilled enough writer to know that his usual style just won’t work in this context, on this title, and adapts to fit. The snappy dialogue is here of course, but everything else works well. Bendis also pulls off this issue’s greatest success, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

David Finch also impresses. Upon the announcement of his attachment to the title, I was expecting nasty “Image-style” art, in keeping with Marvel’s current “the 90’s were great, honestly” editorial direction. While that influence is there, Finch gives everything a gritty, rough look (brilliantly amplified by Danny Miki’s inks) that perfectly embodies the dark tone of the story. The colouring too is well-done, with the bright cheerful tones of the opening scenes devolving dramatically into a hellish mix of dark colours and fiery hues as things start to go wrong.

All in all, it’s a well-produced comic, and in comparison with the talent drought of the recent past (Coipel and Lanning’s art a happy exception), this is a triumph. But Bendis gives this comic an extra twist that makes its success more than just a relative value. Bendis, a writer I’d originally pegged as unsuitable for The Avengers, does what no one has done in years. He’s got it right.

As Busiek pointed out in JLA/Avengers (and ironically never worked out in his own Avengers run), the Avengers are not god-like beings (well Thor is, obviously, but…) and their world, unlike the near-utopia that is Earth-DC, is less than perfect. Marvel’s team are up against overwhelming odds; they’re Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but they still have to work hard. JLA stories are never about “will the heroes win?”, but rather “how will the heroes win?” Avengers stories shouldn’t be like that, but so often have been, with the team either effortlessly brushing threats aside, JLA-style (as in Busiek’s epic but fatally flawed Kang War arc), or slumming it with Power Pack-level threats like Mr Hyde (Geoff Johns, take a bow, then bugger off). Bendis restores the sense of danger that an imperfect team should face while playing such a high stakes game. While I’m sure that the Avengers, in whatever form they survive this story, will in some fashion win, it won’t be without cost, and that’s how things should be. The threats are many, and they are relentless, and people are going to get hurt.

I’m overjoyed at this title’s return to form, but it’s not perfect. My only problem is the return of the savage She-Hulk. I’ve never liked this incarnation of the character; it belittles her, making her into little more than “the Hulk with boobs”. It makes sense in the context of the story, and it leads to some exciting scenes (does she have something against the Vision? See #68) and a wonderful climax, but I just don’t like it.

Character mishandling aside, however, this is brilliant stuff. What a relief.




Shawn Hill

Plot:
Things get real bad. Real fast. A lot of things. Fast. Bad.

What’s Interesting:
If you’re going to destroy a team, this is the way to do it. Not slowly and meticulously, wrong-headed all the way, as Byrne did to the West Coast Avengers the last time Vision was ripped apart. No, do it all at once, pile on the badness, and have everyone reeling from shock after shock.

Enough cannot be said about the importance of David Finch to this arc. I didn’t quite see the Bendis/Finch match-up with as much approval as others on Ultimate X-men, but then I’ve never liked that book (at least not until Vaughan’s more soapy current approach). Here he simply devastates with dramatic detail as he devastates the team, with wonderfully apt renditions of everyone. His She-Hulk is attractive even as she rampages out of control, something no-one else but John Byrne has ever pulled off with her character. Great cover, too (though an interesting reversal of recent issues, as Yellowjacket is the giant and Wasp is winsome again; then again, this is an issue about reversals).

His Ultron mask is note perfect, a brilliant revival of Buscema’s deadly original. He’s somewhere between Andy Kubert and Bryan Hitch, which is a mighty good place to be when depicting the Avengers.

Less interesting:
Of course we’ve seen it all before. She-hulk rampaged as recently as Johns’ run, and the Vision has betrayed the Avengers under Ultron’s bidding time and time again. Zombie harbingers of doom have visited the compound in Busiek’s run, as did Ultron, as did multiple Ultrons.

More interesting:
I don’t recall seeing Tony’s drinking come up in such a vile way ever before, however, and something is definitely afoot with his and Jennifer’s and even the dead Jack of Heart’s unstable behaviour. I like that sense of mystery (even though the divine puppeteers on the final page are a bit of a hoary cliché).

What I like best is that I have no idea where this is going, or what’s going to happen next. If certain beloved characters get irrevocably changed for the worse, I’ll be miserable, but until then, this is an auspicious debut.




Jim Kingman

“Chaos” is an understatement. The Avengers are attacked and rocked like never before. Nice places go boom, and good superheroes go boom with them. Things really fall apart. There is so much destruction it’s impossible to keep up with.

Avengers Mansion is blown up so easily (and casually) that I wonder why it’s never been done before. The Avengers were caught completely unawares, which I find a little surprising. The new Ant Man appears dead. She-Hulk appears possessed. And the Vision, the member with the best costume (currently), appears, well, permanently out of the picture. The bad guys are revealed, but there are darker, more powerful forces pulling their strings (given the conversation on the last page).

My favorite part of the issue is when one Avenger literally tears another Avenger apart. It is one of the most violently choreographed (in other words, well drawn) scenes I have ever seen in the “Image/Modern” age of graphic comics violence. I’m ashamed to like it above all else in this issue, but it’s quite a depiction.

I am not a loyal Bendis follower (no, really!), but I do admire his pacing in this issue. This is one of the best action movies I’ve ever read. Finch, another name I’m unfamiliar with, certainly rises to the occasion. There’s a lot of Jim Lee in his artistic style, but not to the point of distraction.

My only complaint was that the fall of the Avengers was just so relentless and overwhelming. I couldn’t catch my breath. I hope matters slow down a bit in future installments. I hope the “unseen” foes are a surprise when finally revealed. I hope the Avengers survive this chaos!




Judson Miers

First off, you all know that I’m a Marvel fan, mostly Spidey and X-Men. I’ve even had my own Iron Man and Captain America times but not typically the Avengers. And to be completely honest, I’ve always seen the Avengers as an odd compilation of superheroes who really didn’t fit well together, and it seems that almost every hero in the Marvel Universe and about half of the villains have been a part of the Avengers at one time or another.

Another problem I have is with these large cross-over events meant to drive up short-term sales while sacrificing good storytelling and long-term plans. Needless to say, I will not be picking up the whole multi-issue storyline, but I came into this with as open of a mind as I could.

The Storyline:
On a seemingly typical and quiet day, it seems that old and dead Avengers come to call and bring horrific devastation to Avengers Mansion. It seems, from the hype, that several Avengers are going “down for the count” during this storyline. The weaknesses of the individual Avengers is being exploited in very personal ways, such as Tony Stark acting drunk when he hasn’t had a drink in years and She-Hulk acting like her cousin the real Hulk by literally pulling The Vision apart in a fit of rage.

To keep track of which Avengers have fallen, check out Marvel’s official checklist at http://www.marvel.com/publishing/stories/showstory.htm?id=1.

Conclusion:
It looks good, but I just hope that this isn’t just some sort of media show just for some short-term sales. If the story is worth telling and shaking things up, let’s make things permanent like the death of Gwen Stacy and Colossus. If things actually do have some lasting significance, I’ll pick it up as a TPB!




Jason Sacks

So now we know what Avengers Disassembled is - a lot of death and violence in an attempt to shake things up. Apparently the current status quo is too dull for Marvel, so very bad things happen to several of the characters in this issue, apparently in an attempt to create buzz for a book that floundering in sales. It's not good enough to bring in Brian Bendis, an intelligent and thoughtful writer with a deep and healthy appreciation for Marvel's history, to script the Avengers. Instead, Bendis works against all of his strengths to create a comic that seems to revel in its perversity.

Bendis has never been known as a writer who writes action well. He can pull off an action scene when it fits a plot - see Daredevil #50 or parts of the Alias story "Purple" for good action scenes - but he's never been one to pull off an all-out action scene. Avengers #500 is all action. Page after page of action. Characters come back to life only to be killed, one of the most beloved Avengers of all time is destroyed, another member repeats a plotline that occurred in 2003, and the Avengers' most treacherous enemy is destroyed in an absurdly offhand manner. It's a mess. It's loud and chaotic, but it never seems to pull together in a coherent way. Event follows event follows event, with no flow or pace or rhythm to it.

David Finch's art is nice enough, but he fails to include crucial facts in his establishing shots. There's a scene where Tony Stark is addressing the United Nations. For the first two pages, it looks like he's addressing the UN by himself, but suddenly on the third page Yellowjacket is next to him, and on the fourth page the Scarlet Witch is, too. The effect is really jarring - I was wondering just where those characters appeared from. Another problem is that Finch's art is colored extremely darkly - the action scenes have a red color tint applied to them, but the color just confuses the action for me.

If you're curious about the chaos Bendis will create in the Marvel universe, no review will turn you away. But if you want to read a well-done comic, stay way away from this one.




Dave Wallace

So, it’s over-hyped Marvel crossover event time™, and industry darling Brian Michael Bendis has been put in charge of reinvigorating the Avengers. Now I’m a huge fan of Bendis’ work with Spidey and Daredevil (and if rumours are to be believed we could be seeing them soon in this title), and if anyone could get me interested in what I’ve always seen as a gaudy, outdated bunch of mostly second-tier characters, it was him: I love the character work he’s done in the past with The Ultimates, and was expecting something equally stimulating here. However, whether by accident or design, Bendis chooses to give us a lot of very shallow, visual thrills with hardly any explanation or reason, save for a final tease. Nothing is done to change the impression of the Avengers as a bunch of spoilt superhero crybabies, no depth is added to their personalities for anyone jumping onboard this title, and it’s difficult to get a grasp of any real plot at this point. However, this is Bendis, so I’ll add the caveat that if anyone can fashion a surprisingly silken purse out of a sow’s ear, it’s him – but it doesn’t look hopeful.

The major problem faced by this issue is the weight of expectation that bears down on it. The hype machine for the milestone Avengers #500 has already been running for months, with the promise that “characters will die!” and “Nothing will ever be the same again”, and when it comes to it, well… nothing happens to amaze you. Sure, characters die (for now, anyway – each one is left with an “out” that could see them rejoin the team as and when Marvel editors see fit) and we get lots of pretty explosions - but in amongst the mess, we never get the sense of what any of this means to the team or the characters. With little or no explanation as to what’s going on for the uninitiated, “Chaos” is unfortunately an all too apt title for this first issue. Granted, a fair few mystery plot strands are begun in an ambitious running together of at least three major events: unfortunately Tony Stark’s problematic speech at the UN was the only part of the story that grabbed my interest beyond Finch’s consistently pretty and dynamic (if occasionally 90s-reminiscent) artwork. Sadly, Stark’s troubles formed the briefest part of this issue and – as the only intellectually stimulating element so far – it’s something I’d like to see concentrated on much more next time.

On the evidence here, Bendis is intent on ripping apart the Avengers team in a very literal and empty way. The compounding of disaster upon disaster in a completely unprecedented way becomes simply laughable after the third major crisis hits the team - It’s as though someone’s said, “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if “X” came back to life?” “Yeah, then what if he killed “Y”? And then what if the Avengers Mansions got blown up? And what if a spaceship came crashing down and blew it up again?” Ad infinitum, without bothering to make any of it hang together as a good story, at least not yet - and in a universe of such ridiculous characters and plotlines, it’s pretty difficult to get that kind of incredulous reaction from a longtime Marvel reader.

A couple of nice character moments (Captain America and Jarvis’ mutual respect; She-Hulk’s loss of control) hint at the possibilities of so much more, especially after the writer’s deft handling of the personalities of the Avengers - in particular Ant-Man and Captain America - in the pages of ‘Alias’. Sadly, however, this is not Bendis at anywhere near his best. This is not an intelligent superhero comic. And this is not what an anniversary issue should be.



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