*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Written by Al Ewing
Pencilled by Dale Keown
Inked by Norman Lee
Coloured by Jason Keith
Cover by Keown and Keith
Dated November 2014
Before we launch into what will essentially be Jonathan Hickman’s last Avengers story arc, let’s take a look at two filler issues Marvel gave us to flesh out some promising characters. First up we get Al Ewing and Dale Keown’s take on Hyperion. I must say, I’m excited!
If there’s one constant in this run of Avengers (and New Avengers) it’s the terrific recap pages. We may get jumbled storytelling once the issue starts, but there’s always a satisfying catch-up beforehand. My hat is off to the folks responsible for keeping this often off-the-walls series in check. One could probably get the gist of this entire run simply by hopping from recap to recap. This issue is no exception—the brief “Previously in Avengers” goes a long way to help us remember Hyperion’s place in the new status quo.
What we know: Hyperion came from a world that suffered an incursion and reality as he knew it was destroyed. AIM decided to reach out into nothing-space and grab what they could, eventually snatching up Hyperion and pulling him into our good’ol Universe 616. The Avengers eventually saved and recruited him, where he became friends with Thor and decided to take care of some hyper-evolutionary Zebra children. He’s basically an ultra-moral, fresh-slate Superman for the Marvel U, and he’s a character I’ve loved for a long, long time (read your Exiles kids, Hyperion rocks!).
Our story here revolves around the kidnapping of a young boy. The kidnapper, classic villain Mauler, believes the boy to be his long-lost son that he gave up for adoption. Hyperion swoops in, searches for DNA from space, finds the boy and talks down the villain. There’s no need for fisticuffs here; Hyperion is nigh invincible and Mauler is a sad, confused man. Turns out the boy just looks like his son—Mauler went a little batty when he read about the death of his actual son.
We’re also treated to a few pages of flashback where we see Hyperion being raised on his home Earth. It’s the same basic Superman story: boy crashes into Earth from dying planet and gets raised by an ethical father. Hyperion’s big conundrum comes when he realizes that the multiverse is dying. How can we protect all the little things, when life on the grandest of scales is being threatened? We don’t get a satisfying answer, but Hyperion seems to eventually accept that he has to do whatever he can. He thinks treating the entire population of Earth as his children is a good idea. Al Ewing says it better than I do and it doesn’t sound nearly as ridiculous.
I love that this book exists. I wanted a Hyperion solo story as soon as I saw his introduction into the Avengers, and it’s about time we got one. Ewing does an admirable job, keeping everything in perspective. He easily overcomes the one issue I had with Frank Barbiere’s New Avengers Annual—this story is set in a world of superheroes and we never forget that. The local police are worried that Hyperion’s presence might cause undue collateral damage. The villain isn’t just a petty crook and messed up dad, he’s a legit Marvel villain who’s concerned about duking it out with Spiderman. The story feels relatable, real and sad in a Law and Order sort of way, but also surreal and fantastic, like every Marvel book should. I mean Hyperion reads DNA from space, and then gets attacked with a laser cannon—but that twist ending is as heartbreaking and legit as it gets.
Now I haven’t read a book drawn by Dale Keown in ages. He’s a superstar from the 90s who seems to have been able to keep his street cred (what with get work on Incredible Hulk and such). I, for one, am happy to see him back in the saddle. His style is still very set in the 90s mold, but his drawings look as modern and fresh as ever. It’s a tad generic, but you can tell from the layouts, detail and keen character work that this was all put together by a pro. I feel like Keown was able to steal away any positives one might find in Mike Deodato’s work and inject them into a respectable, readable package.
My biggest complaint with this book has to be the colouring. In sketch form, I imagine Keown’s work might look like a nice Adam Kubert facsimile or a decent version of the aforementioned Mike Deodato’s work, but Jason Keith over-saturates everything with digital colours and it all becomes seriously hard on the eyes. At first, I felt like I was reading the Harley Davidson Road Force comic/ad we later find in these very pages. Eventually things even out and you get used to it, but right off the bat the colours in this book are downright off-putting.
Altogether this is one substantial package. We get enough story to satisfy, decent art from an underappreciated great and a little more insight into one of my favourite characters from this era of the Avengers. There isn’t any “bold, new direction” or “shocking twist that will change everything!” but this simple story provides just what we need: a minute to step back from Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers to appreciate the smaller characters that make that book worth reading.
Honestly, this just brushes the potential that Hyperion has. It shows he’s a character that can be used in smaller, more meaningful stories. If this was a jumping on point for an ongoing, I’d be so onboard the boat would sink. Let’s see this guy tackle the untackleable!
Avengers 34.2 (no joke)
Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Bengal
Coloured by David Curiel
Cover by Bengal
Dated March 2015
You’ll notice from the date listed above that this issue came out in March of 2015. 34.1 came out in November of 2014 and there were a bunch of issues in between these, but I’m reviewing in chronological order, not publishing order. This book has nothing to do with the events that occur after issue 34, so I might as well review it now, as it’s simply a filler issue and has no bearing on the future of the title. It’s just for fun!
As if reading my mind, Marvel decided to give us another spotlight on underappreciated members of the Avengers—and it’s exactly the couple I was hoping for! Starbrand and Nightmask are the dynamic duo in this issue and we’ve got Sam Humphries and Bengal at the helm. Sounds pretty great so far, doesn’t it?
Well, it starts out pretty great too, but things quickly dry up. If we’re looking strictly at the plot, things seem to roll right along until the very last page, but my interest in this issue took a nosedive right around the middle. We open with Nightmask getting some cosmic warning about ancient space radiation. Cool, right? He then goes to grab Starbrand, who has been out in space revelling in his power and ignoring Earth. But you see, Starbrand was just a college kid and he was designed to be Earth’s planetary defence system, so he really should keep in touch with his Earthly ways, right? Nightmask thinks so, so the two head to small town South Carolina in search of the mysterious “ancient radiation” threat.
It’s here that things start to turn. Up until this point it seemed like Sam Humphries had a pretty good handle on the characters. Dialogue sounded right, the story was heading in an interesting direction and there was even a laugh or two. Bengal’s art was fresh, vibrant and cartoony as well—all good stuff. But at this mid-way point, I’m not entirely sure what happened.
See, Starbrand and Nightmask decide to grab some BBQ. But here in South Carolina, that means pork, not a hamburger. Humphries makes sort of a big deal about this, but what could have been a neat snippet of information becomes an all-too centric point. Starbrand begins to get grumpy. He refuses to help the local police. Some townsfolk get possessed, Starry gets his arm sliced and suddenly he wants to play hero again. The flip-flopping characterization doesn’t help this book. It’s not an earned change in character; it’s a sudden, unexpected switch. By this point, I sort of hated Starbrand—that’s the last thing I want!
When the threat finally does come to town, it’s a big, spirit-of-a-sun dragon thing that wants to set Earth on fire so it can live as a star again. Now that’s an Authority-level baddie right there, and I love it, but the action falls completely flat. The dragon thing comes to Earth, Starbrand (sort of) fights it, then takes it to a pile of rocks in space and tells it to be a new star there. It’s a shockingly simple solution to what was setup to be quite the unbeatable foe. It’s a victory that, again, doesn’t seem earned, but instead thrown together.
Our story ends with everyone eating South Carolina style BBQ and Starbrand deciding he should hang out on Earth more. Fine, I guess.
By this point Bengal’s art has been all over the map. He went from nicely stylized to rushed-looking and splotchy. His self-inking made a mess of dark spots over huge chunks of our cartoony character’s faces. By the time the climax comes, the effort kicks in again and there are a few pleasing pages, but it’s so inconsistent that it becomes hard to appreciate.
I still like Starbrand and Nightmask. I think they have a lot of potential and this issue wasn’t a total flop. There’s a relatively enjoyable story in these pages, but it lost my attention too quickly and the professionalism seemed to dissipate as things progressed. The point of the story falls flat due to the uneven character work and worse yet, it almost erodes my interest in these characters. Almost. I’m still looking forward to their future adventures. There’s hope yet!
Now that we’ve cleared the Avengers runway, let’s clean up the rest of Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers arc so we can get into the meat of a bold new story. I promised exciting things were on the way and now we’re so close! Hang in there folks…as always.