*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver
Coloured by Justin Ponsor
Cover by Weaver and Ponsor
Dated May 2013
We pick up exactly where we left off last issue, with the Avengers standing over a smoking crater where the white event occurred. All around is death, but in the center of the crater sits the event’s only survivor, Kevin Connor, the new Starbrand.
So how do the Avengers handle the situation? Well, Captain America does the smart thing and comforts the kid. “It’s all right champ, we’re here to help!” Captain Universe takes the other approach and tells him exactly what happened. Remember folks, “the system is broken”. This white event was a last ditch effort by some aliens to create a planetary defense system, but due to the “broken system”, instead of giving us new versions of the New Universe characters, we only get a Starbrand and Nightmask. And apparently they are broken too. Right.
Now here’s where Hickman loses me. You see, Cap A had the right idea. This new Starbrand is just a scared kid. He’s clueless about what just happened. When he starts to freak out, the Hulk goes into smash mode and the kid blasts him into space. If the Hulk was about to pulverize me into a fine paste I’d raise my seemingly helpless hand in defense too! The Avengers don’t see it that way—in fact they flat out turn into jerks, every single one of them. Hyperion escalates things, Cap A gets serious and goes into battle-mode (instead of trying to calm everyone down) and—get this—Thor chucks his hammer right at the kid, sending him flying.
Let’s just stop and examine the situation here. An innocent, frightened, seemingly good-natured youngster is found in a smoking crater naked, having just witnessed the death of everyone around him. He shows some signs of energy emanating from him, so the Hulk decides to pounce on him. For defending himself, Thor decides he needs to hurl mjolnir right into the kid’s chest with all his might. Captain Marvel then flies into space, grabs the Hulk and chucks him straight down onto the kid. Seeing that he still lives, the Avengers grab his arms and hold onto him while Thor winds up to plant a hammer blow right into his skull.
I know there’s an old comic book trope that tells us all heroes must fight each other over stupid misunderstandings before teaming up against the bad guys, but this is just ridiculous. Having heard Nightmask and Captain Universe blather on about the white event and the system and Starbrand and such last issue, you’d think someone would ask their opinion. But no, Hickman thinks it’s more fun to have the Avengers pile on and beat the crap out of a poor, confused kid. And here I thought I was reading a comic with some brains.
Luckily, Nightmask finally steps in and teleports Kevin to the superflow (remember that place?) to explain to him what had happened. The two end up on Mars and Nightmask explains, yet again, how the system is broken. Now he says a few key things here: the Builders created the system, but there were older systems in place. The older system he’s referring to we already know about—that’s the one with the Alephs and Ex Nihilo and Abyss. The newer system is the one that created Starbrand. Apparently these were not meant to work together, and Nightmask is a product of the old, repurposed for the new. If you can follow all that, it’s a pretty neat concept. Vague, perhaps even misleading, but neat!
Let me just get the art critique out of the way and say Dustin Weaver does a fan-freakin’-tastic job on this book. There isn’t a stiff character or awkward panel in the book. Captain Marvel’s face looks a little weird every time he draws her, but that’s really the most minor of complaints. Weaver and colourist Justin Ponsor make one very impressive looking book.
Now back to my frustrations. What the hell was Hickman thinking? If he wanted to show us that Starbrand was powerful, he didn’t have to write the Avengers as bullies, forcing him to perform for us readers. Seeing this bunch of heroes (who until this point had been portrayed in quite a skilled and understanding manner) act like idiots and thugs is just a huge disappointment.
Whatever. This was a stupid, yet pretty looking issue. Let’s move on.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver and Mike Deodato
Coloured by Justin Ponsor
Cover by Weaver and Ponsor
Dated June 2013
Alright, we start on a positive note. This issue begins in the garden on Mars, with Nightmask and Starbrand meeting up with Ex Nihilo and Abyss. I like all of these Hickman creations, so getting away from the jerk-vengers for a bit is nice.
Nihilo welcomes back his son and is playfully written as a typical dad. I love how Hickman decided to voice Nihilo, not as some cold, omnipotent god, but as a fun-loving, irresponsible father. Abyss scans the boys, noting how they’ve been changed by this “secondary builder system” (the white event). Remember, her and Nihilo are part of the “first builder system”. Seems all this “system is broken” talk actually doesn’t have much to do with either Nightmask or Starbrand. They aren’t the problem—it’s Earth!
Oh, Nihilo, what have you done? Remember those origin bombs he was hurling towards Earth? Well, Nihilo wanted to spruce things up, so instead of just forcing mankind to evolve, those origin bombs were designed to improve Earth itself. They were meant to make Earth sentient. And each actually has a purpose of its own, like the Savage Land’s bomb being designed to make Earth self-sustaining, or the bomb that hit Japan being designed for reproduction.
Nihilo reminds me of Bill Cosby or something. Imagine if Theo Huxtable was coming home from college to have dinner with his folks. First we’d get the wise crack about how he only comes home when he wants something. Of course Theo would bring Cockroach, he’d knock over a priceless lamp and they’d secretly try to glue it back together. Then we’d get the dinner that The Cos made himself, but it’d be ice cream and donuts or something because he “thought it’d be new and fun!” and his wife would think he’s crazy and he’d make a few goofy noises. At the end of the day they’d all hug and admit that his wacky dinner was really actually very creative and special.
Or maybe it’s nothing like The Cosby Show and I just watch too much TV.
So Nightmask and Starbrand head out to the beach in Croatia where the “self-awareness” origin bomb hit. A bunch of weird worms start crawling out of gross egg-like things and squish together to form a giant brain. The Avengers arrive and the brain thing grabs Night and Star. Freaking out, Star blasts it to bits. Whoops, he just killed the forming consciousness of the Earth. He just broke the world. Clearly this kid has too much power and doesn’t know how to handle it.
So how do the Avengers respond? Same way they did last issue, Cap yells “Avengers—take them down!” and everyone starts a-brawlin’. Bless Nightmask, though, at every turn he’s the voice of reason. Before the battle begins he shouts out in Starbrand’s defense, citing that this power was new and unwieldy. Starbrand needs training, not to get the snot kicked out of him. I can’t help but think that if the X-Men were there instead of the Avengers, things may have gone peacefully. I mean, when some kid manifests mutant powers and accidentally wipes out a bunch of people, you don’t see Wolverine take claws to the kid’s face. Or maybe you do, I guess I always figured the Avengers were level-headed and heroic, but it’s all about the writer. Anyone can be a jerk when the writer wants them to be.
So after a very poorly rendered 5 page battle scene from fill-in artist Mike Deodato, the Avengers finally stop and say “you’re too dangerous to stay on Earth” and they lock Star and Night in some giant hexagonal space prison (which we’ll learn about later). This battle scene is also filled with a few pointless text boxes that try to give the fight some weight, but don’t make any sense and seem needlessly flowery and all around stupid.
Now I’m sure I could write an essay on how Hickman portrays the Avengers and the recent uproar about police misusing their power—but I’m not in the mood to be controversial. The fact is: the Avengers are heroes and they should be helping those in need. They treat Starbrand like a criminal, when in fact he’s just a confused kid that was magically imbued with world-destroying powers. You want this kid on your side, you want him to control his powers and you want him to fight for what’s right—that won’t happen if you’re response is “let’s kick the crap out of him then lock him up because we don’t know what else to do!”
This whole Starbrand arc rubbed me the wrong way. Hickman is full of good ideas and his long-term storytelling plans seem quite intriguing, but he got so focused on the future of his plot that he missed what his was portraying in the present. There’s a throwaway text box in that awful fight scene, it reads “they were perfect… they were heroes”. Who? The Avengers? Perfect? Not in this comic, that’s for sure.
With Dustin Weaver’s departure from art duties happening mid-book, the shift in styles is quite jarring. Mike Deodato has a new, semi-computer generated, kind of 3Dish look and I hate it. What else can I say? If you’re into his new style I suppose you’ll like the book, but I thought this was the real turning point for the art in this series. Deodato becomes the regular artist from here on and it’s not until issue 14 that we’ll get anything resembling a nice looking issue.
Let’s just remember all the cool concepts and forget everything else about this story arc. Take a deep breath and remember that the Avengers you know are heroes. Not these bullies.