*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
Avengers Annual #1
Written by Kathryn Immonen
Art by David Lafuente
Coloured by Rain Beredo and Lee Loughridge
Cover by Lafuente and Loughridge
Dated February 2014
This holiday season, you deserve a break. I deserve a break. We all deserve a break—so let’s take one. Let’s ignore Jonathan Hickman’s befuddling, aggravating, sluggish (and sometimes brilliant, yes) Avengers run for just a moment and take a look at how another writer tackles the same team. In 2013 (despite being dated Feb 2014) Marvel released this big, fat, expensive ($4.99!) Avengers Annual but didn’t get Hickman to write it. Instead, this is Kathryn Immonen book, occurring within the same continuity and with the same cast as Hickman’s run. It’s just more fun, with better dialogue and a plot that’s touching, exciting and hilarious all at the same time. What a perfect gift!
First, let’s establish where this book takes place. In publishing terms, it came out right around the same time as that costly (and disappointing) Avengers 24.1 NOW issue—so we’re talking post-Infinity but before Captain America and Iron Man relit their feud. It’s Christmas time at Avengers Tower and you can forget everything you tried to figure out in Hickman’s books. Just sit back, tuck it, warm up and enjoy.
Our story takes place on Christmas Eve. Shang Chi brings a group of possibly brilliant/potentially powerful teenagers to Avengers Tower for a tour. Captain America, Black Widow, Bruce Banner and Iron Man all give their two-cents worth of (often very funny) advice to the teens before everyone heads home. We quickly find out, one kid (an Albanian girl named Zamira) decided to stick around, and she’s got the out-of-control power to replicate herself with the voices of others. Soon she’s got her own versions of Iron Man, Cap, Thor and Widow all yelling at her.
So what does Christmas look like for our Avengers? Cap heads out and volunteers at a shelter, serving hot meals to the less fortunate. There he meets a military vet and the two get along famously. It’s a nice little conversation where we’re reminded that Cap is a soldier out-of-time—that all of the friends he knew back in the war are long dead. The vet’s friends are dead as well, but not due to the natural passage of time. I loved seeing Cap get embarrassed around a bunch of doting old women, and the reminder that he’s a true hero and a big softy at heart is exactly what we needed. This scene is also just the right length, never overstaying its welcome or getting too preachy or emotional. It’s sincere, it’s human—it’s a perfect Christmas Captain America story.
After the meal service, Cap heads back to the Tower to find the intruder alert going off. In his haste he bumps into Black Widow. Turns out her fancy hotel reservations were complete baloney and she planned on spending the holiday alone in the Tower. Of course, now the two have bigger fish to fry—Zamira made her way into Stark’s lab and her dupes have used voice commands to set off a number of defense systems.
Soon Hulk makes his way to the scene, clearly not going to Geneva as he told the others, but spending Christmas in the Tower alone. Gee, what a lonely bunch of Avengers we have. Iron Man busts out of his room as well—no holiday in the sun for him either, just a lonely night at the Tower. Point made!
The rest of the issue has our lonesome bunch of Avengers attempting to wrangle up Zamira and her mischievous dupes before they set off more defensive systems or worse, the self-destruct sequence. Of course things go awry, but the day is eventually saved when Zamira realizes she too can be a hero. They all sit down for a nice snack and Christmas is saved!
The real joy of this book is Kathryn Immonen’s fresh, funny take on the Avengers. Here, everyone has a sense of humour. There’s nothing confusing or mysterious or grander-than-grand in scope. It’s all very simple, but never boring. Immonen’s dialogue is just terrific, playing on each character’s traits without degrading them to caricatures. There are jokes aplenty, non-stop hijinks and a good time is had by all. And you know what? Immonen’s got a style all her own and I can’t recommend it enough. Her books always feel unique—she doesn’t write like anyone else out there. I love it.
Key moments include: Black Widow saying this;
a bunch of old ladies going nuts over Cap (not in the swooning teenager way, but the affectionate grandmother way); Zamira’s out-of-control manifestations imitating the Avengers with hilarious accuracy; and Iron Man’s newest defense system being a bunch of robots that look like cheerleaders—because why not?
Of course, all this fun would stop short if we were given an artist that wasn’t up to the task. Luckily, it’s David Lafuente and he’s more than capable of handling the material. The art here reminded me a lot of Stuart Immonen’s work on the beloved Nextwave books—so you know it’s good! Characters are expressive, angular and cartoony without going off the walls. There are plenty of Easter eggs in the backgrounds for those that pay attention (mostly Hellcat-based; well played Kathryn Immonen) and the layouts tell the story just as well as the words. With the exception of a poorly laid-out first page, this book is a perfectly paced match in writer-artist heaven.
So what did we learn about the creators of the universe or the end-game threat of multiversal collapse? Nothing. This time, I’m really, really happy about that.
Next time: I’m not so happy, because we jump right back into the mess Hickman made. Oh well, the holidays can’t last forever!