Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest: Avengers Prime #1

Posted: Sunday, June 6, 2010
By: Thom Young

Brian Michael Bendis
Alan Davis (p), Mark Farmer (i), & Javier Rodriguez (colors)
Marvel Comics
After a brief but volatile spat, Steve Rogers and Iron Man agree to momentarily set aside their differences and assist Thor in sifting through the ruins of Asgard. However, when the trio is swept away into the Nine Realms, it appears an even greater level of cooperation may be necessary in order for our heroes to survive.

Ross Haralson:
Robert Tacopina:
Ray Tate:

Ross Haralson:

Many may be inclined to groan at yet another Avengers title debuting under the “Heroic Age” banner; however, I support Marvel’s decision to tell this particular story outside their ongoing series. When Avengers #1 hit a few weeks ago, readers wanted (needed?) a book that fully recaptured the heroism and spectacle of Avengers books past--a spirit that has arguably been missing from Marvel’s flagship property for years. So, along comes Avengers Prime to bridge the gap between the events of Siege and the re-launch of Avengers proper, and the results are mixed at best.

While I certainly loved looking at this comic book, I didn’t necessarily enjoy reading it. First and foremost, the artwork for this issue is exceptional. Alan Davis, best known for his prolific relationship with Marvel in the 80s and 90s, renders “the Big Three” in an iconic fashion that clearly evidences his masterly talent.

Thor is convincingly majestic, Steve Rogers is appropriately all-American, and Iron Man’s continued use of a more classic costume design goes a long way toward fomenting the nostalgia that serves as one of this series’ strongest selling points. Davis’ longtime collaborator, Mark Farmer, provides finishes for the issue, and his work--along with that of colorist Javier Rodriguez--rounds out what may be the best single-issue artistic performance of 2010 thus far.

Similar compliments simply cannot be paid to the writing, however. Bendis successfully captures the voice of each character, but sadly seems to otherwise pay little respect to his protagonists.

Following the hauntingly beautiful double-page spread opening of a collapsed Asgard, the book takes less than a single page to misfire. After recently returning from “death,” surviving the events of Siege, and receiving a promotion to head of United States security, Steve Rogers apparently decides that now is the perfect time to bait Tony Stark into an argument concerning the latter’s recent string of failures.

While I am aware that the crux of this series lies with the void of trust plaguing these characters (as well as the looming reparations that we know to have taken place), the exchange between Rogers and Stark feels forced at best, and it is yet another example of Bendis’s proclivity of subverting historical characterization in service to his plot.

However, given that we must seemingly accept that this altercation did occur, it further bears mentioning that Thor’s eventual interruption of the argument seems nothing short of patronizing when considered alongside the events of Thor volume three #3 (in which the Thunder God literally pounds Iron Man into the dirt).

I realize the context is a little different given the proximity of Asgard’s fall, but Thor has heretofore been neither egocentric nor hypocritical. While he may have believably chosen to avoid participation in light of his grief, it seems grossly out of character for Thor to deliberately elicit shame from those who so recently stood beside him in battle.

Finally, and with this point I will admit to the possibility of excessive criticism, I cannot accept Steve Rogers’s victory over no fewer than 23 armed combatants using only what instruments he managed to acquire during the course of the melee. Possessing neither his armor nor his trademark shield, it would have seemed prudent to at least attempt presenting Rogers as slightly out of his element.

Instead, we see the former Captain America seemingly transformed into a swashbuckling duelist that would make even the great Laurence Olivier blush with envy. This unbelievable action may be an effective means of rousing excitement from testosterone-fueled teenage readers, but I dare say that more discerning members of the audience took a moment of pause upon encountering the scene.

I have no doubt that Avengers fans have already purchased this book and, like myself, they will stay on board for the remainder of this series no matter their opinion of this opening chapter. However, new readers who are interested in the “Heroic Age” would be better served finding an alternate entry point into the Marvel universe.

Robert Tacopina:

Marvel and Brian Michael Bendis have set out to rekindle the lost bromance of the big three Avengers--Steve Rogers (the former Captain America), Iron Man, and Thor. It has been a tumultuous time in Avengers history as a never-ending barrage of events has led to a team whose members are often at odds with one another.

However, now it is a new era at Marvel, a “Heroic Age” if you will, where the heroes have settled their differences and brought an end to Norman Osborn’s regime. This new age of heroism has allowed the Avengers to attempt to renew relationships both personal and professional. The lingering question that remains is, “Is it too little too late?”

The reunion of the Avengers is the underlying theme that is at the heart of this issue, and Bendis chooses to spotlight these three teammates as his mouthpiece in doing so. The triumvirate has gathered to deal with the fall of Asgard and the planning of how to go about restoring the mythical home of the Asgardians. However, while they discuss the recent events, Captain Rogers and Iron Man get into a heated argument that began with the Iron Man armor and ends with personal ideals pertaining to freedom.

The manner in which the discrepancy played out was pleasantly reminiscent of the classic Avengers tales of old. Judging by the premiere issue of the re-launched Avengers, it is obvious that Steve and Tony still harbor some form of resentment, but it didn’t seem like the issues were as deep-rooted as they are portrayed here. Unfortunately for the trio, they are teleported to the realms of Asgard where each is faced with a situation to overcome. I see this situation as the beat that serves to rebuild the trust between the three heroes.

I know it is fashionable to bash Bendis, but I actually enjoy his writing a great deal. He has made a nice career of finding a resonating voice within his characters that the majority of the readers can relate to. His dialogue in this issue is spot on as to what we have come to expect from these particular heroes, even when they argue.

It doesn’t hurt that Bendis has enough pull that the big name artists tend to gravitate towards him. In the case of Avengers Prime, it is the incomparable Alan Davis who has teamed with Bendis and brought his amazing pencils with him. Anyone who has followed Davis’s work over the years will easily recognize the crispness of the pencils on display here. The artwork is gorgeous regardless of whether Davis is depicting a troll village, the halls of the fallen Asgard, or the facial characteristics of the characters. The emotions just spill from the page and add so much power to this tale.

Overall, this initial entry of the Avengers Prime limited series is very engaging. The scenario that is presented fits the story precisely--as do the characterizations of the three Avengers. The cliffhanger ending has my curiosity piqued for the next installment and for where the journey will take us from here.

Ray Tate:

Cap, Thor, and Iron Man hash out their friendship issues amidst the wreckage of Asgard. Readers who ignored Marvel's Big Stupid Events learn that the Rainbow Bridge was one of the casualties in The Siege, but the mystical passage still has some life in it. Meh.

In terms of writer and reader, Brian Bendis and I go way back. I first became aware of him when he teamed up with Marc Andreyko to produce Torso, an Elliot Ness detective story inspired by the facts of the case. I liked Torso, so I followed his work on Powers, but Deena's constant swearing wore me down.

I dropped Powers, but I was still willing to try any other work Bendis produced. After the first issue of Alias, I quit him altogether. Everything he's done since has only reinforced my decision--especially his piss-poor treatment of Tigra.

Bendis's work on Avengers Prime is inadequate. When the characters talk, they sound unnatural; their characterization feels artificial, and I'm unsure of the overall continuity.

For instance, I was under the impression that Iron Man did not remember what his past self did from Civil War on, but some of the dialogue suggests that he does remember. This inconsistency is annoying, and it isn't necessary because these elements really don’t lead anywhere. For instance, when Cap the tea-bagger states, "By trying--listen--by trying to get the American taxpayers to foot the bill for your toy box you led this country down a path that led to Norman Osborn getting his hands on it," why doesn't Iron Man say something like, "Cap, that was a different Iron Man. I don't agree with that Iron Man. I'm the Iron Man you know and fought alongside for years. We haven't seen each other for decades. None of my actions led to Osborn."

Iron Man's fiscal responsibility shouldn't be the issue. The issue should be whether or not Cap really believes Iron Man is a clean slate. Maybe Bendis is trying to be pertinent and would rather avoid a question borne from science fiction, but metaphor politics does not make the story better.

While the characters behave erroneously and speak in a manner that ill suits them, they do look like the bona fide articles. Iron Man's old armor has a more organic feel to it, recalling the old days when you could count on Tony Stark. Thor comports himself with the body language of a noble god, and his new duds are actually an improvement. Captain America is the ultimate soldier. Even though he should have instantly known that he was confronting a tavern of elves or trolls, not Thor worshippers, he recovers from his tactical blunder through a display of awesome fighting prowess.

The reason why I bought Avengers Prime is simple. Alan Davis and Mark Farmer rarely do wrong. In that regard, Avengers Prime is no different, but the writing leads me to the conclusion that I should wait for the trade if all I want to do is enjoy the artwork.

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