You can almost catch the smell of popcorn wafting off the pages of Avengers Assemble #3, the latest issue in Marvel’s
cash grab well-timed book featuring the cast of the blockbuster Avengers movie.
The gang of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are all here, sounding and acting very much like their on-screen counterparts. The scenery of S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier command centers and hallways should be instantly recognizable to those who’ve seen the movie… which, given the box office receipts, is apparently everybody.
As with nearly all things Avengers this past decade, Avengers Assemble’s story is headed by Brian Michael Bendis. Bendis’ script deftly dances around the fact that the book is set in the old school Marvel Universe, giving readers a clear look at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in their original incarnations while still managing to make Tony Stark sound like Robert Downey Jr. Some Bendis tropes do manage to bubble up to the surface–more than one dialogue nugget comes off as better suited for the Ultimate universe than 616 proper–but the overall script works.
In Avengers Assemble the Hulk is green, Thor waxes Asgardian, Steve Rogers is leaderific as Captain America, and all feels right in the universe. There’s not a Red Hulk, revived Bucky, or Norman Osborn subplot to be found, and that’s refreshing for readers both old and new. Unburdened by the drag of whatever the hell has being going on with these characters in recent years, the story sails with freewheeling action and fun as the focal point.
The biggest hole comes by way of S.H.I.E.L.D. grand poohbah Nick Fury. Audiences the world over will be looking for Samuel L. Jackson, not a grey-haired Cold Warrior. Wisely, Bendis just skips the whole thing. There’s a mention of one of Fury’s cars in issue three, but other than that the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. is AWOL.
Mark Bagley’s pencils here are the same as they’ve ever been– which is to say classic comic art with a nice slant toward dynamic action. Our heroes look like action figures plucked from the reader’s mental toy chest and thrust into Marvel-level fisticuffs. As with Bendis’ writing, the delivery feels focused on action and fun. There’s no two-page spread of Hitch-ian detailed destruction, no grim sulking in a warehouse. The Avengers here are bright and shiny, boiled down to their basic elements.
The villains our Hollywood Avengers face off against are a lackluster bunch. They give Hulk something to smash and make for great targets for Hawkeye’s arrows, but there’s not much in terms of menace. Until the last page, that is. My inner child squealed shamelessly at the reveal of the big baddie. No spoilers, but I guarantee some Marvel/Disney executives were brought to near-ecstasy by the synergy on display. Again, another bon-bon for crowds spilling out of the multiplex, and tantalizing filler until the Avengers sequel drops.
Avengers Assemble is far from the pinnacle of comic storytelling greatness. The art and story are decent enough if one breezily reads through the book, but don’t take a microscope to it and expect to find Watchmen. Of course, the majority of people who caught the comic-reading bug did so early on in life, and nearly always by way of books that looked and read a lot like Avengers Assemble does. Young fans who enjoyed the movie could do far worse that having this book thrust into their hands as a gateway into the broader world of comics.
The simplicity of Avengers Assemble is a change of pace from the sprawling, continuity steeped storylines going on in Avengers vs. X-Men and the fifteen other monthly Avengers-centric titles Marvel puts out, and partially turns the movie adaptation formula on its head. It used to be that Hollywood degraded and butchered our comic book heroes. Now, it seems to understand what makes them tick better than comic publishers do. Avengers Assemble could be a sign of things to come– cross pollination between the worlds of comic book movies and the medium which spawned them. In the case of the Avengers, that is a most welcome trend.