Saturday, March 10, 2012

Avengers Prime

Since coming up with new subjects to talk about regarding gaming is getting a bit harder (And if you have an idea for an article, please pass it along.  Dave Zyn has given me an outstanding entry for Study In Evil, for example.) I am going to be writing about different things that interest me.  For example, I will be trying my hand at humor some time down the road and will be doing a review of a Star Trek The Animated Series episode.

Brian Michael Bendis.  You either love his work or hate it.  For me I had only read a couple pieces of his work: Powers, Who Killed Retro Girl, and a variety of Ultimate Spider Man trade paperbacks.  Powers was a decent read but it was not enough to really grab my interest (It is not as if I am against the concept of a police procedural in a super heroic universe: I loved Brubaker and Rucka's Gotham Central.) and Ultimate Spider Man?  Well, I like my Spider Man grown up and married to hot red heads and Joe Quesada decided the only Spider Men we get are teenagers and men who act like teenagers.

And yes, sometimes it does bother me that I am no longer the target demographic.

Bendis has been writing Avengers for some years now and I decided from day one I was not going to read it after I checked out his first issue.  The first page of dialogue just seemed...Well, Bendis has his own writing style and part of it involves characters sitting around and talking about unimportant things so they seem more like normal people.  And it gets old really, really fast.  And after a while everyone sounds the same.  Add to that the fact that Spider Man and Wolverine were joining The Avengers and that just smacked of crass commercialism, of throwing characters onto the team for the sole purpose of increasing sales rather than it making any sense.

After reading Avengers Prime I think I made the right choice.

Please allow me to provide a bit of back story before I begin.  About six years ago Marvel's big Summer Event comic was Civil War.  For some months prior there had been a sub plot mentioned in some comics about Congress passing the Superhuman Registration Act, a law that would require anyone with super powers to register them and be placed under some form of control of the Federal Government.  In Civil War the act was finally passed after a super villain named Nitro used his powers and blew up a school, murdering numerous children.  What resulted was a schism forming in the super heroic community with Iron Man leading the heroes who registered, Captain America heading up the faction that refused.

The story was a clusterfuck.

Hack writer Mark Millar does not know how to write Tony Stark and Reed Richards.  He does not know how to write Captain America.  His attempts to generate tension between the factions was ham-fisted and made no sense.  What is Captain America's plan after his side goes underground?  What is their goal?  Why don't the heroes on the pro registration side have any problem with fighting side by side with super villains forcibly recruited into becoming foot soldiers?  If I were The Wasp I think I would have some issue teaming up with mass murdering hit man Bullseye.  Why doesn't Captain America point this out with one of his famous speeches before the final fight?  Why doesn't he point out that it was not his side that killed someone with a murdering clone of their dead friend?

Oh.  Right.  Millar wrote Civil War.  That explains everything.

Tony Stark was transformed by hack writer Mark Millar into a fascist bastard.  He helped create an extradimensional prison where unregistered heroes were held without any due process (Reed Richards was also in on this.  Reed Richards was also written poorly.  It being Mark Millar, this is a given.).  Stark and Hank Pym cloned Thor (thought dead at the time) from a lock of his hair (Provided by Stark, who held on to it all this time.) and even after the abomination ran amok and killed Giant Man used him again; Clor, as he was called by the internet community tried it's best to kill Black Panther and Storm before being destroyed by Hercules.

Over the next few years Iron Man was written differently by different writers.  By some he seemed to be a man attempting to do his best in the face of a host of difficult decisions as head of SHIELD.  By others he was a complete jerk who seemed to be having too much fun with all the power at his disposal. For example, he was having She Hulk handle Hulk villains while her cousin was "missing".  The reason Hulk was missing?  Stark and others had sent him into space (The Illuminati.  Brought to you by that other master of retconning, Brian Michael Bendis).  Stark was sleeping with She Hulk at this time while he was lying to her.  When she discovered the truth and confronted him, Stark de-powered her with nanites he had injected into her and left her powerless in the middle nowhere.

What a guy.

Eventually damage control had to be done.  The Iron Man movie had come out and the hero had to be made to look heroic once more.  So Stark's memory was erased from a certain point on (The Extremis storyline.  I will be addressing that at a later time.) so all those horrible things he had done?  He could look on it with horror.  Stark had lost his company, his armor, his position as head of SHIELD.  He was a fugitive.  We were supposed to now feel sorry for him.  When Siege came out Iron Man, a resurrected Captain America (Oh yeah, Captain America died, but he got better.  Comics.) and Thor now all had to team up to take down Norman Osborn.  After Siege was done the trio were left with a lot of baggage to deal with.

Hence, Avengers Prime.

The plot of the limited series involved Thor, Captain America and Iron Man (wearing an older, suit of armor that was much cooler than his hooker boots Extremis look) being swept up into one of the Nine Realms and dealing with the consequences of Asgard itself being located on Earth.  Things had become dark and chaotic, with Hel, the Norse god of death holds the Twilight Sword which affords her a tremendous amount of power.  The trio are separated, have their own adventures, re-unite, take on Hel and save the day.  Somewhere along the way they resolve their differences and hug it out.

And really, it does not work.

Let me say the big positive is Alan Davis' stunning art.  The man is a tremendously talented artist and he makes the comic feel epic even in the face of Bendis' annoying dialogue.  But Davis' art is not enough to change the fact that this story is supposed to be about these three men resolving their issues (really I think it is about Thor and Cap dealing with the fact that the man they called a friend for years is an asshole) and they really do not do that.  The comic starts off with Stark and Rogers arguing but it just sounds forced, as if Bendis had this great Avengers story in mind and was told to somehow wedge the conflict in somehow.  And the part about Thor being upset with Stark for cloning him and making everyone think the guy who killed Bill Foster was him?  Never really addressed.  Oh it was addressed in another comic and Thor just smiled and said it was okay, which kind of flies in the face of the rage he expressed in his own comics just a couple years earlier.

Now, one could argue that Thor is a forgiving sort of guy, that he realizes with Tony memory wipe that he deserves some sort of break.  But the memory wipe is never addressed in this comic!  One would have to have read the Iron Man series and probably Siege in order to get that!  Bendis does not even attempt any sort of exposition at all, he just assumes that if you are reading this that you have been buying some fifty dollars worth of comics.  I fail to see why just a touch of expository dialogue could not have been used to explain why Thor might be upset with Stark.  Reading the back cover of the trade paperback, "squabbling over old wounds" is mentioned.  What old wounds?  I only know about it because I have access to Scans Daily and Might God King.  Hell with Marvel if they think I am actually going to pay money on their crap.

Clor killed Bill Foster.  Wearing Thor's face.  I think Thor might still be bitter about that, considering that even if Stark no longer remembers making Clor he still collected a lock of Thor's hair years earlier!  But that story was written five years ago, that is forever in comics.  You aren't supposed to dwell on details that far back.

And yet, you are.  The whole point of why Rogers and Stark are supposed to be upset with one another ties way back to Civil War, where Rogers became a fugitive, Stark a government stooge using super villains as foot soldiers and denying their friends basic civil rights and ultimately getting Rogers killed.  And even if he cannot remember those events one would assume he is still the same sort of man who would commit those same sorts of actions.  And that is what Avengers Prime should have been about.  It should have been about Rogers and Thor coming to realize the man they thought was a friend was not the man they thought he was.

There is a scene in the book where the the trio are sitting around a fire, a quiet moment between battles.  And does anyone bring up the issues that have come between them?  No.  Instead they talk about who might have slept with Patsy Walker, Hellcat.  And I have no idea why Bendis does this.  It is not like the guy is unable to write serious dialogue.  Powers was a very serious comic, so was Alias.  Bendis can set aside the funny and get very dark when he wants to.  So why not devote a couple pages to three friends finally coming to terms with the reason why they are so angry?  Have Stark own up to the fact that he is a control freak who made many mistakes.  Have him point out Rogers' inane response to the Registration Act and his culpability in Foster's death.  Hell, have him damn well apologize to Thor right then and there!  This is what this comic is supposed to be about.

All right, yes, I can see how Real Man might have problems coming out and saying things like "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you".  Men do not discuss emotions the way women do.  And yes, the trio are stuck on another world with an impending battle.  That being said, if they have time to talk about what chicks they have banged I think they might have enough time to resolve the issues that led to Captain America getting killed!

After a few battles Captain America and Thor decide hey, Tony is an okay guy after all.  The trio hug it out like men and walk away with grins on their faces.  Everything is Just Fine.

To borrow a quote from Linkara, This Comic Sucks (I would have provided a picture by way of reference but according to his theme song the man has a magic gun.  I do not want to make him mad at me.)  The art is spectacular but Bendis fails to write a compelling story.  Instead he falls back on his funny dialogue schtick, creates a needless love interest for Rogers, and delivers a simplistic resolution to five years of conflict between the three heroes.  If your library has the trade I would recommend you checking it out and reading it for yourself.  Well, less reading and more admiring Davis' art.  But please do not waste your money.

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