Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: Avengers World Vol. 2: Ascension

Avengers World is the apparent tertiary Avengers book of the moment, the one that's not written by Jonathan Hickman and not telling the same interconnected story from different angles that his Avengers and New Avengers are telling, but one that does feature the very, very large line-up of his Avengers team from the pages of Avengers.

Given the ever increasing drama and tension of Hickman's other Avengers books, it's a little difficult to tell where exactly this might fit in to the larger story, but I suppose it helps that it's timeline is extremely compressed (the whole series, so far, seems like it might have taken place between a few of the earlier issues of Avengers) and that it's tone and focus are so different. If Avengers has assembled a massive team to tell massive stories, all tied to a more massive one still, this one is focused on the character that make up that massive team, and giving many of them more of a spotlight than they tend to get in the pages of Avengers.

The premise involves The Avengers' foes Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) causing all sorts of chaos on a global scale, and the Avengers splitting up into smaller squads to deal with the machinations of A.I.M . and other big superhero problems simultaneously.

I had pretty much completely forgotten what exactly was going on in the first volume of the series, as there was much going on, but it ended up being remarkably easy to catch-up, in large part because of the way this second volume is structured. Each of the four issues collected in this volume checks in with one of the squads of Avengers and their big, crazy superhero problem. And then there's a random issue from another series—Avengers #34.1—tacked on at the end, presumably because Marvel didn't know where else to stick it, and thought it might fit better here than in Avengers.

The usually reliable Nick Spencer writes all four issues of Avengers World, while Mighty Avengers writer Al Ewing handles the tacked-on issue of Avengers. Marco Checchetto and Stefano Caselli split duties on the Avengers World issues, alternating back and forth—both are fine artists, with styles that are complimentary enough to fit, and the fact that each issue changes casts, settings and situations further smooths over any potential visual hiccups. As for the "Point One" special, that's penciled by Dale Keown and inked by Norman Lee.

So, what are our heroes up to? Manifold teleports Hyperion, Thor and Captain Marvel to A.I.M. Island, where they try and fail to rescue Smasher, who A.I.M. has somehow taken control over. In the midst of the fighting, Hyperion chats with agents of A.I.M., who brought him to this universe, and flashes back to some conversations with Thor regarding his Savage Land projects: Trying to raise these fast-growing, hyper-evolving zebra skinned people.

Then we move to Madripoor, which is currently sitting on top of the head of a gigantic dragon (this is somewhat at odds with what's going on in Madripoor in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, where it most certainly was not being worn like a hat by a giant dragon). Wolverine, Black Widow and Shang-Chi are all there, but The Falcon gets all the attention this issue, as he takes to the skies and discovers a SHIELD like group with its own, Chinese Version of The Avengers, The Great Ten The Ascendants.

Next issue? Spider-Woman, Hawkeye, Nightmask and Starbrand in a city of the dead beneath Italy, where they encounter a group of European superheroes, lead by The Black Knight (Yes, he's American, but his magic sword is European, as he explains).

And then Sunspot and Cannonball, the team's too-little-seen comedy relief pair, take a daring secret mission into the far-flung future.

Each plot works fine on their own, and each proceeds a bit here, but the book is somewhat oddly disjointed, as there's so little connection between the four sub-plots—at least in this volume—that they read like single issues from four different ongoing series. I imagine that feeling is only magnified if one is reading the series monthly, rather than in trade.

As for the "Point One" issue, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and seems to be here only to fill space—justifying a $16.99 pricetag—or because Marvel had to collect it somewhere, and it seemed less intrusive to attach it to the less tightly-plotted of the books with Hyperion appearing in it.

Because it's just a Hyperion story, and has nothing else to do with the Avengers really. Actually, because Hyperion is nothing more than a Superman stand-in, and few folks bother to do anything different or interesting with the character to differentiate him from his inspiration (is it weird that the modern Superman—who is now getting a haircut, ditching his cape and opting for a T shirt and jeans instead of tights—seems to be distinguishing himself more from Superman than Hyperion is?), it's really just a Superman story.

Hyperion uses his amazing powers to solve a crime. He's tempted to let loose and use his powers to humiliate and hurt a villain, but takes the moral high road, ultimately flying up into space to look down on the Earth he protects. Throughout the story, he flashes back to his origins story here and there, and these are all that really differentiate him from Superman (at least a little) save his color scheme. It's a really weird issue to exist at all, let alone to appear here, but I guess everything really does get collected these days.

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