Avengers/Invaders – UK Edition

By Alex Ross, Jim Kreuger, Steven Sadowski, Patrick Berkenkotter & Jack Herbert (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-413-3

I’ve mentioned before my innate antipathy to time-travel stories, which can too often simply be an excuse for empty posturing and flamboyant stunts without impacting on a profitable brand.

It’s all true, and I stand by my view but every so often an exception comes along to shake my surly foundations and Avengers/Invaders happily falls into that rare category.

Released as a 12 part limited series this is a classy and well thought out romp set in the post Civil War Marvel Universe with renegade heroes on the run from the government (represented by superhero technocrat Iron Man,) for refusing to submit to federal registration and licensing.

In 1943 war-time super-team the Invaders (Captain America & Bucky, Human Torch & Toro, Sub-Mariner, Spitfire and Union Jack) is battling its way into Hitler’s Fortress Europe when a cosmic mishap sucks most of them to New York in our era. Disoriented and wary they encounter a battle between government-sponsored heroes and the unlicensed outlaw Spider-Man, and jump to the uncomfortable but logical conclusion that the Nazis won World War II!

They soon come into conflict with Iron Man’s Avengers and battle is joined…

And that’s just the start of a compelling epic which combines chilling mystery and a universe-rending threat with sheer, bravura comicbook shtick as childhood icons battle in spectacular manner, whilst the plot contains many twists and surprises to keep the accent on action and suspense.

Even though this sprawling epic contains a host of guest-stars the creators never forget the cardinal rule that every comic is somebody’s first one; meaning that even the freshest reader can happily navigate these continuity-packed pages with comforting ease, particularly in the extended sub-plot concerning Cap meeting the mystery man who replaced him (sorry, no spoiler hints from me!). This makes Avengers/Invaders a magnificently accessible tale for all lovers of the superhero genre in its most primal form.

Also included in this volume is the Sketchbook issue containing Alex Ross and the greatly underrated Steve Sadowski’s working drawings and un-inked artwork, plus a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases.

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Entertainment Inc. and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.

New Avengers: Illuminati

By Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Jim Cheung & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2436-8

The remodeling of the Avengers franchise continued and expanded with this tale (originally released as the five part miniseries New Avengers: Illuminati) wherein the intellectual and factional powerhouses of the Marvel Universe form a clandestine cabal to guide and dictate the future of the world.

Writers Bendis and Reed spin back to the end of the Kree-Skrull War (relatively recent in story-terms but the epic from Avengers #89-97 was first published in 1971-1972) as a battle between intergalactic rivals nearly destroyed our world. And here the story begins with Charles Xavier of the mutant X-Men, Black Bolt of the Inhumans, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man of the Avengers, the mystic Doctor Strange and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four materialize in the Skrull throne room to threaten the recently defeated emperor, warning him that no further attacks on Earth would be tolerated.

The confrontation leads to massive bloodshed (an attitudinal and moral shift that would appal older fans) before the earthlings are captured and intensively “studied” by the shape-shifting aliens. Although the humans eventually escape back to Earth the damage has been done; the Skrulls will never rest until our world is theirs and now they have a keen understanding of all types of Terran super-humanity…

Safe on Earth the elite star-chamber of champions resolve to meet whenever necessity dictates: the next recorded incidence being after the Thanos Quest/Infinity Gauntlet affair (1991 for us) as the heroes brave overwhelming terror and temptation whilst trying to put six gems which can control all of time, space and reality beyond harms reach. The third mission deals with the secret origin and final fate of the Beyonder (Secret Wars I and II – 1984-1986) whilst the fourth tale is a more intimate exploration as this disparate group of older men discuss love and loss whilst deciding the fate of Kree invader Marvel Boy who had declared open war against all of humanity.

The final chapter leads into and kicks off the publishing event Secret Invasion (2008). The cabal fragments when Iron Man reveals that Skrulls have replaced an unknown number of Earth’s super-humans as a direct result of their failed first mission. The shape-changing invaders are not only undetectable even to Professor X’s telepathy but they have also duplicated all the unique powers of their long-time adversaries…

The habit of strip-mining and in-filling the history of Marvel’s universe has had some high and low points in the past, but I’m happy to say this intriguing idea is one of the better ones, however a fairly good knowledge of the referenced material is predicated so if you’re a bit of a newbie, best be prepared for some confusing moments. For older fans, myself among them, the real shock is the casual abandonment of such abiding principles as “all life is sacred”: oddly, I always thought this was daft and impractical as a young reader, but seeing the obverse operating is disquieting: aren’t your heroes supposed to be better than you?

Still, this is a cracking good read, wonderfully illustrated by Jim Cheung with inkers Mark Morales, John Dell and David Meikis; cohesive enough that it can be read independently and satisfactorily without further reference to the greater Secret Invasion saga.

© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. Marvel Publishing, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

She Hulk: Time Trials

By Dan Slott, Juan Babillo & Marcelo Sosa and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78511-795-7

Let’s re-cap: She Hulk is the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. Her alter-ego, lawyer Jennifer Walters, got a blood transfusion from Bruce Banner and the inevitable result was a super-powerful, ample-bosomed, seven foot tall green Valkyrie who is the poster-child for “As If…”

For most of her comics career she’s been played slightly skewed to the rest of the Marvel Universe. For a good deal of it she was the only character to refer to her life in comic-book terms, with all the fourth wall comedy that could be wrung out of that situation. In this incarnation (reprinting her five issue miniseries from 2005 – in which #3 is celebrated as her 100th full issue) she returns to the prestigious Manhattan law-firm which specialises in the fledgling legal grey area known as Superhuman Law (see also Single Green Female).

This volume is marginally less tongue-in-cheek, but still follows the delightfully accessible formula, albeit with a slightly darker overtone as the human Jennifer needs artificial methods to transform into her seven foot glamazon form due to psychological traumas incurred as a result of the Avengers: Disassembled storyline and her rampaging destruction of the city of Bone, Idaho.

Nonetheless she is soon back at work on a time-travel murder case with a fascinating underlying idea. As everybody in the potential jury pool has been prejudiced by constant media coverage of the attempted murder (the victim isn’t dead yet at time of trial) Jen’s defence team comes up with the brilliant notion of calling jurors from the recent past – courtesy of the multiversal temporal police force the Time Variance Authority…

It’s all going so well until Clint Barton is selected as a jury member: how can Jen work when one of the twelve is secretly Hawkeye – a fellow Avenger she feels responsible for killing!? Guilt-racked and conflicted, Jen decides to break her oath and the rules of time-travel to warn the Ace Archer of the doom that awaits his return to his own time…

The Time Variance Authority is infallible however and when Jen is accused of the capital offence of time-tampering she faces having her entire existence erased from the annals of reality.

This third chapter is also her 100th anniversary issue and features guest art from Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, Scott Kolins, Mike Vosburg, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, Ron Frenz, Joe Sinnott & Sal Buscema, Mike Mayhew, Don Simpson, Lee Weeks and Eric Powell as well as dozens of costumed guest-stars from her jaded career as a hero/villain, whilst #4 is a brief interlude in the greater story (illustrated by Scott Kolins) as She Hulk explores the aftermath of her Idaho rampage with the poignant and rewarding ‘Back to Bone’ before the jurisprudence and chronal carnage concludes with the rescue and return of a dead hero…

This is a priceless, clever romp with devastatingly sharp wit and low, vulgar slapstick in equal amounts plus loads of the mandatory angst-free action: a great read and possibly the Best Whacky Legal Drama since Boston Legal. But don’t listen to me: catch this book and judge for yourself…

© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

House of M: Avengers

By Christopher Gage, Mike Perkins & Andrew Hennessey (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2750-5

In the company crossover event House of M reality was rewritten (yes, again!) when the sometime Avenger Scarlet Witch had a breakdown and altered Earth continuity so that Magneto’s mutants took control of society and where normal humans (“sapiens”) are an acknowledged evolutionary dead-end living out their lives and destined for extinction within two generations.

Collecting the ancillary miniseries House of M: Avengers this volume is set in a world of perfect order, but one where certain malcontents and criminals are determined not to go quietly. Rallying around escaped convict and artificial superman Luke Cage, a gang of criminals calling themselves the Avengers fight to survive and get by however they can, inadvertently becoming a rallying point for Sapiens in a world only too eager to see them all gone…

With the likes of Hawkeye, Tigra, Mockingbird, Moon Knight, Iron Fist, Misty Knight (no relation, not even close), Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Mantis, Swordsman, White Tiger and the Punisher on hand, as well as villains such as Kingpin, Elektra, Bullseye, Taskmaster, Black Cat, Typhoid Mary, the brotherhood of Evil Mutants and Gladiator among the cast there’s plenty of familiar faces and lots of action, but as the countdown ticks towards a big climax and the re-establishment of “real” continuity it’s hard to muster any sense of connection.

Marvel has used this plot to kill off and resurrect our favourites purely for momentary cheap effect so many times its difficult to care…

Weaving established Marvel continuity skilfully into their portion of the overarching epic Gage and Perkins tell an intriguing but frustratingly quick and facile tale that just can’t stand alone (so you will need to read at least some of the other House of M collections for the full picture) that doesn’t fairly reflect their great talents nor deliver the punch we were all hoping for. Pretty, but not for the casual or occasional reader

© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.