Review: Mighty Avengers Vol. 1: No Single Hero trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

"With art by Greg Land."

There are few words more divisive than those when it comes to comics. It's easy to see why Rob Liefeld's art gets so much hassle from fans, but from a distance, Greg Land's artwork looks okay. That's until you notice the numerous characters, primarily women, who have been traced from pornographic magazines. Nearly every woman Land draws is screaming and bug-eyed; it looks bad enough without knowing exactly why. It's difficult for me to judge his actual talent as he's also been known to swipe from other comic book artists in addition to his tracing escapades. It's so distracting that I decided to not pick up the Marvel NOW! Iron Man re-launch because of his presence. So why did I end up reading and enjoying Mighty Avengers: No Single Hero if I couldn't stand the artwork?

Part of it is because it was one of the few Infinity tie-ins to really concentrate on Thanos' attack on Earth. Primarily, though, it was because of the writer and the lead character. Al Ewing was one of Marvel's 2014 MVPs in my eyes for his brilliant runs on both this title and on Loki: Agent of Asgard. He has a similar style to Kieron Gillen without Gillen's tendency to lapse into moments of pretension. Ewing is well aware that this book is really the new volume of Heroes for Hire with a different title for added sales so he's willing to indulge in some humor.

The other big draw for me was when Marvel announced the team leader as Luke Cage. As I've said in other reviews, having Cage leave the main Avengers roster was a misstep in my eyes. The main reason they gave at the time was because Cage was concerned for his family. Ewing irons this all out by having Cage realize that whether or not he retires, his family will always be in danger, so it's best for him to keep fighting. It eventually turns into the superhero equivalent of a family with two working parents, and he and his wife, Jessica Jones/Jewel, figure it out.

Throughout the trade, the team's roster slowly assembles with some very interesting entrances and exits. Since the concept during the first arc is that Cage's Avengers are the only team of Avengers on Earth during Infinity, Ewing was able to justify bringing back some relatively obscure characters. Monica Rambeau from Nextwave joins up with the new code name Spectrum, and She-Hulk arrives later on to lend some muscle power. Adam Brashear, the Blue Marvel, is the book's best rediscovery. The Blue Marvel was created a few years ago as a retconned-in African American hero who was forced into retirement lest his race start a riot amongst Marvel's notoriously aggressive populace. He's a cool combination of Superman and Doc Savage and is, much like Hyperion in Avengers, a far better copy of Superman than the Sentry ever was.

One of the most significant subplots in this trade concerns the two Spider-Men who join in against Thanos. The first is "Spider Hero," a mysterious man in a gaudy Spidey knock-off costume; he eventually takes the name and armor of Ronin. His identity was leaked long before the comics confirmed it, which is a shame; Ewing clearly spent a lot of time designing the mystery behind him. Then there's the Superior Spider-Man, stuck on Earth while on Avengers probation. It's odd that neither that team nor this one can quite figure out that Spider-Man's mind is under the control of a supervillain. Conversely, it does lead to a funny running joke in which the Mighty Avengers theorize that Peter Parker became a jerk by reading Ayn Rand. Superior Spider-Man's attempt to take over the team fails and he leaves the title permanently, and probably for the best.

Marvel's approach of "something for everyone" is evident in the success of Mighty Avengers. True, it rebooted after fourteen issues, but that was because of a status quo change and not sales. It's a book designed to appeal to fans of the Brian Michael Bendis years, while at the same time attracting readers who disliked those books by being more light-hearted. My advice is to flip through a copy of No Single Hero before buying it to see if you can deal with Greg Land's artwork. Al Ewing's dialogue balances it out in my mind.

Just how much Land weighed Mighty Avengers: No Single Hero down is evident in later issues, where Valerio Schiti stepped in and really brought out the title's potential. The rebooted Captain America and the Mighty Avengers features Luke Ross, an artist far more in line with Schiti. Meanwhile, Land was swiftly rotated out of Spider-Woman after the Milo Manara controversy and is only the artist on one Secret Wars title so far. Marvel may have finally listened to the fan and retailer complaints and decided to minimize Land's role in their future.

Speaking of Secret Wars, I wanted to announce a little project I'm currently working on. Many of the new titles feature obscure characters and old stories and it might be difficult to determine what trade you should read to prepare for them. To that end, I've begun a database of the title announcements and I'll be updating it with my trade recommendations frequently over the next few months. That should be ready in April as part of the "Road to Secret Wars" articles I'll be preparing. Next week, however, is a review about a team that, if I'm correct, showed up on last night's episode of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."… and even if they didn't, I haven't reviewed a Thunderbolts trade in a long time.
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  1. My problem with this book is it's complete lack of story.... Oh sure things happen, but those things are all unrelated to each other, have no narrative connection & pretty much occurred for no reason. Aliens attack, fight occurs, alien decides to leave after kicking Avenger arse.... At which point here comes a demon & some inhuman stealing something from somewhere unrelated to anything to do with any character in this book.

    Mighty avengers is a perfect example of the "no reason to exist" book writing concept Marvel has got good at recently. The writers need to decide what the purpose of this book is & then write towards that purpose. If it has no purpose, then it's time for cancellation.

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  2. Thode are all very valid points, and Al Ewing, for all the strengths he shares with Kieron Gillen, he has a similar disregard for conventional pacing. The plot threads do get mostly wrapped up by the third trade but they take their time.

    The later issues also got hit with a lot of editorial interference. Not only was Ronin's identity lwaked way too early, but the Falcon and She Hulk were added when they didn't really fit in. For the Falcon especially, it's fairly obvious that they forced him in to build up to him becoming Captain America

    I'll still defend MA as a more lighthearted book for newer or returning fans interested due to the films. It has more of an audience in common with Wicked+Divine than either Hickman's or Remender's books.

  3. " The plot threads do get mostly wrapped up by the third trade but they take their time."

    The problem there being that plot points do not a narrative make. Sure a narrative requires plot points, but it usually helps if the plot points are all from the same narrative.

    This trade has become my go to example of how NOT to write narrative fiction.

    Of the last couple of years Marvel writers have completely forgotten how to comic & this book is the intersection of all the things they've forgotten in a single work.

    - All books need a narrative purpose
    - Characters require characterization
    - Characters requires a believable motivation
    - Don't spend more time on foreshadowing of future events then you spend actually establishing the status quo of the book during the establishment phase of the new book
    - A plot is made up of related plot points, connected by progressive story elements leading from one to the other in a logical fashion
    - If no one cares about the identity of a masked character, don't "reveal" it like we are totally wanted to know.