Sunday, June 27, 2010

Marvel's Heroic Age review

Marvel has had a few years worth of dark times for its heroes – Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. Norman Osborn is removed as the world’s top cop and replaced by Steve Rogers, the original Captain America so the Marvel Universe’s heroes won’t have to worry about the Super Human Registration Act anymore. Now it’s time for heroes to be heroes and fight the bad guys without worrying about fighting the good guys.

Of course everyone is going to get Avengers Prime and the new New Avengers titles because they feature characters that are well-known. But what about the slew of new titles featuring less or unknown characters?

I’m going to review three of those titles, Avengers Academy #1, Secret Avengers #1 (and the related story in Vengeance of Moon Knight #9), and Young Allies #1.

Avengers Academy #1 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone
I’m not familiar with any of the characters on this new team so I’m not sure if this is their first appearances. This issue reveals that during Norman Osborn’s reign, he convinced young people with emerging powers to let him ‘help’ them. Instead he tortures them to get their power to manifest and test them – this experimentation leaves many of them with powers strong enough to kill casually or with conditions that are slowly killing them.

The book is mostly told from Veil’s point of view as she discovers that the damage Osborn did to her ability to turn into different forms of gas has resulted in her body beginning a process of losing cohesion. Along the way, Veil is introduced to Hazmat, a girl so damaged she has to be fully contained in a suit at all times or risk accidentally killing someone, Finesse, Mettle, Striker, and Reptil. Overseeing this group is founding Avenger, Hank Pym, Tigra, Quicksilver, and Justice.

What I like about this book is the premise: Norman Osborn’s most damaged subjects relearning how to control their power. One of their first lessons is with Speedball (no longer known as Penance and wearing a costume more like his original). While Striker reminds the team that he was “the guy who killed half the city of Stamford,” Mettle insists that Speedball’s lessons will be valuable because, “One wrong move and any one of us could be a murderer.”

I also like that the adults overseeing the group all have histories that none of them are completely proud of (with the exception of Tigra) and know the price for their mistakes and may be best equipped to handle this group.

Speedball is my favorite Marvel character from back in the New Warriors days. Even he gets a moment when Hazmat takes off her glove during a practice and Speedball freaks out about it, “You want to…accidentally incinerate a bus full of kids.” This is obviously a flashback to the incident in Stamford that resulted in Civil War because that explosion was right next to a school.

As for the surprise ending – it’s not Thunderbolts big but it’s interesting enough to bring me back for #2.

Oh, and in the back of this book is a roster of these new characters and their abilities.

Vengeance of Moon Knight #9 by Gregg Hurwitz and Juan Jose Ryp
I picked this book up because Spider-Man is in it and I love a good team-up. Spidey and Moon Knight faced off against Sandman. Gregg Hurwitz may be new, but Sandman’s ‘I’m depressed and trying to steal money to take care of my kid’ story was old before he was a member of Silver Sable’s Wildpack. When (and why) did Sandman give up on being a good guy? The artwork was great – I hadn’t heard of Juan Jose Ryp before but I’m a fan now – the midair collision between Moon Knight and Spider-Man is hilarious and well-drawn. Speaking of great art, J. Scott Campbell did more than just the cover to this book – isn’t it time for an ongoing title for him?

The end of the book shows Steve Rogers approaching Moon Knight for membership on the Secret Avengers roster which leads into…

Secret Avengers #1 by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato
One of the reasons I was excited about New Avengers was because it had a diverse group of well-known characters who have never been on a team together (and I was looking forward to many funny Wolverine/Spider-Man interactions). It’s the same reason I was looking forward to this book – Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, Black Widow, War Machine, Valkyrie, Antman (the former Thunderbolts member), Beast, Nova, and Moon Knight.

This first issue is a little rough in introducing the team. It starts with Black Widow and Valkyrie on a botched (and boring) undercover job when Steve Rogers busts in and cleans house. Then we’re introduced to Beast. Then we get to see a mission with just a few of the members, then they go off to join Nova in space who hasn’t interacted with any of the team yet.

The premise of the book is simple: Secret Avengers is a covert team that goes after emerging threats, hunting down villains before they attack heroes, cities, governments, etc. It’s a familiar premise but one that might have been better served by having a rotating cast of characters from all over the Marvel Universe, recruited depending on the mission.

With a team book like this, I understand that some missions can only have a few of the members on them (because members like War Machine aren’t built for stealth) but the book should have started with the entire team doing something, whether being introduced to one another or bringing down something like a Hydra cell. It’s more interesting to see this new group together than to introduce them a piece at a time. The flashbacks to Steve Roger’s talks with some of the members was interesting and I wish Brubaker had shown his talk with Beast (who was so disappointed by what was going on in the X-Men books that he quit). The Nova conversation would have been the most interesting considering the last time he visited Earth he found out that his old team was mostly dead, Speedball was fundamentally changed, The Thunderbolts tried to arrest him for being unregistered, and his father criticized him until he decided to leave and not come back.

Still, a bad start is still a beginning and I’m really interested in seeing these characters bond and interact – I just hope this first ‘Serpent Crown’ story-line isn’t dragged out for 5 or 6 issues or I might not stick around.

Young Allies #1 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon
This is probably the best book of the lot. While the characters are introduced a piece at a time, it makes sense because there isn’t a central figure like Steve Rogers putting them together. With the exception of Firestar, none of these heroes is well-known but they have been around long enough that readers have probably seen them in other titles.

Firestar, Nomad, Araña, Gravity, and Toro are featured going toe-to-toe with The Bastards of Evil who are – apparently – the kids of villains. Their only motivation is destruction to gain notoriety and the five heroes find themselves coming together to fight them. There’s a lot of great setup to introduce the readers to each team member. While Toro’s situation is a bit of a mystery that’s foreshadowed at the beginning of the book, McKeever does a great job of introducing the rest of the team. He shows Nomad and Araña fighting crime together and letting us know that they’re good friends, introduces Gravity via a conversation he’s having with his college friends, and introduces Firestar rushing to make a college class on time.

It’s a great start, well-written and drawn and I’ll be back for Young Allies #2 to see if this roster’s reason for staying a team is good enough to carry the series forward. As a bonus, in the back there’s a short write up on each team member to catch the reader up on who they are and give a list of trade paperbacks that each character has appeared in.

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