Saturday, December 26, 2009

Marvel Unbound - The Mighty Avengers: Assemble

I pick up trade paperbacks of comics I read back in the day all the time. I have no qualms about spending my time and/or money on books that collect story arcs that I remember fondly from the early to mid-’80s. But when it comes to more current runs of comic books, I tend to buy collected editions of material I haven’t read previously in single issue format. The oversized hardcover of Brian Michael Bendis’ The Mighty Avengers: Assemble is an exception.

I love it when Marvel reprints material in the oversized format; the art just explodes off the page! And Assemble collects the first few story arcs from the first 11 issues of Mighty Avengers that bridge Civil War and Secret Invasion. But to say it only serves to fill a gap between two events does the book a disservice. The stories further reveal the complexities of the Marvel Universe and move the overall narrative forward.

I haven’t read these stories in a couple of years, not since I read them in single issues as they were released. At the time, I was just getting back into comics after twenty years away, and I remember picking up that first issue of Mighty Avengers and being completely disoriented as to what was going on in the Marvel Universe. I didn’t realize at the time that the Mighty book was the pro-registration team and that the New Avengers book was the anti-registration team.

Frank Cho and Mark Bagley’s artwork perfectly suits that notion of a slick, sanctioned team. (And Leinil Yu’s more gritty visuals fit the New Avengers renegades equally well in that title at the time.) Although I’m not particularly fond of Cho’s renderings of Janet Van Dyne/Wasp or Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow throughout issues #1 through 6, the images collected here are still gorgeous enough eye candy that I had Cho sign my copy of the book at Wizard World Chicago earlier this year.

Bagley’s work on the subsequent five issues weaves the pre-Secret Invasion buildup with the “Venom Bomb/Doom’s Castle” storylines. I talk at length in the chapter “Panel to Panel” of Deus ex Comica about Might Avengers #9. I love the magic Marko Djurdjevic and Bagley weave in that issue, and I had forgotten just how retro-awesome the follow-up issue is!

Bendis seems to be having a lot of fun with the dialog in this book. I remember laughing out loud reading some of the exchanges in issue #11 the first time around and again here. I also like the way Bendis portrays the frustration and conflict in Ms. Marvel after being appointed team leader by Tony Stark’s Iron Man/Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. then having her authority undermined by him around every turn.

I figured I would get more out of reading these collected issues this time around just by virtue of my fully and immediately grasping the context in which these stories originally took place. But on the flip-side, I wasn’t sure how this would read for me given the Secret Invasion knowledge I was bringing to the table. The six-part “Initiative” storyline works well, providing an “into the deep end” mission for this new team by way of the classic Avengers foe, Ultron. Bendis does a good job balancing his talking-head moments needed to setup the selection of the team with the action of an all-out battle by using out-of-sequence flashbacks. And the Secret Invasion setup in the second half of the book never gets in the way of just telling a fun adventure story.

I’ll be to preordering the second volume, designed to take the reader through the end of Bendis’ run on the title (and the point where I jumped off the book), scheduled for release later this winter. During Secret Invasion the Avengers titles were used for event backstory, so I’m curious how cohesive a collection this next book, covering issues #12-20, might be.

Although the dimensions of a Marvel Omnibus, these deluxe hardcovers don’t overdo the extras. Apart from some Cho character sketches and page art, and some Bagley cover art, the focus is firmly where it should be: on the stories themselves. The Mighty Avengers: Assemble is a great collection for the shelf and a fun read in the tradition of my old-school Avengers books.

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