The “Mighty Avengers” are Mighty Avenger-y

by Matthew Derman

3 October 2014

Mighty Avengers stars a pseudo-random collection of heroes who form a team based on external circumstances rather than because of some specific shared goal. What’s wonderful about that, though, is that it’s exactly why the original Avengers started way back when.
 

The comicbook marketplace is pretty well saturated with Avengers titles right now. There’s the regular old adjectiveless Avengers, the New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Uncanny Avengers, Avengers A.I. (which puts the A-word first like some kind of rebel series), and the topic of this post, Mighty Avengers. This is to say nothing of the only recently-concluded Avengers Undercover, or the just-begun Avengers & X-Men: AXIS event that will not only include its own mini-series but some undoubtedly large number of one-shots and tie-ins, too. With all these Avengers books on the shelves, one obvious question for readers to ask is, “What distinguishes them from one another?” Different casts and creators naturally lead to differing focal points, voices, and attitudes for every book, and each of the Avengers series tries to have some unique detail that makes it stand out from the pack.

New Avengers is an Illuminati book, Avengers A.I. is all about robots, Uncanny Avengers includes mutants on the team, and so on. Some of these are superficial distinctions to be sure, so perhaps a few of the titles are somewhat redundant, and I don’t read most of them so I can’t speak to how well each one does at justifying its existence. But I have been following Mighty Avengers since it started, and I like it because, on a conceptual level, there’s not much that makes it distinct from the other series in the Avengers family. It stars a pseudo-random collection of heroes who form a team based on external circumstances rather than because of some specific shared goal. What’s wonderful about that, though, is that it’s exactly why the original Avengers started way back when, which fits perfectly with Mighty Avengers because, at its heart, it’s a series about what it means to be an Avenger, historically, currently, and potentially.

Mighty Avengers actually saw its final issue published last month, but we already know it’s going to be re-launched in November as Captain America & the Mighty Avengers, because two marketable names in a title is better than one, amiright? (No, I am not right, but I understand the decision from Marvel’s point of view). Here in this moment of transition, I thought it’d be worthwhile to revisit some of what the series did so well, and what made it the most Avengerish Avengers title I’ve read in a while.

The team at the center of Mighty Avengers comes together initially just because no other superheroes are available. For part of the recent Infinity crossover, the A-list Avengers teams were all in space—-I don’t know all the details because I didn’t read it, but that’s all the info you need to get on board with what happens in the first few Mighty Avengers issues. With the major players all off-world, Thanos orchestrates an attack on New York City, assuming the resistance his forces will face will be lightweight and easy to handle since none of the big name heroes are around. Instead, the Mighty Avengers all individually respond to the threat and then quickly team up to defeat it together. It’s an accidental joining of forces, but once the group has been assembled for this first fight, they collectively decide to continue as a team, to officially become the Mighty Avengers. They then create a sort of volunteer heroes-for-hire unit, setting up a hotline where anyone can call in with any problems, from the cosmic to the miniscule, and ask the Mighty Avengers for help.

The team also opens its roster up to any normal, non-superpowered folks who wish to donate their time to the cause, lending a hand with some of the more mundane problems that the group is asked to deal with. It’s a simple idea, but also a perfect version of an Avengers squad for the present day. Admittedly, a telephone hotline doesn’t exactly scream modernity, but the notion of a partially crowdsourced team pretty much does. There’s a long tradition of superheroes, consciously or unconsciously, setting themselves apart from the common man, but in this instance they all work side-by-side, keeping the superpeople grounded and giving the rest of the city access to the kinds of help they likely couldn’t find anywhere else.

Of course, the reader doesn’t spend very much time with the non-super members of the Mighty Avengers, since this is still a superhero comicbook full of villains and costumes and high-powered action. Also, in spite of their message of unity and inclusiveness, the team has some internal issues to smooth over, like any collection of people does when trying to work together. Spider-Ock tries to forcefully steal the leadership from Luke Cage and ends up beaten and removed from the team; White Tiger goes rogue when she learns the man who killed her family is out of jail; Cage and Dr. Adam Brashear butt heads over their mutual disapproval of one another’s histories; Blade does a lot of cool macho guy solo adventuring rather than including his teammates and it gets him into some major trouble.

They’re a progressive but imperfect group, is what I’m saying, but even with the arguments and internal conflicts they remain an exemplary Avengers squad. Their disagreements don’t ever stop them from successfully saving the day when they’re needed, and every single one of their problems ultimately leads to strengthening and unifying them as a group. Individual members may fight against one another now and then, but the Mighty Avengers team is constantly growing, learning, and improving itself through all its many trials. The whole is considerably greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s what any Avengers team should be striving for. They’re all already superheroes, so if they’re going to band together, they ought to be more effective, powerful, and righteous than any of them could ever be on their own.

After their original dismantling of Thanos’ plan, the group handles various other foes and problems while also building a base of operations, expanding their roster, training some of the younger members, and other bits of housekeeping/team bonding type stuff. Writer Al Ewing does a good job of showing both the everyday and exceptional parts of superhero life, and also infuses a lot of humor into his scripts while still taking his characters and stories seriously. Every member of the cast has a clear personality, motivation for being there, and unique role to play. And they all get to be stars and supporting characters in equal turn, depending on the situation. Spectrum and Luke Cage, for example, are both natural leaders, but her leadership is more strategic whereas his is emotional- or morale-based. So Spectrum makes sure the team is prepared for each new challenge beforehand, and Cage is the one who rallies them to overcome the unbeatable odds in the moment.

She-Hulk is, obviously, muscle, but she’s also team’s lawyer, keeping them safe from the kinds of enemies the others don’t have the legal knowledge or skills to fight. Dr. Brashear/Blue Marvel is the most experienced and likely the most powerful, but he’s also the most aloof, so he brings a lot to the table and at the same time he’s always learning how to connect more with his teammates, and thus contribute even more to the team in the long run. I could go on, but it’s a sizable cast, with around a dozen members in the final arc, depending on how you count people like Cage’s dad and Constance Molina, who are there to help temporarily but most likely won’t join up for good. Then again, I guess they very well could stick around, since anyone and everyone can be a part of the Mighty Avengers if they want. That’s the whole point of the team, and a big part of the appeal of this series.

The other thing Ewing nails is the slow-burn build-up of the team’s biggest, most powerful opponent, an intensely evil foursome known as the Deathwalkers. They’re all immortal beings who’ve been alive for centuries and share an insatiable hunger for power, and they each control one of the four elements (fire, earth, wind, and water). Through powerful ancient magic, they plan to combine their abilities and their very identities into one all-powerful entity, the Deathwalker Prime, and use their unmatched might in that form to dominate and then destroy mankind. It’s pretty classic supervillainy, and Ewing skillfully stretches out the Deathwalker story through the entire fourteen-issue run of Mighty Avengers, steadily establishing them as the legitimate, enormous, seemingly unbeatable threat they’re meant to be. By the time the Mighty Avengers are even truly on the trail of Deathwalkers, it’s practically too late, and the Deathwalker Prime comes into existence before anyone can do anything to stop it. As with any great fiction, the heroes find themselves facing an all-is-lost moment as they try to battle a being of inconceivable power and evil.

Here’s where it gets awesome, and I should probably drop a quick SPOILER alert before continuing, because I am about to straight-up ruin the end of Mighty Avengers #14. Seriously, if you don’t want to know what happens in it, stop reading now, because I’m going to tell you exactly what happens. Ready? What happens is this: using the exact same spell that the Deathwalkers used, the Mighty Avengers also combine their powers and selves to form the Avenger Prime, essentially the perfect answer to the Deathwalker Prime. Because the Deathwalkers each truly wanted power only for themselves, their personalities war with one another within the Deathwalker Prime, making it too indecisive and conflicted to effectively take over the world. Everyone involved in the Avenger Prime, on the other hand, has more-or-less the same outcome in mind, namely the defeat of the Deathwalker Prime, so that’s precisely what goes down. After a quick but brutal fight, the Avengers Prime smashes the Deathwalker Prime to piece in a powerful final statement from Mighty Avengers about the value of teamwork and the toxicity of greed.

I’m not trying to say that Mighty Avengers is the ideal comicbook, because in fact there are some serious flaws, the biggest and most glaring of these being that nine of the fourteen issues are drawn by Greg Land. I’ve bashed Lan before elsewhere, and many other critics have, too, so I’m not especially interested in rehashing all of that here, but suffice to say his character work is stiff, his storytelling is often weak, and almost every woman he draws has the same basic facial structure and the exact same overly-plump, weirdly shiny lips. To be fair, Land’s work on Mighty Avengers is arguably the best I’ve ever seen him do, but the bar for that wasn’t set real high before the series began, and there are still some major problems with his style in this comic.

To see what I mean most clearly, compare any of the Land-penciled issues of Mighty Avengers to any of the three done by Valerio Schiti. With Land, the comedy of the comic and personalities of the characters come almost exclusively from Ewing’s scripts, but with Schiti you can see all of that clearly in the visuals, too. Schiti’s style is more loose, fun, and energetic than Land’s, all adjectives I’d use to describe Ewing’s writing, too, making Schiti a better, more natural choice for the title. Sadly, we get him only for issues #6-8 before Land steps back in and remains until the final two issues, which are drawn by Salvador Larocca. Larocca is somewhere in between the other two artists, both in terms of overall talent and how good a pick he is for this book in particular. Compared to Land, then, the series ends on a bit of an artistic upswing, but on the whole the art of Mighty Avengers suffers from not matching or meshing with the writing very often.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that Mighty Avengers isn’t faultless. It is, however, one of the most interesting, thoughtful, and thorough explorations of what being an Avenger really means, and/or should mean, and/or can mean. We all know the Avengers are supposed to be the greatest heroes on the planet, but what are the actual criteria for that, and who gets to determine which heroes qualify? In this book, an Avenger is anyone and everyone who works to protect or improve the lives of others, perhaps a sappy sentiment but a solid one nonetheless. It’s less about the unique responsibilities of those with power than the responsibility we all share as members of the human race to do right by one another as often as we can, however we can.

With the Avenger Prime storyline at the end, Mighty Avengers becomes parable about collaboration vs. competition, about wanting to do anything vs. wanting to have everything. It loudly, definitively supports the former choices and condemns the latter, because being an Avenger, being one of the good guys, necessitates a certain selflessness and communal spirit. I’m sure not every Avengers book would entirely agree, but that’s all the more reason to read this series above the rest. It takes an open-minded, open-hearted approach to Avenger-ism, and though I’m not crazy about the title change, I look forward to more stories told in this spirit when Mighty Avengers comes back with “Captain America &” in tow.


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