Striking a balance between realism and wonder is what superhero comics are all about. It’s finding the right way to tell universal human stories through the lens of a world populated by demigods and supermen. Just like any artform, there are bound to be examples that cater to the a vast number of readers, just like there are examples of overly-experimental work that barely speak to any audience. Finding that happy medium isn’t always easy, yet Kelly Sue DeConnick makes it look easy in Avengers Assemble #10.
This issue picks up from DeConnick’s first issue on the series, which saw Tony Stark and Bruce Banner strike a bet to see who can solve the mystery of the disappearance of a mutual colleague, Sergei Sorokin, from a laboratory in Antarctica. Tony chooses Thor as his partner, and Bruce recruits Spider-Woman, with Captain America and Carol Danvers acting in moderator roles. Avengers Assemble #9 focused on the less-seen, more lighthearted side of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes simply through conversation and these characters’ natural competitiveness.
In Avengers Assemble #10, the tone turns dour when the friendly rivals discover bodies littering the lab. DeConnick deftly keeps the narrative going while making sure to allow for the natural psychological digestion of seeing more than a dozen cadavers. Plus, Hulk drinks the water, which it turns out is what caused all the death. Spider-Woman and Hulk use subtle humor to handle their grief at their current situation, while Tony reverts to his work-under-pressure mode when presented with dire circumstances.
The Captains America and Marvel are hot on the trail of Sergei Sorokin, whom they believe to be a passenger on a plane that left illegally from Australia. DeConnick’s villain for this arc, Yun Guang Han, is one that, at first, seems quite generic: he’s out to rewrite humanity’s genetic makeup through 20 million year old bacteria. The difference between Han and the various villains with similar plans that came before him is that he’s far more eloquent than almost any other current villain in Marvel’s pantheon, save for Doctor Doom.
Somehow, Han has seen through the variables that most villainous types are blind to, then uses those variables to manipulate the situation in his favor. Instead of an outright inoculation of the planet, Han bides his time by making an impression on the Avengers—he goads them and tells Captain America exactly what he’s capable of destroying should he be pushed too far. This is where DeConnick really sells Avengers Assemble #10, by presenting a truly compelling villain who poses a real threat on a physical level—that mind-controlled super army is crazy—as well as a psychological one. Forcing Captain America to back off will likely result in bad news for Han down the line, but for now, it’s just fun seeing him act so flippantly with one of the most powerful individuals on the planet.
Crazy, weird, insane superhero fiction is fun. But superpowers and mad scientists only go so far. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s career has been a slow burn that’s been building to her current status as one of Marvel’s top writers, and Avengers Assemble #10 is a fantastic exhibition of her talent. Having a good mix of relatability and action goes a long way in terms of making a comicbook interesting, and DeConnick is a master at finding that groove. It feels like Tony Stark is really nervous, and that Carol Danvers is actually worried for Steve Rogers’ safety. It’s not hard to write the words saying these things are true. Making those ideas feel authentic through the narrative is a whole different ball game, and DeConnick hits home runs every time.