[17 September 2013]
There is an idea that I have for a Captain America and the Falcon story that, hey, I’m never going to get to write, and it relates to what I have to say about the new Mighty Avengers series, so I’ll outline it here. In my imagined story, Captain America joins the Falcon as he takes a group of African American kids from Harlem to a Yankees-Dodgers game, the Dodgers being the team Jackie Robinson played for. While watching the game Captain America, who grew up as scrawny Steve Rogers, bonds with the skinniest, nerdiest kid in the group, who says that he would like to be in the Avengers one day. At this point the Falcon interjects and playfully suggests that all the kids in the group might one day comprise part of his Avengers line-up, and that perhaps Captain America would like to be a part of that group.
In response, Captain America gets a picture in his head of a future Avengers team rushing into action, consisting entirely of the African American kids they are sitting with grown up and in colorful costumes, the Falcon out the front, and himself – yes, Captain America – charging into battle alongside them, as just another soldier. ‘Maybe so,’ he replies, ‘you never know.’ That ‘maybe’ certainly wouldn’t mean that Captain America would hesitate to help out his friend and these kids if needed, but that before the Falcon suggested it, he had just never thought of this possibility, as historically it had just so happened that the majority of any given Avengers’ line-up had been Caucasian, with Cap often being the leader of the group. But if, sometime in the future, both of these things happened to not be the case – well, hey … why not?
Much of the media build-up to the first issue of Mighty Avengers has focused on it featuring a predominantly African-American cast. This point is never mentioned in the actual comic itself which, depending on your views about how the issue of race should be dealt with in comicbooks, is perhaps how it should be. Instead, the book is about, as writer Al Ewing puts it in his column at the end of the issue, ‘Luke and Monica’ – that is, Luke Cage and Monica Rambeau. Apart from the Superior Spider-Man, these are the two biggest names amongst the cast of Mighty Avengers. They are each admired by Ewing for different reasons – Luke Cage for his humanity and the fact he’s been allowed to grow and have a family, Monica because she’s smart and does all the ‘cool stuff’.
That pretty much summarizes how they are each handled in this issue. Monica, now calling herself Spectrum, gets to do the cool stuff such as fly around at the speed of light. One assumes that her character will be explored further in subsequent issues. In this issue though it is Luke Cage that is the focus, as he tries to build a career for himself after quitting the Avengers for the safety of his family with a new ‘Heroes For Hire’. We are introduced to Cage’s new superhero ‘family’ - the White Tiger and a new Power Man - who are not necessarily all that happy with being essentially security guards in tights. Ewing further plays up the family aspect of Cage’s life; we see Cage get a text to pick up milk and baby wipes, and hear him ruminate about looking after his family and bettering the world, and whether the two conflict or coincide. In a genre full of characters that are perpetually in their swinging, free-spirited twenties, Cage’s responsibilities add a refreshingly mature aspect to the series.
The art in this issue is not quite as strong as the writing. From the start, Greg Land, has seemed a peculiar choice, with his pretty-faced, Vanity Fair-like drawing style seemingly a mismatch for the urban adventures that Ewing is looking to tell. Further, if you’re going to have a penciler whose main strength is his ‘pretty faces’ the inking should play to that strength, and it doesn’t; some of the faces end up looking a bit off, which distracts from the story a little. Still, it’s not a disaster, and Land’s artwork perhaps works better here than some of his detractors might have expected.
How the series fares in the long-term remains to be seen. It’s not quite LOL funny, but this issue still has a relatively light tone, particularly compared to the grimness that Jonathan Hickman and Rick Remender have injected, for better or worse, into the main Avengers titles. The arrogance of Otto Octavius, the Superior Spider-Man, in particular adds some levity to the book. The title is also ‘light’ in the sense that the more important battles are being fought elsewhere; all the other Avengers are currently off in space trying to save worlds from being destroyed, and Cage and his team are those left behind in NYC to fend off Thanos’ cronies. Some critics could take issue with this, given that Luke and Monica could hold their own with the Avengers taking part in the major ‘Infinity’ conflicts, but I think it works because an important part of Luke’s present state is that he has removed himself from the main game. It might not carry the weight of other Avengers titles, but there’s definitely room for Mighty Avengers to carve out its own audience.
Whether it makes a big deal of it or not, Mighty Avengers is breaking at least a little ground by having the first Avengers line-up where the majority of members are not ‘white’. Historically, it’s a minor landmark in that sense, though like Brian Wood’s ‘all-female’ X-Men it knows that it is the strength of the characters themselves that will determine the long-term success of the series, rather than their demographics. Still, to see Luke and Monica leading their team into battle is to wonder why no-one has ever thought of doing an Avengers title like this before. Could this be what the Avengers look like going forward? Well maybe so, you never know. And hey, why not?