Monday, July 30, 2007

Awaken the Thunder (Marvel comics)
Avengers #1 When: November 1996
Why: Jim Valentino & Rob Liefeld How: Chap Yaep & Rob Liefeld

The story so far...
Onslaught, a psychic manifestation of powerful telepath, Professor Charles Xavier, has been defeated. The cost, it seems, is the lives of Earth's mightiest heroes: the Avengers, but unbeknownst to the world their heroes have been reborn in a pocket dimension created by super-mutant: Franklin Richards, son of Invisible Woman and Mister Fantastic.

Completely unaware of their fate, the heroes emerge from their new surroundings and origins, as if compelled by destiny itself to fulfill their roles as the great heroes they were intended to be. Surrounding the reawakened super-soldier, Captain America; Vision, Hellcat, Swordsman, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch are assembled again for the first time as -- The Avengers!

SHIELD rally their team of superheroes to Norway, where archaeologist Donald Blake has unearthed what he believes may be the Norse god of thunder, Thor, and his enchanted hammer Mjolnir. Unable to break the amber that entombs him, the Avengers step up to the plate, but are they opening Pandora's box?...

Previous Form:
Captain America (#9): Had a Heroes Reborn victory over MODOK and Baron Zemo.
Vision (#217): Appeared as a member of the Secret Avengers during Civil War.
Avengers [#2]: Recently defeated by The Destroyer.
Thor (#20): Suffered a harsh defeat against the Asgardian Destroyer.
Loki: Has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thor 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Loki 5 (Professor)
Speed: Captain America 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Thor 6 (Generator)
Agility: Hellcat 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Thor 6 (Warrior)
Energy Powers: Scarlet Witch 7 (Solar Power)

This has by no means been an easy entry to approach. As much as it might have to do with the excruciatingly pointed Liefeldian noses, it's also to do with the Liefeldian concept.

Okay, okay, no. I'm not going to go there the entire review, but this is probably one of those times I'd actually do it. What makes tackling this tale of the tape difficult (and the last input of the month), is the fact that this issue features a duplicate Thor, unique to this universe, and a character called Swordsman, who was later revealed to be Lielfeld-original; Deadpool. Which, is very neat, but also presents a difficult situation for the statistics where we have a counterpart unique to this dimension, which was supposed to be contained within our own and therefore controlled by who is and isn't present in our dimension. Ugh.

We know that a Thor and Loki are teaming up here, which is always going to be a pretty rough ride for the Avengers. Thor is in the upper echelon of powers, proficient in the art of war, rabble raising and general drunken disorder.
Loki has lots of little jinx and hex powers, and can generally stir anyone already in a frenzy to act in his favour, ever the deceiver. So, with an amped up Thor that's been trapped in amber in Norway for years, yeah... That's gonna be some situation the Avengers are stepping in to.

This is not by any measure the most impressive order of Avengers, either.
Captain America, Vision and Scarlet Witch represent some of the classic heavy-hitting old guard, while Hawkeye is also in tow, looking a bit more like Wolverine without all the potential for lethal force and unbridled bad assery.

Then there's the unmistakingly Liefeldian twist of the afforementioned Swordsman who is ultimately revealed to be this world's version of Deadpool, sometime after he gets his hands crushed by the Hulk. And, to top it all off, a feral Hellcat joins the team, looking not unlike Liefeld favourite Feral from the X-Force. Why the transformation in this universe is a question for the ages.

So, with such a ragtag grouping of Avengers, you'd probably struggle to pick them against Thor alone, let alone Thor with the moustache twirling Loki coaching from the sidelines. Vision and Scarlet Witch represent the greatest attack, Vision providing a physical obstacle for the super-powerful Thor, while Scarlet Witch might capitalize on the distraction to do away with the thunder god through her own mystic means.

Although, due to the magical nature of Thor, and the enchantments of Loki, Scarlet Witch might be too timid to fully realise her powers here.
Captain America will no doubt give his all in battle and as a team leader, but within the statistical confines of the tape, he and his human-level fellows are out in the cold. I guess that explains why they were quick to recruit professional asshole and generally smug prick, Tony Stark -- aka Iron Man.

The Math: Avengers (Overall) Thor/Loki (Average)
The Pick: Thor/Loki (Hard to go against them...)

What went down...
Having freed Thor from his amber prison, the Avengers are riding pretty high on their first victory, but the furies soon shift as Loki, having followed the Avengers' activities for some time, reveals himself to his confused half-brother.

Loki quickly seizes the opportunity, spinning a yarn about the fictional treachery of the Avengers who reduced Asgard to rubble. Though Captain America objects to the unjust act of lying, the enraged Thor is unreceptive, content instead to gather his strength for an old time ass whooping.

Cap's shield proves mighty enough to withstand Thor's pounding fists, but Swordsman and Hawkeye prove decidedly less resilient toward Loki's mystic blasts that send them hurtling across the battlefield.

Hellcat comes to the aid of the Captain, landing on Thor's shoulders, but the warrior god of thunder swiftly tosses her away and into the dawdling Scarlet Witch. Hellcat's new appearance serves only to further cast the group as villains, the Nordic Thor presuming her to be a demon.

Vision, manipulating himself to super density, steps up to the plate to strike the chiseled jaw of the thunder god. Taken aback by Vision's assault, it's the scheming Loki that comes to the aid of his brother, frying Vision's circuitry with mystic bolts of pink lightning. A ploy to further his own wile goals.

Assured by Loki's aid, Thor turns his attentions to the star-spangled Captain America once more. The Captain continues to emplore Thor with their innocence, but it is the inevitable treachery of Loki that finally lifts the veil of deceit from Thor's eyes.

As Loki attempts to attack Thor while his guard is down, Captain America swiftly intervenes, shielding Thor from Loki's spectacular attack.

Knocked down by the attack, Thor is reunited with his mystic hammer, Mjolnir, and thusly his memories come flooding back. With Loki having shown his true colours, Thor quickly realigns himself with the Avengers, who he now recognises as just and true warriors.

Thor menaces his half-brother, well ready to commence once again with a kicking of the ass, but Loki finds himself a bittersweet rescue from his brother's wrath.

The Scarlet Witch summons her fantastic mutant-enhanced mystic powers to absorb Loki's spell to transport Thor to limbo, and turns it back on the god of mischief. Loki's brief reign of terror comes to an abrupt end as he is sucked into his own vortex, doomed to occupy the non-space of limbo.

With the battle finished, Thor struggles to remember his past, but can only recall an onslaught that required great sacrifice. With his mind foggy, and the power of a god, Captain America takes it upon himself to invite Thor into the team as it's newest member, to which the Norse god gladly accepts.

The hammer...
Thor pulls a siwtcheroo to aid The Avengers to victory against this week's Ultimate Alliance feature villain: Loki!
Just in case you forgot what we were doing here, Mondays are of course dedicated to the villains of the popular multi-platform video game, and after several months of Mondays we're finally approaching the business end of that particular thematic device! Yay!

Heroes Reborn is a period in comics generally looked back upon with a flavour of negativity. Reactions range everywhere from bitter contempt, to violent indifference. Granted, this is probably one of the many examples of perpetuated opinions spreading amongst a community of both the informed and the uninitiated, it's fair to say that it isn't all bad press for the sake of it.

Still, it's interesting to take a look at some of the parallels between the work of Heroes Reborn and some of the conceits of later, better regarded works.
The Ultimates is something that always comes to mind when I think back to this very introductory issue of the Heroes Reborn Avengers.

The discovery of Thor is regarded with some scepticism from the beginning, despite the unlikely feat of a man surviving being imprisoned in a chunk of clear amber. In this respect, it perhaps ironically recasts Thor in the position of man-out-of-time to be unfrozen by the Avengers, while Captain America is the chief sceptic regarding the man's true origins.

The Captain continues to question the validity of Thor's claims, ultimately deciding to humor his delusions while inviting him to join the team. A situation that seems to quite strongly echo the future work of Mark Millar in The Ultimates, not that I would suggest any kind of shenanigans.

Actually, I think there's an obscure sense of satisfaction to be taken from the parallels between these books and the Ultimate line of comics, which enjoy a steady regard, despite becoming more and more like their predecessors.

THE FRESH MAKER!!!It feels like there's been a lot of talk about first issues recently on Secret Earths, and despite it's failings, this actually represents a pretty decent first issue, I think. The specifics of the writing style and artwork aside, we get a super-sized issue that divides neatly between introduction to the lead characters (through the eyes of the lurking ghostly villain, Loki, who trapses through their SHIELD headquarters), and a second-half of action. Granted, the action leads to a fairly still conclusion, but I think I'd take a closed ended first issue over the Omega Flight styled meandering of several issues of contemplative nothing.

Obviously criticisms can be drawn regarding a writing style that went out at the turn of the century, along with the likewise bombastic design sensibility of Rob Liefeld, who crams classic designs with naff, blandly indifferent characters that are bitterly reminiscent of many early Image superhero characters.

This issue doesn't escape the wrath of retroactive clutter, either.
Though apparently a concept readily explained by Kurt Busiek, the shift between this barbaric Thor, and something more familiar to classic readers, toward the end of the series feels less like a story, and more like an early effort to start sweeping the mistakes of the present-past aside.

Much of this incarnation of the Avengers goes unrecognised today.
Swordsman and Hellcat's involvement in the team is largely forgotten, in no small part due to further tampering. The already mentioned Swordsman-Deadpool fiasco needs little more elaboration, other than to direct the interested to the mini-series, Heroes Reborn: The Remnants.

I'm not about to bitterly despise this book, or this particular era of comics, because I actually enjoyed a lot of it. I give it a great deal of credit for being the Ultimate comics before the Ultimate comics, with a more forthcoming connection to the classic materials, that is a silent trend gripping Ultimate books today, stripping them of their identity (and instant sales value).

For those who missed out, I can only hope that while I have readily acknowledged some of the faults, you can also recognise that this is a very fun, action-packed issue of Avengers vintage. Vintage that just didn't mature terribly well...

Before we fade away, we should note that as the only two characters unable to mount an offensive (beyond participating in group poses), Hawkeye and Swordsman receive but an assist stat for this particular performance.
AND -- due to the streamlining rule that alternate universe counterparts be lumped in with their originals, the Swordsman stat goes to Deadpool. If you've hitched here through the Deadpool tag, hopefully a word search has cleared up why.

EDIT (October 4, 2007): Swordsman has been relisted as his own character, as per the Superboy-Prime Directive. These stats have been removed from Deadpool's listing.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4.5
[Not at all a revolutionary moment in comics history, but obscurely important and perhaps even influential on the future landscape of these characters, and the way in which they might be handled. Action, pose-heavy read.]

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