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Waiting for the Trade - Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 by Bill Miller


Avengers Assemble
by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley
collects Avengers Assemble #1-8

Why I Bought This: Created in the wake of the film, this features the team from the film taking on Thanos. Despite my distrust of Bendis, I couldn’t wait to read this and as soon as it was collected in trade earlier this year, I ordered it from Amazon. That it also features Mark Bagley’s art and the Guardians of the Galaxy is just gravy.

The Plot: Thanos hires the Zodiac to steal items of cosmic power found on Earth and it’s up to the Avengers to stop him.

Chapter 1 – We see a new version of the Zodiac exists. Tony has built a new Stark Tower and the Avengers celebrate. In the desert Hulk is watching an Army convoy that suddenly comes under attack by a water elemental. Hulk tries to help, although the Army assumes he is attacking them too. They fight for a few pages with the Elemental winning by drowning Hulk enough to pass him out and then stealing a mysterious item from the convoy and escaping. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Black Widow are tracking terrorists in Latveria. When they see what the terrorists are stealing they call in the Avengers for back-up. Hawkeye and Widow manage to hijack the terrorists’ jeep they loaded the item on when Taurus attacks. Thor and Iron Man arrive to assist but Taurus defeats them both in physical combat.

Chapter 2 – In flashback we see a mysterious benefactor task the Zodiac with recovering items of power off the Earth in return for power upgrades. In the present Hulk arrives at Avengers Tower and asks Jarvis to get Cap. In Latveria, Taurus gloats over defeating Thor giving Iron Man and Hawkeye a chance to go on offense. They manage to force him to retreat and then when Thor recovers he sees the mystery object and even he is shocked by it. The four heroes meet up with Cap and Hulk on the Hellicarrier and compare notes, deciding the water elemental was Aquarius. We also learn that Hawkeye and Widow recovered the Ultimate Nullifier prompting Cap to decide the stakes are so high that the mission should be classified to the six in this room. And then the entire 12 members of the Zodiac attack the Hellicarrier.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers try to hold the Zodiac off so Widow can escape with the Nullifier. She is pursued by Aquarius. Tony tries to bribe the Zodiac into leaving in a funny moment. The fight gets more intense with some of the villains throwing jets on the Hellicarrier at Thor, until Hulk gets his mad on and finally manages to defeat one of them. This causes his power to flow off into space and Tony is able to analyze it. He then builds a jamming device which reverts the Zodiac to human. The Avengers attempt to question them when Thanos arrives promising to destroy the Earth.

Chapter 4 – In one of the cooler moments Tony immediately broadcasts an emergency signal to the White House as the Avengers have instituted a planet-wide We’re f*ck*d contingency in case Thanos ever comes to Earth. Thanos possesses the Hulk and sics him on Thor. Hawkeye manages to take Hulk down with an exploding arrow to the mouth but then Thanos repowers up the Zodiac at which point the President blows up the Hellicarrier in mid-air. Apparently Tony has a force field now that can surround the entire team to save them. The explosion also distances them from Thanos so Hulk is freed of his control. Cap interrogates the one of the now-Human powerless Zodiac members as we learn none of them were anything special before Thanos found them; their mission was to gather objects of power for Thanos and in return he would give them power to rule the Earth. The Avengers wonder why Thanos would need lackeys (although he’s used lackeys plenty of times in the past including in his earliest appearances), at which point the Guardians of the Galaxy show up offering to help.

Chapter 5 – We see a flashback to a few days ago where the Guardians were fighting the Badoon on some alien world, and after winning and interrogating prisoners learned the Badoon were in league with Thanos and that Thanos had designs on the Earth. The Guardians think Thanos may be after the Infinity Gems but Cap and Iron Man dismiss that, and Gamora confirms it is not the Gems in a cool bit of logic. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Widow make out in the med lab. The Guardians inform the Avengers that the galactic council has deemed Earth off-limits which is allegedly why Thanos was using lackeys instead of attacking outright as the lackeys are a loop-hole to that ruling; as if Thanos would ever care about galactic law (although Gamora suggests that’s exactly why Thanos is interested in Earth again). Cap and Hulk then question the military to learn what the Zodiac took for Thanos in chapter 1 and it is a new Cosmic Cube designed by the U.S. military. Realizing Thanos has the Cube the Avengers and Guardians head off into space to find him.

Chapter 6 – Maria Hill briefs the New Avengers, Secret Avengers and FF on the events of the last few issues and Reed is tasked with coming up with a line of defense in case the Avengers and Guardians fail. In space we see Thanos promise the Badoon an empire larger than the Kree and Skrull if they eliminate the Avengers for him. Shortly thereafter the Badoon fleet intercepts the Avengers and Guardians. Thor and Iron Man breech the mother ship followed by the Guardians and just as the Badoon seem like they are about to defeat Thor, Iron Man’s armor explodes to reveal Hulk inside as Banner was piloting it as a “Trojan Hulk” ruse. The other Avengers except Widow follow inside, when the Badoon blow the airlocks sweeping all the heroes sans astronaut gear into Outer Space. Meanwhile Thanos successfully activates the Cosmic Cube.

Chapter 7 – Thanos summons the Elders of the Universe, Stranger and Inbetweener to him and then obliterates them with the Cube, however the Cube energy then begins to spike out of Thanos’ control. Back in space Widow gets a space suit and retrieves the other heroes though Tony and Clint are not doing particularly well from space exposure. Thor is unaffected by space and continues to attack Badoon ships, while Star Lord has his old element gun and uses it take on a raiding party of Badoon foot soldiers. Hulk joins Thor in the fight while Rocket uses undefined space technology to bring Clint and Tony back from the brink of death. Thor manages to rupture the warp core of the Badoon Mother Ship and then the Guardians leap to hyperspace to make good the heroes’ escape; only for the heroes to be confronted by Thanos, who has once again shed his physical form though this time the Cosmic Cube seems to be the heart of his universal energy form.

Chapter 8 – Thor tries to fight Cube Thanos, while Tony analyzes him and learns the Army was not able to build a true Cosmic Cube but rather a “dark matter energy conduit” in a cube shape. Cube Thanos disintegrates the Avengers. On Earth Reed and the President prepare for the worst. The Avengers and Guardians discover they are not dead but have instead been transported to the Cancerverse from Realm of Kings. They also find the Elders of the Universe are here as well and form an alliance with them. Cube Thanos arrives on Earth and Reed plans to use the Ultimate Nullifier to stop him when the Avengers arrive on the scene. Thor uses some weapon Collector gave him to shatter the Cube, which returns Thanos to normal at which point the heroes of Earth lay the smack down on him and turn him over to the Elders for imprisonment. In the epilogue the Guardians invite Iron Man to join their team, while the Badoon declare war on Earth for what the Avengers did to their mother ship a few chapters back.

 Critical Thoughts: I liked the story’s momentum but it is flawed, as most Bendis stories are. If you look at this as a story designed to appeal to casual fans that saw the movie and want to see this cast in another adventure with aliens it succeeds admirably. However, if you know anything about Marvel continuity this story makes little to no sense.

We’ll start with the Elders power levels being way off. Other than Grandmaster none of them have ever been shown able to manipulate cosmic energy on their own; and even he wouldn’t be part of the cosmic pantheon with the Stranger or Inbetweener. As we saw in Thanos Quest Thanos is more than capable enough of handling these characters at his base power level. Let me also add Thanos should clearly know the difference between a real Cosmic Cube and an imitation at this point. Groot’s power level also seems off as he seems to be a peer to Hulk and Thor in the final battle, and while he is a powerhouse he is still made of wood and nowhere near the league of upper cosmic level threats like Thanos or Magus as the last Guardians series made clear.

Speaking of which there are several characters who died in the last Guardian series who are back alive with absolutely no explanation. Most notably Star Lord, who is human and if you are going to resurrect him you need to explain how. Thanos, Drax and the Cancerverse were all dead as well when last we saw them. At one point Star Lord is asked point blank how he escaped the Cancerverse (a key plot point since it was permanently sealed and then collapsed in upon itself when last we saw it) and Bendis just has him stare at the Avengers blankly instead of providing an explanation. It also seems to imply that the Guardians work for the Galactic Council now, which isn’t a bad idea, but is a change in the status quo of their last series (and this begs the question of what happened to the Annihilators). I can live with a revolving door to death in comics but at least give the reader the courtesy of an explanation when you use that door.

Reed’s plan to use the Nullifier also seems ill-advised since we’ve seen in the past the Cosmic Cube trumps the Nullifier (Infinity War) and that using the Nullifier can cause planet-sized collateral damage (late 90s issues of Silver Surfer involving Morg and Tyrant); although I guess we can assume Reed’s intellect is such he could contain the collateral damage.

We also have the whole Avengers blown into space scene which makes little sense. Cap is shown to be barely harmed by the vacuum of space, which Bendis attributes to super soldier serum—showing yet again that Bendis fundamentally misunderstands what the Super Soldier Serum actually does. This even more bizarre in that a fully armored Iron Man is nearly killed by the vacuum of space, when I’ve seen Tony in space in numerous other stories. Tony also claims at one point the Avengers are not prepared to deal with cosmic threats; but I think Korvac, Nebula, the Elders of the Universe, the Kree and the Skrull would all beg to differ. Plus this team of Avengers dwarfs the Guardians in raw power.

I’d also add the Hawkeye & Widow makeout scene is completely arbitrary. I guess it is supposed to be a nod to the pseudo romantic tension between the two in the movie, but it has no story value at all here.

On the positive front I really liked the idea that the Avengers and the President have a cosmic level protocol specifically for Thanos. I also liked the presentation of Gamroa’s character a lot, particularly the use of her history as Thanos’ foster daughter. For the future the use of the Badoon could be interesting, as DnA were clearly building to a major event with them during the entire run.

Also Mark Bagley's art is fabulous with lots of beautiful splash pages. And he draws a heck of Thanos,

Grade: B-. A pretty fun story if you don’t mind the cosmic continuity gaps.