April 29, 2010

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Avengers/Invaders

Plot by Alex Ross and Jim Kruger
Script by Jim Kruger
Illustrated by Various Artists including Steve Sadowski, Jack Herbert, and Patrick Berkenkotter
Marvel

The Invaders are doing what they do best in the 1940s when suddenly, they are transported to the modern day. Wasting no time in trying to help what they perceive is a fellow hero in need (your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man), they're soon caught up in the complicated politics following the Civil War.

Soon, both sets of Avengers are trying to win the Invaders over to their side, while figuring out how to get them home. Can these three teams come together long enough to battle an ever-increasing villainous threat across the time barrier? When you're dealing with time travel, almost anything can happen, and the best intentions might have the worst results.

I actually did this one in single issues, but of course waited and read them all together, because that's what I do now. This might be noteworthy on a personal level as the last maxi-series I got in single issue form.

It's not easy making an event big enough to involve multiple teams. Just ask DC about their annual JSA-JLA crossovers back in the day. You have to have a really big plot to need this many players (we're basically talking almost two dozen heroes by the time everything is said and done), and not just any threat to the world will do. Kruger and Ross do their best to make it work, using the Marvel political climate of the time and an apocalyptic alternative universe as their settings.

Overall, that works pretty well, except that to do so in 12 issues where the action is not tightly packed (there's a lot of time for introspection by various players, primarily Bucky) means that the climax feels a bit rushed. By the time we get to the final battle with the "boss villain" of the piece, I feel like it doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Taking out some of the angsting through the middle would have left a lot more room for actual fighting.

And with a cast like this, the fighting scenes should be the primary object. You have Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Iron Man, New Cap, and others from current time, and a displaced Captain America, Namor, and company from the past. These guys should have been given all sorts of room to beat up on whatever number of villains you wanted to throw at them. I guess I'm just a bit too old-school that way. For me, when you get this many capes together, I want to see them doing what they do best, not talking at each other.

Alas, that doesn't happen as much as I'd like, which is a shame because the dialog in this one is a bit hard to slog through at times. However, when there are fight scenes, they are great. Seeing all of these folks battling various foes, right up to the end battle, is a throwback to the comics I grew up loving. These are folks banding together to stop the foes no one else can fight, to coin a phrase. Even Logan getting excited enough to shout "Avengers Assemble" reminds me that comics don't have to be about killing babies (thanks Robinson), spewing blood (thanks Johns), or seeing how dark things can gets (thanks just about everybody). (Yeah, I know, my Marvel bias is showing here. Sue me.)

I think that's the message that Ross and Kruger are going for, too. I know Ross is criticized for being too focused on the past of superhero comics, but honestly I'd take a good navel gaze anytime over a lot of the modern comics written in the past ten years. The focus here is on what it takes to be a hero. Sacrifices must be made, no matter how hard they are, because that's what heroes do. If you have a good writer at the helm, those sacrifices make logical sense and aren't just there to shake things up. Is that message passe? I certainly hope not. I do know that it seems to be lacking in the minds of a lot of the current crop of capes writers.

There's a place for both types of stories. I love a good deconstruction as much as anyone, but doing it just because you don't like a particular character or want to goose sales by being shocking doesn't help anything. It's why a story where heroes act like it, even if it's done a bit ham-handed at times, feels so refreshing.

Overall, I liked this series, partly because of its change of pace message. However, there are a few things about this story that I found lacking. The plot, as I mentioned above, tries to do a bit too much with the space it has and the way the story is structured. Though Ross and Kruger do a pretty good job of keeping everyone involved, there are times when a lot of the cast seems unnecessary, particularly with the female heroes. And the structure of the villains does make it feel at times like we're reading a video game, with lower level bosses dispatched until we get to the final level for all the marbles.

There's also the voices of the characters. Spider-Man is only used for comedy, Luke Cage only gets to question the notion of race, Iron Man is let off the hook for Civil War, and Wolverine is not happy because he's not allowed to kill with his claws. Kruger seems to be going for a low-level interpretation of everyone, rather than try to give anyone depth. He uses what comes easy for each character, which is unfortunate. With this type of plot, I'd love to see what Roy Thomas or former Ross collaborator Kurt Busiek might have done scripting these scenes.

I can forgive some of the faults, however, in the name of a fun idea. There are a lot of nifty moments in here, several fueled by Ross's love of old comics. Seeing "our" heroes disguise themselves as characters from the 1940s is a hoot, as are the Namor vs. Namor scenes. The way in which the writers use the death of Captain America to frame part of the plot and also to frame the Avengers' reactions to a World War II Cap is also a nice touch and probably the best-explored aspect of a story that has probably too many concepts thrust within its pages.

Avengers/Invaders is not perfect by any means. Ross and Kruger have an agenda about telling a superhero story, and at times, that agenda gets in the way of the narrative. Those parts are pretty easy to spot, as they weigh down the characters like an anchor. But to see a grand idea like this told in a way that puts the characters in a good light that reflects (not tarnishes) their images as heroes makes it well worth the read. If you like older Marvel comics or enjoy seeing new twists on Golden Age characters, I think you'll like this a lot. I know I did.