So last week, we discussed the first year of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run. You can GO HERE to check that out, or just jump in below…
Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers
by Jonathan Hickman (duh) and A Variety of Artists
I believe I left off last time by saying that the first year of Hickman’s run was all set-up. And I spent an awful lot of time discussing that set-up, at the expense of some of the finer points of the storytelling. So before I move on to the second year, I should probably discuss those finer points in a bit more detail.
Mostly, I want to talk about the art, which is extremely hit and miss. Both series started strong, especially New Avengers, which had classic Steve Epting art anchoring its first six issues. Epting is just as much at home drawing a bunch of guys standing around…
…as he is with outbursts of HUGE COSMIC POWER!
Avengers, meanwhile, initially featured the art of Jerome Opena, whose slightly weird, meaty style gave the series a fresh look…
…while still handling dynamic action with aplomb:
With Avengers‘ bi-weekly schedule, of course, it went through more artists than New Avengers. So Opena was followed after three issues with pretty decent work from Adam Kubert and Dustin Weaver, the latter of whom (though very different) kept the book looking fresh:
(An aside: That’s the new Starbrand there, in his first appearance, terrified of his deadly new powers and lashing out at the Avengers without understanding how. It’s a great moment early in the run that I’ll come back to in a bit…)
But as the run heads into Infinity, unfortunately, we start getting issues drawn by the likes of Mike Deodato and Leinil Francis Yu. Which…
Okay, sure. Those guys are talented, and at least have a few interesting quirks. I’ll also admit to picking particularly bad pages from both of them to prove my point. So it could have been worse. But, still. Ugh. Their stuff’s just not to my taste.
I was particularly taken aback at how hyper-sexualized their work is. Deodato’s Namor looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model most of the time, and any woman that appears is all tits & ass. That’s particularly true of Yu, who’s so obviously using porn as a model that I’d have been embarrassed to read his issues in public:
And keep in mind, I’ve read issues of Sex Criminals in public, so I’m hardly a prude. The difference, I think, is that the sex stuff in that book is, you know, actually about sex. And it’s presented in a way that’s less about titillation and more about entertainment for grown-ass adults. Here? This is super heroes. People in tights punching each other. A kind of story in which images like the one above have the furtive, looking-where-you-ain’t-supposed-to-look air of perverts, adolescent boys, and compulsive masturbators. Terms like “objectification” and “male gaze” get tossed around far too much these days, but… This seems like exactly the sort of stuff those terms were coined for.
Of course, there is a history of cleavage and “headlight” images in the super hero genre, dating back to its origins in the pulps. But I think this stuff takes it a step further. This isn’t ripped clothing on a damsel in distress, or even a generous bosom heaving in the foreground. This is Yu adding a sexual undertone to a scene that I don’t think is supposed to have one. This is a yellow horned alien giant with a tough-love mother complex talking to a captured hero. And into that Yu has injected ghetto booties, circular boobs, and the sort of poses you’d see in bondage porn. It’s kinda creepy.
Doubly so when Jerome Opena, in the first story arc, handles a similar scene far better:
Hell, even in a scene that does have an element of seduction to it, Opena handles things in a way that doesn’t seem exploitative:
So, yeah. The artwork on this run goes downhill fast. That, I suppose, is a side effect of it being Big Splashy Corporate Event Comicstm. That bi-weekly schedule on Avengers was bound to burn through art teams pretty fast, and eventually the company was going to have to toss somebody on the book whose style just didn’t fit. I mean, they tried. They kept single artists on for individual stories, at least, and that’s a plus.
But it still leads to real discontinuity, especially if you’re reading it all back-to-back the way I did. Faces change, as do costumes and body language and visual approach. Hickman doesn’t have time to gel with any of his artists, and none of them are able to really make the book visually their own. So it all comes out feeling a bit empty, a bit assembly-line. And a lot like something not worth that four-dollar cover price. So thank god I only paid 99 cents.
The rotating artist thing also exacerbates a problem Hickman was having to deal with plot-wise: his time on Avengers has been one of upheaval across the Marvel Comics line. So many of the characters he’s using here have their own titles, in which their status quo has been changing constantly. Hickman had to reflect that in Avengers, but didn’t have time to stop and explain every sudden alteration.
I first noticed this with Spider-Man. There’s a scene somewhere in that first year in which he’s acting like a complete jerk. At first I thought Hickman just didn’t get the character. Then somebody makes reference to his new costume, and it hit me: this was taking place during that storyline when Doctor Octopus was in control of Peter Parker’s body. So mystery solved! Except…
The artist (Adam Kubert) didn’t draw the new costume. I guess he hadn’t gotten the memo (or maybe just the model sheet), so he drew the standard costume instead. Which, I suddenly realized, was the source of my confusion to begin with. If I’d seen the Spider-Ock costume, my memory would have been jogged, and I wouldn’t have wondered what the hell was going on. Guh!
I’m sure this is all a nightmare to manage, so I’m not taking them to task too harshly for it. But, still. For someone who’s not reading much else in the Avengers shared universe, it periodically makes things very confusing. Like later on, the Hulk is suddenly smarter and wearing some kind of armor, and I still have no idea how that happened. So, gah! Corporate comics!
Anyway. That Starbrand story I mentioned earlier.
This story should have put the lie to my impression that Avengers was a morally simpler book than New Avengers, but at the time it didn’t strike me that way. So before I leave the first year of Hickman’s run behind for good, I should discuss it a bit more thoroughly.
Basically, the story is about a young man getting the power of the Starbrand and not knowing how to handle it. In fact, when the powers are bestowed upon him (by mysterious universal forces operating all through the fabric of Hickman’s run), he accidentally incinerates everyone around him. The Avengers come in and try to calm him down, but the whole thing goes pear-shaped and turns into a massive super-fight.
Which is all well and good. Except that, the way it’s written, I’m on Starbrand’s side the whole time. I understand the need to stop the kid from accidentally killing another large group of people, but Our Heroes go about it with a sort of military efficiency that’s off-putting. There’s no remorse in their actions. They even seem to enjoy it.
So I kind of blitzed through the story all pissed off at the Avengers. And I was not at all happy with the conclusion, where they win without acknowledging that they were being huge douche-bags. It made me grumpy, and I wrote the whole thing off as being a bit tin-eared. Looking back at it now, though, I see that it’s all foreshadowing for what comes later.
But I’m running out of time again, so I’ll get to that next week…