Best Shots Review: AVENGERS STANDOFF: WELCOME TO PLEASANT HILL #1

"Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1" cover
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Mark Bagley, Scott Hanna and Paul Mounts
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Pleasant Hill — idyllic, serene, and possibly something much, much more sinister. Written by current Captain America: Sam Wilson scribe Nick Spencer, Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 is a strange and low-key tale depicting yet another black mark on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s already poor record of recognizing basic human rights. Drawn by the consistently solid Mark Bagley with inks by Scott Hanna and colors by Paul Mounts, Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 follows Jim, an amnesiac who wakes up in the titular town and is instantly suspicious of its ordered streets, sunny citizens and strange rules about curfews. Armed with a monster twist to send us into the rest of the crossovers and further installments, Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 is a confident Marvel Universe themed riff on The Prisoner that starts this crossover off strong.

After a quick cold open starring Bucky Barnes, returning to Earth as Nick Fury’s cosmic replacement, we are quickly transplanted into Pleasant Hill with Jim as our POV character. Nick Spencer smartly keeps us in the dark about Jim for as long as possible but right off the bat, something feel very wrong about the town. Following Jim during the first 40 days in Pleasant Hill, Spencer slowly ramps up his paranoia and suspicions that the town’s officials, including a Dr. Erik Selvig and Mayor Maria Hill, aren’t exactly who they seem. I mentioned The Prisoner above and all while reading Welcome to Pleasant Hill I kept coming back to that comparison. Spencer obviously had this thought too, as Jim is welcomed with brightly spoken, but vaguely threatening announcements ringing throughout the town about how the plague of missing pets in town is nothing to worry about and that curfew is to be enforced, like always. “The pets are happier now,” the man in the radio booth says. “So sit back and relax, after all, you could end up happier, too.”

Of course, Jim isn’t the only person in town who sees through the facade, and as Jim makes an ally in the town’s mechanic, this is when Nick Spencer truly turns the heat up and delivers a monster twist to end this debut issue. While the actual reveal is too good to spoil here in mere words, I will say that Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 doubles down on one of the great twists in Marvel history. Continuing the very rich tradtion of S.H.I.E.L.D. ignoring human rights for the sake of the “greater good”, an idea that Nick Spencer has been making great use of over on Captain America: Sam Wilson, this debut throws some major gas on that narrative fire and poises Avengers Standoff to be a major explosion the characters involved.

Though this first issue doesn’t take much advantage of his uncanny knack for blocking action sequences, Mark Bagley, along with the fine inks of Scott Hanna and the rich colors of Paul Mounts, still manages to make this debut look great, even if it is filled with people just talking. Bagley’s expressive pencils really sell Jim’s confusion as well as the fire behind Maria Hill’s eyes and the kindness behind Selvig’s. Though Bagley turned in many a showstopper during his Ultimate Spider-Man, it is nice to get a reminder that he is also one of the best at pure character emotion. Aided by the precise depth that Scott Hanna’s inks bring to the characters and backgrounds as well as the slightly-too-bright colors of Paul Mounts, Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 manages to look gorgeous even without a big action sequence.

They say big things have small beginnings, and Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1 is proof of that. As Marvel primes for the summer event season, Nick Spencer, Mark Bagley, Scott Hanna and Paul Mounts quietly light the fuse with a weird, Orwellian tale set in a world populated with gods and madmen. This debut issue revels in the unexpected and in a market dominated by sprawling action sequences and a hesitation to color outside the lines in terms of plot, it is a long overdue shift. Welcome to Pleasant Hill, gentle readers, and may you never, ever leave.

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