Best Shots Advance Review: AVENGERS STANDOFF! - ASSAULT ON PLEASANT HILL #1

Marvel Comics March 2016 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
Credit: Marvel Comics

Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Jesus Saiz
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

While Nick Spencer has definitely been a talented writer through much of his career, it's been his recent output at Marvel that has qualified him as a genuinely smart one. From his quippy dialogue to his commentary on politics and corporate villains in Captain America: Sam Wilson and technology and startup culture in Astonishing Ant-Man, Spencer's voice as a writer has really developed into a hip, modern sort of sensibility akin to a sort of millennial Warren Ellis - a sensibility which could yield big dividends for Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill #1.

For readers of Spencer's new run on Captain America: Sam Wilson, Assault on Pleasant Hill feels like a classic two-in-one story that finally draws together some of the errant plot threads from Sam Wilson's monthly series. We've known that Sam and S.H.I.E.L.D. have not been on the best of terms, following an Edward Snowden-esque leak of top-secret military programs, including the weaponizing of an all-powerful Cosmic Cube. But if there's any singular theme that Spencer has loved to tap in recent months, it's that whether they're a politician, a businessman or the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. herself, you don't trust the people in charge - particularly not with the insidious prison town known as Pleasant Hill. Spencer wears his Prisoner influence on his sleeve, as an entire town of brainwashed supervillains go about their business - but as readers of the previous Avengers Standoff: Welcome TO Pleasant Hill issue know full well, this placid town is only hiding a powder keg that's ready to explode.

Something that's particularly engaging about Assault on Pleasant Hill is that despite the sprawling ambitions of this event book, Spencer never loses track of what's important, and brings some real thought to the moral quandary at the heart of Pleasant Hill. This issue also is proof positive that Spencer can juggle two Captain America series, as he really develops the different perspectives Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers bring to this story. Sam, for example, stands outside the system, running directly counter to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s operations, while Steve, adopting a more conservative mindset in his old age, is horrified when he learns that he can't necessarily correct injustices simply by working within the letter of the law. And at the center of things, Spencer has come up with some tricky complications for these two Caps to conquer - in a world where it's commonplace to find angry supervillains looking for revenge, is it somehow moral to essentially wipe bad guys' minds and bodies, to essentially "disappear" them from the rest of society? Would it be humane to simply execute them? Or is there really any difference at this point?

While Spencer has offered an intelligent start to this event book, I think I might have been even more impressed with Jesus Saiz, who inks and colors his own work with great results. Just like Spencer has a unique voice he gives his characters - like a hapless S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who has no shame in admitting he totally let an intruder put a gun to his head to do his bidding - Saiz gives some real expressiveness to everyone in this book. Yes, Steve and Sam still have the same sort of perfect superhero physiques, but their facial features all work well with Spencer's script, evoking a little bit of Kevin Maguire to these characters. Perhaps more impressive, however, is Saiz coloring himself - while at first it may take a little bit of time to get adjusted to his style of rendering, once you get a few pages in, you realize that that same rendering adds a wonderful layer of depth to his imagery.

Event books are typically characterized for wanting to seem smart, but ultimately wind up being low-calorie slugfests. Nick Spencer, however, has other ideas in mind. Marvel has always been thought of as "the world outside your window," but with the more fantastical elements of books like Jonathan Hickman's Avengers and Secret Wars, it's easy to lose track of the human element alongside this alleged big picture. But not so with Avengers: Standoff on Pleasant Hill - if Spencer stays true to his style and puts his characters' voices and opinions front and center, this could be a very compelling read.

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