Written by James Robinson, Mark Waid, Gerry Duggan, Al Ewing and G. Willow Wilson
Art by Leonard Kirk, Mahmud Asrar, Ryan Stegman, Gerardo Sandoval, Victor Ibanez, Kenneth Rocafort, Paul Neary, Frank Martin, Sonia Oback, Richard Isanove, Dono Sanchez Almara, Laura Martin and Dan Brown
Lettering by Travis Lanham, Cory Petit, Clayton Cowles, Joe Caramagna and Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Three years ago, Marvel unveiled its "Avengers World" - a sprawling metastory stretched across two titles, with the fate of the multiverse ultimately at stake. And for the past six months, the Secret Wars have raged on, revisiting Marvel's greatest hits while also providing a staging ground for the House of Ideas to relaunch its lineup.
Now the "Avengers World" is over. But that's only because their universe is getting bigger.
Previewing a slew of new titles including Avengers, New Avengers, A-Force, Uncanny Avengers, The Ultimates and Squadron Supreme, you might see Avengers #0 as peak saturation of Marvel's premiere superteam. You'd also be wrong. While Jonathan Hickman's run on the franchise was a holistic and largely focused work, the Avengers office is now a much more diverse place with five new writers with very unique voices - and I'll be honest, it's a much better place for it.
The best story in this issue is also the biggest no-brainer, as Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar deliver a masterful story featuring the Vision and Scarlet Witch, in their introduction to their run on the flagship All-New All-Different Avengers title. In many ways, this story showcases not just Waid's deft handling of characterization, but also the increasingly whimsical high concepts that he's been developing while writing his S.H.I.E.L.D. team-up book. Why would a creature of science like the Vision be haunted by the ghosts of his past? It's a clever premise, and one that allows Waid to organically dig into some of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch's backstory. Mahmud Asrar also uses this opportunity to show his talent for action and for dramatic moments - indeed, seeing the Vision's cold stare at the end of the story is the highlight of the issue. While Waid is a longtime master of comic book storytelling, Asrar is more of a star on the rise - his inking still feels a little blocky, which keeps him from really knocking it out of the park with a style similar to Stuart Immonen.
Similar to Waid's heartfelt story, Gerry Duggan and Ryan Stegman's Uncanny Avengers story featuring Deadpool is probably my favorite of the bunch. Whereas Waid's narrative hinged upon a well-established pair of Avengers, Duggan revisits his surprisingly effective pairing from his Death of Wolverine one-shot: Deadpool and Steve Rogers. Duggan portrays Deadpool as almost a clown crying on the inside, as Wade is so desperate for validation from his superheroic peers that, despite his mercenary reputation, he's not just running missions for Steve Rogers for free... he actually kind of loves doing it. But not only does Duggan pluck the heartstrings, but Ryan Stegman really knocks it out of the park. His work has gotten increasingly cartoony over the years, with his figures looking almost like a wiggly Joe Quesada - while that might not fit for every character, it plays well for Deadpool. But more importantly, Stegman's page layouts are rock-solid, and the way colorist Richard Isanove plays off his artwork makes every page pop. It's definitely the best work Duggan and Stegman have done in quite awhile.
If there's one thing that holds back some of these Avengers books, however, is that the artwork doesn't always match up to the writing talents involved. Writer Al Ewing gets handicapped twice this issue, with Gerardo Sandoval on New Avengers and Kenneth Rocafort on The Ultimates, the latter of which winds up feeling like the runt of the Avengers litter. Just based on its double-page spread, New Avengers seems to be the most high concept of all of the Avengers books, with teases to secret traitors, time-travel team-ups, angry tiger gods and some magically insane dinosaur called "American Kaiju." But Sandoval's artwork is an acquired taste to say the least - it feels like a cross between Dexter Soy, Kelley Jones and Joe Madureira, with ultra-sharply rendered characters that feel massively disproportionate even by superhero standards. (And given that Ewing is working with characters like Squirrel Girl, it really doesn't feel like a good fit.)
Additionally, Kenneth Rocafort's hyper-rendered artwork doesn't add a lot of fizzle to Marvel's struggling Ultimates concept - while Ewing makes Ms. America a likeable, textured protagonist, there's simply not enough about the book's premise to make this preview work. (It also doesn't help that the book's dance-centric resolution can't help but feel a little exploitive in Rocafort's hands, in addition to not making a ton of narrative sense.) While this team is described as possibly the "greatest threat" of all the Avengers teams, The Ultimates still feels like the book with the least amount of direction among its sister titles.
The final two team books - Squadron Supreme and A-Force - feel like a bit of a mystery. In the case of Squadron Supreme, which acts as Avengers #0's framing device, that's not necessarily a bad thing - for all the flack that James Robinson has been getting over the past few years, I found myself really enjoying the premise of this book. Picking up off the multiversal threads of Secret Wars, Robinson has brought together a number of superhero team tropes - an evil Justice League brought together from multiple worlds, using tactics the Avengers might not approve of - and somehow makes it seem fresh. It might be because they're the framing device for the rest of the Avengers, but it's a smart move to have an analogue of DC's greatest heroes to be Marvel's greatest antagonists, and Leonard Kirk's artwork fits nicely with eerie designs like Nighthawk's telescoping eyes and the Blur's strobelike effects.
Finally, G. Willow Wilson's A-Force feels the most vague, as Wilson focuses more on Captain Marvel rather than the team of superheroines around her. While the introduction of new character Tempest Bell provides a nice foil for Captain Marvel - isn't it nice, by the way, that Marvel has made Carol such an inspiration for women in their universe? - the overall plot still feels a little thin. (Especially since new character Singularity was never really fleshed out in the Secret Wars tie-in series A-Force.) Artist Victor Ibanez does great work with his expressions, particularly the way that Tempest reacts to situations, but his page layouts could be a little more dynamic, given how much action takes place in this story.
There's a lot going on in Avengers #0, but by and large, what's great is that Marvel is showing how diverse the team's concepts can be. There are premises and art styles for a variety of different readers, and for the most part, there's a level of competence that makes all of these books feel like contenders in an already crowded marketplace. For my money, All-New All-Different Avengers and Uncanny Avengers feel like the best books of the bunch, but I wouldn't put it past a writer as skilled as Al Ewing to make me like his books, even when I'm not a huge fan of the artists involved. Either way, it's no longer an Avengers world - it's something much bigger than that. And it's a universe I'm very much looking forward to exploring.