Avengers #700 (#10)
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by David Marquez, Ed McGuinness, Frazer Irving, Adam Kubert, Andrea Sorrentino, Justin Ponsor, Erick Ariciniega, Matthew Wilson and Giada Marchisio
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
With anniversary issues of superhero comic books, there’s often an urge for writers to punctuate their stories with big status quo-altering shake-ups, with deaths, returns, new powers and new revelations for our costumed heroes. Of course, the catch-22 is that these changes are almost always short-lived, showing how difficult it can be to battle the inertia of superhero continuity. That’s why Jason Aaron, David Marquez, Ed McGuinness, and a host of guest artists should be commended for using their expanded page count wisely for Avengers #700, avoiding any kind of fleeting stunts in favor of expanding his story - and the Avengers’ world along with it - in a way that feels organic, sustainable, and most importantly, fun.
In a lot of ways, Aaron pays homage to Mark Millar’s The Ultimates by framing the Avengers as an international but apolitical peacekeeping force, led by the Black Panther rather than Captain America - but as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes square off against the invading Namor and his Atlantean fleet of Defenders, we see that there are other forces building up on the sidelines. Without giving too much away about these new players, Aaron does a deep dive of continuity that wouldn’t work on paper, but winds up having some delightful payoffs thanks to some modernized characterization. The result is a frenetic, anything-goes battle royale that pits the Avengers against not one, but two sets of enemies - thanks to the expanded page count, the pacing of this battle is stellar, giving us plenty of time to check in with each of our heroes and watching them play off their antagonistic counterparts.
Aaron’s also doing some fine work fleshing out the Avengers themselves, giving each of them unique personalities and their own bits of exciting action - while I was certainly skeptical at first about Ghost Rider Robbie Reyes fitting in with the team, watching him drag race Tony Stark is a pitch-perfect beat, while Steve Rogers staring down General Thunderbolt Ross feels like the exact right echo from Cap’s cinematic turns in The Winter Soldier and Civil War. (Even Captain Marvel busting Thor’s chops over a certain super-powered hook-up is a fun interlude.) Surprisingly, given how much his leadership has rankled the world at large, if there’s anybody who feels like they get short shift here, I’d say it’s likely the Black Panther - while he’s the one primarily squaring off against his arch-rival Namor, I do wish Aaron had been able to key in a little bit more about their deep-seated animosity towards one another.
Artists David Marquez and Ed McGuinness, meanwhile, continue to deliver the goods with the art here - even if you could argue that the hand-off between the two is a little noticeable, despite colorist Justin Ponsor’s heroic efforts to unite the two’s styles. Marquez is the more understated of the two, which works given the story’s more exposition-heavy first half - he packs in a lot of storytelling in just a little bit of real estate, like the winning Iron Man-Ghost Rider race or Captain America motorcycling through traffic. But when the fireworks go off, McGuinness is in his his element - while his bulkier, cartoonier style makes it look a little like Marquez’s characters just ballooned up in size, once the transition is complete, the battle royale looks great. Black Panther slicing through a piece of hurtling debris is one of the highlights of the issue, and a spectacular image of the Avengers staring down their evenly-matched enemies feels like something straight out of a George Perez drawing.
With 32 pages expanding the Avengers’ universe with new foes from across the planet, you’d think Aaron would just call it a day - but he’s got other ideas in mind. His first back-up story, featuring Ghost Rider and Odin, feels like the runt of the litter - it’s not any fault of Aaron’s, but artist Frazer Irving feels hazier than usual here, his color palette and use of ambient effects wiping out a lot of the expressiveness and clarity of the action. Which is a shame, because Aaron’s story is actually an endearing one (even if, one could argue, he’s gilding the lily after how much spotlight Robbie got in the main storyline). Aaron’s collaboration with Adam Kubert fares much better - while it’s the most continuity-heavy of all the backups, Kubert brings in a special guest star and reminds us that when it comes to drawing this particular character, he really is the best there is at what he does. But it’s Aaron's three-pager with Andrea Sorrentino at the end that might be the most intriguing to me - in part because now that Aaron has solidified his core team, he’s teasing more and more additions to the Avengers that could pay off dividends if played right.
Rather than chase after fleeting headlines, Jason Aaron and company prove to be much more responsible in Avengers #700, using this anniversary issue to tell a large-scale story with an insane number of characters. The result is, by and large, a good old-fashioned superhero beat-down that eschews flashiness and instead earns its bombastic beats. There’s a lot going on with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in this issue, but this issue never feels overstuffed or overproduced. Instead, Aaron and a who’s who of talented artists celebrate the Avengers the best way they can — not by throwing readers a stunt, by telling a quality story that stands on its own.