Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review of The Avengers #4, featuring The War of the Worlds

If anyone can explain in 500 words or less what is going on in this comic, you’re a better person than me. Even the normally reliable Wikipedia made my head spin, but to summarise as best I can, this issue of The Avengers occupies a place in a story arc known as The Heroic Age. The Heroic Age is set in the aftermath of a prior story arc known as The Siege, which itself followed on from a story arc called The Secret Invasion, and that’s how we end up here in Avengers issue 4, with the bizarre sight of Thor, the Norse God of thunder, knocking over Martian Tripods with his hammer. It’s certainly one of the weirdest crossovers you could ever hope to see, but unfortunately, it’s not very good.

I’ve read a lot of American comic books, thousands in fact, most from the 1970s and 1980s, and while I’m occasionally drawn into a comic shop to try and rekindle the love, I increasingly find the modern style of comic book story telling incredibly off-putting. What I am about to say may seem like an odd complaint about a comic book, a medium that is after all visual, but as a fairly average example of a modern day comic book, The Avengers feels as if the art is leading the story, rather than the story leading the art. It’s all presented in a very linear and undemanding manner, and crucially there just doesn’t seem to be much of substance going on in the meat of the story.

Where I remember taking ages to read a comic book, savouring the dialogue, noticing the way pages were artfully composed with panels bleeding into each other, overlapping and just generally presenting the reader with a challenge, here I just seemed to rocket through the mundanely panelled story and big soulless splash pages, so a $4 cover price comic is done in 5 minutes! That can’t be right can it? Am I just not getting it any more, am I too old to appreciate this stuff? Have I lost my comic reading Mojo? I don’t think so, I still dip into old comic books and it takes me right back. I read them exactly as I did the first time, so it can’t be that I am looking through rose tinted spectacles. Something has changed and I don’t like it.

Of course I’m reading this comic because of the War of the Worlds connection, and as mentioned at the beginning of this review, I am dropping myself in the deep end. I had a similar issue getting to grips with the story arc of the recently reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy, but returning to my beef above, and taking the opportunity to re-examine Guardians of the Galaxy, I find the same problem. It’s unimaginative in composition and you don’t feel any need to invest any kind of effort into reading the story. Guardians of the Galaxy was better for sure, but I’m struggling to put my finger on the basic problem. I guess it all feels very corporate, perhaps not helped by the adverts. There do seem to be more of them compared to earlier decades, but these are charmless compared to the kind you used to get, no Charles Atlas or X-Ray specs here, just remorseless corporate exultations to buy Marvel branded bed sheets and sneakers.

Anyway, I’ve not done much to review this comic in terms of story or its connection to The War of the Worlds, but frankly there’s not much you can say in that regard. Killraven pops up, as do the Martian Tripods, which do look great, but that’s about it. The aforementioned scene with Thor taking on the Martian War machines is fantastic, but really, for all they contribute to the story, they could just as easily have been the giant Sentinel robots from the Marvel universe or for that matter the Pillsbury Doughboy. I think if I had to sum up this comic and my feelings in a single word, that word would be indifferent.