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The Avengers #1
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artists: John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson

From the cover of this flagship, you might think the book returns to its roots. Maybe it's not the Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but it's rapidly becoming Earth's Most Recognizable Heroes! Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Wolverine and Captain America join together in one book! It sounds pretty exciting.

The first page opens with someone beating the snot out of Immortus, who, if memory serves rightly, may or may not also actually be Kang the Conqueror. Okay, so this is the jumping on point for those who have gone through the "Dark Reign" and "Siege" or who frankly got turned off by those and have waited for this new "Heroic Age." And I can buy that you might not know who Immortus is, but at least he identifies himself to his killers. I'm in - I've been a reader of The Avengers on and off for years, and I turn the page to see that Immortus has been defeated by…

Um… those kids from the Direct-to-DVD Next Avengers movie I didn't see? Maybe.

Even then, that's just to pique my curiosity. I can buy that, but it seems that every time the Avengers has a major reboot after a period of darkness, we travel through time or to another dimension to face a super team that has gone astray. Maybe that's just been the times that I've been suckered into giving it another try.

On one level, the story moves along with few surprises, but it's comfortable. A long-time Avengers foe appears, offering dire warnings and a promise of permanent truce if the team can save him. Of course, things aren't quite what they seem to be (or are they?) and Bendis has set up a pretty good, if vaguely familiar, plot. (After almost fifty years, some patterns are bound to develop.)

Where things falter is in characterization. This isn't the team as people know them, necessarily, and Bendis has the unenviable task of striking a balance between explaining things to new readers and being logical in how the characters interact. As such, a lot of casual conversations turn heavily expository, such as Spider-Man marveling at Clint Barton becoming Hawkeye again after years of being Ronin.

That might work better if the characters felt like different characters instead of all having the same tone to each other. Everybody's deferential to Steve Rogers - who isn't Captain America, but Bucky is - and everybody seems to believe they don't belong on the team. Except for Hawkeye, who never really has much of an existence outside Avengers Mansion anyway.

The jokes all have the same rhythm, and Thor seems like just another guy. You might quibble that at some point off-panel, some characters should have done their homework about each other instead of acting like this is the first day of school.

If anything, this does prove that we need a heroic age for Marvel again, that events like Civil War worked as short term stories but did a lot of damage to the day to day operation of the Marvel Universe. It's hard to swallow Tony Stark and Steve Rogers having a short, awkward conversation in which all is essentially forgiven when one of them sort of got the other killed. Guys are stoic, but come ON!

Like every other long-running superteam, there are also just too many Avengers. Remember when it was a huge quandary at the end of Giant-Sized X-Men #1 -- what are we going to do with thirteen X-Men? Try thirty Avengers, most who go unidentified in the book. Never mind the photo gallery in the back.

At least this new Avengers title has a stellar art team going for it. John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson make a really good pairing, with Janson's strong inks never overwhelming Romita's pencils. They complement each other in a rare way, like Byrne and Austin, Dillin and Giordano or Miller and Janson again.

It's worth taking a look, but it's hard to say if The Avengers will offer anything new now that they're old again...

Derek McCaw

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