Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative kicks off this week with a book seemingly “one million years in the making.” Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness debut Avengers #1, and, for the first time since last fall’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, we are re-introduced to Earth’s Mightiest of one million B.C. We’ve been clamoring for more of these guys — a Mjolnir-wielding Odin, Agamotto, Ghost Rider atop a mastodon, and predecessors to the Iron Fist, Black Panther, Phoenix, and Starbrand — since that teaser by Aaron and Esad Ribić soooo many months ago. And although, at the time, I had promised that I’d catch myself up on Kirby’s Celestials, I apparently was too busy being distracted by behind-the-curtain Marvel drama to read any of The King’s Eternals saga. And I’m guessing Marvel was too busy screwing shit up to worry about it either; we still don’t have a decent collected edition, other than a long out-of-print omnibus that is scarce even among the price-gouging eBay resellers.
But one way or another, I’m going to make it happen. Because along with rumors of the Eternals joining the MCU, Aaron and McGuinness seem boldly intent on adding significantly to a carefully curated Marvel mythology that, after Kirby, has pretty much only been trusted to the likes of Roy Thomas and Neil Gaiman. And this first issue of Avengers definitely feels significant.
Thor is a person, he is an Asgardian, he is the son of Odin, he is the future king. Thor is also a mantle, a gift given to the God of Thunder, a license to wield the hammer Mjolnir. Separating the man from the mantle has been Jason Aaron’s primary focus in his incredible run with Thor thus far. The Mighty Thor #700, the defining title from Marvel’s Legacy initiative, is also Aaron’s greatest Thor story yet. Featuring a huge cast of “Thors,” a cavalcade of artists of an astounding variety of styles, and a realm-sprawling story worthy of the Legacy name, the issue is such a success because of the way it blends the past and present of Thor, as well as hinting at some intriguing future tales of the God of Thunder.
Aaron’s continuing saga of The Mighty Thor (Jane Foster’s story) takes a backseat to give the real meat of the issue to the original Thor, now unworthy of Mjolnir due to Nick Fury’s revelation that the Odinson himself believes Gods unsuitable for such a gift. Odinson must fight a horde of Malekith’s diverse army at the sanctuary of the Norns, weavers of fate. His failure in the central story of the issue is what’s used as a jumping off point for several potential followup stories. Though the issue features layers of groundwork for the future, it does so by building upon the past. Aaron’s run began in Thor, God of Thunder with Thor being thrust into the God Butcher’s sick attempt at genocide, an intense encounter which would leave the Odinson with that very feeling of unworthiness in the back of his mind. Issue #700 furthers that story by showing how the remnants of the God Butcher found their way to Galactus and Ego, the Living Planet. In one of the most conceptually insane series of pages in modern comic book history, Ego eats the corrupted Galactus.
Every once in a while a book comes out that reminds us not only how much we love the glorious spark and bombast of superhero comics, but also how much we’ve loved them over the years, and how much these characters, creators, and concepts have meant to us through various stages of our lives. One of the principal aims of Marvel’s Legacy initiative is to pay tribute to Marvel’s storied past while paving the way for an exciting future. No one has taken that more to heart, or done a better job embodying those ideals, than Jason Aaron. In Week 3 of Marvel Legacy, Aaron and a host of incredible artists drop the “god-sized” Thor #700 on the shelves, and, verily, the earth doth shake with its majesty.
The War of the Ten Realms is still raging, and now things really escalate as Malekith and his armies move against the stronghold of the Norns at the base of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. The sisters who weave strands of fate are besieged, and in the process, the very fabric of storytelling itself comes under attack. It’s the perfect milieu for this launch, and the gorgeous two-page interior spread by Thor artist extraordinaire Russell Dauterman portends enough future storylines, each of them with threads connecting back to that legacy tapestry, to make your head spin. There’s Loki with the Infinity Gauntlet and Odinson with what looks like a golden hammer. Both Namor and Brunnhilde look primed for battle. Jane Foster might really (snif…) succumb to cancer and, in the background, the Mangog looms!
You want more Legacy? You’ve got more Legacy. What’s more Marvel than a classic Hulk vs. Thor battle? Except in the modern era, that means Thor, Goddess of Thunder, taking on Jennifer Walters, the hero formerly known as She-Hulk.
We’ve been building up to this for months, in the pages of various one-shot Generations books: a new publishing initiative that honors the tradition of decades of Marvel characters, stories, concepts, and creators with a mind towards the future and a host of recent additions to the superhero family. Legacy is a loaded term, and not one that you’d expect the House of Ideas – or its fans – to take lightly. For this latest trade dress, a return to sequential numbering for the various series is only part of the appeal. Of the two major comics publishers, DC has been the one traditionally most hesitant to restart volume numbering on its titles, respecting a much more rigid and carefully curated continuity. Which is fine. Part of Marvel’s appeal has always been its loose adherence to storyline sequence and chronology. Maybe Tony Stark created the Iron Man armor during the Cold War… or maybe it was during the war in Afghanistan… it doesn’t matter; the spirit of the story and the character is more important.
But, at some point, all of these new number one issues and “All-New” restarts and “NOW” jumping-on points start to disrespect the ancestry. How excited are we, really, for a new Avengers series every fall? Oh, this one isn’t just all-new, but all-different as well? It’s lousy marketing, and it takes away from the fact that Marvel Comics continues to lead the field with the best stories, characters, and creative teams in the superhero genre. Having said that, it sure is nice when you can pull in some new fans, and nothing seems like an easier gateway book than a first issue.
So this season they’re trying something a little different (trying something different again – Marvel did a return to series numbering for some of its books in the early 2000’s as well). Following this week’s Marvel Legacy one-shot, by Jason Aaron and a host of incredible artists, a number of new titles will be debuting, but the majority of their books will be renumbered to align across previous volumes. Next week’s Avengers #672, for example, follows 406 issues of the initial run; the thirteen issues of that abominable Liefeld volume two from ’96; eighty-four issues during the Busiek-era volume three, sixty-four issues from Bendis’s first New Avengers title; the thirty-four issues from volume four that kicked off the “Heroic Age” publishing initiative; forty-four issues of 2013’s volume five, Hickman’s follow-up to Avengers vs. X-Men; the fifteen issues of Waid’s All-New All-Different Avengers; aaaand the eleven issues of the most recent “NOW” Avengers restart. Whew. Confusing, right?
Not only will Avengers #672 revive the original numbering, but it will also be merged with two other offshoot titles – U.S.Avengers and Uncanny Avengers – before the end of the year. But more on those developments next week. Meanwhile, on the topic of Avengers, and an intense spin on the promise of legacy, let’s turn our attention back to Aaron’s one-shot, and the main storyline, with sensational art by Esad Ribić.
Those are the Avengers, if you will, of one million B.C. That’s Odin wielding Mjolnir, and the legendary Agamotto himself operating under the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. Prior incarnations of Black Panther, Iron Fist, and Ghost Rider round out the team, along with Phoenix, whose past relationship with the Asgardian allfather was revealed recently in the Thor Generations book.
Going to just fanboy out for a second: this comic f’ing ruled. The cover is the Justice League making devil horns in their formation! It’s really refreshing to see an event book be this entertaining while simultaneously having consequences for the rest of the universe. Like, imagine if a Crisis book was actually fun. I can’t give Scott Synder and Greg Capullo enough props for that. The gist is simple: Batman has been preoccupied investigating the source of the mysterious metals that inhabit that DCU, like Hawkman’s Nth metal or the stuff that powers the Court of Owl’s Talons. It seems to have consumed him to a dangerous degree as people are constantly warning him to stay away. But Batman going to be Batman. Legend has it that the Bat-tribe, Barbatos (Grant Morrison’s excellent contribution to Bat-lore), will use the metal to bring in a dark evil. Is Batman inadvertently bringing in this evil or, like always, does he have a plan to stop it? Mysteries and conspiracies involving the magical community of DC make this a who’s who of fun lesser-used DC characters.
Capullo’s art was always a highlight in their solo Batbooks, but seeing him really let loose on the cosmic scale is amazing. Drawing a Voltron Justice League mech fighting Mongul on the War Planet? Sign me the hell up.
Oh and that last page (no spoilers here): I’m a billion times more excited by this prospect than the Rebirth/Watchmen stuff. It’s the first time in a while that an event book’s last page made me say, “OH SHIT” out loud. They’ve opened an insane floodgate for this event and I can’t wait to see what is going to pour out of it.
Blame it on the Time Gem, that re-imagining of Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto for the MCU, warping temporal conventions and mortal publishing schedules. This week’s Doctor Strange #20, the culmination of Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s brilliant run on the book, comes a week after issue #21. Weird, yeah? One might say strange, even. Or maybe Marvel was just really eager to get the first issue from the new creative team on the stands for its Secret Empire tie-in. The real reason for the twisted release schedule, however, can be found in the afterword of this week’s book: “Why, you ask, is issue #21 already on sale? DO NOT BLAME KADAVUS! Blame the incompetent editor whose buffoonery has put him on the edge of infinite torment!” Well, sure. It’s well-established that comic book editors are all buffoons, so I’m sure a slight delay on an oversized book brimming with mind-bending Bachalo splash pages and interior art from the legendary Kevin Nowlan can fall squarely on that moron’s shoulders.
And we’ll excuse it. Because, truly, none of us really wanted to see this creative team bid farewell. We typically spotlight series or storyline premieres in these weekly New Comics posts, but this time we’re making an exception. Since Aaron and Bachalo first introduced us to this new axe-swinging Stephen Strange in the opening week of the All-New All-Different initiative, Doctor Strange has been one of the most exciting and visually gratifying superhero books on the shelf. This new issue even brings back that “sexy incorporeal asian succubus” that had a little something to do with the book’s high finish in our ANAD rankings.
Buying floppy comic books from week to week is expensive. It’s a real bummer because there is something special about spreading a pile of comics on your bed and randomly picking a new series to read. That being said, Trade Paper Backs are a great deal, and Image Comics has begun to sell first Trades for under $10. This is the best time to find new amazing comics to follow, and with DC having just relaunched a few years back along with Marvel about to do something similar, this year is a golden opportunity. These books represent those that I had the most fun with so far this year.
My Top 5 from the first half of the year, in a totally random order.
Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman
After Jason Aaron’s excellent run on Thor came to an end last year the best possible thing happened… Jason Aaron continued writing Thor, this time allowing the mantle of the God of Thunder to be taken up by a woman. This series is fun, brash, and bad-ass. Thor hasn’t ever had this much balls.
The first arc of the series concerns the Dark Elf Malaketh (terribly rendered in the film Thor: The Dark World) who joins forces with the Frost Giants to aid their quest for their king’s skull. The God of Thunder is the only thing stopping them from freezing the entirety of Midgard. Continue reading 2015 First-Half Favorites: IP’s Top 5 Comics→