Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Touching Story in the Middle of a Bloodbath

The Avengers: Initiative #27
Writer: Christos N. Gage
Artist: Rafa Sandoval
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

I know I've been kinda harsh on the Avengers books recently and I think I have a valid reason to be. The Avengers: Initiative has been an interesting book. The premise of the series spun out of the result of Civil War. It takes place on a base that is designed to train those who registered under the Superhero Registration Act.

The first 12 issues of this series were fantastic and, arguably, the finest of all the Avengers books at the time. Since then, the stories have been kind of hit and miss, but still well worth reading nonetheless. This particular issue, or I should say the first half of this particular issue, definitely threw me for a loop.

From the beginning you are introduced to a pair of loser thugs - Johnny Guitar and Dr. Sax. These two goons used musical instruments to commit their crimes. It is entirely told from the point of view of Johnny Guitar. He's telling his story to his daughter in a letter. He talks about how exciting it was to fight Dazzler (you know, when she looked good) and how he tried so hard to get to the big time in order to make a life for his daughter possible.

After a stint in prison, Johnny Guitar and Dr. Sax try to join a bunch of loser teams, but find they don't fit in anywhere. Just when they think their hopes will be dashed yet again, they are approached to join the Initiative. They take the opportunity to sign up and get trained. Upon graduation, they get the phenomenal news that they will be assigned to an elite black ops team.

Johnny's excitement is soon turned into dread as he overhears his commanding officers refer to him and his group as cannon fodder to soften up the enemy until the a-listers can get there to mop up the mess. He now is faced with the fear that he and Dr. Sax will likely die. In his guilt over his friend's potential death, Johnny injures Dr. Sax to prevent him from going on the mission his last words to his lifelong friend is to make sure his daughter gets his letter that details his life of crime.

This is Marvel at its best. Giving a weighty story about people who may not matter in the bigger picture of the universe, but still has a very significant role in someone's life nonetheless. This little story reminds me of an issue of Captain Marvel a few years back where he meets his time-displaced father. The younger Marvel knew that his father would die in horrible agony from cancer, but he couldn't bring himself to tell the truth about the future. The story ends with the original Captain Marvel in his final moments realizing he did not die alone.

I said that issue was the best single issue of any comic of that year. I don't know if Johnny Guitar's unfortunate tale of finally getting his shot at the bigtime is really quite as good as that ish of Captain Marvel but it certainly drew me in and made me really feel something. It's not common that a superhero comic book can punch you in the gut quite like that.

The second part of this issue covers the bigger picture of what's going on and really it's just a slugfest. Mind you, I don't mind slugfests, but it was a bit of a let down from the first part of the story.

I read on another site that the reviewer was disappointed in this issue because it followed a bunch of nobodies, has beens and never will bes. That might just be true, but I find it frustrating how people don't get that the story is bigger (and should always be bigger) than the characters within the story. If you want to read about people who matter to the Marvel Universe, read Captain America or Spider-Man, but don't mistake a well-written story about a forgotten character for belief that the series no longer has anybody or anything to go on about. The strength of this particular series has always been in the types of stories the writers can tell, not about who's starring in the book or what their importance to the Marvel U., as a whole, is.

That being said, I hope more superhero comics can tell stories like this. I think this is what Marvel has been missing and what Geoff Johns over at DC can do so well - giving us stories that go beyond one character punching another until the bad guys are stopped. I like that too, but a little variety never hurt anyone.

You're probably wondering where my post is about the big time comics news of the week - Disney's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. I've sat on this news and gave it a real good thinkin' over the past few days. I've come to the conclusion that I don't think this will change anything Marvel does. I really, sincerely doubt Disney is going to mess around too much and cause their purchase to become a move that isn't as good as anticipated. If anything comes out of this it's that perhaps Disney will help Marvel get some more animated movies out there for us to enjoy. Plus, they do have 3-D technology. How awesome would it be to see some Marvel movies in Digital 3-D?

I certainly understand that people are worried. Let's face it, Disney hasn't exactly had a great track record in peoples' minds over the past 20 years or so. My only question to the people who are crying foul the loudest over this move is this...

"What are you going to do, stop buying comics?"

Yeah, I didn't think so.