Open Mike Night: Avengers Forever & Astro City (2013) #1
by Michael "Skitch" Maillaro on June 11, 2013


Maillaro: So it looks like this week is Kurt Busiek week! After scoring such high marks with Thunderbolts a few weeks ago, Busiek might well be the reigning defending champion of Open Mike Night. This week, we look at Avengers Forever (1998-1999) and the newest (and long delayed) issue of Astro City which came out this week under DC’s Vertigo imprint.


Avengers Forever

Written by: Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern
Penciled by: Carlos Pacheco
Inked by: Jesus Merino
Published by:
Marvel

Maillaro: Let’s start off with Avengers Forever. I have actually read this book quite a few times over the years. Like a lot of Busiek’s work, the more you read it, the more you catch things you missed before. I have owned this trade for a while, but like most of my trades, it was buried in the attic. Fortunately, Amazon offers a digital version of the trade for 10 bucks, so that is the version I am reviewing.

My colleague was using the physical trade…which has all kinds of really cool footnotes that the digital version doesn’t include for some odd reason.

Weaver: And that’s something I just don’t get, because you could relatively cheaply use a dialogue toggle to integrate those footnotes right onto the page in question as opposed to having to put one thumb in the book at the next footnote page. There’s so many possibilities with the digital age upon us…can you imagine being able to, for instance, select between a comic with the word balloons and text boxes and one without if you wanted to get a better look at the art on the page? We can do these things, the technology is there, but we’re not using it to its full potential.

Both of us tried to catch Busiek napping in this title, and every time, the results were disappointing. The only thing that was even moderately off was that for all the talk of the Giant Man in the book being present Pym, he had a different outfit than he had on the moon, but even that is easily explainable.

Maillaro: Yeah, I had made it a game to see if I could find mistakes in this book in this reading, and damn if Busiek and Stern didn’t cover their tracks damn well. We usually don’t say much about editors in this column, but this book had to be a nightmare for any editor to work on. I guarantee the policy on this book was “Fuck it, we’ll just assume Kurt and Roger know what they are talking about.”

Avengers Forever at it’s surface is a complex story. In present day, Immortus (the future version of Kang the Conqueror) has been tasked with preventing the Avengers and humanity from expanding to becoming a threat to the greater universe. At the heart of this, is killing Rick Jones, who has access to the “Destiny Force”. A motley crew of the Supreme Intelligence, Kang, and Libra gather an even motlier crew of Avengers from all over the time line in order to protect Rick Jones and stop Immortus’s plans.

But beneath this already complex story, Busiek and Stern attempt to knit all kinds of often nonsensical, often contradictory, and previously unexplained Avengers plot threads into one big tapestry that makes some kind of logical sense. What I love most about this book is that on a whole they succeed. Things do basically fall into one big narrative, and at the same time, all this bulky exposition is done in a way that rarely detracts from one action-packed story. The last issues of Avengers Forever features a massive team of every heroic Avengers (and alternate reality version of Avengers) facing off against every evil alternate reality version of the Avengers.

Weaver: Well, you know what they say. Life begins with sex and ends with violence, right? I was actually shocked rereading the first issue by how much sex it starts out with and then immediately massive violence. I mean, the planet in the beginning is apparently the Planet Of The Naked Marriage Ceremony. I want to get invited to weddings there, except that I know I’d never be invited to ones I’d actually want to go to.

Anyway.

Yeah, this irons out tons of things historically for the Avengers, and I especially liked the fact that Hawkeye and Captain America are from eras where they are nothing like you would normally picture either character. Yellowjacket, also, is from an era where he was just a massive jerk and not…well, as bad as he eventually got. A complaint I had about Infinity Gauntlet was that they stuck hard and fast with one set of people throughout the story, in here everyone gets to do something, even if our main heroes are the focus. Another thing Busiek does here, and also later in Thunderbolts, is call up villains who only had one appearance or so and were sent to the scrapheap. He’s like the anti-Scourge. I like that a lot because I often wonder “Whatever happened to the Elements of Doom” or whatever, and apparently, so does Kurt.

Maillaro: Something I really loved about this book were the two “Avengers from the future,” Songbird and Captain Marvel. At the time, Songbird was still with the Thunderbolts, and while they were skewing towards hero at the time, most people still thought of them as villains. Seeing her as a respected Avenger in the future with close friendships with characters like Wasp was very cool.

At the same time, Genis-Vell at the time was basically a joke of a character. Marvel seemed to keep trying to get him attention, and everyone (reader and character alike) just basically thought of him as Marv’s loser son. This story goes a long way towards changing that, and would lead directly into Peter David’s sixty issue run on the character. In Captain Marvel, PAD would also set up “why Rick looks like he does” when we get the shocking glimpse of future Rick. We still have no idea what is up with that outfit…

Unfortunately, we never really got to see either of these characters as Avengers, and at the moment, both characters are among Marvel’s MIA characters.

I also found it interesting that when putting together an ideal team of Avengers, there were no versions of Thor and Iron Man. Granted, when this came out, it was before the Marvel Movieverse, and neither of those characters were as BIG as they are now, but it often seems like Marvel tries to sell the idea that the most important Avengers are Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. But two of them weren’t even featured in this story.

Weaver: Totally agree. Honestly, I always read Avengers and other team comics for the guys who didn’t have solo comics, and that’s basically what this roster is, plus Captain America who really is kind of the soul of the team.

Maillaro: That is not to say they don’t have a presence in this book. The Avengers galactic army that is taking over the world has a whole division of Thors and another division of Iron Men. And many of the continuity smoothing in this book feature moments from Thor and Iron Man.

Weaver: That army is the five founders, well, the retconned five founders. Poor Hulk. But I liked that as a callback.

What I really loved was TWO HENRY PYMS. No, really. What I loved was how everything highlighted a side of the character that was always there, but wasn’t seen as quintessentially “them” at the time of publication. Wasp takes field command early on, when it’s shown that the Cap in question isn’t really up to it. You have a Hawkeye with no gimmicks just fighting straight up as a normal guy, which is an idea that’s shown up a few times since then, including the Marvel cinematic-verse. You see how much the past weighs on the shoulders of current Henry Pym, and you see Cap being unsure and reflective. And of course Songbird and Captain Marvel, neither of whom, as you said, had been especially heroic yet, but definitely were here. One wonders why, with so many Avengers titles, a character like Songbird goes missing. She’s built for a team, has been since her early days, and it seems every title usually likes to have a few former villains around. She has a unique and useful power, also.

Maillaro: I like to think that someplace Zemo and company are plotting to do something huge. Good. Bad. Tweener. I don’t care as long as they do something. If Ultron can get a massive crossover revolving around him, they can damn well do one around Zemo and the old T-Bolts.

To be honest, I have no idea if those characters are even dead or alive right now, but that really isn’t a limit with Marvel most of the time.

One thing that bares huge props. This book had exactly one penciller and one inker. That is incredible to me. Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino did some Herculean work…and even got to draw a few different versions of Hercules in the process.

Sorry.

I imagine this book had to be a ton of fun to draw, throwing as many different versions of the Avengers together as you could, but a ton of work. In a lot of comics, you are lucky to see one penciller and one inker do a single 22 page issue, much less a 12 issue epic like this.

Weaver: I’m pretty sure Josten was dead when Thunderbolts first came out, so there’s precedence even for those characters…and there were a few ongoing stories in their main title about a bunch of them dying/nearly dying and coming back. Fixer, Zemo (in Citizen V’s body), Jolt, Dallas Riordan…just a bunch of them. What I hate is how, in this day and age, they have to save Zemo up for something huge, and you know it’s going to be an event comic and cross over with everything…why can’t Zemo just steal a nuclear bomb and call it good, like the old days? Why must everything be so event-driven now? I know that’s an odd sentiment when dealing with big events like this and Infinity Gauntlet in a positive light, but especially in Avengers Forever you don’t have all the set-up and all the far-reaching continuity ripples. Which is odd, since Avengers Forever cleans up a lot of continuity, but at the same time, it was mostly back-catalog continuity that otherwise was just going to fester until someone chose to deal with it.

Maillaro: Yeah, all teasing aside, I do miss the “small” stories to. That is why I love books like Morbius.

Yes, every week I need to drop a Morbius plug, It is contractual.

Events are great for driving up sales, but let’s face it, most of them aren’t very good. And Infinity Gauntlet and Avengers Forever were both pretty self-contained, which is not what current comic events go for. Don’t get me started on DC’s Forever Evil and their “let’s release 16 issues of Batman at 4 bucks a pop” month.

Weaver: I’m really disappointed about that with Forever Evil, too, since I really like the idea and the broad stroke “Let’s look at all the different varieties of this thing called evil” mission statement. I can get behind that. Upwards of $100 to get all the Batman books plus the main book, and not even thinking about stuff like Flash yet? That’s crazy. In the old days, you could slap the same content of four of those issues into one annual by trimming each story down just a little and call it good. I think you could still do that, were you inclined to, but DC is not inclined to.

Alright, another thing about Avengers Forever: the moment when it’s explained why each of these Avengers were the “right choice.” Especially the vindication of Yellowjacket. It’s no secret I love Yellowjacket a lot. Having a moment when I realized that not only does Kurt Busiek “get it” about him, he also shares that revelation with everyone.

Maillaro: Like I said a few weeks ago, Busiek is a genius.

All right, scores. Writing I have to give Busiek and Stern 5/5. This story could have been terrible, but it was great. It could have been a trudge of a read, but it was fast-paced and a ton of fun. It could have been full of mistakes, but as far as I can tell, it was damn close to flawless.

Weaver: Sometime soon, we’ll have to review something that we know is bad, because I hate giving out all these fives, but they need to happen here. For the art, too. Pacheco has so many things he’s tasked with drawing, and they all look perfect.

Maillaro: I’ll go with double 5′s too.

The problem with reviewing bad books is that it means we have to read those same bad books. Personally, there is enough negativity in the reviewing world. I would rather point out some awesome books that people should check out.

That said, if you want a bad book…how about we review Catwoman (2011-) #0 next week? That book was so bad, it caused me to drop a series I liked.

Weaver: I shall now make it my mission to like Catwoman #0.


Astro City (2013) #1

Written by: Kurt Busiek
Art by: Brent Eric Anderson
Colored by: Alex Sinclair
Lettered by: Comicraft’s John G Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt
Published by: DC/Vertigo
Cover Price: $3.99

Maillaro: I actually have a long, long relationship with Astro City. I had fallen in love with Busiek’s writing and Alex Ross’s art on Marvels, and when I saw the cover of Astro City 1 way back when it first came out in 1995, I immediately picked it up. To be honest, when I got home, I was pretty upset to discover that Alex Ross hadn’t done the interiors. I was still relatively new to comics, and hadn’t done a lot of back issue diving, so I hadn’t even heard of Brent Anderson. But I read the issue anyway…which I liked but didn’t love. I did like that it seemed to be something different, but at the time, I was still very much into the “90′s” X-Treme comics scene. I definitely preferred more flashy Image comics like Pitt, Youngblood, Brigade, Shadowhawk, Wild CATS (I was never really in to Spawn for some reason).

That said, I did admire that Image did seem to be trying to do a few more unique comics. The Maxx will always be one of my favorite comic series, and Astro City was interesting enough for me to stick with it. Very quickly, Astro City’s first mini-series went from “Hey, this is pretty interesting” to “HOLY CRAP, THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!” Issues 3, 5 and 6 of the first Astro City miniseries in particular won me over.

Astro City is set in a world very much like the Marvel or DC universe. Heroes like Samaritan, Confessor, and Jack in the Box are homages to Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. But the comics don’t focus so much on “superheros fighting supervillains.” It takes a step back to say, “Hey, if the world really had superheroes, what would that mean? What would the journalism look like? TV Shows? Movies? Celebrity Culture? How would the everyday civilian’s life be different?”

Astro City’s release schedule has been sporadic at best. Primarily because of illness, Busiek has not been able to give the book as much love as it deserves. That said, whenever Astro City does come out, it is always a big deal to me. This new Astro City series (this is actually the 60th issue of Astro City, even though the cover says issue 1) is something I’ve been waiting for for a long time…

Weaver: Yup, 60 is what it says in the end of the comic page too. Anyway, this is my first exposure, like it is to so many of the comics we discuss. I think only Courtney Crumrin was something you’d never encountered before. Anyway, I feel about this issue much like you felt about the first issue of Astro City. I liked it, but I didn’t quite love it. I felt a few moments where it seemed like there were callbacks that I didn’t register, such as the Broken Man going down the list of heroes and not really saying much about them other than “Not him.” I did like the fact that those doors just hung around until one superhero decided to mess with them, then suddenly 80 superheroes started messing with them.

I’m getting that it’s much like Marvels in that it deals more with the average human than the superheroes, and I like that, it’s a very different thing, but I’m feeling like my lack of being in on Astro City before this is a severe detriment, which is not what you should have happen in a #1 issue.

Maillaro: Honestly, I didn’t love this issue either, and for many of the same reasons. It didn’t quite feel all that accessible, even for someone who has been a reader for a long time. One strength and weakness about Astro City is that it treats the characters like people the citizens of Astro City already know…and as a reader, I don’t always know if we the reader have seen the characters before. Sometimes this is fun, but somethings it can be frustrating and that is more how it felt in this issue. The father and his daughters I definitely remember showing up in an earlier issue (far younger), but it has been a long time since I read that story, and I barely remember the details of their story.

First issues of Astro City in the past have always felt far more accessible than this one did. It probably would have been better to call this Vol. 2 Issue 23 than Vol. 3 issue 1.

All that said, I did think there was a lot to enjoy about this issue. Broken Man was a lot of fun. Reminds me of Creeper or a deranged version of the Watcher. I wasn’t at all surprised when he was revealed to be in a mental institution at the end of the issue. Dude belonged there.

Weaver: I actually predicted the mental institution from page one. I was pleased to see it pay out.

I like the Broken Man. I’m interested enough in him to see where his story goes. And while I admire being dropped in to a story midstream like that, it is a very chancy proposition. I felt like we got enough about Broken Man, and probably enough about the father and daughters, and enough about the aliens. Everything else was just scattershot.

Although, honestly, Busiek does tend to start things off pretty jarringly and let it piece together over time. I’m hoping that’s the case here.

Maillaro: I do think that this issue is setting up a lot of cool things. I also think that since Busiek and company have been away for three years, that some leeway needs to be given. All that said, I always try to review a comic based on the comic itself, not so much what came before or what could possibly come afterwards.

I did like American Chibi a lot. I am fan of “out of place” looking characters. Also, just dropping a quick thanks to artist Pop Mahn. I had no idea what a Chibi was until he explained it to me after I did a review of Spyboy way back in the day. Ultimate Spider-Man this week had the heroes turned into Chibis (including Chibi Thor)…and I found it just as entertaining as American Chibi.

I also loved the moment where the massive godlike creature realized he was too loud and changed his font from big booming purple letters to normal dialogue boxes. Those kinds of design decisions are always pretty damn clever to me.

Weaver: Broken Man’s explanation of American Chibi got a chuckle out of me, even though the character itself was rather groan inducing. What that did spotlight to me, though, is how much Astro City expresses a love for all forms of comics. I saw so many nods to so many different styles within this issue, and even though there were a few punchlines along the way, I felt like it was a celebration of everything rather than a condemnation. I liked that a lot.

You can tell when people love what they’re doing, and that’s definitely going on here.

Maillaro: Astro City has even done the “whacky animal” character really well with Loony Leo the Lion.

Just like Avengers Forever, it is clear that Busiek takes a great enjoyment from comics, all the good and bad that pop up in them. And it is infectious. Even with an okay issue like this one, I really enjoyed a lot of it, and would be hard pressed to call it a bad comic, just not quite satisfying. I am comfortable with giving the writing a 3.5/5.

Weaver: I enjoyed it too, but I enjoyed it about a 3/5. Now the art…the art was phenomenal. There were a lot of characters thrown at us here, and all fully realized. I’m going to give a 4.5 on that.

Maillaro: I do sometimes think that Brent Anderson’s art is a little old fashioned, but I think that works very well for Astro City. And I love how he can swap and blend styles with no problem at all. A definite 4.5 for the art!

By the way, that is a big part of the reason that we read comics that I know already. I get to set the agenda. Mwha-ha-ha-ha!

Weaver: Heh. Where would I be without you being my social calendar.


Final Scores

Maillaro – Story Weaver – Story Maillaro – Art Weaver – Art
Avengers Forever 5 5 5 5
Astro City (2013) #1 3.5 3 4.5 4.5


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Michael "Skitch" Maillaro

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