Dark Reign: Avengers #1-2
Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Mark Brooks
A quick exercise; let’s do a rundown of the number of teams carrying the Avengers name right now: the Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, Dark Avengers, and Young Avengers (ignoring the Avengers Initiative and Ultimate Avengers).
Now Paul Cornell is throwing, technically, a team of New Dark Young Avengers into the mix. The cover to issue one proudly announces: “They’re Exactly What You Think!” which is an odd promise, and one that I think is unfair to the comics.
They’re not exactly what you think. At least, at their best they’re not.
The dialogue’s often clunky, especially in the opening spread introducing the team. They’re all assigned lines to give a sense of their character, but it’s hardly a memorable introduction to any of them.
Some of the storytelling, in otherwise very pretty Mark Brooks art, is a bit unclear. There’s a bit where, I think, Melter (guess what his superpower is) melts the concrete beneath some crooks and accidentally down to the subway below. But it’s not really shown and I only pieced this together on second reading from the numerous references to it in the dialogue.
But the ideas – the ideas are good. Its hard not to want to spoil too much – if you’re going to read the series anyway, read it then come back to this, because the freshness of the ideas presented are its major strength. Cornell actually uses the bastardised origins of the team to look at other, more normal superhero traditions. The Young Avengers themselves are a rip-off; as the Runaways said back in the day, “’New’ is just another way of saying ‘old’.”
The key lies in the character Coat of Arms, an artist interested in examining the depths of superhero ideas, referring to the team’s super-encounters as “scenes” and painting pictures of Captain America posing the question “Who is the greatest living artist: Gene Colan or Norman Osborn”. Which is all very interesting and, dare I say it, new.
But then, with issue two, this concept gets quickly forced aside, and the whole thing is wedged into a standard “BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT!” two-teams-meet/fight/resolve-differences story. The craft of the issue seems sharper- as both writer and artist settle into the story and characters- and it keeps throwing out interesting ideas. But when the story, which makes some headway into twisting superhero traditions, gives into those same traditions- take for example issue two’s cliffhanger, it becomes weak. And with so many teen superhero teams already floating around, at these points, it’s easy to ask why should I care?