When it comes to raising the stakes in superhero comics, Jonathan Hickman took things about as far as you can go with his runs on “Avengers” and “New Avengers.” The fate of the world wasn’t at stake in those titles, it was the fate of the entire multiverse. Whoever was going to follow in his footsteps on those titles was going to have to make a choice: go bigger, go smaller, or go different. Mark Waid and Al Ewing are writers smart enough to know that going bigger was not the smart option here (if that would even be possible). Waid, with his history in character-driven superheroics on “The Flash” and “Daredevil,” went with the “go smaller” option on “All-New All-Different Avengers vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven,” as most of the drama comes from how his eclectic team tries to get along with each other. Meanwhile over in “New Avengers: A.I.M. vol. 1 -- Everything is New,” Ewing is picking up on one of the threads from Hickman’s run after Roberto “Sunspot” DaCosta bought out the terrorist group Advanced Idea Mechanics and re-branded it Avengers Idea Mechanics. He’s “going different” as this team is facing off against transformed crystal-headed citizens of Paris that are acting as a phone to the afterlife and a cthonic wizard of the fifth cosmos.
Let’s focus on Waid’s series for now as it’s ostensibly the flagship of the “Avengers” line. This time out the team is made up of a couple of familiar faces (Iron Man, and Vision), new characters in heroic roles (Captain America, Thor), and promising young heroes (Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Nova). For their first set of adventures they’ll be mixing it up with interstellar conqueror Warbringer, several generic superthugs, and Mr. Gryphon. He bought the old Avengers Tower and is harboring a secret connection to one of the team’s oldest and biggest foes. Art duties are split between Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar, so the book’s look is solid. Kubert brings his expected high-detail and high energy approach to the first arc, while Asrar’s smoother and more textured work is quite appealing in its own way.
As the first outing of the “All-New, All Different” era, this is still a pretty middle-of-the-road effort. Warbringer is just an angry space alien, though Gryphon at least has general creepiness and villain connection to fall back on. What Waid does bring to the table here is a good handle on the cast. There are some fun bits here, such as Sam Wilson trying to get help from a cash-poor Tony Stark when faced with buying Girl Scout cookies in front of everyone, Thor kissing Cap right after a battle, and the general animosity that develops between Nova and Ms. Marvel. That last bit is the most interesting thing in the volume as their initially awkward first meeting evolves into a complete breakdown of interpersonal relations. You don’t see most “first meetings” between superheroes go down this badly, but Waid provides some believable reasons for why that happens here.
It’s also the one thing here that really goes against superhero convention. Those of you expecting the frequently brilliant twists that Waid served up on his “Daredevil” run are going to be disappointed here. What we get here is a superhero story that gets by on its art and interactions between the cast more than anything else. This could be the result of Waid finding his footing with the format and possibly wanting to deliver a standard “Avengers” story before striking out to deliver something really different. There’s room for improvement here and I believe that the writer is capable of delivering it.
When it was revealed that Sunspot bought A.I.M. during the “Time Runs Out” arc, it was one of those moments that seemed so crazy and yet so right. I mean, they are a collective of scientists who are looking for the freedom to perform their experiments and the money to do that has to come from somewhere? So why not have a billionaire superhero secretly buy them out and then re-direct their ambitions towards more productive ends.? That’s what Ewing is following up on in the pages of his “New Avengers” title and the first volume is crazy good fun.
In addition to the business with the crystal-headed Parisians, and “Cthulu” of the fifth cosmos, the writer also has Hulkling becoming the King of Space, a time-traveling Avengers team from the future, and a terrorist organization known as W.H.I.S.P.E.R. being headed up by The Character Formerly Known as Ultimate Reed Richards -- you can call him The Maker now. Oh, and Hawkeye has been brought onto the team to act as a spy for S.H.I.E.L.D. Sunspot knows this because Dum Dum Dugan, his liason with the organization, told him straight up because he didn’t want to treat the man like an idiot. It was a nice touch.
One of the things that Hickman’s run benefitted from was the feeling that every volume was part of a much larger plan. All of the crazy big ideas from his run also fed into it and gave it a real sense of momentum as things went on. I’m not sure if Ewing has a larger plan here, but the “big ideas” he has are sure fun to see in action. “New Avengers” delivers some great over-the-top superhero action with high stakes and a real sense of fun about things. I mean, Squirrel Girl and her friend Tippy-Toe are key members of the team and they feel like they really belong here. Ewing also has his characters come up with clever solutions to the problems they face, repeatedly over the course of the three main stories here.
Yeah, the six issues collected here can be broken down into three two-part stories. They’re paced impressively well with the action not feeling overly compressed. I’d honestly like to see more writers take a cue from Ewing in this regard.
Gerardo Sandoval handles the art for most of this volume, only stepping aside for Phil Noto and Mark Bagley to tackle some narratively-appropriate story beats in the final issue. Sandoval’s style is as wild and crazy as the stories he’s illustrating, so I found him to be a perfect fit here. My only complain was that the coloring from Dono Sanchez Alamara was way too dark and subdued for this series. “New Avengers” is about big, insane, superhero action and it should have colors that pop off the page with energy. This is not something that happens with the colors Alamara imbues this series with.
Ewing is also writing the new “Ultimates” title, which I understand is acting as something as a sister title to this one. Only on a galactic instead of a (mostly) planetary scale. So it could be that he’s trying to take up the mantle of being Marvel’s “big ideas” guy now that Hickman has left to focus on his creator-owned work. His first volume of “New Avengers” shows that he’s off to a promising start in that regard, and I look forward to reading more from him at the company. As for Waid, his work on “Avengers” isn’t bad. I was just expecting better. Either I’ll get that from subsequent volumes, or just have to content myself with his and Chris Samnee’s new “Black Widow” series.