Saturday, January 30, 2016

Living in a (Fleeting) Moment: All-New, All-Different Avengers #4

The following is my review of All-New, All-Different Avengers #4, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There's a reason why the YOLO (You Only Live Once) meme became annoying quicker than a failed American Idol audition. As a concept, it's not inherently wrong. Despite what some world religions might claim, we only know for certain that we have one life to live. In the Marvel Universe, however, the concept becomes a bit more flawed and a lot more complicated.

It's not just because death in comics is a revolving door with a rusted lock. Because of retcons, reboots, and clones the concept of living in the moment might as well come with an asterisk. That still doesn't stop some characters from embracing the concept in a completely non-hipster type way. It's the primary lesson conveyed on All-New, All-Different Avengers #4. And it's conveyed in a way that even the cynical and the jaded can appreciate.

Mark Waid was tasked with assembling a new team of Avengers in the post-Secret Wars world. It sounds like a simple task, but when billion-dollar movie franchises are built on these teams, the stakes are a bit higher than placating fickle fanboys. Waid still rose to the occasion, creating a team of Avengers that includes familiar faces, rising stars, and a solid mix of diversity. While Glen Beck hasn't complained about it yet, it's a team that reflects a fitting and appropriate sentiment for 2016.

The first three issues of the series was a standard coming together story. It wasn't nearly as epic as a certain movie staring Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., but it didn't feel as overplayed as a certain movie starting Andrew Garfield. All-New, All-Different Avengers #4 offers the first real insight into how this new team of Avengers functions and it does so in a way that never feels like a bad reality show or a 60s era sitcom.

There's just a real insight into this new team that feels genuine and balanced. It's basically the complete antithesis of the team dynamics we see in Lethal Weapon movies. There are very different personalities with characters like Nova, Ms. Marvel, and Vision. However, those personalities find a way to mesh in a manner that never feels forced. They don't need a drill sergeant or football coach to whip them into shape. They're not the Cleveland Browns. They're the Avengers.

When they get a chance to demonstrate their competence as Avengers, they pass the test. They don't necessarily pass with flying colors, but when the enemy involved is Cyclone, the test is graded on a curve. He's no Red Skull. Even Hugo Weaving couldn't make Cyclone an intimidating threat. However, he does give this new team of Avengers a chance to shine. While the scope of their efforts are as generic as a traffic stop on the Jersey Turnpike, the battle against Cyclone reflects the new normal for this era of Avengers.

It's not just the diversity that makes this new team of Avengers feel appropriate. It comes back to those sensibilities that we, the society of 2016, have developed in recent years. It's no longer enough for the Avengers to show up, fight monsters, punch the Red Skull in the face, and tell kids to eat their vegetables. As the backlash against movies like Man of Steel have shown, modern audiences care about civilian casualties. Indeed, in an era when the failures of our heroes are more scrutinized than ever, society is much less forgiving of missteps and oversights.

The Avengers in this conflict go out of their way to protect the civilians caught in Cyclone's attack. It takes up a good chunk of the fight. While Cyclone eventually gets knocked out in the same tradition as the Red Skull, the emphasis on protecting civilians adds an important dynamic to what would otherwise be the superhero equivalent of a typical Tuesday.

Beyond the new dynamics of a diverse, civilian-focused Avengers, there is another moment that adds weight to an otherwise typical clash in the new Prime Marvel universe. It comes in the form of a kiss between the new Captain America, Sam Wilson, and the new Thor, Jane Foster. In this case, the cover isn't an elaborate form of trolling in the tradition of Action Comics #600 or Astonishing X-men #14. This kiss does happen, but it's not the kind of kiss that will appeal to the Twilight crowd.


This moment between Sam Wilson and Jane Foster is another keen reflection on 2016 sensibilities. It comes after both characters get reminded that they look nothing like Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth. There are fans, even within the comic itself, that whine about Captain America and Thor not being the "classic" versions. It's the whining internet trolls of comic book message boards taking form and substance. However, Sam and Jane deal with it in the best way possible and it doesn't involve whining to a moderator.

The two characters kiss. They do so after Sam laments about living up to the high bar set by Steve Rogers. Jane, whose true identity is still a mystery to everyone on the team, understands that these are unreasonable standards set by unreasonable people who make unreasonable comments on the internet. The kiss is just a good way of reinforcing her point and shutting him up.

At the same time, however, it isn't conveyed as a kiss that will create Marvel's next big power couple. This is not their response to DC's efforts with Superman and Wonder Woman. At the very most, this is just an awkward kiss at the end of a junior prom. In the context of the story, this is probably for the best.

Over the past decade or so, Marvel has treated romance and iconic couples with the same tact and care as a Jerry Springer rerun. It's gotten to a point where there are no iconic romances left in Marvel's vast mythos. Some have been killed off, retconned out of existence, or denigrated beyond repair. Marvel has treated their most iconic romances with the same care a two-year-old treats bowl of pasta. They only know how to make it into a mess and neither Sam Wilson nor Jane Foster deserve such treatment.

This kiss and the dynamics built around it give All-New, All-Different Avengers #4 just the right impact. There's a sense of hope, albeit fleeting, that this team can function in 2016 in all its unique sensibilities. Mark Waid has taken a diverse cast with iconic names and made it feel genuine. Glen Beck may still protest at some point, but that would only confirm that this new team of Avengers is doing something right.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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