Saturday, 20 August 2016

Avengers Standoff, Volume 1 Review (Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz)


Welcome to Pleasant Hill, a perfect, 1950s-style small town complete with its own malt-shop straight out of Archie! The people here are friendly, Mayor Maria Hill is organising fun events like the forthcoming air show, Dr Erik Selvig keeps everyone healthy, and nothing bad ever seems to happen. But the community seems a little too idyllic for some... And the residents can’t ever leave or remember much of their pasts - what the Jiminy Cricket is going on?!

I’ll say spoilsies from here on out because the mystery of Pleasant Hill is about the only halfway interesting aspect of this otherwise flat, smelly comic. 

So Avengers Standoff is the event book that takes place between Secret Wars and Civil War II and, as per usual with these kind of comics, it’s not very good. 

With Pleasant Hill, Maria Hill’s basically constructed a different kind of prison for repeat offenders by using fragments of a cosmic cube (Marvel’s version of a magic wand - though they have those too!). It wipes the prisoners’ minds, gives them new identities and appearances, and keeps them out of trouble. The Avengers aren’t pleased that Maria’s doing this and the story becomes Avengers vs SHIELD. 

Part of why I couldn’t get into this one is that I don’t really see a whole lot wrong with what Maria Hill’s up to. Cap and the others see Pleasant Hill as a kind of Guantanamo Bay which is just ridiculous. The inmates aren’t being tortured and prisoners like Crusher Creel and Baron Zemo are definitely mass murderers rather than suspects (they’re also the only ones I could identify - Trapster, Moonstone, Fixer, Nitro, the Wrecker anyone?). 

The traditional jails they’ve previously been in have basically been revolving doors and Pleasant Hill - a far nicer jail than any other in the world - is an experiment to see if a glimpse into a normal life could change them for the better. I mean, that’s better than just sticking them in the Raft again only for them to break out in a few months and the cycle to reset again, right? I suppose it’s doing stuff against their will but that’s prison in a nutshell, isn’t it? 

I can understand being worried that Maria Hill’s just doing whatever with the cosmic cube though because there’s no oversight there and she could do anything. Even if all she’s done is create a different jail for SHIELD’s prisoners and there’s no indication that she’ll go further later down the line. 

It’s a flimsy setup that doesn’t make for an exciting read. Most of the book is different groups fighting SHIELD, like AIM (the beekeeper villains) who are suddenly good guys for some reason, and the New Avengers. One fight scene between SHIELD and the New Avengers is repeated twice, word for word, beat for beat, but drawn by two different artists, and it wasn’t interesting the first time. 

Al Ewing’s definitely a huge Pacific Rim fan because there’s a big fight scene between an AIM Jaegar robot and a SHIELD Kaiju creature called American Kaiju - he has an American flag on his chest and is obviously a metaphor for SHIELD in this story: a supposedly out-of-control monster. Real subtle, Al! 

I feel like Marvel thought about commenting on Snowden and Assange through Rick Jones who’s the whistleblower on Pleasant Hill but they don’t have anything to say about it here. Like a lot of things in this story it’s another useless dead-end. 

Then again Marvel don’t really have much of anything with Avengers Standoff. It’s just a badly thought-out, half-baked story almost no aspect of which is remotely compelling. The mystery at the start is sort of intriguing before it ends up becoming the usual dreary slug-fest between dull characters. 

The first volume (the UK publisher chopped the story into two volumes because money) of Avengers Standoff shows why almost no-one read this event book: it’s booooring! Nobody really cares about SHIELD even with their weak attempt at seeming interesting by turning “evil”.

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