A lot happened in Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena's opening salvo on Avengers. Frankly, though, it didn't feel like it. Rather, this felt like one long, establishing shot, with narration running over the whole thing intended to give it an epic feel.
There was a lot invested in trying to give this issue an "epic" feel. It seems, in fact, to be the only thing Hickman was particularly focused on. As a result, the book itself plodded along, another written-for-the-trade first issue of a team book in which nothing much happens except that "something bad happens" and "we put a team together."
In this case, since they're not starting the team from the ground up, there's an establishing device where Iron Man and Captain America discuss the need to grow the Avengers, in order to cope with the ever-escalating threats faced by a Marvel Universe that has squared off against Skrulls, Asgardians and the Phoenix Force in what is, comic book time, probably only a year or so.
It's a sensible enough idea but it's also been done. Done, in fact, by the only writer who seems to have the same kind of sweeping, self-indulgent, operatic aspirations for his blockbuster superhero team comics as Hickman does: Grant Morrison's JLA did all of this. Setting up the the JV squad that would come in and save the day if the A-listers were taken down was the premise of at least one major storyline during Morrison's JLA run -- a story in which the team duked it out with Kirby-inspired godlike alien conquerors. But that series always had a bit of fun and heart to it, a bit of levity.There's nothing of the sort in Hickman's first issue of Avengers, just a lot of telling you how important the story is and promising that you'll see how important it is soon.
The book is not without its virtues; the art is terrific, the high concept is interesting and his past track record seems to guarantee that Hickman has a long game that will pay off. Still, after years of fans complaining about Brian Michael Bendis's decompressed storytelling, I would have hoped for a more dynamic first issue out of Hickman.
At a time when Marvel's The Avengers is the #1 movie of the year, thanks in no small part to the character, the wit and the humor, I would have hoped for some more character development and less of a sense of the dire and dour.
Also, it would have been nice if Hickman had learned from one of the few things Whedon's film didn't get right -- other than Loki, his villains were anonymous, generic. Here, we get villains who are less anonymous but still feel generic. Considering the story's main villain (Ex Nihilo, but I had to go back and look) probably gets more spoken lines than anyone or just about anyone in the book (the only real competitor is Iron Man), he's still remarkably stuck in "stock powerful alien mode."
There's "a lot of s--t" at Marvel and DC these days, Hickman told me in an interview years ago, just before taking a job writing S.H.I.E.L.D. "There's a lot of mediocre work that gets done because the editors have a certain amount of stuff that they need to get out," but "I've waited so long to do this, "I'm not going to throw stuff against the wall."
In the time since that conversation, he's become one of the most sought-after writers in superhero comics, and certainly has rarely, if ever, been accused of just throwing stuff against the wall. Here, though, it feels like he could use a bit of that kind of spontaneity. He's so focused on the great place he's going that he seems to have forgotten to take the car out of park before he punched the gas.