Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Mighty Avengers #17 Review

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Khoi Pham

Brian Michael Bendis continues to use the Avengers comics in order to establish the back story of how the Skrull Invasion came to be. In the last issue, he focused on Elektra, and how she was replaced as a Skrull. That was unfortunate, in that Elektra was not even an Avenger. At least this issue of the Might Avengers focuses on Hank Pym, and what happened to the first Skrull who tried to replace him. Unfortunately, what this story demonstrates is that Bendis really has run out of back story to tell. All of those who were replaced (except Jarvis) have already had their stories fleshed out, and this issue doesn't really reveal anything new. Instead, it is more comparable to New Avengers #43, in which we discover the fate of the Skrull posing as Captain America, who didn't even realise he was a sleeper agent when he was murdered.

Unfortunately, this issue is not as good as New Avengers #43, as it lacks any real sense of tragedy. The Skrull involved is aware that she is a Skrull, and therefore, one does not have the sense of confusion and dark irony that that issue brought. Moreover, the Skrull impersonating Henry Pym is not motivated by heroism as the Captain America Skrull was, but rather by Henry Pym's weaknesses. Henry Pym's insecurities are influencing the Skrull, making her unable to believe in the success in the invasion. As a result, she starts to have a breakdown, insisting on seeing the queen, and as a result, the other Skrulls kill her. However, there is nothing heroic about this, and therefore there is no tragedy. It is really just a pathetic story, which shows a real contempt for the character of Hank Pym, who basically is hard to imitate because he is such a loser.

It is really unfortunate that no one has ever properly rehabilitated Hank Pym, who has potential to be one of the most interesting characters in the Avengers. The problem is that the character struck his wife back in Avengers #213, and is therefore can never be properly rehabilitated without it appearing as though spousal abuse is being condoned. What Pym needs is a retcon, that explains away his hitting his wife as some sort of mind-control or clone. This would be an extreme solution, but it is the only one that would enable the character to be redeemed without at the same time excusing his violence. Such a retcon was attempted in Avengers Forever, in which his paranoid and violent behaviour was induced by Immortus (who later did the same to Tony Stark turning him into a murderer), but it didn't stick. However, without such a solution, no story that makes Pym look heroic will ever be successful, and that lack of heroism is what makes this story pathetic rather than tragic.

Instead, Pym is portrayed as an insane loser, allowing the authors to heap abuse on the character, making the reader wonder why they are writing about him at all if they despise him so much. Millar picked up this theme in the Ultimates series, in which his version of Pym (who is a different character) was constantly unemployed and nearly beat Janet to death. This book has Dugan, apparently speaking for Bendis, telling the Pym Skrull what a loser Pym is. Watching a writer abuse his characters induces in me the same reaction one has when seeing someone publicly humiliated; it makes me squirm and feel uncomfortable, and not be interested in reading the story.

The art in this art is very weak. It suffers from some of the same problems as Hulk #5. There are virtually no bakgrounds in any of the scenes, providing little sense of setting. At best we get some tile or some trees. The faces of the characters seem almost goofy, with facial expressions that are flat and often do not even match what the character is saying. The faces also seem droopy, like the characters have just returned from the dentist. This may be the result of bad collaboration between Pham and his inkers, who are highlighting the wrong aspects of people's facial expressions, but everyone in this book looks a little sedated.

The one positive aspect of the book is that Bendis is starting to develop the ways in which the Skrulls, because they need to copy their targets on a cellular level, risk being unable to shed the personalities of the people they imitate. It is like one of those stories where an agent goes deep undercover and ends up sympathizing with those he plans to betray. With Captain Marvel, this story has been developed, but it is unfortunate to see that this good idea is being used mainly with throw away characters who are killed by the end of the issue.

Overall, then, I do not recommend this comic. It comes across as very mean, showing the kind of contempt for a character that ruins a story.


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