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Reviewing The Mighty Avenges volume one trade paperback, which reprints issues 1 to 6 of the ongoing series of the same name, originally published in 2007.
The Civil War has divided the Marvel Universe in a way that few people could ever believed would happen. With heroes' loyalties divided, Iron Man (the leader of the movement in support of the registration of super powers) decides to form a new team of Avengers, as many of the others have gone undercover, refusing to follow the government's registration demands. He appoints the super-powered Ms Marvel to lead the team and the duo goes about recruiting a hand-picked team of Mighty Avengers.
When strange creatures appear on the streets of New York, Ms Marvel assembles the Mighty Avengers for the first time against foes they recognise as the pets of the underworld lord known as the Mole Man. But when freak weather starts to strike across the nation it soon becomes clear that this is well outside the control of the strange little master of the dark. A huge surge of power seems to envelope Iron Man and then a new figure takes his place. An old foe has returned to wreak havoc on the planet - but this time he has some new tricks up his rather more feminine sleeves....
Following (yet another) major Marvel universe event (Civil War) the creative team behind the New Avengers decided that a second, partner series should evolve depicting a very different group of heroes. Recognising the opportunity to present two different teams, writer Brian Michael Bendis intended to run the two series in parallel, but when the artist Frank Cho fell behind, the two titles' continuity slipped and they have since run as relatively separate entities. The Ultron Initiative (originally named just The Initiative to prevent spoiling the arrival of an old foe) was a six-part series intended to throw the new team of Mighty Avengers into a pitched battle against one of the team's greatest, most powerful foes. Showcasing the artistic talents of Frank Cho, renowned for his work on the Liberty Meadows comic strip, the series was to continue to attract new fans to the franchise, showing that the Avengers were different now and could rival the storytelling, artwork and drama of the ever-popular X Men series.
The Ultron Initiative is partly successful in these objectives. It's a powerful, appropriately scaled Avengers tale that throws the new team in it up their armpits against one of their most hard-to-beat super villains. Where Avengers continuity is concerned, anything to do with Ultron presents plenty of opportunity, given only that he was created by a founding member of the team (Henry Pym) and that he has proven to be a most persistent nemesis. To throw a 21st century spin on things, Ultron is reincarnated in female form, but his plans for world termination are as evident and fixed as ever.
The trouble with this new sleeker, feminine Ultron is that it all has more than a passing resemblance to the bad girl in Terminator 3, complete with flash lightning arrival, foetal position and apparent nudity. The concept itself is reminiscent of the Terminator franchise, where it was felt that the arrival of a female Terminator would (correctly) inject some new interest into the movies. In The Mighty Avengers it works to a far lesser effect, often feeling rather pointless and it's so obvious that the creators simply felt that the original Ultron wasn't "cool" enough. For me, it's a mistake. The female incarnation doesn't really do anything for the narrative and you just end up thinking "but that's not Ultron". Body shape and gender aside, the new Ultron doesn't really have anything new to bring to the party. The plan seems remarkably similar to previous Ultron epics (although, perhaps that was Bendis's intention.)
The plot line is remarkably old school, with what is essentially a couple of powerhouse face-offs between the new Ultron and some of the team's more powerful members. In the background, other team members deal with other weather-related emergencies and the whole construction is certainly more traditional than some of Bendis's other recent material. The way in which (in the early chapters anyway) Iron Man and Ms Marvel are seen assembling the new team is also very old school. It was a traditional recurring element of the Avengers series that the team would change from time to time, and there would be little mini-chapters depicting how the new team members came about. Iron Man and Ms Marvel's conscious decisions around who to include and who not to include ("we need a Thor and a Wolverine) are an interesting dynamic and the reader at least feels as though they are involved in the process.
The new team is a curious selection and not altogether successful. Ms Marvel takes the place of Captain America as the loyal, straight-down-the-line team leader, and certainly looks slightly better in a leotard than her male predecessor. Iron Man's integral presence and critical role in the Marvel Universe is more about maintaining visibility in advance of the film that was to be released a few months later. Ares (yes, the God of War) is seen as the Wolverine replacement but isn't a familiar enough face to provide the kind of edgy appeal that the Canadian X Man has always possessed, but he gets enough of the limelight here to show promise. The Sentry continues to be all-powerful and totally disinteresting and it's still not entirely clear where he fits into the piece. Some of the more original members take up the mantle for the traditionalists and it's always nice to see the winsome Wasp and the original Wonder Man (back in his cool red jacket, as opposed to his all in one romper suit, best forgotten in the West Coast spin-off). The characters lack of team history works against them here, however, as they eventually feel like a rather disparate group of individuals, particularly as Ms Marvel seems to struggle to lead them in any particular direction.
Frank Cho's artwork does them all justice though. The sumptuous colours and inks here seem to absolutely lap the new Ultron off the page and his/her metallic sheen looks gorgeous here. The scale of the conflict provides some wonderful images, from the enormous beasties that crawl up from the Mole Man's caves to the Sentry facing up to the new Ultron in the skies above New York. The artwork is crisp, modern and atmospheric, lapping up the varying weather conditions and the location-hopping action in a commanding manner. Cho isn't particularly about detail, but some of the characters benefit more from this than others. Ares, for example, looks particularly good, a simmering, hairy, masculine God who can barely keep his temper in check.
Compared to The New Avengers series, this new incarnation of the Mighty Avengers shows more promise. Less bogged down in political machinations and espionage, Bendis has made a good choice here in trying to rework an old concept for a more modern audience and the finished product bodes well for future volumes. Based on volume one, it feels as though this new series will have a bigger scale and better scope than the re-invented New Avengers and Bendis has struck a better balance between old and new. The return of Ultron, however, was perhaps not the best way to go about it and the reader can't help feeling cheated by something that could have been just a little bit better.