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A review of the Marvel trade paperback, reprinting material originally published in The Mighty Avengers issue numbers seven to eleven. This is an American publication but is widely available in UK book stores and online.
Jessica Drew (Spider Woman) brings disturbing news to Tony Stark, the newly appointed director of SHIELD of a sinister and covert attack on the world. Both Stark and Drew believe that there is an enemy within the ranks of the Avengers and Stark seconds Drew to the team roster, in an attempt to bring the spy out of hiding. But before they can even think about who it might be, a terrorist attack on American soil releases a virus that turns everybody into a slavering, bloodthirsty monster, infected with the same symbiotic alien that created Venom. If Spiderman could only just about defeat one Venom, how will the team fare against a city of thousands of Venoms? As the team battles to defeat the multiple foes, Stark's attention is drawn towards the perpetrator of the attack and his findings mobilise the team against a very different enemy indeed...
As one of my favourite Spider-baddies of all time, the concept of seeing the Avengers pitted against Venom held enormous appeal and when it turned out that the team would be up against a whole city of Venoms, this volume of the Mighty Avengers seemed almost too good to be true. The second compilation of Brian Michael Bendis's run on The Mighty Avengers, Venom Bomb actually faces an extremely difficult task. In the original comic book series, the story arc found itself wedged between two major crossover events, with the repercussions of Civil War now leading the Marvel Universe into the Secret Invasion and there was a risk that the five-part story would simply find itself treading water until the next big thing came along. In some ways, it does suffer a little from this, but is still a welcome return to form for the franchise, comprising a number of exciting, appealing strands that come together surprisingly well.
The Venom attack on New York is, bizarrely, not the most integral part of this book and is wrapped up quite early in the narrative. It does, however, lead the team onto bigger, more important things and almost sets the scene for a bigger showdown with one of the team's oldest enemies. Whilst this does take the reader by surprise, it works reasonably well (despite the fact that the back cover gives it all away) and the end-to-end story arc is meaty, classic Avengers stuff. As part of the ongoing saga following the attack on New York, some of the Avengers find themselves travelling back in time, which leads the book into one of its most intriguing sections. Taken back to the late 1970s/early 1980s. The artist adopts the style of the book in that era and applies a retro effect to the colours and graphics. The presentation of these pages closely replicates the comic books of the time, complete with the little footnotes at the bottom of each page that Marvel used to use to advertise other current releases. This is a great touch. It's all carried off in an extremely affectionate way, and is a nod of respect to the long-time fans of the series, given only that newer followers of the franchise will probably not have a clue what it's all about.
The Venom attack is also quite cool only in so far as the fact that the symbiote virus infects some of the team members themselves. This presents the creative team with significant opportunities, fulfilled by a multi-storey symbiotic version of The Wasp who, whilst experimenting with a new growth hormone turns into a grotesque version of Venom. This also complicates the morality of the situation further as the team cannot really cut loose against the variety of symbiotes on the basis that they know there is a civilian or team mate lurking behind the snarling teeth. To further complicate the situation, the New Avengers also turn up on the scene to try and help, themselves largely turning into symbiotes and presenting a further challenge to the Mighty team. In many ways, some of the opportunities go unfulfilled. A Venomised version of Wolverine, for example, could have been hugely entertaining but is almost glossed over in the space of a few panels. Nonetheless, the series continuity is maintained throughout, with some awkward exchanges between the two teams of Avengers due to the repercussions from Civil War and Tony Stark's thought process throughout the book has one eye on current events and one eye on the Secret Invasion that's unfolding around them.
The scale and nature of the conflict here feels entirely appropriate to the series and is a much better representation of what Avengers fans would expect an Avengers book to look like. There are some glorious double-page spreads showing the team at full pelt against the Venoms and, more impressively, later on in the land of Latveria facing off against an army of robots. Mark Bagley's pencil work is impressive. It's all clean lines and modern shapes with a vibrancy and impact that lends itself well to the subject matter. Bagley also draws the eighties retro pages, but various visual effects are applied to the original artwork to create the old school look. There is additional artwork from Marko Djurdjevik in a couple of places, which marks the travels much farther back in time of our main villain and his interactions with Morgan Le Fey. These pages comprise a gorgeous series of dark brooding, mediaeval paintings that really complements the historic setting.
The finished product is a reasonably impressive volume that entertains in the present and whets the appetite for the bigger things to follow. Bendis's writing remains strong, with some pithy, entertaining dialogue that shows enormous affection for Avengers history (loved the scenes where the Avengers find themselves incarcerated and remark on the fact that, for once, they remain fully clothed). The Mighty Avengers feels like a return to form for Marvel. Whereas the New Avengers series is trying to appeal to a new generation of fans, it seems clear that the Mighty Avengers has no shame in appealing to the old school fans and, for this old school fan at least, this is good news.