By Mark Waid, Barry Kitson, Mark Farmer, Jordan Boyd, and Ferran Delgado.
Wonderfully retro. Joyously nostalgic. Dripping in Silver Age: Avengers #1.1 is a charming celebration of a bygone era in comics.
In recent years the world writ-large has developed a growing obsession with nostalgia. This new Avengers mini-series seeks to capitalise on that by bringing us a short story set way, way back in The Avengers glory days of the 60’s. It arrives at the perfect time. Marvel is feeling greatly weighed down by crossovers and events. Within only fifteen issues of Mark Waid’s prior Avengers series, All-New All-Different Avengers (with rotating artists Kubert & Asrar, there was a crossover for the storyline Standoff and tie-ins for Civil War II. This was a great series, but its momentum kept being shot dead.
This Avengers mini-seems to be the antidote…
Way back when, in simpler times when comics were dusty rags you took from a newsagent’s shelf for a couple of cents a pop, The Avengers were Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man & The Wasp. But then Marvel shook everything up and all but Cap departed, to be replaced by former villains Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch. This change-up in cast has remained an untold story for decades. Until now. This is a five-part mini-series that unites Waid with artist Barry Kitson. Its aim is to work as a self-contained story; good for those bored with big events. It promises to shed interesting light on the story unraveling in the main Avengers book in due course.
What is evident from page one (heck, the cover even) is the hard work that’s gone into making this book feel like a series from the era in which it’s set. The commitment to this style is so consistent all the book lacks to totally sell it is yellowing pages and the smell of dust. If you let yourself go with the aesthetic it is easy to buy that you found this issue in a bargain bin not a new shelf rack.
The clearest example of this is Delgado’s lettering. All text is written in the font ‘Back Issues‘, giving all speech balloons and narration a classic feel. It’s subtle but notable. Adding to this is an abundance of word bolding. Back in the day, using the bolding of words to infer a character’s delivery was more commonplace in comics. To suit its 60’s vibe Avengers #1.1 employs a liberal use of putting words in bold to help you truly feel you’re back in time.
Subtle touches like this really help the team achieve the concept; a concept of which Kitson is the perfect fit to bring to life. His art has a beautiful simplicity. His lines are clear and sharp. His style symbolically represents a step back from the clustered, event-driven stories of now to the simpler stories of yesteryear. Bolstering this, Kitson’s faces are old fashioned. Every character is built out of sharp angles. Every jaw line and muscle pops off the page. He works with a myriad of characters in this short issue (four team’s worth) and he brilliantly draws each with the over-the-top poses and postures of a Jack Kirby or Neal Adams.
Story wise, Waid does something he did expertly back on All-New, All-Different Avengers #1. He gives us a little taste of everything. We get two fight scenes, a couple jokey moments with Hawkeye, and a big dramatic cliffhanger. There’s also lighter moments. Waid is the expert of juggling tones in a mere one issue, and he does precisely that yet again.
Core to this book is a central centre piece in which these new Avengers reveal themselves to the press. This scene is a masterclass in economic storytelling. In just a few pages, all the character dynamics are established moving forward: Hawkeye takes to press interrogation like a duck-to-water, whilst Scarlet Witches struggles. Both the Maximoff twins fails to keep a lid on their emotions in public, whilst Hawkeye’s ease at public speaking sticks a spanner in the works as to who should be the leader.
Interestingly, this scene is the one that first showcases that this new team may not be as perfect as the ACTUAL 60’s comics in might have claimed as our cast face a grilling from the press. Intense paparazzi is a very modern idea, and this feels deliberate from Waid. Our team felt old fashioned, Silver Age and “thigh-slappy” but then a modern idea like overwhelming press attention comes into play and THAT’S when we start to see the newly forming cracks. Waid uses a modern form of antagonism to open us up to the idea that this isn’t just going to be a five-issue nostalgia trip and that we will be exploring an unstable team in the issues to come. When the team is exposed to a modern idea we see a more modern dynamic; namely, a fractured one. It’s a clever conceit, the execution of which is nailed by Kitson in the way he offsets the idea by keeping the characters looking as Silver Age as possible. Wanda’s angry face is delightfully emo. Clint’s public speaking face is hilariously goofy and wide grinned.
This dedication continues into colors and inks. Boyd (colors) gives everything that soft lightness of newspaper stock. It’s not quite the just four colours of yesteryear, but it’s close. Where in modern comics the tendency is to darken everything in the hope of achieving a certain maturity, Boyd lets a comic be a comic. As you can see on the cover (feat. below) the palette is bold & brash. Hawkeye is a shocking purple, and Cap a bright blue. Delgado’s inks are dainty and slight reflecting a 60’s sensibility of being more delicate with ink work as you were actually drawing over the original pencils. This all takes you right back, and has the book feeling almost like a reprint of a classic than a new story.
The book’s one wobble in perfectly achieving the look it’s going for is its use of modern panel layouts. Comics of this era were, of course, all about the 6 or 9 panel grids. Everything was rigid. But with the 90’s we had the Jim Lee/Tood MacFarlane effect and pages grew ever more experimental in structure. Whilst keeping with modern page layouts make this book a good reader to modern eyes, a more rigid/classic grid would have helped better sell the idea of this being a 60’s book. It’s understandable why they went for modern panels in order to appease a modern audience, but a classic grid would have been the icing on the cake.
Mark Waid once gave us a glorious run on Daredevil that invoked the Silver Age of comics, and he’s looking to touch on similar ideas with this five-part mini. Partnered with the beautifully simple lines and jagged heroic poses of Kitson could be a combination that makes this mini one of the better things to come out of the relatively luke warm “Marvel Now 2.0.” It’s not perfect yet, but by the end of its conclusion, it could be fantastic, with Kitson’s lines and Delgado’s letters looking to be the stars of the show.