What happens when an aggressive robotic dominion has perpetual border disputes with the neighboring super-powered undead? Possessing a rambly title and nth-level strength of premise, the collaborators of Marvel’s All-New Invaders return to document the widescreen spectacle. Effectively a one-stop-shopping Secret Wars “sub-event”, the real stars aren’t the titular monstrosities but the trophy case of heroes that pepper the twenty-one pages.
Suffice to say, it’s a good day if you have any fondness for the West Coast Avengers. Or not- considering the life expectancy of anyone sentenced to the walled-off southern hemisphere of Dr. Doom’s Battleworld. Nonetheless there’s still an instant sunniness that maybe the good guys can win out against the myriad horrors. Or at least hold their own…
Writer James Robinson breaks the opening chapter into three parts. The first seven pages use werecat Avenger, Tigra, as an unlikely POV character. Not unlikely for her record among Earth’s Mightiest but for how inconsequential she appears to the remainder of the proceedings. Pursued by re-animated supervillains, a new metallic threat unexpectedly sets upon them all. As a snapshot into the “state of things”, it executes well enough- up until it literally loses sight of the protagonist. If she bites it somewhere off-panel in the ensuing double page melee, it’s never clearly disclosed. It’s not necessarily telling the reader “don’t get attached” because of obvious “robo/zombo” hazards but because story focus may just happen to wander away.
The next six-and-a-half pages are a terse backstory dump on how this particular Age of Ultron (aka “Perfection”) came to be. Radically differing from the Brian Michael Bendis source material, it’s still heavy on Silver and Bronze Age nostalgia- if not more so. Artist Ron Garney pinch hits the flashback, continuing to fire out spectacular double-page battle scenes but the overall approach is noticeably different. Whereas the Tigra sequence is thick-lined, grim and photo-real, this portion is looser if not, at times, scratchier. The stylistic change-up itself isn’t as jarring as Garney’s surprisingly rookie-ish mistake of not being able to keep bad guy Klaw’s sonic weapon consistently on the same arm from one panel to the next.
However, there’s redemption as the narrative moves on. In what appears to be a rare split-page, Garney and regular artist Steve Pugh transition subjects with mirrored symmetry. It is here that our tale truly begins. Again, it’s not an intentional middle finger to the audience that the last fourteen pages are prelude to the real “meat”- but, yeah, it’s hard not to feel slightly jerked around.
But if there ever was a time to invest, it would be now! In the back third, Robinson introduces one of the most interesting and compelling takes on Henry Pym ever conceived. Re-imagined as something of an misunderstood Old West Dr. Frankenstein, Pym is condemned for being an overly imaginative science nuisance. Out-teched and out-powered, Robinson masterfully conducts Marvel’s most troubled hero through a thematic callback of his very first adventure as “The Man in the Ant Hill”. Unlike the original, Ol’ Doc Pym is saved by means other than his own wits. It’s somewhat regrettable to deny him the personal accomplishment but less so if you’re a fan of Terminator-esque “Come with me if you want to live”- type cliffhangers.
Given the chaotic elements at hand, these sort of conspicuous beats are relatively forgivable. Think of them as familiar touchstones of sanity- avatars of a less complex age. Indeed, the casting reflects this mindset. Kudos to Robinson for striking these chords so resonantly.
That said, pacing and logical disconnect are other matters. Judging from the breakdown, it wouldn’t be factually inaccurate to call the issue “disjointed”. While not entirely fair, it does attest to the detached and compartmentalized nature of the undertaking. When two-thirds of the debut plays like a “sizzle reel” rehash, the additional page is a small saving grace but definitely worth it.
This book has serious popcorn-munching “summer blockbuster” potential but already displays a few “shut up and enjoy the ride” suspension hiccups. Robinson is insanely capable of balancing substance with the style- it’s a shame the latter overpowered so much out of the box. Perhaps next issue will find a better stride.