The third part in writer Frank Barbiere’s fill-in-the-holes arc for Avengers World (aptly entitled “Before Time Runs Out”) centers on former New Mutant solar powerhouse, Sunspot. Technically the remaining portion of a two issue spotlight, this week’s edition works almost as well as a stand-alone. For hardcore Bobby daCosta fans, there’s a lot to enjoy. For casual readers keeping score on how Jonathan Hickman’s related Avengers epic goes from A to B, there’s a few “Aha!” moments, too. Lead qualities aside, technicalities also keep this installment from being truly exceptional.
The greatest bone of contention comes down to whether it’s actually easier or ridiculously unenviable to supply missing scenes to somebody else’s story. On one hand, all the heavy lifting is done- all that remains is placing overt emphasis on connecting pre-determined dots. However, as simple as this objective may seem on paper, it can hamstring much as bolster. It’s almost a case of The Silmarillion and the greater works of J.R.R. Tolkien, with this issue suffering in kind. Sure, it hits its beats and delivers characters to their familiar “Eight Months Later” marks yet it’s obviously under the pen of a different author.
That’s not to say Barbiere is trying to pass himself off as “Hickman lite” by any means. His Marvel offerings tend to lean more on deep-focus character development and in this respect, he’s a welcome change-up; working familiar characters from a different, yet no-less-involved angle. His Dr. Strange story with Marco Rudy from 2014’s New Avengers Annual is a shining example. The current issue has great amounts of heart. In fact, it trades on the spirit of the telling so much that it overshadows the actual mechanics employed. Surprisingly, this wins some favor but doesn’t excuse all upon closer scrutiny.
Despite honing in on one protagonist, there’s still some wobbly narrative balance and murky story identity. While last issue was fairly talk-heavy and in obvious need of resolution, this installment is decisively action dominant yet doesn’t fully reciprocate- treating its immediate predecessor as a distant preamble. To it’s merit, it really does try to execute on that “plug and play” level… until it doesn’t.
Peppering last issue with well-placed flashback sequences, Barbiere returns to the technique here to lesser effect. Curiously waiting until the back half of the current installment to reapply the tactic only jars his readers’ experience, also undercutting the steam-gathering of his “big crescendo fight scene”. For those just tuning in and may’ve missed the contextual clues that there’s thematic holdover from last issue, this is indeed a confusing and unwarranted sidebar. Yes, the parallels between Bobby’s father teaching him a life lesson in a boxing ring directly correlate to his current Dragonball Z-esque square-off against AIM’s Scientist Supreme but, man, in terms of timing and precedent, does it ever come out of left field!
There’s also another couple of clunkers in Barbiere’s script. The riff on the classic line from the 1979 cult film The Warriors comes off as trite at best. Luckily, this groaner is saved in-story by the unintentionally comedic commentary of sidemen Hyperion and Manifold. However, just as facepalm-inducing is the somewhat derpy conclusion to the showdown with Dr. Andrew Forson. Seriously, it’s right up there, unapologetically flapping in the breeze, alongside Halle Berry’s bad delivery of lightning-related jokes.
Speaking of hollow “shock value”, last issue saw the da Costa International Board seemingly mass-electrocuted by AIM higher-ups rejecting the corporate acquisition. This time, Bobby offhandedly updates their status to doing fine. While this is a minor point, it definitely points to either a disconnect in collaborative communication or a suspension of certain disbelief.
Perhaps the former is the case as an inability to cultivate the very best from the art team appears prevalent throughout. Strictly speaking, there’s nothing wrong with anything artist Marco Checchetto and colorist Andres Mossa offer. It’s just that considering the sheer number of credits under their belts individually, that they would present something with a little more spark. Instead, there’s nothing but twenty flat pages of uninspired, going-through-the-motions art paired with by a drab, washed-out palette. Sure, AIM Island should look like a post-industrial dystopic wasteland but the usually lush, vibrant Savage Land? Not so much. Maybe on a cloudy day but in any case, the skies shouldn’t blend homogeneously into mountains, trees and dinosaurs.
Sadly, the most dynamic pages of the book are the full-page splashes of Sunspot taking it to Forson but they’re also cluttered in with those pesky out-of-place flashback panels and some gratuitous glowy rectangles. However, acting as primary art team for the series, anyone is statistically due an off issue in a stretch. That in mind, there’s still promise of Checchetto and Mossa finishing strong.
Since beginning, Avengers World has always been a “companion piece”- the designated eternal bridesmaid of the franchise. The also-ran. No-medal Chewbacca. Sadly, this reflects in expectations sometimes and standards lessen. You will never get anything as epic as W. Scott Forbes’s cover of Thanos holding colliding Earths on the inside but you will get a story with undeniable guts held together gloriously by weathered but once-fancy duct tape. Fortunately, our boy just bought the factory, so that’s always cool. Well, while it lasts anyway…