The latest issue of the recently re-branded Captain America and the Mighty Avengers is one part epilogue and two parts subplot set-up. It’s like one of those classic X-Men “down” issues, except with a severe lack of backyard softball. For a title re-launched during the “good is bad” shenanigans of Marvel’s fall event, Avengers & X-Men: Axis, this issue tackles the theme of public persona damage control in a pretty straightforward fashion. However, for all its addressing, punctuation is at a minimum as the pages just loll by as a largely uninspired twenty-page segue.
In terms of future trade collection, this chapter could easily split down the middle. Sure, it hints at where the next story arc is going but it does very little to give it a proper kick-off. Writer Al Ewing makes a curious choice of concocting a murder mystery while simultaneously turning over many of his cards to the audience. So far, the “who’s, what’s and how’s” have all been accounted for, leaving a great deal of his forward momentum hanging on the “why” of it all and deflating a lot of the story’s potential suspense. A regrettable by-product is that is It also sets a pretty tight countdown as to how long he can maintain the reader’s goodwill.
Even more curious, his new B-plot involves Luke Cage dealing with the same murderous villain in a different context but frames it in the same transparent manner. Taking advantage of a recent dubious mindset during the “super-inversions”, Cage acts as double agent to take down main series baddie Jason Quantrell and his company from the inside. While their initial interaction does succeed in rightfully raising flags, Ewing undoes what could’ve been an interesting twist a few pages later. Not only doe he let us in on Cage’s true intentions but also displays that Quantrell knows what Luke is up to! In Shakespearean tradition, these could be considered “aside” monologues except instead of stage whispers, Ewing opts for megaphone projection.
Furthering the curiosities surrounding this installment is the division of artistic labor. Series regular Luke Ross handles a majority of the pages but is bisected by Iban Coello, taking the middle seven. Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with breaking things up to accentuate different story beats but given the subject matter they respectively take on, one has to wonder if they were properly assigned. A veteran of Brubaker-era Captain America and the previous volume of Secret Avengers, Ross possesses a gritty photo-realistic style not far removed from either Mike Deodato Jr. or Greg Land. Coello, on the other hand, exhibits a bit more cartoonishly expressive flair in the vein of, say, Amanda Conner.
It’s certainly grounded enough in “traditional” comic book pedigree that the transition isn’t a complete jolt but taking the above credentials into consideration, who seems the better fit to illustrate a crime scene investigation? On the flip, employing the artist with the lighter touch would’ve driven home the point that the dark clouds of Axis are now parting. Yes, there’s direct callbacks to ordinary citizens Ross depicts in the first issue, so there’s an inherited through-line but those earlier scenes are also indicative of a more dire time. That said, maybe Ewing’s greatest asset this issue is semi-resident dark artisan, Kaluu, acting as metaphysical (and metaphorical) Greek chorus, sewing portends that maybe this new glimmer of hope isn’t as shiny and happy as all that. Against this notion, Ross’s feel-good last page splash, most sadly, rings less than true.
Overall, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers isn’t a bad book. Ewing’s dialogue is typically sharp and funny and plants many an Easter egg along the way. Luke Ross is a great fit for the team’s “street level” m.o. and is seasoned enough to warrant the (literal) “A” franchise. As a newer hand, Iban Coello is a fun alternative artist with tremendous growth potential. On paper, this should work: a great creative team with a solid product. In fact, this really could be the new sleeper of the Avengers comic family. Unfortunately, this is not their issue. Better luck next time…