Avengers #41 is a big, dumb comic.
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Javier Garrón
Lettering by David Curiel
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Back in the days before the original Secret Wars, Marvel published The Contest of Champions. It was 1982 and we weren't yet used to seeing these kinds of events that would take all of the super-heroes and make them fight one another for some contrived apocalypse. Written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by a young John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton, Contest of Champions divided the Marvel superheroes up into two competing camps and made them fight each other. Almost 40 years since then, who remembers what the stakes of those comic books were but there's a general warm glow in the thought of them and the nostalgia for the innocence that kind of event used to have.
With the second part of 'Enter The Phoenix,' Aaron's story channels a lot of the spirit of that old Gruenwald story, setting up matches like Shanna the She-Devil versus Devil Dinosaur or Nighthawk versus the Black Panther for some meaningless McGuffin like the Phoenix Force. This is the kind of thing that Aaron's run on The Avengers has been leaning into all along, giving us these big, boisterous fights between the Avengers and other classic Marvel characters like the Moon Knight, the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider, and even the devil himself Mephisto. Maybe Aaron got the need to tell large, nuanced stories out of his system with his modern classic Thor run and now wants to have some fun with the toys.
That's what Avengers #41 feels like - an afternoon surrounded by all of your action figures and making them fight each other. The why of everything is inconsequential because the child-like fun is in the fighting itself. Artist Javier Garrón must be having fun with all of these fights, redesigning these classic characters in Phoenix-themed versions of their costumes. Garrón and colorist David Curiel are drawing this big fight comic that's featuring different kinds of fights. Some of them are bombastic, some of them are just absurd matchups, and one or two of them get to be psychological battles of will. There's some fighting and some arguing and that's a lot of what happens but Garrón gets to turn in a slick action-filled comic that features Aaron's favorite character the Orb as a Phoenix-imbued giant eyeball.
It's taken 41 issues but it's clear that Aaron's take on the Avengers is that they are characters to play with. When you look at the big modern runs on The Avengers like Brian Michael Bendis or Jonathan Hickman's, you can see their self-serious and even self-aware performances. Aaron is just as self-aware as they were but he's not trying to obviously compete on the same stage of those older runs, which is slightly puzzling as he's revisiting another event that he, Bendis, and Hickman all worked on, Avengers vs. X-Men. And this time, instead of the X-Men being given the power of the Phoenix, it's the Avengers getting the power. But this is the same basic plot as the event- heroes beating up on heroes-- but without the grand importance of the modern event. Avengers #41 feels more like Gruenwald than it does like Bendis. It's not as full of itself or even wrapped up in its own conceited importance. It's just what it is, a lot like Contest of Champions was just what it was.
Maybe there's some big endgame to Aaron's storytelling here. It feels like he's on Year Three of laying the ground for something involving pre-historic Avengers, Celestials, Namor, Ghost Riders, and the Squadron Supreme. His story arcs on this title don't seem to conclude as much as they sort of just fade away with hints of returning at some point in the future. We see a lot of the threads that he's allowed to fade into the background show up here in this issue. But they don't feel like a continuation of those threads. Instead, they come across as reminders. "Hey, remember that a version of The Squadron Supreme has shown up before in this series" or "Don't forget that there's been a version of the Man-Thing as part of this Avengers." Even including perennial Aaron favorites the Orb or Jane Foster in this mix is less of a continuation of any stories that Aaron has told before and must more of a callback to his greatest hits.
Avengers, Phoenixes, White Rooms, Man-Things, and even throw in a Howard the Duck for good measure. Avengers #41 is a comic that practically demands that you just shut down your brain and absorb Jason Aaron and Javier Garrón's artwork on a completely 13-year-old level, invoking the days when you just didn't want to think too deeply about comics and just enjoy them on a big old dumb and mindless level. People punching people, what more can we really ask of an Avengers comic? And if that's what we demand of our super-heroes, Aaron and Garrón give us exactly what we want.
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