Monday, September 21, 2015

Review # 175: "Avengers - 'Red Zone' and 'The Search For She-Hulk'"

Goeff Johns didn't get off to the greatest start during his time on "Avengers," with a bland, slightly confused title with no confidence in its direction. That changed during the second half.

It begins with "Red Zone," which is Johns' crowning achievement of creativity at Marvel. A flesh-eating virus is unleashed on tourists at Mount Rushmore in the form of a red cloud, which drifts over America and painfully infects all in its wake. Who is behind it? The answer is quite dark and the reveal of the central villain is something to be....hold...

*Looks at collection cover.*

Oh, come on. Did Marvel REALLY have to put Red Skull on the cover?! Thanks for ruining it, guys.

Anyhow, Skull's motivations are chilling and very demoralizing. That's one thing I really like about this, as Johns' writing and Olivier Coipel's excellent art create a feeling of bleakness. While Kurt Busiek's preceding run had been very dark at times, the pages of "Avengers" were still filled with hope. That is not the case anymore, and it's something that fits Johns' immense strength as a storyteller: taking hope away, then having it return with gusto.

Where this happens may be the finest hour for Black Panther. After getting into spats about science with Tony Stark (including a great little switcheroo,) he comes face-to-face with Red Skull and makes the villain a promise. The moment where he fills it is epic, made better by its personal scale.

Johns and artist Scott Kollins follow this up with "The Search For She-Hulk." Affected negatively by Jack of Harts' ability to absorb radiation, Jennifer Hulks out Bruce Banner-style and heads to a town her cousin recently ran through in order to get help. In a masterstroke, when no other Avenger seems to be able to reach through to the supercharged She-Hulk, Hawkeye appears. Clint antagonizing rage-mode Jennifer is as fun as it was the first time he ticked her off.

While I'm always glad to see Shulkie get some attention, this volume is still a step backwards as the spotlight returns to the forced feud between Scott "Ant-Man" Lang and Jack of Hearts. Despite the amount of time Jack has to spend in isolation to keep from exploding, his behaviour continues to not draw much sympathy. Johns wraps up his run by ending the life of the rather insignificant part of Avengers history in a sacrifice that is as needless as his being on the team in the first place.

This was it for Johns at Marvel as he turned his full attention to DC and never looked back. Maybe it was a lack of passion, or maybe it was just the Avengers getting stuck in a rut while Mark Millar's "The Ultimates" turned heads. But this goes down as a missed opportunity, and I would love to see Johns get a second chance.

Rating(s): 9/10 ("Red Zone"), 7/10 ("The Search for She-Hulk")

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