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Marvel Now Avengers – Assembly required

Posted by on December 10, 2012 – 9:55 pm

In 1972, with his hit song, “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” singer-songwriter Jim Croce began a list of pop culture themed rules that stated: (1) You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, (2) you don’t spit in the wind, (3) you don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger and (4) you don’t mess around with Jim.

Avengers #1© 2012 Marvel Comics
Forty years later and after reading the latest reboot of The Avengers comic book, Marvel Now’s Avengers #1, I propose that it is time to update the late Mr. Croce’s well-conceived but slightly outdated rules by adding Rule #5, ‘You don’t make an Avengers movie or re-envision the classic comic-book series without using the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ famous battle cry, “Avengers Assemble!”’

Joss Whedon tweaked my gamma irradiated dander this last summer when he failed to use the “Avengers Assemble” line in his otherwise brilliant Avengers movie; a film that was so awesome I was willing to let that two-word oversight go and hope that he would surprise us with it in the sequel. But at least Mr. Whedon had the good sense to leave the phrase out of the film altogether, rather than bastardize it with some ill-conceived reinterpretation. Not so with Marvel Now’s Avengers.

The new Avengers book is not bad overall; the comic has a fantastic artist in Jerome Opena and the story by Jonathan Hickman pits the super-team against the villain Ex Nihilo and his cohorts Aleph, and Abyss, who are terraforming the planet Mars for their own nefarious needs. I’m not a supporter of comic reboots in general, but as they go, this Marvel Now title was a decent read – until its ending.

If you are concerned about spoilers then you may want to click away at this point.

In the lead-up to the climax of Marvel Now Avengers #1, Tony Stark (Iron Man) takes Steve Rogers (Captain America) into his confidence and reveals their back-up plan should all the original members become incapacitated. If need be, all Cap has to do is speak certain “words” into the super-group’s computer system and it will automatically notify additional members that their avenging assistance is needed.

Avengers #14Avengers #14 - © 1965 Marvel Comics
So, it’s obvious what those “words” will be, right? Right? Wrong. The words are, “Assemble at dawn.” Really. Mr. Hickman apparently could not honor the 47-year-old tradition of using the phrase, “Avengers Assemble,” even after the near-perfect set-up. I guess the famous catch phrase, written by Stan Lee and first uttered by Thor in Avengers #14 (1965), was not good enough to use for the re-launch of the Avengers title — but it was good enough to embellish into some sort of half-hearted tribute — if that is what it was meant to be.

The Avengers aren’t the only ones to suffer from an ill-conceived rehash of legendary lines. Last summer’s Amazing Spider-Man movie is also guilty of this practice when Uncle Ben’s acclaimed adage, “With great power comes great responsibility,” is rephrased into something like, “If anyone’s destined for greatness, it’s you son. You owe the world your gifts. You just have to figure out how to use them.” Say what?

I’m down with today’s comic creators wanting to dust the cobwebs off the old standards and do something new and unique; but a redeux of existing characters does not really qualify as being original. If you can’t respect the iconic aspects of the existing characters you are working with, then why not just do something new altogether? I would love to see the same energy that has been put into Marvel Now and the New 52 devoted to creating a whole new universe of original characters and stories.

Paying respect to a character’s catch phrases, personality and history certainly isn’t going to turn away new readers (how would they know the difference?) … but NOT respecting the original material might turn off the geeky geriatric fans that carried these characters through the past several decades (and, yes, I count myself in that latter category) — and why would you want to do that?

When a band covers a classic song, they’re given some leeway with the tune and the lyrics, but you can’t change the lines to, “you don’t grasp Superman’s boots” or “you don’t tweak the Lone Ranger’s hat.” That’s just being disrespectful to the source material and you are alienating all the fans who love that song — fans who are now not likely to buy the CD (or in this case the comic.)

Comic reboots are no different than song covers and unless the original framework that made the book (or song) successful is adhered to, the revised version is likely to fail miserably. Comic creators who think that fans will not notice or care about the treatment of their beloved characters are surely just spitting in the wind — and good luck with that Jim.