Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: The Mighty Avengers - An Origin Story, by Thomas and Olliffe

The Mighty Avengers: An Origin Story is a picturebook re-telling of the story contained in the comic book Avengers #1 (September 1963), by Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist). But even though this book follows that particular comic book very, very closely, you won't see Stan or Jack's names anywhere in the book; instead, on the title page we simply see a credit which reads "Based on the Marvel comic book series The Mighty Avengers." It's corporate boilerplate (Marvel is owned by Disney), which sadly characterizes the book as a whole.

While I'm sure that writer Rich Thomas did his best, the text reads like it had committee fingers all over it. The book is suggested for ages seven and up, but I've seen books aimed at younger readers that had more sophisticated sentences than we find here. The only character who actually demonstrates any real character traits at all is Loki, the villain (and, to a much lesser extent, the Hulk); the rest of the heroes (Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Wasp) are all interchangeable apart from their powers. The original comic book story from 1963 is hokey and simplistic, sure, but across its twenty-two pages we experience actual characterization along with the action. (Plus, we got the bizarre image of the Hulk hiding out with a circus and wearing clown makeup! Here, he just wears a shroud.)

I get the impression that there was a lot of editorial re-jiggering in putting the book together, as some pieces seem like they're out of order, or just not very well explained. A good example is Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard, the home of the Norse gods like Thor and Loki, to the Earth. The first time the word "Bifrost" is used, it isn't explained at all: "Thor raced over the Bifrost as fast as he could" read the only words on the page, as we see a large image of Thor flying through space. There's a rainbow below and to his side, but unless you already know what "Bifrost" is, you won't have any clue what that word might mean. Especially since this is a book for young readers, you'd expect there to be some context to explain this unfamiliar term when it's introduced. How hard would it have been to add "the rainbow bridge" to that sentence? Six pages later, we read "He found him at the Bifrost, which linked Asgard to other realms." Why wasn't this description, or one like it, used the first time the word was introduced? That's just basic writing gone wrong.

The art, by Pat Olliffe "and Hi-Fi Design" (who, I expect, digitally painted over Olliffe's pencils), is a bit stiff in places, but is also colorful and would probably keep young readers' attention. Some pages contain one large image, while other contain several smaller ones - not exactly laid out as comic book panels, but it's certainly comics-esque. I wonder how many committee meetings there were to determine which characters would appear their 60s costumes (Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man, Loki - even though the story doesn't take place in the 1960s in this version) and who would wear newer ones (Iron Man, Wasp). The Wasp has never worn any one costume for very long, so it's somewhat less of an issue, perhaps, but the choice of the red-and-silver Iron Man costume is odd, as that's not a design that was used for very long in the comics at all, nor has it been used in the films (which is arguably where most people will know the character from these days). It also doesn't match the book on Iron Man in this very series.

Speaking of the Marvel films, I find it odd - but somehow comforting - that this book uses the actual, original Avengers team from the comic book instead of the movie version of the team. However, we do get one double-page spread of various heroes which includes, along with these Avengers, Hawkeye and the Black Widow. No Captain America, oddly enough, but we do also get the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hercules.

I appreciate the nostalgia factor in hearkening back to Avengers #1, but if you're going to use that story as a springboard to introduce these characters to a new generation of readers, I think that paying more attention to the characterization that made these characters famous in the first place would be a good idea - as would more careful attention to detail overall.

The Mighty Avengers: An Origin Story
Based on the Marvel comic book series The Mighty Avengers
Adapted by Rich Thomas
Interior Illustrated by Pat Olliffe and Hi-Fi Design
Marvel Press, 2012
ISBN-10: 142314841X
ISBN-13: 978-1423148418
48 pages, $8.99