In the midst of building “Kang War” to its ultimate climax, Mark Waid and Mike del Mundo hit the pause button to examine the story’s antagonist. This volume of Avengers so far has delivered a character-centered action blockbuster and this issue brings a little more of the character and a little less of the action. Even still, this slower-paced issue gives plenty of promise for upcoming action. Before the Kang War goes into high-gear, Waid takes a moment to better introduce us to the story’s antagonist.
In Avengers #4, Waid breaks the pattern of focusing on a different member of the Avengers with each issue by instead centering this story on the villain, Kang the Conquerer. The book presents a fascinating look at one of the Avengers’ classic rogues. While focusing on one character could make the story feel small, Kang’s unique, eon-spanning history makes the book feel even more epic when explored to this degree. It makes for a fascinating introduction to a character with a rather complicated back story.
This issue could have been a clunker. Even as a good as it is, it is kind of odd in the context of monthly comics to release what is essentially a one shot in the midst of what is shaping up to be a fairly long opening arc. Choosing to do a long, introductory chapter to the story’s villain four issues in seems like an odd choice in terms of keeping narrative momentum for the whole series, but Waid tells this story as a narrative, one devoid of the bam, bang, pow of the previous issues, but captivating in its careful retelling of a classic villain’s origin. The story does meander a bit, but it does so in a dreamlike way when paired with del Mundo’s surrealistic artwork.
The restoration of the Avengers by what I like to call the “Magic Time Paradox Resolution Machine” in the last issue seemed a bit abrupt and perhaps even a cop-out, but it allowed Waid to move on to new ideas without becoming overly bogged down by techno-babble. It is clear that Waid has bigger ideas in store for Kang and the Avengers. The final panels of this issue set up an intriguing reversal of some of the ideas Waid has played with throughout this opening arc, specifically the variant Kangs. It is nice to see that Waid was not just throwing ideas out but had plans to revisit them and play with them. While the issue halts the momentum of the series a bit, that final reveal amps up the momentum once again with a fantastic cliffhanger ending.
As appropriate to a time-traveling character such as Kang, Waid is able to keep one foot in the present story-wise as he fills the reader in on Kang’s past. So, while he explores Kang’s past, he never takes the foot completely off the gas for his larger narrative. This issue is merely the calm before the storm. This is an issue that I imagine will become an even better read once compiled as part of a trade or binge read as a part of the arc, as it slowly transitions from giving the character’s back story into the overarching plot.
Waid demonstrates full confidence in his artist’s ability to take the lead in this story. Mike del Mundo’s artwork is astonishing as always and he proves up to the task of bearing the weight of the storytelling this issue. This comic is comprised entirely of full-page and sometimes two-page splashes and no paneling. It’s nearly too much, but the sheer amount of detail and imagination makes the images merit a full page. Hieroglyphics, floating clocks, energy pyramids – del Mundo fills each page up to the brim. The art feels epic and psychedelic and the larger format makes the story grand. These cinematic scale images present a very different storytelling approach from previous issues.
Waid’s appreciation for the character and for Marvel history is apparent in this issue as it has been in this whole Avengers run. The larger-than-life approach Waid takes with this story captures the essence of a villain who should be one of Marvel’s premier antagonists. While this issue does not deliver the same superhero action as the previous issues, the last few pages indicate that this arc is about to go into a whole other gear. This issue would then be a welcome breather before the action picks up once again next month.
This issue takes a break in the action to let Mark Waid and Mike del Mundo better introduce us to Kang through breathtaking full-page art. Enjoy it, because if the last few pages are any indication, this is only a brief respite before things get intense.