In the fallout of Civil War II, Mark Waid’s All-New All-Different Avengers has divided, sending the younger heroes to the Champions team while keeping the older heroes in the Avengers book. Although Waid’s lineup is still a twist on the original, with a new Wasp and Spider-Man filling Tony Stark’s role as the team’s financial benefactor, his Avengers feels classic. Avengers #2 carries forward the throwback vibe he established in the first issue with a longstanding Avengers villain, Kang the Conquerer.
Now that the first issue has established the cast and the players of the game, the second issue must raise the stakes. Here, the threat is existential: the Avengers must remain where they are or risk finding themselves erased from existence. The premise works because the story does not dwell too much time on the specifics. Science fiction concepts such as time travel can easily take over a story by an incessant need to explain themselves. Writer Mark Waid makes a rather high concept elegant: Kang and the Scarlet Centurion killed all of the World’s Mightiest Heroes at the end of issue #1, now they must remain where they are in order to survive or else the effects of their tampering catches up with them, whipping them out of history. They now depend on Hercules, the last Avenger left standing. In this story, the rules are clear and the stakes are high.
Waid’s writing tends to favor character over plot, so he does not dwell unnecessarily on ideas, though he does throw in quite a few ideas both from Marvel lore and from his own imagination, perhaps the most interesting of which is the use of various incarnations of Kang. Avengers #2 hits the proper balance of bombast and humanity. This is the Mark Waid I wanted to see follow Hickman’s bigger, universe-spanning Avengers. Two issues in, Waid’s Avengers run already seems an improvement on his All-New All-Different Avengers.
The story brings Hercules to the forefront of the story while narratively treating the rest of the team as a collective. Very little space goes into developing the individual Avengers outside of Hercules. In ensemble situations, writers often reduce characters to their most shallow versions. Waid can lean this way sometimes himself: Spider-Man’s main conflict in this story, for instance, seems to be his concern for his concert tickets (a love for pop music is congruent with Slott-era Spidey). Unfortunately, there is not much else for them to do but float around and talk, but they do it well. For the most part, Waid keeps their voices consistent, even though the plot has sidelined them for much of the action.
The Avengers’ taking a backseat in this story helps highlight Hercules, a character whose most recent solo turn under Dan Abnett suffered an untimely demise. Readers have the opportunity to briefly dip their toes into the world of Hercules, a world where the Greco-Roman pantheon still lives among us, though in various disguises. It helps that the character of Hercules, as written by Waid, is such an affable protagonist. The narrower Waid’s focus, the more his character work shines, which bodes well not only for this issue but for his smaller Avengers cast going forward.
Artist Mike del Mundo’s art bends and twists in interesting ways that elevates the more off-the-wall elements of the book. Del Mundo takes Waid’s ideas, such as the variant Kangs, and makes them appear surreal and trippy. His art can appear at times hyper-realistic while at other times exaggerated and cartoonish. It does not work quite as well in static settings and can sometimes become disorienting, but when he gets the opportunity to illustrate some of Waid’s more Kirby-esque ideas, his art truly shines.
Waid and del Mundo’s Avengers does such a great job capturing the feel of Lee and Kirby’s original run that it is easy to forget that the comic does not even feature characters as central as Rogers, Odinson, or Stark. Its intimate cast, over-the-top concepts, and out-there visuals achieves a perfect tone for what should be one of Marvel’s flagship books. More importantly: it is fun. As the second issue in a story arc, Waid hooks the audience with high stakes and big ideas and leaves us wanting more. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
The Avengers #2 is a beautifully rendered romp that blends keen character work, big-idea bombast, and old-school charm. It builds off the momentum of the first issue and leaves audiences ready for the next.