Hey Folks! It’s Andy Larson again!
Host of that terrific weekly podcast thingie, Ghosts of the Stratosphere, where we sit around and talk about comics and you all pretend you are interested because you are stuck in your cars. I often times consider my read pile blogs to be just print versions of the same nonsense except instead of listening, you are now reading, and instead of being stuck in your car, you are stuck at work! Well at least I hope you’re not stuck in your car reading this. That would imply some horrible traffic, or a flat tire, or not paying attention to the road at all (to the third I say, I admire your dedication, but I’m abhorred at your lack of concern for the welfare of you or other motorists).
In any case, on this week’s edition of the read pile, I thought I’d cover an Avengers book, because it’s been what a week or so since I last talked about Earth’s Mightiest and with Avengers: End Game still doing pretty well at the box office even after a month, people still are buzzing about this superhero team and their exploits. Therefore, I thought I’d strike while the iron was still semi-heated, and deliver a review of the recent 10 issue Avengers Mini Series which wrapped up last month entitled: No Road Home.
A sequel of sorts to the No Surrender Epic Crossover from 2018, this series reunited authors Mark Waid, Jim Zubb, and Al Ewing to craft a semi cosmic style yarn about what would happen if the universe all of a sudden went dark. Although they mention that it’s more like a perpetual nighttime, as opposed to the Sun being all together snuffed out, it features an interesting mix of Avengers both young and old, coming to the rescue, and battling against the forces of darkness across time and space.
I mentioned briefly in an episode of the show that we had in early April that I had been reading this series, but I had also mentioned that I was only a few issues in. Now that I’ve finished it, I thought it would be a perfect time with today’s blog to close that loop for our loyal readers, by giving you the straight poop on the series on the whole and whether or not it was as good as the first couple of issues made it out to be.
The Gods are dead. The Universe has gone dark.
What starts out as an investigation by Hercules and some of his fellow Avengers into a mysterious attack on his brethren living on Mt. Olympus turns into a cosmic battle of light vs. darkness!
Soon after Voyager assembles the Avengers and transports them to the scene of the crime, it’s revealed that the attacker is a lost and forgotten ancient Goddess named Nyx, who with her children, plans on recapturing her lost power crystals from throughout time and space so that she can usher in eternal night upon the universe forever!
Thus the race begins as the Avengers split up to attempt to secure the power crystals before Nyx and her wicked family can. It’s a race that will take them from the Universal Library to the Realms of Nightmares, from the sentient planet Euphoria to the savage Hyborian Age of Conan the Barbarian!
It’s a quest not only to save the universe but as it seems a chance for redemption and self growth for many of the Avengers tasked with defeating Nyx, if they can survive the long night…
Things I Liked:
One of my major complaints about the previous outing by this writing trio in No Surrender was the fact that they were dealing with so many characters across so many Avenger sub teams that I found it very hard to care about the character growth of any of them maybe notwithstanding the newbie heroine of Voyager, which did see a decent enough arc. It was during that review that I mentioned that I thought the perfect Avengers teams are usually those that top out at maybe 8 or so members, so that you can get some diversity in terms of point of view yet the intimacy of interaction is not lost on the reader.
It makes the stakes more worthwhile when we are forced to rely on only the Avengers we are given and that a thousand others can’t be called in at a moments notice to help Deus Ex Machina the problem to death. Plus you get to see them as a real team, with real camaraderie, working shoulder to shoulder to help save the world or whatever. That’s why I read the Avengers. The brothers in arms mentality that comes from an elite squad of Earth’s Mightiest set aside from the rest and hand picked to solve the problem given.
With at least the first couple issues of No Road Home, we definitely get that strike force group of Avengers that I felt was missing from No Surrender. It doesn’t hurt that it includes some of my long time favorites such as Vision, Scarlet Witch, Monica Rambeau, Hulk, and Hawkeye. I also don’t mind that with these long time stalwarts of the Avengers, the writers peppered in new faces to help bring a sense of originally and freshness to the book such as bringing back Voyager and adding some much needed comic relief in the form of Rocket Racoon. This is the type of Avengers we need. Not 60 some characters all crammed into the fight scenes battling over top of each other in some weird overlapping one upsmanship.
Sure, I feel like that might have worked for the end battle of Avengers: End Game and occasionally works for the final battles of some major event, but for stories like this one, it’s so much better when you have that small tight knit group. It allows for moments like the one in issue #9 of this series where all the Avengers assemble are asked what their greatest wish is. That’s characterization, that’s compelling drama, that’s what endears readers to a particular story. In short that’s what set this series apart from No Surrender in my opinion.
That and a pretty meta-fictional fan service-y emotional climax with Vision speaking about the House of Ideas which I’ll cover later in my final thoughts…
Things I Didn’t Like:
I think it would be easy to say that one of my biggest complaints is that the main villain of this story was pretty awful in my opinion. Nyx was terribly unoriginal, over the top, and sincerely lacked any real credibility as a threat in my mind. I mean, sure she was some sort of tortured spite-filled woman that had been scorned and forgotten, but gosh how many of those types of characters have we gotten over the years? I mean you can draw that line back to characters like Morgan Le Fay or Lilith or a thousand others who wished to snuff out the dreams and happiness of others because they had been wronged by self centered and cruel oppressors (usually men).
And she wanted to snuff out all light in the universe, which is a pretty evil plan truly, however rarely do the readers ever really get to see what that would really entail aka planets freezing to death, blind panic, etc. so who really cares?!? I mean the original plan of killing the Ancient Greek Gods such as Herc’s father, Zeus, was actually more of threatening small scale plan than this universal war on light which was more of a big race around time and space looking for Macguffins than dealing with the actual consequences of the lack of light and its effect on the inhabitants.
But that issue actually leads to my major gripe with the book which is what started as gripping personal story about the Avengers helping Hercules battle the villain who murdered his father, eventually turned into a universe spanning quagmire of all kinds of jumbled ideas all working at cross purposes to a certain degree, none of which getting much if any time to breath. This is exactly what I hated about No Surrender. No Stakes. Too many ideas and characters. Not enough time given to any of them. Just flickering from one point to the next without satisfying conclusions.
I mean I won’t lie. Of course, I wanted to see Scarlet Witch travel back in time and hang out with Conan the Barbarian. That’s a cool enough idea on the surface. But in the context of this story, it just introduced a new character to the mix in Conan that wasn’t really necessary given we already had 8 others, spent an issue just following the two characters around instead of spending time with the main conflict, and in the end had to be resolved with a Macguffin battle just to tie it all back into the plot. Talk about a runaround to nowhere.
Same thing with Hulk’s war in the Nightmare realm. Man, that was a great idea with a lot of Planet Hulk style flavor that I could sink my teeth into. It also had some decent execution up to a certain point. However, the idea was never really given time to breath to the point that even Hulk killing Nyx’s son in cold blood amounted to pretty much nothing from a dramatic perspective, as Nyx just comes in and nerfs the Hulk in a battle taking the Macguffin he killed the son for in the first place.
In fact, Nyx loses all of her children in some way or another through out the battle, and although I thought they were pretty much second rate members of Thanos’ Ebony Order, they were supposed to be important to her. Yet, we really never get to feel that they are or that their deaths helped ratchet up the tension in this war. They just die and as are quickly forgotten about.
Yeah, again I wish this series wouldn’t have tried to cram so much in or decided to go so many different places. It really short shifted the entire series overall.
This is actually not the first time that Conan the Barbarian has interacted with the Marvel Universe proper. In fact, one of my favorite issues of the series “What If?” deals with the question of what would happen if Conan fought the Mighty Thor.
Appearing in issue #39 of the original “What If” series, this particular fan wanky slugfest was written by Alan Zelenetz, who some older comic folk might remember as the creator of the Marvel/Epic series Alien Legion. However, he was also the main author and researcher for The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe, a lesser known reference style comic put out in the mid 80s that was similar in style to the Official Marvel Handbooks also being circulated at that time. He also wrote a couple issues of the original Thor comic as well, so I always thought he was the perfect guy to write this particular crossover epic (well…not withstanding Jason Aaron, who has also written his fair share of comics with these two characters.)
Of course, from the front cover, you are led to believe that this story is just 20 plus pages of the two warrior titans just duking it out , but that couldn’t be further from the truth. True to form in these original What If stories, this particular issue weaves an incredibly dense microcosm of a story, basically condensing what would be a 6 issue mini series nowadays all down into a single issue. Based on the original premise of Thor being tricked by Loki into getting stranded back in the Hyborian Age, this issue tells a compelling epic tale of what would truly happen if Thor was forced to exist day in and day out in this fabled fantasy realm of swords and sorcery.
As a result, after a brief tussle, Conan and Thor actually find they are more of kindered spirits than anything else, and decide to travel the countryside together as brothers in arms. This leads them through a variety of adventures which includes Thor meeting Conan’s God of Battle, Crom, as well as a fateful battle with the Conan mega villainous wizard, Thoth Amon. It’s during this battle that Thor loses his life protecting some villagers that Thoth meant to sacrifice to the evil snake god, Set.
It’s at that point that Thor passes his hammer and its power on to Conan so that he might continue to be a champion for the oppressed in this age filled with such chaos and death. And in a pretty awesome little moment of growth as a character, Conan accepts the hammer willingly becoming so much more than just a sword swinging barbarian.
It’s such an incredibly compact and rewarding story, that I wish I had reviewed it instead of this series as today’s read pile. However, as including it as today’s fun fact, here’s hoping someone out there reading this will stop twice the next time they are thumbing through a dollar box at some comic book shop when they see this issue, and pick it up instead. It really is worth so much more than just a dollar and I guarantee you won’t regret it!
Wow! What has happened here?
Am I living in a bizarro world where I’m hating on stories that were co written by one of my all time favorite comic book writers in Mark Waid?
Plus it’s got Al Ewing on it too and I’ve loved his stuff, like the Immortal Hulk which is one of my must read monthly books.
Then there’s Jim Zub, who wrote, ummm…the Uncanny Avengers? Did I read that book? Yes…yes I did…but I read it when Rick Remender was on it, not Jim Zub.
Okay, so I’ve never read any Jim Zub stuff. Maybe it’s his stuff I don’t particularly care for.
I hate to put that at his doorstep, but it’s the only thing that makes sense. Because both this book and No Surrender, I should have liked, if not loved, yet with both, all I feel is pretty deep disappointment.
I mean I’m an Avengers guy. More than anyone else on the Ghosts of the Stratosphere, I’ve read more of their stuff! I love these characters to death, especially those like Vision, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, the ones with long traditions of greatness on these Avengers teams. And yet with both of these series, I feel like I was cheated in some way. That they had these great ideas, and yet they weren’t executed well at all. I can see the blueprint, the wonderful mansion that these characters were supposed to live in, and yet in the end the building is an incomplete hodge podge, with staircases that go nowhere, doors that open to brickwalls, 4 kitchens but yet no bathroom.
There are saving graces in this run like the magnificent meta fictional final battle between Vision and Nyx in which the Vision uses his memories of all the great and wonderful Marvel heroes that have existed over the years to combat the darkness, showing that the bright light of ideas, ideas that bring joy and hope to regular people can extinguish despair even in most dire of situations. It’s a powerful message if not a bit self gratifying in terms of the role Marvel comics have had in this promotion of life affirming characters and stories, and it’s very well executed for what it is.
However, the problem is it’s the denouement to what I described as a conflict that at times seemed like it had no direction. It just moved from Macguffin to Macguffin, which frustrated me to the point that by the time I got to what should have been this terrific ending with my favorite Marvel character, Vision, facing down evil and getting a new lease on life, I couldn’t really enjoy it. It had soured by several issues of hit and miss set pieces tied together by a very loosey goosey plot.
I mean heck, we were supposed to get some sort of conclusion to the fact that Hawkeye killed the Hulk, or that Monica Rambeau was struggling with being immortal, or Herc trying to be a better person, but they all were so rushed in the face of this conflict that there was no room for those ideas to take root.
So my final grade, like with No Surrender, signals not what I thought was poor effort on anyone’s part, but poor execution. Again, this could have been just a simple story of 8 Avengers on the road to self betterment as they fought against an evil Greek Goddess that murdered one of their own’s father. That would have been so very good. I saw the signs. It was plain to see that it would have worked as a basic backdrop and let everything else fill in the gaps.
But then all the other ideas started popping up as if the original one wasn’t enough to tell a decent story…and I’m sorry…all those bright ideas stacked on top of one another, it blinded me to the point of not caring.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: C-