Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Avengers #388

Avengers #388, "Into the Breach," Taking A.I.M. Part 4/4, Cover Date July 1995
Written by Bob Harras and Terry Kavanagh, Pencils by Mike Deodato, Inks by Tom Palmer

Previously on The Avengers/Captain America: Our assembled heroes have arrived at Boca Caliente, an island owned by A.I.M. that was used to develop a new cosmic cube. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong and unexplained energy is shooting out of the ground and several dead characters have been willed into existence. Captain America has entered the source of the breach where he found MODOK struggling to contain the energy.

We begin this month's issue with the glorious return of "little unnamed boy and his dog," as the duo look into the breach. The boy shouts that "Project Resurrection" has failed and that they are all "dead men." Could there be more to this little boy than meets the eye? In the breach, Cap and MODOK talk about how the entire structure is on the verge of collapse as bright pink blasts of cosmic energy begin blasting out of the ground. The little boy shouts to Cap that he needs to leave this place, even as everything explodes.

"Speak for yourself, little boy." -magic wish dog

Elsewhere, the Avengers experience the blast, but in its immediate wake, find themselves standing on a metal platform: Boca Caliente was apparently an artificial construct that the cube fragment turned into an island. Wait, what? There were villages on this island in the preceding issues. Were they cosmic cube-created local flavor?

In the explosion's wake, MODOK wonders if it's not already too late, but hovers himself into the pink energy barrier, calling it "The Beyond." Meanwhile, Red Skull digs himself out of the wreckage and meets some unnamed, head-band wearing German Lady that was apparently one of his spies. He mocks her fear at an island exploding, then runs off to "fulfill his destiny."

You couldn't think of anything cool, could you, Superia?

Captain America meanwhile pulls himself out of the wreckage, only to find an adaptoid with severed legs. The boy was an adaptoid all along! The adaptoid reveals that he was sent to spy on the natives that A.I.M. brought as a "shield against outside attack," but in one of the early flares, he was transformed into thinking he was a real boy. He explains that all reality will be sucked into the beyond, when Superia appears, once again pointing out that Cap is looking pretty weak, as she asks whether Cap would give up a part of his soul in exchange to "be a hero" again. Meanwhile, the Avengers continue saving villagers, as they're joined by Cap's crew and Diamondback in her Snapdragon costume. Diamondback says more people should go save Cap, but Crystal countered that Cap would want a bunch of nameless villagers lives put before his own.

"Ladies, make sure to work out those glutes so your butt looks good when you're killed!"

Superia says she'll save Cap, but he'll owe her some favor, but Cap slaps the serum out of her hands... and into the Red Skull's hands! He says he'll take what Cap won't, and blasts Superia, then zaps himself away, arms raised in a V like he just accomplished something important. But uh... isn't the whole planet going to be affected by this breach if somebody doesn't do something?

Well, that was easy.

Cap, barely able to move, still carries the Adaptoid to the breach, where the dying adaptoid agrees to adapt himself into a containment wall, killing himself in the process. He does so, and the world isn't obliterated, so I guess he succeeds in containing the energy. That's right, on an island full of adaptoids, it was an adaptoid that saved the day. A weakened Cap falls to his apparent death, but Falcon saves him. Widow congratulates Cap, saying "You saved us all" while cupping his face the way platonic superhero friends do. Cap replies that he only "helped someone find his dream." And that's it!


Taking A.I.M. wraps up, and I have to say, the crossover's title is way cooler than the actual story. If I had to guess what "Taking A.I.M." might mean in a vacuum, I would guess that A.I.M. does something evil, and Captain America and company shut down the organization once and for all in a climactic showdown in a story that's full of spy-intrigue, plot twists, and crazy super-battles. What we get instead is everybody kind of hanging out separately on an artificial island of undetermined size, rescuing "native" caricatures in grass skirts, battling adaptoids (and nothing else), and... the Red Skull is there in an exo-suit, I guess. Seriously the heroes don't do anything in this story, and for the most part, the villains don't either. The big reveal that A.I.M.'s head on the island is actually the Super Adaptoid seems like it could be a cool moment, except that 1) it feels super obvious since every single A.I.M. soldier has been revealed as an adaptoid, and 2) it's the Red Skull that actually fights the Super Adaptoid. And that fight doesn't even get a satisfying ending, the complex just collapses on them and we don't see what happens to the Super Adaptoid at all (he'll turn up a few years later in the 90's Heroes for Hire series). Our heroes spend about 90% of the story fighting robots in dull panels, rescuing nameless extras, or wandering around. Even the final sacrifice is made by some unnamed Adaptoid who had appeared in one of the four (counting the prologue) previous issues. Not only that, but in that previous appearance, he wishes for and gets a dog, and is shocked when it happens, a scene that makes absolutely no sense in hindsight, since the same little boy starts the issue speaking and acting completely differently, as though he always knew exactly what the deal was on the island. The series also seems to be teasing that there's something more to these wished-for constructs of the cube: Bucky, Django, Red Guardian, the dog, etc., because we get both Django creepily saying "careful what you wish for" and Red Guardian not disappearing, seemingly about ready to turn on his estranged ex, but then there's no pay-off for any of that. I guess all of them got zapped out of existence when it turned out the island was all artificial, too. And I guess Hercules seeing Taylor Madison for one panel wasn't even important enough to ever bring up again.

Black Widow's been putting off her SHIELD harassment training for years now.

I guess what I will say is that the ending is unexpected, because except for Cap rejecting Superia's offer, which everyone saw coming a million miles away, I could never have predicted any of this insanity. I certainly wouldn't predict that it's the unnamed boy that Gruenwald completely forgot about in Cap #441 that would turn out to be the big hero of the day. I also wouldn't have predicted that MODOK would just kind of float off, or that Red Skull would just take Superia's serum and leave, because both resolutions are extremely unsatisfying and don't actually resolve anything. We also don't get any pay-off to the hints in the prologue and Captain America issues that suggested that Fury was at least purposely obscuring information and trying to keep the Avengers from interfering, but... why? There's no ending where SHIELD shows up and clears out what's left of the island, or any sort of pay-off for about 95% of this story. I feel like I need an entire debriefing issue to explain what the heck just happened. This is just all-around bad storytelling from start to finish. I get the feeling that it's supposed to be a Cap-centric story, since the rest of the Avengers do essentially nothing, but Cap doesn't really do anything either. And we don't learn anything new or interesting about Cap's character, or get a resolution to his health problems (although they'll be wrapped up soon enough, but in his solo book).

Deodato's art is still very much in the Jim Lee mold. In one incredibly tasteless shot, Superia is being blasted by the Red Skull, potentially fatally, but the focus of the image is still her butt. Deodato also does a pretty poor job of conveying how, exactly the energy was contained, as we get one long panel to convey that the containment wall is fixed and everything is super. Again, the nicest thing I can say for the art is there's some good energy. That carried me through the last Avengers issue, but things have just become too much of a mess by this point.

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