Marvel is rolling out the lead-in story to their upcoming Civil War big event with Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill. I know that many readers suffer from big event fatigue. And I certainly understand and respect that fact. But, big events are not going away anytime soon. Annual big events are an easy cash grab that Marvel and DC have come to depend upon to boost sales in a market that seems to continually shrink. Hopefully, Marvel has a fun story set up for us in this lead-in to Civil War. Let’s go ahead and hit this review for Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1.
Words: Nick Spencer
Art: Daniel Acuña and Angel Anzueta
Colors: Daniel Acuña and Matt Wilson
Story Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Baron Zemo droning on with a standard issue villain’s diatribe as he stands in front of a bunch of SHIELD agents tied up and held captive with bombs strapped to their bodies. Zemo rants about how he and the other villains were mentally toyed with and manipulated by the use of Kobik. That the Pleasant Hill prison was the worst form of mind control and abuse. Zemo says that the SHIELD agents deserve what is coming to them. Zemo then shoots several SHIELD agents in the head. Zemo tells the rest of the SHIELD agents that he will use the power of the cosmic cube within Kobik to control them and their families and to make them his slaves.
We cut to Kraven the Hunter (Who has some of the most bitchin’ facial hair in the Marvel Universe.) having a tea party with Kobik. Tapster and Fixer arrive on the scene carrying some device with them. Kraven says that Trapster and Fixer are friends and have brought a present for Kobik. The villains activate the device. Kraven tells Kobik to take a close look at the device. Kobik is excited by the rainbow lights being emitted by the device. Kobik stands next to the device and suddenly it sucks her into a small energy field and holds her captive. Kraven feels a little bad about tricking Kobik since he used to run the daycare that Kobik attended and that he always taught her to not trust strangers. (Oh, the irony!! THE IRONY!!!)
We zip over to the Pleasant Hill museum where the old museum caretaker leads SHIELD Agent Kincaid to a storage room. He locates a box and then opens it. Suddenly, the old caretaker transforms into a young man. It is Wendell Vaughn! (Quasar!! Yeah!! This guy rocks!) Inside of the box we see the Quantum Bands. Wendell says that he believes that Agent Kincaid is looking for these. (Oh no. Oh no. I see where this is headed. Fuck this shit.)
We hop over to the various flavors of the roughly 104 different Avengers teams that now populate the All New All Different Marvel Universe all meeting together. They are all surprised that Steve Rogers is young and all steroided up once again. Well, except for Nova, Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales who comment how Steve still looks old. (So witty!! This is why these three characters continue to be as entertaining as Roman Reigns!)
Steve Rogers gives the old tired “rally the troops” speech to the Avengers like he is reading it off a teleprompter. Steve says that it seems that the Avengers have all been at each other’s throats and fighting amongst each other. That their differences have made them weaker. And that now they cannot be weak. That they need to get back to what they were called to do: Fighting evil and saving lives. (Eh, don’t know so much about that second part. But, they definitely have the first part down very well.) Steve says that some of the Avengers are new but they still have what it takes. (Ah, trying to give the lame All New All Different Avengers the rub from the long-standing super popular babyface in Steve Rogers.) Steve then yells “Avengers Assemble!”
We shift back to Baron Zemo and the other villains. We see that they have captured Maria Hill and Dr. Selvig (The guy who was in charge of Kobik during the Pleasant Hill Prison Project). Zemo unveils that he has the cosmic cube in his possession. Dr. Selvig continues to refer to the cosmic cube as “Kobik.” Zemo mocks Dr. Selvig for continuing to pretend that the cosmic cube is an actual girl.
Zemo proceeds to go on another villainous diatribe about how he is going to use his SHIELD hostages to draw Steve Rogers and the Avengers into his trap and how he is going to use the cosmic cube to create a world where he is the supreme ruler of all. During this monologue, we see Brother Voodoo teleporting onto the scene and teleporting all of the SHIELD hostages away from the scene. All of this happens behind Zemo’s back while he is delivering his monologue. Zemo turns around and his shocked that his hostages are gone. Zemo bemoans to his henchmen “Oh for God’s sake. Not everyone has to listen to my speeches so intently.”
We then see the Avengers teleporting onto the scene. And with this we have a braaaaaawwwll! The Avengers start beating up the villains until Graviton creates a shield around the villains. Zemo is told that in two minutes the cosmic cube will be operational. Our heroes continue to try to break through Graviton’s shield. Our heroes lament that nothing can break through the shield. Not the hammer of Thor. Not the technology of Iron Man. Not the power of the Vision. Not the power of Nova. Nothing.
And cue the entry of Agent Kincaid all dressed up as Quasar. (Ugh. Called it. Poor Wendell. He doesn’t get to be Quasar anymore for the simple crime of having a penis.) Quasar then easily blasts through Graviton’s shield. (Yeah, where the combined might of the Avengers failed, this new Quasar easily succeeds. This is like watching Daniel Bryan having to put over Roman Reigns.)
Vision then blasts the containment unit for the cosmic cube. This sets fee Kobik who is in full little girl temper tantrum mode. Bucky immediately goes to shoot Kobik. Captain Falcon asks Bucky what he thinks he is doing. Bucky says he is doing the only smart thing and taking the cosmic cube out. Bucky says that it is not really a little girl. (And with this, Bucky is the only sane person in this entire comic book.) Sadly, before Bucky can rescue the reader from the increasingly annoying Kobik, Kobik blasts Bucky and sends him flying out of the building.
Kobik calls Zemo a jerk. Kobik calls Dr. Selvig a liar. She is angry with both of them. Kobik says that she thought humans were nice but all they have done is try to use her or hurt her. (Ah, the realities of the world. It can be crushing at times.) Kobik says that she is sick of both of them and wants them to go away. Kobik then teleports Zemo and Dr. Selvig to the Himalayan Mountains. (Where they both died slow deaths because they have no food, water or protection from the bitter cold. Oh, wait, we know that is not going to happen.)
At this point, our assorted grab bag selection of villains decide to make a run for it. Absorbing Man even yells “Prison break!” (Really? Is that really what people yell out when trying to make an escape?) Steve yells out “All right, Avengers. Let’s bring this thing home!” (Evidently, Steve can only speak in a various assorted collection of cliched statements.) Maria Hill tells the Avengers to relax. That she has it covered. That Mach VII got their distress signal out.
We then see SHIELD calvary arriving. The SHIELD ships blast away at the escaping villains. The Avengers then join the battle and start taking down the villains. During the battle, Steve and Sam manage to carry on a rather a corny conversation. Sam says that Steve should become Captain America again. Steve says that Sam is now Captain America. Sam says that he wasn’t saying that he was quitting. Steve replies “You mean..we share it?” “Yeah, why not? There are two Spider-Mans these days.” (You know. It sounds even dumber when a writer tries to sell and validate this stupid gimmick in the form of cheesy dialogue.)
Sam says that the country needs Steve. Steve replies “No. It needs us both.” (Groan Just when you thought the dialogue could not get anymore filled with Velveeta.) During this scene Sam and Steve share the Captain America shield in order to defeat the villains they were fighting. (You know, in case the ham-fisted dialogue was not so painfully on the nose already. Really needed to drive the point home with the reader.)
The new Quasar narrates the rest of this fight scene as our Avengers come together as one, both new and old, and take down the villains.
We cut to SHIELD Central HQ six days later. Maria Hill is meeting with the three council members about the Pleasant Hill fiasco. Hill is unapologetic and says that all of the villains were captured. The entire event was kept secret. The Pleasant Hill project was not exposed to the public or the media. And that the cosmic cube teleported away and is probably half way across the universe given how sick it was of all of humankind.
We cut to Zemo walking with a lasso around Dr. Selvig’s waist. Dr. Selvig says that he will never work for Zemo and asks for Zemo to let him go. Zemo refuses and says that Dr. Selvig will see that he has no choice and will eventually serve Zemo. (Nothing about this scene was logical or made any sense at all.)
We hop over to Steve Rogers smashing through the ground and freeing Rick Jones from an underground bunker. Rick is going through massive withdrawal from any and all social media. (Spencer manages to list the main forms of social media in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. (What? No LinkedIn? I would imagine every professional super hero would have an account. Maybe Rick Jones is too much of a slacker for LinkedIn. How about Peach?)
Rick asks if Steve is here to arrest him. Steve says that he does not agree with everything that Rick has done but that Steve is here to give Rick a chance to make amends. Steve says that he has a job for Rick.
We cut to Wendell Vaughn training Agent Kinkaid to be the new Quasar. (Stares blankly into the unending abyss that is the universe and contemplates why Marvel hates me so much.)
We hop over to Bucky regaining consciousness near the site of the battle at Pleasant Hill. Kobik is standing there. Kobik is crying. Kobik apologizes for blasting Bucky. Kobik cries about why they made her hurt people. Bucky says that they should get Kobik to someone who can help her. Bucky begins to console Kobik. (Wait, the guy who wanted to kill Kobik and claimed that it was just a cube on not actually a little cube is now being compassionate and comforting her like she is an actual girl?!)
Kobik says that she wants to stay with Bucky. That is Bucky takes her back to SHIELD that they will only hurt her. Bucky agrees. Kobik asks if they can bring her friends, too. We see Atlas, Mach IV and Moonstone all trying to escape from the SHIELD agents. (Bring on the new Thunderbolts. The ANAD Marvel U doesn’t have enough Avengers flavored teams anyway.)
We zip back to SHIELD headquarters. The council members state that they are convening a tribunal to review Hill’s status as SHIELD Director. That Hill’s clearance will be probationary and that all executive decisions must be cleared with them first. (Oh, boy. Can you smell the way being cleared for the hottest new character in the Marvel Universe?! Nick Fury, JUNIOR!!!!) Hill is pissed and says that the council members have no clue what is on the horizon.
We cut to Sin, Crossbones and the Red Skull in a beer hall. The beer hall is full of Neo-Nazis. (Are….we really going back in this direction? Nazis? Over 70 years since the end of WWII? Has the Marvel creative well truly run this dry?) Red Skull says that his recent ability to take over people’s minds with ease showed him that doing it in such a manner is so empty. That the only true and real submission is one that is voluntary. Red Skull says that he sees a Revolution coming. That they must not break the world but change the world.
Red Skull says that he will share his vision with the men in this beer hall. That he will not use his telepathic powers. That the Red Skull will inspire them and that they will serve him willingly. That more will follow and join them. And then they will birth a new nation. We see the Red Skull delivering his now version of the Beer Hall Putsch to the men. (Wow. A beer hall. Where Red Skull is to deliver his “inspiring speech.” Jesus. Could this be anymore on the nose? I am sure High School creative writing courses produce more original writing than this scene.)
Red Skull then says “Hail Hydra.” End of issue.
The Good: Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 is an underwhelming read. However, there are some bright spots to the issue. First, the artwork is solid. While certainly not anything special, the artwork dutifully carries out its job and clearly conveys the story to the reader. Second, this issue offers up a fair amount of action. This is certainly not an adrenaline pumping issue, but there is enough action to make the story lively.
This issue also serves as the foundation for the new Thunderbolts title. I was a huge fan of the Thunderbolts title back in the late 1990’s when Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley were the creative team. My interest in the team waned after Busiek left and then I dropped the title since Bagley departed. So, I am certainly open to a new Thunderbolts title. Another reason why I am interested in the new Thunderbolts title is the roster. I love Bucky and will purchase any title that stars his character. But, the rest of the roster looks interesting, as well.
The Bad: Where to start? There are so many weakness to this issue. Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 is painfully formulaic. Spencer is a talented writer, but it feels like he collected his paycheck, simply did what the editors told him to do and mailed in this issue. Spencer put little to no creative effort into this issue. This is one of the biggest drawbacks to editorially mandated stories and corporate manufactured big events. Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 lacks any soul. There is no creativity or energy that sparks the reader’s imagination.
Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 reads like exactly what it is: A corporate editorially mandated lead-in story to yet another big event. The dull and tired nature of this issue fails to get the reader excited for the upcoming Civil War: Part II: This Time It Is Personal: Look At The Synergy We Are Creating With The Captain America Civil War Movie big event. This is such a lifeless and flat issue that fails to ever pull the reader into the story or capture their imagination.
The dialogue is poor to the point that the dialogue during several scenes do nothing more than elicit groans from the reader. There are three particular examples of this in the issue. The first is the scene where Steve Rogers “rallies” the troops to combine the disparate Avengers team together into one super Avengers team to take on the collected bad guys. This was such hackneyed and tired dialogue. The stale recycled nature of Steve’s “inspirational” speech was a clear signal that Spencer had little interest in this issue.
The second scene is the hideously cheesy and clumsy dialogue between Sam and Steve as both decide to be Captain America. This is such a forced and over-the-top approach by Spencer. The dialogue in this scene is painful to read. This is a moment where it is obvious that Spencer took the editor’s rationale for having a white Captain America and a black Captain America and delivered it almost verbatim in Sam and Steve’s dialogue. This is clunky dialogue that reads like crap.
It is sad that in 2016 that Marvel feels like they have to pander to readers in such an unintelligent manner as to have a white Captain America and a black Captain America. I honestly cannot believe that readers are so racist that they could not support Steve Rogers as Captain America because he is white. In fact, this move by Marvel is such a transparent and low IQ pandering gesture that it makes Marvel seem a bit racist in their view of how characters need to be presented and the basis that they feel that readers either embrace or reject characters.
The third scene was the Red Skull Beer Hall Pusch reenactment. Anytime a writer is having to reach back and invoke Hitler and the Nazis that is basically a red flag that the writer is completely mailing it in and has basically shut down the entire creative side of their brain. This was nothing more than ham handed and on the nose dialogue that beats the reader about the head. It was such a unenjoyable reading experience.
The character work is virtually nonexistent in this issue. All of the characters are nothing more than cardboard cut-outs that move through the story with no soul or emotion. The lack of character work and poor dialogue lead to zero chemistry between the characters. The poor dialogue and character work also lead to the reader being completely detached from the story. There is nothing at all here to get the reader invested in the characters and their various journeys. The reader has no connection to any of the characters at all.
The Avenger who gets the spotlight in this issue is Steve Rogers. Sadly, Spencer pulls off zero character work with Steve. Instead, Steve has all the personality of a GI Joe doll. Steve’s character comes across bland at times and an unimaginative stereotype at other times. Steve Rogers is a wonderfully character. Sadly, Spencer gives the reader nothing more than a boring and tired version of Steve.
Kobik serves as little more than a MacGuffin. Her character brings little to the table as an actually fully developed and compelling personality. The reader could care less about Kobik. The lack of investment by the reader in Kobik means that there is little interest for the reader to follow-up and see what happens to Kobik after the end of this issue.
Then we have the new Quasar. I am not really going to bother saying much more about this topic. I already spoke my mind in my synopsis of this issue. Am I surprised by this move? Of course not. Wendell Vaughn is a white male. That is definitely the type of character that the All New All Different Marvel Universe has little interest in these days. This is simply more of Marvel’s continued mission to out-New 52 DC Comics. This is another pointless change for the sake of change and nothing else. A move designed to attract an audience that does not exist as evidenced by 2016’s sales charts. This is just another brick in the wall that Marvel Comics is building between itself and their long time readers.
The artwork is a bit uneven. There are moments where the art is a bit muddied. The characters’ faces are also a weakness. Sometimes characters have dead doll-like faces. Other times the faces are simply generic.
Overall: Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 was a lifeless read that never succeeds in engaging the reader’s attention or interest. This bland and uncreative issue serves several editorially mandated stories and plot points and that is about it. There is no way in the world that this issue is worth you hard-earned money.