“We Belong Here”

Al Ewing (W), Paco Medina (P), Juan Vlasco (I), Jesus Aburtov (C)

Cover by Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco, and Jesus Aburtov

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

          And we’re back after the holiday hiatus. Happy New Year! Let’s kick off the year with the newest and most patriotic super hero team: the U.S.Avengers.

For those who may not remember or didn’t read the ending to Al Ewing’s New Avengers, the world believes Robert da Costa aka Sunspot to be dead in the wake of Civil War II. To this end, after defeating the Maker and W.H.I.S.P.E.R, da Costa used his fake funeral to lure in the other heads of A.I.M and take down their sects of the organization in one fell swoop. After making sure Avengers Idea Mechanics was the only branch of A.I.M, he made a deal with the U.S government so that his group was no longer hunted as a fugitive organization. This involved A.I.M becoming a new intelligence functionary of the United States of America. In the shadow of this, Songbird left to help the Thunderbolts, Power Man and Max Brashear left to do superheroing in New York, the White Tigers retired, and Hulking and Wiccan went to go make a life together. This leaves Sunspot, Cannonball, Dr. Toni Ho, Aikku Jokinen, and Squirrel Girl to carry the torch of da Costa’s Avengers. This team is what has become the U.S.Avengers.

This issue begins with Robert da Costa reminiscing about his New Mutants days in an interview while, in the present, he and his team of Avengers take on an honest-to-goodness volcano base/helicarrier piloted by a new iteration of the Secret Empire on its way to California. To this end, he is coordinating with General Maverick (yes that’s his actual name). Robert is also now going by the codename Citizen V, the identity Baron Zemo originally used when he first formed the Thunderbolts for those who are keeping score.

We next see an interview with Toni Ho, where she discusses her own past and we discover that she is the daughter of Yusef, the man who helped Tony Stark in Afghanistan. This is interesting, because that would mean that the War on Terror origin for Iron Man is canon, which makes sense because Vietnam was a long time ago. After this, we see her new Iron Patriot suit, which she uses to slow down the advance of the volcano helicarrier.

Next Aikku Jokinen, now going by Engima, infiltrates the base and incapacitates the leadership. Cannonball and Squirrel Girl arrive on-site to disable the helicarrier’s defense drones. Finally, we get an interview with General Maverick where he reveals that S.H.I.E.L.D and A.I.M co-developed a “Hulk Plug-In” that allows an individual to go Hulk for an hour-a-day. Now would be a good time for an Hourman joke. I’m waiting.

General Maverick then goes Red Hulk and takes down the helicarrier. This is followed by an interview with Sam Guthrie aka Cannonball, and this concludes the interviews with the members of the U.S.Avengers. Sam and Robert begin discussing the purpose of these interviews, which is to convince government officials that the U.S.Avengers are a good idea. Danielle Cage, daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and the Captain America of the year 20XX suddenly appears to contact Robert da Costa.

The comic ends with someone I can only assume is called the Gold Skull talking to a bar-full of swashbuckling pirates and touting the values of selfishness, greed, and money. He himself is dressed up like a pirate and declares that they are members of the $kullocracy.

Al Ewing does not miss a beat in the transition to U.S.Avengers. This book has the same tone, energy, and heart as the New Avengers. The only difference is that this book may actually be a little more sincere.

This book, along with New Avengers, embraces the silliness and fun of being a superhero comic. This never led to insincerity or a half-assed book, even if New Avengers did get a little too wrapped up in the overblown climax of itself towards the end. That being said, this book seems to intend to be a little more “grounded” (a very stretched term here) and intends to be about something.

The opening with da Costa’s interview about his time with the New Mutants consists of an explanation as to why he originally wanted an American citizenship. The reason for this is the inclusiveness of American ideals and being able to belong in this place. The interviews with Toni and Aikku compound this with descriptions of individuals who do not fit the “Leave it to Beaver” style of Americanism; Toni is Asian, Aikku is Norwegian, and they are in love with one another. Squirrel Girl’s interview is all about optimism and wanting to make the world a better place, and Cannonball’s is about wanting to help people, the preservation of Xavier’s dream, and fighting against the new tide of hate and fear in the United States. This is all topped off with Sam asking Robert about the naked patriotism of this initiative and Robert replying with, “It’s my flag, Sam. Mine and yours, Toni’s, and Doreen’s. Aikku’s, if she wants it. It’s Luke Cage’s flag. Ms. Marvel’s flag. Ben Grimm’s flag. We belong here, and that is our flag. We can’t let anyone take it away.”

All of this serves to establish its lead characters in a simple yet effective manner. I skipped Maverick’s interview, but we’ll get back to him in a minute. It also firmly contextualizes the moment in which this book takes place. There is a lot of fear of how racial, sexual, religious, etc. minorities will be treated in the near future. Whether or not you believe there is anything to fear, you cannot deny that there is fear. Also, one cannot deny that white nationalism aka outright Nazism is on the rise once again. This book serves to soothe those fears by showing a group of heroes who fit some of these minorities standing up and fighting against those fears. It’s a book that celebrates that all people should and do belong here. It does so with the relative subtlety of Occupy Avengers, and it’s much subtler than the more brash Sam Wilson: Captain America and Green Arrow. That is not intended to slight those last two comics, as I love them both very much. I think there is a place for out-and-proud political allegories.

The reveal of the Gold Skull lacks any subtlety though. The pride in greed as well as the gold itself is on par with the condemnation of big money that Sam Wilson: Captain America and Green Arrow carry.

Now, I have to move onto something which likely only bothered myself and a select few others. This Red Hulk is not General Thunderbolt Ross. It’s General Maverick. As a big Red Hulk fan, this was a huge bummer for me. It’s also kind of bizarre because, from the start, Maverick seemed to be something of a cartoon version of Ross. His introduction into the New Avengers was a bit silly. He seemed over-the-top in his patriotism and bravado, and he seemed far less complex than Thaddeus Ross. Yet here, he is being made into a member of the team. Plus, there is the rather contrived “Hulk Plug-in” idea that could potentially be difficult to work around narratively in the future. It is very possible that, later down the road, Maverick could be a cover for Ross to escape the consequences of past transgressions as Red Hulk and his team of Thunderbolts, but that would be a weak story angle since Maverick looks exactly like Thunderbolt Ross.

All of that was a big letdown for me, but it was only a small part of the story. I would be a subpar critic if I let that ruin the book as a whole.

Both this book and New Avengers seem to be under the impression that a lot more story has been given to Toni Ho and Aikku Jokinen. The progression of these individuals has not been well documented, but both books present facts about them as if we should already be privy to them. They are compelling characters, but it is a little odd how these books like to behave as if they are characters as well-established as Sunspot, Cannonball, and Squirrel Girl. This is another minor nitpick, and it’s easily forgivable since Toni and Aikku are both very likable.

The action is the background for this book, but it was still pretty fun. Iron Patriot’s giant force field and Squirrel Girl’s squirrel air force are pretty awesome. The flying volcano base is a ridiculous yet visually creative idea. Medina, Vlasco, and Aburtov present a gorgeous comic. Medina is quickly becoming one of my favorite artists at Marvel. Check out his New Warriors work too. It’s also very good.

This was a powerful first issue that shows a lot of potential for the future. It blends action, humor, and serious subtext expertly. This is a comic very much relevant to this point in time. It also manages to carry a book with a diverse cast of what many would consider very minor characters. It’s a great way to start of 2017, and you should definitely check it out.

Final Score: 9/10

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