Saturday, May 12, 2012

GN Review -- Avengers: The Children's Crusade / Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

In continuing my exploration of the Scarlet Witch's recent past, I've skipped ahead to more recent developments, which are nevertheless surprisingly connected to some of the events I saw in Avengers Disassembled.  I was a little surprised to see that this was told mostly from the standpoint of the Young Avengers, who had apparently come about soon after the Disassembled story arc.

During a pitched battle with a group of overpowered zealots, the Young Avengers defeat their opponents only when Wiccan's powers seem to augment beyond his control.  Several Avengers witness this, and remembering all too well how powerful Wanda was, bring him and Hulkling to their headquarters for observation.  They eventually bust out of their new "home" with the help of their teammates and embark on a quest to locate the elusive Scarlet Witch, who Wiccan suspects is his and Speed's mother.  They end up enlisting the aide of Magneto, who may therefore be their grandfather, and travel to Latveria, where they suspect she is in hiding.

When they prove successful in locating her, there are still a number of complications they have to deal with.  First and foremost, she is about to marry Doctor Doom, who seems to be shielding her from her past memories, and also may be intent on keeping her nearby because she's so potentially powerful.  Iron Lad takes them to the point in time just before Jack of Hearts explodes in front of Avengers Mansion, and snatches Scott Lang to bring to the present, much to his daughter's delight.

The rest of the Avengers show up, as do a large group of the X-Men, who then start to argue and fight over Wanda's fate and who should decide it.  In the chaos, Cassie is killed by an over-powered Doom, who soon burns out from the power he stole from Wanda and escapes.  The X-Men decide to leave Wanda alone after an impassioned plea from Wiccan, and she decides to take some time to figure out what she will do with her life now.  The Young Avengers disband, but not before Captain America tells them that they will always be considered Avengers, whether they continue to be heroes or not.

Obviously, there's a lot going on in this story, which at times feels a little out of hand in terms of focus.  In addition to the main plot involving the Scarlet Witch, you have a sub-plot that's still very significant involving Iron Lad--who is apparently Kang at a younger age--saving Cassie Lang's dad, Scott, from his original death in Avengers Disassembled.  There are guest appearances from Doom, Magneto, the Avengers, the X-Men, X-Factor... it can get a little confusing to keep it all from spiraling out of control.

There's also more suspension of disbelief required to read this story than is usual in a superhero comic, mainly because of the involvement of magic and magicks as plot devices for the characters.  Apparently Speed and Wiccan are the "children" Wanda created before Avengers Disassembled, as they look remarkably similar to one another, and to Magneto and Wanda and Quicksilver, and their power sets mimic those of Magneto's children.  It's a very flimsy premise, and essentially one you have to decide to believe simply for the sake of allowing the story to continue.  I was willing to do so, but I will understand if many readers have a problem with this plot point.

Still, for all the events going on, it never really feels clogged or blundering, and Heinberg actually manages to juggle the multiple plots as well as could be expected, managing to infuse them all with feeling, value, and enough action and drama to keep you turning the page.  Wiccan is ultimately the main protagonist, and his quest to find Wanda is genuinely rendered.  Wanda, when finally found, is given plenty of room to shine, and the magnitude of her crimes against both the Avengers and the mutant population is explored in depth.

Art-wise, this is a great story.  I've seen Jim Cheung's work before, but I have to say that he's really got a talent for rendering superheroes in clear, dynamic fashion, and he has no problem with scale.  Be it just a couple of characters or twenty five in a panel, everyone looks marvelous.  Action scenes flow effortlessly, and everyone looks distinct, even if you take away the iconography that would be associated with their powers and costumes.  Very good work.

Overall, I think this is a great story, perhaps a little too big and unwieldy in places, but overall a good telling of the Scarlet Witch's return to the world at large that she helped create, for better or worse.  The believability factor is easy to gloss over in light of the rest of the action and drama, but some readers may feel cheated by it.  Still, the narrative flow really carries the reader through the action in some places, and the artwork is a wonder to behold.  Definitely a must-read for Scarlet Witch fans, Avengers completists, and anyone who enjoys comics primarily featuring teenage superheroes.  Highly recommended.

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