Mighty Avengers just became my favorite mainstream comic, because it’s giving me something that I’ve been wishing for forever. Brown superheroes, broke superheroes, jerk superheroes, all of them barely getting along but having to save the world any damn way.
Used to be that the idea of a Black/Urban/Not Just White Folks Avengers team got laughed out of the room, at least when I talked about it with other nerds. "Why would they even need to team up? Who would they fight?” Snickering and jokes would follow. But I— and comics readers from non-white backgrounds like mine—could never stop thinking about the possibilities. Imagine it, went the conversations over the years, a super-team without that predictable random token hero that feels like he’s being done a paternalistic favor.
How much those questions matter is up for debate but writer Al Ewing answers them deftly nevertheless. After all, why do any superheroes team up? To fight threats that a solo adventurer can’t handle, right? In this case, it’s an alien invasion by the forces of would-be cosmic conqueror Thanos, which happens as the bulk of Avengers members are off-world trying to save the universe.
The responsibility for protecting the world falls on Luke Cage and a quickly, loosely assembled group of heroes that includes Power Man, a loudmouthed younger hero using Cage’s old moniker, electromagnetic energy wielder and former Avenger Spectrum and the Doc-Ock-in-Peter-Parker-body Superior Spider-Man.
But, another significant reason Mighty Avengers stands out is in how it’s treating its characters and their conflicts. Over the last decade or so, Brian Bendis almost took singlehandedly Luke Cage from being a joked-about second-stringer to a down-to-earth everyman powerhouse. He was a guy who made sure his neighborhood, friends and family didn’t get lost in the shuffle of saving the world. Hell, he’d even put them first sometimes.
And so, the tension between Cage and Superior Spidey delivers the book’s best moments, as Spider-Otto sneers at Cage and his Heroes for Hire crew. Cage finds himself again in the position of needing to justify his worth all over again. His heroism gets called into question because he charges for the use of his super-strength and near-invulnerability, even as he has even more fragile responsibilities—a marriage, a toddler daughter—that he needs to take care of.
Another reason that Mighty Avengers stands apart from, say, Milestone Comics’ Heroes or Blood Syndicate or other similar efforts is because it’s happening in Marvel. This is the big leagues of superhero-dom, in the company that’s currently the prime mover when it comes to getting nerd faithful excited about something. Milestone was a corrective in response to the lack of diversity in Marvel and DC’s catalogs, one that sadly faded away.
This team isn’t just the Black Avengers I dreamed about; they're the Broke Avengers. The In-Between Avengers. The Avengers on the Other Side of Privilege. Every member of the team—both in this issue and the ones teased to come—stands at a crossroads in their life. Nobody is impeachably, untouchable established here. There’s no Captain America, no Thor. Even the Spider-Man on the team is one with a giant secret to hide; Octavius is trying to trump Parker's tenure as webhead but, in a way, his privilege is unearned. He's living a stolen life.
This backdrop really gives the class, age and identity tensions in Mighty Avengers room to breathe. There’s a hint of intersectionality here, a friction that travels across multiple planes. It’s only one issue but the cleverness of the set-up is plain to see. You just know that, once the big Infinity crossover is done with, there will be some kind of reckoning between the A-Team Avengers and Cage’s ad-hoc crew of world-savers. Because of the touch Ewing wields in this debut issue, it’s a been-there plot point that I can’t wait to see happen. I don't love Greg Land's too-posed, trying-to-be-pretty art but it doesn't take away from the whip-smart narrative execution.
The best part of the issue might be Al Ewing's letter at the end, where he talks about Cage is a character he likes because he’s been allowed to change. This book itself is change, a different kind of Avengers book with a different kind of character line-up. If I’m right and there are thousands of readers like me who’ve been waiting for a title like this, Mighty Avengers will have a base of operations in the hearts of a whole lot of fans.