Avengers Standoff: Volume’s 1 & 2 – Nick Spencer, Mark Waid, Al Ewing, Mac Guggenheim, Mark Bagley, Gerry Duggan, Jesus Saiz, German Peralta, Marcus To, Ryan Stegman, Joshua Williamson, Frank Barbiere, Adam Kubert, Brent Schoonover, Mike Henderson, Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud & Angel Unzueta (Panini / Marvel)
Some places, are, without a shadow of a doubt, more important – because of what they represent and what happens there – than others. Centres of enterprise, bases of political power and enclaves of industry all immediately spring to mind; the cities that helped to shape and continue to mould civilisation as it surges forward on its fluid journey; these places have left an indelible mark on human progress and will continue to do so for the remainder of history. However, while it might not strike most of us as being more significant than the other forty-nine states, in the Marvel Universe Connecticut keeps popping up on the super-powered radar. It was where the Civil War began, or rather the incident that precipitated it happened there; and it’s also where Pleasant Hill, an outwardly unassuming, quiet little town where nothing exciting ever seems to happen, is located. While it seems to be an average and decidedly normal place on the surface, Pleasant Hill isn’t what it seems to be. As well as being home to some of the “friendliest” folks you could ever want to bump into, it’s also the site of SHIELD’s most clandestine and morally questionable black operation. Pleasant Hill, despite its appearance is actually a prison where the deadliest and most determined supervillains are housed. It’s also where SHIELD keeps the fragments of a cosmic cube that they were supposed to have destroyed; fragments that have become sentient and are used by SHIELD to control the prisoners in its care by brainwashing them, wiping who they were, giving them new identities and transforming them into “useful” and “productive” members of society. The problem with secrets though, is that they have a habit of being discovered and when The Whisperer, a globally renowned hacker, and the Man on the Wall, Bucky Barnes, uncover evidence of its existence, and share their information with the superhero community at roughly the same time as some of the more dangerous prisoners break their conditioning, the excrement well and truly hits the cooling device. With SHIELD scrambling to cover their tracks and maintain the validity of Pleasant Hill, while its inhabitants attempt to leave by any means necessary and various factions of the Avengers becoming caught up in the fallout as they try to “convince” the townsfolk to stay and offer shelter to one of the whistle blowers, all hell breaks loose and Connecticut once again becomes the centre of the Marvel Universe.
Spread over two volumes, Standoff is a hideously involving, good old fashioned story that draws in every current, and a least one former, Avenger. It’s one of those books, well two actually, that once you’ve started reading, you can’t put down until you’ve reached the last page, found out how it all ends and how everyone caught up in its events has fared. This is storytelling on epic scale, and the creative meetings between the, frankly, massive tea of writers and artists who contributed to it must have lasted for, well, you know, quite a long time. Questioning the power of the state versus that of the individual and what constitutes fair and just punishment in a supposedly enlightened society, Standoff is a non-stop rollercoaster ride that throws you through more twists and turns and adrenaline filled plunges than you’d ever think possible. It pits the military against AIM, features a Pacific Rim style battle between a home grown Kaiju super-hero and a purpose built Avengers super robot, finds not one, not two, but three Captain America’s leading the charge in Supervillainville, revitalises Steve Rogers, sees the rebirth of Hydra, turns friends against each other, lays the foundations for multiple future story-arcs and includes more betrayal, double crossing, treachery and secrecy in its plot than the average politician could cram into his or her entire career. It looks incredible, the characterisation, dialogue and story are all astounding and Steve Rogers returns to the role (Is this the third, fourth or fifth time? I don’t know, I forget, but it’s always great when he gets back to being Cap) of shield wielding, fouding Avenger, Captain America . It’s the stuff that dreams are made of… Tim Cundle