Events. Love them or hate them, they are a thing that happens in comics. When done well, they tell some very cool stories, and can shift the status quo just enough to make things more interesting. DC Does them, Marvel (of course) does them. Even indie publishers like Valiant do them on occasion. They stir the pot, and ideally, get readers interested in books they hadn’t read before. Like them or not, events are a thing, and one can either try to avoid them and skirt around them, or take them for what they are and keep supporting the books that you love.
Most of us at the Fandomentals are not shy about our… let’s just call it “disappointment” with the Secret Empire event that is currently sweeping through Marvel’s comic universe. Marvel seems to have a problem with events in recent years. There are SO MANY of them, and there are so many tie-ins, it’s hard for any particular book to tell its own story.
With that said, I want to focus on one book in particular that has weathered the storm of event after event, and seems to be that much better because of it. (That’s right, I said better). I’m talking about U.S.Avengers. But before I can tell you about that book, I’m going to turn the clock back to 2013 and talk about another book by Al Ewing called The Mighty Avengers.
Al Ewing’s run on Avengers titles is a wonderful illustration of how events work against telling a coherent story in any given book. Ewing’s The Mighty Avengers run began in 2013 during an event called Infinity. Long story short, during Infinity the mainstream Avengers were out of town, so Luke Cage, Monica Rambeau, and a ragtag group of fill-in heroes took over for them. It’s a super fun book featuring a diverse group of heroes, but it had to navigate a landmine of events and crossovers.
Next, Inhumanity happened, which introduced a whole slew of new Inhuman characters. Then Original Sin, which is just too bonkers to try and explain in one sentence. Then, an event called Axis happened which turned a bunch of heroes bad, and villains good. You know, that old chestnut. The series was renamed Captain America & The Mighty Avengers, except the Mighty Avengers were fighting against Sam Wilson Captain America? It was weird, but Al Ewing is a skilled writer, and if you just grit your teeth and keep reading it’s actually pretty good.
That brings us to 2015 and Secret Wars.
Born From Events
Back in the summer of 2015 Marvel had an event. I know right? This event was called Secret Wars, and it pretty much ground every Marvel title to a screeching halt to tell bizarre alternate universe stories before rebooting EVERYTHING. It sounds weird and crazy, but there were actually some good things to come out of it. A-Force for example, put a whole slew of Marvel’s super women on a team. Also, there was a two-shot book born out of Al Ewing’s The Mighty Avengers called Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders.
You’re going to have to stick with me here because it gets a little odd. Well, ok, MORE odd. If you didn’t know Iron Man (Tony Stark’s) origin story, it pretty much goes like the 2008 movie. A captured Tony Stark and a captured scientist named Ho Yinsen build the Mark 1 Iron Man suit, and Yinsen sacrifices himself to give Tony time to escape. Well, the Captain Britain two-shot begins in an alternate world where Stark convinces Yinsen to pilot the armor, and sacrifices himself instead. Yinsen goes on to become Rescue (a less violent version of Iron Man) and the founder of a new age of science and technology. He also has a brilliant daughter named Antonia. Remember that name.
Captain Britain is only two issues, and they are full of weirdness and fun, like the heroes of Yinsen city doing battle with what is basically Marvel’s version of Judge Dredd. Other than a (sort of) conclusion for Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers run, it’s more or less a one-and-done, unfortunately.
That 2013 run of The Mighty Avengers planted the seeds for two of Marvel’s better series since Secret Wars: The Ultimates, and New Avengers, both of which debuted after Secret Wars. The Ultimates is great, and you should read it. It’s weird and cosmic and pretty awesome, and manages to steer itself around event tie-ins by mostly ignoring them. The other one, New Avengers is the one I want to focus on.
The New Avengers (and More Events)
The New Avengers book came partially from the ashes of The Mighty Avengers, and features another ragtag group of heroes under the direction of Sunspot (Roberto da Costa) the director of a reformed A.I.M. which he now calls Avengers Idea Mechanics. It’s full of silliness and fun, and once again has a very diverse team of heroes including the gay couple Hulkling and Wiccan as well as Squirrel Girl (always a favorite) and the new Powerman and White Tiger from The Mighty Avengers.
This book has also had to navigate a minefield of events. First came Avengers Standoff, which planted the seeds for Hydra Steve Rogers to rear his controversial head, and then Civil War II which was just… not good. Through it all though, Ewing manages to keep the book going with a combination of great characters, and plots full of head-fakes and double-crosses to the point that you want to keep reading just to find out what the heck is coming next. It’s seriously a great run even in spite of all the tie-in shenanigans.
Through it all though, working in the background is a scientist named Toni Ho. Rember her? Back in Secret Wars, Antonia, daughter of Ho Yinsen was introduced (the scientist who helped Tony Stark build the Mark 1 Iron Man). She’s still around in the main universe, and working for A.I.M. By the end of New Avengers, she’s revealed that she reverse-engineered the Iron Man suit and built her own rescue armor. She’s basically a genius, and moves up from a background supporting character to a hero in her own right.
Of course Marvel wouldn’t be Marvel if it didn’t retitle and renumber every book multiple times. So, from out of New Avengers comes U.S.Avengers! They’re new and improved! Now with a Hulk!
U.S.Avengers picks up where New Avengers left off, and continues Al Ewing’s brilliant run in Marvel with a combination of great characters, punchy dialogue, and stories full of twists and turns. The first several issues are a lot of fun. Then… Secret Empire.
Ewing’s Ultimates 2 book is happening out in space, and has mostly ignored any events. Maybe acknowledged they exist, but without getting actively involved in them. U.S.Avengers however does not have an easy out. They work directly for S.H.I.E.L.D., and as such, are under the supervision of Captain America himself. U.S.Avengers is elbow-deep in Secret Empire. But you know what? It’s still a pretty fricking great book, and most of that has to do with Toni Ho.
Quick recap: The U.S.Avengers team consist of Sunspot (Roberto da Costa), Iron Patriot (Toni Ho), Enigma (Toni’s girlfriend Aikku; yes, she’s also queer), Squirrel Girl, Cannonball, and a Red Hulk who was an army general that’s been implanted with a device that he can use to Hulk out for an hour every two days. Since Secret Empire hit, a Hydra plant inside A.I.M. hacked the Red Hulk’s system which made him permanently hulked, and gave them control over his body. He then attacked the team against his will.
Toni, using quick thinking, hacked Enigma’s teleporting powers and poofed the rest of the team across the globe to France where they are still fighting against Hydra with an international Avengers team. Toni and Red Hulk have been captured along with Sunspot who is dying from an illness that affects only mutants. Whew! That’s a lot of information. Still with me? Good, because this week’s issue is where it really gets good.
Issue #8 focuses mostly on Toni Ho. Up to now, we’ve only been given bits of information about her. She is hyper-intelligent, and very driven, but she also comes from a broken home, and lost her father at age eleven. She’s had to deal with being super smart and Asian and queer, which basically made her an outcast. Toni is complicated. From the opening of the issue, we see Toni at a magnate school learning electronics. She is pulled out of class to be given the news about her father which she learns from who else but Tony Stark.
Convinced that Tony Stark is partially responsible for his death, Toni makes a vow to surpass him. She will be a protector greater than Iron Man ever was. This flashback sheds some light on Toni’s character through the first arc of the book. Throughout the series, she has been obsessed with her tech and barely sleeps. She is continuously building bigger and better Iron Patriot suits with advanced shielding technology and weapons (all non-lethal of course). Before she was taken prisoner, her girlfriend Aikku commented on this, and they got in a bit of a fight.
Now, Toni is locked in a cell with Roberto da Costa whose powers are overloaded. He is incoherent and slowly dying of a mutant illness, the M-Pox. The parallels between her father’s situation with Tony Stark and her current plight are not lost on her. She vowed to do better, now is her chance. Her analytical mind quickly gets to work. She studies the guards, watching their habits and their changeover times. She investigates where there could be cameras and pushes the limits of what she can get away with in her cell. A plan is forming.
After a quick and jokey update with the rest of the team, who is off battling Hydra in France, Toni puts her plan into effect. She dismantles the monitors in her room and salvages parts to create a resistor headband that will regulate Roberto’s mutant powers. She slips the band on him, but it doesn’t work right away, and the guards are already on their way. She does what her dad did for Tony Stark, and distracts the guards long enough for her headband to take effect. This was a sacrifice play. She assumed that she might not live through it, but at least Roberto might have a chance.
Toni distracts her guards with a speech about ideas. Her father took the weapons dealer Tony Stark and turned him into Iron Man with just an idea. The Avengers were born from that idea. She’s her father’s daughter and her ideas are going to save her friends and defeat Hydra. As if on cue, Roberto rises, ready to fight.
Where has this Character Been?
As a reader of U.S.Avengers, I am already a fan of Toni Ho, but this issue solidified it. She is brilliant and wonderful, but not without her flaws, and I’m hoping she can talk things out with Aikku when this stinky old event is over. Having said that, where the heck has this character been? When Marvel was putting its own foot in its mouth at the Retailer summit, where was the talk about Toni Ho? When Marvel was releasing troubling cover images of Riri Williams, why wasn’t anyone talking about the queer Asian Iron Patriot that was already kicking butt? When Marvel released a list of all its queer characters, where were Toni Ho and Aikku Jokinen? For a company with a PR issue, one would think they’d be trotting this character out every time they run into trouble. Look! see? Diversity!
For every fanboy who argues against gender-swapping a character by saying “why not make an original character?” here is why. When Thor became a woman, it made headlines. People lined up to defend it or shout it down. When Falcon became Captain America, not everyone was happy with that choice, but everyone knew about it. When Riri Williams put on the Iron Man armor it was a big deal. (At least it was until Marvel was like, “No, no, she’s called ‘Iron Heart’.”)
Meanwhile, Al Ewing has created this amazing character. Who knew about her? Show of hands. Yeah, not that many of you. Marvel has been doing these legacy characters because the name is what sells, and if it means a bunch of fans get all mad and run to Reddit to spew about how dumb it is and why do they have to change things and why can’t they make original characters, well good. More people know about it, and the more they know about it, the more they will buy it.
Meanwhile perfectly wonderful characters like Toni Ho sit on a team book that no-one hears about unless they are already reading every Avengers title, or already fans of Al Ewing (which I count myself among). *Sigh*… Anyways…
To sum up, U.S.Avengers is a great book in spite of all the event tie-ins. Al Ewing is a writer who proves that events can inspire some pretty great stories regardless of the event itself. Toni Ho, a character born from an event, and enriched because of an event, is good enough on her own to read this book, and that is not to mention Squirrel Girl, or the new Red Hulk, who is actually pretty great, or that arrogant ass Roberto da Costa. The art is pretty great as well. Paco Medina knows how to draw action, and with all the weird stuff going on in Ewing’s universe, it is never confusing. Our one complaint is that Squirrel Girl looks a little too petite, but that’s only because no one draws SG like Erica Henderson.
So if you’re not reading U.S.Avengers, check it out. Marvel’s free digital codes come with a bonus issue, and this week it was U.S.Avengers number one, so there you go. Buy any of this week’s Marvel books from your LCS, and you’ll have U.S.Avengers #1 ready to go. Toni is waiting.
Fanfinites Rating: 8/10
U.S.Avengers #8: I Was Once Where You Are Now
Writer: Al Ewing
Penciller: Paco Medina
Inker: Juan Vlasco
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Images Courtesy of Marvel Comics