There’s something inexplicably silly about “Avengers” #20. The return of Norman Osborn has, so far, been a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Brian Michael Bendis has shown the behind-the-scenes build-up to Osborn's eventual strike on the Avengers over the past few months in “Avengers” and “New Avengers” and, here, it begins: with Norman Osborn standing on the lawn of Avengers Mansion ranting and raving while everyone tries not to look too embarrassed about the crazy man who shouts too much. Finally, it has begun, and it begins like that? The follow-up is so by the book in its predictability that one wonders what the point is at times.
Osborn’s rant before the media is a smokescreen and, while somewhat amusing, does have a clever point behind it: Captain America does not function well when public opinion is against him. Of all of the attacks made against the Avengers in this issue, that is the smartest one, albeit one accomplished in an underwhelming manner. An argument between Red Hulk and Iron Man about disarming Osborn’s holographic projector is amusing, but undercuts whatever seriousness the scene has. That the comic begins with a debate over Madame Hydra’s Gorgon head indicates the tone of this issue: it has the surface of a ‘serious superhero comic book,’ but can’t help but laugh at the absurdity that’s inherent to the story.
Daniel Acuña’s ability to play up awkward moments and highlight those absurdities only heightens that impression. The embarrassed look on the Red Hulk’s face when he looks a fool is flat-out hilarious, while Norman Osborn hams it up in every panel. The character Acuña handles best is Captain America, who seems to seethe with rage after Osborn’s front lawn accusations about his lack of a trial and Cap being fairly bad at his job. Acuña sells the use of a media-based attack against Cap quite well.
The second half of the issue focuses on Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. attacking the Avengers once they split up. It’s all very typical and unsurprising: the Avengers split up to search for H.A.M.M.E.R. and the villains are one step ahead of them, preparing traps for them to fall into. None are particularly imaginative and some are plain awkward in how direct they are. When Hawkeye and Spider-Woman show up at Thunderbolts Mountain, a ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ agent distracts them for all of two seconds before shrugging, giving up the ruse, and turning into a Spider-Hulk along with some of his fellow agents of H.A.M.M.E.R. There’s a simple lack of patience at work, which is ironic given the slow, methodical pace of the story so far.
For what it is, “Avengers” #20 is an entertaining issue. The awkwardness and silliness in play is charming and grounds a story that seems primed to fly off into the ‘gravest of threats to ever face the Avengers’ territory. The inversion of the surface and reality of Osborn’s attacks is interesting: the one that seems the strangest is the most effective, while the rest are so obviously set up to fail that one wonders why bother -- aside from the prospect of Spider-Hulks, of course. With this story still in the opening barrages, it’s hard to take it too seriously when the stakes are likely to get higher in upcoming issues. For now, “Avengers” #20 is an entertaining superhero pop comic.