"Avengers" #1 by Jonathan Hickman, Jerome Opeña, and Dean White is a surprisingly smart book in both its conception and its execution. All other quality concerns aside, "Avengers" #1 begins with the exact core team from the billion-dollar grossing summer blockbuster "The Avengers." Smart. Artist Jerome Opeña has a highly realistic style that is also easy to follow and feels theatrical on the page. Again, smart. And the smart doesn't stop there.
While Hickman cleverly begins this story with the core six from the film, which makes it new reader friendly to a huge potential audience, by the end of issue he introduces the basic idea of The Avengers as being so much larger than just those six. As someone familiar with these characters, I was excited to see that larger cast show up and the build up to that moment is impressive. Putting myself in the shoes of a new reader the introduction of these new characters feels flawless and natural -- and completely intriguing.
The villain set up here is perhaps not ideal for a new reader in how complicated and involved it is, but Hickman still does a good job of putting all the pieces on the board and raising the stakes nicely. I think the only aspect about this book that doesn't feel like a nice companion piece or continuation of the film is that the sense of humor (a big part of the film), is really missing here. There are only two jokes by my count and though they land expertly, it does feel like a dark and serious book. This is fine, and perhaps appropriate, but it does feel tonally very different for those that might come knocking out of curiosity after enjoying the film.
Opeña's art is gorgeously rich from the lush jungle backgrounds to the sheen on Hulk's teeth in close up. Every page is packed with stunning choices and the overall effect is both effortless storytelling and a highly filmic quality that's incredibly appealing. If I'm nitpicking, I think I prefer Opeña on a darker less traditionally mainstream book -- like "Uncanny X-Force" -- but it's pretty hard to complain with these visuals. They are epic drawings for big ideas and yet Opeña never lets the personal touch get lost. Dean White's colors are a dramatic and appropriate fit, and he especially shines when he contrasts his monochromatic blue-green lab sequences with his somehow both muted and yet vivid action scenes.
On the whole, this is a great start for both Marvel NOW! and for The Avengers in general. "Avengers" #1 feels like a book that both longtime fans of comics (and specifically the Avengers) can sink their teeth into, while speaking to a much larger film audience that might be interested in trying on this book. Blending and balancing those two ideas and audiences is no small feat and if Hickman and Opeña can keep it up, we may indeed have something really interesting on our hands.