Sunday, April 27, 2014

From A Particularly Fallow Period . . . Avengers: Assault On Olympus Disappoints!

The Good: Decent character work
The Bad: Very plot heavy story, Boring, Unrealistic dialogue for the time period, Bland coloring, Simplistic artwork
The Basics: Avengers: Assault On Olympus is a fractured “graphic novel” that compiles eight issues of Avengers from 1987 and makes one wonder how the book survived such a problematic storyline.

As many of my loyal readers know, last year in my study of graphic novels was my She-Hulk Year and while it is over, I continue to find graphic novels that include the heroine and read them when I have the chance. I was, in fact, a bit disappointed at my local library system’s inability to get in a significant number of the She-Hulk books I was eager to read and have, instead, slummed it with whatever I can find that includes Jennifer Walter, the She-Hulk. Unfortunately for me, that includes such wastes of time as Avengers: Assault On Olympus.

Avengers: Assault On Olympus embodies many of my fundamental problems with “graphic novels,” which are (in a vast majority) usually trade anthologies; collections of comic books as opposed to a coherent single narrative. In the case of Avengers: Assault On Olympus, this is painfully obvious as one “chapter” ends with a significant event (in this case, the abduction of Hercules’s body) and then digresses to a completely different story for a “chapter” (a one-shot issue) to focus on Jarvis (the butler at the Avengers Mansion) before bothering to pick up the story that was already in progress. As a result, Avengers: Assault On Olympus comes across as sloppy storytelling and it is more of a chore to read than a pleasure.

Avengers: Assault On Olympus opens in the wake of a brutal attack on Avengers Mansion that has left The Avengers brutalized and battered. Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, is in charge of the Avengers and while she and Captain America easily thwart would-be burglars to the mansion, she finds herself plagued by self-doubt and stress. Recruiting the Druid, the Wasp puts herself on reserve duty and leaves the team of the Doctor Druid, She-Hulk, Thor, Captain America, the Black Knight, and Captain Marvel to figure out who is in charge of the Avengers and lead them. While the Avengers figure out the new leadership issue, Jarvis recovers from his wounds from the attack and resolves to remain the butler at the Avengers Mansion when it is reopened and Thor is implicated in the theft of Hercules’s unconscious body.

While investigating the disappearance of Hercules, with Captain Marvel leading the team, a mysterious man uses mind control to set She-Hulk on a rampage. With Thor gone, the team is stretched thin to take her down, but in the process, they realize that the stranger is none other than Dionysus. That leads the Avengers to the ethereal plane of the Greek Gods to try to find Hercules and Thor and return them to our realm. But a trip to “Hades” and the ethereal Olympus leaves the Avengers even more battered, despite getting aid from a reluctant Namor and Wasp!

One of my pet peeves, in any medium, is sloppy research. In the case of Avengers: Assault On Olympus that takes the form of a troubling lack of differentiation between Greek and Roman gods and disappointingly common mistakes in places. In this case, writers Roger Stern and Bob Harras make the common mistake of using Hades as a place name; in Greek Mythology, Hades is the God Of The Underworld, but the Underworld is actually Tartarus. While that is a common error in popular culture, the fact that the writers identify the god in charge of Hades as Pluto is just sloppy . . . like grade school caliber sloppiness!

Sadly, Avengers: Assault On Olympus is not only plagued by issues with what some might call minutia. Instead, the book suffers from a fractured series of storytelling that makes the volume appear to be exactly what it is instead of what it strives to be; it is a collection of comic books and each of the eight stories within Avengers: Assault On Olympus has a sense of trying to sell itself as opposed to working to a single coherent narrative. The result is a book that reads as being all over the place, especially the chapter that diverges to tell the whole history of Jarvis the butler in relation to the Avengers. And, given how little the Wasp appears in the book, starting with her time of doubt over her ability to lead is a weak opening for the book (her departure might have been a far more powerful end note for whatever volume preceded this one).

What Avengers: Assault On Olympus does have is decent moments of character, even if I am not personally invested in most of the characters in the book. Janet Van Dyne, Captain Marvel, and Jarvis are each given strong internal narratives within the story that allow them to become more well-rounded and realized as heroic characters. At the points where Avengers: Assault On Olympus gives the characters room to breathe, moralize and emote, the writers flesh them out well.

Unfortunately, the character moments are not the bulk of Avengers: Assault On Olympus. Instead, the bulk of the book is a plot-based search/chase/combat story that reads like a typical comic book without any real depth or sophistication. Somehow, the writers and artists also manage to make the characters look and sound like they are from a drastically earlier era, instead of 1987 when the books were written. For example, on page 14, She-Hulk is seen carrying a massive computer that would be more at home in 1950 than 1987. Similarly, the villains on page 6 use phrases like “It’s black as pitch in here!” and “We been had!” which are more like 1930s jargon than how we spoke in the late 80s.

The artwork in Avengers: Assault On Olympus is dreadfully simplistic with the colors being monotones as opposed to anything approaching interesting or realistic depth or shading to them. On the whole, Avengers: Assault On Olympus is a very juvenile work of comic book storytelling and one that may easily be passed by; there’s a reason none of the new media enterprises surrounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe is pulling from this era in the history of The Avengers!

For other Marvel graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Avengers: The Search For She-Hulk
Civil War: Marvel Universe
Daredevil Reborn


For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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