Avengers #58: Bikers vs. Samurai

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In the spirit of complete transparency, I begin this review by confessing a personal bias; given that I always found and will always find the samurai of feudal Japan irresistibly cool. It is perhaps for this reason and for this reason alone that avengers #58 looks like a marginal improvement over the previous issue. That, coupled with the fact that its titular heroes are gracefully receiving lines of dialogue this month, of course. The change of scenery certainly works wonders as the war-torn Pacific is replaced by the pristine forests of Edo period Japan. It’s a setting that holds unlimited potential for both soft beauty and deadly action, and artist Javier Garron knows how to make good use of both.

Flower petals rain from tree branches through which shines the ghostly light of a massive moon. A flurry of snow coats the ground before quickly staining red, the result of some truly impressive sword battles. A humble village sits under a star-filled sky, sandwiched between a serene ocean and gargantuan mountains. Every environment is made all the more wondrous when framed behind the Ghost Ronin, which is arguably the best of these historical Avengers that Jason Aaron continues to retroactively place along the 616 timeline.

While his descendant, Ghost Rider, is a character closely associated with the chaos and fiery wrath of hell, the Ghost Ronin is presented as wise, calm, and collected. He does not kill with a brutality fueled by revenge, but a humble desire to fulfill his moral duty and defend the innocent. This drastic difference in behavior is well implied in his design, as the flames on his skull burn an icy blue rather than an angry red. The Ronin is an honestly clever take on a beloved character, and Aaron clearly knows that, as he uses the whole number to convince readers of the beauty of his creation. His efforts may have been After successful had he given the Ghost Ronin a personality beyond being the strong and silent type. As it stands, it reads like the familiar stereotype of a samurai who only speaks loosely worded bits of wisdom. Javier Garron really does the heavy lifting of making Ghost Ronin a compelling character, drawing combat feats that establish him as a force to be reckoned with.

Regarding the story, avengers still struggles to fit in with this time travel arc, especially when it comes to character interactions. There are amusing banter between unconventional couples like Captain America and Nighthawk or Namor and Echo. The only semblance of drama concerns the events that unfolded during Enter the Phoenix, one of Aaron’s previous story arcs, rather than the current mission. Still, these are at least bits of interpersonal conflict that remind you of happier times when the Avengers really embraced soap opera antics. Aaron has more fun with the possibilities of time travel, pitting his samurai against a biker gang and a ship full of Vikings. The team continues to play a passive role in the story, as nothing they do is of any help to Ghost Ronin, and at no point do you feel that Mephisto poses any real threat to him. You know there’s a serious problem when even the characters themselves wonder why they’re here and what they’re supposed to do. It wasn’t until the penultimate page, when the entire Avengers team is gathered in one panel, that I recalled how big the current roster is and how a third of them are practically reduced to cameos.

The book begins to fall into the predictable rhythm of a Saturday morning cartoon. The dastardly Mephisto even rides the Avengers to taunt them as some kind of Scooby-Doo villain. While I stand by my position that issue #58 is an improvement over last month, the writing still doesn’t match the quality of gorgeous art that has carried the comic so far.

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