For some who have read my other posts, you know I am a huge Avengers fan and have a long history with the title. Suffice to say, all the reboots… not my favorite. And when I picked up the first few issues of this new iteration of Avengers, I was not blown away by what I was reading. Well, we’re now a few issues in and after a somewhat mediocre first arc, writer Jonathan Hickman has now managed to grab my attention. The last issue was focused on the character of Hyperion; this one focuses on the new Smasher. Who is Smasher, you may ask?

Simply put, Smasher is a member of the Imperial Guard, the defenders of the Shi’ar Galaxy. You may know the Shi’ar from such other comics as Uncanny X-Men as well as in past issues of Avengers during the “Operation: Galactic Storm” crossover, or especially through the cosmic Marvel titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and the entire “Realm of Kings” arc. Yes, they’ve been around a lot. The Shi’ar were the first to warn the Earth about the Phoenix… and if you haven’t heard of the Phoenix you haven’t been following Marvel comics!

So, anyway, back to this issue. We have here an origin story for a character that, while known to some, is not widely known. As well, we have a new individual taking on the mantle of Smasher. For the first time, a human being has put on the guise of Smasher and gone to battle alongside the Shi’ar. Where the last issue with Hyperion left me not caring too much and considering dropping the title for the first time since, oh, 1989, this issue gave it a stay of execution. We have an old character with a new twist, and unlike other Marvel franchises this new twist is plausible and does not take away from the intense amount of history that exists with many characters. If anything, this version of the character enhances it the story more by creating another individual vying for the position.

Izzy Dare, a young woman originally from Iowa, comes across a pair of glasses in the field on her family farm. After her mother passed away, Izzy left college to return home and help out her father and grandfather (who is quite ill and infirm, but full of energy). While stargazing at night, as she was studying astronomy at school, she “hears” the glasses talk to her. After donning the glasses, the costume appears and she takes off into space. One quick stargate later and she is on Chandilar, the home planet of the Shi’ar.

Izzy becomes a trainee under the Imperial Guard, but also is a member of the Avengers at the same time. When the Shi’ar Empire comes under attack, Smasher comes a’calling and brings her avenging friends with her. As a number of drones and their armies begin to descend on the remaining Guard and the Avengers, Izzy has a moment where she appears uncertain. She indicates she would never run, showing her courage, but defaults to the knowledge of others who have more experience. In this case, one Dr. Bruce Banner. So, when Smasher asks Banner what to do there is only one reasonable response:

[quote]Smash.[/quote]

Even with her giving it all she’s got, and with the aid of the Avengers, there are far more invaders than expected. But they did what they had set out to do – they held the line until the full Imperial Guard arrived, including its Majestor, the former Guardsman known as Gladiator. Upon discussion after the battle is won, Gladiator promotes Izzy to the Imperial Guard. Their Smasher had been killed in the attack and after proving her mettle to her colleagues, no one deserved it more. And thus was the first human member of the Imperial Guard ushered in.

But let’s not leave it to Hickman to end there… No, we get a TV-style teaser ending of things to come. It’s one of those plots where you’re being set up, but you don’t know for what just yet or who. Or when. If this is anything like Age of Ultron we won’t have it see the light of day for years. And, with Hickman’s style of storytelling, that’s very well what it could be. Although he creates complex story arcs that must be planned out for some time in advance, he has a history of taking it to extremes. Occasionally, more is less, but that’s not Hickman’s style. That said, what he does in Manhattan Projects for Image is a tad bit less than he has done with his tenure on Fantastic Four and now Avengers. He is definitely a long-term writer, and that’s sometimes lacking from the Big 2 these days (since DC changes creative teams faster than the Impossible Man changes his underwear), and his style of planning 2-3 years out reminds me of the classic Claremont/Uncanny X-Men and Byrne/Fantastic Four days. I think he likes to go bigger, though, and sometimes that comes off as too much. But this issue was simple, and it was great.  It set some tone without going too overboard. However, I am still trying to figure out why some members (such as Cannonball and Sunspot) are here. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve liked them both ever since their New Mutant days, but with the Uncanny Avengers being the main Avengers-with-mutants-who-aren’t-Wolverine team, it’s not clear why they are here.

But let’s not forget the art. Adam Kubert does his normal job of great art, but I think this issue is one of the best I have ever seen for his work. With the assistance of color artist Frank Martin, we see an amazing story with amazing visuals. Kubert must have had fun here, being able to draw both the Imperial Guard as well as the Avengers, but the last page (before the epilogue) sums it up: You see the challenge in the eyes of Izzy’s grandfather, and the proudness in Cap’s eyes. It was perfect. The only negative I could say to this was that Martin did not do the best job when it comes to Gladiator. Even as Majestor, his costume is not all black and his chest emblem… I cannot recall it ever glowing. Gladiator on the cover, with his red and blue costume intact… That’s what should have been inside and was missing. But, it did not take away from the story.

OK, Marvel, you’ve kept me back on the title for the time being. But I am holding you to high standards. I compare this first story arc in Avengers to the Chuck Austen run where there were many downsides and only a couple of positives. Prove me wrong. Make this THE title to define Marvel. I dare you.