U.S.Avengers #4: Standalone Crossover
Spoilers for U.S.Avengers #4 follow.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out what (and how) to write about Al Ewing’s New Avengers (2015-2016), an amazing eighteen-issue run that’s both a parody of and love letter to superhero tropes. If there’s any justice in the world, it’ll be remembered alongside Avengers Forever, X-Statix, and Exiles as one of the great Marvel comics enamored with Marvel comics. A masterfully plotted, multi-part heist-spy-sci-fi thriller romp, it’s a little daunting to address—I’m kind of waiting for the complete hardcover collection to come out so I can reread it in one pretty package. For now, I’ll take a look at U.S.Avengers instead, which is what New Avengers pivoted into at the end of Civil War II. Tonally, U.S.Avengers is very similar to New Avengers. It is essentially a continuation of that story that finds the team, led by Roberto da Costa, as agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than antagonists of the U.S. government (hence the patriotic names and costumes many of them don).
U.S.Avengers #4 was released around the same time as the Monsters Unleashed crossover miniseries, but rather than being an official tie-in, this is a totally unrelated, monster-centric crossover all its own—in the space of one issue, there are actually four separate comics: Monsters n’ S.H.I.E.L.D. issue Alpha, Deadpool Into Fear issue π, Hulk: King of the In-Crowd issue #57, and finally Monsters n’ S.H.I.E.L.D. issue Omega, the epic conclusion. Every few pages, an issue ends with the classic “To be continued” tagline, and the immediate next page is the following issue’s cover, complete with bar code. Each mini-issue opens with writing, art, and editor credits all over again. There’s something really endearing about a formal experiment like this where, rather than having a comic take the shape of some other text (like a fashion magazine), the experiment is with itself—what if a comic took the form of four comics?
Like with New Avengers, U.S.Avengers espouses a real wistfulness for Golden Age comics and their lack of restraint—Ewing and penciller Paco Medina’s motto when making these books appears to be “If you can imagine it, do it,” which makes for a continually fun ride. The overarching plot here centers on the new Red Hulk, General Robert Maverick, being sent on a stealth mission to an Eastern European country to locate the American Kaiju, a former soldier who, thanks to Maverick himself, can turn into a giant reptile most reminiscent of Godzilla (1998 Roland Emmerich Godzilla, specifically) with an American flag on its face. This is not a joke: the American Kaiju’s roar sounds like “Yuu Ess Ayy.”
Much of the pleasure of reading this comic comes from how it plays on readers’ fatigue with constant “big event” comics, while also making a genuine effort to tell an enjoyable crossover story. Over the course of the story, various heroes and villains come together to fight or work together in surprising ways, and the different issues vary distinctly in tone, point-of-view, and, to a lesser extent, structure. The Monsters n’ S.H.I.E.L.D. Alpha and Omega issues are the most similar to each other, kind of sensible bookends to the whole ordeal, but when Deadpool shows up (because of course he does) in Deadpool Into Fear, we find he’s been transformed into a Frankenstein’s monster-esque creature, unable to provide his typical fourth-wall-shattering commentary. Instead, a Tales To Astonish second-person narrator takes us inside the Deadpool-monster’s memories to discover his origin:
Of course, later it becomes clear that this narrator was probably Deadpool after all.
The issue is also hyper-referential, in a way that very clearly expresses a deep and abiding love for comic book history in all its absurdity. For example, the issue is set in Lichtenbad, a country introduced in Daredevil #9 (1965!). The mad scientist who Deadpool is after is the great-grandson of Ludwig Vandoom, who created a monster out of wax in Tales To Astonish #17 (1961!)—his great grandson, after describing the wax monster, says “I am not kiddink, look it up!” The great grandson is also named Victor Vandoom, so when Deadpool predictably derides his name, Victor insists, “It vas my name first! I am like ten years older than mister metal mask man.”
After Deadpool’s healing factor kicks in, he and Red Hulk team-up to take down the newly-energized American Kaiju, with a little less stealth and a little more Norse mythology-style narration than Roberto da Costa envisioned for the mission. This leads to Roberto being paid a visit by the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.—the currently (but unbeknownst to Roberto at this point in continuity) fascist Captain America, of course setting up U.S.Avengers to connect to Secret Empire, an actual major crossover event, meaning this issue in fact lampoons the very thing it sets up. U.S.Avengers has since been overtaken by Secret Empire tie-ins (which have remained quite excellent), but it was nice to have an issue like this: a standalone story that embraces all the silliness and splendor of superhero comics. And the true strength of this issue comes from the fact that it goes beyond simple parody or homage—it also delights in its innovations and wonders at its possibilities, as all the best comics should do. “Yuu Ess Ayy” indeed.