The science fiction of the Marvel universe has always been lite on actual science. In reality, it is probably only magic masquerading as science. In this world, radiation imbues regular people with incredible power. Thor can fly like a helicopter by spinning a hammer around and tossing it, holding on to the strap. If you are the kind of reader who requires believable explanations, rooted in real science, then the kind of hand-waving of a central plot point involved in this penultimate issue may not be entirely satisfying. If you are able to put those questions aside in favor of a story that is fun, action-packed, and perhaps just a little insane, then Avengers #3 is the comic for you.
Writer Mark Waid has gradually amped up the weirdness factor over the course of these first three issues. Each issue has built on the mystery of the last. Waid has continued to plumb the depths of Marvel continuity with characters such as the Priests of Pama. Waid neatly and succinctly wraps up one of the primary conflicts of the last couple issues, perhaps more quickly than I expected. Although, moving on from one aspect of the time travel plot frees Waid up to tackle more mysteries, some of the seeds have already been planted in this issue.
I cannot say enough about Mike del Mundo’s art. His surrealistic painting style lifts the concepts and action of Waid’s script. Wasp’s voyage through Limbo feels appropriately disorienting and frightening. The art does not work quite as well when the scenes are quiet and the characters are stationary. The Wasp’s costume, for instance, often looks several sizes too large. For the more imaginative scenes, however, his artwork perfectly elevates the atmosphere of the issue to something more grand and cinematic. Hands come out of nowhere, mystical energy burns and twists. The threats loom large, and they are everywhere.
It only makes sense that Marvel would feature Nadia Pym, the new Wasp, the same day that The Unstoppable Wasp debuts. We don’t learn as much about her personality here as in her solo series, but we do get to see her featured as a central, indispensable player in the Avengers team, as heroic as any other Avenger. Waid has done well to rotate the focus on a new character each issue, featuring Vision, then Hercules, and now Wasp as the primary actor. Hopefully, the trend will continue for Captain America, Spider-Man, and Thor as well. The smaller, varied cast lends itself well to this kind of storytelling approach, as they can focus on one character without the rest of the cast being so large as to become unmanageable.
The moral question of this arc is a classic one: if you could kill one of history’s villains (almost always Hitler) before he or she can harm anyone, would you do it? It is a question that even found its way into politics with this past year’s primary. It was refreshing to see the Avengers unflinchingly defend the life of an innocent, no matter his future. Ethical struggles are part of what make Marvel’s characters recognizably human, but it is easy to err too far on the side of moral ambiguity. Waid knows that the characters must remain recognizably heroic as well as human. The Vision whispers something to the Wasp to add a new wrinkle to this story, something the audience does not hear. It will be interesting to see how Waid follows up with this story.
Waid and del Mundo continue to tell an Avengers story that is a wild and energetic ride. This issue solves some mysteries while establishing new ones to keep the narrative going. Waid has done well with his small cast, highlighting a different character in each issue while not neglecting the cast as a whole. Despite the big ideas at work, the story never ceases to be character-driven. As this arc wraps up soon, I eagerly await what other adventures are ahead for this Avengers team. The foundation of this book is the small band of characters that form its roster. Waid continues to demonstrate what each member contributes to this varied cast. Though the action is big, the cast is lean, allowing a narrative focus that will not easily become lost in the action. Put all of this together with del Mundo’s vibrant artwork and you get a blockbuster series that should stand as one of Marvel’s flagship titles.