Graphic Novel Review: Avengers: Standoff Vols 1 & 2

Avengers: Standoff Vol 1

Avengers: Standoff Vol 1 - Credit: Archant

Pleasant Hill looks like the perfect small-town community - but underneath the surface, a deadly secret lurks. One so explosive it will draw estranged allies Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson back together to save a friend in danger and put things right. But when the combined might of the Captain Americas isn’t enough, it’s time for the Avengers to Assemble like never before!

Avengers: Standoff Vol 2

Avengers: Standoff Vol 2 - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

It’s one of the biggest quandaries facing the law-enforcement organisations of the Marvel Universe, what do you do with supervillains once they are captured by the likes of the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to ensure they are kept secure and away from anywhere they are likely to cause harm?

Past experiments like the Raft, the Vault, the Big House, the Cube, the Negative Zone’s Prison 42, or any of the other imprisonment facilities which tried and failed to lock down criminals of the superpowered persuasion were all at risk from the same threat: the inmates knew they were incarcerated, and were looking for any opportunity to break out.

Hence the genius behind Pleasant Hill, a gated community in Connecticut which was set up by SHIELD to offer an alternative, but arguably unethical way of imprisoning supervillains.

Using the personification of a reality-warping Cosmic Cube known as Kobik, who took the form of a little girl, villains are brainwashed, physically transformed and given new lives as harmless everyday citizens of this Middle American town.

So the Fixer might become a mechanic, Graviton is the local chef, Atlas takes on a new identity as the mailman and the Absorbing Man is the town ice cream vendor. It seems like the perfect solution, and SHIELD director Maria Hill is confident that despite the illegality of her actions, what she is doing is in the best interests of both her prisoners and the wider world alike.

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But when Baron Zemo and the Fixer are restored to their true selves thanks to the latter’s creation of a device to break Kobik’s manipulations, it doesn’t take long before they round up an assault force of bad guys and take control of the town, holding hostage SHIELD agents and civilians brought in to oversee the project.

Meanwhile, rumours of SHIELD’s activities reach the ears of Commander Steve Rogers, who brings in the Avengers to investigate what is happening at Pleasant Hill, only for the heroes to be transformed into oblivious townsfolk when they arrive…

This 16-part tale spans various titles, bringing in the likes of the monstrous Howling Commandos, the Hood’s cabal of Illuminati, Phil Coulson’s team of SHIELD agents, and three different teams of Avengers.

It also sets events in motion for a drastic change in the status quo of three different Captain Americas – Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson – which is even now playing out in surprising ways across the Marvel U, and throws the very future of SHIELD in jeopardy.

This is the way crossovers should be done. Devised by the creative team of Nick Spencer, Mark Bagley and Jesus Saiz, this is a coherent and structured epic which reads well as an overarching narrative, while also maintaining the individual identities of the different books and not ignoring their long-term plots.

It therefore works admirably for readers who already follow all of the series collected – many of which are also published as graphic novels by Panini – as well as those attracted by the nature of the story and just looking for a good read.

Highly recommended.