'Avengers,' 'Dr. Strange' 'Immortal Hulk' get successful "Fresh Start" re-launches

Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

It’s been six weeks since Marvel’s “Fresh Start” initiative began, which is re-launching many of the publisher’s major titles. Here are three of the most interesting:

Art by Ed McGuinness. Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Avengers has relaunched with a lineup of (clockwise from top left) Ghost Rider, Dr. Strange, She-Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Iron Man.

AVENGERS

Strangely for a first issue, Avengers #1 requires some prior reading. Fortunately, I’m here to summarize that for you.

First, the “Marvel Legacy” one-shot of last year introduced a team of heroes that Marvel is labeling the “Avengers of 1,000,000 B.C.” or “the prehistoric Avengers.” What they called themselves we don’t know. Anyway, it was a group of characters whose legacies stretch to the present, including a young Odin (Thor wasn’t born yet), Ghost Rider (riding a flaming mammoth), Iron Fist (perhaps the first, a woman), the Phoenix Force (manifesting as a human who looks very much like the X-Men’s Jean Grey), Starbrand (a cosmic-powered protector, in the form of a Hulk-like Neanderthal man), a Black Panther (again, perhaps the first) and the other-dimensional mystical entity Agamotto (See: Dr. Strange, Eye of Agamotto, Owner of).

These seven protectors of Earth battled and killed a mad Celestial – one of a group of gigantic, mysterious and incredibly powerful armored aliens from the dawn of the universe – which they buried under what is today South Africa. (Odin wanted to nail it to the Moon as a warning, but the others talked him out of it. Don’t judge, he is “Odin Glad-of-War” after all.) That story has repercussions in the new Avengers.

Meanwhile, the previous Avengers series ended with a 16-issue, weekly story titled “No Surrender.” It was a great ride, setting in motion a number of events – like Immortal Hulk, see below – while still being a slam-bang, window-rattling Avengers story. And though it wasn’t clear to me that the team was somehow folding, the immortal Edwin Jarvis (OK, he isn’t immortal, but just seems to be) gives a little speech to the new Wasp, Nadia Van Dyne, that should make every Avenger fan tingle:

“You'll learn, Nadia,” quoth the Avengers butler, in what I hear in my head as a phlegmatic British accent. “This may be the end of an era, but also the beginning of a new age. Like the Founders’ statue of old being recast and rededicated, we take important parts of our legacy and use it to forge the future. The Avengers isn't a group of heroes, Nadia. It's an idea. A promise to the people of this Earth that they will always be protected by the strong of heart. I have seen these proud men and women victorious time and again, but this ... this has been their greatest triumph. Their finest hour.”

Churchill plagiarism alert! But it did appear that the “No Surrender” team (which was about two zillion Avengers battling a cosmic threat) was somehow over.

It’s significant to note here that while “No Surrender” seemed to have every Avenger this side of the grave (and one green one from the other side), it did not include Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Thor Odinson. When “No Surrender” began, Sam “Falcon” Wilson was carrying the shield, a teen girl named Riri Williams was in the Iron Man armor (Stark was in a coma) and Jane Foster was the only Thor deemed worthy by Mjolnir.

Why? Long story. And it doesn’t matter. Because by the time Free Comic Book Day 2018: Avengers/Captain America was given away on May 5, Rogers, Stark and Thor had reclaimed their mantles. (Although Mjolnir has been destroyed, like in the movies.) Thor and Cap decide to re-launch the Avengers, and give Stark a call. At the same time, Loki has brought Celestials to Asgard to beat up on an old Odin Not-So-Glad-Of-War-Any-More.

OK, now we’re caught up to Avengers #1, which came out the same week as the FCBD book. Ready? Because it is good.

Written by Jason Aaron with art mainly by Ed McGuinness, this first issue gives us a little more One Million Years B.C. action with our seven originals facing off against a Celestial Host. In the present, that story erupts again, with dead Celestials falling from the sky. Yes, they’re stone dead, but they’re still a threat because each one is the size of a mountain. Plus, whatever is killing them has to be impossibly powerful, and an apocalyptic threat to Earth.

That ends the debate about restarting the Avengers, which had been taking place in a Manhattan bar over beer (Rogers), club soda (Stark) and mead (Thor). Initially Stark was reluctant: “One drink, Steve. We couldn’t get through one drink without you bringing up the A-word.” Reluctant or not, the three leap into action when the threat arises, and are joined by three who are dragged into the fray due to their connection to the prehistoric Avengers (Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider) and two more who just happen to be in the neighborhood (Captain Marvel, She-Hulk).

So those are your new Avengers. That is the threat they are facing. And those are the A-list creators who are bringing it to us. Buckle up!

Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

While Dr. Strange has explored a zillion mystical dimensions, his latest series takes him to somewhere new: outer space.

DOCTOR STRANGE

The Master of the Mystic Arts has been de-powered. Again. But this time the fix takes Strange in directions we’ve never seen before.

In 2015, an extra-dimensional group called the Empirikul destroyed all of Earth’s magic. Strange had to learn to fight physically to beat them. (And, frankly, looks pretty awesome with a battle axe.) In 2017, Strange lost the “Sorcerer Supreme” title to Loki in a tournament. And got it back when it turned out Loki lied about the whole thing. (Oh, Loki. Such a scamp!)

But while Earth’s magic is slowly recovering, Strange is not. As established in Dr. Strange #1, the good doctor has lost his connection to all things magical on our planet. The solution comes via Tony Stark: Go to other planets and connect to [ital]their[end ital] magic. And he gives him a tiny space ship.

Dr. Strange in spaaaaaaaaace! It’s by veterans Mark Waid and Jesus Saiz. Do you really need to know any more?  

Copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc.

Immortal Hulk features a scary Greenskin who can’t die.

IMMORTAL HULK

The Hulk was dead.

In 2016, Bruce Banner was shot in the head by Hawkeye with arrow the scientist had designed himself to end his miserable existence as the Jade Giant’s alter ego. Suicide by Superhero. Boom! There was a funeral and everything.

But during “No Surrender,” something huge, green and very, very angry climbed out of Banner’s grave. Yep, it turns out the Hulk can’t die. And it doesn’t matter how many times you kill Banner, the Hulk will just come back when the sun goes down. And every time he returns he is angrier, meaner, larger and just plain more terrifying.

Immortal Hulk is a straight-up horror book. In the first issue, Hulk avenges the death of a 12-year-old girl. He is perfectly articulate. His brain is totally normal. But he wipes out a crew of drug-dealers in horrific ways. And – this is what’s unexpected – he really, really enjoys it. He takes down this group one by one, from the dark, like in a slasher movie.

This “horror” interpretation of the Green Goliath isn’t totally new – in fact, it’s really, really old. In the first few issues of Incredible Hulk in 1962, the character was indeed a mish-mash of horror concepts. He was a powerful monster born of science, like in Frankenstein. He was a mean monster who hid within a decent man, like in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And he was a nocturnal monster who emerged at night, like a werewolf or vampire.

Most of those elements was dropped pretty quickly, as creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby kicked the idea around until it worked best. That turned out to be the Hulk most of us are familiar with, the childlike one who just wants to be left alone, and only emerges when Bruce Banner gets excited or scared.

Not any more. Now the monster is self-aware, self-indulgent – and immortal. That’s horror enough. But can you imagine what it’s like to be Bruce Banner now?

Actually, you don’t have to wonder. “Immortal Hulk” will show you – and scare the purple pants right off you in the bargain.

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AVENGERS: I wonder if I would have liked Avengers #1 more if I’d’ve read the FCBD lead-in…?

DOCTOR STRANGE: I read Doctor Strange #1 last weekend but I didn’t post anything about it because I just didn’t feel like it. I liked it, though. As I explained elsewhere, these days I use first issues as a “sampler” to help me decide whether or not to buy the future tpb collection. This one has potential. Like Hulk, it’s a deviation from the norm, but it doesn’t stray so far afield that it becomes unrecognizable.

HULK: The thing I forgot to say in my thoughts on this issue is that I hope they don’t focus too much on the “immortal” part. He doesn’t have to be killed every story (like a gamma irradiated No-Man) for us to get the point.

I hope they keep the horror angle up, by continuing the horror-movie tropes of rarely seeing the monster and never knowing what he's thinking or planning. Our POV would be the panicky, doomed Banner trying to contain the uncontainable.

I read the first issue.

then I pulled out the Bruce Jones run.

nuff’ said.

The Hulk cover is a homage to the cover of The Incredible Hulk #105.

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