Avengers Of The Wastelands #5 Review

by Charles Martin on June 03, 2020

Avengers Of The Wastelands #5 Review
Writer: Ed Brisson
Artist: Jonas Scharf
Colourist: Neeraj Menon
Letterer: Cory Petit
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This miniseries launched in January 2020. I was pretty pumped for it and gave its first issue a glowing review.

Avengers of the Wastelands concludes in June 2020, and the world has changed. Somehow my taste for post-apocalyptic stories has dimmed in these past six months.

This chronological context is something that the creators couldn't anticipate, and it's not something I blame them for. But it's also not something I can ignore.

Issue 5 sees the Avengers head into the belly of the beast, confronting Doom in his capital and winning a desperate battle against him. And after the fighting, as has become standard operating procedure in this series, come the exposition and the moral arguments. 

The exposition takes the shape of a Doom's-eye view of the whole story, fully revealing the extent of his interference and giving him a solid (if clichéd) motivation for putting his hand in.

The argument arises over what the Avengers should do with their defeated foe. I give Ed Brisson full credit for maneuvering his characters wisely here. The two Avengers who are least inclined to mercy are Replacement Ant-Man Dwight and Substitute Captain America Grant. That is, the two Avengers most intimately tied to Doom's schemes. This implies a sort of infectious moral corruption spreading out from the tyrant, and I think that's pretty cool.

But there are sharp limits to my full appreciation of the way the script concludes. The moral argument doesn't so much dance from point to counter-point as it simply runs out of steam as the page count rises. The prose is clear but not particularly memorable.

This issue's visual storytelling matches its words: There are few faults to critique, but also a shortage of impressive feats to praise. Jonas Scharf's lines retain their lively, scruffy feeling while delivering sharp character renderings. It's at least palatable to every taste and readers who like to see the organic traces of human hands at work might go as far as to call it delightful.

The entirety of this comic takes place in Times Square at night. Neeraj Menon employs a washed-out colour palette to reflect the reality of the sole setting. But the colours are far from lazy; Mr. Menon does some thoughtful, careful work with unusual colour washes to reflect the setting's complicated lighting.

Put it all together, and you have a comic that wraps up its title in a perfectly satisfactory way. But it fails to go beyond the fundamentals of comics storytelling, to reach for something noteworthy and inspiring. 

It's a middle-of-the-road comic through and through. Which is, obviously, both a good and bad thing.

It's 2020 and the world is shaken. A trip to the FLCS is a lot more difficult than it was when this series started; for a lot of us, it's not even feasible yet. When we do get there, should we eagerly fork over $4 for an "enh, s'okay" comic?

Marvel has ever been hesitant to split its offerings into price tiers. Oh, they'll take any opportunity to add some pages to a #1 and bump its price up by a buck, and they'll go even further for "event" and "milestone" comics. 

But they've (nearly) ignored the bottom end. And I say the middle of 2020 is the perfect time for them to recognize that some of their comics are better suited to lower price points.

An AU comic with novel characters and sound but unspectacular storytelling? This is exactly the sort of thing we should be paying $3 for. 

Mid-2020 is also the perfect time for Marvel to push harder into digital-first or digital-only offerings, and this is the perfect sort of comic to do it with. Braving our way through plague and unrest to visit the FLCS and slap down $4 for a physical copy of Avengers of the Wastelands #5 is ridiculous. But to download it instantly at home, for a (slightly) lower price? That would be a much more reasonable proposition.

It's 2020 and the world is changed. Many readers, myself included, aren't in the mood for post-apocalyptic stories now. Changing tastes aside, there aren't any storytelling faults in this comic. But there also aren't enough sparks of innovation and daring to justify its purchase along 2019 standards of pricing and distribution. 

The comics industry, like the rest of the world, is in a period of tremendous turmoil. But this time also brings opportunities, and one that I think publishers and readers should consider is admitting that not all comics need to be sold the same way, at the same price point. Avengers of the Wastelands #5 is not a bad comic. But it is also not a premium comic that justifies its $4 price. Our industry is changing. Can't one change be carving out new niches that better fit this sort of smaller-stakes storytelling?

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Charles Martin's picture
If these Wasteland stories continue, what I'd like to see is a genuinely new villain. But that seems to contradict the whole Wasteland MO, doesn't it?