Avengers: Standoff whipped up an event for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes whose after-effects may be more significant than the story itself.

The town of Pleasant Hill, Connecticut has a secret. Using shards of a reality-altering Cosmic Cube that has taken the form of a little girl named Kobik, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill has created the ultimate supervillain prison. Kobik uses her powers to transform the villains’ bodies and minds, entrapping them in a benign fantasy scenario that keeps them out of trouble and under the spy agency’s supervision. But when the strong-willed Baron Zemo is sent to Pleasant Hill, he shakes off the conditioning and sparks a revolt that threatens to deal S.H.I.E.L.D. a major black eye. Alerted to the prison by internet hacktivist The Whisperer, three Captains America (Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes) arrive in the town, calling in two different Avengers teams; all get swept up in the chaos en route to a big showdown. Meanwhile, The Whisperer lands in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, but the New Avengers risk their tenuous legal status to rescue him, bringing down a fierce response.

As an event, Standoff is somewhat schizoid. It ran through a couple months of Avengers and other ongoing series, with some book-end specials, so it’s not a focused, consistent story. Its central premise is rather clever and the various creators involved make good use of it in several different ways. But in collected format, it feels disjointed. The collection basically runs in chronological release order, which means the reader keeps getting pulled away from the more engaging action in Pleasant Hill. It’s not that the related stories don’t have their merits, but they essentially are side tracks and the decision to drop them in among the chapters focused on the main story saps momentum.

As has become the norm with these sorts of crossovers, several different creative teams contribute to the action, often with wildly different tones and visual approaches. The various chapters don’t necessarily cohere seamlessly, but can be enjoyable in isolation. The main story, quarterbacked by writer Nick Spencer, does work up some decent narrative steam; had Marvel chosen to group the chapters so that the viewer isn’t drawn back and forth between two very different stories, the impact might have been greater when reading the collection.

Standoff might be more notable for what it set up following its run. For one, it brought Bucky, left in outer space as “The Man on the Wall” at the end of Original Sin a couple years earlier, back to Earth, giving him some strong interactions with Steve and Sam. One of the saga’s key sequences was the restoration of Steve’s youth and physical vitality after a stretch where he’d been rapidly aged and weakened. Fans didn’t realize it at the time, but a crucial cameo from the Red Skull and some foreboding summary narration foreshadowed the highly divisive Hydra Cap/Secret Empire story. For better or worse, Standoff is a crucial link in the chain of Spencer’s master plot.

Beyond that, Maria Hill is put to good use in a story that had major ramifications for the character’s future. More puzzling was the decision to create a new Quasar in the form of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Avril Kinkaid. Especially odd since the original Wendall Vaughn version has always been a strong character who’s perpetually underused. The impetus for the new Quasar isn’t made clear in this story and given her sparse use since, one can argue the merits of this introduction.

Still, Avengers: Standoff does a lot of things right. It features strong characterizations, makes inventive use of its central premise, features some great action sequences and displays a welcome sense of humor. It may not be your top priority, but if you can find it at a discount, it’s worth a read.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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