Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

10 April 2010

Dark Avengers: Ares

Collects: Ares: God of War #1-5, Dark Avengers: Ares #1-3 (2006, 2009-10)

Released: March 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 192 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785144069

What is this?: In Ares, the God of War’s son is kidnapped by the Japanese god of death, and Ares and the Olympians fight to get him back (and for their lives); in Dark Avengers: Ares, Norman Osborn asks Ares to train an elite cadre.

The culprits: Michael Avon Oeming and Travel Foreman for Ares, Kieron Gillen and Manuel Garcia for Dark Avengers: Ares

Dark Avengers: Ares is an odd collection.

The reason for its publication is the recent Dark Avengers: Ares miniseries. At three issues, it isn’t long enough to support a trade paperback by itself. This gave Marvel three options:

  1. Add in an older reprint or two, such as Thor #129, Ares’s first Marvel appearance;
  2. Add other Dark Avengers material; or
  3. Add more recent Ares material.

Dark Avengers: Ares coverObviously, the third option is what Marvel chose, an interesting choice because the Michael Avon Oeming / Travel Foreman Ares: God of War miniseries had been reprinted about 3 ½ years ago. Admittedly, it is out of print, but there are plenty of stories Marvel doesn’t bother keeping in print, so I’m not sure why that miniseries rated special treatment. Because the other options weren’t as appealing as keeping Oeming happy, I suppose. On the other hand, Amazon lists the first option as the book’s content.

Anyway. My comments about God of War — a whole lot of fighting that isn’t as interesting as the first few pages, with Ares and his son in the real world — still stand, and there’s no purpose going over them again. But what about the new material?

In the Marvel Universe, Norman Osborn is running HAMMER, a replacement for SHIELD, and he gets the amusing idea to have Ares mold an elite fighting unit. So Ares picks out four HAMMER soldiers and has a go at it … starting with shooting at them. The first lesson he teaches them ends with them tossing grenades at him. This is not a kindly, cuddly group, and Ares is not R. Lee Ermey, using words as weapons. Ares always uses weapons as weapons.

The plot is short, filling the final two issues of the mini (after one issue of setup). Hera tells Ares his son is being held in an abandoned SHIELD base; Ares leads his men in, assuming the son is Alexander, from the Oeming / Foreman mini. Instead, it’s another, demonic-looking son, resurrected from Hades by Hera to take his father’s place. Writer Kieron Gillen gets major points for re-using a real but obscure story from Greek myth in addition to some better-known tales as details for this story. It gives a real feeling of Ares being part of an old story carried into modern times. (I’m not sure why that is and why it doesn’t feel like some Silver-Age shoehorning. But it does.)

It’s an enjoyable but violent read. Gillen spreads the almost gleeful fighting throughout the books, and he has a real feel for his characters — all of whom are a bit psychopathic, although none of them can touch Ares himself. Gillen also manages to get across Ares’s mercurial nature: none of his soldiers can ever be sure whether they are going to suffer physical retribution for a comment or action, but there’s no doubt Ares is trying to teach something with his strange methods.

Despite Manuel Garcia’s many credits, this is the first thing I’ve seen from him other than his pencils from Wisdom: Rudiments of Wisdom. I liked that work quite a bit, but for this series, Garcia has a darker, scratchier style. (Different inkers, perhaps?) It fits the dark and dirty tone of the series, but sometimes it makes it difficult to tell the human protagonists apart. Also, this sort of style makes everyone look like they have scars; in this case, they probably do, but it’s difficult to tell the scars from the stylistic marks. In any case, I had no trouble following the action (other than the aforementioned resemblance between characters), and I really like the skeletons in Hydra uniforms visuals.

The Dark Avengers: Ares series if fun, brutal, and short, like the best of human lives. It certainly elevates the material from God of War, which is mainly brutal.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol (3 of 5)

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