Avengers #16 // Review

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes confront monstrous darkness from all sides in Madripoor. Not only must they face the forces of supernatural evil, but they also have to deal with Ghost Rider suddenly turning on them due to some twisted demonic subversion. The chronicles of heroism in the face of darkness continue in “A Fistful of Blood”--the latest issue of the Avengers written by Jason Aaron with art by David Marquez. Color comes to the page courtesy of Erick Arciniega.

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The vampires referring to themselves as the Legion of the Unliving have declared war on all the other vampires. Before the newly re-formed Avengers can figure out what to do about it, they’re going to need to deal with the small matter of the Spirit of Vengeance turning on them. Granted, his head IS a skull encased in eternal flames, but he seemed like such a nice guy and a real asset to the team until he started attacking them. Thor, Captain America, Captain Marvel and the rest fight both Ghost Rider AND an army of evil as the sinister Red Widow confronts an incarcerated Count Dracula in an undisclosed facility somewhere in Russia.

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Aaron puts together a very diverse group of heroes with some pretty dynamic visuals. Where does the host go when Ghost Rider takes over? The hell of endless gridlock, of course. Thor, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, AND Captain America are all trying their best to hold him down. The kinetics of the combat in Madripoor rush through much of the first half of the issue. The moody atmospheric drama feels particularly potent in the dark vision of an imprisoned Dracula shackled to a wheelchair as an IV feeds him blood--an iron mask covering his face. Red Widow’s torture of Bram Stoker’s idea of demonic evil is dark enough to make anyone feel a bit sorry for the Count.

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Marquez's delightful grasp of the demonic strikes a compelling contrast between the heroes and the demons that are attacking them. The sinister spectral evil is amplified by the luminous inferno of Arciniega's coloring. Defiant, gritty  heroism delivers brutal blows to monsters. It’s a very primal visual conjuration of action on a grand scale. Perhaps the most striking thing about Marquez’s accomplishment here is allowing a vast ensemble of characters to have really visually impressive moments on the page where they might otherwise get lost in the sea of action. She-Hulk, for instance, is only allowed one or two solid panels of action, but one of them includes a furious punch with such visceral intensity that her presence is compellingly felt even though it’s the only real panel where the dialogue balloons are pointing at her. That kind of energy can impressively carry a single character’s impact through even a very, very large ensemble.

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The pairing of Aaron and Marquez has achieved pleasant alchemy with this issue. The Avengers have tried to go in the direction of the demonic and supernatural in the past without quite managing anything anywhere near as impressive as they’ve accomplished on a more cosmic level, but with Aaron and Marquez crafting the story, they fit right into the action horror superheroing. If they can string together a few more issues like this, the Avengers might finally have a satisfying brush with the supernatural.

Grade: A

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