It could be argued that Jason Aaron has quietly become the main architect of the Marvel Universe. His name isn’t exactly as synonymous with the publisher as, say, Brian Michael Bendis once was, but his fingerprints (and sales numbers) are everywhere, from his early work on Wolverine, to more recent stuff on Doctor Strange, to the mind-blowing awesomeness that is his still-unfolding Thor saga.
We’ve known “The War of the Realms” has been coming for years, but now we also know Aaron’s nascent Avengers series will be part of what’s become a line-wide event the scope of which we haven’t seen since Secret Empire, or maybe even further back. But before we get there, the man who’s brought us to all corners of space and time has a little more world-building to do.
Avengers Vol. 2: World Tour opens with a standalone issue, drawn by former Bendis favorite Sara Pichelli, focusing on the origin of the very first Ghost Rider, born in the frozen tundra and tricked by Mephisto himself into lighting up the night as a Spirit of Vengeance, so he can take down the original Wendigo. It’s the first of what’s promised to be spotlights on each of Aaron’s “Avengers of 1,000,000 BC,” introduced way back in Marvel Legacy #1.
The story itself is fairly rote, which might be hard to avoid considering it’s a tale we’re already familiar with. Pichelli’s art is grainier than usual, perhaps deliberately so to evoke the ancient atmosphere, but the design of the Ghost Rider himself, barely clothed with a flaming skull and swinging a chain made of spinal bones, is something to behold. Justin Ponsor, who also colors issues #8-10, does a good job of separating a white snake from white snow, and when the flames finally do meet the powder, it’s a nice contrast.
Then it’s on to the meat of Aaron’s Avengers story, following up on the inconceivable battle between a handful of Earth’s mightiest and the unknowable space gods, the real architects of the Marvel Universe, the Celestials. As a reminder of their impossible victory, the Avengers now reside in a standing Celestial corpse situated at the North Pole, proving that while Aaron’s toned down his crazier tendencies for a high-franchise book, he still can’t help but slip in some grand imagination.
Issue #8 opens with Robbie Reyes, the current Ghost Rider, racing to the new HQ. There he’s forced to learn the ropes amid Avengers veterans and do homework on classic villains. This, along with the much-talked-about Thor/Hulk romance, may be seen as hacky to some, but if anything, it’s an homage to Avengers runs of the past, which utilized such point-of-view characters and romantic subplots. It can’t all be smashing and saving.
Loki’s smug in that he’s once again brought the Avengers together, this time to face a realm-spanning threat, as he’s carted away by angry Celestials. With all those pieces off the board, Aaron’s free to develop new teams and drama for our heroes. Namor breaks bad yet again, forming a villainous Defenders of the Deep, who come into conflict with a reassembled Winter Guard, and there’s a hint that a new vampiric team may join the international intrigue.
Uncle Sam gets nervous now that Black Panther is the Avengers chair, putting the world’s best defense outside his jurisdiction. T’Challa seeks allies from around the globe, including Sunfire and Sabra, and he’ll need them when he finds out who the U.S. have enlisted in their stead, and which of their allies has (understandably?) turned on them.
Avengers Vol. 2: World Tour is the definition of “slow burn,” but that doesn’t mean it’s decompressed. You’re not getting anything revolutionary here, and the book lacks a lot of the typical Aaron flourishes, but it’s at least interesting. The guest stars are packed in tight, but never at the expense of the story — on the contrary, including these familiar faces from around Marvel only makes it feel more robust and interconnected.
Still, a person couldn’t be faulted if they thought they weren’t getting enough bang for their buck from single issues. World Tour includes Avengers #10 which, following the legacy numbering, is actually Avengers #700, so it’s appropriately oversized. Even then, it feels like just another issue in the run, just dragged out with extra punches. Also included are three short stories foreshadowing more of what’s to come, featuring the mismatched duo of Ghost Rider and Odin, the cosmically-powered Wolverine from the future (yes), and … Blade.
Frazer Irving illustrates the GR/Odin story in typical Gonzo style, Adam Kubert does some of his best work in a while on seven pages of Wolverine and Celestials, with colors by Matthew Wilson, and Andrea Sorrentino takes on Blade (though you might think it’s Daniel Acuña), with Giada Marchisio tasked with bringing out the shadows in Transylvania.
David Marquez draws issues 8-10, with Ed McGuinness and colorist Erick Arciniega tagging in for 11-12. The separate creative teams are remarkably consistent, and it’s perfectly fine superhero stuff, but one can’t help but wonder what Avengers would have looked like if the rumored Esad Ribic, Aaron’s first partner on Thor, had actually come along for this one. In any case, there are a lot of good close-ups of individual characters, though none are really “poster-worthy,” and the panel layouts get the job done without being too extravagant.
“Getting the job done” is a good way to describe Avengers Vol. 2: World Tour as a whole. It’s a little tame for those more used to Aaron’s wackiness, with hardly anything explosive to speak of, but there is good plot-unfurling punctuated with some brawls. World Tour hardly feels essential, though you have to believe all these elements will come into violent conflict during or after War of the Realms, so if you want to know who’s who before the inevitable conflagration, you might want to pick this up.