The Marvel Cinematic Universe is remarkable for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being how the movies actually feel like big comic book crossovers, and that the depictions of superheroes are the closest to the source material ever seen on screen. With the DC Extended Universe being stillborn, though, a more unexpected consequence came, too — that in the public consciousness, “Avenger” has largely become synonymous with the very word “superhero.”
Comic-reading veterans know there are certain qualities implied when saying a character is an “Avenger,” however. So despite the word’s popular ubiquity, can you really call a loosely knit band of killers which includes a barbarian from another time, a cannibalistic space alien, and the f**king Punisher “Avengers”?
I guess you go with what sells. But then, in Savage Avengers: City of Sickles, Conan, Wolverine, Venom, Elektra, Brother Voodoo, and yes, Frank Castle, are serendipitously brought together to stop a world-ending threat, on a day unlike any other.
Gerry Duggan keeps his penchant for weird and quirky drama going, with the newly-arrived-in-the-Marvel-Universe Conan the Barbarian effectively playing humorous foil to the other characters as they show up. One of Conan’s main baddies, Kulan Gath, has a diabolical and deliciously pagan scheme scheme to use a celestial alignment to summon a destroyer, but he’ll need to lure in the world’s fiercest warriors so he can use their blood for the ritual.
The “bait” for each character is creative, and Duggan’s dialogue is appropriately uncomfortable for a sort-of horror comic. Savage Avengers is a visceral experience, for both the heroes and the reader.
Although there are some gaps, analytically. Characters statuses change very quickly — like how Wolverine is unconscious at the end of one issue, then ripping through ninjas like nothing happened at the beginning of the next, with no transition depicted. Similar things happen several times in City of Sickles, poking perplexing and avoidable holes in an otherwise tight narrative.
Duggan is joined by his Infinity Wars partner Mike Deodato Jr., who must be a pretty big Conan fan to take on what might be considered a “lesser” book toward the end of his Marvel career. He really puts his all into it, with possibly his liveliest characters yet, smashing a usual critique that is art is too static. Frank Martin’s colors help everything pop, when blood red isn’t washing out a panel.
Savage Avengers: City of Sickles has more depth than you might expect for the concept, but some serious storytelling gaps bring it down. It’s a good read, but it could have been great with a little tighter editorial oversight. Still worth it if you like the characters, or some crazy concepts punctuated by comic book violence.