As It Stands (Avengers Standoff Recap) Part One [SPOILERS]


As It Stands

Last summer, Bam Smack Pow helped readers navigate the sprawling Secret Wars event by bringing you weekly recaps. This spring, new column As It Stands will recap all sixteen chapters of the Avengers Standoff crossover, and we get started this week!

First off, a quick summary of what we know so far: The Standoff involves three Captain Americas (Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers, and Sam Wilson) and a mysterious town called Pleasant Hill. Marvel’s press releases and May solicitations have revealed that after Standoff, Steve Rogers will be young again and sharing the title of Captain America with Sam Wilson. The Thunderbolts will be relaunched with classic members like Baron Zemo and The Fixer but now led by Winter Soldier James “Bucky” Barnes. This issue makes a lot of headway toward those endpoints and also develops more of the current storyline in Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Sam Wilson – a hacker named Whisperer leaked to the world that SHIELD has been experimenting with a cosmic cube (Project Kobik) to prevent another Secret Wars, but people are unsettled with any organization playing with the fabric of all reality.

Spoilers follow, so reader beware, because the twists in this issue are fantastic (as editor Nick Tylwalk has already swooned).

Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1

In the cold open, Bucky Barnes returns from space adventures as Man On The Wall (remember that Winter Soldier book no one read? It spun out of that Original Sins crossover no one loved) to investigate Project Kobik, but SHIELD gets the drop on him and he blacks out.

The bulk of the book follows an amnesiac named Jim as he explores a suburban ideal called Pleasant Hill, where everyone’s happy so long as they obey curfew and never try to escape the town limits. His memory comes in flashes: being shot by SHIELD agents, seeing Captain America in World War II, the Winter Soldier’s metal arm, and a weird close-up of Bucky’s crotch. At first, he’s trying a number of escapes, like stealing a car with a familiar flaming skull hanging from the rear view mirror, but he can’t get past an invisible barrier powered by Stark Tech. He also has a few cryptic run-ins with a nameless girl who tells him that Pleasant Hill is a place for people to find out what’s so great about them  so they can “leave and go do nice stuff out there.”

After a few failed escapes and daily therapy with a doctor named Bruce, he has grown complacent until he’s approached by a masked man. Maria Hill, acting as mayor of the town, tries to find out more about this mystery man, but Jim covers for him and sneaks out to meet him in a secret hideout. There, the stranger shows him a video of Maria Hill training SHIELD agents to use the sliver of cosmic cube to turn villains like Graviton into flat characters from a 1950s sitcom. Pleasant Hill is the wave of the future for incarceration, and she’s thrilled with the project.

At the end, the stranger uses a machine to give Jim his memories back – and the mystery man is The Fixer and Jim is Baron Zemo!

This issue was fantastic, full of the mastery of tone and suspense Spencer showcased in his Image series, Morning Glories, alongside the astute political commentary that soaks through his Captain America work. The premise is an entertaining morality exercise like we’ve seen in the original Squadron Supreme maxiseries or the Negative Zone prison from Civil War – how should heroes respond to the daily jailbreaks in the Marvel Universe? What makes a humane incarceration/rehabilitation? What rights are given up by super criminals? Why was Zemo so fixated on Bucky’s bulging underwear?

Okay, that last question may have just been mine.

More from Bam Smack Pow

Avengers Standoff will continue in Assault On Pleasant Hill: Alpha in March, crossing through Agents Of SHIELD, Uncanny Avengers, All-New, All-Different Avengers, New Avengers, Howling Commandos Of SHIELD, Captain America: Sam Wilson, and Illuminati before concluding in Assault On Pleasant Hill: Omega in April. To keep track of our recap coverage, watch this link.