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If you haven’t been following Marvel’s recent marketing, you may find yourself confused by the issue I am reviewing, thinking, “Hmm, I didn’t know Avengers began in 1914?” Well, neither your memory nor your math has failed you. This ISN’T the 100th anniversary of the Avengers. It is, however, the 75th anniversary of Marvel Comics (though it wasn’t called Marvel until much later). So to celebrate the 75th anniversary, Marvel decided to release a series of one-shots imagining what their universe would look like at 100. As with many of Marvel’s weird marketing gimmicks, it is equal parts ridiculous, self-serving, and sort of interesting.
The somewhat inelegantly-titled 100th Anniversary Special Avengers #1 takes place in the distant future, showing a world that looks very changed considering it’s supposed to take place only 25 years from now. The three main Avengers featured in this issue are Beta Ray Bill, Rogue, and a reincarnated version of Dr. Strange (who is in the body of a man of perhaps Middle Eastern-descent with a Mohawk and goatee). It’s a pretty unexpected line-up, and that’s actually one the main joys of this issue, seeing how well these three mesh together.
Earth has been taken over by aliens and many of their past superhero allies (our present-day heroes) have fallen. Rogue is able to survive because Wolverine passed along his immortality to her. They ultimately end up doing battle with Mole Man the Third. The battle, while enjoyable (especially when BRB grabs a creature with his teeth), isn’t really the point of this issue. Dr. Strange actually figures out a peaceful way to resolve the conflict, giving Mole Man and his clan a home of their own.
This is a comic book that looks and feels dramatically different from your average Marvel comic. It is written and drawn by James Stokoe. Although Stokoe has actually done a great deal of pay-for-hire work, this issue has the vibe of a self-published indie comic, with a distinctive drawing style and audacious irreverence. That’s not to say that Stokoe’s art is amateurish. There are panels that are fantastic and very creative in a visual way, yet his style has less slickness than most Marvel artists.
Stokoe’s creativity can been seen visually throughout this issue, but he also has a similar feel for inventive concepts as a writer, too. He’s transformed Tony Stark into just a brain that operates a giant Iron Man that is essentially Start Tower and who can throw out mini drones to help the other Avengers. Similarly, some of the world that he’s constructed, on this dystopian future Earth, is really different from your average “End of Days” storyline.
There is a certain amount of absurdity in 100th Anniversary Special Avengers #1 that doesn’t entirely work and at times undercuts the dramatic tension. Likewise, the dialog isn’t especially good because it either is playing at ironic echoing of heroic patter or Stokoe just isn’t adept at writing convincing speech. However, while it’s not always “different” in a better way, I like that Marvel is willing to let unconventional writers and artists use their characters, even if it is only in non-continuity specials. This issue won’t be for everyone, but I do think it’s a worthwhile experiment, something that adventurous readers may enjoy.