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The Wrath of Kang

  The Avengers: The Kang Dynasty

 

Kurt Busiek (writer), Alan Davis, Kieron Dwyer and various artists

Marvel, 2002

Rating: 1.5

 

 

Posted: December 15, 2002

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

Kurt Busiek hasn't produced a new issue of Astro City in, what, a hundred years now? But apparently he's got plenty of time to churn out workmanlike pabulum like The Kang Dynasty, an Earth-gets-invaded epic mathematically precise in its adherence to formulaic conventions. There's a slam-bang superheroic space opera trapped inside this unwieldy leviathan of a story, dying to get out, but it's hobbled by a paint-by-numbers approach so ingrained that the reader can practically smell the paint fumes wafting out from its pages.

The story: Kang, one of the Marvel Universe's ridiculously convoluted supervillain types, stages an all-out assault on early 21st century Earth, determined to finally best the Avengers, who've kept this era, out of all of the vast worlds and times he's stormed, out of his clutches. From his sword-shaped command post Damocles Base, Kang orchestrates a reasonably savvy attack. Earth's heroes challenge him. They suffer some setbacks, regroup, and finally win the day. There's exactly one good story in the 15 issues (and one annual) reprinted here: "Prisoners: A Love Story," which not coincidentally reads very much like an Astro City tale; AC penciler Brent Anderson even handles the art chores. It's a competent, even stirring interlude, the closest the talented Busiek gets to actual drama and characterization in this overlong tale. There's actual poignancy in his handling of the dissolution of the relationship between Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch; his sketch of life in a post-war prison camp hints at the high drama such a far-reaching saga should evoke.

It's all you get. Every plot point, including two credulity-stretching deus ex machinas that help win the day, and every belabored character subplot, is contrived, and just plain lazy to boot. The mighty Thor broods over his emotional connection to frail mortals! Kang's son and heir, the Scarlet Centurion, is captivated by the Avenger Warbird (and who wouldn't, in the credibility-shattering get-up she parades around in?), and ends up aiding her in a way that proves pivotal to Earth's eventual victory! It's a shame when a high-stakes story like this one actually makes one yearn for such previous Marvel epics as Operation: Galactic Storm (yes, Virginia, there was such a beast) or any of the coma-inducing Infinity Gauntlet/Infinity War series. The only difference between those poorly-executed sagas and this one? The Kang Dynasty benefits from snazzier production values, from the nifty state-of-the-art computer coloring to some relatively decent artwork from a revolving door of bantamweight pencilers.

Needless to say, The Kree/Skrull War, this ain't. Busiek strikes more false notes here than an entire season's worth of American Idol. His sense-defying wrap-up of his long-lingering Triune Understanding plotline (involving a Scientology-like organization) feels as slapped-together as a Pauly Shore film. The resolution to a plotline involving the mental state of Henry Pym is comically lightweight. And an attempt to build suspense around Warbird's self-requested court martial for her murder of a second-rate supervillain generates less suspense than an episode of Family Affair. Busiek does handle the villain of the piece with some aplomb, although his decision to use this tired Marvel mainstay, rather than risk straining Marvel's creaking continuity by introducing a new, compelling character, is frustrating. (And where the hell are all the other Marvel heroes anyway?)

This is as rote as superhero comics get, and Busiek, of all people, is capable of much, much better. Here's hoping the checks he cashed during his Avengers run -- which started out strong, for a superhero title, and ended with this plodding behemoth -- were worth neglecting Astro City, one of the most inventive and often-poignant series produced in the last 20 years. What a waste.

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 Ratings Key:
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 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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