Avengers Standoff: Assault On Pleasant Hill Alpha #1 Review

This past summer Marvel gave us their highly anticipated even Secret Wars, an event that would completely change the Marvel Universe. While the event was technically supposed to end in September, delays kept forcing the event back more and more until it finally ended in January. But at that point, many readers, including myself, were left wondering why even bother with it anymore? While this isn’t an article about Secret Wars it does bring up a point about Marvel Comics. They tend to overdo it with events. Even before you catch your breath after the latest event, they are already gearing up for not one, not two, but three events all starting this spring: Apocalypse Wars, Civil War II, and Avengers Standoff. After the exhaustion of Secret Wars, you can understand my frustration with reading this news. After Marvel’s biggest event, we’re already prepping for three more. However, I ended up picking up the first issue and I must say…I was completely surprised. I loved it. I was engaged throughout the entire story and it made me eager to pick up the latest issue.

What separates this story from your typical Marvel event is that it’s a much smaller focus, a smaller scale than say Secret Wars, or AXIS. Here we’re not talking about the end of the world. No, this one is not about preserving our world but more a reflection upon our morals. For those of you who are aren’t quite aware of what’s happening in this story so far, I’ll give a brief synopsis. So, this goes really without saying, there will be SPOILERS HERE. We are introduced to the quiet, peaceful town of Pleasant Hill, and it doesn’t take us too long to realize something is up with this place. Everything is just a bit too…perfect. Soon, we find out that Pleasant Hill is actually a S.H.I.E.L.D. operated site to house rehabilitating inmates. The kicker is the inmates are completely unaware of who they truly are. Under Maria Hill’s authorization, S.H.I.E.L.D. uses shards of a cosmic cube to essentially alter the criminals both physically and mentally, completely giving them new identities. The main resident we find out is none other than Baron Zemo, finding out his real identity from The Fixer. I honestly thought that it was a different version of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark when I first read it, and I think that’s exactly what Nick Spencer wanted us to think. So let’s get into this issue now.

SPOILERS

This issue begins with Commander Steve Rogers, the former Captain America, asking S.H.I.E.L.D. agents what Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier, wanted from them as he infiltrated them last issue. Steve tries to figure out why Bucky is attacking S.H.I.E.L.D. black ops sites and refuses to believe that it’s due to a relapse with his “Winter Soldier” conditioning. He finds a clue left for him by Bucky and goes to get to the bottom of this mystery. Meanwhile, we have the current Captain America, Sam Wilson, foiling the plans of an eco-terrorist, the Green Skull, before he gets a call from the man he’s been working with recently, The Whisperer. He reveals himself to be Rick Jones and informs Sam that the Kobik initiative, a plan to use fragments of the cosmic cube to alter reality for security, was not entirely scrapped as he had believed. When Bucky and Steve meet up at a diner they used to frequent back when they were in the war, Bucky reveals the same thing The Whisperer did. Maria Hill lied to Steve and she has indeed been using shards of the cosmic cube for security reasons.

Bucky disappears as Maria Hill finds Steve and realizes that he knows the truth, and Steve is far from being happy about it. He condemns her use of the cube, insisting that she can’t play God. S.H.IE.L.D. find Whisperer and Sam as well and chase them through the city before Sam lets him make a run for it himself since he’s the one they are after and not Sam. Maria brings Steve along to show him what Pleasant Hill is like. Here is where he finds out that Maria and S.H.I.E.L.D. have been altering inmates with the shards of the cosmic cube. He tells Maria to take him to the shards and that he will destroy them, but finds that the cube is a young girl: Kobik. He meets Erik Selvig here (from the Thor films for those who are unaware), who has been monitoring Kobik and studying the cubes. He explains to Steve that the cosmic cube is evolving and becoming self-aware. Unbeknownst to the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, a few of the citizens of Pleasant Hill have already discovered the truth, and under Baron Zemo’s leadership are ready to launch an assault against S.H.I.E.L.D. Steve and Maria Hill discuss Bucky’s role in this and before too long they are infiltrated by Nitro who blows up the building. Luckily the two of them survive but by the time they call for backup, Baron Zemo and his army arrive to fight.

I absolutely loved this issue and I’m so impressed with this event so far. I hope that the tie-ins can build upon the fantastic story we’re seeing here by Nick Spencer. The story feels very Orwellian and the fact that it’s not a story about the Avengers saving the world from annihilation is a breath of fresh air. While it says it’s an “Avengers” story, Avengers: Standoff is really a Captain America story, one that includes Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and Sam Wilson. So if you’re a Cap fan, it doesn’t matter which one, you’ll want to pick up this book. Since solicits have already revealed that Steve Rogers will be restored to his youth again, we can kind of already guess how that’ll come to pass, but that’s honestly one of the plot points I’m looking forward to most. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to enjoy a good Steve Rogers story, and luckily Nick Spencer is delivering that. The art by Jesus Saiz is a real treat as well and stylistically isn’t too different from Mark Bagley who did the first issue. Saiz is also going to be the artist on the new Captain America: Steve Rogers book (with Nick Spencer also writing that) so this gives us a good taste of what we can expect on that book.

Ultimately, Avengers: Standoff is a Captain America story and while it’s not essential to read Nick Spencer’s work on Captain America: Sam Wilson to fully grasp the story, it sure fills in some of the details. I know there are many of you out there who are sick of Marvel events like I am, but I’m telling you this one is worth your time and money. If you happen to pick up the issue please let us know what you thought about it!

9.5/10