“A-Next” #5 – Multiversity Comics

The late 90s of superhero comics has always been a fascinating Wild West to me. I know so little about this period which is based on the most significant recession in the industry. With so few eyes drawn, it’s ripe to discover fascinating hidden gems or unreadable stinks. This year, I dug up the burgeoning “A-Next” series and franchise to get my teeth into it. What category will this spin-off of a spin-off fall into? Let’s find out together, dear readers!

A-Next #3
Screenplay by Tom DeFalco
Drawn and illustrated by Ron Frenz
Completed by Al Milgrom
Coloring by Bob Sharen
Letters from Jim Novak

The cover and introductory page give us an exciting glimpse of things to come: Doctor Doom and the antics of Latveria! Yes, as one of the main players in the Marvel Universe, we were guaranteed to check out what Victor Von Doom would do in the M2 timeline. The setup page instills a good sense of dread for this corner of the world, with some soldiers being cornered by rogue Doombots while a Doom-like figure watches from afar. The Doombots look terrifying and protean, with new finisher Al Milgrom providing thick inks to give them added weight and impact. But more importantly, the soldier who spots Doom says “He’s finally back!”, setting up two strong mysteries for readers: Why did Doom leave, and why is he back now?

Before we get too confused in a foreign conflict, we return to the main Avengers headquarters list. This issue discusses the multiple elephants in the room introduced in the last issue: the addition of the young Dream Team to the Avengers roster. In particular, Stinger AKA Cassie has a problem with these people getting such a privileged position on the team with seemingly no experience. Mainframe, whose identity remains a mystery, asks Cassie to take these new members with her to investigate the troubles in Latveria and a missing child. Before they leave, we get a fun look at what the Fantastic Four, now the Fantastic Five, are up to these days. Franklin has grown up and wears the title of Psi-Lord, while Ben has mechanical limbs and Johnny wears a flashy red and yellow bodysuit. These are fun artistic Easter eggs that are purely visual, which works for the best. The narrative doesn’t need to get bogged down in explaining those little tidbits, it’s more exciting to unpack what might have happened to cause them as the reader. We do discover a key clue, though: Cassie had a very personal connection to Doctor Doom’s ward, Kristoff.

DeFalco keeps a b-plot running through this issue that allows us to spend some quality time with teammates Thunderstrike (Kevin) and J2 (Zane). Kevin is accompanied by Zane to visit the grave of his father, the original Thunderstrike, in which even Zane explains how little the two heroes have interacted or bonded before. DeFalco draws more attention to each character’s humanity by having them literally strip down to their human forms, before stepping back to go out and grab some pizza. DeFalco shows that the characters have surprisingly good chemistry as they form a newfound family sibling relationship. Frenz and Milgrom draw Kevin’s college room looking exactly as it should: messy, filled with posters and weird knick-knacks, and dozens of unpacked boxes that function as furniture. Both characters connect over the lack of an approving father figure in their lives. It’s a fantastic way to develop both characters simultaneously and create a good team bond.

Returning to the main plot, the team flew to Latveria where they almost instantly encounter resistance from Doombot upon landing. This is where DeFalco gives new teammates a chance to strut their stuff. American Dream constantly tries to be the diplomatic peacemaker, trying to figure out why Cassie is mad at her while they brawl. Bluestreak continues to be delightful and goofy as she takes down a high-speed Doombot, while Freebooter makes oddly chauvinistic comments in the middle of the fight. The big reveal, however, is with Crimson Curse effortlessly taking out a group of Doombots with magical destructive force, at which Stinger is impressed with its raw power. While Crimson Curse’s costume design draws on the worst elements of classic Scarlet Witch design, it seems more mystical in nature and works well when Frenz and Milgrom draw her into an evil pose after her display.

At this point, we can see DeFalco begin to put the puzzle pieces together for readers. Stinger was opposed to these newcomers, but after seeing them perform so well on the field, she begins to respect them. Before rolling out the proverbial red carpet for her teammates, however, she walks off alone claiming that she can do this job herself and find the missing child and that made Doctor Doom. She stumbles upon the Doom figurine in the sewers protecting the missing child before he removes his mask to reveal himself as Kristoff, Doom’s ward! It’s something of a practical plot, especially given the foreshadowing seeds that DeFalco demanded we look at earlier in the issue, but it works well enough given the character’s history and complicated relationship with the original Doom. Frenz and Milgrom also make him visually distinct: his coat isn’t as regal or as tightly arranged as the original Doom’s, giving him the appearance of a biblical shepherd rather than a royal figure.

The rest of the Avengers stumble upon this scene and Cassie explains the situation before things get too heated. In a beautifully leftist moment, the team hides Kristoff from the local cops and allows him to complete his personal mission. We see this in the background F panel, as colorist Bob Sharen ignites the Latvian castle with searing cosmic green energy, erasing the castle with a final scene that uses a more muted palette of blues, greens, and shades. gray to feel suitably apocalyptic. It’s a very neat bow tie for this Latveria side story, with Stinger finally accepting his new teammates and Kristoff shedding the dark legacy of his own father figure, rekindling the conversation Kevin and Zane had earlier. “A-Next” is definitely building and maintaining momentum in five issues, and I hope it maintains that energy.

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