The super-sized "Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha" #1 has to overcome a few barriers in readability (not the least of which is its cumbersome name), but Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz very nearly overcome all the limitations. Spencer's strong character voices and smart takes on political maneuvering keep this exposition-heavy issue from dragging too much, and Saiz gives the large cast plenty of feeling. If this creative team can make so much recap feel so readable, I can't wait to see what they cook up for the rest of the event.
It soon becomes clear why Marvel chose to make this a super-sized issue. Spencer and Saiz have a ton of exposition to cover for new readers, especially after the big reveal in the conclusion of "Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill" #1. From Steve Rogers narrating, "Bucky and I go back a long way, back to the war" to Sam Wilson recapping, "When Maria Hill tried to bring [the Whisperer] in for leaking S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets, I stopped her," there's a whole lot of base-level explaining going on. This sort of exposition inevitably drags at a book's pacing, and "Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha" ultimately can't escape that.
However, Spencer and Saiz put forth a hero's effort in making this information more palatable and entertaining. Spencer injects the character's voices into even the dullest sentences. For example, Sam Wilson caps off a description of the Green Skull -- "[he] believes the only way to tackle the climate change crisis is by wiping humanity off the face of the earth" -- with the wry understatement, "Bit of a controversial position." Steve Rogers, on the other hand, asks earnest questions in his recaps, unironically using phrases like "dogged me" and "best friend." Both characters still have to run through scores of declarative sentences, but Spencer lets each one speak in his own voice. It helps the exposition go down easier.
Spencer and Saiz also use a number of clever narrative tools to keep things feeling interesting. The false gravitas of the opening had me giggling, and cutting back and forth between Steve's conversation with Bucky and Sam's with Whisperer gave those info dumps unexpected dramatic momentum. When the villains in Pleasant Hill break loose, Saiz cuts the two-page spread into panels that are scattered like cards on a tabletop, not only giving the breakout a sense of chaos, but providing a winking throwback to Maria Hill's line about postcards.
Saiz also delivers in less flashy panels. The facial expressions are always clear and appropriate to the emotions in the dialogue, and -- even when the linework looks a little rough -- the panels are readable and well-framed. Some of the coloring choices make the characters look wooden and static, and I'd love to see less of that going forward, but Saiz is quite effective overall.
Much as I liked the voices for Sam and Steve, Maria Hill's dialogue feels a bit out-of-character in its flippancy. She's usually bullishly unapologetic about her decisions, so some dismissiveness is expected, but lines like "We spent a lot of money on in-flight entertainment" or "I looove me some flapjacks" often felt a bit too jokey for her -- or for any character in her situation. Less would have been more with these one-liners.
Letterer Clayton Cowles outperforms the material yet again. As I mentioned above, "Pleasant Hill Alpha" moves through many big-reveal conversations and narrative-caption summaries, and that translates into a clunky workload for Cowles. He handles the half-dozen different text treatments and crowded panels with easy, fluid positioning and manages to make some very wordy panels feel surprisingly lean.
All told, "Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha" #1 is a testament to overcoming editorial limits. Spencer and Saiz cram in all the necessary information while still providing an entertaining issue. Freed from the need to provide backstory, the next issue in this multi-title crossover event should be a really excellent read.