Avengers #700 feels almost like it’s breaking the merry Marvel tradition when it comes to anniversary issues. It’s obviously impressive that the adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have made it to 700 issues, but in another, equally valid way, this is also just issue #10 of the latest iteration of the series. As such, it really feels like writer Jason Aaron uses the extra page count not to self-congratulate and look back over the last 55 years of the series, but to forge ahead into the future by throwing as many new ideas at the reader as possible.
It’s this dedication to the present and the future of the series that helps this stand apart from other centenary celebrations, which can often feel like an overly sentimental annual rather than the next chapter in an ongoing narrative. Here, though, Aaron has the main story plus three backups, all of which have significance moving forward, and none of which feel like pointless exercises in nostalgia, something even this week’s Uncanny X-Men #1 fails to completely avoid, despite its very nature as a brand new start.
The grand sweeps of the main narrative concern Namor’s continued stand from the last issue, in which Atlantis gains a new team of Defenders, a group willing to face off against the Avengers to protect their undersea home and seemingly evict all surface dwellers from their depths. Word gets back to Russia about this new Atlantean super-team, and with the world looking to be more dangerous than ever, the Kremlin decides to reform its own Winter Guard and send them into the fray. Meanwhile, back in America, the Avengers are coming under scrutiny from the government for not only refusing to come under their wing, but because of the naming of Black Panther -- a king of another nation -- as their Chairman, something that does not sit right with General Ross.
Therein lies the subtle underside to this chapter of Avengers, and why it’s rare to find an anniversary issue so entirely focused on the future. Without spoiling too much, by the end of the main story, Ross has found a team to replace the Avengers, setting into motion a status quo for the country that’s been uneasy since the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of Secret Empire. Where this goes remains to be seen, but it’s not the most unpredictable player on the board by a long shot. By the end of the issue (three backup stories later), we’re told from a godly source that Ghost Rider may have a more important part to play than originally thought (as well as learning more about the Avengers of 1,000,000 BC), we get some answers to questions asked in 2017’s Marvel Legacy #1, a new (and entirely surprising) Avenger is recruited by Janet Van Dyne, and we’re given a double-page tease of some of the biggest stories to come for the Avengers.
The art teams on this book are the biggest issue yet that this is a special issue. Fraser Irving’s segment involving Ghost Rider’s revealing conversation is atmospheric and near mythical in its depictions. Andrea Sorrentino’s gothic moodiness elevates the final pages of the issue. Adam Kubert’s dizzying orientation shift, however, in his section with Loki and the Celestials, is the winner of the piece. As the God of Mischief angles his gaze upwards at a group of Celestials, the panels shift 180 degrees, stretching the scene horizontally across two pages and elongating the scope of the scene. It’s more than just a gimmick, as when Loki is shown numerous visions of the darkness to come (from a confusing and surprising source, no less), Kubert’s structural decision pays off in spades.
There’s not a page wasted in Avengers #700. The fight sequence between the Avengers, the Defenders of the Deep and the Winter Guard is a little overlong, but that can be forgiven because of the sheer number of moving parts. Despite an oversized battle, there’s still plenty of room in the main story to have character developing scenes between Black Panther and Jen Walters, Thor and Captain Marvel, Ghost Rider and Iron Man, and Captain America and Thaddeus Ross, proving that Aaron really does know how to make the most of the extra page count.
Overall, Avengers #700 is a strong example of how to approach an anniversary issue. Aaron’s decision to use an oversized issue to stuff as much plot development in as he has done is a smart one, and there are enough genuine surprises to make it worth the price tag. There’s devotion not only to the current story but plenty of set up for the future as well as time spent on the individual characters too. Black Panther has a speech about how great the Avengers are, and that’s the closest the book comes to acknowledging its numerical place in the history of the series because really, there’s no room for any of that. There’s also a real sense that Aaron’s finally found his footing with this book. Despite the constant action in the series so far, not all of it has landed. Avengers #700, however, is a lot of fun, and really beds Aaron is as the ongoing storyteller of what is fast becoming Marvel’s flagship once again.