Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha

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Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha no. 1 (2016)
Nick Spencer and Jesús Saiz

So Bucky turns out not to have been trapped in Pleasant Hill. Despite his own misgivings about the untenable position in which we last saw him in the Welcome to Pleasant Hill one-shot, he must have made a miraculous escape just off panel. He is a superhero, after all. My wild speculation that he would instead turn out to be The Whisperer was closer to the mark, although not correct either. The Whisperer turned out to be Rick Jones, a man who once donned the Bucky costume. I must confess that I did not see that one coming. I suspect very few people did.

This latest entry into the Standoff crossover begins to give us a sense of what brand of Bucky we’ll be getting going forward. Nick Spencer and Jesús Saiz have made him older in his origins than he appeared in the recent Captain America: White miniseries, which is a huge relief to me. Viewed within its historical context, Captain America and his child sidekick makes a kind of sense, but I’ve always found the dynamic to be extremely disturbing. I was glad to see it ditched for the films, and I’m glad to see it ditched again here.

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Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha no. 1
Spencer and Saiz

As for his history as the man on the wall, it’s still unclear how much of that will make it into the books going forward. As of now, it looks like they may only take the fact of the mission and not the specifics from Kot’s run into consideration, but I could be wrong about that. I get the feeling that Spencer is keeping that aspect of Bucky’s history fairly vague—although Bucky does mention the fact that his methods are less savory than he believes Steve would be comfortable with. Spencer may be keeping things vague in order to refrain from interfering with Jim Zub’s plans. Though Bucky will no-doubt appear in Spencer’s Captain America books from time to time, Zub is going to be the one doing the heavy lifting in terms of his characterization. All in all, it’s too early to draw any conclusions.

Though I spend a lot of time focusing on Bucky, the standout character of the crossover thus far is undoubtedly Maria Hill, who is having a fantastic arc set up for her here. I’m very impressed with the way Spencer is, both overtly and subtly, bringing her personality out in this series. One of my favorite moments in the issue is her assessment of Bucky’s intentions vis-à-vis, Kobik—the sentient cosmic cube whose powers underlie the Pleasant Hill facility and who has essentially become a little girl. Hill assumes that Bucky will kill Kobic without compunction, but—in the manner of those who measure other people’s corn by their bushel—I suspect that Hill is judging Bucky on the basis of what she would do if faced with a similar situation.

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Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha no. 1
Spencer and Saiz

Nick Spencer has described Maria Hill as a person whose ultimate dream is to live in our world, a world without superheroes, and her behavior across an assortment of series has born this interpretation out. Viewed in this light, Hill’s feelings about Kobik are surprising—and potentially counterfeit. Her greatest wish is to live in a world without the weird, and yet she feels strongly protective of (or claims to feel strongly protective of) an entity who is a virtual personification of the weirdly unnatural underbelly of the Marvel Universe. I can’t help wondering if this care and consideration is only predicated on the fact that Kobik is useful to her. And if Hill’s affection stems primarily from Kobik’s usefulness, what will happen to that affection when/if Kobik becomes a part of Bucky’s Thunderbolts team?

Naturally, Zub and company are keeping mum about the unidentified ghostly girl who appears on the Mark Bagley variant cover for issue 1, but many people suspect that this team member will turn out to be Kobik. (How many little ghost girls can there be running around the Marvel Universe right now anyway? Actually, don’t answer that.) At any rate, if Kobik ends up a member of Thunderbolts, I suspect we’ll see a very complex, and perhaps transformative, relationship develop between her and Maria Hill.

Bottom line, this crossover has kicked off with a very satisfying bang, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter. If you’re into superheroes (and/or philosophical questions about the nature of superheroing), I definitely recommend it.

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