NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for U.S.Avengers #1
At a time when the idea of what it means to "be American" has never been so hotly debated, one thing is abundantly clear: the superheroes once imagined as the upholders and defenders of American values have shifted their focus to the entire world. Many of Marvel and DC's stars still patrol the streets of their hometowns and suburbs, but when it comes to superpowered team-ups or massive threats, it's the Earth at stake, not just the United States... and certainly not the question of liberty, civil rights, or capitalism (alien invaders aren't usually concerned with that kind of thing).
And so we arrive at the launch of Marvel's U.S.Avengers - a comic series assembling a variety of Americans, both natural-born and immigrant, beneath the banner of the newly-re-titled American Intelligence Mechanics (AIM). With a former X-Man overseeing the team, the debut issue from writer Al Ewing continues his habit of re-imagining Marvel's heroes, both in title and attitude. And it just wouldn't be an Avengers launch without brand new takes on classic characters, so allow us to get you up to speed on the new heroes and heroines to grab the Marvel spotlight (ones sure to resonate with a brand new section of Marvel's readership).
It may be Roberto da Costa a.k.a. 'Sunspot' who has successfully taken over the previously morally-dubious group known as AIM, bringing it into the fold of American covert operations, but in Issue #1, a surprise arrival may mean new leadership is in store. The heroine in question is Dani Cage, the Captain America of the future (and daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, all grown up). Fans of Ewing's past work will remember her debut in the Marvel Universe in the Avengers: Ultron Forever series, set in the possible future of the year 20XX.
Her role in the current story of the U.S.Avengers has yet to be revealed, since her appearance in the midst of some sci-fi/time travel crackle is what actually ends the issue (aside from a tease of the villain she's bringing with her). Thankfully, writer Al Ewing has offered a bit of a tease in an interview with Newsarama:
"I came up with the idea to have Danielle as our future Cap when I was writing Ultron Forever - it seemed like a natural choice - and I've enjoyed bringing her into my various Avengers books since then. I'm confident readers who haven't been introduced will love reading her as much as I love writing her - and we'll be finding out more about the far-flung future of 20XX than ever before, including how it came to be!
"Readers can get attached to her as they like - as far as I'm concerned, any near-future worth its salt will have Danielle Cage in the Captain America role."
With the combined superpowers of both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Dani's qualification have never been in question. Still, given the sense of humor and over-the-top fiction in Ewing's first issue, we're already looking ahead to the possibility that Steve Rogers finds out there's another Captain America working his beat... and Sam Wilson's... and whoever else may be carrying Cap's shield in the weeks and months ahead.
Even with a version of Cap around, the role of the "bad cop" will always fall to the resident Hulk (Incredible, or otherwise). In this case, yet another military man is entrusted with the role of the Red Hulk... but the days of General 'Thunderbolt' Ross claiming the part are apparently over. U.S.Avengers #1 reveals the new star to be a General Robert L. Maverick, selected not only for his distinguished military career, but for his genetic compatibility with AIM's first big breakthrough. What began as an experimental "Hulk plug-in" at S.H.I.E.L.D. - the branch that AIM is handling the science for, going forward - has been refined into the U.S. government's own Hulk-ed out soldier.
Thanks to his "perfect genetic profile," General Maverick gets more power than most soldiers could ever dream of (and embraces it with no shortage of unabashed enthusiasm, and a little bit of pride). It isn't a fully solved problem, though: when Maverick triggers the "plug-in" via a display on his wrist, he's got one hour of time as his enraged, red doppelganger. But once the juice wears off, it can't be used again for another 37 hours. But for those glorious sixty minutes, the man used to deploying weapons gets to become one.
And his early catchphrase shows that he may be as reliable for some humor as well.
The reveal that it's a young woman beneath the armor of the Iron Patriot may be a bit unexpected, but fans familiar with either the Iron Man: Extremis story arc or the big screen version of Iron Man will appreciate that this is no ordinary woman. The brilliant scientist in question is Dr. Toni Ho, the daughter of the equally-brilliant Dr. Ho Yinsen, who first assisted Tony Stark in assembling the very first suit of Iron Man armor while both held captive by terrorist forces. Some unresolved issued with her father - never resolved, due to his death - led her away from his top field of medical research. That, and the unique coming-of-age experience that an Asian-born American girl with a passion for programming has led her to a heroic role.
The suit may look like the usual Iron Patriot, but since Toni's background is in programming and technological breakthroughs, not military strikes, the suit is actually lacking any weapons or ordnance. Those worried such a decision may cut down on the action can rest easy, since the debut issue has Toni slowing the flight of an evil-helicarrier-volccano-base to a crawl through use of her forcefield technology.
But unlike some of her teammates, it's the work that has Toni's attention, not the superheroics that it makes possible.
Why is Squirrel Girl on the short list for the U.S.Avengers? The same reason that she's kicked off a veritable firestorm of popularity among the Marvel fan base. She's beating up the Marvel Universe one minute, and getting fans in a storm over the idea of a big screen adaptation (with Anna Kendrick in the role) the next. Jokes aside, Squirrel Girl a.k.a. Doreen Green is introduced as the team's "wild card," which is actually all the justification needed. Especially considering that she brings a squadron of flying squirrels along with her.
In the first issue, both Doreen and her fleet of furry friends make short work of an entire assault wave of killer drones (take a second to picture the squirrels latching on to each and coming up with some kind of solution from there). We can't say just how effective she will continue to be in the future, but her can-do attitude is as compelling and endearing as her American/Canadian dual citizenship. Plus... she's Squirrel Girl. Show us a team she wouldn't make at least a little more interesting.
Enigma (Formerly POD)
Quite possibly the least known of the new U.S.Avengers, at least among casual Marvel readers, is Aikku Jokinen, previously known as 'Pod.' The Finnish-Norwegian young woman's superhero origin story began by chance, when she stumbled across the crash-landed suit of alien technology known as 'Pod,' and instantly became fused with the sentient programming inside. It would take some time (and a few battles) for Aikku/Pod to be brought to the heroic side of things, eventually working as Roberto da Costa's bodyguard. The job brought her to America, and also under the studying eye of Dr. Toni Ho, working to understand how the otherworldly armor had so completely merged with a human woman.
Eventually, the bond between Aikku and Toni grew well beyond friendship, and it was revealed that Aikku could separate herself from the Pod armor... but doing so would effectively kill it. Her compassion prevented the division, but a fatal injury led to the Pod armor healing Aikku and sacrificing itself in the process. It is out of that New Avengers arc that Ewing has spun the new heroine, adding her in a key role on the U.S.Avengers - now, wearing only the undersuit of the armor and going by the name Enigma. The name is a reflection of the fact that the undersuit's abilities are still being investigated, but Aikku has already mastered the ability to phase into and out of objects, not to mention pass that particularly inconvenient state of being onto enemy soldiers.
For those who also like to read between the lines, Aikku's ability to both be and not be present looks to reflect her personal journey: taking the first steps in building a new life in America, a country filled with new friends and loved ones... but home to more frightening things than she's used to.
If Roberto da Costa is the one guiding the team from the war room, then it's his close friend and formerly fellow X-Man Sam Guthrie a.k.a. Cannonball who's carrying the same banner in battle. His mutant powers are nothing to scoff at (able to unleash energy to propel himself like a rocket, fulfilling the team's need for superhuman "air support"), but as a previous leader of the New Mutants and appreciative pupil of Charles Xavier, there's no one better to turn this team of heroes into a family. And apparently, Sam has taken Charles' vision of an America embracing every kind of citizen upon himself... in an era when that dream seems even harder to achieve than ever.
The first issue of U.S.Avengers includes a more private exchange between Sam and Roberto, with the former not quite convinced that the idea of an "All-American" team of Avengers wrapped in the Stars and Stripes is going to work. He has a point, but the detail concerning Cannonball that most fans will be debating is the tease of 'upcoming events' in the series ahead - including Sam's tombstone. It's unlikely that such a twist would be revealed so far ahead of time (unless it's somehow tied to a possible future Dani Cage is here to prevent), so Sam's path may turn out to be a particularly surprising one.
So there you have it, the men and women who will be making up the roster of Marvel's new U.S.Avengers... at least the ones we know about already. The pieces are all here to construct a quirky, fun-loving, and unabashedly patriotic comic series to both reflect and offer escape from the world outside. And judging by the heights Ewing takes the team toward in the first outing, fans are going to be eager to see what's next from Cap, Hulk, Cannonball, Patriot, Enigma, Squirrel Girl, and more. Will you be among them?
U.S.Avengers #1 is available now.