I’ve been doing my best to ignore the real world and the constant parade of garage and skeletons in my mind, by disassociating into catching up with comics. I have been knee deep in old X-Men stories for the past few months, but I got the itch to catch up on some of the newer stuff, and I began by diving back into Marvel’s flagship title Avengers.
The current run of Avengers is being helmed by writer Jason Aaron with art by Ed McGuiness and others. It’s pretty telling these days how Marvel at large feels about you as a talent based on what titles they allow you to take over, and being tapped to write their flagship title makes it pretty clear Aaron has reached the top of the company. Being the writer of the Avengers means that you are in charge of the Marvel Universe (616) at large as well.
Which wasn’t exactly the case when Aaron broke into comics in 2001. He broke in by winning a writing contest in which he wrote a back up story featuring Wolverine, but it didn’t exactly lead to superstardom straight out the box. For a number of years he bounced around both Marvel and DC filling in spots on books before a new creative team would take over.
Then in 2006 he wrote the mini series Other Side for the Vertigo line of DC Comics (RIP). It was a story set in Vietnam with loads of commentary on the horrors of war and the effects it leaves on the people told from both the American and South Korean sides of the war. The story managed to grab rave reviews and also snagged an Eisner Award which is one of the highest honors in the comics industry.
With the success of that book, Vertigo asked Aaron to pitch something else, which would develop into his series Scalped which told the story of a fictional Indian Reservation in modern day and a undercover cop who grew up on that Rez going back to take down the criminal origination within it. Think Sopranos and Longmire smooshed together. That series was also a massive success and Aaron would become one of the most indemand writers at the time.
He would return to Marvel in 2008 with an extended run on Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and Incredible Hulk and while still writing Scalped he would sign on exclusive to Marvel where he has worked ever since.
Aaron would continue to dabble in the X-Men side of the MCU with Wolverine and the X-Men while also wrapping up Scalped, but in 2012 with the Marvel films now kicking all sorts of ass on the big screen Aaron would take over Thor. Which is the series that would launch him from a good writer to a superstar writer.
Aaron’s run on Thor, which would last from 2012 to 2020 and still continues slightly with his series Valkyrie. It would see not just one Thor, but three versions of Thor throughout three different time periods. One being the modern Thor of today, his younger self years prior to becoming worthy of his mighty hammer, and all the way to old King Thor from a far distant and possible future where he’s one of the only heroes left in the galaxy.
In 2015 Aaron would write his first major crossover event Original Sin the results of which would be massive for Thor as he would stop being worthy and unable to wield Mjölnir. That would end up being picked up from a dying Jane Foster who would become the new Thor as Marvel made an effort to replace their main line heroes with more diverse and gender inclusive characters. While those efforts by and large failed, the Jane Foster Thor got positive reviews as it felt like it was part of the over all larger story Aaron was telling which included a separate series featuring the male Thor’s journey to become worthy again.
Thor would eventually get his groove back, and this story would come to a head in a giant crossover featuring all of the Marvel heroes with a epilogue of the King Thor story as well before Aaron would hand over the series to new up and coming writer Donny Cates.
While his time on Thor was announced to be coming to an end it was quickly announced that he would be taking over The Avengers title and that the book would feature all of the major Marvel Heroes plus some characters who had never been on the team before such as Ghost Rider and even Blade for a period of time.
Marvel further put Aaron front and center when Disney acquired both Marvel and Star Wars licensing and decided to use them to lure in more nerds and their moneies by publishing a new set of Star Wars comics. The flagship title of this, entitled simply Star Wars, would not only be considered canon to the new Star Wars lore (Get out of here 30 years worth of novels, video games, and comics made by not Disney!) it would take place between the first Star Wars film and Empire Strikes Back. In the past anything that directly hit on the main timeline was poo poo’d by George Lucas but with him out of the picture now the flood doors opened, and Aaron was the writer tapped to spearhead this, and he remained on the title for almost 40 issues, with the series ending a year later.
He would also be tasked to write the new Conan the Barbarian comic Marvel wanted to do after reacquiring the rights to the character again. Aaron talked about this a lot saying how he grew up reading Marvel’s first run of Conan’s comic series in the 70’s. This sadly, would not go as well with Aaron leaving the title after only 12 issues and it looks like the series has been canceled after issue 25. As iconic as that character is, I can’t imagine anyone really clamoring for new stories of him so Marvel shelling out money to buy the character from Dark Horse comics only to cancel the book after 25 issues feels like a giant dick move to a smaller publisher.
This came around the same time Brian Michael Bendis was said to be leaving Marvel and crossing the street to DC, and with Aaron being one of the only writers left under an exclusive contract it pretty much was clear that Jason Aaron was now the king of the Marvel Universe.
Aarons run on The Avengers so far has been a blast as it’s clear that the editors fully trust and understand what Aaron brings to the table as a writer, which is very widescreen big epic action storytelling with some hints of humor. Which in a book that features all of these larger than life personalities. This is not a book where you’re going to get a lot of characters deep thinking or talking about shit.
And much like he did on Thor, Aaron plays with Marvel history that directly effects the present where in he takes the big time pieces of the MCU and makes them essentially avatars. This includes the Black Panther, Ghost Rider, The Phoenix, Odin, and the Starbrand coming together as a sort of prehistoric Avengers that has been forgotten by time (which kind of doesn’t make sense as Odin is still very much around and you would imagine he would’ve mentioned it to Thor when he formed his own Avengers, but eh comics).
He’s also setting up these pieces of the puzzle along the way that will no doubt pay off whenever he decides to wrap things up. He’s established a Russian superhero team, Dracula creating his own nation, Namor creating an army, and the former Agent Coulson forming the Squadron Supreme within the MCU as a government backed super team. Not to mention finding the new Starbrand which turns out to be a new born baby. All this while the new Avengers HQ is a dead (we think) Celestial. This dinner is full to say the least.
In the hands of a lesser writer this may seem like too much, but Aaron has continued to show he’s a top level talent by balancing all of these plates while still writing a creative and bombastic comic book story at the same time. In my opinion he’s the best of the modern superhero writers in that he understands what his job is in so much as he’s to take these characters, fuck with the established history, and create something new out of it. Most of which will be forgotten or erased whenever a new writer comes along and wants to tell his story. Ongoing comics are if anything a constant string of stories with characters always in their second act. It’s not his job to tell their ending but to keep that train going, and he’s nailing it.
The current arc I just read saw the primordial god like being The Phoenix, typically an X-Men villain, come back to earth and at first bond with the crime fighter Moon Knight in order to defeat the god Khonshu that’s been tormenting him for years and is trying to take over the world. Moon Knight in that story also whoops each of the Avengers asses showing that even the lower level characters can be powerful. The Avengers of course win that battle in the end, but the Phoenix remains on earth looking for a new host and forces the Avengers to battle each other as well as Namor and others to see whose worthy. During this ordeal The Phoenix itself reveals to Thor that she is his actual mother as her and Odin had a thing back in the prehistoric days in a big holy shit moment. The whole story is so over the top but feels at home at the same time.
Over the top is a good way to describe Aaron’s superhero work for Marvel. Starting with a more grindhouse inspired version of Ghost Rider to a X-Men team where Wolverine is the headmaster to a new group of teens that were inspired by the various parts of X-Men lore where Aaron lacks in more personal character driven stories he makes up for by constantly taking things from the past and reworking them in fun and interesting ways.
This isn’t to say he’s not capable of more personal stories. Quite the contrary, his non superhero work are all stories of damaged and broken people, mostly men. Whether it’s a drug addicted detective going undercover into his old community and forced to confront his troubled past. Then you have a middle aged retired Marine coming back to his southern fried hometown after his father’s death. Then you have his kinda sorta pre religious epic tales that take place in a world before the great flood. It’s a fun romp full of wonderful characters all being super nice to each other. It’s called the Goddamned. The only series Aaron has written that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet is Sea of Stars his first full on Sci Fi story. One day.
Jason Aaron is that type of writer who wears his influences on his sleeve and he’s a writer who makes his superhero stories feel a lot more like fan fiction, but not in that creepy way. He pay homage to the past and to the things he clearly grew up loving but changing them or taking them into directions no one not named Jason Aaron would ever even think of. The new Ghost Rider driving his hellfire soaked Charger through space with Blade and a baby Man Thing riding shotgun on their way to help save a baby who now wields the god like power of the Starbrand? Yup Jason Aaron.
He’s also the type of writer whose able to play with setting and tone and go smaller and personal without it not feeling like a Jason Aaron story. Sure the influences are there, but they fade into the background and aren’t the focus like they are in say Thor.
Out of all of the writers that came to prominence in the early aughts Jason Aaron is easily in the top five of them. For my money he’s a comic book writers comic book writer. In that he truly seems to genuinely enjoy writing comics and in turn his work reflects that. He makes me want to write comics (which isn’t hard). He’s not a guy whose going to be talked about in the same breath as guys like Moore, Miller, Bendis, Brubaker, as a guy who will create a new sub genre within comics with their distinctive style. No, for me he falls more in line with the Claremont’s, the Peter Davids, or Mark Waids. Guys who are more remembered for the runs they’ve had on certain titles than they are for changing the medium. Aaron’s Thor run alone will keep him in peoples memories, especially with the films taking inspiration from it, but this current Avengers run could also be talked about in the same breath as his Thor run if he manages to stay the course and stick the landing whenever that happens. Scalped is also set to get a live action series at some point which feels like it should be a big deal and long overdue, but with the way studios are just handing out shows to anything based on a comic books like the local pervert handing out candy to children my hopes aren’t super high. If it is a hit though it could make him a bigger deal than he already is. Which is fine.
If I had to recommend a starting point for Aaron’s work, I would say try Wolverine and the X-Men which ended way way too soon, but is a good primer for the type of crazy pulpy style Aaron has. If you enjoy that and love Norse adjacent shit then I’d dive into his Thor run which is spectacular. If you want something more serious and grounded in reality Scalped is a good series that came out about a decade past anyone caring about Vertigo books anymore, but still holds up.