Why is Al Ewing's Avengers so great?
Real talk, to one and all who haven’t been following him: Al Ewing is one of the three best regular writers in comics right now. It’s him, Tom King, and some third person (Steve Orlando? Mark Russel? Kieron Gillen? Jonathan Hickman or Warren Ellis if we count them as ‘regular’ in terms of monthly publication?). And his work on Avengers is basically my platonic ideal of Good Superhero Comics.
It’s not just that he’s a remarkably skilled writer who’s excelled at just about every genre he’s tried his hand at, though he is definitely one of the most chameleonic creators out there at the moment* - I think part of why he hasn’t gotten as much attention as some up-and-comers is that there’s no one specific thing he excels at, he’s just great at everything, from comedy to horror to character moments to action scenes to long-term storytelling without sacrificing the single issue to tying his themes into the function of his plot to the kind of “fuck yes” moments Grant Morrison and Garth Ennis make their bread and butter on. It’s that he’s one of the handful of writers operating on that level who clearly dearly loves traditional superheroes and believes in their ability to tell meaningful stories without reinventing the wheel. It’s straight-up adventure stories with the Plunderer and Doctor Positron and the New Revengers, but with an intellect and sincerity that elevates them above just about everything else in the market.
For one, having a writer on that level determined to tell the best classic adventure stories he can means we end up with ideas like American Kaiju - as Ewing put it, “Godzilla exists, and he is American”; as David Uzumeri put it, “what if Frank Miller was TWICE as drunk when he came up with Nuke” - executed exactly as well as you’d hope. The kind of bizarre throwaway ideas Morrison deals in to add texture to a world that he doesn’t actually explore, both because he has a larger story to deal with and they’re often a little too quirky even for him? Mighty Avengers and New Avengers are basically built on those. It also doesn’t hurt continuity nerds like me that he’s building his own slice of the Marvel Universe to build his books around over time in service of something bigger down the line, same as Hickman, or Morrison across the aisle. Especially considering said slice largely revolves around Blue Marvel, who Ewing’s turned into the single best and most potentially enduring take on “how would Superman work in the Marvel universe?” we’ve ever had.**
But what makes his work is that it has a heart. Not in the general sense of having emotional moments and well-developed characters (though it’s got those too), but in having a sense of conviction and meaningful idea of what the idea of the hero is supposed to stand for.
Most superhero books, frankly, don’t have a particularly well-developed sense of justice or ethics beyond the need to stop people from dying, and occasionally that you shouldn’t do it by killing because that would make you bad. Ewing on the other hand is clearly someone who’s thought a lot about what superheroes mean and what they can teach and how they can go wrong, and it’s something he’s conscious of in his work. It’s not just a matter of whether his heroes can win, it’s that they’re showing that civil liberties aren’t for pansies who don’t understand what it takes to get the job done, and that you have to give a shit about your fellow man even when you desperately don’t want to because the road to becoming the bad guy is in seeing others as fundamentally lesser, and that it doesn’t take powers to help your community. They’re unapologetically leftie books (Ewing’s Secret Wars tie-in Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders had the panel you may have seen floating around with a supervillain quoting David Cameron), and it’s in a thoroughly humane and community-minded sense of right and wrong that it rebukes the idea of superhero as fascist: they’re the ones who stand up to the fascists, who protect their neighbors and inspire them to do better, who grit their teeth and believe in their fellow man no matter how much their fellow man seems to want to flush the world down the drain. That Ewing has his characters fighting amazing stuff in fun ways is what makes his Avengers damn good books - whether as a traditional superhero team in Mighty Avengers, an international science strike-force in New Avengers, or defenders of the Omniverse against the impossible in Ultimates. But it’s that they’re just as concerned with how to be better people and see justice properly done that makes them great books.
EDIT: Since I was asked and realize it’s not exactly obvious, the reading order for his stuff goes:
Mighty Avengers Volumes 1-3 (starting with No Single Hero)
Captain America And the Mighty Avengers Volumes 1-2 (starting with Open For Business, which opens with an Axis tie-in. Ewing gets handed a ton of tie-in stuff, and while he’s great at turning that into narrative momentum, know it’s there in advance)
Ultimates/New Avengers up through the present, soon to be followed up by Ultimates ² and U.S.Avengers (also check out his Contest of Champions, which ties into the larger story he’s building up and is also really fun)
He also wrote Ultron Forever with art by Alan Davis, which has a team of cross-time Avengers uniting to battle a future Ultron in events spinning out of Hickman’s Avengers, and one of those characters appears in his New Avengers. He was also behind Loki: Agent of Asgard, which has three volumes (with Original Sin: Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm slotted between volumes 1 and 2), which is also definitely something everyone should check out and sets up some themes that are playing out further in Ultimates.
* Try for instance Zombo and his novel I, Zombie, which take opposite tacks on my least favorite major genre and both end up absolutely phenomenal. Or his trippy, 70s-psychedelia mixed with 90s-Vertigo style Zaucer of Zilk. Or his great little Black Widow horror oneshot in Avengers 14AU. And for those who really enjoyed his Avengers, I’d especially recommend checking out his pulp novel trilogy of El Sombra, Gods of Manhattan and Pax Omega (they’re technically set in a larger steampunk universe set up by another writer, but they’re fully standalone and require no knowledge of the other series).
** Which I maintain he expanded into the premise of “how would the Justice League work in the Marvel Universe?” with Ultimates. Seriously though, while I know he’s happy to work with characters of every degree of popularity, I need - need - to see that guy write Superman at some point down the road.