Recently, this title has been at pains to include the Avengers included on the cover within the story. The cover features Storm, Wolverine, Thor, Spider-Man, Tigra, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Ant-Man. What a line-up!
Except we only have the Hulk, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Storm, and Luke Cage in this issue. So half of the Avengers from the cover appear in the book itself, plus Cage, who didn't make the cover at all.
Just when I thought I had this book figured out...
As is the norm for this book, we have a prologue taken from later in the action. This month's prologue features a bunch of bratty manga-esque children engaging in horseplay until a gigantic dragon (more Fin Fang Foom than Smaug) threatens to eat them if they don't behave.
Children in danger? Isn't that one of the few remaining taboos in mass entertainment? That's like, the one thing you can't show on network TV. Huh. I guess the people who criticized Marvel for abandoning the Comics Code had a point.
With the threat of danger established, the story may begin. It seems the Avengers are spending the day with some schoolchildren (Mrs. Isaacson's third-grade class, natch) because the students won an essay contest. Each of the Avengers – Storm, Spidey, Ant-Man, and the Hulk – will supervise the kids on some superheroic activity.
Wait, where's Cage? He was featured in the marquee at the beginning of the story. Isn't he in this book?
Oh, yes. He's late because he's been kidnapped by the Mandarin, who is secretly observing the proceedings. The Mandarin – tastefully dressed in a white business suit, not the Manchu court robes he used to sport – is holding Cage in his secret lair, and monologuing about his plans to the helpless Avenger. Seems Cage has developed an Amazo-style robot that can copy the Avengers' powers, and means to use it to Destroy Them All! Bwa-ha-ha!
One at a time, though. Amazo – er, I mean, Cyclone – has to absorb the powers from an imprisoned Avenger before he can deploy them. Cage is the first one down, and the Avengers at the school will be next.
Storm gets the Cyclone treatment first. Bolstered by Cage's super-strength, Cyclone is able to beat Storm into submission. Storm's lightning bolts are partially effective, but as the Mandarin (who showed up to observe the fight in person) she can't use them at maximum power, for fear of hurting the children. Hmm. Seems we have a motif here... children in peril. I wonder where writer Paul Tobin is going with this.
Next, Cyclone interrupts Spider-Man's rock-climbing session. Again, Cyclone puts the children in danger, this time with Storm's wind powers, and while Spider-Man rescues them, Cyclone takes advantage of the distraction to clobber Spidey into unconsciousness. Again, he monologues about how the Avengers can't use their powers at full strength out of fear the children might be harmed, but that he and Cyclone have no compunctions in that regard.
Again with the children being the Avengers' Achilles' heel. We're building to something, I can sense it.
Finally, at the petting zoo, Cyclone uses Storm's wind-control powers to trap the Hulk in a vacuum. Unable to breathe, Hulk collapses into unconsciousness. A clever use of Storm's powers, for sure, but what, couldn't Cyclone have used Spider-Man's powers to take out the Hulk, instead of going back to the Storm well? Isn't that how these sorts of stories are supposed to work?
Eh. Back at Mandarin's headquarters, the Avengers are imprisoned in restraining devices, while the children and teachers, guarded by a dragon, look on. (I guess this trip to the Mandarin's lair is the titular field trip.) Mandarin explains he doesn't really need the dragon, or the kids and their teachers, for that matter. He just wanted a good scene for the prologue to draw readers in – er, I mean, a good group of witnesses to the final destruction of the Avengers. He orders Cyclone to deliver the coup de grâce.
Parenthetically, I know this story has no interest in them, but shouldn't the Mandarin be concerned with the other Avengers at Avengers Tower? Why is he acting like these are all the Avengers there are?
I guess counting Avengers really isn't his strong suit, because leaving aside the Avengers not in this story, he couldn't even keep track of the Avengers who've already appeared in this issue. That's right, he forgot Ant-Man, who shrunk to ant size and infiltrated Cyclone some time ago. The tiny hero has just managed to reprogram the robot's circuitry (sure, why not?) and it turns on its master. Cyclone smacks the Mandarin with a few wind blasts, distracting the villain enough to allow the robot to free the hostage Avengers. Now outnumbered, the Mandarin and his dragon decide not to fight and disappear by fading away like mist. Neat trick!
Ant-Man, hero of the hour, attempts to bask in the glory he deserves, but Cage upstages him by offering to take the kids out for ice cream. Cue the trombone: WAH wah!
And we're done. Wait, really? What about the story motif? You know, the idea that the Avengers are weak because they care about children, but the villains are strong because they don't? Wasn't Tobin going somewhere with that? Guess not.
The classes that the Avengers teach to the kids, for at least a page each? Boring.
The dragon that appears in the prologue? Superfluous.
The use of children in peril to create suspense? Contemptible.
The ending, which does not feature any of the imprisoned Avengers avenging their capture, but only features an Ant-Man-ex-machina? Anti-climactic.
The issue as a whole? Disappointing.
The grade? 1.5 webs (half a web bonus for decent art, if a little too manga-esque for my taste).
Any stinger? Yes, there's one good exchange:
LITTLE GIRL: "You're really weird."
SPIDER-MAN: "Weird good or weird bad?"
LITTLE GIRL: "Dunno."
SPIDER-MAN: "Fantastic. The tension's unbearable."