By Scott Southard. It’s hard not to fall for Marvel’s showcase events. There’s a level of polish to them, sure, but more than that, there’s something that makes it feel bigger and more important than anything else. Maybe that’s due to the publisher’s tendency for self-aggrandizing (because they tell you an event is big, it starts to seem big), but that’s beside the fact. Assault on Pleasant Hill, in spite of the hype, actually feels like a something big is happening within the Marvel Universe.
Starting the second chapter of Standoff — which is in keeping with most Marvel events — a distinguishing mark of Assault on Pleasant Hill is its relentless attempt to be politically, socially, and technologically relevant. If that means a lot of “hacking” dialogue has to coexist with a layered main story swirling around S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ever quickening descent into totalitarianism and another good guys vs. good guys story, I’m delighted to say that it stays on topic.
The story revolves around Maria Hill’s ever-shady obsession with security, and her propensity to commit some pretty heinous acts of ill-will (treason, illegal detainment, mild torture, and psychological abuse to name a few) in it’s name. For Pleasant Hill, she’s used Cosmic Cubes to create a sort of perfect city. There are row houses, picket fences, a post office, and an ice cream parlor. Underneath the surface of Pleasant Hill’s Stepford exterior is a “utopia” built to jail nearly 100 of the world’s more dangerous supervillains.
This is where the Cosmic Cubes are put to an even more sinister use: to change the perception of the landscape and of the villains themselves. The Cubes have tricked everyone into thinking Pleasant Hill is just the cutest little suburb around, when in reality it’s a prison camp for brainwashed convicts. It’s what Steve Rogers calls “The Guantanamo Bay of alternate realities.” (Which is a pretty killer example of relevancy and storytelling working together correctly, if you ask me.)
This is where we get to the meat of Marvel’s annual events. They force you to question the very medium in which we engage every week. Superhero comics depict the often morally questionable antics of crime fighting good guys, and they generally require the reader to look past some of the ethically challenging quagmires created by the paradigm. Big arcs like this force the issue to the front and make you examine, on an objective level, if superheroes are really okay at all. What is the end goal of a superpowered, authoritative law enforcer? How much freedom is sacrificed for safety? How can normal people live normal lives with such enormous powers constantly looming over their heads? As an ostensible good guy, Maria Hill’s unending fetishistic worship of security culture is constantly jabbing at these questions, and that’s what pushes this story (and any other big story) along. I love being forced to examine what I love, and I love it even more for its own self-critical examination.
As expected, the start of another Marvel event is… the start of another Marvel event. They are the box office blockbusters and stadium-filling Springsteen shows of the comics world. You expect big names and faces, you kind of know the formula, you hope for a couple surprises (in this case, a kick-starting explosion from Nitro), and you know that there will be a part of you that will not be able to deny the enjoyment of this all-too familiar experience.
Written by Nic Spencer.
Art by Jesus Saiz.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
8 out of 10