The Tie-Ins That Bind: Marvel’s The Avengers: The Extinction Key by Greg Keyes

This book made me angry.

I’m starting there because I think that’s a good way of understanding why it took me so long to write this book up. Mind you this isn’t the only Marvel book I’ve read this fall that I haven’t written on. I read Brittney Morris’ incredible Miles Morales novel and I read the spectacular Triage/Tempus book by Carrie Harris. I love both books so much that I may never get to reviews on them because I can’t say much more than they were perfect read s. I also need to get my very different rereview of Diane Duane’s Venom Factor trilogy up since I went 180 on it.

This though? I’ve needed to write it up because it’s the rare perfect example of what these shouldn’t be. And that’s not fun to write. Nobody wants to explain how not to do something. But here we are with one of the very worst Marvel Comics novels ever written. An almost miraculously bad book.

Here is my attempt at a plot for this book. The Avengers must stop the threat of Zodiac from ending the world. At the same time in the background, threats from AIM and the Abomination bubble under. In the abstract, this is not a complex plot. As I’m about to explain, this is a trainwreck.

I want to start by noting the importance of choosing the threat for a prequel story. Obviously some characters are off the table and that’s fine. David Liss was lucky in that the Spider-Man game gave him an instant villain with The Kingpin, a classic Marvel villain who needed no explanation. Morris for her Miles Morales prequel got to use The Vulture, a threat who we instantly knew. They have easy, clear motivations.

This has Zodiac and right off the bat the book is hopelessly lost. First, they’re not an iconic threat. They’re not Hydra or even the Serpent Society. Also, the Zodiac has twelve signs. That means twelve members, all using names other than the standard ones we know. You need a spreadsheet to understand who the villains are and what their powers are. To quote Linkara, you fail.

To be clear, you can have multiple threats. Dan Abnett’s fantastic Everybody Wants to Rule The World pit the team against almost every threat they have. It worked though because they were distinct villains with clear powers and names. Also Abnett is a really great writer. He paced the book well.

See, that’s this book’s other big problem. This is paced like a car in a snowstorm. Everything takes forever. And that’s just plain fatal. If I’m not enjoying the story, I want to be out of it fast. This was a lot of beige bilge. Exactly what I didn’t want.

And since the threat was so un-Marvel, it felt like I was in a fantasy book. Harris used two lesser known mutants for her book but I always knew I was reading the X-Men. It had the tone and energy of modern X-Men. This? It’s a generic fantasy book really. And that’s weird.

Greg Keyes has done good work before. He will again. I’m aware the game is kind of a mess. I’ll find out soon. Maybe it couldn’t have been otherwise. But this book is a giant miss.

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