R'VIEW*: NEW AVENGERS #1-10
I haven't read much of Bendis' work (and let's be frank, this is CLEARLY a 'Bendis title'. This isn't "New Avengers by Bendis". This is "Bendis' New Avengers". I do believe there's a difference). But the little I have read (Powers vol.1, "the Golden Age" storyarc in Daredevil, Avengers "Chaos" storyline, Avengers Finale, House of M) mixed with the more popular criticisms leveled onto Bendis made me wonder if New Avengers was going to be more of the same.
It's not. This book has action, an interesting story with various subplots, momentum, artwork that compliments the story about 85% of the time, and some truly fun moments. Yes, it is different than my favorite run of Avengers (the Busiek/Perez era of course), but just as Busiek's run fit Marvel at that time, Bendis's run fits Marvel at this time. I also don't get the feel that this book is written for the trade. Each issue delivers, sets up the next issue and makes me feel like I've read my money's worth. The usual, decompressed critique that is popular to throw around with Bendis, is not evident here. He's ramped up the energy from page to page and at times this book really does feel like a superhero book. It's not of course (more on that later) but the prison break and some of the Savage Land sequences come pretty damn close. The only time I felt Bendis slipped back into comfort mode is with issues #3 & #4. I thought the wrap-up to the Prison Break sequence was cut too short. I see what Bendis is doing in #3 (using the last moments of the Break to showcase why this group of individuals could be a team) and really, after the Sentry shows up, is there any other outcome other than the good guys winning? Not really. But, superhero geek that I am, I could've used a few more pages of fight. Oh well.
In #4, some of the Stark Tower scenes felt a little stretched. Not that his pacing was slow or that the dialogue felt forced, it just felt too talky. Even I was ready to tell Spider-Man to shut up. And, regardless of how well Bendis writes dialogue, all of the characters read like a Bendis-written character. It's the same feel I get from Kevin Smith. Everyone seems to talk in the same patterns. There are no individual voices. In both her appearance in the "Sentry" storyline as well as in House of M, Emma Frost's speaking pattern is completely wrong to my ear. Emma doesn't say "Yeah" and "dump" and "'kay". Whedon on Astonishing X-Men followed Morrison's take on the character perfectly. Bendis can't seem to latch onto that. He does Cage and Spider-Man very well. But the words spoken by these characters, for my ear, are all coming from the same place.
And boy do they love to swear. Spider-Woman's got quite a mouth on her. Even Captain America threw a shocker here and there. This is a trend in many Marvel books that turns me off. I know Marvel has always been the "hip", "cool" kid of the publishing bunch but I think it's a bad reflection on the writers. I don't think highly of people who swear constantly in real life so why should I do the same for fictional characters who are supposed to be "good". This isn't a moral question, I'm not offended by it, I just don't think it makes anyone sound cool when they swear a lot. That's just me.
In New Avengers, I think Finch is opening up more. His pacing of each page moves the story. The use of repeated/smaller/silent panels complement moods that Bendis wants to create. His splash pages and his double page spreads feel more complete than in "Chaos". They are purposeful and well composed while not straying into "pinup" mode. His individual character work could still be upped a notch or two (I thought Hyde was still Jigsaw in the prison break) but to be fair, there's much going on in each page so I can see why he would want to focus more on panel layout and storytelling rather than Iron Man's good looks. The one place that I feel Finch's panel approach disappoints me is his cliffhangers. Again, this may be because of Bendis' scripts, but I feel his cliffhangers are more "interruptions" as opposed to caps to the story that I just read. My favorite cliffhanger, oddly enough but very obvious, is the end of #4. My least favorite is the end of #5. I felt that story just kind of "ended". So much so that I checked the next page just to be sure there wasn't a little more.
I do think the book overall is a little heavy in the inking department. Now, is this because Miki is following Finch's penciling or is it Miki himself. Is it the black pages the artwork is produced on (an "effect" that sullied Rags Morales on his Hawkman run here and there). I'm not sure, I haven't seen original pencil artwork for the series to really make a good guess. And no, it's not a "mood" thing. Even in the Savage Land sequences, the art and inks and colors felt heavy and dark. That's just my critique of quite alot of Marvel books recently. The sun in Marvel 616 casts quite alot of shadows.
(I should really talk about the McNiven drawn Sentry storyarc but, as good as it is, it's a different and somewhat jarring change from Finch and from the style the book had established. I tend to like my fill-in artists to have the same feel as who they are taking over from. Although that Wrecker fight scene is fabulous!!)
Okay - so why don't I think this a superhero book? Well, mainly it's because of all the SHIELD stuff. This book feels like political intrigue in a superhero world. It's a splash of Authority with a cupfull of the Ultimates mixed with sprinkles of Wildstorm. I'm not really sure how to express what I "feel" when I read this comic, and I'm not saying I hate this approach, but it's not a new take on a team book. It doesn't feel old or "been there done that" either. It just feels, not superhero-y. Remember all those covert action teams in Wildstorm and Top Cow mid-90s? That's what I feel. But there are some wonderful funny and superheroic moments. Sentry's appearance to save the day. The dinosaur stomping on the Quinjet. Cage's webbed mitts dilemma. Captain America being polite about taking charge and the others quite easily accepting. It's all good.
Tony Stark' speech about Wolverine in #6 made me look at why these individual characters were chosen. There are a few easy answers: "these are some of the most popular Marvel characters right now", "with characters like Thor and Dr. Strange hovering in limbo without a main series, these characters could be viewed as the JLA of the Marvel Universe", "these are the characters Bendis just really likes to write", etc. After reading Tony Stark's whole "ingredient" speech, (I guess Wolverine is the sweetfern in the Avengers teapot), I compared this team with the first ever Avengers lineup and I've hit on something: this team is an almost exact counterpart. Let's compare:
Captain America = Captain America
Iron Man = Iron Man
Hulk = Wolverine
Ant-Man = Spider-Man
Wasp = Spider-Woman
Thor = Luke Cage
Superman = Sentry
Okay, that last one is unfair but what are you going to do right? Heh. So, the Hulk/Wolverine thing seems obvious. They are the outcasts in both groups, the characters that always walk that fine line of staying or bolting. Yes, Luke Cage could be matched with Hulk because of strength, but we're talking dynamics here, not power. Hulk and Wolverine (and you could throw Busiek's Hawkeye in that list too) keep the others on their toes. Do I buy Tony's speech that Wolverine is needed? To do the things the others won't? No, I don't. And I won't buy it until a scene like that is written where the others allow Wolverine to kill as a last measure and are OKAY with said action. If we get that scene, then I'll look at Wolvey's inclusion as something more than simple character glut.
Thread drift. The other match-up that I'm sure has people going "Wha Huh?" is Thor/Luke Cage. Why not Thor/Sentry right? Well, Thor and Luke Cage bring power to the group. Both are noble in their own way. Both can be looked at as the "aliens" in the group - Thor because he's a god, Cage because, obviously, he's black (this is another aspect that I hope to see a scene about soon or else the whole "I want to be heard" plea Cage gave in #3 is also just another empty promise. Cage is finally being written in a way that moves away from a cardboard cutout. Can we erase the heavy handedness that was Triathlon please?). Both have a unique speaking voice - Thor's high-brow Old English, Cage's street-level slang. The other match-ups can speak for themselves I think.
Okay, here are a few quick hits on things that I didn't like before I wrap-up:
- No way does Spider-Woman take down Wolverine like that in #5. SHIELD training is not greater than a century of experience. Bzzzzzzzzz. Wrong.
- The Sentry arc could've been one issue shorter. It didn't even start until the last pages of the first chapter.
- The Paul Jenkins appearance is a total in-house ad for both the old and the new Sentry series. I understand that it's a comic tradition (Lee and Kirby in Fantastic Four, Schwartz in Superman, Morrison in Animal Man) but this one felt very, very forced.
The reason I said way back that this SHOULD be Marvel's flagship title is because I believe nothing will ever replace the X Universe strangulation hold that Marvel puts on its line of books. Looking at the February previews, there are no fewer than 20 X-Titles. 20. Twenty. XX. That's a hellofa franchise.
(Oh, by the way, I figured out who Ronin is before the slip of the Avengers Guide. My podcasting buddy Kevin and I hashed out a few theories and I stuck with the one that will eventually be revealed. Of course, if the Guide lied and was a deliberate lie, I will be quite put out. I wasn't a fan of the initial Sentry hoax, and as a PAYING reader, I wouldn't put up with it again.)
So I'm here to say that I'm interested. New Avengers was on my "keep reading or cancel" fence but I'm in. I'm going to keep on reading. I want to know about who is controlling Spider-Woman. I want to see where the SHIELD story goes. I like reading this Spider-Man (he's like a constant buzzing in the back of my mind as I read each issue. You just know another zinger is coming). I want to see how they handle Sentry. I think Finch's replacement, Deodato Jr., should be a nice smooth transition. Most of all, I hope events in New Avengers spread to other comics in Marvel's line (not just in Bendis' books). Marvel changed the way comics look at continuity back in '61. I think they need to remember that.
No rating system here. Just good comics and some damn good reading. 'Nuff said.
*Just because I'm corny like that, "R'View" is just my lil shorthand for Rios' Review. R'View. Get it? Heh.