Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review # 19: "New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis Volumes 1, 2 and 3"

Many people jump on Brian Michael Bendis for focusing on character interaction more than character development. I think they need to wake up and realize what series they're reading.

I've mentioned in earlier reviews that the Avengers line rarely focuses on its biggest names. So when "New Avengers" doesn't do anything to forward the identities of Wolverine, Spider-Man and The Thing, it really doesn't have to. Witty barbs from those three, though? These books have those in spades. They're great. Meanwhile - under the radar - characters most people haven't heard of like Jessica Jones, Victoria Hand and Squirrel Girl are given a chance to grow a bit as near-relentless action propels the books forward.
Well.... near-relentless action that's somehow at a bit of a slow pace.

I can definitely understand a month-to-month buyer getting pissed off at how Bendis moves stories along at a crawl. Take volume one for instance, which focuses on a spiritual invasion that involves several members of the New Avengers - now being led by Luke Cage - getting possessed. After an excellent opening issue where Cage (with Danny "Iron Fist" Rand's dollar) buys Avengers Mansion from Tony Stark and forms a new team on his terms as the new threat emerges, things seem to slow down a bit as the plot stretches over six full issues. Comic to comic, that can be annoying.

As a collected trade, though, it works. The idea is exciting, the art looks great and while it's not in the upper echelon of material, it's definitely better than the other Avengers book he was writing at the time. I agree with critics that Bendis could fit the same story into three issues, maybe less. In the 60's, 70's, 80's or 90's I would agree. Instead, we get treated to larger art spreads by Stuart Immonen and is that really a bad thing? With more people buying collections and fewer fans grabbing a stack of thin prints from the comic shop every Wednesday, it's embracing the growing medium.

This philosophy (at least as I perceive it) carries into the other two volumes I'm reviewing here. The second book starts off with a "day in the life tale" as Luke and Jessica try to find a nanny for their baby. The search - contained to a two-page spread - is hilarious, the result is fitting and it leads to an awkward moment you wouldn't expect. From there, things are off and running again as the team tries to break up a resurgent H.A.M.M.E.R. interspersed with a story from 1959 where Nick Fury forms his own team of Avengers with members you wouldn't expect. Eventually the two stories converge, a member of the new team is at death's door and the resolution completely reinvents a character. It's a shame that potential hasn't been adequately tapped yet.

The collection isn't earth-shattering, but there's a lot to like. First of all, Mike Deodato takes over on art and - while I like Stuart Immonen - Deodato is a perfect match for Bendis' action movie-like vision. Also, Jessica Jones as a full-fledged hero alongside her husband is great to see. Meanwhile, Spider-Man is used perfectly. His wisecracks are on point, and it's cool to see him being built with Wolverine and The Thing as this team's version of the "Big Three."

But it's the slow burn of Spider-Man's mistrust of Victoria Hand that powers these sets. Hand's motivations - after being Norman Osborn's aide during Dark Reign - are never made clear and it all comes to a head in Volume 3 - post "Fear Itself" - as Osborn rears his ugly head. Coinciding with his appearance in the main line, "New Avengers" focuses on the emergence of a new "Dark Avengers" team. Funny enough, while I thought the main series improved when Osborn returned, this side of the story... well, it sputters. The problem is the new "Dark Avengers" just don't have the heavies the originals did. There's no Venom, there's no Bullseye, there's no Sentry. Hell, there isn't even Moonstone. By all rights, Cage's roster should destroy these guys. Still, as we learn more about what Hand has been up to, we get another reveal that makes for a hell of a great twist. Unfortunately it's not enough to propel this to the same range as Cap's team duking it out with Osborn itself.

All that said, I much prefer this series to the main line if only because it's more like the original "New Avengers." New teammates, new situations, new adversaries. It's what Bendis did best.

Rating(s): 7/10 (Volume One), 7/10 (Volume Two), 6.5/10 (Volume Three)

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