Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Avengers (Some Assembly Required)

Honestly, "Avengers Assemble!" has to be the lamest rallying cry in comic book history. I mean, alliteration is great and all, but there's a reason Batman and Co don't go around shouting "Justice League, juxatapositions!"
Although come to think of it, that might be just weird enough to be cool.
For those who come for non-picture book related musings, I hope to have something suitably epic up for tomorrow to make up for the long silence. For everyone else, let's get busy.

Dark Avengers 2. By Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Deodato. It was out last week, but I just got it now, so... the newly minted Avengers team travels to Latveria to rescue Doctor Doom from the clutches of Morgan le Faye. This issue didn't really appeal to me. The art was fine, and Deodato made some split panel layouts that I really enjoyed, but the story...

One of the big problems in Bendis' Avengers for me was and is that I don't get a sense of scope. In each individual story, there isn't much a sense of something bigger going on, and for an Avengers title, that's essential. Norman Osborne has effectively been given control of the Marvel universe, and this is his center title; and yet, there's no sense here that he has any sort of master plan. An evil conspiracy isn't much of a conspiracy if the guy in charge of it all doesn't seem to have any plan beyond "let's see where this goes." In retrospect, there is often a unifying big picture, such as the Skrull plotlines in New Avengers. But there needs to be a sense of that in the issue at hand too, or it all seems like one big exercise in pointlessness.

There's also the problem that these characters aren't that compelling, not at the moment at least, and presenting each one as an imposter version of some other hero isn't really helping to make them any more distinct. What's left at hand, then, is a less-than-stellar magic fight (the pages of Morgana and Doom shouting nonsense words at each other is a little annoying) between characters that are largely unsympathetic. More than ever, I'm not sold that there's anything happening to these Avengers that I want to read about.

New Avengers 50. Brian Michael Bendis and more folk than you can shake a stick at. Plot: Less than pleased with their replacements, the Avengers attempt to lure Osborne's ersatz Avengers into an ambush, but wind up facing a surprise of their own (which makes the cover ridiculously misleading, btw). Wow, do I have mixed feelings about this. First: the art. The various artists come in during the book's climatic fight scene: each character on the team acts as narrator for one page, and a different style of art is used to depict each's mental state and battle tactics. It's a striking technique, and concepting impressive. For two or three pages. But by the time we get through the whole team, it feels tired. The Hawkeye/Mockingbird and the Spider-Woman pages are well done; we need to re-establish who these characters are after Secret Invasion, and their art suits them well. Mockingbird muses about how it feels like old times admist art that is quintessentially 90s superhero. Spider-Woman's art is faint strokes and luminscient colouring, while she struggles with her alienation. But the rest? Do we really need a full page to tell us Spider-Man thinks in quips during a fight, or that Wolverine really cuts loose?

It feels like padding, and as a 50th, expanded-size issue, padding is NOT what you want to shoot for. Far too much of the book feels drawn out: the fight, the reactions to Osborne's team, and we even get a script-for-script repeat of scenes from Dark Avengers 2. Not to mention the Avengers' motives don't even make sense: they ambush the state-sanctioned super hero team, beat them up... and then what? Tell them to feel ashamed of themselves? Turn them into the authorities? When the guys you're fighting ARE the authorities, that doesn't work so well. The last few pages, in which one of the Avengers publicly speaks out against Norman, are wonderful: they are well written, and show definite, heroic action. Too bad it took so long to get there.

Now that we're a little into the new Bendis era of Avengers, I can't help but think that the books would work so much better as a single book. The Dark Avengers are clearly meant to be compared to the heroes who's identities they're stealing; what better way than constantly contrast their actions? The juxtaposition of the two teams could be used for some interesting stories; you could have one team rise as the other falls, run parallel adventures, or alternate between arcs. (Yes, the contrast is still there in the current form, but it's far more disjointed than it would be otherwise.)

Instead, because Marvel makes more money selling two titles, we get this. There are some really good ideas and good stories here, but as long as they're being stretched out so far, they're not nearly as effective as they could be. (Also, let me point out the irony that the title "New Avengers" is now the longest running and most established Avenger title.)

Mighty Avengers 22. By Dan Slott and Khoi Pham. The Scarlett Witch-picked team of Avengers learn what's going on: Mordred has tricked Quicksilver into becoming the incarnation of the chaos god ChThon, and the avatar is remaking reality in his image. They also bicker among themselves, as is traditional. Ever since the Spider-Man/Human Torch series he wrote a few years ago, I've been predisposed to favour anything from Slott's pen. I'm not entirely sold on this yet though; it's clearly set up to be classic Avengers, for those who don't like Bendis' flavour (a few years late, but never mind.), but it doesn't quite feel like it has found its legs yet. The team's a little sprawling: there's Jocasta, Wasp, Vision, Stature (still a dumb name), Iron Man, Hulk, USAgent, and Hercules--and also Amadeus Cho, Jarvis, and Scarlet Witch, depending on how you're counting. It feels like a few less characters would give some breathing space.

There's also the problem of balance. Taking Dark Avengers into account, we have two teams of Avengers fighting two magical based King-Arthur themed villains inside two weeks. That seems like something the editors could have coordinated a little better. The story itself is interesting--the chaos theme is intriguing, especially given all the conflicting personalities on the team--but the scale seems wrong. Slott is trying to sell the threat ChThon publishes as a global issue, but thanks to years of crossovers, we don't define global issues as something that affect only one title any more. As a result, ChThon, not really a compelling villain to begin with, feels like far less of a threat than he's supposed to be. It's a compelling comic, but it hasn't really drawn me in yet.

...Wow, this edition has gone on forever, huh? Just rambling on and on, with no actual end in sight.

They should let me write the Avengers! (canned laughter.)

That's it for now, boys and girls.

Later Days.

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