Monday, January 5, 2009

1 Bourbon, 1 Scotch, 1 Book

The New Avengers #48
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Billy Tan

Wow, something almost kind of happened in an issue of New Avengers. Sit up and take notice, people!
So for the past two years or so, N.A. has been the book covering the underground heroes like Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Spider-Man who wouldn't register themselves as government-recognized superpeople. Superheroes who have to sneak around don't get to act very superhero-y that often, so for awhile this book was kind of an odd one. It's an extreme comparison, but what if Superman had to cover his tracks after every rescue? Once they found a Skrull impostor(a shape-shifting green alien, for n00bz) had replaced their old ninja buddy Elektra (as far as anyone can be buddies with an assassin), the road to the Secret Invasion crossover was paved... and then that started to meander around and refocus on a syndicate of B-List villains while Marvel brought a new meaning to the term "slow boil," taking forever to make sure everything was going to fall in line with the Skrulls' near-takeover of the planet.

Sausage party.

ANYWAY, now that that's over and the Wasp has been killed by... catharsis, apparently, and Hawkeye's dead crimefighter wife Mockingbird is alive again-- and I'm starting to think that the five years that Bendis has been writing Avengers was all leading up to him bringing back Mockingbird-- now that Secret Invasion's done, New Avengers can start heading in its own direction again. Namely, a bunch of normally solo characters teaming up to go looking for trouble. This time, in the aftermath of the aforementioned invasion, a Skrull refugee has kidnapped Luke Cage and Jessica Jones's baby. With the new Captain America and the old ("old" here meaning "no longer the Skrull Queen in disguise") Spider-Woman tagging along, the Avengers scour NYC for signs of the... I swear this nearly came out without me thinking about it... alien abductor. When that doesn't work, they consult the Fantastic Four-- in an amusing incidence of continuity, the Four are still sleeping in tents among the ruins of their penthouse. And when Reed Richards, the big brain who pretty much started and ended the Skrull War can't find him, Luke Cage makes a pretty drastic decision in the hopes of getting his daughter home safe.

I'll start with the art since I don't know shit about art so I'll be done quick. It'd be easier to admit that Leinil Yu needed a break if I'd enjoyed Secret Invasion more. But he still put his heart and soul into all eight issues and never broke under the pressure, something I can't say for DC's Final Crisis semi-artist of 5 issues, JG Jones (sorry dude, I say it because I love you). So while Yu's perfect balance of gritty and clean is missing, there's still some gritty and clean. Tan's Cap looks awesome, and I think Spider-Woman's emoting through her mask as well as she has since Bendis shoved her onto the main stage four years ago. But there are also panels where Luke and Jessica are so distressed over the abduction of their child that it's given them skin cancer. And it might be the colorist's fault but Wolverine looks like he's wearing dumpy yellow pajamas the whole time. Then again, he is. I'd give him a six out of ten. (Billy Tan, not Wolverine.)

Writing-wise, Bendis is Bendis. He knows how to build suspense from the exchange of snarky dialogue and pained expressions, but half the time he doesn't know where to go from there-- he pours the foundation and nails together the framework, but sometimes Ed Brubaker and Habitat for Humanity have to come in and finish the job. The scene with the Avengers regrouping at Captain America's place is kind of awkward-- then again, a lot of people and aliens did just die. I'll let that one slide. The scene with the disgruntled SHIELD agents and the panicked runaway Skrull is probably the best Bendis work I've read-- it's a genuinely surprising twist and the action looks suspiciously like a real comic book hero fight. Luke's decision at the end to make a deal with the new devil (Norman Osborn, former Green Goblin and current war hero) to find his daughter is a surprise, but a very unsurprising one. Osborn's the focal point of the next six months of storyline, so of course one of Bendis's favorite characters finds himself intertwined with him. But I'm interested, regardless, and that is more than I've been able to say about the Avengers since I pretty much figured out where Secret Invasion was going (re: right after it came out). So I'll call that an eight out of ten.

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