Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Avengers #1-21

The dominant, recurring narrative technique in this series is a two-page spread of a busy - to the point of being cluttered - action scene, framed by smaller panels giving us close-ups of the heroes and their commentary on and/or reactions.

This gives the comics a feel of lurching from one crisis to the next, with characterization pushed to the margins, and pages of exposition littering the valleys between the bursts of spectacle. What's missing is any sense of Bendis and his collaborators building their story panel-by-panel: there's no pacing, no development and choreography of the action. It's frozen spectacle, where the genius of Jack Kirby and the less-than-genius-but-still-compelling Marvel House Style he inspired hinged on the combination of spectacle and movement. (Not that we have to go back to the 1960's to find super-hero comics that have this kind of dynamism: check out just about everything John Romita Jr. draws.)

My guess is this is Bendis' attempt to "solve" the problem of doing a team book, because (a) it shows up in these issues regardless of the artist* and (b) it isn't as heavily used in Bendis' single character books, where the pacing - the panel-to-panel flow - is much more assured.

In terms of subject matter, there's nothing all that new here. The storyline about the Sentry recalls better comics by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, the House of M follow-up recalls better comics by Chris Claremont, the "Ronin" arc recalls better comics by Frank Miller, and every time Luke Cage said anything, I was reminded of a better comic by Bendis himself. Even from a marketing p.o.v., there's really no novelty here, since the idea of putting Marvel's "big guns" - Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America - in the same team book is essentially what Morrison et al. were trying to do for DC with their JLA run.

The fact that there are a lot of even worse super-hero comics out there doesn't make these issues any less depressing. Bendis is pro enough that there are still scattered bits of effective/entertaining business.

*Well, almost: Frank Cho's issues don't feature this technique. They do have these really obnoxious full-page pin-up-style drawings of the female heroes, though, which are probably my least favorite thing in the entire comic.


James said...

I stopped reading Marvel comics in the early 1990's in protest over Spider-Man joining the Avengers. Don't get me started on Wolverine.

Jon, I know you're a fan from way back, but what's the appeal of the Avengers, to you? To me they always seemed like the JLA but with less memorable characters. Unlike the Fantastic Four or the X-Men comics, which kind of created their own niche, the Avengers always seemed sort of generic and thus suffered in comparison.

Jon Hastings said...

For me, the heart of the Avengers is the early Roy Thomas run. I like the Cap, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver team and the idea that these are three villains who want to reform and that Cap has to teach them how to be heroes. I like how the question of what it means to be a hero keeps coming up (i.e., the Wonder Man story arc).

Thomas hit on a great way to make this kind of "thrown together" team book work: focus on how the relationships between the characters change based on whether or not the characters are getting what they want and/or need from each other (i.e. Hawkeye getting the respect he wants from Cap, Cap getting - or not - a substitute for Bucky from his new teammates).

That is different from how the Justice League series has worked over the years, where the characters get together because they can solve problems better that way. My two favorite JL runs, Morrison's and Giffen/DeMatteis' show two ways different ways of dealing with what the JLA is "about": Morrison shows the JLA as the ultimate problem solvers and keeps coming up with bigger/crazier problems for them to solve; Giffen/DeMatteis'JL are not-so-great problem solvers (partly because the individual heroes'egos/personalities are always clashing) and that series is always on the verge of becoming a full-out super-hero send-up (they tend to make things worse before they get better).

And the Thomas-style Avengers is also different from other Marvel team books like the FF or X-Men, where there's some other organizing structure there besides "super-hero" team (family in FF, being mutants in X-Men), because the allegiance is voluntary and thus more fragile. So (when the book was being written by Thomas and others who "got" this) the "who's in/who's out" question had some genuine narrative/thematic oomph to it. (Hank Pym's coming and going, for example, expressed something about his character).

New Avengers doesn't seem to get this, btw. The set-up to that series is Cap (I think) saying that because these heroes (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Daredevil, etc.) all happened to band together to beat up on some bad guys - just like the original Avengers - they should form the new Avengers. But the original, original Avengers (the Kirby-Lee stuff), wasn't as interesting as the Thomas stuff from a story/theme p.o.v. It wasn't until the Avengers became something more than a bunch of heroes thrown together randomly that the series found its purpose. So, with the New Avengers, Bendis is throwing out the element that made the Avengers its own thing and turned it into something more like the Justice League.

Relatedly, a lot of the Bendis stuff I've been catching up with recently - New Avengers, House of M - seems like failed attempts at DC-style super hero books.

Jon Hastings said...

Whoops - in my last comment I credit Roy Thomas with stories that were actually written by Stan Lee. So, I should give Stan Lee credit for figuring out how to make the Avengers work. Stan Lee really had a lot of great ideas when he was working at his peak.

Nostack said...

Jon, didn't Lee basically hand the Avengers over to Thomas somewhere around issues 16-20 - that is, about the time Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch joined up? If so, I think Thomas still deserves most of the credit for taking this and making it work as you claim it did.

Come to think of it, the second Avengers team sounds a little bit like the Thunderbolts: three villains trying to reform.

Are there any particularly good reprints of this era, or should I just go off the Essentials?

David LeVack said...

Wow.... Someone else actually said it too! I just wrote earlier today that the DARK REIGN stuff had an interesting premise that the stories didn't live up to. The tales lack oomph, and instead the story telling seems much more a failed attempt at DC COMICS storytelling.

Really I think the credit could still be given to Roy Thomas. Stan Lee was only at his peak when working with other talented people. What's that tell ya.