New Avengers #27

by

Or – “Superstar Is Such A Subjective Term…”

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This issue marks two separate benchmarks in the history of the New Avengers. We finally get to see the first glimpses of the post-Civil War lineup (and it’s certainly interesting), and we see the debut of Leinil Yu as penciller. Marvel Comics, Wizard, and six guys who read Wolverine have informed me how wonderful his art is, and I’m looking forward to finally seeing what the wunderkind has to offer. Bear in mind, however, that Wizard has also tried to sell me on the work of Rob Liefeld, Bart Sears, Steve Platt, Mike Deodato, and Michael Turner, so I tend to take their words with a grain of salt. Come to make or break, how do the New Avengers rate?

nav1.jpgOne of the most timeworn cliches of our time is that grizzled chestnut, “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” When I picked this up, I tried to keep that in mind, but I still couldn’t avoid a few pre-judgements. F’rinstance, it’s nice to see that Ronin finally looks like a woman in a padded suit. There was also the horrible realization of how skeletal and horrific Elektra’s profile seems (appropriate, given that this is something like her seventh resurrected lifespan.) Also notable was the fact that Ronin is the only hero on the cover, something borne out through most of the issue. And the final, and probably most prophetic thing that crossed my mind was that the laws of gravity and physics just flat don’t work that way. I opened the issue pretty certain that I wasn’t going to like the new art, but hoping that Bendis could bring the spark that he gives his best work to redeem it all.

It’s been a long time since we checked in with Ronin, over a year our time. Maya Lopez, the woman in the Ronin padded monkey suit, has maintained her cover in the Japanese underground, playing the coy bimbo boytoy to gain information that she can then act on in her second identity. Most of the issue takes the form of an email to Matt Murdock in which she explains what’s been happening, and unwittingly tips her hand to those who read between the lines that she is completely in love with him. (And why does Murdock have all the babes falling over him?)

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I’ll say this right off the bat, Yu’s women are SPECTACULARLY unattractive. And the dialogue reveals that Maya has been in Japan less than a month. Presuming that she was put undercover AFTER the inital formulation of the team, this means that the new team was only together a few weeks, before disintegrating. Granted, those few weeks had them weathering the House of M, the Civil War, countless cameos, an Annual and the 26 issues of this book, so I’m not sure I blame them. That’s a pretty sad state of affairs, if you think about it. I wonder who has the shorter attention span, Marvel or the fans? In any case, we finally see what happened to Maya/Ronin/Echo after the Avengers left her. She watches the unfolding events in America with horror, realizing that she’s undercover, nobody knows where she is, and the only men who could pull her back could die at any moment. Pretty terrifying state to be in, but it’s only gonna get worse, because the woman she’s there to keep tabs on has just found her, and she’s brought a horde of Hand ninjas along for the ride.

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Suddenly, I realize that the email is one of those “In The Event Of My Death” things, one of the cliches that I really, really dislike. Luckily for Maya, a pack of ninjas always attacks one at a time, so she isn’t completely overwhelmed, at first. She actually acquits herself pretty well against Elektra Natchios and her Red Pajama Band, but this IS Marvel, after all, and a few rules in the Marvel Universe remain sacrosanct. When two characters fight, the winner is the one who was created by Lee & Kirby. If none of them were created by Lee & Kirby, then the fight goes to the one who trained with Captain America. If neither of them were trained by Captain America, but one of them was a character in “Daredevil,” then it’s time to make-out with the spectre of Frank Miller…

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BULLSEYE! Heh. See what I did there? And once again, Leinil Yu’s women are beyond hideous… Every shot of Maya or Elektra makes them look skeletal, like Joan Rivers dipped in wax, and the thousands of little niggling lines age the characters years beyond any semblance of beauty. And then we drag in Marvel’s equivalent of The Lazarus Pit, one of those pieces of storytelling that started out sublime, but has turned into yet another in a series of deux ex machinas to escape the consequences of any story we don’t like anymore: The healing properties of the Hand.

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Yay! Resurrected! It’s interesting that the ninja resurrects Maya by fondling her exposed belly-button. And does anyone else think it odd that they redressed her post-mortem? Unless she was wearing a full leather ensemble UNDER her armored and padded costume, which makes me wonder if her hearing loss isn’t due to some sort of heatstroke. Also, I hope that this experience is something that sticks with Echo/Maya, because I’d hate for something as traumatic as being impaled and mystically brought back to life to just get brushed under the rug in the haste to set up new mysteries.

Actually, if I have any complaints about New Avengers so far, it’s the fact that the mysteries took so long to uncover that there was no room for any actual missions, heroism, or indeed, consequences. It’s all about the reveal. And the reveal here? Elektra is going to brainwash Maya and turn her into another assassin for the hand. There are a couple of moments where I’m certain that Maya (who is deaf) shouldn’t be able to see Miss Natchios lips to read them, but we’ll just gloss over that. Maya’s final plea in her email is to beg Matt not to let them turn her into something she despises, to avenge her… and whenever there’s trouble, they’re there on the double! Theee Aveeeeeengeeeerrrrrs!

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Luke Cage! Spider-Man! Spider-Woman! Wolverine! Iron Fist! Doctor Strange! Ronin! My thoughts on each, in order: Yay, he’s finally taking command! Wow, he doesn’t seem to have suffered a traumatic loss. Awww, she really has nowhere else to go, which is sad, ’cause Leinel has made her really ugly. Oy, he’s in every book, might as well deal. Hey, it makes sense that Luke would turn to him for financing and backup. What? And finally, WHAAAAT? If you’re looking for reasons, explanations, or indeed anything more than the admission that a roster change has occurred, you’re in the wrong place, Bucky. They throw themselves into action with abandon, and it’s interesting to note that Luke’s team seems more coherent than Cap’s New Avengers already…

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I couldn’t for the life of me get a decent scan of the page layout here, and for that I’m sorry. But I wanted to point out the obvious: Ronin’s dialogue indicates that he’s either somebody very “street,” or somebody who’s trying too hard to hide their identity. The general hints given by Marvel say that the NEW Ronin is somebody who has a history of changing their identity in the past, which would describe both Steve (Captain America/Nomad/The Captain) Rogers, and Clint (Hawkeye/Golden Archer/Goliath II) Barton, two of the front-runners for the mystery man. No real clues other than dialogue are forthcoming, however, as the fighty-fighty takes up the rest of the issue. Elektra jumps into the fray, going for the impalement once more, but it turns out she’s returned to the well once too often, as her sai shatters on Luke’s steel hard skin. He smirks at her, “Elektra, right? I got a message from Matt Murdock…”

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How do you think that conversation went? “Hey, Lucas, ol’ pal, I need you to form a new strike team, go to Japan, retrieve one of my ex-girlfriends from the clutches of another, who used to be dead… Oh, and if you get a chance, could you kick the evil ex in the unmentionables? Kthxbi!” Meanwhile, Spidey gets a chance to show why he’s one of the hardest characters to write, but why it’s such fun when they do it well…

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How, exactly, do you talk in parentheses? Bygones… Anyway, it’s Spidey for the save, and Doctor Strange for the evac as the New New Avengers teleport out, leaving an angry (and pupil-less) Elektra Natchios (“Yeah, can I get three Mexi-Melts, an Elektra Nachos and a Chimichanga!”) behind. The lack of pupils thing is a recurring theme, as seen in Luke Cage in that big group shot a few paragraphs ago, and it becomes REALLY distracting. Combine that with the sketchiness and busy linework, and my prophesy of not digging the art is 75% fulfilled. There are still some things that I like (the fluidness of the figures, the imposing stance size of Luke) but overall the skull-headed women and loose anatomy add up to less-than-satisfaction on the picture front.

This issue serves as one of those obligatory jumping-on points, where the new mysteries (Who is Ronin? Why is Doctor Strange here?) are clearly shown for us to hypothesize, but once we get past these mysteries, there’s precious little here in the way of story. There’s some good character work for Maya Lopez, but her presence feels kind of Mary Sue-y, and I’m not clear on when Elektra became the new Yellow Claw. The fight scene is suitable cinematic and quick, and it’s interesting to see the characters previously put the ‘new’ in New Avengers in the role of team veterans. Perhaps Civil War #7 will make sense of it all, perhaps not. In any case, I’m impressed enough with this team lineup (especially Luke Cage as leader) to stick around and see where it goes, even though I can only give this particular issue 2 stars. The building blocks of something awesome are here… Let’s hope they can turn them into something memorable.

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