Or – “As I Walk Along, I Wonder What Went Wrong…”

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New Avengers is an interesting case for me and my comic book reading habits. I like the interplay of the characters (even the criminally-overexposed Wolverine) and I like the sense of family created in early issues. Since the beginning of The Initiative, that family sensibility has been tightened and emphasized until it feels more like a gang, waging an underground war against another (much larger) band, reminding me in a way of “The Warriors.” The problem is, that scenario doesn’t leave much space for that long-lost Marvel concept, the “superhero.”

Is it just me, or does Luke Cage look like he’s dancing the ‘YMCA’ up there? NAv1.jpgNevermind. Last time on New Avengers: in the wake of the murder of Captain America, several remaining members of his anti-registration faction have stayed together in defiance of Iron Man’s Superhuman Registration Act. With the assistance of Doctor Strange and financial backing from Iron Fist, they’re working together as an underground force, initially to investigate rumors that Captain America was still alive (Carol Danvers is a stinky, stinky liar!) they then went to Japan and kicked Elektra in the unmentionables, confronted their Mighty counterparts, and used Doctor Strange’s magic to stay unseen by the authorities (though not necessarily in that order.) Each issue seems to take place in two timelines, and this one is no exception, which makes for a multilayered and occasionally convoluted reading experience. Stymied by his hatred of magic, The Iron Dictator has called in his mystical specialist, Brother Voodoo, to try and unlock whatever spell Strange has cast to hide them…

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I’m not a big fan of Leinil Yu, but I’ll be damned if that’s not a very striking Dr. Strange in that last panel. I also like Jessica Jones off-panel admonition about fighting around her baby, though given that Daddy got his super-powers from a strange chemical bath and Mommy got hers from exposure to radioactive isotopes, little miss Cage-Jones will probably end up in a few superhero fights of her own. This IS the Marvel Universe, after all. Brother V blows out his candles, breaking his mystic circle, and stands up. “Doctor Strange is not in there. No one is in there.” Iron Man snipes, “You’re sure?” “No,” says Brother Voodoo. “He’s called the MASTER of mystic arts for a reason.” Ha! Jericho Drumm is one of my favorites, and he only gets another step up the ladder as he pointedly asks Iron Man, “Hero fighting hero. I wonder what the CRIMINALS are doing?” Oh, snap. Nice one. Iron Man dismisses him, and the entire team, and flies into the Sanctum. Note also, since this has to take place AFTER the first arc of Mighty Avengers (as the team is assembled here, but has only been together for a few minutes when they engage Mole Man,) we can now be certain that Iron Man is in no danger there. Dangit.

Iron Man monologues to a room he knows isn’t empty about what, exactly, the New Avengers expect their civil disobedience to achieve. After all, the SHRA is law, they ARE criminals, and every scenario that he can think of only ends in tragedy. After a few seconds of silence, Tony disables his empathy-simulated emotion program, and flies away in a snit, leaving the team to ponder his words.

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Okay, timeframing it: Civil War ends. May Parker gets shot. Cap gets killed. The team goes underground. The Mighty Avengers have their big fight with Ultron, then confront the New Avengers less than a day after the assassination. (I don’t even KNOW where Wolverine fighting Sabretooth OR his son comes in.) Then, the New Avengers go to Japan the next day to fight Elektra. It’s no wonder people complain about decompressed storytelling, these people would have to nearly break their necks to get from place to place in time for all of this to happen. Luke responds to Spider-Man’s request by breaking it down again, and when Spidey interrupts him, Luke calmly says, “you need to hear this again.” He then puts everything together and points out the obvious…

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Luke has a very chilling point here, and one that I think is important to keep in mind. Marvel has been talking around the reasons behind all this, but what if Civil War was just a build-up to something even more bombastic and earth-shattering? What if they’re actually going to play “Can We Top This?” one more time? Suddenly, in the midst of all the talk and debate and planning to go to Japan, someone arrives at the door… an old friend.

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First Deodato, now Yu. Either my mood has improved, or the art is getting clearer. I’m still not gonna jump for joy, but at least it doesn’t feel like unfinished pencils anymore. Strange lets Clint in on the circle of illusion, and he’s stunned to see all his old comrades wandering about an abandoned building. It’s obvious that Wolverine doesn’t trust anybody (he’s very ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin that way) but I’m surprised at the level of paranoia that Hawk engenders in Luke Cage…

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Wolverine apparently holds a grudge, but Hawkeye is up to the challenge. “What I found isn’t going to do anyone any good. Okay? Am I lying about THAT?” Clint stares down the midget with the ginsu fingers, who actually backs down, with a quiet, “she’s got a lot to answer for.” Hawkeye surveys the room, telling Doc he was right about closure not existing (in issue #26), greeting Jessica Drew (who tells him he doesn’t look dead), and hitting Spider-Man with the best line of the issue: “Saw you on TV @*$&ing up your whole life, Peter. I’m thinking about submitting the tape for Emmy consideration.” Heh. Spider-Woman asks how he’s not dead, and he just replies, “weren’t you dead once?” Good point. Everybody in this ROOM has been dead at least once, save maybe Jessica Jones and the baby… Hawkeye asks what they think they’re doing, why they haven’t stomped a mudhole in the Iron Dictator and walked it dry.

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Luke isn’t buying it, even with Iron Fist and Spider-Woman pointing out how they’re short-handed, so Doctor Strange offers to cast ‘the spell of Tartashi’ that will tell them if anyone has unsavory intentions. Luke acquiesces, and they’re all bathed in light. Spider-Man seems very amused, as does Jessica’s little girl, who giggles her brains out at the pretty lights. Reminds me of the first time I took my little girl (in one of those stupid chest harness carriers) on the swingset at the park. The first time your kid laughs really is an awesome moment. (Yes, TOM, I’m telling a cute Molly story. Learn to deal.) Strange states that everyone here is of pure intention. “How do you KNOW?” asks Luke.

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Heh. Yes, Clint. Like a ninja… The mystery (such as it was) of Ronin is solved, and we cut back to the characters’ present day, facing Elektra and an army of the Hand. Even Ms. Natchios’ face is much less scratchy and severe here, and I’m glad of it, since she’s reportedly supposed to actually be PRETTY. Luke asks Elektra the same questions he asked of his team earlier: Why is everything turned upside down? Suddenly, a ninja throw a katana to Echo, and she spins… AND STABS DOCTOR STRANGE THROUGH THE HEART. Son of a…

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Once again, we’re flying by the seat of our pants, and once again, it’s time for the wrestling metaphor. There’s a concept in wrestling called “burying” your opponent. It’s really the opposite of “putting over,” in that you take them down as quickly as possible. A burial can be a punishment for behavioral issues, or it can be to make a particular character look powerful. The Hand may be a lot of things, but the greatest villains of the Marvel Universe they are not. I’m sure that someone at Marvel loves them solely because of their ties to the old Frank Miller Daredevil issues, but I was very surprised with the speed and economy that they showed in overwhelming the Avengers, dropping everyone in seconds (including slashing Wolverine’s throat) and leaving Doctor Strange to bleed out. Nasty. And I thought a pack of ninjas always attacked one at a time?

In any case the climax of the story did surprise me, something previous issues really didn’t. We’ve been saddled with this dual-tiered storyline, but the reason for it really becomes clear here, as it allowed Bendis to leap into the action AND slowly give us the information we needed to answer our questions. Here’s my problem: it all felt very reactive, with the team bouncing back and forth at the whim of external forces, never in command of their own destiny and finishing with a strange climax where some of the team may have suffered life-threatening wounds. While the art has grown on me, the story is wearying, and next issue has been mega-hyped NOT as explaining anything that has gone before, or resolving some plots before we go on, but as the launching point for YET ANOTHER giant world-changing epic crossover. Brian Bendis is the master of writing for the trade collection and decompression, but the whirlwind of notions here feels like they’re chucking everything into the mix without waiting for the last ingredient to boil down. I’m NOT angry afterwards, which is a step up from last time, and the art is evolving into something that doesn’t distract me, but the Ronin reveal just sort of… happened. It’s an okay issue, though, scoring 2.5 out of 5 stars. As an old-school Avengers fan, I’m disconcerted to find myself teetering on the edge of the decision to drop one of the three titles… or possibly all three.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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21 Comments

  1. May 12, 2007 at 12:15 pm — Reply

    Notice that Jess was spazzing after the spell? I think everyone else is ignoring it because they know she still has a Past with Hydra.

  2. May 12, 2007 at 12:27 pm — Reply

    It looks more like she’s caressing herself, but that may just be my libido talking… I can definitely see your point.

  3. May 12, 2007 at 12:37 pm — Reply

    What I think I liked best about Yu is that with Iron Man, he takes what is essentially a slab of emtal with eyeholes and a breathing slat and places emotion in it. Look at last Issue: we get sadness, fear, shock, anger, disgust.

  4. May 12, 2007 at 2:44 pm — Reply

    Putting emotions on Iron Man’s helmet is cheating, which is one of the things I actually DISLIKE about Yu’s art.

  5. May 12, 2007 at 3:23 pm — Reply

    Why is it cheating? It’s betetr than just seeing an emotionless slab all the time, reinforcing his Dictator-like Image.

    And anyway, plenty of people have tried it in the past, Quesada & Romita jr. among them.

  6. Brent F.
    May 12, 2007 at 4:53 pm — Reply

    Ah… Clint Barton, one of the many walking examples of why Marvel will eventually revive Steve Rogers despite what Joe Quesada says.

  7. Maximus Rift
    May 12, 2007 at 7:16 pm — Reply

    You didn’t show the last page which shows the NA getting owned by ninjas… or does it? o_O I think next issues cover shows Echo “pulling a Bullseye” on Electra so I’m guessing that the last pannel was Strange putting a spell on the whole group.

    Since the issues stated up so bad and a re getting better issue by issue, maybe the trend will keep going until we get to a really good issue?

    BTW, am I the only one that prefers Clint as Ronin that as Hawkeye?

  8. May 12, 2007 at 11:26 pm — Reply

    You didn’t show the last page which shows the NA getting owned by ninjas…

    Nope. Because the page wouldn’t scan as a single entity, and I frankly had neither the time nor the inclination to cut, paste, and reassemble a two page spread only to shrink it down to below 600 pixels wide.

    I don’t mind Clint as Ronin, so long as it means he’s not dead anymore…

  9. May 13, 2007 at 3:35 am — Reply

    No, Brent, I don’t see Clint being revived as a ‘reason’ for Steve’s ‘inevitable’ return. Remember, Clint essentially had a ‘Superhero Death’; he was blown up trying to save others from a Kree Invasion. When a Major Character has a ‘Superhero Death’, ala the infmaous ‘Death of Superman’, then the impossibility and silliness of the Death gives us the impression that a resurrection will be more likely. Steve didn’t have a ‘Superhero Death’; he was shot down by surprise, like Gandhi or Lincoln. The realism of the murder solidifies the realism of the Death. Clever Mister Brubaker.

    And, I think that clint is better as Ronin than Hawkeye too. In fact, I think every incarnation of the NA will have a ‘Ronin’; he and his secret identity will become a symbol the Team as a whole. While Echo as Ronin was a symbol of people who had hardly ever met being brought together by chance, Clint as Ronin is a symbol of a return to the old theme; a Team united in a common cause.

    Heck, you could have ‘Ronin 2099’; by that time, so many people had put the costume on, that when you did put it on you became part of ‘The Ronin Consciousness’. This would not only encompass the memories of all the previous wearers, but alo their fighting skills, so that putitng the suit on would truly make you a Masterless Samurai.

    I really, really need to write this stuff down where others can’t see it…

  10. May 13, 2007 at 10:37 am — Reply

    Why is it cheating? It’s betetr than just seeing an emotionless slab all the time, reinforcing his Dictator-like Image.

    The helmet shouldn’t change, in my opinion. Iron Man is one of the characters whose uniform is actually technology, and I like it when artists (like Mark Bright and Bob Layton) keep it emotionless, and let the composition do the emoting…

  11. Brent F.
    May 13, 2007 at 12:30 pm — Reply

    I don’t think the circumstances of his death matter. The return of Steve Rogers is inevitable and will be either determined by sales of the Captain America title or whenever the Captain America film goes into production. That’s how Marvel works.

  12. MaximusRift
    May 13, 2007 at 2:01 pm — Reply

    While I’m one of the cynics that believe that Steve will be back, I’m hoping to be proven wrong and to get a new Cap (either Winter Soldier or Bradley). Let’s hope he stays as dead as Barry Allen.

    I mean, you already have Steve Rodgers in Ultimates and Marvel Adventures. Do we really need to have him back in 616?

  13. May 14, 2007 at 9:25 am — Reply

    Matt, I’m with you on Yu’s art and have been from the very beginning. I absolute hate his Spiderman. Worst EVAR. The return of Hawkeye … pretty darn cool. I’m anxious to see how he will evolve as Ronin.

  14. Brent F.
    May 14, 2007 at 10:02 am — Reply

    Marvel can’t keep anyone dead. They couldn’t keep Bucky dead and they were just itching to bring back Uncle Ben with that really dumb alternate evil Uncle Ben storyline. I’m surprised that anyone seriously believes Steve Rogers will be kept dead, hell if he were an X-Man he would have been revived in the next issue.

  15. Mark I.
    May 14, 2007 at 10:31 am — Reply

    “Let’s hope he stays as dead as Barry Allen.”

    Heh, heh…I guess that would be MOSTLY dead.

  16. May 14, 2007 at 10:52 am — Reply

    I agree with both points of view, actually.

    We all know that any comic book character could return from the dead at any time. But it’s obvious that Brubaker wants him to “be dead” for a while and tell stories about what Captain America really means. Most of the big resurrections of late have been characters who were dead for some time. Bucky actually died on panel in the 70’s, so he was only actually honestly croaked for about 25 years. Jason Todd barely made a decade, and Barry is, as of now, at roughly 21 years dead. Heck, Captain Marvel was kakked for the better part of 20 years as well. With nostalgia in comic books being the enormously driving force that it is, we can PROBABLY count on Steve returning. Eventually.

    So, is Cap dead? Looks like it. Will he return? Possibly, maybe even probably. But will it be any time soon? I seriously doubt it.

    But Salieri’s point is a good one: Hawkeye’s death was entirely different than Captain America’s. Clint got a half-panel “blowed up real good!” death with no body found. Steve was shot, ON PANEL, rushed to the hospital, and his very-much dead face looked out at us from under his death shroud. One was a story contrivance to do… something. (I suspect to open up the name for Young Avenger Kate Bishop.) The other was designed SPECIFICALLY to override all the classic signs of a ‘comic book death.’

  17. Mark I.
    May 14, 2007 at 11:11 am — Reply

    Not to keep yapping when I should be working, but I have to agree that Marvel’s REALLY selling that “CAP IS DEAD!!!” to the point of nausea. They’ve showed that corpse quite a bit and no one even thought to push his eyelids shut, so we gotta see em rolled on back; then to add insult to injury, all the Super-Serum dried up and withered the poor guy back into someone pre-bite-Peter Parker or Puny Banner could have bullied.

    And come to think of it…what IS Marvel’s train of thought on the movies? No matter how much they lie about it (like the black suit in the movie being a non-factor in the comics…yeah whatever,) the company likes a certain synergy between page and screen. Does this mean there will be a positive resolution to Iron Hitler by the end of the year? Will the movie version of Captain America be the first Marvel movie character to *not* have an live and active 616 counterpart?

  18. May 14, 2007 at 1:21 pm — Reply

    Work? What means this work of which you speak? Here at Stately Spoilers Manor (Oh, Stephen, they need some sort of electrician in the fourth kitchen on the seventeeth floor) we know not work, there is simply “awake” and “not reading comics.”

    I sincerely doubt that the Captain America movie will take place any time in the next two years, no matter what “corporate synergy” suggests. As we near the release of Fantastic Four II: Electric Boogaloo, we’ll see how much pressure there is to restore the team to a standard (i.e. movie templated) state. Marvel is a multimedia conglomerate, just like DC, and their homy little fantasy of “we makes the comics, them movie folks does what they want,” it’s patently obvious that Spider-Man put on the suit because of the movie. Likewise, I think Tony will be in a more traditional Iron Man state soon. I’m eyeing the big “Mystery Crossover” on the horizon for clues…

  19. Maximus Rift
    May 14, 2007 at 1:30 pm — Reply

    I also want to point out that while character death and rebirth has become a cliché/”marketing ploy” as of late, there’s always those deaths that sucked and were pointless and merited a resurection. The rebirths that really annoy are the ones that happen without a good story behind them and then just take up space.

    Face it. Everybody wants at least 1 character back and a couple more 6 feet under.

  20. Brent F.
    May 14, 2007 at 2:20 pm — Reply

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if movie elements are retconed into the pages of Iron Man. Supposedly the director is heavily altering the Mandarin in order to make him more realistic, which probably means he will be the Mandarin in name only.

    When the X-Men hit the theatres the X-Men in the pages began wearing biker leather, and there was a sudden explosion of enrolled students at Xavier’s.

    Spider-Man got Tobey’s organic web-shooters and the black costume (despite what it symbolized) conveniently at the same time Tobey received his.

    Next I suspect that the comic book Mr. Fantastic will begin work on a new Fantasticar contracted by Dodge, The Silver Surfer will speak with long, over used, dramatic pauses just like Laurence Fishburne, Iron Man will get a small role on a prime time drama series to help clean his public image, and the dead Steve Rogers will have been revealed as a temporal copy/alternate universe duplicate/clone/long lost twin brother/cooky cyborg with the real Steve Rogers coming out of retirement just in time for the Captain America movie.

  21. Brother129
    May 14, 2007 at 5:47 pm — Reply

    Everyone makes some really good points. We’ll never get away from Marvel Comics tying in with media marketing. I guess my real question is: why do we keep reading these characters and their continuing adventures. A lot of has to be notstalgia. Or if you’re like me, you have this insane committment to see the 25 stories you started to read come to a satisfying conclusion and we get back to what made these comics GREAT in the first place.

    The characters are beginning to give voice to it and you can hear it getting louder and louder. What happened to being a super hero? Now we have World War Hulk coming. The super villains of the Marvel Universe better be having a freaking field day in the wake of all this stupidity. I hope to God Luke Cage is correct and all of these events are connected to get it all back on track. Bendis teased earlier in an interview that the New and the Mighty would come to realize that they are fighting the same battle from different angles. Let’s hope its worth the payoff at the end.

    Everyone can appreciate that deaths and rebirths are as only as strong as the character and as good as the story. I dug Bucky being ressurected because it was an awesome story. Marvel has a choice now, they can revive Steve Rogers after we’ve fully realized his impact and worth. Or you find a great candidate and tell great stories. Much like your Ronin idea (great by the way) the idea of Captain America could flourish into 2099 and beyond.

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