REVIEW: New Avengers #31

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The New Avengers are the B-team of the real Avengers. If you need proof of their 2nd class status, look to the fact that they are periodically preempted from their own book in favor of general Avengers’ stories when events and cross-overs mandated more “screen time” for the main Avengers. And that’s with Wolverine and Spider-Man on the team. Of course, they’re on every team. Bendis’ treatment of this team has swung wildly between Mary Sue and outright neglect. With Marvel Now! launching, which approach will he use to wrap up their story?

SUMMARY

Pros
Great framing in the art
Cons

Hellstorm is a major threat and shouldn’t be jobbing to a nobody
Talky, talky, talky

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

READER RATING!

[ratings]

NEW AVENGERS #31
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Colors: Rain Beredo
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Editors: Tom Brevoort with Lauren Sankovitch
Publisher: Marvel
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously in New Avengers: Luke Cage, long struggling with balancing his roles as super hero and as family man, finally decided to quit as member and leader of the New Avengers. This coincided with the end of Avengers VS X Men so we are left with a clean slate for the heroes to react to Cage’s resignation and for a new villain to enter, stage left.

IT’S JUST YOUR JIVE TALKIN’

This issue has two story threads. The A story (“A” for action) is about an unknown entity that has possessed Victoria Hand and is systematically taking out the various mystics of the Marvel U, presumably working its way up to Stephen Strange. The B story (“B” for Bendis) is about all of the heroes talking to each other about Luke Cage’s retirement. To paraphrase Lucy Van Pelt, “Of all the Bendises, this is the Bendisiest.”

Right off the bat, the unknown bad guy takes on Daimon Hellstorm, Son of Satan. Now I understand having a villain work his/her way through minor heroes to establish him/her (let’s just go with “her”) self as a threat. In addition, I understand that we’ve only got a few issues to get through this story so we’re only going to get a couple pages with each battle to show the villain’s bad-assery. However, in my world Hellstorm is a major threat and shouldn’t be jobbing to a nobody. I don’t care if you’re Dormammu—you should work up to Hellstorm. That said, I like the technique to set up the new villain, but it feels rushed. After Hellstorm, we see her take out Jennifer Kale and it’s implied that there were others off-panel. In a perfect world, we would have seen these fights dropped into the last few issues for a slow build that gave a little more feel of what kind of threat they are facing, but I presume the publishing schedule does not make for a perfect world.

The rest of the issue is very talky. Very. If you don’t like Bendis’ dialog, you don’t have to read the rest of this sentence, much less the issue (although feel free to finish reading the review). The best conversation is between Jessica Jones (Cage’s wife) talking to Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers, collect them all). It’s a natural-feeling conversation that uses trademark Bendis patter to explore the issue of super heroes with personal lives and loved-ones to be potentially endangered.

The other big scene is between Dr. Strange and Iron Fist while they are meditating. It’s funny in the way Danny is trying to deal with his long time partner’s resignation, and I get the joke of his inability to get his mind off the issue when he’s supposed to be clearing his mind, but visually it’s just two guys sitting across from one another. It really needed a bit of business for the characters to do. The Captain Marvel scene had Jessica packing and Carol holding the baby to work with. I would have liked Danny and Strange doing K’un L’un style Tai Chi or something, so they would be moving and maybe their body language could support their emotions. It wouldn’t take much but it would have made the scene more interesting.

LUKE, COME TO THE DARK SIDE

The art strikes me as photo-referency but inked with very dark, black, heavy lines with irregular shapes. It’s like a cross between Greg Land and Mike Mignola. Every shadow is jet black, which is great for the tone of Hellboy but I don’t know that it fits here. The photo reference look is good in places, especially some backgrounds, but other times the characters somehow look photo referenced and anatomically impossible at the same time. And there are more than a few panels where the question, “What happened to your face?” leaps to mind.

What I really like about the art is the framing. The “camera angles” and points of view are often inventive and interesting. Your eyes are drawn across the art purposefully and effectively, carrying the story forward in each panel. The panel layout and sizes are extremely varied, growing and shrinking to fit the action and plot. It’s a good use of the storytelling nuances of the comic medium.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Despite all my rage…

I give New Avengers #31 three and a half stars—I started picking up New Avengers because of the characters, particularly Jessica and Luke, and to that extent the issue delivered. The rest could have been better, but it was enough to make me want to see what happens next issue. I know it’s building to something, and I’m hoping it’s something I’ll like.

Rating: ★★★½☆