REVIEW: New Avengers #34

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Since giving up the title of Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen Strange has been more of a plot device than a super hero. He had his moments in the spotlight, particularly in Defenders, but now the good doctor has to embrace his inner action hero as he faces off single-handedly against the Avengers as volume 2 of the New Avengers comes to a close. It’s the end of the book as we know it. And how do I feel about it? Find out after the jump.

NEW AVENGERS #34
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mike Deodato & friends
Colors: Rain Beredo
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel
Cover Price: $4.99

Previously in New Avengers: The team was coming to grips with leader Luke Cage quitting the team when disembodied spirit Daniel Drumm (that’s Brother Voodoo’s elder brother) came back from the dead to get revenge on Dr. Strange (on whom he blames his brother’s death). Using his ghostly possession powers, Daniel killed mystics Daimon Hellstorm and Jennifer Kale as well as potentially-interesting but boringly-utilized Victoria Hand. With the Avengers (New and Old) unable to fight against a foe that can jump from body to body, controlling any of them, Doctor Strange challenges Drumm to single combat.

THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC’S GOT ME IN ITS SPELL

This issue starts off strong with Doctor Strange taking on all the Avengers single-handedly and generally being a badass. Unfortunately the ghost of Daimon Hellstorm literally calls him a “Badass” at one point and ruins the effect. Mostly though, it’s a good fight with some dramatic twists. If you ever wanted to see Strange as an action hero, this is your book.

The ending to the fight was a little too out-of-left-field, however. It’s based on a white magic vs dark magic thing that has no history in Marvel continuity and certainly isn’t set up within the story. Think of it like Scooby Doo: when they rip off the monster’s mask, it has to be one of the local people that they met earlier in the episode, not someone you’ve never seen before. Admittedly it’s hard to do that without making it obvious, but that’s the job you sign on for as writer. Bendis needs to talk to Jonathan Hickman to be reminded how to do these well. Or maybe just let Hickman write the title. (Wait, he’s going to what?) It’s not terrible, but it screams wasted potential. Like your least-favorite M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Also the Luke Cage quitting storyline is wrapped-up nicely, but God, it sure took long enough. I probably enjoy Bendis’ “decompression” story pacing more than the average reader, but between this book and Thunderbolts it feels like Cage has been waffling over this decision for a year. Quit or get off the pot. Even if it is late, this is still a comfortable ending for the Cage family while also pointing the way to their new adventures. It’s admittedly more than a little Mary Sue, but when you realize that it’s Bendis writing Luke Cage and Squirrel Girl, you’re lucky to get off with just a little.

MASTER OF THE MYSTIC ART

Mike Deodato provides his consistently great art, but the special gimmick to this issue’s art is that a half-dozen “Jam Artists” each contribute one page to the big fight between Strange and the Avengers. Credit where it’s due, the artists (Chuck BB, Farel Dalrymple, Ming Doyle, Lucy Knisley, Becky Cloonan and Yves Bigerel) provide beautiful pages, each with their own distinct style. Unfortunately, although it’s cool to look at, it utterly fails in telling the story. This goes on in the middle of an epic fight but with each page, you are thinking about each new art style instead of following the momentum of the action. In addition, each page shows Strange’s fight against a different Avenger, yet in four out of the six pages, I challenge you to determine what happened. Example:Strange stares down the Thing dramatically, puts a hand on his shoulder, then…on to the next fight. I like these artists. I like their work. I wish this were an anthology book so each of them could draw a separate, super-short story where art and narrative could live together in harmony. As it is, the overall effect is jarring and distracting.

Also, the commemorative statue of Victoria Hand is the worst pose for a memorial (without being pornographic). It looks just like her but who would ever pick that pose to remember someone for all eternity? It looks exactly like Deodato would draw a live Victoria in a conversation with a condescending boss. Only in stone. Context, people! Yes, I’m nit-picking, but I get to do that. It’s one of the perks of writing these reviews.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Magic or Illusion?

I give New Avengers #34 two and a half stars—it has a lot of good parts, but added up to a little less than their sum. If you’ve been reading this series, then you’ve got to read the finish. If you were looking to read the arc in the inevitable trade, I’d say “read it” but it wouldn’t be at the top of my recommendation list.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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