Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Avengers #1 review

When last we met this title, the New Avengers starred the more down-to-Earth members of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. This relaunch goes entirely in another direction, with the Marvel Universe's self-proclaimed Illuminati - prominent members of superhero teams and secret nations - taking the spotlight.

Metaphorically at least. Looking at the cover, you might expect the tagline Earth's Shadiest Heroes. But that's the Illuminati all over, the heroes and monarchs who plan to run the world from behind the scenes, keeping well away from the light. Because if they're in the light, they'll be seen by their team-mates, loved ones and citizens.

The whole idea that Mr Fantastic, Captain America, Iron Man and the rest should basically betray their fellows in the belief that only they know what's best for the world is profoundly distasteful, spitting on decades of characterisation. Even the more imperial-minded members, such as Namor of Atlantis - who likely has some ideas on how the surface world should be run - isn't one to hide his light under a (pardon me) 'bush-shell'.

So applause to writer Jonathan Hickman for using the Black Panther as his entry character for the series. As we see in a prologue, T'challa, king of the advanced African nation of Wakanda, turned down a chance to sit at the top table with his self-proclaimed peers (who also included Dr Strange, Black Bolt and the late Professor Xavier). T'challa saw the horrific hypocrisy and danger of the Illuminati's existence and walked away, recommended that the others did the same. But they didn't, and this issue something happens that forces T'challa to appeal for help from those he snubbed

It's a lovely day in Wakanda. Three of its brightest young people have won themelves places on the nation's space programme, to go out into the universe and see who's out there. Unfortunately, the extraterrestrials come calling first, with tragic results. And the queen bee of the aliens, 'a Black Swan', is someone T'challa feels he can't take on alone. Why he doesn't simply call in the 'daytime' version of the Avengers, a team he's served with several times, is something we're not told yet.

Foreboding is added with an opening flashforward to a day later, showing Reed Richards saying that this is a fight the good guys can't win. And he accepts that Planet Earth is doomed.

Now, I've had my issues my Marvel's portrayal of Reed Richards over the last few years, what with his habit of following secret agendas - it's happening right now in the new Marvel Now! Fantastic Four and FF series. Usually it's because he doesn't want to worry his (incredibly powerful and resourceful) family. It makes some kind of sense that such a Reed Richards would sit with the Illuminati. I still hate the idea.

And the notion that Reed would just give up ... nah, I'm not buying that. I want to know more. The combination of Reed's statements and T'challa's nobility is most intriguing. Plus, the Black Swan - apparently a multiversal traveller - is accompanied by a man named Manifold with the same visual as the Manifold in Hickman's Avengers book. It's definitely a different guy, though.

This issue's well-structured opening chapter has some fine dialogue from Hickman, and the entire script is complemented by the sublime stripwork from penciller Steve Epting and inker Rick Magyar (click on image to enlarge). Page after page of lovely images combine to form an appealing, well-paced read. And Frank D'Armata's colours don't 'just' look good, highlighting the characters and settings, they tell the story in a bigger way.

Does the world need another Avengers book? Obviously not. Heck, this could as easily be titled Secret Avengers as New (fear not, a relaunched Secret Avengers is on its way). But this series looks set to blaze its own trail, and I'll stick around for at least a few issues to see where we end up.

12 comments:

  1. Hickman is a tricky writer... he is a very good writer but at Marvel sometimes he just gets too ambitious on the plots and forgets about telling a story... What happened to make T'challa change his opinion? Why the hell would he invite Namor to a new version of Illuminati? And, as you've said: why on earth wouldn't he call the avengers? The idea that 'the good guys would never accept what we're doing here to save the earth' just does not work anymore since almost every 'good guy' at marvel is now doing things that we would despise if they were living in our world. So what is the point of again showing heroes falling lower? The only distinct thing about New Avengers is that they still think they have to cover their actions, while almost every other team at Marvel is behaving reprehensibly in public.

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    1. Yeah, the questions will prove irksome if they're not answered. I look forward to seeing just what fireworks we get with Namor and T'challa. I can't see Hickman ignoring that.

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  2. Martin, I can't agree more with you regarding the cynical depictions of Mr. Fantastic. It's OK if they want to play up that Reed can be emotionally awkward and distant due to his towering intelligence (but isn't that kind of a tiresome cliche as well?), but I can't stand how they make him an emotionless, deceptive schemer. I prefer the Reed Richards who passionately yet intelligently took on Doctor Doom on the latter's home turf in FF 200 or the thoughtful, emotionally sensitive Richards by Byrne who convinced Doctor Octopus to help him save his pregnant wife Sue. A parallel to this is what DC did with Batman a few years back.

    I blame Watchmen.

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    1. Good point, Mr Whiskas. I miss 'my' Batman (from the Moench/Conway) days and 'my' Reed Richard (pre-Trial of Galactus).

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  3. I am not a Marvel guy but was convinced by a friend who loves Hickman that I should pick this book up.

    I have to say that this was a tough book for me to like. I don't know Black Panther at all. I don't know his history. I don't even know his powers. So much of the 'power' of the Wakanda scenes is lost to me. And I didn't really understand just what was happening in the pocket universe, or why a portal is in Wakanda, or why Panther survived a 'planet killing' bomb blast by kicking it in the air.

    So I was pretty much lost.

    I know it is hard in these continuity-bound days to write a comic like it may be the first comic someone is buying. But the background story of the Illuminati and even Wakandan politics might be a hard place for someone to start at. And the action sequences were so confusing that that didn't grab me either. I usually don't like exposition ... but I wonder if that would have helped me here immensely.

    I contrast it to All New Xmen #1, where things are steeped in continuity but where spelled out a bit easier to ease me in.

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    1. Very fair points, Anj. New comics shouldn't be impenetrable to careful, intelligent readers. I hope someone at Marvel sees your comments.

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  4. Well, given what happened in A vs X I look forward to seeing Namor and T'challa interacting in coming issues.

    Have to say I really like how the Black Panther was written here. That doesn't happen too often. Interesting cast. Lets just wait and see where the story goes and if Hickman can keep it coherent.

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    1. I did arather find myself hoping for a Black Panther special by Hickman after reading this issue. I often find T'challa deadly dull and over-earnest, but he was compelling herer.

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    2. I to look forward to T'Challa and Namor fighting back to back. Again T'Challa has acquired new powers and Reed is magically connected to the Panther like blood brothers because he was present when he got em.

      Some new cataclysmic world threat is coming with the Black Panther at the center, but it doesn't envolve the rest of the Marvel universe. That's why it's this team of guys and not the other Avengers.

      I really hope Hickman pulls it off.

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  5. It'll be interesting to see if Namor is held responsible for what he did as host of the Phoenix. It seems only X-Men have that kind of accountability, seeing as how Scarlet Witch has gotten a pass for killing many more people than the Phoenix Five did while under the influence of the ridiculous Life Force. I guess we'll find out if TPTB at Marvel consider him more an Avengers or X-Men character by which way it goes...

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  6. I read this knowing little about the set up and really know nothing about the Illuminati per se except that it's a brand name that Marvel's been using lately for just about every major event. After reading this book, I still have NO CLUE what New Avengers will be about in any way shape or form, but it did make me want a Black Panther book. That's about all I can say about it.. Black Panther should have his own book based off this issue.. forget the rest of the New Avengers stuff that is completely and utterly unimportant and says nothing about anything.

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  7. I think that'd be the best idea, Jan!

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