“Breakout!” (Part One)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Finch (p), Danny Miki (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: As Matt Murdock pays a visit to Ryker’s Island, with his bodyguard Luke Cage along for the ride, we see he’s met by Jessica Drew who is part of the facility’s security force. We than see that they are on hand when the prison comes under attack, which sparks a full scale breakout of its super-powered inmates. As this potential crisis brings Captain America and Spider-Man to the scene, we see the Sentry is also brought into the situation, as he was incarcerated on the island.
Comments: Given the original Avengers were brought together with a rather dated plot device that involved Rick Jones and a radio transmission that Loki tampered with, I have to say there is certainly room for Brian Michael Bendis to come up with a story that assembles a new team of heroes that call themselves the Avengers. Now the idea of a prison breakout at a facility designed to hold super-powered felons is a well used plot device, as pretty much any time we get a story involving one of these prisons the story will involve the facility displaying how difficult it is to keep the inmates inside its walls. However, as a plot device that serves to bring this cast together, it works exceptionally well, and while I’m still wondering how the heck Brian Michael Bendis is going to fit Wolverine into this story, the rest of the players are brought to the scene in a fairly convincing manner. In fact if nothing else this issue deserves full marks for its Spider-Man sequence, as I can’t see any fan of the character not being pleased by how
the character is used in this issue, from the smile inducing interaction that Peter has with Mary Jane, to his equally amusing opening exchange with Captain America. The idea that Jessica Drew would be working as a security officer at the prison was also a clever way to place the character at the scene, and the last page reveal that explains Sentry’s presence at the prison was also a engaging development. This opening issue does a solid job of bringing its cast together, as well as developing the threat that will force them to work together, and this is exactly what the book needed to do to convince me that this new line-up was a good move.
David Finch is going to be the next big thing among comic fans if he keeps up this quality of work, and if he shows himself capable of meeting the monthly deadlines than I’m going to be one of his biggest supporters. He brings a level of detail to the page that can’t help but impress, but more importantly he has a wonderful eye when it comes to delivering the action in a clear, visually exciting manner. From Spider-Man’s ill-fated helicopter ride, to the shot where Spider-Man makes his way to the top of the wall to find Captain America waiting for him, the art looks fantastic. There are also a couple impressive double page spreads, from the explosive scene where we see where the city’s power supply has gone, to the equally ominous visual that has Electro addressing the assembled army of villains. Plus, any artist who can make Electro’s classic mask look cool deserves full credit.
This first issue of The New Avengers is way too decompressed for my taste. I feel like I received $0.75 of story out of a $2.25 priced comic book. The plot is hackneyed (super-villain jail break! Gee, never read THAT one before!). Of course, what super-hero plot isn’t hackneyed? But the combination of the plot and its decompressed execution really left me less than satisfied.
Oh, I definitely enjoyed particular aspects and moments of this issue: the credit splash page, the banter between Jessica Drew and Matt Murdoch, Captain America holding out his hand to assist Spider-Man. Most scenes, however, are unnecessarily stretched: the close-up to “The Raft” penitentiary, Electro breaking his super-villain brethren out of their cells. And there are three completely unnecessary and unimpressive double splash pages. Their moments deserve, at best, single splash pages. Giving these moments double splash pages is way excessive.
A friend of mine remarked that The New Avengers’ initial story arc will read much better as a trade paperback collection than as a monthly serial. That’s an astute observation, and I can think of no better way to honor my friend’s intelligence than to avoid buying any more issues of The New Avengers. I figure by the time the fourth of July rolls around, this first story arc will have finally reached its end. Who knows? Maybe by then, Wolverine’s reason for joining yet another super-hero team will be revealed. He’s nowhere to be found in this issue.
Well, it’s not mind-shreddingly awful, which is a good start. To be fair, I actually quite liked “Disassembled” (the main storyline , I mean, not the “tie ins”), so I don’t doubt this creative team’s abilities with the Avengers, and while the idea of Wolverine as an Avenger still makes my brain flip over inside my skull (and not in a good way…), I don’t have as much of a problem with the rest of the revised line-up as I did when it was first announced. And perhaps that’s because Stan and Jack famously did it themselves back in Avengers #16, prompting letters like this:
“What are you? Out of your tree or something? It is bad enough that Iron Man and Giant-Man are replaced by truly seedy second-rate characters... I'm distraught at the crass, senseless manipulation of my favorite superheroes. Make the Avengers once again the greatest, most powerful, noblest...!”
“Boo! Hiss! You said in Avengers #15 that the Avengers’ lineup would change in the next issue. I expected and hoped that you would choose from the roster of Spider-Man, Daredevil, Sub-Mariner... But, brother, did Stan goof it this time! ...Unless Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch are replaced by Namor, Spidey, and Daredevil, my next letter will be worse!”
I still think that a new #1 so soon after the big anniversary issue is just crass cynicism on Marvel’s part, and I doubt I’ll ever be of the opinion that Wolverine should be in the team, but I’m no longer burdened by any luggage concerning this “new” title, so I feel I can approach it on its own merits...
And it’s not bad. Bendis kicks off with a true Avengers-level threat, which is an excellent start. I’m not entirely convinced that Electro alone could cause so much damage, but I’m willing to let it go as a play on that Michael Crichton-esque idea of small glitches leading to catastrophic consequences. Whatever shadowy dingbat is behind the Big Plan isn’t too clever either; as this first arc is quite clearly intended to show, just because the Avengers have officially disbanded, it doesn’t mean that if you go and break all of the supervillains out of jail at once they’re not going to turn up to kick your arse anyway. Yes the Fantastic Four and the X-Men (are they even a legitimate superhero group?) are “out of town,” but the Avengers are still hanging about, just not under that name. It really does seem to be a grand scale version of closing your eyes and pretending that because you can’t see the other people in the room that they don’t exist. It’s a highly dubious Big Plan, but since there’s an implication that Electro is being set up by Bloke-In-Shadows anyway, I’ll let that slide too. To be fair, it’s not just my famously rampant generosity that’s at work here; while the central premise of the arc has a couple of fundamental problems, they’re not serious, and there could yet be explanations for them further down the line. Just because the Big Plan looks a bit cretinous right now doesn’t mean that Bendis doesn’t have a good explanation locked away in his shiny bonce.
The dialogue comes off much better than the plotting, which is not too surprising as for the most part these are Bendis’s favourite characters. Whereas some of the heroes appearing in “Disassembled” seemed a bit off, Bendis’s familiarity with these particular “Avengers” means that he has no trouble with their personalities and dialogue. I particularly enjoyed Bendis’s treatment of Spider-Man, which has touches of the more carefree Ultimate version; I realise that after being turned into a bug in one title, having a weird paternity crisis in another, and having his aunt kidnapped in a third that Spidey’s going to be a bit stressed, but it’s always a pleasure to see him enjoying himself, and we get a great moment of that here (which is also a sneaky hint for the Spider-Man 2 video game by the way, although I doubt that’s intentional). We’re also given a tiny taste of one of the team relationships I’m most looking forward to from this title, and that’s Spidey and Captain America. I love to see these two heroes interact, and we don’t get enough of it, so that’s a bonus of the new line-up.
Danny Miki is a top-notch inker, and I’ve really been enjoying Frank D’Armata’s colouring, but it’s David Finch that has managed to consistently impress me. I didn’t welcome the news of his arrival on the title, but I’ve been proven very wrong. Finch does still need to work on a bit of variety in facial features and expressions, as everyone still looks identical, and he also needs to keep a closer eye on visual continuity. There are no real howlers this time (like the people having a picnic outside the destroyed Avengers Mansion…), but there are a couple of glitches that could have been easily avoided.
As noted above, I was coming to this with at the very least a neutral attitude, and while it’s not better than I expected, it’s better than I feared. I’m not convinced by the plotting, but it’s very early days yet, so we’ll see where it goes. Not a bad start at all.
Plot: Poor Foggy Nelson. He seems to sense that Matt and Luke have picked a very bad day to visit Ryker’s Penitentiary, even before things hit the fan. Captain America, Spiderman and Jessica Drew are on hand as well.
Comments: This is decent. It actually reads more like an issue of Alias than anything resembling The Avengers. Who knew that Bendis was auditioning his version of Marvel’s premiere team when he had them guest in the final arc of that series? Yet that story does seem to presage his approach to Avengers, of which this is actually his fifth issue. Remember, he took Wanda out dramatically in that story, too.
So what we have now is effectively no Avengers at all, and this story doesn’t really get them together. Jessica is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., a liaison at Ryker’s allowing Foggy and Matt access to the person they want to see, and he is really the most interesting addition to the impending fold (to judge by the melodramatic, shadowy cover).
The title refers to Electro’s mission this issue, hired by mysterious figures to bust out a mysterious figure (and everyone else as an ancillary effect) from the maximum security prison. Which he does, with the (by now usual) Bendisian ease and ambiguity. Apparently his powers overwhelm all security systems, and that’s just what they do, without explanation.
Also interesting: The art is solid. Finch is actually better away from empty drama and explosions, as his skills with landscape and technology are apparent with a bit more room to breathe. His Spiderman’s a little goofy, but his Captain America is imposing, and Electro makes a grand, Magneto-worthy-even entrance. Not sure how he flies now, but okay.
So the two plots (the criminal breaking out a criminal & the heroes trying to resurrect another) dovetail nicely. The chatty, informal tone instigated in Avengers Finale is maintained here, and one gets a sense that when this team does come together, they’ll do it by articulated choices. Though not without flaws, this is a promising debut.
So it begins, the Bendis era of The Avengers – sorry, The New Avengers. The plot is simple: there has never been a better time than now to carry out a prison break, and Electro is man hired to do it. Spider-Man catches a ride to the prison on Cap’s Helicopter and Luke Cage, Matt Murdoch and Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman) are already inside the prison, visiting Sentry on behalf of Reed Richards.
To be honest, I am a little bit disappointed this week with Marvel; they release two high profile comics (this one and The Ultimates 2) with quality creative teams and nothing really happens in either to set them apart from the rest and make them worthy of being a 1st issue.
This comic is good (the better of the two, actually). The art is great. The night scenes and prison break are well rendered and set a very dark atmosphere. The writing is good, and there are some nice nods to past stories which Bendis has written (Luke Cage/Purple Man, etc.), but I think this comic is only going to work and be fulfilling once we have all six parts (I am guessing that will be how many parts we get) and can read them all at once.
What is good, and something that Bendis does well in every comic he writes, is how he begins to move each character into place, puts them where he wants them to be and makes them fit into his story. I like the fact that Bendis is able to write so many Marvel comics (and write them well). Marvel gives us solid characters that don’t change their views or how they speak depending on who is writing them (Superman should be more like this – instead of the current mess with Action Comics). The Marvel Universe maintains a consistent identity.
Anyway, solid 1st issue with really nice art and fluid story telling and great character work. I expected more though…
Many readers may have been turned off by the lacklustre ending that this creative team brought to the original Avengers series, but it was always the case that the “Chaos” storyline was merely there to clear the decks, to get rid of the old guard and enable the setting up of a whole new status quo for the Avengers. On the strength of this issue, even if Bendis fumbled his “Disassembled” project, then he’ll fare better reinvigorating the Avengers concept with his own brand new, hand-picked team.
A compelling opening scene shows Bendis’s favourites Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson introduced into the maximum-security installation “The Raft” for a top-secret visit. Acting as a cipher for the reader, Nelson and Murdock are given the rundown by the ex-Spider-Woman on just how many badass Marvel characters are locked up in this prison, and what a nightmare it would be if they all escaped. It’s a fun scene with well-placed comic relief, akin to the set-up of a horror movie - and whilst Bendis may have refrained from placing a neon sign which reads “this is exactly what’s about to happen, readers!” at the end of this scene, the subsequent unfolding of the issue is just as predictable. However, the success of such ideas lies in their execution, and Bendis and Finch nail Electro’s prison break sequence, adding an intensity and feeling of foreboding which is only enhanced by the brilliant colouring of Frank D’ Armata. Finch’s linework is solid throughout, and whilst I might prefer other artists’ versions of favourite characters in their own titles (Matt Murdock being a particular casualty, as no-one can top Alex Maleev’s current Daredevil work) he juggles the multiple heroes well, providing a powerful shot of Captain America and a suitably kinetic sequence involving Spider-Man halfway through the issue - even if a couple of the panels do appear to have been printed in the wrong order.
If I have any qualms about the book, it’s that the mechanics of Electro’s prison break play out a little too conveniently (if that’s the best a Marvel maximum-maximum-security prison can defend itself, I’m surprised every electricity-based villain hasn’t broken in and stolen their sweeties). Also, the whole issue plays a little too close to a similar scene from Bendis’s Alias, with the majority of the plot almost playing as a note-for-note reprise of the idea from that title’s “Purple” arc, albeit on a grander scale.
For the most part, the book feels like it’s bubbling just above average - which is better than can be said for the last Avengers arc. However, Brian Bendis throws in a few pages at the end of the issue which bode very well for the future of the title, creating intrigue around a character who is basically a blank slate for me, yet making his introduction more interesting and full of potential than any of the previous scenes of this fairly predictable supervillain-prison-break story. With this, and the identity of Electro’s mystery benefactor (who looks worryingly like Nick Fury in silhouette?) providing the intellectual intrigue, and Finch’s solid action sequences as eye candy, this is a far stronger opener than the team’s false start with the “Disassembled” storyline. Definitely one to watch.
What did you think of this book?
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