Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Finch (p), Danny Miki (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following reviews spoil Ronin’s secret identity. If you haven’t read New Avengers #13 and you don’t yet want to learn who Ronin really is, then I don’t even know why you’ve turned your computer on.
Woof. Where do I start?
Part of me wants to tell you that this issue was disappointing in multiple ways, leave it at that, and then direct you below to Kelvin Green’s review. He’s much better at writing these kind of reviews than I am. His condemnatory snarkiness is humorous and entertaining. (It’s humorous to me, at least; I’m still expecting Marvel to email me with a bribe to discontinue using Kelvin as a reviewer.) My condemnatory snarkiness comes across as unamusing sanctimony.
So…, let’s try this “straight up” then.
This issue fails as a resolution to a character mystery, and it fails as a resolution to a super-hero story. With regards to the former, the true identity of Ronin is so obscure that its reveal produces not the desired “Oh Wow!” reaction from the reader, but the never desired “Umm… who?” head scratcher. It would have been far better to keep Ronin’s true identity unexplained. Ronin could have been the Marvel Universe version of the “Unknown Comic” from the 1970s version of The Gong Show who came onto the stage for a very amusing segment every few episodes. Imagine Ronin as the enigmatic ally who appeared out of the blue in the course of an Avengers endeavor in order to provide much needed assistance and then exits stage left before anyone can notice.
Too trite? Yeah, I guess so. My point is that this three issue “Ronin” story arc hinged on a satisfying revelation of Ronin’s identity. It isn’t. But even this flawed, disappointing revelation could have been overcome if the super-heroic action were visually thrilling and relevant.
It isn’t. Throughout the three issues, the Avengers were never in any jeopardy. The sheer mismatch of dozens of Ninjas against the Avengers becomes clear when Iron Man takes them all out with one repulsor ray blast (in a long shot splash page that is utterly ineffective because we’re completely removed and blocked from the display). After watching Shell-head’s powerful discharge, Spider-Man admits he’s experiencing a different kind of discharge: “I’m pooping in my tights.” I have to wonder if ’Ol Web-head perhaps suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. Does close proximity to a repulsor ray emission cause loss of anus sphincter control? It’s just that Spidey couldn’t have been concerned about all the ninjas confronting them. Nothing in the past three issues suggested the Avengers couldn’t easily handle them. (Contrast the Avengers confrontation with these Hand ninjas to their battle on the Raft in New Avengers #1-3; The Raft melee was dire and momentous while the ninja one was laughably unchallenging.) So there has to be another reason why Peter Parker left a load in his diaper. Maybe his “condition” portends a future New Avengers story arc (“And there came a day, a Sh**ty day unlike any other…”).
Hmmn. It appears my attempt to avoid unamusing sanctimonious snarkiness failed, but you really only have yourselves to blame… I told you to skip to Kelvin Green’s review.
I admit it. I was wrong. Bendis outfoxed me, and Ronin is not Daredevil. Given the cretinous non-twist in House of M, I really expected this one to be glaringly transparent too, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. While the “Curious Case Of It Clearly Being Quicksilver” was as obvious and stinky as a fart in an elevator, “The Baffling Conundrum Of Ronin’s Identity” is the other kind of bad mystery plot; one where *all* the clues are misleading and the solution is so utterly random that no one could have possibly worked it out. Not even Grant Morrison’s Batman would have had a chance with this one. And given that the whole point of this “arc” (I’m loathe to call a bunch of limp fight scenes and about six panels of naff characterisation an actual story arc) was the mystery, I can’t help but think of it as another failure of a story.
And that’s quite apart from the sheer bridge-jumping disappointment of finding out that Ronin, the big mystery character Marvel have been talking up since before this series began…, is Echo.
There’s nothing wrong with Echo as such, and she’s certainly no worse a fit than some of the other Avengers who have come and gone over the years, but to put someone so minor at the heart of the book’s big mystery plot is staggeringly inept. It’s the equivalent of Keyser Soze turning out to be one of the unnamed extras from the first five minutes of the film. It’s an utterly deflating experience made no easier by Marvel cocking up and giving away the secret in last month’s Avengers: The Ultimate Guide.
If the rest of the issue was any good, then maybe that disappointment wouldn’t be so sharp, but this is another generally unimpressive Avengers issue from this most ill-suited of creative teams. Finch’s artwork is as stiff and lifeless as per usual, and he really needs to learn how to draw different facial features and structures; his Echo looks just like Spider-Woman after a slap fight with a baker. Meanwhile, Bendis again fills the pages with interminably tiresome word balloons full of meaningless nonsense, this time with some added “clever” Fourth Wall-teasing speculation about Ronin’s identity. I’m sure some people will be overjoyed at the metafiction as Iron Man explains why he couldn’t have just blown up all the ninjas last issue, but to me it comes across more as some smug and arrogant twit of a writer back-pedaling to cover his own mistakes.
I’m truly baffled by the positive critical reception that greets this comic every month; the art is terrible, and the writing is just empty fluff, all style over substance. The sooner Marvel wise up and let Robert Kirkman have a crack at this book, the better. As for now, I can’t even wipe my arse with this; the paper’s too shiny.
Plot: Something is wrong with SHIELD. Or the Hand. Or HYDRA (waitaminute, how is that last one news?). And pretty clearly with Spider-Woman. But definitely NOT with the American government, or Cap would know about it. For shizzle.
Comments: I’ve given this series 10 issues ago. I’d like to give it more, but it hasn’t gotten any better. There were more interesting parts to this story than usual, but not enough for greatness. Most of them involved Spider-Woman, who does have a history (unhelpfully referenced, but in no way explained in dialogue) with Viper and the Samurai and all these supposedly more corrupt than previously bad guys and less noble than once thought good guys.
I guess I just like Finch’s art still. This series definitely has a distinctive look, one that McNiven captured for the most part as well. There’s even a four page silent sequence where the sequential narrative has to tell the story with a montage of shots and things like body language and facial expressions, and I could almost make sense of it. I liked how the gutters went all diagonal towards the end. Cap stood up too soon, and no one was watching Jessica’s screen but her.
The big Reveal: I don’t know much about this character. The most I do know is that her one David Mack story in Daredevil achieved little more than boredom and lowered sales among fans of that book. Here I think she’s an interesting addition, and certainly more surprising than some of the guesses for who was lurking under the mask. As usual, she offers a limited power set that doesn’t augment the team. Laughingly wishing that Sentry would just solve everything for them sounds like nervous jitters more than humor.
Frank D’Armata outdoes himself with moody colors, glowing lights and glistening metal surfaces throughout the issue. The dialogue is mostly good, a little silly in spots, but not deal-breakingly so. Cage especially sounds distinctive. In fact, I applaud how Harada, once given the chance to talk, does so eloquently, saving us from more of the way outmatched ninja-battles of previous issues by being rational.
It’s okay. It wouldn’t be if it weren’t getting on with the Spider-Woman subplot, but there’s finally movement on that front, too. Here’s a glass raised to achieving something better than middling next issue.
For an issue I’d expected to hate, New Avengers #13 surprised me. It provides an interesting continuation of quite a few of the New Avengers plot threads, most notably the double (or triple?) agent status of Spider-Woman. However, it also touches on the less-than altruistic activities of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Savage Land, the possibly wrongful imprisonment of a number of America’s super-powered enemies, and the decision to make public the status of the New Avengers. All this would make for a fairly interesting issue if not for the intermittent fumbling of the big “Ronin” reveal, which is such a ‘meh’ moment that it threatens to undermine the rest of the book.
Bendis cannily wraps up the action in Japan as quickly as possible, and whilst it’s disappointing that we don’t get any real action (bar Iron Man blasting away at ninjas, followed by a weak excuse for why he couldn’t have done that last issue), we do get an interesting exchange between the Silver Samurai and Captain America. Bendis scores some Mark Millar-esque points about the state of contemporary American foreign policy via the Silver Samurai’s anger at being held in custody without trial, and Iron Man’s reaction suggests that he’s not the only one. However, when Luke Cage blunders in with his fists - setting the stage for some potential conflict within the team further down the line – it interrupts the exchange, and it leaves the argument frustratingly unresolved. I applaud Bendis for making his characters morally ambiguous and presenting both sides of the argument, but sometimes it’s not quite enough simply to throw the issues into the readers’ lap to let them decide.
The second half of the issue deals more with Spider-Woman and Ronin, and whilst I was pleased to see some progression in the former’s traitorous storyline, the Ronin mystery was a real flat point of the issue. In the end, it would have made more sense to have Ronin be one of the more obvious choices (Daredevil, Elektra, Shang-Chi) than to bring in Daredevil supporting character Echo for the role. There’s no real reason why she would ally herself with the Avengers, and no explanation given as to how she was drawn back into the superhero world since her last appearance in Daredevil. However, it looks as though we’re not going to have much time for those answers, because although the issue ends fairly abruptly with her reveal, it’s not before we’re told that she’s buggering off back to Japan again. Frankly, there’s not much compelling about her character that makes me want to see more of her, but it would be nice to see future issues at least offer some justification for her appearance here (other than being a last-minute second choice after everyone guessed it was going to be Daredevil).
I’m split on David Finch’s art, as whilst he draws some very good shots of machinery, architecture, and even super-heroes in costume, his facial work really lets the issue down. Some of his characters come off looking deformed, whilst others look interchangeable; when you can’t even tell the difference between the Silver Samurai’s oriental aide and Luke Cage’s African-American features, you know you’re in trouble. Some of Finch’s sequential art seems off this issue too, as a key sequence showing Madame Hydra’s escape is completely fluffed and confusing, with a multitude of panels cluttering up the page and a lack of dialogue only compounding the impenetrable nature of the sequence. Bendis conveniently ignores Spider-Man’s spider-sense in order to make this plot point work, and it’s the latest in a long line of convenient co-incidences which Bendis seems to rely on in order to make his plots make sense, such as Wolverine’s absence for the whole of this storyline or Sentry’s “not yet ready” status (although this is acknowledged in a fun aside from Spidey).
All in all, it’s not the worst issue of New Avengers, and it’s certainly better than the last effort – but that’s damning with faint praise. Now that the Spider-Woman story has kicked into gear I’ll be interested to see where it goes, but the constant anticlimactic nature of the book doesn’t have me very hopeful for the next couple of issues. I think the truth of the matter is that Bendis just can’t write a good super-hero romp on a grand scale, and is wasted on an epic team book like New Avengers. It seems crazy to me that Marvel is letting him quit books which are so much more suited to his talents (Daredevil, The Pulse) and letting him pick and choose his projects, when they turn out average books like this.
What did you think of this book?
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