Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frank Cho
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Whoever is responsible for attaching Frank Cho to this story arc (whether it’s the result of Brian Michael Bendis conceiving this arc with Cho in mind or one of the Editors realizing this story arc should be assigned to Cho) really earned his or her pay for the month because the events of New Avengers #15 (as well as the previous issue #14) really cater to Cho’s strengths as an artist. As everyone knows, Frank Cho is the best at what he does, and what he does is draw damn hot women!
Last issue focused on Spider-Woman (and some pages had some very carefully placed dialogue balloons, if you know what I mean). This issue is partly a spotlight on Warbird/Ms. Marvel/Binary/Carol Danvers (this character goes through codenames like my wife goes through shoes). Cho provides Danvers with a powerful, imposing yet still sexually alluring physique. I can’t recall another artist who provided Carol with as big thighs as Cho does here. But rather than making her look fat, the “thunder thighs” make Carol look the formidable super-hero Marvel has been telling us for years she really is.
New Avengers #15 continues the long-standing tradition of the Avengers presenting their new line-up to the public. Its success as a “new lineup issue” is debatable because of how much focus is provided to Carol Danvers (who… SPOILER WARNING… at the end of the issue doesn’t even join the team) and the Tony Stark-J. Jonah Jameson negotiations. This brings to mind one of Kelvin Green’s principal criticisms of the New Avengers run so far: the Avengers are guest-stars of their own book. Truth be told, the apparent purpose of many of the New Avengers issues over the past year have been to create reader interest in other mini-series and new titles (Sentry, Spider-Woman, and with this issue Ms. Marvel… is Ronin getting her own mini-series? If so, can someone make sure her secret identity is changed?). This kind of marketing promotion has been employed by both DC and Marvel (among other super-hero publishers) for decades. It’s a strategy that works; therefore, it’s here to stay, so we shouldn't be surprised by it. On the other hand, I will agree that too much of the New Avengers run over the past year has been devoted to helping other titles get launched.
As a “new line-up” issue, New Avengers #15 for the most part fails because there are no roster changes, and it relies too much on J. Jonah Jameson’s actions as the “surprise” of the story. However, despite the narrative flaws, any Marvel Comic that features Frank Cho artwork is worth reading.
I had to check the credits to make sure that this was really written by Bendis, because it’s actually not half bad. Of course, we should have had this “meeting the team” issue back around #6, but Bendis thought we’d be better off first seeing non-Avengers Emma Frost and Reed Richards rescue the Sentry, and Daredevil dress up as a woman dressing up as a man.
This unusual habit of using the title to tell stories about other characters makes a resurgence as the final part of the Spider-Woman arc instead concerns itself with... Warbird. To be fair, she’s more of an Avenger than Spider-Woman is, so Bendis’s favourite Avengers narrative “technique” actually works for once, but if any Spider-Woman fans picked this comic up based on such trivialities as the cover or the solicitations, they might be disappointed by the focus on a completely different character altogether. It’s also ridiculously bad storytelling, but I’m hardly surprised; it’s just nice that something good came of it.
Also problematic is the pacing and that should also come as no surprise. At the end of the last issue, the Avengers decided to go outside to talk to the press, an event which actually only comes to pass at the end of this issue; what this means is that Earth's Mightiest Heroes take an entire issue to walk out the front door. My gosh, I remember when stuff actually happened in Avengers comics.
But I did say that this wasn’t half bad, and I suppose I should explain how it came to be that Hell froze over. It turns out that Bendis writes a pretty good Warbird, and although this issue is one of the most shameless ads for an upcoming spin off series I've seen since... oh the Sentry arc, it’s nonetheless great to see the character back in the team (sort of). Bendis does a great job of conveying the feel of old friends getting together, to the extent that I wonder why Warbird wasn’t a member of the team from the get-go. Cho’s artwork is also quite strong; he captures the personalities of the cast much better than previous Not Avengers artists, and the opening action sequence is very a well done display of what this title has been missing. That said, his exaggerated approach to female anatomy becomes a bit tiresome after a while and some of his characters’ faces are a bit on the plasticky and grotesque side, but I think that might be a result of the colouring rather than Cho’s linework.
I find myself almost enjoying this issue, but I suspect that it’s really more to do with the brief cameo by a favourite character than any true increase in quality; the many disappointing writing tics Bendis has introduced to this title are all still present and correct, and while a strong showing with one particular character helps to distract from these problems, it cannot solve them.
Plot: The cover greets us with an upside down Spider-Woman, and that’s a fitting symbol for this issue of reversals, predictable betrayals, and long-awaited admissions.
Comments: The issue opens on Carol Danvers, humorously enough in the midst of blogging, as she reports on a recent battle with one of my favorite villains, Klaw. Babe artist Cho preserves the heroism even as she takes his attack squarely in the insignia, and then heads off to Stark Tower to investigate recent goings on with her old crew. It’s amusing to see Cho (and anyone else who needs depict it, I guess) try to cope with Jae Lee’s evocative arcs for the Sentry Sanctum. Cho is inking himself here, and pulls it off admirably. It helps that it’s now SUPPOSED to stick out like a sore thumb. It seems House of M, in which Ms. Marvel was an icon of power and glamour even in a mutant-run world, has clued Carol in to her own squandered potential.
It’s touching to hear her discuss this realization with a costume-less Steve Rogers, and Cho skillfully augments the conversation. Carol seems utterly blind to the subtext of what a matched set she and Cap are, but Cap isn’t, and neither is Bendis. For all her bodacious curves, Carol will always be one of the boys, and in her new series she might even be one of the big ones. About time (though I am relieved that Bendis won’t be writing it).
This is a crucial point in Bendis-era Avengers, their coming-out issue as it were, and Bendis nails several other bits of characterization. Furthermore, wherever he falters, Cho steps in. I wish he could stay on the book; he’s a great fit, Bendis’s best collaborator next to Coipel in my mind. This is easily the best art this series has yet seen. It’s not Steve Epting and Tom Palmer, but it’s really quite good.
Tony’s still a bit too hoi polloi, but Wolverine, Peter and especially Luke are testaments to not only what this version of the Avengers can be, but also subtly to what they always were. Bendis’s Cap is the personification of this nobility, and somehow he lets him sound optimistic without making fun of him. Cho again adds a subtle note to Spider-Woman’s expression during one of the many pep talks that pepper this talky issue. That’s also okay. Bendis is good at the talking.
It all leads to two fitting reversals. The first is an echo of the bleak denouement of “Avengers Disassembled,” when the team disbanded in depression and mourning. This public announcement of their regrouping is greeted with fitting (if not unalloyed) joy, though curiously we’re still viewing them from behind in the standard “meet the new guys” splash page.
That could mean we’re the insiders, already privy to what the world is just discovering. Or maybe it’s just one more excuse to check out Jessica Drew’s backside (a signature image since she joined).
The second is a joke I won’t spoil. Well, unless you read my Pulse review, which is rarely in synch this month with Bendis’s best-selling book.
With this issue, the New Avengers finally go public and their line-up is confirmed. Yes, you read that right: after 15 issues their membership and official status has only just been finalised. However, whilst some people might see that as an unforgivably long amount of time to have taken to cement his team, I think that that’s missing the point of what Bendis is trying to do with this book. He seems keen to thoroughly explore the character dynamic of the superteam that he’s assembled before he launches them into any epic battles or “cosmic” storylines - but whether this makes for a satisfying Avengers story is going to depend very much on your own personal tastes. Bendis’s writing is made up of a lot of little moments, with a noticeable emphasis on character and dialogue at the expense of solid plotting. It’s an approach which has served him well on smaller, more character-based titles like Daredevil or Alias, which rank among his best work in the super-hero genre. However, his bigger “event” comics like House of M and Secret War have proved notably less successful in storytelling terms, whether scuppered by unbalanced pacing, limp and underwhelming endings, or a simple lack of focus and discipline. His presence as writer on this rebooted title is the comicbook equivalent of stunt casting, put in place more to draw a high readership to the title than to service the best needs of the characters or the story, but it has again allowed him to play in the larger sandbox of the Marvel Universe to his heart’s content - albeit with decidedly mixed results.
This issue is neither the best nor the worst of the current run, providing enough character-based interest to save it from complete indifference even though not a huge amount happens. Carol Danvers - Ms. Marvel - is introduced to the book in the opening pages, and over the course of her online blog (possibly not the most logical thing for a superhero to do, but anyway) she details her reaction to the news that the Avengers are reforming without her. I enjoyed the portrayal of Ms. Marvel as a confident woman with a mission of self-improvement, and her motivation to become a better person is a logical and positive consequence of her appearance in House of M. I enjoyed the fact that Bendis doesn’t take the easy route of having her long for the days of the Avengers again, but instead sets her up as a stronger, more independent character. She’s far more similar to the strong, assured Carol Danvers who appeared in Alias as a friend of Jessica Jones than the unconfident pre-House-of-M Ms. Marvel, and it’s good to see Bendis nurturing yet another strong female character in the Marvel stable. This issue also presents an interesting development between the New Avengers and J. Jonah Jameson’s Daily Bugle, in which Tony Stark and Captain America attempt to coerce Jameson into taking a certain editorial line as their new team is revealed. It’s actually a lot more of a moral grey area than the Avengers seem to think, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader who actually found himself siding with Jameson in his refusal to accept an officially-sanctioned party line at the expense of his journalistic integrity. I also enjoyed this plot thread for the nice moment between Spider-Man and Jameson that it provided, which was as enjoyably unexpected as it was short-lived.
Frank Cho’s artwork is fun and brightly-coloured, evoking a very classic Marvel feel which suits most of the characters very well. It’s a little more cartoony than my tastes normally stretch to, and his penchant for an overly sexualised female form can hinder more than help his storytelling in places, but he proves a good fit for the opening sequence which sees a very old-school superhero battle go down between Ms. Marvel and Klaw. Cho also does well with the crowd scenes later in the book, keeping his renditions of the New Avengers consistent and giving them a modern edge which isn’t exactly as militaristic and modern as the Ultimates, but which equally doesn’t look quite as outdated as some of the more traditionalist interpretations can feel. However, there’s a moment of unintentional hilarity when Jessica Jones makes a cameo, and Cheesecake Cho realises that he’s painted himself into a corner in terms of his female characters’ breast size: in order to maintain comparative scale with his over-endowed approach to the rest of his female cast, the artist has seen fit to provide the heavily pregnant Jones with comedy-sized mammary glands, each of which is bigger than her head. It’s not an absolute howler, but it does show up the weaknesses inherent in such an adolescent approach to the female form, especially when you compare it with Michael Gaydos’ far more realistic take on the pregnant Jessica which can be found in the most recent issue of The Pulse. I’m also thankful that Cho is filling in on an arc without much in the way of action, as I’m not convinced that his style would work quite so well in that context, but he does enough here to keep things moving along happily enough.
I’d also be remiss not to mention that eye-catching, funky, and colourful upside-down cover image – even if it does mark at least the third time in 15 issues that Spider-Woman has been the only member of the (8-strong) New Avengers to be featured on a pinup-style cover for the book. Whether this is symbolic of her current importance in Marvel’s marketing plans is debatable, but I hope it isn’t symptomatic of any intention to make her the centre of the team or of this title. Bendis already has his “Origin” mini and an upcoming ongoing title to explore her character as much as he likes, and although I’ve enjoyed her mini-arc over the past few issues, it’s provided enough of a payoff to the long-running double-agent-of-Hydra plot thread that I was kind of hoping that it marked the final resolution of it in this book. Sadly, this issue’s final page is ambiguous enough to imply that we might not have seen the final time that Jennifer’s bluff-and-double-bluff existence impedes the team’s progress, and I can only hope that it doesn’t become another example of Bendis’s tendency to draw an idea out beyond its natural timespan.
I’m tentatively looking forward to seeing what kind of threat Bendis is going to come up with for the team’s first big, public mission in the next arc, but the news that it springs out of the ending of his House of M doesn’t exactly inspire me with confidence. Over the course of this series, we’ve seen Bendis draw on numerous plot elements from his other Marvel books - including Daredevil, Alias, The Pulse, Secret War, Spider-Woman and House of M - to create his stories, and although some of this has been done fairly organically (I thought Nick Fury’s appearance last issue was a fairly logical development which holds a lot of promise for future storylines) there’s also a sense that he’s using his past work as a crutch in lieu of pushing forward with new ideas. Instead of creating the feeling of a rich tapestry of continuity between titles in the Marvel Universe, it’s actually having the opposite effect, restricting the stories to Bendis’s own well-worn corner of the Marvel Universe instead of breaking new ground. I’ll reserve final judgement until I see what Bendis makes of his first “big” Avengers story, but if the next few issues prove that he can’t apply his undeniable writing skills as readily to large-scale action and plotting as he can to dialogue and character interaction then I can’t see much of a future for him on this title.
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