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Sunday Slugfest - New Avengers Annual #1

Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Oliver Coipel (p), Drew Geraci, Drew Hennessy, Livesay, Rick Magyar, Danny Miki, Mark Morales, Mike Perkins and Tim Townsend (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

EDITORíS NOTE: New Avengers Annual arrives in stores this Wednesday, April 26.





Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Michael Bailey:
Ariel Carmona Jr.:
Michael Deeley:
Shawn Hill:

SPOILER WARNING: Some plot and character developments of this Annual warranted reviewer commentary. To not comment on these developments would have resulted in very bland (and useless) reviews. Please digest these reviews with that forewarning.






Michael Aronson

There are two weddings going on at Marvel right now. One is the result of a relationship that began five years ago and has progressed on and off ever since. The other cites a random issue from a 1970s team-up series as its inspiration while grabbing for any and all mainstream media attention and adding a new definition to the term ďforced.Ē Guess which oneís more credible? This is probably the first time Iíve ever given credit to Bendis for appropriately pacing a plot/subplot, and hopefully not the last time.

Speaking of pacing, Iím also amazed that the writer has managed to tell a legitimately complete story in this one issue. That novelty on its own is probably worth the price of admission. Itís also possibly the only thing worth the price of admission.

A loose end from a previous New Avengers tale comes back to haunt the team in the form of a new Super Adaptoid. What does it have to do with the wedding? Nothing, it just occurs coincidentally a few hours after the wedding is agreed upon. Apparently, the Adaptoid can mimic any power, ability or technology simply by touching it. I donít know much about the original Adaptoid, but wasnít the point that it could adapt to a characterís powers or fighting style only after fighting it first? Here, the Adaptoid simply touches the characters and absorbs not only their powers but also their costumes. HUH? And it can absorb all the power in Iron Manís armor. DER? Given this logic and the resolution of this battle, how come the Adaptoid doesnít absorb a GPS system after falling into a car? Why doesnít it turn into a toaster after touching one? Does this mean the Avengers could have essentially beaten it by knocking it into a Radio Shack? Or dumping a bucketful of Gameboys on its head? Oh Bendis, you and your funny logic.

Despite the horrendous lines the Adaptoid spouts, a far cry from the pre-modified character, itís one of the few opponents that are actually a worthy threat for the New Avengers, and the Sentry finally gets some action. While Sentry, Ms. Marvel and Iron Man all get some key action scenes, a credible Avengers threat only serves to offset how useless street characters like Wolverine, Luke Cage and Spider-Man are in these kinds of stories. And Ronin is still nowhere to be found.

Oh yeah, I almost forget, thereís a wedding too, but itís so tacked-on that itís practically forgettable, despite being the center of focus on the cover and in the solicitation. It comes as an afterthought in the last few pages and feels rather disconnected from a comic about the New Avengers. This wedding would have better belonged in the old Alias series or the recently sort-of-cancelled Pulse, except Bendis was too busy using that series to explain Secret War and House of M to get around to the wedding. So it ends up as an epilogue in a New Avengers annual. This wouldnít be such a gripe if there was the usual pomp and celebration that comes with a Marvel U wedding, but there is literally ONE major guest at the wedding. One. Thereís no glorified splash page showcasing a whoís who of the Marvel Universe in the audience. Thereís hardly any chemistry between Luke and Jessica at the altar. Itís just . . . hollow.

But the biggest misstep of this issue was putting Coipel on pencils. I donít understand it: the coverís beautiful, he did a decent job on House of M, and I used to enjoy his work on Legion, but the chicken scratch here didnít resemble his usual standard of quality. The layouts are a mess with chaotic action thatís too often confusing and doesnít follow sequentially from panel to panel. Where one panel is well-rendered and dynamic, the next is sloppy and incomprehensible. This holds true for both the action scenes and the talking heads. Could the unevenness be attributed to the eight different inkers? Possibly, but heís had over six months since House of M ended to get ahead on this issue. Thereís no excuse for this sludge.

This Annual marks a momentous occasion, as Bendis actually wraps up multiple loose threads into a complete story Ė with scenes of both talking heads and action Ė all wrapped into one issue! Ah, but if that werenít the only strength of this issue . . .




Michael Bailey

Plot: Working with A.I.M., Hydra turns Yelena Belova, also known as the Black Widow, into a new version of the Adaptoid. Meanwhile Jessica Jones gives Luke Cage an answer to his proposal. Tony Stark meets with the Mayor to discuss the New Avengers, but before the meeting can really start, Yelena attacks.

Commentary: This was a really fun book.

Iím serious. Some people have numerous problems with the New Avengers, and most of them have valid reasons for disliking the book, the writer and the line-up. I have my own problem (that being Wolverineís place on the team), but I have gotten to the point as a comic reader that Iím willing to give even the most bizarre concept a chance.

Iím the guy who howled in protest at the concept of Jason Todd coming back from the dead and that ended up being my favorite storyline from last year. Like Chuck Berry said, it goes to show you never can tell.

I appreciated the fact that this wedding took place in an annual. There is a history of this at Marvel as both the Richards and the Parkers were married in annuals, so as low-tier as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones may be to some people (not to me), it makes me smile to see them wed in this format. The wedding itself, though, was rather unconventional. There was no longwinded lead-up, no bachelor party, no bachelorette party and no huge fight during or after the ceremony. There was a huge fight before the ceremony, but that had nothing to do with Luke or Jessica. The only truly cute thing Bendis and Coipel did was their choice of minister presiding over Luke and Jessicaís wedding ceremony. It reminded me of the minister who married Lois and Clark. (In the comic, by the way, not the television show.)

The actual fight was really well done. From set-up to final blow, it worked. Iím a huge fan of big fights like this, and I was impressed with how Bendis and Coipel (and the horde of inkers) choreographed how the characters entered and exited the battle. Everyone got a chance to shine, and if you are a fan of Iron Man then this fight will make you very happy. I was happy which is saying something because I have a serious problem with the character. (Itís a really petty one too; Iron Man was the subject of the questions that took me out in the first elimination round of Van Plexicoís Marvel Jeopardy held at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia. Two years, two Iron Man questions, two times where I was gone in less than sixty seconds. So Iron Man can bite me.)

In The End: I came into this annual with very few preconceived notions, and I ended up enjoying the heck out it. This is quintessential Marvel storytelling. I still have some reservations, but after this annual I am more likely to read the ongoing series. Bendis and crew delivered not only an epic battle that tied into the Avengerís past but a very sweet and emotional wedding. New Avengers Annual #1 is the best introductory issue to the team you could ask for and is well worth your time and money.




Ariel Carmona Jr.

Plot: Yelena Belova, a.k.a The Black Widow, is given a new lease on life and a chance to get her revenge on the New Avengers by Hydra and A.I.M. Jessica Jones comes to visit Luke Cage and the Avengers with her new baby. She accepts Cageís proposal of marriage, then the team assembles to fight the villain de jour, the aforementioned Black Widow.

Comments: Okay, Iím going to confess this: I donít like this book. I like the old Avengers a whole lot better. This is only the third copy of New Avengers I read, and I donít like it.

Sorry Bendis, I know you try hard to come up with witty banter and snappy dialogue and funny lines for Spidey to spew every month, but it all seems very forced. Or maybe, you are so overworked that youíre phoning it in for the sake of steady paychecks. I surmise the latter is closer to the truth. Iím sick and tired of the ďdecompressionĒ of the Marvel books, but this is the worst one.

Sorry Olivier Coipel. I like your style, too bad you donít get better material to illustrate. Or maybe youíre just thrilled to be drawing our favorite heroes. The rest of us want and expect more.

Why is Wolverine even in this team other than to boost sales of the comic with occasional cover shots? Logan is a bit of a loner, then he became a member of the X-Men and initially he had a tough time coping as a team player, but at least he has something in common with them: mutant genes. He just doesnít fit with the Avengers. Thereís a scene in this comic which deals with Jessica Jones and Luke Cageís baby which lasts for over three agonizing pages of dumb dialogue and ruminations. Enough already! The worldís mightiest heroes assembled to gush over a baby? Why are Mary Jane and Aunt May even in Avengers Tower? I donít read Amazing Spiderman regularly anymore, but I guess it has to do with an arrangement Tony Stark made with Peter as a result of a storyline in that book. Yet, Mary Jane gets on my nerves here more than adding anything substantial to the plot. At one point she blurts out, ďYouíre going to love being married.Ē In this comic, sheís not a fleshed out character but a caricature, a super heroís wife whoís happy to have another gal pal join her private circle.

Then we get another three abysmal pages or so of Cageís reaction to Jessica finally answering his wedding proposal, but not before he gets this retarded look on his face. I remember reading and loving a comic book when I was a boy called Power Man and Iron Fist. The Luke Cage I remember was a street smart tough as nails hero. He didnít speak or dress like a wanna be hip hop artist. Here he also looks too much like Bishop which must confuse the hell out of Wolverine.

When the new and improved Black Widow finally makes her appearance in the form of a creature with enhanced ďadaptoidĒ technology apparently engineered by A.I.M., chaos ensues, but not before another needless page where the mayor of New York City proclaims that thereís too much ďsuper hero crapĒ for one city which attracts too much attention. I guess thereís some inherent logic behind this statement: wherever there are heroes, there are super powered foes threatening ordinary folks in the process. So in essence, the heroes are also a liability. The mayorís fears are validated by the Black Widow/Adaptoidís subsequent attack, but I think that it could have been handled in fewer panels, or left out altogether.

Thereís one cool page where Tony Stark uses every version of the Iron Man suit to combat the villain de jour, but when heís shown sitting on the rooftop of the building controlling them via remote control, it all seems a bit contrived. After the big battle, more talking heads: Iron Man confronts Spider-Woman about her loyalty to the team. Then we have to suffer through another long winded speech, this one courtesy of Jessica Jones who waxes philosophical about the nature of her commitment to Cage. Apparently in Bendisí world of talking heads, not even something as simple and uncomplicated as a wedding ceremony is what it appears to be. Lame.

Final Word: Did you get the feeling I didnít care much for this comic yet? Good. Donít buy it. Itís got Marvelís heavy hitters like Spidey, Sentry and Wolverine, but it doesnít do anything interesting with them in 40 pages. Itís a padded mess of violence, melodrama an inane dialogue. Nuff said!




Michael Deeley

This special picks up two plot threads from the monthly series. First, Jessica Jones accepts Luke Cageís marriage proposal. Then Yelena Belova, the other Black Widow, is transformed by Hydra into a new Adaptoid. Brawling ensues.

If you havenít read the New Avengers before now, (all 9 of you), this issue gives you a good idea of what the teamís like. The reason for these heroes coming together is given on the first page. Each character brings something unique to the team that helps to defeat Yelena. Ultimately itís the curse that comes with the Sentryís power that stops the villain. The teamís suspicious treatment of Spider-Woman at the end is another interesting character arc that could interest new readers.

The wedding at the end of the comic is another great Marvel Milestone. Jessicaís honest and blunt declaration of her love for Luke Cage keeps perfectly with her character. Not surprising, since Bendis created and wrote nearly every story sheís appeared in. Stan Lee acting as minister is also a nice touch.

I always liked Coipelís penciling, but never have I seen it inked with such a softer touch. Maybe the various inkers worked together to create a more unified look. Maybe one inker went over the entire book after the other inkers were finished. Whatever they did, it worked. Luke Cageís expression when Jessica accepts is priceless! And their baby really does look cute. There were times when the art approached the humanity of Kevin Maguire. All that, and action thatís easy to follow.

So whatís wrong with this book that Iíd give it such a low score? Because Bendis once again screws up a great female character.

Yelena Belova wasnít a big player in the Marvel U, but she was an interesting character. In her first two Black Widow mini-series, (collected under Black Widow), sheís the original Black Widowís rival and would-be replacement. The original, Natasha Romanov, tries to teach her (1) How the government would treat her as a disposable weapon, and (2) Why sheíll never be as good as her. Yelenaís solo story Black Widow: Pale Little Spider further expanded on her character. So Ms. Belova was shaping up to be an ingťnue with a complex personal life aching for the chance to prove herself as good as a legend.

Then Bendis trashes her for a plot point.

And he doesnít even write her very well! During the fight, she calls Ms. Marvel fat and says she has a ďthingĒ for Captain America. What is she, a secret agent or a cat fighter? Now you might be thinking that a character whoís appeared in so few stories doesnít have much of a personality anyway. And youíd be right. Which makes me wonder how Bendisís writing is so incongruous with what little has come before. Even someone whoís never read a comic with Yelena would be disappointed with her clichťd dialogue.

One last thing: How exactly did Iron Man expect to overcome Yelena with his multiple Iron Man armors? Did he think sheíd only be able to copy one and then be overwhelmed by their numbers? It doesnít really matter since it didnít work, whatever it was.

So New Avengers Annual gave us a big-olí fight scene, some romance, and a little humor. But it also turned another potentially interesting female character into yet another evil bitch. Par for the course for this series.




Shawn Hill

Plot: Rudimentary. An old foe in new form comes back to exact her revenge on the team (sound familiar?), almost but not quite disrupting impending nuptials.

Comments: This issue is so deeply by the numbers. The only thing enlivening the script is the dialogue, which is lively if predictable and peppered with jokes that are, if not laugh-out-loud funny, at least worth a giggle or a rueful smile.

No hint of Civil War here, and this is the presage to New Avengers #22, some four or five issues ahead of where we are with the title, so I guess everythingís going to work out okay this summer after all.

Ms. Marvel shows up, and gets to recall her X-Men experience as well as her Avengers moxie by executing some smooth battle moves with Wolverine. Bendis once again tries to showcase Iron Man, but is having everyone gape in awe really the only way to do it? He knows virtual reality. We get it. We also know Namor can kick his but, and so can a random collection of former mutant powers. Heís become the walking embodiment of a deus ex machina, doing whatever Bendis needs when he needs it. The seams arenít supposed to show this much.

Saving graces: Luke and Jessica have some of their witty banter; of all Bendis characters, these are the two that sound the least like they understand each other when actually theyíre always on the same page.

The art is stunningly beautiful. This issue is proof positive that Coipel, from his humble beginnings on a transitional Legion of Super-Heroes story, has become a first-rank artist capable of delivering the drama that Bendis keeps trying to instill into supposed galaxy-class bruisers like the Sentry. Coipel also does an inspired Captain America, and seldom has problems with lack of narrative clarity. Of course, whatís to confuse about so many extra pages of an issue-long brawl?

The problem Iím having is not buying the premise. The villain here is a picked-up plot thread from several issues back in the main title, but in the interim Iíve read about the same character living quite happily and intact in Cuba. Does Bendis just get to ignore any continuity that appears in a lower-selling book he doesnít like? Since I much preferred that rendition and fate for the nominal character to the crude and obvious plot machinations found here, the story is compromised.

This tenuous connection to Avengers history is going to take more than a one-page swipe and AIM involvement to explain it, and it has actually nothing to do with the spy character in question, who had previously appeared in better stories than this. Itís a waste and a needlessly histrionic one, with no motivation given the villain other than anger at things not going her way. Thereís no resonance with her actual established identity and history, and thatís just plain bad writing. And the one fault with the art is that she is not given any sort of distinctive look, and looks generic, providing no competition to the original design of the foe included in the swiped page.

As sentimental as I am about the wedding tacked on the end of the issue, Iím also appreciative that we didnít actually see the wedding disturbed, and Iím seriously impressed with Coipelís vision of the main characters. All these factors add up to average, when what we were hoping for was a classic.



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