The New Avengers remain confused by magic, even though they now have two Sorcerers Supreme on the team who, helpfully, name each of their spells in glowing, white letters.
New Avengers #5 is a standard issue of Brian Michael Bendis’s rebooted version of the team. The humor still clicks this issue, which is peppered with the usual funny, non-disruptive jokes. Everybody makes light of a rather unfocused-but-relentless demonic horde invasion--until the real players are revealed.
See, these demons are led, or freed, or influenced or something by the Ancient One, Doctor Strange's old mentor--or something that wants us to think that's who he is. He's fooled Danny Rand, who returns from dimensional travel in a nifty white version of his usual gear--but, c'mon, how hard is it to fool Danny Rand? Mostly, the kid only knows how to hit. His Avengers buddies talk him out of it pretty easily.
I'm not sure about Bendis's Damon Hellstrom, hanging around as Johnny Rotten to Stephen's Sid Vicious these days. He's had so many uncool variations before, I can't really dismiss this version of the Son of Satan as a member of Velvet Revolver, but I can't be quite convinced, either. He seems like a sullen teenager most of the time--nipping at Dr. Strange's heels.
I'm more taken with Bendis’s approach to Brother Voodoo, who has also alternated between being wooden, a playa, and a few other moods over the years. However, here he seems to be getting serious about commanding the mojo at last. I'm worried that Bendis may have done in the spirit of Brother Voodoo’s brother; I don't think that's a haunting that Jericho Drumm needs or wants to be free of. If so, though, at least Daniel gets a spooky final scene.
The rest is sort of business as usual for this team, as they all have gone to the patented Spider-Man school of bantering while they fight--even when they don't know what they're fighting or why. They know enough to know they don't like it.
When “the Ancient One” or whatever it is that’s facing them (we get some clues in a flashback featuring a kick-ass Wong--it's like Tarantino directed a Doc Strange movie all of a sudden) pulls the old ploy of possessing the good guys, they pull the equally old ploy of commingling all their might into one deadly human weapon--you remember, like Buffy facing Adam at the end of Season Four.
New Avengers #5 would be less palatable without an artist as gifted as Stuart Immonen to sell every mood, every glance, every line of dialogue, and every glancing beam of power. This work may not be his best ever (I think I'll let the more expansive Nextwave stay unchallenged on that front), but he's a vital part of a team clearly capable of creating a book that’s equal parts fun and violence.
Even if you like it (which I do), you have to admit that Brian Michael Bendis rarely deviates from formula when writing New Avengers. Sure, all of Bendis’s work, including his über-creative efforts on Daredevil and Powers, has always followed a very distinct rhythm, but never more so than in his take on this version of Marvel’s premier super-team.
The gist of it goes something like this:
A gathering of heroes with underdog status (this time because they aren’t Steve Rogers’ “official” Avengers group) finds itself bantering its way through a formidable, yet ultimately simplistic, threat. On a good day, such a tale will be illustrated by an all-star artist like Stuart Immonen.Though this approach may not be conducive to Big Event-type stories (see: Secret Invasion), its appeal lies in its ability to create quality character moments. With a heavy dose of gallows humor, Bendis’s characters convey a real sense of peer bonding from deep down in the trenches.
It works best when the in-over-their-heads vibe arises organically from the situation in which the characters find themselves--the prime example occurring just after Civil War when New Avengers became the flagship book of the fugitive anti-registration heroes, and it carried over fairly well into the Dark Reign era.
However, with the status quo now restored, and with these Avengers free to roam the streets in broad daylight, it’s not as easy to buy into the ragtag spirit that this book still aims to perpetuate. The magical incursion into our dimension that the New Avengers have been struggling against these last few issues certainly qualifies as the requisite insurmountable odds, but it’s unclear why the “B” team would be left to fight such a foe alone.
Thus, when Bendis has Spider-Man make a crack about the so-called real team having to answer an “Avengers priority emergency call,” it doesn’t ring true. Yeah, it’s exactly the kind of self-aware joke that would have killed in this book half a year ago, but it comes across now as simply a painful reminder of the artificiality of the story’s whole premise.
In my review of New Avengers #1 back in June, I wrote about how glad I was that the second volume of this book carried on the playful tone of the first. I still feel that way, but I hope that in subsequent months Bendis is better able to disguise some of the creative liberties he has taken.
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