Well now. This is how it’s done, isn’t it?
My expectations were high for the launch of this title, and the reasons are palpable. Ed Brubaker writing? Check. Steve McNiven on art? Oh yes, that’s a big check. A Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, Nick Fury, and Dum Dum Dugan cast? Here’s my $3.99, guys—sign me the heck up.
I became a Cap fan from reading various Avengers books over the years, but it wasn’t until very recently that I actually began to pay attention to his solo title(s). The praise drummed up for Brubaker’s take on Steve and Bucky got me to give his stuff a look, and from what I’ve read so far, I can confidently say that praise is well-deserved. So I went into this new first issue expecting Brubaker to deliver, and deliver he did.
If you’re reading Fear Itself, or even if you’re not, you likely know by now that my sweet Bucky Barnes is dead (again). The setup has, I’m told, been long coming for Cap to take up the shield once again, and here we have that promise fulfilled. The book begins, sadly, with a funeral—Peggy Carter’s, specifically—in an opening scene that is both poignant and purposeful. We’re introduced to the cast, given a brief insight into the man that Steve Rogers is, and then kicked off into an action sequence that, I have to say, is delivered frigging beautifully by McNiven. Can that man draw the heck out of a comic, or what? The layouts are so clear; his lines are clean, and everything just looks fantastic while functioning superbly. You’re certainly never left looking at a panel and wondering what’s happening. I fell in love with McNiven’s work with his Civil War stuff, and I’m falling harder now.
But back to the writing. To start off the first arc, Cap and his team find themselves facing a once-friend, now-enemy from his WWII days. Brubaker impresses me pretty effortlessly here. He doesn’t try too hard and he’s never too in-your-face with things. Characterization comes across subtly and naturally, and the setting flows from one scene to another bridged through flashbacks in time. The issue ends with the expected cliffhanger—I say “expected,” but that doesn’t make it any less effective. In fact, I’m even more excited to read on.
Marvel, obviously, are capitalizing on the newly-released Captain America movie and using it as a way to give new readers a place to start. I’m shocked to say they’re actually doing it right by writing Cap as he’s meant to be written and not dumbing things down for new fans. Captain America #1 is precisely what I want from a comic, and so long as this creative teams sticks around, I anticipate fans will, too.
I tend to pick up Avengers books here and there, depending on story arc and previews that grab me. Bendis as a writer is very hit-and-miss for me. I generally like most of his ideas and character development, but sometimes he’ll do something that will totally stick me the wrong way (treatment of Tigra; last-minute ditch of Spider-Woman title; gag-inducing self promotion in his books), and the stereotype that he writes every character’s dialogue the same is mostly true. Don’t get me wrong—sometimes he is just a master at light-heartedness and at getting down to who a character is through dialogue—but a lot of the time, yes, they do all quip like Spider-Man.
Those pet peeves aside, he can still spin a good yarn. Particularly when you compare his stuff to some of the other junk that saturates the Marvel shelves. But I digress. Let’s talk about New Avengers #14.
Reading the Avengers off and on as I do can get understandably confusing as I attempt to fill in the gaps of things I’ve missed. What led me to snag this issue was actually a preview page online of Mockingbird talking at the “camera.” Apparently, in the last arc, Mockingbird was gravely injured, and in an attempt to save her life, some sort of amalgam of Super Soldier Serum was administered to her. This summary of backstory is part of why I loved this issue. Instead of reading some dry re-cap page, I got everything I needed to know in-story, directly from the character herself. We’ve seen these pages a lot recently in Avengers—simple, square panel, face-forward shots of characters speaking straight to the audience—and it’s a technique that works spectacularly well. It’s simple, effective, and refreshing. Chris Bachalo and JR Jr. have both tried their hand at this style of storytelling for Bendis, and in this issue of New Avengers, Mike Deodato gets his turn.
He does a great job, in my opinion. I loved Deodato’s work to kick off the Secret Avengers title, but soon got sick of the constant shadows and darkness and what became a blatantly obvious laziness. The stuff he does here, though, looks infinitely better—partly because, yeah, he does actually draw their faces for a change—and it feels like he’s trying harder. There’s more going on, and I largely enjoyed it.
Mockingbird is indeed the spotlight of this issue, and I’m glad of it. It feels like Bendis is giving her character some real credit, and he ties the story into Fear Itself without actually making it a Fear Itself tie-in … if that makes any sense. The whole Sin/hammers/destruction stuff is still there, sure, but this issue is about the Avengers and about Mockingbird specifically. In this event-crazy medium, it’s kind of nice to have that split. Let’s keep it going.
My awesome and hilarious co-worker at the comic shop pointed out to me last week during our shift together that he wondered if there were any books I actually enjoyed reading. When I was confused as to why he was asking this, he explained that he found the majority of my reviews to be amusing, because they were mostly “angry rants.” Okay—fair enough. I guess I can see why he’d say that. In fact, what few positive reviews I give seem to get lost in between the criticisms. Sometimes it’s so much easier to write about things you dislike than the things you love—the bad stuff gives you more material. But, yes, there are actually a number of books I’m really enjoying right now—Mike Carey’s X-Men Legacy tops the list, hands down. Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey has been everything I wanted the book to be since it came back. Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl has been a gem that, sadly, a lot of people seem to be missing. I am always counting down for whenever the next Fables or Walking Dead trade is due on the shelves. And now, Secret Avengers is the only Avengers book I’m actively picking up.
This choice is an odd one for me, because the first four issues of this book have taken a “space adventure” turn—something in which I’m not typically interested. But I decided to give it a chance, because a.) it’s not written by Brian Michael Bendis, and b.) it has a unique cast of characters. You have Steve Rogers, back from the dead, and taking on a managerial role on a very different scale. You have Sharon Carter, who Brubaker has developed into an influential chess piece. War Machine and Moon Knight—the spotlight on these guys can only get better as we move forward. Valkyrie is a fascinating character who adds a great other-worldly element to the group. Black Widow fits well on a black ops team, and seeing Beast as an Avenger again and working with Cap has been great. Not to mention the new Ant-Man—a slate I can only imagine Brubaker will have a ton of fun filling.
This group has very much kept me involved in this title, and after four issues, I’m confident it will only continue to get better. Brubaker utilizes the fourth issue to wrap up the team’s time on Mars while finally introducing us to the villain behind the scenes—yes, there’s someone other than Nick Fury in charge here. The scene following the cover, in which Steve Rogers puts on the Nova helmet, is, quite frankly, all kinds of awesome. We get somewhat of a conclusion to the crown dilemma, but Brubaker leaves just enough strings dangling to let the plot continue into future issues. He doesn’t rush the pacing—we’re developing slowly, here, and that’s a good thing. It fills me with a certain level of faith when a writer takes his time and gives me the sense he’s being meticulous. This faith is precisely why I’m not scoffing at the idea of Nick Fury being involved with the group of villains—his reveal at the end of the first issue had me raising an eyebrow, and the word “lame” may have echoed in my head for just a moment—but overall, I’m confident in what Brubaker’s building here, and Mike Deodato’s “dark,” shady art is a nice fit.
I think this is going to be good, guys. And I think you should give it a try.
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Mike Deodato, Jr.
Colors by Rain Beredo
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Originally posted 8/26/10 @ Nerd Caliber