The Comic Book Club: “New Avengers” #1 and “Age of Bronze” #30

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Mike Williams, Graeme McMillan and Douglas Wolk discuss New Avengers #1 and Age of Bronze #30 (with brief digressions onto Ultimate Spider-Man and DC Universe Legacies).

MIKE: New Avengers #1: Ugh. Magic. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen Dr. Strange do is throw down some judo moves on the Ghost over in Iron Man a few months ago. When he throws the rock ‘n’ roll fingers and goes all Jubilee, I start yawning. I’m not thrilled that the new New Avengers will be fighting mystical, magical baddies in their first adventure.

I do like that they are moving into the original Avengers mansion in Central Park. I thought much of it was destroyed after “Disassembled”? I thought I remembered the Young Avengers visiting the ruins some time back. I still like Luke Cage as de facto leader and moral compass for the group. And so far I like the team itself.

I was just really hoping that it would be more “street.” The Avengers or even the Secret Avengers should be handling the more cosmic stuff. These guys should be doing what Luke Cage wanted the old New Avengers to do a long time ago: cleaning up bad neighborhoods and reminding thugs that super-teams don’t just knock over giant robots.

DOUGLAS: I was really pleased with this issue–the setup seems to be playing to a lot of Bendis’s strengths, especially dialogue. He’s got a lot of characters on this team who’ve got distinctive, fun speech patterns he can play off against each other: Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, the Thing. I’m still not entirely clear on what these Avengers are supposed to do–how any plot is not going to involve a fight coming to them, as it does here–but at least Bendis has established a reason for this team to exist separately from the capital-A team. (And I also think it’s pretty funny that the Thing is one of these Avengers while the Invisible Woman is one of Paul Tobin’s Avengers over in Marvel Adventures Super Heroes.)

I’m with you on the “what’s up with Avengers Mansion being rebuilt?” question, though, especially since Tony Stark is broke over in Iron Man! Also, why does Victoria Hand show up with a Cable-sized gun instead of just walking on? Did this issue just need another action scene?

GRAEME: I really liked New Avengers–much more than Avengers #1, in part because it feels as if Bendis gets these characters more, or that it’s easier or more natural for him to write these characters. There’s something more organic, and less artificial, about seeing Bendis do Luke, Jessica, Danny et al., compared with Cap, Iron Man and Thor. Also, the set-up seemed faster and less forced, even if I still don’t really understand the “Luke, you get your own Avengers but some of them will be on my team as well” thing. Plus, I still want them to call this team the Defenders because, dude. That’s totally who they are, really.

MIKE: Yeah, I get the impression that Spider-Man is strictly in this book so that Wolverine has someone to growl “Won’t you shut up?” to every issue or two. And why does Spidey wear his mask all the time? Is this because no one on the team knows his identity after “Brand New Day?” Thinking back, I think maybe he and Spider-Woman had a chat about this once.

DOUGLAS: Stuart Immonen’s artwork here is not quite as sharp and fluid as he can be at his best–as with Avengers, I got the sense this was drawn in kind of a hurry–but he’s still keeping the storytelling amazingly clear under some difficult circumstances, and getting away with some stuff that’s not easy. Look at that two-page spread that opens the Avengers Tower scene: Luke’s figure doesn’t just burst out of his panel, it actually blocks off parts of three other panels (and cuts all the way across one of them). That shouldn’t work at all, but it actually establishes that 1) this is a very crowded party, and 2) despite everything we’re seeing, this is really Luke’s series.

GRAEME: Immonen’s art may be lesser Immonen, but it’s still some of the best art in any Marvel book; he has a beautifully clean line that still manages to convey character, and his page design is second to none. He always feels underrated to me, as an artist, but maybe I’m missing him winning Best Artist awards at Wizard or something.

MIKE: Thank you, Graeme. I thought I was the only person in the comic-reading free world who was excited when Immonen took over Ultimate Spider-Man. I never really liked Bagley. (To say nothing of Nextwave.)

GRAEME: I think Bagley’s okay, but Immonen’s much more to my tastes… although, I have to admit, I prefer his Avengers work (Well, previous New Avengers, more so than the current issue) to his USM, which seemed weirdly halfway between his Nextwave and cleaner, Superman/Legion style.

DOUGLAS: USM-wise, I always liked Bagley’s work in a meat-and-potatoes way, & I liked Immonen there too although I sometimes felt like he was subordinating his own impulses to make his work look more like Bagley’s. I think I may like David Lafuente’s USM best of all, actually: he draws it like it’s the only Spider-Man comic and he gets to decide what it looks like.

GRAEME: Yeah, I agree–LaFuente’s USM art is really, really wonderful and completely individual. It adds a great youthful energy to the book.

MIKE: LaFuente? Even though he had to “correct” Spidey’s head in his second run on Ultimate Spider-Man. It used to be a perfect sphere. He draws one of the best Hulks this side of McGuinness, though. I’ll give him that.

GRAEME: Accidental highlight of New Avengers for me, though? The continuation of the Oral History of the team in the back. I love the idea, but Bendis’ overwhelming Bendisness when it comes to writing dialogue makes it seem as if everyone has exactly the same voice and speech pattern, which for some reason amuses the hell out of me.

DOUGLAS: That’s pretty much my reaction. It’s a great idea, and some of the content is pretty entertaining (like the fact that nobody can remember the Space Phantom business); I really like the Art Adams pages, too. I just wish Bendis had a handle on these characters’ particular voices the way he does with the actual New Avengers team. (Also, oral histories do tend to edit out the stammers and odd emphases that make sense in spoken dialogue–seeing it typeset just makes it look like somebody’s run text through a Bendisizer.

GRAEME: Aren’t the Art Adams pages just reused covers from Avengers Classic from a few years ago?

DOUGLAS: Ah, that would explain it.

Age of Bronze #30: God this is a good series, and the more playful Eric Shanower gets with it, the better it gets. I love the image on the cover of Pandarus operating Troilus and Cressida marionettes, and that little panel where he’s hustling around the corner–that’s worthy of any ’30s Sunday newspaper strip you like. So many other great moments in this thing: Hekuba’s die-you-bitches stare, the way Shanower uses the natural lighting of the scene on Troilus and Cressida’s faces in the oath-taking scene on the next to last page, Helen’s coy Oscar-acceptance-speech expression, Cressida striking swooning poses like she’s in a Douglas Sirk movie…

I guess what I like best about this series is getting to see a gifted cartoonist working with material that he’s obviously incredibly passionate about–there’s more relish in Shanower’s work here in than in any other comic this side of All Star Superman or… weirdly, the other example that leaps to mind is Ronin.

MIKE: There’s no question this is a beautiful book. I’m a little hazy on the origin of the love story featured here. I had to do some digging around on the internets because I thought I remembered something about them from high school classical studies. Shakespeare? Chaucer?

DOUGLAS: That’s one of the neat things about Age of Bronze–Troilus is a character in Homer’s version of the Trojan War, but he became the subject of a sub-story about his romance with Cressida sometime around the twelfth century, and Chaucer and Shakespeare both wrote Troilus-and-Cressida fanfic (sorry, sorry). What Shanower’s doing here is synthesizing all of those stories into his.

MIKE: Either way, the scenes in this book would seem to translate almost directly into a stage production. Even the mood and the lighting of many of the panels made me feel like I was watching the action from a darkened theater seat.

I was also pleasantly surprised at how many of the characters’ names I did not need the included pronunciation guide for, specifically Anne-tig-oh-nee. Maybe I did learn something in high school after all.

GRAEME: I forgot to pick up Age of Bronze and so can’t comment on that, but wonder if I’m the only person who saw (and loved) the Len Wein/JH Williams III back-up in DC Legacies #2? Williams slips back into his Seven Soldiers styles to illustrate a short about the original 7S, and it’s spectacular. He’s an amazing artist, and this is just beautiful work that really raises the writing (which isn’t bad on its own; I’m really enjoying Wein’s Legacies so far, surprisingly).

DOUGLAS: I’ve only gotten to glance at it so far, but yes, any JHWIII is an event as far as I’m concerned. Keep your eyes peeled for an interview here at Techland in a couple of weeks!