Monday, August 6, 2007

New Avengers #33

Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu are in town this month to continue their second story arc together on New Avengers, “The Trust.” I’ve been onboard with this series since the very beginning, and I don’t think I’ve been nearly as excited about it as I am right now. After stumbling through a few early story arcs, the conclusion of Civil War has delivered a great shared identity to the members of this team, which has opened up a lot of storyline possibilities that just weren’t there before.

The beauty of Leinil Yu’s work is in the details. He’ll throw in little unscripted touches like a good actor will ad-lib a few lines. When Echo signs the tab for a room service order, she does so on the delivery boy’s back. Before the food has even arrived, Wolverine has somehow produced a bottle of alcohol. Most people won’t even notice these things, but they work subliminally to paint a better picture, to explore little bits and pieces of the heroes’ personalities, and to create a more realistic environment. Not that he’d need the help, since his background work is breathtaking. When he’s asked to set the mood in a seedy bar, your fingers feel dirty leafing through the pages.

Yu’s also mastered facial expression and body language virtually across the board, (although Jessica Jones does look entirely too skinny throughout the issue) which really helps to clear the page of unnecessary word balloons. Why clutter things with too much dialog when you can tell the story through expression? His work is equally at home with civilians and superheroes, and they don’t look awkward interacting with one another.

One of the biggest advantages of the two ongoing Avengers books sharing a writer is how effortlessly the two can reference one another. Bendis delivers a brief mention of the happenings in the latest issue of Mighty Avengers midway through this book that’s amazingly insightful, interesting and downright cool – and it takes a grand total of five panels, start to finish. Barely half a page, but it’s enough to remind you that there’s always something going on in the Marvel Universe, that the two teams are aware of one another, and that these guys really do exist in the same plane of existence when they aren’t face to face.

That’s something that used to be so unique about the mighty Marvel line in its heyday: even if you bought an issue of Spider-Man, there was a good chance you’d see another character making a guest shot or at least getting some sort of mention. The heroes were always conscious of each other’s activities, which made the whole world feel much smaller and more interesting. The practice was lost for quite a while as the stories’ themes grew more complex and mature, but Bendis has reminded us of it perfectly here. Not only that, but he’s proven that it can work even within the guidelines of a smart, intricate story.

This issue is almost entirely character-driven. Having blown through the last few chapters with ninjas, superhuman duels and the threat of open interplanetary warfare, it was nice to settle down and just get to know these characters a bit better. The team bickers like a room full of school children, as many adults are prone to do in high-pressure situations, and it keeps the book on its toes. It’s boring to watch a team that gets along like a happy family, and New Avengers has never been better.

Of course, it’s not all chatter with no fireworks. An old, forgotten B-level hero from the ‘90s makes a return to the funny pages in this issue, and Leinil Yu illustrates him better than I’ve ever seen before. A new pair of villains are introduced, as well, and make an immediate impact on the proceedings. If the last panel is any indication, this issue was merely the eye of the storm and the action should escalate once again in NA #34.

This series is really starting to kick some ass right now, and remains one of my favorite monthly reads. Brian Michael Bendis somehow manages to get every member of the team involved in the dialog without forcing anything, introduces tiny new plot threads for the public to paw at, acknowledges the activities of the pro-reg Avengers team, and wraps it all up in just twenty two pages. There’s enough meat here to satisfy my appetite, but enough clean air to keep the book from feeling too weighty and dialog-ridden. You should be tripping over your own two feet to buy this. It’s outstanding work.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9.5

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