Monday, January 28, 2008

New Avengers Annual #2

This year’s New Avengers Annual has a bit more relevance to it than most. Brian Michael Bendis has introduced a new villainous mastermind over the last few months in the regular New Avengers ongoing, The Hood, and this issue is a direct continuation of his first clash with the team. It’s nice to see an annual used as the large-format conclusion to a story that started in the smaller monthly book for a change.

I love what Bendis has created in The Hood, a bad guy with a seriously useful power (mystical invisibility) and the balls to bring the fight to the heroes, rather than sitting back and hoping they don’t notice him. He’s got a sharp wit (don’t all of Bendis’s characters?) and a great strategic mind, but more importantly – the lower-powered bad guys trust him. They’d go through an awful lot for this guy, clearly, and that makes them a much more serious threat to the Avengers.

Speaking of which, the thing I like best about this team is the way they relate to one other, like one big dysfunctional family in tights. They talk about the things that you always had to assume heroes talked about, but never seemed to happen on the page. When the team returns to Doctor Strange’s home, for instance, Wolverine makes a beeline for the kitchen… to the chagrin of Wong, Strange’s longtime man-servant. When he complains that Logan destroys the order of his kitchen and physically stands in his way, it says a lot more about both characters than any one-liner in the midst of a superpowered battle royal could.

And, ultimately, those casual, quiet moments where the team is disarmed make the superpowered battle royal that explodes around the middle of this issue (yes, complete with one-liners) twice as jarring and impressive as it would’ve been otherwise. Those relatable, petty arguments over the state of Wong’s kitchen make it clear just how off-guard the heroes are caught by the attack, how serious a fight they’re in for. And it’s a major fight, too, because once that shoe drops, it’s on for the remainder of the issue.

Artist Carlo Pagulayan picks up where Leinil Francis Yu left off in the main book, and he doesn’t prove to be a bad a replacement. Pagulayan is a fine artist, but he’s taking over from one of the publisher’s marquee names, and he just doesn’t benefit from the comparison. Where Yu works a very sketchy, action-friendly style, Pagulayan’s work is much more detailed, realistic and stationary. He seems to invoke the style of his predecessor for a few panels (notably the pages featuring Jigsaw) but for the most part his artwork is markedly different. His framework can get a bit difficult to follow at times, but he’s being asked to jam a whole lot of content into the page at any given time. His compositions are often brilliant, like the panel early in the book where The Hood’s gang roughs up Tigra in her own bedroom, but his super-busy layouts never really allow the reader’s attention to dwell on those spots.

At the end of the day, this is really little more than one long, glorified fight scene, but the writing takes it a step beyond what’s usually expected of that kind of book. Not only does the issue tie into the existing arc in New Avengers, it covers ground from a handful of other Marvel books, too… most noteworthy the events surrounding Dr. Strange in World War Hulk. Bendis is a master at weaving these threads together, at compressing the gargantuan Marvel universe into something that actually seems like it could exist in a single world, and he merely displays that ability once more here. At the end of the day, he’s written better material, worked with better artists, dealt with more entertaining characters… but it’s still a very good read. Buy this if you’ve been following any of the heavy hitters in the Marvel U lately, because it answers a lot of questions and adds depth to a lot of stories. As far as annuals go, it’s outstanding.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.5


The OWL said...

Just as a bit of info;

Bendis didn't create the HOOD.

Brian K Vaughan created the character in a Marvel MAX 6-issue miniseries (titled: THE HOOD) back in 2002.

The character is basically the same as he is portrayed now.
Young petty crook discovers a HOODED CLOAK -and boots- of an alien/magic creature, which grants him invisibility and a few other powers. He uses the cloak to commit higher crimes.

After this, he was in the "BEYOND!" 6-issue mini-series in 2006, written by Dwayne McDuffie.

THEN, he popped up in the New Avengers.

Just thought I'd fill in the blanks.


drqshadow said...

I wasn't aware of that series, thanks man! I love most of Vaughan's other work, so I'll definitely try to check this out.