Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dark Avengers #5

Norman Osborn's crew of evildoers masquerading as heroes seems to have achieved its ultimate goal of unconditional public acceptance. While the old Avengers are out on the streets, struggling to evade arrest, Osborn and company are thriving under the public spotlight, taking credit for their good deeds and living the high life in their old headquarters. It's funny how much good a little well-timed PR can do for a team's image.

Although it's certainly a dangerous proposition, I love that Brian Michael Bendis has such creative freedom at Marvel. He seems unbound to try just about any idea that floats into his mind, for better or for worse, with this issue providing no exception. If he wants to explore the seedy underbelly of crime in the Savage Land, we're headed straight for the land of the lost. If he suddenly decides he'd like to spend an entire issue on Norman Osborn's live TV interview with Katie Couric, by God, we're getting a full issue of talking heads. And that's just the kind of indulgence this month brings us, with a few very brief glances around at the rest of the squad for completion's sake.

Compared to the last few months, when the former Goblin single-handedly carried the narrative to its conclusion, this wasn't a great issue. Norman had plenty of time in the spotlight, which is always a good thing, but his dialog wasn't nearly as revealing, nor was it as charming. Rather than finding a new respect for the character via another introspective peek into his psyche and a few well-placed compliments, I just saw him as a conniving snake – and that's nothing new. He did a decent enough job of deflecting Hawkeye's public criticisms, which was basically the point of this out-of-armor appearance on the evening news, (I especially loved his calling out the fact that Clint himself was a reformed felon) but his points weren't convincing enough that I could see anyone buying into him as America's new, improved white knight. Instead of giving the majority of our population something to blindly throw their faith behind, he went on the offensive, attacking Barton's past but not his criticisms. It's like Bill O'Reilly has been given the keys to our nuclear arsenal.

After five issues, the jury's still out on the work of Bendis's artistic partner, industry veteran Mike Deodato. While his style has changed markedly since the mid '90s, when he was just another wave in the sea of Jim Lee clones, I can still see a lot of that era's influences in his new work. He's worked diligently to minimize the amount of detail in his artwork, but it still has a tendency to feel overworked and excessively meticulous. Although he's nailed Osborn as the smarmy, arrogant leader of the pack, he still hasn't quite come to grips with most of the rest of the cast. His male characters seem lumpy and heavy, his females uncomfortable and awkward. With his continuous use of deep shadows painting the entire team in a suspicious light, I can see why he was chosen for this series, and Deodato could still prove to be the definitive Dark Avengers artist. He just isn't there yet.

Conceptually, this has become one of my favorite mainstream comics. There's plenty of embedded social commentary in the prospect that most Americans wouldn't know or care if the men in charge of their well being were violent repeat offenders, and Bendis seems as content to delve into that as I am to buy it right up. Dark Avengers is still going strong, but its pace has slowed and during the down time I've noticed a few cracks in the veneer. Borrow it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7

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