New Avengers #19 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato
This is the first Brian Michael Bendis-penned Avengers comic to be released since the writer announced he’d be leaving the franchise he’s built into Marvel’s powerhouse, eclipsing even its X-Men brand. Given the fact Bendis is rehashing the Dark Avengers concept in this latest story arc, I think a change is a good thing. However, I have to admit there are elements in this story about Norman Osborn’s return to prominence as a public hero but secret villain that are interesting. I love how Bendis portrays Osborn and his colleagues not as corrupt criminals but as people who think they know what’s best for the world. They’re power-hungry, yes, but they don’t see themselves as terrorists. Still, this Osborn plot has been dragging on for years in one way or another. Perhaps by capping his Avengers run with this storyline, Bendis plans to bring some resolution to it finally. Just as I was torn by some aspects of the main plot, other elements appealed and turned me off. The opening scene between Daredevil and Squirrel Girl was clearly meant to be funny, but I found it painful. DD’s internal monologue about the stenches before him came off as juvenile, and he also seems rather naive about public sentiment and protests. However, the subplot focusing on Jessica Jones’ concerns about her child and how she can and Luke can be good parents while also serving as Avengers was quietly compelling. The script also fails in some respects. The woman with whom Gorgon speaks in a pivotal scene isn’t identified, and I can’t remember is she’s called Madame Hydra, Viper or something else these days, and I’ve already forgotten who’s fulfilling the roles of Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man in Osborn’s new Avengers lineup.
Deodato’s art certainly suits the complex, conspiratorial tone of the story, though it seemed to me his realistic style subverts the colorful nature of the many superhuman characters in this story. While there’s a darker tone to the writing, the art doesn’t seem to include any sense of wonder. Furthermore, the cliffhanger is devoid of the visual impact called for in the moment. Throughout the issue, we see the heroes wondering what became of Osborn and what he has planned, and when they finally come face to face with their enemy, the art understates the importance and emotion of the encounter. 5/10
Stormwatch #4 (DC Comics)
by Paul Cornell & Miguel Sepulveda
I stuck with this title about two issues longer than I should have, mainly out of the hope writer Paul Cornell’s vision for the title team might prove to be as strong, compelling and innovative as comics by such writers as Warren Ellis and Mark Millar featuring these same characters. There are certainly hints of the sort of cataclysmic and complex threats that made The Authority (which is what Stormwatch evolved into back during the Wildstorm Productions days) such a fascinating comic years ago. An entity essentially giving the Moon sentience and endeavoring to toughen up humanity by attacking it is the sort of thing Ellis or Millar might have thrown at these characters, but ultimately, this feels like Authority Lite. It lacks the intensity and definitely the focus of the comics that gave rise to this New 52 title. The plotting is scattered; Cornell is trying to jam too much into this opening story arc. The herald of a greater attack on Earth would’ve been plenty for this opening arc. The schism in leadership muddies the waters, as does Harry’s possible betrayal.
Sepulveda’s art is a bit difficult to follow at times, in part because the plot lurches forward, never allowing the reader time to take in the circumstances or settings. The colors on the book are too dark at times as well, making it hard to discern some of the more unusual, impossible developments. I think what hinders the book more than anything else is how the Apollo/Midnighter relationship has been undone. When they were introduced, they were already together, and their romantic connection was what set them apart from the archetypes they represented. The overhauled, new continuity of the New 52, they’re strangers, and it feels like an important dynamic has been lost. Perhaps the intent is to explore the early days of a burgeoning relationship, but if that’s the point, it’ll lack drama since the reader will know where it’s headed. And if the intent is to do away with that relationship… well, I don’t really want to think about the implications of such an editorial decision. 5/10
Valen the Outcast #1 (Boom! Studios)
by Michael Alan Nelson & Matteo Scalera
At first glance, there’s nothing about this comic book that appeal to a reader such as myself. Big sword and ancient magic are plot and concept elements that typically don’t appeal to me, and the barbarian/brutal warrior schtick has rarely ever clicked for me (not a lot of Conan comics in my collection). So the $1 cover price is the only thing about this comic that caught my attention. For a buck, I’ll try just about anything, and I’m pleased that I did. Valen proved to be an unexpected surprise… not because it was particularly unlike other such comics, but because the central premise is interesting and because it’s visually appealing. I like that the title character was once a beloved king who’s now reviled because he’s an undead abomination (albeit, one with free will). Michael Alan Nelson tells the story of a great man who’s forced by circumstance to embrace the corruption and literal decay in his life. Valen is a decent man who’s been torn down, and all that’s left for him in revenge. Despite his strength and seemingly unstoppable nature, he’s a pitiable figure.
Matteo Scalera boasts a kinetic style that conveys action quite well. His work looks like a cross between the styles of Ron (Ultimate Captain America) Garney and Humberto (Amazing Spider-Man) Ramos. The design for the title character is a solid, Hulk-like one that conveys an imposing, powerful presence, but the most striking visual is that of the villain, clad in a skull mask. The only disappointing aspect to be found in the art is the unfortunate sexualization of the only female character, a strong-willed, independent sorceress who’s portrayed either as naked or clad in scant fabric. It doesn’t seem in keeping with her character, so therefore, her appearance seems designed to titillate a hetero male readership. 7/10
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