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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: New Avengers #6

Continuing to be the best Avengers title currently being published at Marvel, New Avengers has a new issue!  One of the main reasons New Avengers has been such a stand out book is, namely, the team.  Unlike its sister title Avengers, also written by Jonathan Hickman, New Avengers features a tight knit group of Marvel heroes previously known as the Illuminati.  Having the Illuminati as the focal point of a comic already implies a lot about what kind of adventures this crew will embark upon: namely, large world-threatening struggles that require the tough decisions that other Avengers just wouldn't understand.  For its first arc, this struggle has been all about an alternate Earth colliding with our own.  With the previous issue ending on an exciting cliff-hanger and this issue being the end of that story arc, will all the elements come together to make this a fantastic end?  Find out after the jump!

New Avengers #6 picks up right where the previous issue left off with the Illuminati making their way to Latveria to stop yet another incursion with an alternate Earth.  Not only is the team joined by the mysterious Black Swan, but they also bring with them a device which, if used, could obliterate the other planet.  The team's mission: figure out if they have the time to find an alternate way of stopping this incursion or if they will have to cross the line and destroy another planet.  Our heroes have to make a decision quickly, however, as time is of the essence and their mere presence in Latveria means the prying eyes of Dr. Doom could spell trouble.

With this first story arc, Jonathan Hickman has been doing a lot of work building a mythos surrounding these appearances of alternate Earths.  As the previous five issues have built upon this story, there has been an ever-growing sense of urgency to the entire situation.  One thing about this entire other Earth concept which has remained a bit fuzzy, however, is just how this other Earth is seemingly able to teleport to other locations.  First seen in Wakanda, the second Earth has now shown up in Latveria.  While Black Swan was brought into the story as a character held against her will by the Illuminati for answers, not nearly as many answers have been given as there are questions.  This issue brings another revelation about this alternate Earth: it can change colors from red to blue.  Apparently this is a very bad thing as Black Swan, for the first time, looks visibly shaken.  We are treated to quite a bit of exposition here as we are told a blue planet means a threat known as the Map Makers will soon descend to Earth and cause chaos and destruction.  Okay, so a threat is imminent, that much is clear, but where is all of this coming from?  Hickman is very much so a writer who likes to focus on story and, usually, this is a skill he uses quite well in his comics.  Though there is still the sense of urgency to this issue, this sudden changing of the mythos to only have it be destroyed by issue's end comes off as rather abrupt and confusing.  What happened to the red planet?  Is this the same Earth we have seen throughout the arc?  At the end of this issue, it becomes abundantly clear that we have not seen the last of a few threads from this story, but there are still so many questions.  Superhero comics are not bad for leaving a few things vague at the end of an arc, but there should definitely be more of a sense of closure and understanding than we are getting with this issue.  

Jonathan Hickman may be a writer known more for story, but if the man has one weakness, it may be character development.  Often interesting moments of character development can be tossed aside with Hickman for the larger story at hand.  Fortunately for us comic readers, said stories are never boring, but character development is equally important.  It almost makes sense, then, that an issue of New Avengers with a limited amount of real story would feature the most character development of the series thus far.  Instead of developing one or two of the team's members, Hickman finds a pretty brilliant way of developing the team as a whole.  As mentioned earlier, the Illuminati exists in the Marvel universe to make the tough decisions no one else would understand.  Making decisions is the focal point of this issue as we see the team struggle with whether or not they should destroy another planet, something the Avengers are known for stopping on multiple occasions.  As with the care and use of the Infinity Gems, this is a struggle best suited for this team, and Hickman handles it quite well.  While Iron Man and Reed Richards seem willing to do what must be done, we see thus far under-used characters like Beast, Black Panther, and even Doctor Strange really grapple with the morality of this decision.  Black Swan forces the team's hand, however, by insisting that they have no time to dilly dally and that they have to do something about this alternate Earth now.  Namor even jokes that they must do something terrible now so they can wring their hands about it later.    Before the trigger is finally pulled, Black Panther says that he has to first remember who he used to be, making for perhaps the defining moment of this comic thus far.

The reason this is such a defining moment for the series is simple: it finally humanizes these characters.  Sure, on their own, we have seen many stories which show the human side of each member of this team.  With this series so far, however, the team as a whole has had to be a bit inhuman (perhaps why Black Bolt is a good choice) in their actions as the situation at hand demanded it.  So, when Black Panther stops to reflect on this major decision the team is making, we are finally shown that, yes, the Illuminati can regret their actions.  Was what the Illuminati did to that other Earth justified?  Probably, but that does not mean there should not be a twinge of regret in a world-saving team willingly destroying another planet.  Though the actions in this issue will probably have no effect on the rest of the Marvel universe, it still makes for some interesting possibilities for the comic moving forward.  Now that the Illuminati have crossed this line, what won't they do in the future to insure Earth's safety?  While it certainly means a lot in terms of future stories, what will be more fascinating to see is the way Hickman capitalizes on what this means for the team.  Clearly not everyone on this team is perfectly okay with having to destroy another planet, so perhaps there is some tension looming amongst the group.  These small human moments in this issue, though,do not take up a ton of panels, but they still make for some of Hickman's best work with this team.  When we look back on this series in the future, hopefully what defines this run on New Avengers is the way these superheroes dealt with the ramifications of their actions.

Easily what is most disappointing about this issue is the way the setting is handled.  What made the previous issue so exciting was the promise that the Illuminati would be heading off to Latveria next, which spelled an almost certain encounter with Dr. Doom.  While Dr. Doom does show up in this issue, to say the Illuminati encounter the infamous villain would be a flat out lie.  In fact, it is a bit of a let down that such a fantastic character as Victor Von Doom is so down-played in this issue.  Certainly the inner-struggle of the team's decision should have been the focal point of the issue, but we are told that Doom will know that the Illuminati have arrived on his turf, so why was there no real face-off?  Such an encounter would have made for some interesting tension to be coupled with the impending attack from another Earth.  At the end of the issue we do get a tease that perhaps Dr. Doom's time on New Avengers is not finished, so hopefully Hickman uses the character to his fullest extent next time around.  Although this lack of presence from Doom does illustrate an interesting point about this comic: there is been no consistent villain in the first six issues.  While there was most definitely an on-going story in the comic, no fingers could truly be pointed to a primary antagonist for this arc except the mere presence of another Earth.  Black Swan seems to have a lot up her sleeve, making her a future threat, but to call her an antagonistic force in this first story would be wrong.  The first story in this arc went somewhat well, despite a rather abrupt end, but the lack of villain could still go either way.  Making large events the villain instead of a being of some sort could make for an interesting comic, but it seems unlikely most readers would remain interested if we don't see someone on this team punch Dr. Doom.

In terms of art, there isn't really much to be said with New Avengers.  Steve Epting does do some great work on this book, but it does not really do much to stand out.  Epting's work blends with Hickman's writing of this series quite well, however, and that is something worth noting as it is a very important quality for a comic book artist.  While Epting does get to do a lot more visually interesting work this issue, his art is still not much to write home about.  If anything, colorist Frank D'Armata perhaps had more fun with this issue has he finally got to use more color than just white, black, and red.

While this was certainly a very good issue of New Avengers, it is hard to say it is a great one.  Despite containing the defining moment for the series in terms of character development, there is very much so a sense of abruptness to the entire issue.  We have had the stakes risen immensely over the past five issues and the way these stakes are dealt with in the final part of the story feels a little sudden, and even more brushed over.  Hickman does deserve a bit of credit for this issue, though, as he finally gives these characters some development, but the issue as a whole is not as great as possible.  Even then, however, it saying a lot that an issue of New Avengers that feels a bit underwhelming is still better than any other Avengers title Marvel is putting out.

Rating: B+

Summary: New Avengers #6 contains the defining character moment of the series, but really neglects to put much of a satisfying bow on this story arc and the confusing mythos surrounding it.
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