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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: New Avengers #7

If you have not been reading Jonathan Hickman's current run on New Avengers, you are missing out on one of the must read comics Marvel is currently publishing.  Not only does the team being Marvel's Illuminati make for a comic that is intriguing, but Hickman clearly has a great handle on every single character who is present in this series.  Those who have been reading Hickman's Avengers have made numerous comments that the comic, while good, is quite large in terms of its cast and the stories it is telling, meaning that character development often has to be sacrificed for big superhero action.  For those who would like a more intimate, character-focused comic, Hickman is giving all of that and more with New Avengers.  In the previous issue of the series, we saw the Illuminati struggle with their decision to destroy another planet, something Avengers are usually known for preventing.  This development allowed for the comic to not only demonstrate the enormity of the decisions this group will have to make, but it also made for a fantastic character moment for each of the team's members.  With that arc finished, we begin to move into the next story Hickman has planned, which is primarily set-up for the upcoming Marvel event "Infinity".  Will the comic continue to prove its greatness despite having to set up such a large crossover?  Keep reading to find out!

New Avengers #7 moves the story forward one month later and we see how our heroes have been dealing with the ramifications of what they did in the previous arc.  Reed Richards and Doctor Strange must face Doctor Doom, who knows the Illuminati is up to something, demanding answers.  Black Bolt is dealing with increasing trouble in Attilan that may lead to something much larger than just the Inhumans can handle.  In the meantime, the ever-increasing tensions between Wakanda and Atlantis cause Black Panther and Namor to strike up a deal, but the rest of Wakanda may not desire the peace T'Challa seeks.

Perhaps it is best to start with what makes this issue absolutely stellar.  What is surprising is that this one element is not even something which plays a huge role in the issue itself, but is more in the way writer Jonathan Hickman plots the entire thing.  That element is this: this issue of New Avengers illustrates perfectly that this team does not always have to be together.  While there have been many excellent runs on Avengers over the years, one thing which never made sense was why the team had to constantly be together each month.  Not only did this create confusion in terms of continuity with some of the members' solo books, but it also seemed to take a little bit away from the idea that, when something too large for any one hero happens, Earth's Mightiest Heroes could leap in to save the day.  This is the structure Marvel's Cinematic Universe has followed thus far, and it makes a lot more sense, narratively speaking.  Hickman brilliantly transposes this idea into this issue as we never actually see the entire team together throughout the comic.  Such an intriguing move in terms of plotting demonstrates that, unlike the Avengers, the Illuminati do not have to be together every single day, only when something so cataclysmic takes place that it requires all of their attention.  Not only is this a brilliant move for the way the comic can work in the future, but it also allows Hickman to tie in the continuity of many of these characters' solo books.  As we have moved forward a month, Iron Man is now in space as he is in both Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy.  There is even an albeit awkward explanation as to how Reed Richards can balance his time on Earth with the Illuminati, but also be back in the multiverse with his family as we have seen in Fantastic Four.  Although it may be subtle, this acknowledgement of outside continuity is a fantastic move on Hickman's part and an example all superhero team books should follow.

As mentioned in the introduction, New Avengers is a great comic for those looking for a superhero book with more character development.  Since this issue separates our characters and does not really contain much of an over-arching story uniting them, it allows this issue to be a bit more of a breather and put the focus on developing these characters.  What is interesting to see in Hickman's writing is that much of his character development is more subtle than anything extroverted.  Certainly the experiences of the previous issue helped to develop this team as a whole, but, this time around, we see a bit less obvious development in the body language and words of these characters.  Easily the best example of that in this issue is a balcony discussion between Namor and Black Panther over the rising tensions between their respective nations.  We get a little bit of exposition throughout the issue to establish how these characters feel about each other, which only adds to this pivotal scene.  Hickman gives us a different perspective on warring tribes with this issue as it is clear that, despite their problems with one another, Black Panther and Namor both have similar goals in mind.  It becomes clear throughout the conversation that perhaps war will become inevitable, but the characters seem to have a strained respect for one another.  Although Hickman does not delve too deeply into either of these characters here, it is immensely fascinating to see how Hickman writes these two together and develops on that relationship.  One almost wishes that Infinity were not about to interrupt the flow of New Avengers as an arc developing Namor and T'Challa would undoubtedly prove worthwhile.

This issue may devote much of its time to developing the characters and the coming story, but all of this is done on the backbone of mounting tensions.  One complaint lodged in the review of the previous issue was that the comic seemed to lack any real primary antagonist, diminishing the stakes just a bit.  While this issue has no sole antagonist, it does do a great job of building on a number of tense scenarios, any one of which could lead to an explosive conflict.  In one of the more engaging segments of the issue, we see a discussion between Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom, and Doom's son Kristoff.  Such a scene is much appreciated as Hickman had the previous issue set in Latveria, but did very little to capitalize on this setting or the appearance of Doctor Doom.  Doctor Doom is not known for being the most happy guy in the Marvel Universe, and he is more than angry at Reed for bringing his team to Latveria a month previously without telling him why.  There are many hints that conflict with Doctor Doom may be on the horizon, and Jonathan Hickman does an excellent job of making this dinner scene deliciously awkward and tense.  Doctor Strange warns Doom that he should not attempt to pry so much into things that are none of his business, launching Doom into a fury.  The manner in which Hickman writes Doctor Strange and this scene is a nice prelude to how this conflict may go down.  Coming war between Wakanda and Atlantis is the major conflict snaking its way through the story of this issue, and the tensions are more than elevated on that front.  Black Panther's aforementioned talk with Namor was not only great for development, but showed that the fuse is short between these two and their nations at large.  Some exposition about Black Panther's vow to kill Namor only helps to add to the growing fear that this war will not end well for one of these Avengers.  While it is a bit frustrating that this issue does nothing but build tension, there is absolutely no way this pressure cooker of potential conflicts will stay closed for long.

Now, it may be a little odd to say considering how much praise the unique plotting was given, but the story may be the weakest aspect of this issue.  This should not be mistaken, Hickman does some fantastic things with this issue and does a good job of setting up quite a few stories that are on their way shortly, but set up is about all this issue can really be boiled down to.  There is nothing wrong with taking the time to get your house in order before going on, but the conflicts built up in this issue would feel much more pressing if we did not already know that Infinity will derail perhaps every single thing hinted at here that does not involve Black Bolt.  Looking back, there are several things which are set up within this issue: Atlantean and Wakandan war, conflict with Doctor Doom, something happening with Black Bolt that is tied to Infinity, and Reed building several more bombs to destroy alternate Earths which may appear.  It is almost as if this is a preview issue of everything we can expect within the next year of New Avengers, which is certainly more than enough to be excited about, but it makes the issue feel a bit disjointed.  As one can perhaps tell from the plot summary earlier in this review, the issue is a little all over the place and, though it is written well, it would be nice if there were a bit more to tie everything together aside from Reed.  Let it be said again, though, that it is a more than amazing idea for Hickman to show this team apart and not dealing with an Earth-shattering event, but there needs to be some kind of forward momentum for the group as a whole.  Hopefully Hickman will go back to this idea more, but do so in a way which feels less stretched thin and weak on story.

Throughout the first arc on New Avengers, we were treated to the great art of Steve Epting.  Mike Deodato substitutes on art duties for this issue and there is a noticeable difference.  Epting's issues contained a very basic color palate with quite a bit of shadows.  Deodato's art, while keeping some of that feel, loses a lot of that dark and mysterious nature of some of the earlier issues.  While Deodato's art is not outright terrible, it is enough of a difference from what we have come to expect from this series that it feels like a step down.  Unfortunately, it looks like we will be seeing a lot more from Deodato on this book in the future so hopefully he steps up his game.  Although Deodato's work certainly goes well with Hickman's writing, it does not feel like the perfect match that we were getting with Epting.

While the plot of this issue feels a bit meandering and disjointed, there is quite a bit this issue gets very, very right.  It is much appreciated that Jonathan Hickman is taking the time to build an Avengers title that understands that, if this group is really going to stand up to the huge events that it needs, such events cannot realistically happen all of the time.  This move is brilliant, but it does come at the cost of a story that feels a bit all over the place, when more unison perhaps could have been better.  With Infinity barreling towards us very quickly, it would be easy to become worried that we will not see these conflicts, set up here, capitalized on for quite some time.  This is a more than legitimate fear, but Hickman has proved time and again in this comic's short history that he can craft a story worth reading.  Though Marvel has a serious case of event fatigue, it is easy to be excited for the bright future New Avengers has ahead of it.  When everything is said and done, this just might be the only Avengers title from Marvel NOW worth coming back to.

Rating: A

Summary: New Avengers #7's greatest strength in showing this team apart is also its greatest weakness in an issue that feels a bit weak on story.  That being said, enough great things are put in motion here that one can forgive a more meandering plot.
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