Today, Spencer and Taylor are discussing New Avengers 1, originally released October 14th, 2015.
Spencer: I love “team” books. There’s just something fun and exciting about throwing a bunch of heroes — be they A-List or Z-List — together and seeing what happens. Despite the potential for almost endless variations, though, many team books find themselves repeating certain familiar combinations, tropes, and ideas over and over (look how many books started using the “traitor” plot once Terra first popped up in the Teen Titans, for example — and even she was a riff on Kitty Pryde’s role in the X-Men). Thus, my favorite part of Al Ewing and Gerardo Sandoval’s New Avengers is how quick they are to acknowledge and subvert many of those tropes. This book is clever, fun, and gets right to the point; it’s pretty much everything I look for in a team book.
Sunspot, who bought A.I.M. near the end of Hickman’s Avengers epic, has refashioned the agency into the “Avengers Idea Mechanics,” a superhero team that operates out of a private island and tackles global problems with super-science. The team — Songbird, Power Man, White Tiger, Squirrel Girl, Wiccan, and Hulkling — travel to France to confront an outbreak of strange diamond-head zombies who are channeling spirits of the dead; turns out it’s an attempt by the Maker, a.k.a. Ultimate Reed Richards, to turn Paris into a “telephone to the dead.” Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. is still wary of Sunspot’s organization and tasks Hawkeye (Clint, not Kate) with becoming a mole on the team.
Again, that last plot point is one we’ve seen a million times in team books, so I appreciate how cleverly, and transparently, Ewing covers it.
Ewing makes no pretense of playing the whole “spy/traitor” angle straight. Not only is Clint Barton a somewhat laughable choice of a mole, but Dugan actually tells Sunspot up-front that Clint’s supposed to be a mole! In a way it undermines Clint’s whole job, but it also treats Sunspot with a level of intelligence and respect he’s earned; likewise, Ewing is treating his audience with respect, letting them know that, while Clint’s loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely be an important plot point, it won’t be the same old “secret traitor” storyline we’ve seen a million times before.
Likewise, throughout the rest of the issue Ewing and Sandoval remain aware of most readers’ familiarity with team books, and thus attempt to avoid many of their most common pitfalls — or, at least, only briefly acknowledge some of their more essential-yet-tiresome beats. Ewing blessedly skips any sort of origin story and instead opens with the team in already in action, allowing readers learn about the team’s dynamic, members, and assets through action instead of extended recruitment scenes. Remember that time Justice League devoted seven issues to Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman debating who should join the team? Yeah, New Avengers is the antidote to that brand of team book, and I’m so thankful for that.
In general, I’m impressed by how quickly and succinctly Ewing is able to sum up his characters. By page four we’ve got a firm grasp not only on the core team, but on their relationships with one another as well.
The previous page hints a bit at Wiccan’s typical hesitance and slight depression problems, but that segues into his and Hulkling’s tighter-than-ever relationship — which, in turns, segues into the somewhat fractured relationship between White Tiger and Power Man. In turn, Tiger’s confidence is immediately undermined by Squirrel Girl’s passion and enthusiasm, which continues to be Ava’s kryptonite throughout the issue. Every single panel here introduces new traits of and relationships between the characters, and that’s impressive — even Sunspot, who is confined to a video-screen on this page, receives his character-defining moment two panels into the next (“I’m disgustingly handsome and — and! — I’m wearing a suit. They’ll love me.”).
(The only weak link here is Songbird, who acts as Sunspot’s competent right-hand woman/team leader but otherwise displays no depth. Here’s hoping we’ll see some actual personality out of her soon.)
Ultimate Reed’s role and plan is developed and revealed just as quickly, and while that might be a disappointment to some, I find it heartening. It means that Ewing and Sandoval aren’t interested in stretching out mysteries for unnecessarily long times (a welcome change after Hickman’s run), but instead, are focused on digging directly to the heart of their stories. That doesn’t mean there can’t still be twists and surprises — there’s still plenty we can learn about the Maker and his plans, and that goes for the New Avengers as well — in fact, if anything, it means that there will be room for more twists and surprises instead of the same ones getting milked issue after issue.
I do think it will take me a bit longer to get used to Gerardo Sandoval’s highly stylized art, though. As well as he’s written, Wiccan just doesn’t look like Wiccan to me. He’s too big and bulky, and his hair-style just doesn’t suit his personality (I feel similarly about Sunspot’s hair). That all comes down to personal preference, though; when you get down to it, there’s quite a bit Sandoval does right. I love that opening spread of the whole team in the cockpit of the Avenger One, for example; he uses Wiccan as a bookend and then has the conversation naturally move left-to-right across the cockpit from character to character, introducing each in turn. It’s smart staging. Sandoval also excels at giving each character distinct silhouettes, postures, and stances, making them instantly recognizable even in stealth mode.
I suppose that’s a basic skill, but it’s an essential one, especially for a team book. It also shows that Sandoval shares Ewing’s storytelling priorities in terms of succinctly and effectively establishing character through every available resource.
While New Avengers may not be the deepest book on the stands, I absolutely love its fast, fun, no-frills approach to tackling a first issue and introducing a new team. Taylor, New Avengers has got pretty much everything I look for in a team book; how about you?
Taylor: I’m with you, Spencer, in your love for team books. Basically all of us work with a team in some capacity, whether it be through work, intramural sports, or even family, so I think everyone finds something that resonates with them when they pick up a team book. Seeing how characters bounce off of each other’s personalities is always fun and I love seeing the similarities between, say, Squirrel Girl’s and White Tiger’s relationship and my own relationship with a coworker. It’s all good fun and makes for a book that can be expertly character driven.
That being said, familiarizing myself to all of these new characters is somewhat challenging. Save for maybe 2-3 heroes, everyone I meet in this issue is brand new to me. For readers who are super familiar with the Marvel Universe, like you Spencer, this probably isn’t an issue. However, for someone like me who has a working knowledge of maybe A-C level characters in the Marvel universe, being thrown head first into the issue is a little much. While I appreciate the level of thought that has clearly into planning this book, all of the information I’m given is a little overwhelming at times. Just check out this page.
In addition to just meeting all the members of the team and their leader, I’m also introduced to several members of the support staff as well as every detail of the island they are based on. While I normally love panels that supply me with information reference book style, in this case it’s all just too much. This being the first issue, I’m not sure who I should make note of to remember and who I can forget. Sure, it’s easy to say I should remember them all, but I just can’t. Again, for readers who know a lot about the extended Marvel Universe, I doubt this would be a problem. But for those less versed I think the issue would benefit more by focusing just on our primary heroes.
Despite the huge amount of information I’m bombarded with here, it’s not so unpleasant as to turn me away from the issue. One the reasons this is so is that Ewing sets a wonderfully engaging tone in this issue. From the very beginning of the issue when we see that people’s heads are being transformed into diamonds, it’s clear that nothing here should be taken too seriously. Instances abound which downplay the direness of the situation being dealt with in Paris, but the one that really strikes me is the S.H.I.E.L.D. inspection of A.I.M.
I love that S.H.I.E.L.D. is a parent organization that is checking in on one of its subsidiaries. It’s all so corporate feeling and hints at the ideas of superheroing being a business in much the same way we see in Ant-Man. Here, however, the tone here doesn’t veer too much into the mundane. Instead, it totes a fine line between poking fun at superheroing and taking it seriously. I find that really engaging because it allows space for laughs but it never lets me truly relax and feel no one is in danger. This tone is basically the best of both comedy and action and I hope Ewing can maintain it in future issues.
Lastly, what surprised me about this issue is how much I like the Squirrel Girl character design. I know you had issue with some of these designs Spencer, and I was prepared to be right there with you. However, Sandoval impressed me with his representation of the everyone’s favorite nutty superhero.
Being a fan of the Squirrel Girl stand alone series, I was prepared to hate on a new Squirrel Girl design because I’m just kind of terrible like that. Honestly though, I had major concerns about how she would be presented in a style that is less cartoony and more realistic. Sandoval does a great job of keeping some of things that make her design unique without making them seem out of place next to other characters. Even though she has the buckteeth, they don’t seem too huge or unrealistc. Any bigger and they would be a distraction. Any smaller and they would just be normal teeth. Similarly, Sandoval opts for giving Doreen large eyes. This hints at a representational drawing and her primary series, but the eyes are an appropriate enough size that she still stays grounded in the world created in this series.
All of this is to say that I’m pretty excited by this title. It’s a little confusing at first, but like the team it’s centered on, it’s parts are much greater than any single deficiency a single aspect might have. I look forward to seeing both were this comic goes next!
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?