Saturday 1 August 2009

Reviews: New Avengers #55, Fantastic Four #569

There's a brilliant synthesis that happens sometimes in superhero comics, where you get the right writer and the right artist working together and it just clicks. The comic feels seamless, natural – dialogue and artwork are a whole, as if they've been made by one creator rather than two (or three or four or five – if the lettering and colouring are working too, all the better). This brilliant synthesis actually happens less often than you'd hope; there are plenty of comics where there's a good writer and a good artist working together, but for some reason – something to do with complementary creativity – they're not the right writer or the right artist.

There's a neat illustration of this in two comics that came out this week. Both New Avengers #55 and Fantastic Four #569 feature Stuart Immonen artwork. Immonen's a talented artist with a flowing line and natural storytelling abilities. And yet the two comics couldn't feel more different. Fantastic Four was scripted by the British TV writer Joe Ahearne from a plot by Mark Millar, and despite lots of gorgeous panels of stuff exploding and heroes clashing, it doesn't gel. There's a disconnect between the spectacle and the script and an awkwardness to the story progression, all of which only distances the reader. It's pretty, but uninvolving.

New Avengers, on the other hand, despite consisiting of long stretches where it's essentially large groups of costumed characters talking to each other, is almost magical. Writer Brian Michael Bendis' character work is beautifully augmented by Immonen's storytelling. For instance, Spider-Man's full face mask generally makes it really hard to have him express any kind of emotion, but in a sequence where the Avengers are discussing killing Norman Osborn, Bendis' dialogue and Immonen's staging lend Spidey a surprising level of emotional intensity. One panel in particular – Spider-Man saying he'll quit the team with a dismissive hand gesture – is simple and yet incredibly effective.

New Avengers #55 may not be an important or historically noteworthy comic like, say, Watchmen or Batman: Year One, but the creative partnership here is as strong as that of Moore and Gibbons, or Miller and Mazzucchelli. It's the right writer, the right artist. It's an alchemy that's unique to the comics medium, but yet also quite rare within that medium, and so something to be celebrated.

Mind you, the cover's a bit crap.


  1. i haven't read new avengers yet, but let me guess, has it got lots of blonde superheroes fighting the Hood yet again zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The Hood is cool but he's not that amazing imo.
    and will clint take off his mask again and make another tv news announcement zzzzzzz.
    (don't get me wrong, it's still a cool comic hehe, just think it's in a bit of a rut)

    haven't read FF yet either but i'm gutted that it's not all hitch :-(

  2. Heh heh, yeah, there is a scene somewhat similar to the one you describe... But it's not the Hood or the ongoing plot I really liked here, it's the harmony between the script and the images. It almost doesn't matter what the comic's actually about; I just thought that, formally, it was an impressive piece of work.

    So anyway, on an unrelated note, apart from that random comment I had a while ago, looks like it's just you and me reading this blog. We might as well just email each other!

  3. well i have put a link to your blog from my blog, so maybe one of my thousands of readers will join you!

  4. HEY! I read it from time to time. The fact I don't actually buy the comics of which you speak and yet still visit is only slightly weird.

    Your reviews make me chuckle. Reminds me of the glory days of Memorabilia. Ahhh, good times.

  5. well, i've read the Avengers title since the '70's (on and off), and have to tell you that issue #55 was less than magical for me; at best, i regard the issue as a curiosity, because it signals interesting things to (possibly) come to a series that has been fighting to find its stride among hard Avengers fans for a long time.

    a "power disruptor" disables The Avengers? genius. (a lesser heavy hitter like) Mockingbird (sort of) saves the day (in the next issue)? further genius. The Avengers having mixed feelings over Clint wanting to assassinate Osborn, and Spider-Man assuming the team's moral center? we kind of saw this coming, and Bendis (and Immonen, to a lesser extent) delivered. Bendis also resolved a previous plot problem in this issue, namely how to build suspense around and work The Wrecking Crew in without making them further hackneyed and hokey.

    so, what's my problem, you ask? well, i feel the marvelous components of this single issue could have developed over a longer spread and that the issue no longer has the pressing mood and suspense that previous story arcs in the series (under Bendis' direction) had.

    now, i'm not saying that Bendis' writing on the series was ever perfect, but i think that stretching out the story arcs helped maintain freshness and unpredictability...

    what you call seamless and synthesized, however, i feel is a bit too well-put together in this issue.

    the magic i always felt from The Avengers usually came from the team's tenuous connection, that their shaky unity could fall apart at the drop of a hat (and not an "asshat") and that the drama and action in the story were wildly thrown at the readers.

    to be honest, i thought one of the series' best arcs developed between issues #27 to #36.

    i suppose that this is one of those "wait and see" issues, so i'll give the new story arc a chance.