Whether by design or by coincidence, a movement to establish an expanded backstory of the Marvel Universe seems to be afoot. A plethora of flashback tales have swept through the publisher’s line as of late, entangling roots and establishing connections between characters that had been heretofore unwritten. From Brian Bendis’s work on Illuminati to Jonathan Hickman’s stories in Secret Warriors and S.H.I.E.L.D., secret histories are all the rage.
It is Bendis again who dips his toe into that pool in this month’s New Avengers, part of a larger tale that looks back upon the post-War exploits of Nick Fury. Years prior to the formation of the super team we generally associate with the name, Fury is tasked by the president to assemble a group of covert operatives calling themselves the Avengers. The notion of a precursory Avengers squad is an entertaining one, as is the selection of familiar faces who make it onto the roster. Though this issue is essentially just a calling of the team’s roll, it’s still a good bit of fun.
Less so are the scenes detailing the current adventure of the present day Avengers, who spend the day embroiled in a relatively uninteresting slugfest with a remnant of Norman Osborn’s H.A.M.M.E.R. Lacking a clear context at this point to relate it to the Fury sequences, it’s a subplot that appears purposeless aside from its role as a series of convenient chapter breaks. Though I have all confidence in Bendis to explain the link between these two disparate story threads in due time, that doesn’t save today’s reading experience from feeling overstretched and tedious.
As Bendis splits his script along chronological lines, so does the art team, with Howard Chaykin and Edgar Delgado handling the Fury stuff and Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo tackling the modern day. Chaykin would certainly be an odd fit as fulltime artist on a series as high profile as New Avengers, but his trademark style of cartooning meshes well with the freewheeling tone set by his half of the book. Deodato and Beredo recapture almost verbatim the look they popularized in Dark Avengers, though in a way that is quite difficult to connect to. For a comic loaded with characters, it is remarkable how many opportunities Deodato finds to avoid having to draw their faces.
Allowed free reign on a title that would most surely not even exist without him, Bendis is just as prone to exhibit his strengths on New Avengers as he is his weaknesses. I’ll remain in the Bendis camp as long as his dialogue stays witty and his characters self-deprecating, but at times like these I can understand the mindset of his detractors. Why tell in one issue what you can tell in six?