“Break Out: Part 6”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Finch
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Albert Deschesne
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Still hot on the trail of the mastermind behind a super-villain prison break, the New Avengers find themselves smack in the middle of the dino-infested jungles of the Savage Land. But just when they think they’ve found the answers, the heroes are swept up in a deadly conspiracy involving long time mutant villain Sauron, and a rogue battalion of S.H.I.E.L.D operatives.
Beau Smith—Silver Bullet Comic Book’s very own beer-guzzlin’, ass-kicking columnist—recently posed an interesting question in his featured column “Busted Knuckles” (if you haven’t read Beau’s column before check it out…it’s a lot better than getting your teeth kicked in by him if he finds out you haven’t). Essentially, Beau asked the question if today’s comic book writers were infusing their scripts with real character development, or if they were simply relying on the iconic status of many superheroes to tell their stories? In other words are the comics we plunk our hard earned dough for really doing anything new with the characters or is it really the same old crap, recycled ad nauseum?
There is perhaps no better place to answer this question than Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers. The book after all features some of the most iconic characters in the Marvel Universe, with Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man all sharing page time throughout each issue, and of course, New Avengers also happens to be one of Marvel’s flagship titles (can you say: “Ka Ching!” boys and girls?)
So let’s apply Beau’s “Busted Knuckles” question to the issue and see how (to use his words) “the sumabitch holds up”. New Avengers #6 starts out with the team still slogging through the Savage Land after a brief confrontation with Sauron. Of course they now have Wolverine tagging along (obviously taking a break from the 28 other comic series Marvel has him plastered in). The New Avengers however, soon find themselves surrounded and potentially pinned down by a rogue battalion of S.H.I.E.L.D operatives led by the “other Black Widow”, Yelena Belova. A fairly one-sided fight then takes place with the New Avengers kicking the crap out of their would be assailants (for an elite organization, S.H.I.E.L.D seems to be replete with dumb asses). The heroes then stumble upon a secret mining facility which is using the Savage Lands inhabitants as slave labor and illegally harvesting Vibranium (which ever Marvel fan boy knows is used to make evil, super genius type doomsday weapons). The entire operation looks to be run by Belova’s rogue operatives, but before the heroes can further investigate, the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D obliterates the area with a well placed tactical strike, nearly killing the New Avengers in the process. The heroes now believe they’ve stumbled on to something much larger than they had anticipated and the plot…as they say…thickens.
Okay, so that’s basically a run down of the fairly formulaic plot, and yet the question still remains: Has Bendis’ done anything with the characters themselves? The answer, perhaps predictably, is: not really. Bendis has some brief flashes of character development (like Captain America and Iron Man debating the merits of allowing Wolverine into the team), and the usual banter between the heroes offers some brief insight into their personalities, but for the most part we don’t see very much character development or for that matter the heroes even developing as much of a team. Instead, we have a fairly mediocre and only mildly entertaining plot, which never strays far beyond anything readers haven’t already experienced before. That’s not to say that Bendis isn’t given plenty of opportunities. We have a group of supposedly noble heroes watching a group of innocent beings vaporized before their very eyes, yet they are only briefly indignant before moving on to discuss other more pressing concerns (something that seems particularly suspect given the traditional Boy Scout mentality of Captain American. You assume Cap would be fuming mad for more than a few panels). And in the end we have characters that really seem to go through the motions, existing only to advance the plot.
Conversely, Finch’s artwork is strong, but with a half-hearted effort from Bendis’, even the art comes across as a little flat.
Ultimately, character development is a tricky thing, particularly in comics. After all, readers really WANT to see the same characters, no one wants to see Batman turn in his tights and go settle in the suburbs of Gotham or Thor turn in his Hammer to become a successful door to door vacuum-cleaner salesman (though come to think of it those MIGHT make for some pretty entertaining stories). No, just because a character remains relatively the same, that doesn’t mean the writers can’t challenge us. The trick is to show us MORE of the characters we already know and love, not to change them entirely (a lesson that damn J. Michael Straczynski might take to heart now that he’s good and screwed up Spider-Man). Take Ed Brubakers recent run on Captain America, or even Peter David’s latest rendition of the Hulk. These are iconic, classic characters, and yet both Brubaker and David have been able to bring some substance to them beyond the icon status they already possess (Cap as a tortured and possibly delusional war vet and the Hulk as a repressed individual tormented by his childhood). As a team book Bendis’ has even more opportunity for character development, but instead we get only an average outing where the characters are card board cutouts without any real depth. No, in the end New Avengers #6 is mediocrity at its best. Bendis’ has the potential to do some incredible work though (i.e. his scripts on the brilliant Powers) so here’s hoping he’ll be able to turn New Avengers into a comic with characters who actually have character!
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!