"The Collective: Prologue"
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Steve McNiven (p), Dexter Vines (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
It's interesting to note that even in these days of multi-million dollar publishing ventures, mistakes can still happen. Take, for instance, the almost comical printing error that led to this issue of Not Avengers having its contents replaced by what looks like an issue of Alpha Flight: The End.
Yes, I'm being facetious, but if I didn't, I think I'd cry.
This is everything I've hated about Bendis' run, all wrapped up in a neat package, which I suppose does mean that it's considerably more dense than the average issue. Then again, so is air.
How doth Bendis offend mine eye? Let me count the ways…
A continutation of one of Bendis's pet projects in place of an actual Avengers-related plot? Yep, we get some (literal) fallout from House of M, but I suppose House of M was allegedly connected to this title, so I can just about accept that. Still, it would be nice if Bendis acknowledged the Marvel Universe as a whole, and not just the bits he wrote.
Gratuitous guest stars with no previous connection to the Avengers or the story's themes? Oh yes. This time, it's Alpha Flight, but in an unprecedented display of variety and competence, Bendis actually doesn't have AF solve the problem while the Not Avengers politely wait in the background. Of course, the Canadians don’t solve the problem because Bendis has something else in mind for them, but we’ll get to that in a bit…
Few or no appearances by the title characters? Tony Stark appears, out of costume, on two pages early on, but that's it. Does the cover count?
Excessive use of splash pages? Let's see. Seven one-page splashes (five without dialogue) and four double-page spreads. I think that there may only just be more panels than pages in this comic.
Comically underpowered opposition that somehow still proves difficult for Earth's "Mightiest" Heroes? Well, "The Collective" does wipe out Alpha Flight, but I'm not sure what that really means. However, a creature made up of all the mutant powers Wanda made "disappear" in House of M (and presumably inhabiting the body of Xavier) should provide stiff opposition for anyone. Then again, the Not Avengers would have trouble with Forbush-Man. I’m itching to see how Daredev… I mean Ronin fares against an indestructible being made of fire that can run at two hundred miles an hour.
As if all that wasn't enough of a special treat, Bendis tries out some new techniques with this issue. It seems he's taken a leaf out of Geoff Johns's book, and here kills off a bunch of C-list characters for alleged dramatic effect, without realising that if the reader doesn't care about the sacrificed character(s) in the first place, there will be no such dramatic effect. Bringing in a bunch of random characters solely to kill them off isn't a sign of fine dramatic timing, it's a sign that the writer isn't confident enough to make a story exciting without resorting to shock value. What's worse is that Bendis actually has this pivotal moment happen off-panel, so even if it weren't a desperate and obvious bit of attention grabbing, it's undermined by the very way it's presented. However, it does fit in with Bendis' style on this title more than the cheap shock tactics, so I expect to see it used more often in future issues. I cannot wait.
I really don't know how much more evidence people need for Bendis's inability to write superhero stories; at every opportunity, he seems to go out of his way to avoid writing superheroics, to the extent that when something worthy of the Avengers finally happens, it happens off-panel, and the Avengers aren’t even in the issue. Great.
Steve McNiven returns on pencilling duties, and his work looks a little better here than in his previous visit. The characters don’t look quite as much like they’ve been carved from plastic this time around, and I don’t know whether that’s the work of inker Dexter Vines, who didn’t partner with McNiven last time around, or the uncredited colourist (tsk, tsk Marvel), but the art looks much better as a result. McNiven’s characterisation is strong, although he does seem to be trying too hard to bring some variety to the dialogue scenes, leading to some odd poses here and there; and there are some undeniably strong images throughout the comic, even if they do come across more like pages from a poster book due to Bendis’ deficient scripting. Indeed, while he’s no George Perez or Alan Davis, I’d be quite happy to have McNiven replace Finch on this title on a more permanent basis, as his general improvement and increasing confidence with the characters is plain to see, and it’s nice that someone is coming out of this mess looking good.
This issue is one of the weaker ones so far, as it makes use of almost every one of the “stylistic elements” I’ve grown to despise over the course of this title’s wretched, misbegotten, existence. It only scores as “highly” as it does because McNiven’s clearly getting the hang of things, and because something actually happens, and it’s an actual Avengersey type story. Otherwise, it’s the usual pap.
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