Current Reviews


New Avengers Illuminati #4

Posted: Monday, August 6, 2007
By: Shawn Hill

Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed
Artists: Jim Cheung (p), John Dell, David Meikes, & Mark Morales (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Plot: Look at that beautiful cover. Here’s what I’ve been longing for at last. The distaff side to the unrepentant boys club that is the Illuminati. If anyone can talk some sense into these fools, it’s this group of women. They’ve got to have some effect of sense or sensibility on the group that thought starting World War Hulk was a great idea, right?

Of course not. They’re not even in the book.

Comments: This book is a retcon factory designed to overhaul subversive characters so they can be mainstreamed into the spiffy clean superhero factory that Iron Man now runs with his iron fists.

It’s such a shame that Jim Cheung has come along at this point in the Marvel Universe, where all he can do is pretty nostalgic splash panels of the late ‘60s, Jan-Marries-Hank-because-he’s-crazy Avengers; he’s done it in nearly every issue as this book creeps up to the current day, and he does it again here, going all misty-eyed for a nice poster of the late, lamented Captain Marvel, from one of his brief Avengers associations. But like the gorgeous cover featuring Sue, Clea, Medusa, Madam Masque and Lilandra, it’s a lie. Cheung doesn’t really get to draw that shining group in their glory. Because a Bendis story is about the dirty stuff that goes on behind the scenes, not the shining public spectacle heroes make.

Actually, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to put one’s finger on what exactly a Bendis story is. At times the raw emotions, grim disappointments and outright horrors the main characters witness or engage in feel completely modern, ripped from the headlines as it were.

But on another level, his potboilers are throwbacks to an earlier, simpler form of storytelling, 1950s sitcoms where the men bond together in solidarity because the endless enigma of woman alternately scares and enrages them. One can imagine the pre-Marvel Jack Kirby illustrating his tales with little culture shock or disconnect, and that is not a compliment.

I used to be impressed with the verisimilitude Bendis could capture in dialogue, giving his characters natural, broken rhythms so they didn’t all sound like clever orators. Then I noticed that if all his characters did this, it was still a silly schtick, just a different sort of one.

Now in this issue he has the five supposedly smartest men on the planet (well, after T’Challa, who was smarter because he never joined) kvetch over their old ladies like a meeting of the teen machine shop regulars hanging out in somebody’s garage. Clea has left Stephen Strange, putting him in a funk, and seeing his “futurist” best buds try to cheer him up is either comedy or outright parody, depending on how you react to their inept cluelessness about the fairer sex.

The Bendis campaign to make Tony the biggest asshole ever continues apace. In this issue see Tony interrupted as he aims the b-word at Clea (after drooling over her looks in front of her grieving ex); watch as he accuses Charles of being a mind-controlling sociopath (with no evidence at all); and gaze in awe as he does his best to indoctrinate a captive child into his world-view.

Because the biggest irony of all about this issue is, despite that striking cover, it’s really a male initiation story. After Blackbolt (who’s literally become an adolescent to judge from his gestures and, yes, vocal mannerisms) is through making fun of that old nag Medusa, he and Namor (the only voice of reason in the entire issue; if I remember correctly, he defects from this internecine society over the Hulk decision) and Reed alternate the worst tough love session ever with nostalgic visions and fatherly invitations at the real star of the issue: Noh-varr the most recent Marvel Boy.

Cheung captures all the visual beauty of that Morrison/Jones creation, which is good because Bendis and Reed capture none of his aggressively alien world-view, make no mention of the insectile source of his powers (rather than being a kind of Spider-Man, his old school name would more likely be Roach Boy), and show none of his mental complexity as they subject him to the brute force, might makes right tactics of the Illuminati. There’s one way for Marvel Boy to survive in the Marvel universe, and that way is to conform.

Which means he won’t be Marvel Boy at all anymore when they’re done, but nice try. I mean, it worked so well with Sentry.

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