So…my second Marvel book comes out on Wednesday.
If you’ve been following the column over the last couple months, there’s a great chance you’ve run across some bright, gushing narrative about the whole thing, but forgive me if that’s all I’ve been capable of recently. Just finished lettering corrections for the second issue of FF this week, scripting the fourth, and plotting the recently approved fifth, and right when I think this situation won’t become any more unbelievable, I get another e-mail from one of my editors at Marvel Comics. At the risk of inviting disaster, I cannot remember the last time I felt this good, for this long, and I’m disappointed that statement probably extends throughout the entire run of this column, but hey, bottom line, I have a Fantastic Four comic hitting shops this week, featuring the Black Panther, and in the words of Chris Rock…ain’t nothing wrong with that.
I hope you buy it, I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you know that I appreciate it.
Which, in a very roundabout way, brings us to the other thing I need to get off my chest this week, and it’s a bit of a public apology to Brian Michael Bendis. Writing a weekly column is interesting, because the topical nature of the gig demands a certain awareness of the current issues stirring throughout the industry, while requiring you to appropriately comment on them. Funny thing is that you’ll put something down that accurately reflects your thoughts about something one week, and before that month is over, you’ll have completely changed your mind about it. It’s just the nature of the beast, and anyone who argues otherwise is fooling themselves. You have to alter or mature your viewpoints based on what you know now, compared to what you knew then, otherwise what’s the point?
My appreciation for Bendis’ writing is well documented here, but with what I believe is an incredibly successful launch of the New Avengers, my respect has increased once more, and I am almost embarrassed to admit that I doubted him for a second. I remember, to this day, reading Sam and Twitch #1, my first exposure to his work, and being blown away by it. Don’t know what it was, but the dialogue, the story, the delivery, was so unlike everything else I was reading, and I just thought, “this Bendis dude is pretty good.” And that was pretty much that. I own everything he’s done, with few exceptions, and have been a needless crusader of the material. Until somewhere around Avengers Disassembled….
It’s easy to disavow the online comics community, if it’s not saying what you want it to say. When the message boards ignite about a particular storyline, or creator, all negative discourse is often clustered together as the work of overactive fanboys, when some of it is really very well reasoned constructive criticism. The argument being that “numbers” don’t lie, and the almighty dollar tells its own more relevant story. Which is both true and the biggest load of nonsense anyone has ever shoveled. 80,000 fans can’t be wrong? Majority rules? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you…yes, sometimes they are wrong, and there have been several instances in which the majority has been proven stupid, and please don’t make me break out my history book to prove it to you.
That’s the kind of rhetoric we want to hear from the internet, right? Impassioned pleas assailing the mainstream publishers, and propping up the independent projects that have to sell the old-fashioned way. We love the ‘net when it’s helping us promote our wares, but ignore it when it says unflattering things about us. The community gets things right, for the same reason it gets them wrong, and you can easily tell the difference between the two, if you’re paying enough attention. No ratio, no percentage that compares the people that buy comics, to the people that buy comics and talks about them on the internet, is sufficient enough to systematically ignore that viewpoint.
This isn’t to suggest that everyone should start taking all of their cues from message boards, which obviously isn’t the best idea, but to outright dismiss genuine, informed commentary, because it just happens to be posted on a thread is also dangerous. There is a contingent that is inflammatory for no reason at all, but again, there is a noticeable difference between that, and a fan who obviously loves the medium, and becomes frustrated that it’s not doing everything it can do. Or appears to be eschewing characterization and the other dreaded C-word, continuity, for a healthy buzz and a sales boost. Avengers Disassembled and Identity Crisis were some of the most polarizing events in comics this year, in addition to being the most successful, and some of the concerns being posted about these stories had merit, whether people want to believe it or not.
Now personally, I had pretty high expectations for Bendis & Finch’s first Avengers arc, because of their established pedigree, but overall came away pretty empty. And the index will show that halfway through Chaos, I wrote a column that contained a text piece that encouraged people to trust Bendis enough to let the tale run its course, before they raked him over the internet coals. So, in the interest of hindsight, I suppose it was only natural for the story to finish, and for me to have a very lukewarm reaction to it. Now, in the wake of New Avengers, I know exactly why I wasn’t feelin’ it. Chaos was written well, drawn well, marketed well, but it lacked that “heart” I’ve come to expect from Bendis.
Say what you want about decompression, or books where “nothing happens,” or any other bit of nonsense people like to label him for, this dude cares about the characters he’s writing. Even though he excels at putting them in places they least want to be, you cannot argue that Bendis does not care about Matt Murdock, or Peter Parker, or Jessica Jones, or Deena Pilgrim, or Luke Cage. It is obvious when you’re reading the work, and that passion is what people respond to, not a pattern of dialogue. And as much as I tried, I just could not feel the same emotional connection to the previous Avengers line-up. It felt like “shock and awe” to me, we’re supposed to be impressed by the scale and the spectacle, the sheer immensity of it, but when everything quiets down, we can’t quite remember what it was all for.
New Avengers addresses that concern with typical Bendis ease, while bringing decidedly atypical qualities from him, that don’t affect his abilities in the slightest. The lack of soul in Chaos is turned on its ear, by involving personalities that the writer already has a pre-established affinity for, and if that rubs people the wrong way, than you’re in this for the wrong reasons. I’d rather a writer use characters that he feels somewhat connected to, than to pack a team with an arbitrary cast, because he doesn’t want to rock the boat. Rock it, smash it, but do it with purpose and passion, and three issues in, I’m feeling both from this book, and Captain America’s conversation with Iron Man, aboard the Helicarrier, in the third issue, was downright inspiring and highly respectful of the idea of the Avengers. And once you understand the idea behind something, you can pull off almost anything.
I’ve read this latest issue three times already, and while a cynic would assert, “nothing happens,” Bendis brings everything together here, with a series of insanely well-written scenes, giving every New Avenger reason to assemble, and lending credence to this star packed line-up. I’m not sure that even he can rationalize Wolverine’s eventual inclusion, but if this serves as any indication, he’s going to surprise us. Admit it, you thought it’d take an entire six issues to get to this point, didn’t you? Feel free to correct me, but Bendis has never hit the ground running like this, and he does it without jeopardizing the solid characterization he’s known for. And for some reason, I was skeptical.
The guy that’s delivered one of the most significant runs ever on Daredevil, revamped Spider-Man for the twenty-first century, offered one of the longest existing creator-owned series in Powers, and given Marvel a new character with notable staying power in Jessica Jones, and I fostered doubt. I was giving my man the suspicious eyebrow, and now the whole stupid question has been settled in three issues. Two, really.
We’re turning the corner in superhero comics, where it’s okay to celebrate the sense of fun and adventure inherent in the genre, balancing out the realism and the self-awareness that breaks the concept down into little pieces, and books like JLA Classified and New Avengers are going to stand on the front line of that movement. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t initially count New Avengers as a step in the right direction. I don’t see any fan of superhero teams doubting the heart of Bendis’ latest venture, and I should have been more than willing to give him four issues to find it.
Read New Avengers, and if you’ve got an extra 2.25 in your pocket this Wednesday, please pick up Marvel Age Fantastic Four Tales #1, featuring the Black Panther, and written by yours truly. There is a sizable preview posted at Mile High Comics, if you want to take a look, and the first six pages of Shatterstar are also online too. Have a good one, and I’ll be back in two weeks. Thanks.