*of course, huge spoilers ahead*
New Avengers #17
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Rags Morales
Coloured by Frank Martin
Cover by Leinil Francis Yu and David Curiel
Dated June 2014
Last we checked in, Namor and Black Panther were studying other worlds that were fighting against incursions. They happened upon one world that managed to fight back quite efficiently—a world that was protected by a clear Justice League homage called the Great Society. Here Superman was called Sun God, Batman was The Rider and so on. Their Dr. Fate (here, The Norn) pulled a trick where he was able to summon two future versions of himself and sacrifice them to destroy the incurring Earth.
When our story opens, we find out that The Norn’s stunt worked—it destroyed the dead planet that was crashing towards them, but failed to stop the Sidera Maris. Those that remember the lore Jonathan Hickman has been building up will recall that the Sidera Maris land on a planet, send a beacon and signal the Mapmakers to touch down. The Mapmakers (interdimensional Super-Adaptoids gone rogue) hit the planet, map it (as it were) and destroy all life on it, ready to hop to the next world at the next incursion. This is bad news; it means the super-powerful Mapmakers are gunning for the Great Society next.
This issue unfolds like a fairly well told Justice League story. The Mapmakers arrive, some heroes distract them and Sun God eventually goes supernova to wipe them out. It’s nice and concise, being well laid out and telling an enjoyable, straightforward heroes-vs-villains story. The twist comes near the middle of the book when The Norn reports that another incursion is about to happen. Sun God rallies the tired, beat-up troops and off they march to the next battle—they’ve got no choice but to fight till they die.
Unfortunately, once this book hits the mid-point, it slams on the brakes. We switch from the view of the Great Society to that of Namor and Black Panther observing their actions. Namor busts out the finest Atlantean wine and the two wax poetic, arguing about the nature of heroics for a good long time. Once bitter rivals, they seem to warm up to each other, even ending in a laugh. Taking another look at the monitor, they realize they can now see the future and to nobody’s surprise the next incursion involves our heroes the Illuminati facing off against the Great Society.
Look, I read this issue with an open mind. The set-up for this story arc last issue was interesting—I figured we’d be moving into exciting territory. Hickman starts off on a strong note, giving us a Justice League story that isn’t all that ground-breaking, but provides a good opportunity for us to get to know these characters. Sun God seems like a legit Superman. Boundless is a fun she-Flash. The Jovian is Martian Manhunter to a T. I liked the team dynamics and the original voice of each character. We had something going here.
It just had to go awry. Hickman couldn’t help himself—talking in circles, saying a lot without saying much at all in the name of “character development”; it was bound to happen. The rivalry between Black Panther and Namor isn’t anything new and truthfully, it isn’t all that interesting either. The two were at war just issues before and now they’re reluctant chums. It’s a development, I suppose, but completely uninteresting. I like both characters but Hickman has sucked the fun out of them. Reading their discussion on heroics and nobility and regality and truth… I simply don’t care. It kills the pace, it distracts from the tension of the story and it leaves little impact on the reader.
When Hickman gets the pace just right, it’s a bloody miracle. When it inevitably comes back to a screeching halt, we feel punched in the gut. It would be absolute magic if he could show us character development through the plot instead of painfully dividing the two. Yes, characters can develop without having long, pretentious conversations marred with huge space-wasting panels of silence and reaction, but you wouldn’t believe it reading these comic books.
Rags Morales returns on the art and it’s still very nice. There are hints that he may be rushing now, but the storytelling is still very even and the character work has yet to fail. Consistency from Rags Morales is a rare and beautiful thing. We’re lucky this book stays on a strong note.
I’m still invested in this story—in fact Hickman’s fine work with the Great Society has me looking forward to the inevitable confrontation between our heroes and these other-worldly Justice Leaguers. If this book didn’t waste half its page count on pointless prattle I’d be singing its praises loud and proud, but once again we get a story blemished by the expected flaws of Jonathan Hickman’s writing.
Oh well, there’s always that promise of awesome things to come…
New Avengers #18
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Valerio Schiti
Coloured by Frank Martin
Cover by Dustin Weaver and Jason Keith
Dated July 2014
Speaking of long, pointless conversations marred by long, pointless panels of reaction shots—this issue!
And what was I saying about developing character through plot, instead of just rhetoric? How about moving the plot forward at a reasonable pace, tackling new things instead of repeating the stuff we already know, or actually getting to the point of the book instead of providing endless preamble? Not in these pages, folks!
See, last issue we got a few pages of action. We got to see new characters interact and they became genuinely interesting. Something actually happened (at least in the first half). Wew! Time for a break!
I’m generally not so cynical of “down time” issues, where we gets special, intimate moments with the characters of a book and learn more about their personalities, motivations and relationships. But in the pages of a Jonathan Hickman comic book, we should not expect any of these things. We should also expect these down-time issues every few months—or whenever we feel the book is just starting to gain momentum.
So what do we learn about the personalities, motivations and relationships of our favourite Illuminati heroes? Nothing, but here’s what happens:
Maximus is healing Blackbolt in a big tube of medical jelly or something. Blackbolt emerges, all better.
Black Panther convenes a meeting with the ghosts of Black Panthers past. They tell him he better do whatever it takes to keep Wakanda from falling—evil or not. Murdering some heroes to save his people? That would be just great.
Namor sharpens his spear and Dr. Strange comes back to our normal plain of existence. Insert smart quip—I already forget Namor’s remark.
Dr. Bruce Banner takes a look at the Illuminati’s weaponry and wonders why they have so many bombs. Beast is all like “you know why”.
Tony Stark yells at Black Swan for a bit and gets interrupted by Reed Richards. We learn that Tony is having a tough time and Black Swan doesn’t want to say anything that makes sense. Boo-hoo.
Book ends with the exact same cliff-hanger as last issue, with The Great Society facing off against the Illuminati. We’ve literally gone nowhere in terms of plot, ending up right where we left off. As far as the stuff that did take place in this book, none of it was particularly interesting. We weren’t provided any insight we didn’t already have. I liked Black Panther’s neat little pantheon of king-ghosts, but leave it to Hickman to draw it out until it’s overstayed its welcome. Overall, character development was practically non-existent, instead favoring little skits that went nowhere.
We’ve had these issues before and we’ll have them again. I hate, hate, hate these pointless, money-grabbing, time-wasting, boring comic books. I’m all for smart dialogue, intimate character moments and “calm before the storm” prelude—but it has to go somewhere! It has to be meaningful! I can’t put up with this crap anymore!
That being said, let’s end on a positive note. Instead of giving us what could have been a rushed Rags Morales book, Marvel opted to get Valerio Schiti in on the action. Schiti’s art is absolutely amazing, even in a book where nothing really happens. His work is crisp, clean and the perfect example of top-tier modern superhero work. He does background, facial expressions, movement and action (what little of it there is here) all with flair. This guy should be a comic-art superstar. I couldn’t be happier to see his work in these pages.
See, not all is lost. We have great art and we haven’t lost that promise of excitement. Hickman never fails to remind us that a good comic could be right around the corner. I just wish he’d stop screwing around and actually get to it!