“Breakout!” (Part Two)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: David Finch (p), Danny Miki and Mark Morales (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot: Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, The Sentry, Iron Man, poor Foggy Nelson, and a small army of S.H.I.E.L.D agents struggle to quell (or at best survive) the mass prison break facilitated by Electro in issue #1. Electro himself makes a hasty exit on page one with an unknown prisoner in tow. The issue ends with a turn toward the disastrous.
Comments: In this second installment of The New Avengers, the choppy, stuttering, drums-n’-bass rhythms that make Brian Michael Bendis’s classic dialogue so immediately recognizable have slowed down and fattened up—left the dance floor, as it were, to drive around town with the hip hop thumping. Instead of the bubble-strewn panels that fans of Powers or even Ultimate Spider-Man are accustomed to, Bendis experiments with an economy of expression that values precise communication of plot points and character over popping conversational realism. Gone are the small “filler” bubbles consisting of staccato beats—repetitions of insignificant words or meaningless place-holders—ping-ponging between characters. This new-found concision is partly a function of managing a team book whose character count (if we include the prisoners) is in the double digits. It also stems from the demands of writing an action-driven title. Fortunately, Bendis handles this tall order perfectly, producing one of the week’s most enjoyable books.
By dividing the issue into two gradually converging fights, with Spider-Man and Captain America on one level of the prison, and Matt Murdock, Jessica Drew, and Luke Cage on another, Bendis is able to craft a series of “mini-cliffhangers”: On one page, Spider-Man becomes literally submerged in a sea of old enemies, his arm brutally broken; on the next, Carnage emerges from the shadows of the sub-basement level to menace Foggy Nelson and his protectors. The action races forward from crest to crest in this way until the climax of the issue is reached: The Sentry, until now sitting silently in the dark of his basement cell, joins the fight, dispensing with Carnage in a way none of the other heroes could have managed.
The series of (presumably sonic) “booms,” each in its own panel, that illustrate the Sentry’s first action of the series are typical of the brilliant use of panel pacing and arrangement in this issue. Another welcome (and archetypally Bendis-esque) technique consists of small, black-and-white insets giving the names and powers of the various villains as they enter from the wings to assault the heroes. For those unfamiliar with these characters, or those who simply can’t recognize them out of context, these “dossiers” eloquently solve the problem without delaying the action. What’s more, this effect, clearly devised for practical ends, is also endowed with a narrative part to play: The panel identifying The Purple Man on the last page is larger than its predecessors, and in color, a visual punctuation mark underscoring this villain’s importance in the final cliffhanger.
While the layout of New Avengers #2 is responsible for its seamless propulsion, it experiences some drag from both pencils and colors. David Finch appears to have trouble composing action panels of the small size required in this issue. Particularly in the throw-down involving Carnage, three opponents, and Foggy Nelson, Finch’s drafting is cramped and he’s unable to pull off the George Perez cast-of-a-thousand detail needed to prevent the action from becoming a mess. Colorist Frank D’Armata does little to help with his impenetrably dark hues. The same murky palette plagues his work on Ultimate Nightmare. While it’s true that both stories take place in basements or underground bunkers without electricity, Laura Martin has shown with her work on Astonishing X-Men and Planetary that “dark” need not mean “opaque.”
The New Avengers is an action comic, not a teen romance (Ultimate Spiderman), workplace drama (The Pulse) or police procedural (Powers). Bendis could easily have turned this run into another platform from which to display his wit and refine his commentary on the superhero genre. Instead, he has adapted his voice to the spirit of The Avengers. Hopefully, as the team line-up stabilizes, and the furor over the reboot subsides, this series will become the kind of flagship title it has the potential to be.
Captain America, Spider-Man, and S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers try to keep more super-villains from escaping The Raft. Down below, Matt Murdock, Foggy Nelson, Luke Cage, and Jessica Drew (the first Spider-Woman), fight for their lives against Carnage, Mr. Hyde, and Hydro-Man. The Sentry, moved by Foggy’s blubbering, lends a hand. The heroes join forces on the surface where they’re met by Iron Man. And that’s when The Purple Man takes control of Luke Cage.
I’m being cautiously optimistic because Bendis screwed up his first Avengers story. Like before, we get a lot of great action. It’s a big disaster that overwhelms our heroes. Good dialogue, nice pacing, and lots of fear and anger from the right people. Here’s hoping it all doesn’t come to a dead stop when someone pops up out of nowhere and talks for 6 pages.
There are a couple of points that I hope Bendis will address. Chief among them is The Sentry. If you haven’t read The Sentry mini-series by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee, (with specials by various artists including Mark Texeria and Bill Seinkewicz), get the trade book. Now! Seriously, click on one of SBC’c sponsor links and buy The Sentry. It is one of the best comics of the last 10 years.
But here’s what you need to know right now: The Sentry created his own worst enemy, a living back storm cloud called The Void. Every time Sentry beats the Void, it came back stronger than before. When The Sentry realized he was bringing the monster to life, he erased his mind and the minds of everyone on Earth. If no one knew about The Sentry, no one would know about the Void. The Sentry story ended with Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, and The Sentry’s human identity possibly still remembering the hero and villain. So how can The Sentry be back without The Void? I’m giving Bendis the chance to explain this.
Second, the villains rip off Spider-man’s mask. I know Peter Parker isn’t famous, and it happens at night. But if there’s enough light to see these guys, there’s enough to see a man’s face 3 inches in front of you. No, Parker isn’t famous, but he is married to a popular model/actress. And you know how much prisoners like pictures of red-headed B-level celebrities. Just ask the inmates who got homemade Vida tattoos. (FHM reference; I am hip!) You don’t think paparazzi would have gotten a pic of Mary-Jane with her husband? And don’t forget how many of these guys hate Spider-Man; hate him enough to obsess over him, learn everything about him, including who is the ONLY PERSON TO EVER TAKE HIS FREAKING PICTURE!? After this riot calms down, someone’s gotta go though their “photo file” and realize, “HEY! M.J.’s husband! That’s Spider-Man!”
So, there’s a cloud of evil coming to destroy the Earth, and Parker’s secret identity is pretty much blown. If Bendis ever acknowledges any of this, this could be one of the biggest Marvel stories of the year.
Until then, look at the pretty pictures, and just ask yourself, when did the Purple Man find time to grab an apple?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this issue, because it is essentially just a big fight scene. Now it’ s a very well done fight scene, and in the context of what’s going on in the story, you could hardly expect anything other than a big scrap, but still, I’ve paid good money to get twenty-odd pages of people hitting each other, and I’m not entirely sure that it was worth it.
There are some great moments in here, undoubtedly. A common problem with The Avengers has always been that the team doesn’t always face threats worthy of their attention, but the scale of the problem here is appropriate, even if these heroes aren’t actually the Avengers yet. There’s a real sense of danger as the prison literally swarms with supervillains and what comes through particularly well is that while individually some of these people are ridiculous, together they can prove the match for any hero, especially if that hero is unprepared or, as in Spidey’s case this issue, brash and overconfident. In contrast to the painful battle against overwhelming odds going on above decks, we get scenes in the bowels of the prison that focus more on individual characters and how dangerous they can be. Most impressively, the villains Bendis chooses to soup up in this way are a bunch who have become little more than jokes in the past. Hydro-Man is shown to be quite deadly in cramped conditions, and we finally see an effective use of the creatively-defunct Carnage, only for him to be disposed of in a way that I hope is final, as Sentry takes him up into orbit and literally tears him apart. Sentry’s involvement is impressive, even if I’m skeptical concerning the continuity wrangling needed to get him in the story at all. On a more conventional level, it’s fun to see such a powerful character let loose (and the team will surely need him to take care of Nefaria), and the visuals here are excellent. The fact that Sentry makes such an impressive entrance without saying a word is also a nice touch. The best part of the character’s involvement though is that it comes about via Foggy Nelson’s actions, and it’s nice to see that Bendis gives Foggy a positive role to play in the battle.
The art is generally very good, and I spotted none of the little flaws that occasionally mar Finch’s pencils. There’ s a nice varied look to the colours, and on the whole the art team does an excellent job with a story that could easily become visually uninteresting, as all the criminals are wearing the same outfit, their prison uniforms.
Beyond the relative lack of depth on show here, there’s not much I can complain about. I fail to see the wisdom of revealing Spider-Man’s face to the assembled villains; if Spidey’s got time to web up a sling for his broken arm, though, I’m sure he could fashion an impromptu replacement mask. But Bendis has enough to explain with Sentry and Wolverine (still conspicuously absent, and the letters page gives mixed messages about his inclusion), so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that, at least until I see where he’s going with it. More questions for Bendis to answer, but it would be unfair to criticise him for not dealing with them immediately. There’s plenty of time for answers. This is a good fun fight scene, with some clever moments and lots of impressive ones, but it is at the end of the day, just a fight scene. It’s not fair to call it padding though, as there’s lots going on, and the issue does serve more of a purpose than just filling out the page count of a collected edition by clearly showing what a dire situation the heroes face. Even so, read as a single issue, it’s a bit of a disappointment, but read as part of the storyline as a whole, it’s a well produced bit of action. It’s a stalling tactic, but one that just about works.
Plot: Disparate parts become clearer as the players do. A helpful scorecard identifies the villains making their break, while a beset-upon Cap laments the lack of an Avengers roster to combat just this sort of threat.
Comments: A step up from last issue (which was all introduction and setup) as Bendis begins to show his rationale for this grouping of heroes as Cap’s next team. In fact, it’s only issue two, and we already see them all fighting together (whether they know it or not, dispersed as they are in different parts of the prison complex). That’s rather novel in this decompression age, as for example Jan Michael Straczynski’s Squadron Supreme is still only partially assembled by the one-year point.
What’s cool: Finch’s art continues to impress, as he somehow makes sense out of a slew of characters in a blackout, during a rainstorm, all wearing the same uniform. Electro achieves his mission on the second page, leaving the rest of the heroes with the formidable mop-up task of containing all the escaping villains they can.
Guess what? They can’t. More trademark Bendis masochism ensues, as Peter falls literally into the pit (thanks to a typically rat bastard act by Count Nefaria, though I don’t recall him having telekinesis before).
In the basement, the battle between Carnage (looking better than usual under Finch’s realistic style, total horror movie ooze-factor) and a civilian Matt Murdock goes poorly, though it does allow Jessica Drew to act with the sangfroid of the long-active metahuman. She and Power Man even have time for a little witty repartee, as he’s been at this even longer than she has. Since he’s still in a hospital bed in Secret War I’m guessing this is some months after that story, even though it has two issues left to go.
When the Sentry takes definitive action to turn the tide, one sees why Thor would now be redundant on this team. With that very cool use of a character whose whole existence is a retcon (but a smart one), Bendis has convinced me that he knows what he’s doing with this line up. There are infinite story possibilities here, with characters he’s chosen to challenge in new directions. Not the least of which will be Cap dealing with whipping some third-stringers into shape. I’m sorry Busiek’s prophesied introduction of Songbird to the Avengers next phase hasn’t come to pass, but then, she’s got a book of her own again, after all.
Not cool: Nothing this issue, it’s pretty good. But am I dreading the arrival of Wolverine? You betcha! That little attention hog doesn’t need to repeat his Cyclops-shtick with Cap as his irritant, or vice versa.
The Plot: Electro escapes from The Raft with the prisoner he was sent to free. Spider-Man and Captain America work with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to keep the inmates from escaping into the city. Meanwhile, in the bowels of the prison, Matt Murdock, Luke Cage and Jessica Drew struggle to survive. Foggy Nelson manages to convince Robert Reynolds – The Sentry – to assist controlling the riot. Iron Man arrives to lend assistance as Luke Cage confronts the Purple Man, the villain who tormented his girlfriend Jessica Jones.
Comments: Its seems that Bendis is following the template provided by Avengers #1 from 1963 – a disparate group of heroes come together to confront a danger no one of them could hope to contain. Sure, it’ll take him six issues where it took Stan Lee and Jack Kirby just one, but that’s the nature of business in 2005. This issue offers an excellent balance of action and Bendisian (I want to trademark that term) dialogue scenes. This is more what “Disassembled” should have been.
Finch does an excellent job of conveying both the ugly nature of the inmates and the dark, moody nature of close quarters combat. Visually, it’s easy to understand why these men are in a maximum-security prison. Their physical ugliness reflects the rot and disease that infects their minds. Good stuff. There’s a panel towards the end of the issue where all the heroes struggle to contain the riot. They look like a team in that panel. It certainly bodes well for the future.
This issue is chock full of great little character moments. The inmates are particularly brutal in their treatment of Spider-Man, a testament to the annoying nature of his banter. Captain America’s temporary rescue of Spider-Man is another “Cap-as-a-force-of-nature” moment that stacks up well with many others. The only person Luke Cage would want to wail on more than Norman Osborn is the Purple Man. But P.M. has Cage under his spell. I can’t image what Cage will do to P.M. once he’s free of control. It’s likely to be bloody.
Despite his Marvel Knights mini-series, the exact parameters of The Sentry’s powers are unclear, which adds an unknown factor to the story. I found Reynolds a compelling character during his first appearance. I’m glad we’re going to see more of him in the future. It’s a compelling mystery as to if he really killed his wife. As far as I remember, Reed Richards’s mind wipe was still in effect, not just for Reynolds himself, but the entire world. And doesn’t this mean The Void will return as well?
The Final Word: The first two issues of New Avengers are as good as “Disassembled” was bad. Bendis and company satisfied one half of the team book equation: action. It remains to be seen how the team will interact with each other in quiet moments (plus where Wolverine fits in), but this is a good start.
One of the best comic out this week, but it’s basically little plot with lots of action and gorgeous artwork.
David Finch is on top of his game here, Bendis writes a great fight but Finch brings it to life and sets the mood of the comic from the get go. Danny Miki inks and adds atmosphere to the darkness of the prison break. I feared for Spidey as he gets beaten over and over by different villains. Spidey has his mask ripped off as different villains overpower him, and beat him until Captain America lends a hand. Finch is doing some of his finest work well, and long may it continue. It certainly looks like he is enjoying himself.
Bendis gives his usual solid writing, but he is simply writing a cool fight. There are great moments, and some wonderful lines from the main characters, Foggy being a highlight as he pleads with The Sentry to help his friends. I like the way the heroes referred to the villains as “that’s one of Spider-Man’s” etc., nice stuff. Also I am sure Carnage will be back even though he has been ripped in two in space... Not to one to spoil endings, but I loved seeing the Purple-man and Luke Cage coming together, the last line delivered by the Purple-man is excellent and sets up the next issue and leaves me wanting more.
The only real downside to this issue was the few pages of recap, just kind of told from a different perspective. It didn’t really bring anything new to the story. I am also not sure how I feel about Spider-Man joining the team, but if the quality continues it looks like it’s going to be an interesting ride.
I do feel like this opening act of the new series is really just being written for a trade, and from what we have so far I have no doubt it will make an excellent trade when it does come out.
Issue #2 of Bendis’s all-new all-star take on the Avengers follows up on the premise of issue #1 by providing us with a battle royale on the Raft, giving the writer’s favourite bunch of heroes the opportunity to face off against a motley crew of the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous villains. Amounting to an extended action sequence, the fight comes at a pretty high cost for a bedraggled-looking Spider-Man, who is put through the wringer and looks to sustain some pretty serious injuries at the hands of some grudge-wielding maniacs. Other heroes fare slightly better, with some comical interaction between Luke Cage, Carnage and Foggy Nelson being interspersed with some slightly grittier bruising between Mr. Hyde and Daredevil.
Whilst Bendis’s writing is perfectly serviceable, offering up some fan-pleasing conflicts, much of the impact of the issue rests on penciller David Finch. Suitably large-scale scenes are handled competently, with quite a few big moments and a huge extended cast rendered in such a way as to at least make individual characters distinctive. However, there was still something lacking for me this issue with the visuals. Maybe it’s the relentlessly dark colour palette used, or perhaps it’s due to the fractured glimpses of half-fights that we get to see, but the whole thing just didn’t really feel like it hung together as enough of a progressive story to really make this book a truly fun and interesting read. What’s more, a big introduction for the Sentry was marred this issue by some art which could have perhaps been better at defining this relative unknown character. There was a lack of any real refinement or grandeur which would have helped to carry the apparently epic nature of the hero’s powers and history, and his big moment didn’t really feel as impressive as it might have been. Still, his sparing use has still left me wanting to see more of him – and hopefully his subplot will play a far more active role in future issues.
So, whilst not the greatest comic book you’ll read this month, New Avengers #2 at least gives us some cheap thrills and kinetic action that will tide us over until next month, when the plot can perhaps get moving again. The cliffhanger we’re left with, whilst familiar to fans of Alias, suggests a more meaningful conflict to come and the possibility of some strong character work which was conspicuous by its absence this time round. Worth a look for Marvel Universe aficionados and superhero fans, but hardly the creators’ greatest work.
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