In A World…: New Avengers #1 Review

new_avengers_1_cover_2013Christ, he thinks he’s making movies. That’s why I wasn’t completely satisfied by Avengers #1, and was actually kinda pissed off by New Avengers #1: they’re not really stories. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.

So let me start with a personal note to Jonathan Hickman: Hi, Jon? There is a difference between an action movie and a comic book. An action flick costs ten bucks and usually lasts between 100 and 140 minutes. A comic book costs just about half as much as a movie, but is 20 to 24 pages, and lasts about 15 minutes, or maybe 20 if you’ve eaten a lot of cheese and let yourself become dehydrated.

A full-screen title card in a movie usually takes maybe 10 seconds, or fifteen if the director is a bombastic prick – about 0.002 percent of a movie, or about 2 cents worth of screen time in a best-case scenario. In a comic? it’s two pages out of 22 – about nine percent of a comic, or about 36 cents worth of the book. And yes: I sat down with a calculator and did the math.

My point is: the big, movie-style title cards you insist on chucking into the first issue of each Avengers book you’ve taken over? Save that shit for the movies. Reading comics is more expensive than going the movies. If you want to write a movie? Call Avi Arad. If you’re writing comics? We’re paying by the page, champ. Don’t waste those pages on your James Cameron fantasies.

Okay, now that my pet peeve is out of the way, we can talk about New Avengers #1.

Actually, no we cant. Look: I might be an asshole, but I try not to be an unfair asshole; I recognize that most Marvel comic books are 20 pages these days, and since this one is 22 pages, it means Marvel gave Hickman an extra two pages to indulge in his cinematic fantasies. So it’s not like we were denied story here. The problem is that there is no story here. Not a complete one anyway.

Oh, there is action, and there are some recognizable characters, and we are shown the villain in action, killing civilians and demonstrating that the stakes are going to be unbelievably high… but by the end we’ve just seen some people we’ve just met and haven’t had a chance to give a shit about get killed, a massive explosion, a couple of bombastic intonations, and boom! Title card, slow reveal heroic character shots, and an iconic full-team shot. Scene! Fade to black… or, in this case, an ad for some damn thing called Oovoo.

That structure sound familiar at all? It should:

New Avengers #1 isn’t a comic story; it’s a fucking trailer. It’s a tease for the actual story that will (probably) start next issue.

Seriously, look at this issue: we have a dully-colored flashback of events from an earlier story – a classic piece of any sequel’s trailer. Then, from out of nowhere, we have a page of Reed Richards staring straight at the reader and intoning, “Everything dies… it is simply how things are. It’s inevitable…” Thanks for the voice over, Reed! Although next time, try to remember to growl, “In a world…” because the kids get excited about that shit.

Then, CUT TO: Black Panther with a few kids we’ve never met, out in the jungles of Wakanda. Black Panther tells the kids that they are the best of Wakanda’s youth, and that they will soon become Wakanda’s first interstellar astronauts because the United States has given up on space and China isn’t willing to do it, so Wakanda is the preeminent scientific nation in the world, and these are the preeminent people in Wakanda, which means OH GOD SERIOUS BADASSES YOU GUYS!

Then they meet some woman named Black Swan who wipes them all out in about a page and a half.

Then, to add insult to injury, we see Black Swan blow up an entire planet and vanish – that’ll show the rubes in the nosebleeds that shit’s about to get real, man!  – leading Black Panther to call in the New Avengers – actually, the New New Avengers, since there’s only two guys who were ever in the old New Avengers – who are revealed in panels describing them, but obscuring them, with another voice-over intoning, “Save me from thinkers,” (Reveal guy one in shadow!), “Save me from summoners,” (Reveal guy two from the back!), et cetera, until the big, iconic spread of the entire team! Nice! Can we get Bob Downey to say, “We have a Mister Fantastic!”? No? Well, that’s okay; nobody really gives a shit about Mister Fantastic anyway. You know, other than Jonathan Hickman.

What we’ve got here is a similar structure to Hickman’s Avengers #1: enough introduction to a bad guy and his destructive power to show that they equal the end of the world, with some bombastic voice over in the form of captions, leading to a title card and an iconic shot of the team, without showing the team actually doing anything. It is, from start to back, trailer rather than story. And there’s nothing wrong with trailers; hell, I like trailers. We run trailers here on Crisis On Infinite Midlives when they debut. But what we don’t do is charge you four bucks a whack for them.

Look, it’s possible that I’m being a tad uncharitable. After all, you can take the same framework that a trailer has and plug a certain amount of the same cutting into a pre-title sequence of a big action movie. But the problem is that, once I saw the pieces / parts of an action movie trailer twitching behind the curtain, all I could see was that this issue was the spitting image of an action movie trailer. And I simply couldn’t get past it. Once I started to believe I was reading a paper trailer, I couldn’t get over the fact that I paid four bucks to get excited for what Hickman might do in the next issue.

A high point of the issue was Steve Epting’s art. Epting draws with a medium line, and produces realistic-looking figures with simple, yet expressive, faces. His stuff isn’t heavily stylized; everything other than the costumes and some of the machinery looks like it could come from real life, which really helps ground the story, which is something you want in what is shaping up to be a world-threatening tale. It’s a rare artist who can take the wildly fantastic – and someone with a hand-held device that can destroy worlds, facing off against a guy who can teleport and become semi-invisible is certainly fantastic – and make it look like it fits right into the real world, and Epting delivers. If you liked Epting’s work on Captain America with Brubaker, you’ll certainly like it here.

As a trailer, New Avengers #1 is a success. It teases the scope of the danger that this unfamiliar villain poses, it demonstrates that there will be a certain amount of tension between the members (and no, I won’t spoil who’s on the team beyond Mr. Fantastic and Black Panther. Look at the cover; you should be able to guess most of them. If you must know, you can find out for free from Marvel’s own solicitation for the issue), and teases big action to come… but it does just that: teases. As part one of trade collection, it might well serve as an effective “pre-credits” sequence for the rest of the story, but on its own? It feels like I spent four bucks to learn almost nothing but that I should be excited about the main story on the horizon… and I found it really pretty irritating, particularly after I realized Hickman did the same Goddamned thing with Avengers #1.

Your mileage may vary, but if I’m you? I skip this issue and maybe pick it up along with issue two, which is out later this month.