This was supposed to be two Marvel reviews, briefly. One of them ran long because... that’s just how it happened. Normally I’d try to find some kind of thematic link between them, but it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve got other plans. Happy Holidays to all, and lets kick things off with a non-seasonal story of beatdowns.
Vol. 3 of “New Avengers” is not only the better of the two Bendis-written “Avengers” titles to feature the return of Normal Osborn and a reconstituted H.A.M.M.E.R. but one of the better volumes of these titles to come along in a while. That’s mainly down to the fact that this one has a lot more focus due to its setup as it’s mainly a “New Avengers vs. Dark Avengers” throwdown. After Osborn engineers his escape from custody and hooks up with A.I.M. and Hydra, he goes about recruiting a new group of Dark Avengers to make the public case for his brand of superheroics. With the likes of The Gorgon, Skaar: Son of Hulk, robo-Thor clone Ragnarok, and Hawkeye’s brother on the team, they’re looking to show the world that they’re the better team for the job and to inflict a lot of hurt onto their “New” counterparts.
Neal Adams’ art in the introductory #16.1 issue sets an appropriately over-the-top tone that is carried on by Mike Deodato and Will Conrad in the subsequent issues. Though the story is simplicity itself -- bad guy escapes, builds team of evil dopplegangers, they fight, good guys eventually win -- it still works thanks to Bendis’ snappy dialogue and a couple well-done twists in this volume. These are best seen in the writer’s use of Spider-Man and Skaar, who get most of the best scenes here. The former has several nice moments in battle, one of which involves his counterpart revealing too late that he doesn’t have spider-sense, while the latter proves to be the most sane and level-headed of Osborn’s group of thugs and has a genuinely funny moment towards the end where he presses two A.I.M. guards for critical information. This isn’t a volume for the unconverted, but those of you who are already reading this will find it to be pretty entertaining.
(By the way, Osborn’s “superpowers” come from his use of Super Adaptoid technology, which was overloaded when he wound up absorbing the powers of both Avengers teams. He was taken back into custody after that. Now you don’t have to go read the “Avengers” volume which has the other half of this story.)
“Journey Into Mystery: The Manchester Gods” offers further proof of my theory that everything Kid Loki has done in this series has ultimately done more harm than good. This story takes us back to Otherworld, to much better effect than in “Uncanny X-Force,” as the magical realm of Britain's collective unconsciousness finds itself under assault from... modernity. Gods of the modern age and their mechanical war machines have laid siege to the denizens of fantasy and the rulers of Asgard have sent Loki and Leah to render assistance without directly involving their pantheon. Though the resident God of Mischief quickly uncovers the secret to winning this conflict, he eventually realizes that they’re on the wrong side.
That it’s a reasonable conclusion to arrive at is all the more impressive once we get the titular “Manchester Gods’” perspective on things and how they are only seeking change rather than domination. It’s a different perspective than we’re used to seeing from the aggressors in these kinds of conflicts (in superhero comics, at least) and the resolution to this conflict even bears this out. However, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there’s a twist to all of this and it turns out to lead directly into the “Everything Burns” crossover between this title and “Thor” that will see the conclusion of their runs before the advent of the Marvel Now! era. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to seeing how writer Kieron Gillen had Kid Loki reconciling his actions with their results in that story.
Art is provided by Rich Elson whose clean style works very well here. He also illustrates “The Mighty Thor Annual” which is collected here to pad out the page count. It’s written by veteran scribe J.M. DeMatteis who wrote a lot of comics for Marvel, DC and even for himself in the 80’s and 90’s. He hasn’t written that many for them recently because if this comic is anything to go by, his dialogue skills have remained strictly “old school.” That means you’ll be getting lots and lots of word balloons in each panel as Thor and the Silver Surfer get caught up in a cosmic game of chance between The Scrier and The Other, and one other party who hopes that this conflict will wipe out the universe in the process. It’s a lot of dialogue in service of very little plot about high-minded ideas about universal concepts with not much in the way of grounded characterization to make us care.
All in all, it feels like this was commissioned because no one would buy a three-issue collection of “Journey Into Mystery.” Personally, I think we all would’ve been better served had these issues been included in either “The Terrorism Myth” or “Exiled” or if Marvel had shipped one... more... Gillen-scripted... issue... to meet the four-issue minimum. Unfortunately this title doesn’t sell in the numbers necessary for them to do so, and we are all the worse off here.