January 23, 2011
After I finished reading through this, I came to realize that I was probably being more than a little foolish in hoping that this volume would flesh out the events of “Siege” in a satisfying manner. There’s really only one thing that’s touched upon here that wasn’t really explained in the crossover, and that’s the business with Loki and the Norn Stones. Knowing the background of that bit as explained in the issues here really doesn’t add anything to the event. Fortunately, the other issues collected here do have entertaining stories to tell.
Things start off with a two-part story from “Dark Reign: The List” and “New Avengers Annual #3” which pick up on former Hawkeye/current Ronin Clint Barton’s ongoing deliberation to kill Norman Osborne. To make a long story short, he goes off on his own, gets captured, and then has his ass bailed out by Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, his girlfriend Mockingbird and Jessica Jones suiting up for this special occasion. Overall, it’s an okay story with the debating in the first part enlivened by Spider-Man and company making some good points about why killing Osborne is a bad idea. Writer Brian Michael Bendis also gets points by bringing up the “If you could go back in time, would you kill Hitler” arguement by pointing out that current Captain America Bucky Barnes actually did kill Hitler.
The problem here is that despite the skill in Bendis’ writing, it’s still a two-parter with a foregone conclusion and lots of pointless fighting as a result. However, these issues are enlivened by some nice art from Marko Djurdjevic and some astonishingly good art from Mike Mayhew. I’m familiar with Djurdjevic’s work through his covers and the issues of “Thor” he did with J. Michael Straczynski, and while his work there had a roughness and grit to it that suited the Asgardians well, “The List” is squeaky clean. His work here is more reminiscent of Lenil Yu’s in “Secret Invasion” and like that artist, he proves to have no problem with drawing an emotional scene of heroes arguing or having them throw down in a fight. Mayhew’s work, on the other hand, seems impossibly well-airbrushed and photo-referenced, but unlike the work of Greg Land, his characters have consistently natural expressions and poses. The characters and their body language actually look believable, and the end result is a comic with all the detail of one of his covers on ever single page.
After this comes the tie-in issues and they’re split up into two parts. The first has The Hood using the power of the Norn Stones to augment the members of his gang, who then go out to pick fights with the current and former Captain Americas, and Spider-Man & Spider-Woman on the other side of town. As the first part features art from Stuart Immonen and Daniel Acuna, I can’t complain too loudly that it’s just a series of fight scenes with virtually no relevance to the crossover and only marginally more to the New Avenger’s ongoing feud with The Hood. The second has art entirely from Mike McKone who gets props for drawing as many heroes and villains fighting as he does in the thick of the fighing in the crossover proper. Regrettably, there’s a flatness to his art that appears to be brought on more by the coloring than his pencils. The only scenes of note here are the flashbacks to Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Ronin and Mockingbird, Norman Osborne and The Hood, and the latter with his gang prior to the fighting. They’re nice character moments, but you could’ve replaced them with more fighting and not missed a thing.
If nothing else, these four issues maintain the through-line of conflict between the New Avengers and The Hood’s gang that has been the crux of the series for a while now. I mention this because that conflict serves as the thrust for the final story in the collection “New Avengers: Finale.” Serving as the close for this chapter in the team’s history (before a new one started up two months later), the story is actually brought full circle in an interesting way. Longtime readers will remember that it was a breakout from the superhuman prison known as The Raft that brought the New Avengers together in the first place, and as The Hood and Madame Masque flee from the team and the authorities, they run straight to one of the escapees: Masque’s father Count Nefaria. Lots of punches and energy blasts ensue.
An epic finale requires an epic artist, and the issue gets one in Bryan Hitch. When he’s on his game, there’s no better superhero artist in the industry. Unfortunately, the man is fairly infamous for the time it takes to deliver the level of quality he’s known for and it’s clear he didn’t have all the time he needed here. While some of the pages here look fantastic, the two-page spreads showing the aftermath of “Siege” and Ms. Marvel going toe-to-toe with Nefaria spring immediately to mind, more than a few look like he barely had time to work on them. Stuart Immonen is also credited with art on the issue and if scenes like the one where Jessica Jones calls Luke Cage are his work, then my disappointment is somewhat mitigated by the impressiveness of how the artist is able to tweak his style to resemble Hitch’s.
Despite my issues with the art, the “Finale” still does a pretty good job of bringing closure to the series (for now). The heroes bask in the glory of having defeated Osborne and relish the fact that they can now show their faces in public and actually be legitimate Avengers again. Bendis also recruits previous artists who have rendered the team’s exploits for a series of two-page spreads highlighting their more memorable battles, and it’s a fun (and pretty) trip down memory lane. So really, despite all of the issues I’ve mentioned through this review, if you’ve been reading this series since the beginning and you’re looking for some kind of closure (or a good jumping off point) then this volume is worth picking up since it provides just that. As for everyone else, it’s far too mired in current Marvel continuity to be an accessible and entertaining read; but, you probably already realized this after reading this far.