3 Jan 2013

Cover To Cover: NEW AVENGERS #1

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Steve Epting, Rick Magyar & Frank D’Armata
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Another week and another new title comes barreling out of the Marvel NOW! comic factory doors and into the clambering hands of a thirsty audience. New Avengers is one of those rare things in this crazy promotion from the House of Ideas; a monthly title amongst a crowd of peers which appear to be coming out twice monthly or even more frequently in their rush towards the shelves. At $3.99 that will come as something to a relief to many who may already have concerns on just how many books they might be picking up week in, week out. 

Where Avengers started off with large scale action and public, Earth-changing danger, Hickman kicks off his New Avengers tenure with a quieter, more private issue, but with a similarly lethal threat. Returning to the concept of the Illuminati that Brian Michael Bendis created and wove through the historical fabric of Marvel’s largest events is something of a masterstroke that should sit perfectly with Hickman’s ability to tackle stories of grand scale, with monumental implications, yet keep that cloak and dagger sense of intimacy he relaised in Secret Warriors at the same time. He kicks things off with the one invitee who walked away from the group, T’Challa, and a look into Wakanda’s search for it’s next generation of ‘Makers’, those brilliant young minds who will lead the nation and the world into a brighter future. This adds yet more glorious breadth to this turbulent, yet brilliant kingdom and I do like the real world commentary that Hickman manages to slide into his plots. Here it’s with a small note on (or dig at?) the state of the world’s stance when it comes to space exploration and how in his story it will be the home country of the Black Panther that will have to lead the way.

Suffice to say that such plans are swiftly put on hold as it becomes apparent to T’Challa that a powerful threat looms alarmingly close and a small amount of action and carnage is unleashed. I was quite surprised with just how taken I was with the young Wakandans being guided by the Black Panther and Hickman and series artist Steve Epting do a fine job of utilising them to highlight the threat in hand. Epting is highly skilled when it comes to depicting action, having put in fine efforts with Captain America and Fantastic Four before this, and I’ll state that he seems to be the perfect penciller to make Hickman’s clandestine stories a reality. There is a ‘but’ here however...  In this issue there definitely seemed to be a couple of moments where the panel choice and layout were quite confusing. On the page where T’Challa steps through the portal it initially appears to utilise a double splash panel until you look closer and notice the coincidence in composition. The strange fluctuating use of white borders where some panels on adjacent pages actually touch causes this to crop up again a couple more times before the issue is over. Then, in the heat of battle, it’s almost as if a page or a couple of connecting panels at least were missing when tragedy strikes and a retaliation follows with a very strange feeling of disconnect in the action. 

That last point may just be down to the rather limited page count - there are only 21 pages of art and a double page given over to the occasionally seen and occasionally wasteful ‘banner title on black background for dramatic impact’s sake’ - and considering what the creators actually get through and deliver in the limited space they’ve really not done a bad job at all!  The climax of this issue is certainly another example of Hickman’s ability to build excitement through the simplest and highly effective of methods, using a prayer to the Panther gods to portray T’Challa’s fears for the actions he has had no choice but to put in motion by bringing others into deal with this menace and I enjoyed Epting’s crafty use of shadow and zooms to tease what we already know to be coming and have it still work so well.

The difference in angle of attack between Avengers and New Avengers is quite clear to see from this debut and for a title that will focus primarily on the secretive, political jostling of a group of allies whose motivations are rarely likely to marry fully, I think this makes for an interesting and proficient opener.  Fair enough it does suffer from a couple of minor flaws - and what the heck is going on with Marvel’s paper stock these days? - but it succeeds possibly where it counts the most in making you believe that the next chapter is quite likely to border on the unmissable. Come February I know I’ll be happily handing over another $3.99 for the second issue.  7/10

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