Monday, January 07, 2013

Review: Fear Itself: Avengers

This Fear Itself tie-in collection features five issues of The Avengers and three issues of The New Avengers—since Brian Michael Bendis was writing both books, the collection manages to have a consistent voice and point-of-view, even if the art is a bit on the chaotic side.

Chris Bachalo pencils two issues of Avengers, which are inked by a whopping six different inkers, and these more-or-less altrnate with issues drawn by John Romita Jr. and inked by Klaus Janson. The three issues of New Avengers that close out the collection are all created by Mike Deodato using…whatever method he uses now.

Bendis has never seemed as interested in telling stories (something he has managed to avoid doing for much of his 10+ years at Marvel) or writing characters as much as he is interested in writing dialogue and creating scenes (at least in his mainstream Marvel Universe work), so he’s a writer who’s actually quite well-suited to these sorts of event tie-in comics, especially when he’s not the guy writing them (That’s pretty infrequent really, as he’s written or co-written all but three of Marvel’s event series since House of M).

Tie-ins like these are, by their very nature, inessential bits of the actual story, which is being told in the main title (here, Matt Fraction’s and Stuart Immonen’s actually rather good Fear Itself); they're scenes between the important scenes, side-stories and filler providing texture, expansion or merely curiosity-satiating content explaining what Squirrel Girl or Daredevil were up to when those Nazi mechas in the second issue were attacking New York City or whatever.

Bendis event tie-ins can be extremely irritating if read serially, as Bendis, more than any other Marvel writer, treats the title or logo on the covers of his comics as more-or-less suggestions, and he often just writes about whoever or whatever he feels like, but collected like this, they’re not so bad.

This is, in essence, a bunch of vignettes starring characters from the writer’s two main Avengers titles that scan a bit like deleted scenes from Fraction and company’s Fear Itself series.

Unfortunately, Bendis, being Bendis, decided upon a framing device that allowed him to take even the most rollicking superhero premise—big, bruiser-type supervillains and a few heroes are given evil Thor hammers that power them up and force them to destroy everything in their path—into something that can be told mainly through talking heads.

The framing device here is that someone—who is never explained between these covers—is making a book of some sort about Avengers history, and, as part of that, they have regularly been meeting with Avengers throughout Avengers history and interviewing them on camera.

The result is panel-packed pages featuring Avengers—from different eras—talking about themselves, each other and various events, while looking right at the camera/reader in a series of headshots.
It’s…not the most exciting way to tell a superhero comic, really. It certainly adds a lot of texture, and slows down stories that would otherwise be over within a few minutes, but is just this side of deadly dull, and seems like the sort of thing someone writing a Bendis parody would come up with to spoof Bendis (There’s an off-putting reality show element to this form of storytelling, as it seems like little more than edited scenes of participants talking directly to the camera about the events the producers are depicting between such scenes).

Bachalo does the most interesting work with these scenes, using extreme close-ups and varying angles to keep the panels from getting repetitive, and while his attempts make 12-panel grids of superheroes talking more fun to read, it also breaks with the premise, as it suggests an artsy filmmaker behind the camera, rather than a static camera on a tripod set up to record material for a books.

Deodato’s talking heads keep up that illusion, and Romita’s fall somewhere in-between: All three end up recycling the same images over and over, and aren’t terribly subtle about the shortcut-taking.

The artwork, particularly on the first eight issues, is all top-notch, but none of it really goes together. Bachalo’s highly cartoony art helps hide all the ink-slingers involved (it looks pretty consistent, considering), and his slightly-abstracted, super-expressive designs make for some particularly lovely superhero work.

Romita is Romita, a perhaps slightly more acquired taste: Personally, I love his work, and when I think of Marvel Comics, when I think of Marvel heroes, his is the artwork that first comes to mind (Like, if you walked up to me and said “Spider-Man,” an image of JRJR’s Spider-Man would appear in my head). He gets to draw the most action-packed scenes, including Red Hulk and Thorred-Up Thing brawling in Manhattan, and a Captain America vs. Lame Old Captain American Villains battle. Lots of rubble.

I like Deodato’s work the least, and his style clashes most with those of the other two (who have a fairly substantial stylistic gulf between ‘em anyway). He’s adept at dynamic, action-packed layouts, and I kind of like his muscular, twisted human figures, but his artwork is so heavily photo-referenced and/or computer-aided that I have a hard time seeing past the “cheats” enough to take it at face value, and there’s an unsettling chimeric quality to the awkward melding of hand-drawn and photo-referenced material.

Let’s look at the stories, one by one, just to make this post even more too-long than it probably already is:

Avengers #13

I sort of wish I hadn’t returned the Fear Itself collection to the library already, so I could refer back to it and know for sure which specific issue of it these various issues of the Avengers comics are set during. This one seems to be set during the first issue.

After three pages (and 36-panels!) of talking heads sort of meandering around to provide a narrowing-focus on the Fear Itself events in the broad context of Avengers history, Bachalo draws a huge, two-page splash of a half-dozen of those Nazi mechs blowing the fuck out of a corner in NYC, while some army guys run around on the ground.

This is, oddly enough, the only time I laughed-out-loud during the read. See, in the 12th panel of the pervious page, there’s a tight-close up on Ms Marvel’s very serious looking right eyeball, and she says “They’re calling it The American Blitzkrieg.”
Then you turn the page to see the two-page splash, which would normally be a pretty effective transition of scale and importance (although the events aren’t really that big of a deal in the context of Avengers comics). The caption in the upper left corner reads “Blitzkrieg U.S.A.”, making a liar out of Ms. Marvel.
There’s also a scene of The Red Hulk eating raw eggs, shells and all. That’s pretty fun.
The rest of the issue is mostly talking heads, with a few short breaks involving this Avengers team hanging out in the kitchen on morning, another in which they hang out with the Asgardians and Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel talk about boys before the former flirts with Hawkeye, and then there’s are two-pages set at Iron Man’s “I’m going to rebuilt Asgard because whatever” press conference.

And that’s it. The Alan Davis cover showing Thor standing above a bunch of knocked-out Avengers that he either konked with his hammer or is trying to defend from whoever’s outside the borders of the image who did konk them out, has nothing to do with the contents.

Avengers #14

This one’s a Romita and Janson issue. It’s divided between talking head panels and an almost completely silent fight between The Hammer-ed Thing and The Red Hulk, which results in Avengers Tower being knocked down and The Red Hulk being hit out of a NYC like a baseball going over the centerfield wall in during a homerun.

It’s a 22-page comic; two full-pages are nothing but the talking-heads, 12 pages are mostly dialogue-free fighting over three-to-four-panel pages, and the remaining eight pages feature one or two big panels of fighting, with strips of talking heads running along the sides of bottom of the spreads.
It should come as no surprise that the World War Hulk artist does a pretty great job of two Hulk-like monsters beating the stuffing out of one another and tearing up a few city blocks in the process.

Avengers #15

Back to Bachalo. This issue is structured the same as the previous one, although the superhero fight is a bit more interesting and involves a lot more talking, as the heroes involved have more interesting and diverse power-sets.

The talking heads are all talking about Spider-Woman Jessica Drew, what she brings to The Avengers, how she gets a big moment in this outing.

It zeroes in on the part in Fear Itself where the Hulk (like, the regular, green one) gets his hammer and immediately pursues his girlfriend Red She-Hulk through Brazil.

An Avengers team consisting of The Protector (the Bendis-mangled remains of the Grant Morrison/J.G. Jones version of Marvel Boy from their acclaimed Marvel Knight series), Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye and, of course, Spider-Woman, fight the Hammer-ed Hulk and temporarily slow him down a little bit, which is a big victory.

Avengers #16

Romita and Janson again. This story focuses on how Steve Rogers, the former Captain America who was now running SHIELD as Commander Rogers, reacts to the news that his protégée Bucky Barnes, who was currently going by Captain America, had just been killed in action fighting the new hammer-wielding Red Skull. (Bucky gets better, of course, just as he did the first time he died).

When Rogers gets a lead on the Red Skull’s whereabouts, he picks up his shield and goes looking for a little payback, SHIELD agents Maria Hill, Sharon Carter, and the lady with the red-streak in her hair in tow.

Turns out it’s a trap, and they run into a bunch of old Cap villains, including one with a sweet beard and mustache and another who apparently fights with a bed sheet tied in knots.
There’s a lot of shooting, fighting and explosions, all drawn by Romita. There is nothing at all wrong with that.

Avengers #17

The last of the Avengers issues in this collection, this one is another Romita-and-Janson drawing a bunch of action and destruction one.

Hammer-ed Red Skull and her Nazi Mechs are Blitzkrieg-ing the ruins of Avengers tower, and Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel and the The Protector are fighting her. Then The New Avengers show up to help fight her.

And, um, that’s the issue, really. This part was the only one as funny as the scene where Ms. Marvel and the captions disagree about what “they’re calling” Red Skull’s attack on the U.S.:
Um, are there any other letters that make the “Buh” sound that the word “Barnes” begins with, Cap?

Grief makes men say stupid, stupid things, I guess.

New Avengers #14
Twenty panels of Mockingbird talking to the camera! Then a scene of The New Avengers arguing over breakfast at Avengers Mansion! Ten more panels of Mockingbird talking to the camera! Nine pages of The New Avengers fighting Nazi mechs! One-page of Mockingbird collapsing with grief as she sees Avengers Tower crumble! Ten more panels of Mockingbird talking!

This issue, like the rest of those in this collection, are all drawn (and, in some cases, “drawn” by Deodato).

New Avengers #15
In this issue, all the talking-to-the-camera panels feature Squirrel Girl, the nanny of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby. It’s about her fighting her way through the Blitzkrieg from college campus to Avengers Mansion, where she’s supposed to start baby-sitting so the Cage family can join the other New Avengers in fighting.

New Avengers #16

There’s more variety to this issue’s talking heads, which includes all of the New Avengers. And Daredevil. They spend the duration of the issue talking about Daredevil. The “action” portions follow Ol’ Hornhead as he fights the Blitzkrieg, and then heads to Avengers Mansion to help Squirrel Girl protect Baby Cage. He’s rewarded by Daddy Cage with induction into the New Avengers.

And that’s the contents of this collection. It’s hit-or-miss, but there are certainly pleasures to be had within its covers and, unlike a few of the other Fear Itself collections, every story in it does tie-in to Fear Itself.

As for those others, there were four more that interested me, and I’m going to be reviewing one a day for the rest of the week. So come back tomorrow for Fear Itself: Deadpool/Fearsome Four.

1 comment:

jrp001 said...

this sounds like a good read, NOT. This review makes me really really glad that I have never read a Bendis comic!