Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bullet Review: New Avengers #16 and #17

I have lamented the darker tone of the New 52 almost since its inception finding only a few rays of light in this dark universe. Take away Morrison's Action Comics, Bryan Miller's Smallville, and Sterling Gates' Vibe, there haven't been many optimistic interpretations of the heroes of the DCU.

Even the Justice League, usually the brightest of teams, has become a mockery of itself. Its members snipe at each other, hardly seem to like each other, and there haven't been many adventures where they simply team up to save the world.

So I find it ironic, almost laughable, that the most recognizable and classic take on the JLA that I have read recently has been in ... of all places ... a Marvel book, an alternate universe seen in Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers, in a story aptly called 'A Perfect World'.

I read New Avengers as part of a cultural exchange with a buddy of mine. The main storyline mirrors Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Illuminati discover that incursions occur where one Earth will collide with another, bringing about the end of both universes ... that is, unless one Earth can destroy the other.

It is interesting to see just how far the Marvel heroes will go to save their world. Dr. Strange has opened his soul up to the darkest magic to gain power to save his world. Reed Richards and Iron Man have created anti-Earth missiles, a way to kill a planet to save their own. The morals are so loose that Captain America had to quit the group rather than take part in genocide.

The tone is dismal, each issue opening with a recap and Reed's statement that it is inevitable that they will die. And that they have to do whatever they can to stave that off.

Recently, the Avengers have come upon a device to peer into other worlds, to see other incursions, in hopes of gathering information. And one such world, Earth 4,290,001, a pseudo Justice League has formed. There are standard archetypes - the Sun God (Superman), the Knight (Batman), the Jovian (Martian Manhunter), Doctor Spectrum (Green Lantern +/- Wonder Woman), Boundless (The Flash), and The Norn (Dr. Fate).

And remarkably, for this age, they are revered as saviors, set up in The Tower, and heroic.

Hickman does a great job of showing us in just a few panels that these are heroes trying to do what's right and inspire. We see The Knight mourning a site where despite saving many, hundreds died. The Knight laments not being better ... not saving everyone.

'They expect us to be better than what's possible,' he says. It is a reminder that we hold our heroes to the highest standard. We want them to be on that highest plateau.

And then in my favorite panels, we see The Sun God turn Reed's mantra on its head. "Everything lives" ... not "Everything dies." He talks of celebrating life. Living life to the fullest. And he asks his team to join him in beating back the night and conquering death.

It is simple, inspirational, powerful. It is what you would want Superman to say. Except it isn't Superman, it is 'The Sun God'.

And then the Knight adds in. They can never give into fear. They can never become less than what they are.

Again, powerful and inspirational. I want my heroes to be the bright light. I want them to rise above.

And they do just that, saving their world by defeating the invading advance guards that rip worlds apart, incinerating the burnt out husk of an Earth that the hordes are sending into their own. They save everyone without compromising ... but at personal cost, the Norn sacrificing some of his future life.

But the next incursion already is beginning. Battered and fatigued, they almost give in to sadness when Sun God refocuses them. They will fight until they fall. Look at the panel, Sun God smiling, his hand on Knight's shoulder. These two are friends, for real!

Black Panther and Namor, watching these heroes, are impressed by this group. And so am I.

This is the sort of Justice League I wouldn't mind reading ... at least every once in a while.

I have read other alternative takes on the Justice League but they are usually a deconstruction, a humanizing of this group, bringing them down to our level. Whether it is Supreme Power, or the dead heroes in Wanted, we usually see the group flawed or ridiculed. Even in the New 52, the League is a pale version of its classic self. So how interesting to see Hickman construct them, mold them back into the inspirational heroes they were.

It also helps that Rags Morales is on art, drawing an almost Ordway-esque classic appearing superhero team.

Now I am not praising New Avengers completely. It is an incredibly slow burn. There are innumerable recap pages per issues. It is derailed by Marvel crossovers. There is an incomprehensible mythology of black swans, mapmakers, and other universal societies who are part of this universal cataclysm. I mockingly call it 'Interminable Crisis' because it seems like Crisis on Infinite Earths with no ending in site.

But these issues were fascinating, a competitor's look at DC's classic heroes.


Anonymous said...

Been reading Avengers, by any chance, also by Hickman? It's essentially the other half of the equation.

Anj said...

I am not.

Maybe that is why I am only half-understanding what the heck is happening here?

Anonymous said...

Maybe. There's been SOME overlap so far, but my understanding is that it's about to seriously intensify on this last year of his run.

Anonymous said...

So there is truth to those comments. I'm collecting both, and to expand on the above, "New Avengers" has had the inevitability of death and moreover the line between humanity and the bestial at its heart, while "Avengers" running parallel to it has had a forced evolutionary theme to it, hence the title of the last story arc, "Adapt or Die." Interesting to see how/if/when they will converge on each other.