I can’t be the only person who has a little chuckle at the fact that a book called New Avengers is now on its third volume in seven years. However, I feel like it’s a book that lost its direction during its second volume under Brian Michael Bendis, and I’m really hoping that a fresh creative team will help give a new lease of life to the title that was once the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. The creative reshuffle at Marvel has given us some very exciting titles recently, but I anticipated none more than Jonathan Hickman’s duo of Avengers and New Avengers. I loved Hickman’s work on S.H.I.E.L.D. and Secret Warriors, but what really blew my mind was his superb run on Fantastic Four and FF. My anticipation was recently rewarded by his stellar debut on Avengers, partnered with Jerome Opena, so my already (frankly ridiculous) expectations for New Avengers, with Fantastic Four/FF artist Steve Epting, were raised even further.
So, were they met?
First off, it must be said that you won’t be seeing much of an Avengers team in this issue. The primary focus here is the Black Panther, a character who has been struggling for many years to carry a solo ongoing book. However, whether you like him or not, Hickman did some interesting things with him towards the end of his FF run and he is the core of this New Avengers team. Now, I’m not massively familiar with the Black Panther, although I like what little I’ve read of the character, but to spend a whole opening issue of an Avengers book with just one of the team members is a bold move. I’m not sure it entirely works, either, to be honest. I didn’t hate it, but the singular focus did leave me feeling a little underwhelmed.
However, as lacking as it is of the sheer multitude of Avengers that grace its sister title, there’s an awful lot to like here. Hickman is typically cryptic in setting up what is no doubt going to be an expansive and downright nuts story. The issue opens with a flashback to Black Panther’s initial protest at the formation of the Illuminati, and then we get a page of Mr Fantastic telling us that “Everything Dies” and that he accepts this as “Simply how things are.” We are then introduced to a group of Wakandan youths being congratulated by the Black Panther on having won the right to be their generation’s “makers”, only to discover what appears to be an alternate Wakanda with a huge planet looming in the sky. To say more would be too much, but Hickman is clearly sowing the seeds for a huge cosmic story the likes of which he spins so wonderfully, and he does it with some great action mixed in with all the talking. By the final page I was hungry for more. If you’re a fan (like me) of Hickman’s cryptic clues, and his tendency to lay trails of breadcrumbs for loyal readers, then this issue will have you on board.
As for the visuals, Epting’s art is solid, which will come as no surprise to those who know his work. He isn’t an artist whose style sets my world on fire; it’s very naturalistic, and I prefer my comic book art to have a slightly more stylised edge. However, he renders these characters with skill and polish. It’s expressive and weighty, and yet… I hesitate to call it bland, as I feel that would be a great disservice to an artist as talented as Steve Epting, however I find it lacking of a certain flavour that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s very well drawn, with some impressive splash panels, and a great sense of storytelling that really help the drama and action pop off the page, but it did not ‘wow’ me in the same way that some of the other artists at Marvel are capable of.
There is some very good stuff going on this issue. Very solid art, tantalising set-up, and some strong action. It’s a steady start for New Avengers, but be aware that if you dislike either Black Panther or cryptic storytelling, then this isn’t the issue for you.