Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Avengers #1, or Out of Costume Goodness

Gather 'round, DD lovers, for I have a great story to tell you about, featuring our favourite superhero, in his civilian identity of blind lawyer Matt Murdock. There's a sprinkle of Foggy Nelson goodness in it, too, and I'm sure some will appreciate that.
The above panels are from the first issue of New Avengers, by Brian Michael Bendis.
The chronological setting is right after Avengers: Disassembled, the disastrous event that lead to the dismantling of the group of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
That's right. It is hard to believe, seeing as how nowadays we have something like five or six different flavors of Avengers (Mighty Avengers, Young, New, Secret, Dark, diet, with almonds etc.), but at that time there were no more Avengers in the Marvel Universe. The story narrates how, by fate or chance, a new team of Avengers spontaneously formed itself during a time of crisis.
At that time, Bendis was in the apex of his run in Daredevil, with Matt having unmasked after beating the daylights out of Kingpin and with the FBI on his tail incessantly seeking proof to his activity as the red-clad vigilante.
New Avengers #1 is set just in those times. Along with his friend and partner Foggy Nelson, and with Luke Cage working as a bodyguard for them, Matt arrives by helicopter to the Raft, a maximum security installation designed to hold the most dangerous supervillains. He's welcomed by the woman who will be their guide through that dantesque hell: Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman.
Under a request by Mr Fantastic, Nelson & Murdock are there to confer with Robert Reynolds, a superhuman said to have confessed to the murder of his own wife.
After having convinced a rather scared Foggy to get out of the helicopter, and after the proper introductions are made, Jessica leads the three of them to the sub-basement.

All the while, Foggy expresses his perplexities about him being dragged there, in a claustrophobic facility crawling with dozens of murderous individuals, and in general about the opportunity of locking up all of said individuals in the same place.
Jessica Drew tries to reassure him that everything is under control (yeah, and we all know how it always goes in fiction whenever "everything is under control"). She also lets a comment slip about Matt's outing by the tabloids, to which Matt adamantly restates that he's not Daredevil. Nice to see that Bendis is consistent with what he's writing in other books (mostly because not always he does that).

So, the quartet reaches sub-basement 7, which is possibly even creepier and more claustrophobic than the rest of the place, and they are joined by two SHIELD redshirts.

The Fogster complains some more, and Jessica reassures him again, saying that there are three superheroes there with him besides the SHIELD agents stationed there, implying again that she doesn't buy that Matt is not DD. I wonder if she is doing that on purpose, to tease Matt, or if she's just desperately searching for a way to make Foggy's incessant whining stop. Then there's a blackout.

A total blackout in the maximum security prison. Crawling with supervillans. With them in the sub-basement.

As if it wasn't enough, the corridor is rocked by the shockwave of an explosion occurring elsewhere.

Faced with such a critical situation, Matt keeps his cool and orders Foggy to stay behind Luke's unbreakable hide, while he goes to check Reynolds' cell. Reynolds, he recalls having being told by Reed Richards, is one of the most powerful beings on the planet, and he's supposed to be a good guy. Matt asks him to help them get out of there. Unfortunately for them, Reynolds appears to be distraught and apathetic to the point that he doesn't listen to him, or even care about whatever is happening outside of his cell...

The tension keeps rising, and the dialogues become more concitated. The most panicked of all is of course fun-loving "Foggy" Nelson, who goes all "I told you so" on the others, especially on Matt, whom he irrationally blames of having forced him to come to that place.

- Please, get me out of here before something...

And there he is behind him. The K2 of insanity. The in-continuity answer to a careless fanboysh question like "lol ppl what if teh Venom symbiote bonded with a dude wh's already a bloodthirsty psycho?!?".
Cletus Kasady. The nightmare known as Carnage.

He pops out behind poor Foggy as the others watch (or sense, in Matt's case) in horror. Matt thinks fast and shoves Foggy out of the way right before Carnage unleashes in a sudden madness of tentacles, fangs, spikes, superstrength, spider-sense immunity and freaky-colored speech baloons. Bendis also provides a handy B&W freeze frame for a quick reference on who he is and what he does (a useful device for such a setting, I must say. It certainly beats having the characters on scene introducing the newcomers with improbable lines, as happens often).

Matt pushes Foggy inside the relative safety of Reynolds' cell. Foggy can only watch in anguish while his partner closes the door, warns him not to open it for any reason, and gets hit by one of Carnage's flailing appendages.
The three plain-clothed heroes are barely managing to contain Carnage, as an inhumanly muscular figure emerges from behind Matt.

Tall, bare-chested, its facial traits stretched in a grotesque grin. And he knows Matt Murdock, apparently.

Matt welcomes the newcomer with a well placed rising double kick, to which the monster retaliates with a hammering of a punch to his face. Attentive readers may already have recognized the guy as Mister Hyde, a semi-regular foe to Daredevil.
Matt takes him on on his own, leaving Cage and Jessica to deal with Carnage. In the meantime, in the darkness of the cell, we have Foggy's defining moment for this issue:

Hearing the sounds of the battle coming from the corridor, Foggy begs Robert Reynolds to get out of his alienation and help his friends to face those impossible odds. Can the words of a simple man like him reach his mind and convince him to return being the hero they said he was? Who knows? Matt Murdock surely doesn't know, and he has more pressing troubles to deal with, namely avoiding the one punch Mr Hyde needs to turn him into paste.

- You put me here, Murdock!!
- Actually, Zabo, you put you here... ...but I see that you might not be in the mindset to see it that way!

The dialogue between the two here is consistent with how Bendis has already depicted Hyde in Daredevil in an issue set before this one. In that circumstance, too, Mr Hyde was irrationally blaming Murdock for having constantly beaten him in the past and sent to prison, like if it was Matt who told him to inject himself with some hormonal filth to become an oversized freak and go play the superbaddie.
Those unfamiliar with Daredevil might also wonder how can Matt have Mr Hyde - a guy who has traded punches with guns like Thor and Hulk - in his rogue gallery, considering that he doesn't have superstrength and all. Well...

...he usually does fine by going the classical way: kicking him in the head as hard as he can.
The artist, David Finch, does a good work with representing the agitation of the scene. His style of portraying characters "good looking" also fits in nicely. For example, as you can see above, Spider-Woman is drawn to look like one of those impossibly attractive multiracial fashion models (you know, half Vietnamese, half Swedish, half Czech etc.).
Anyway, the sound effect was actually them getting reinforcements: Foggy's words have managed to touch Robert Reynolds, who emerges from the cell as The Sentry, grabs Carnage, flies him to space and rips him in half. It's the only deus-ex-machina they get, however, because he doesn't re-enter until the end of all that mess.
No longer occupied with the symbiote, Luke Cage easily takes Mr Hyde out.
But the group still has to find a way out of there. And a quick one also, because the place is filling with... is that water? Foggy wonders if they're sinking...

I love how, despite these dire situations coming one after the other, far from being panicked or even frightened Luke Cage goes simply "Aw, crap..." and Matt just looks irritated. Anyway, our heroes manage to swim out of there before Hydro-Man can drown them, with Foggy grabbed and flown to safety by Spider-Woman (that lucky son of a...).
The heroes emerge on the main deck, where hell has broken loose and Spider-man and Captain America are already fending off against a multitude of inmates (most of them superpowered). They join the dances. While fighting, Matt notices how Spidey has lost his mask, and promptly points out how that's a "bad career move". Bonus points to Bendis for the "dry humor + DD continuity reference" combo.

So, the five of them fight against the horde of psycho supervillains (is that the Mandrill in the left foreground?), and we have our Matt Murdock displaying the best of his agility and physical prowess, as he somersaults over the heads of the multitude, kicking bad guy after bad guy.
Of the group of superheroes there, he's theoretically the weakest. He cannot fly or shoot electricity like Spider-Woman. He doesn't have unbreakable skin like Luke Cage. He doesn't have Peter Parker's spider-powers. He's the only one, besides Cap, who doesn't have superhuman strength. And unlike Cap, he's bare-handed, without his usual billy-clubs.

He has powers of his own, certainly. But you'd think that in such a pandemonium, they're probably an hindrance more than anything else. Bendis could have Matt being disabled by an overloading of his supersenses, or even toss up some caption or some dialogue reminding us about this factor. He doesn't. Readers are left to imagine for themselves just how tough a time Matt is having, unarmed and underpowered, in all that mess. All of this, and yet there he is. Giving it all. Fighting with no less tenacity than his other companions. An amazing display of heroism.

In short, Matt Murdock, outside his own book, comes out as pretty hardcore.

The good guys, later joined by Iron-Man, manage to defeat the rampaging inmates and contain the breakout. Afterwards, inspired by what has transpired, Cap will offer all of the heroes who have been brought together in this incident to join a new group of Avengers. He will also invite Daredevil (who will coolly reject the invitation), but that is another story.


dmstarz said...

Hi, Francesco.

I love David Finch's art but I don't like his portrayal of Matt - he looks too clean or macho or something. Just doesn't gel for me.


Francesco said...

Yeah, I too wouldn't like it if Matt would regularly be portrayed that way in his book.
But you know what? I think it fits here.
Matt, and the others also, are guest stars in this book. Imagine them as people who meet at a party. They'd fix themselves up to give the best impression of them, wouldn't they?
Generally, Matt Murdock is known for being a hunk. A clean type of hunk. Clean/Macho as you said.
To me, it's like a sort of visual introduction to who he is. He's presented to the readership of the new book as one would imagine him, maybe with those peculiar traits a little more intensified.

That's why I find that portrayal fitting in this context.

JP Nguyen said...

Hi F!

Your "love" of DD really shines in this post.

Having read the conclusion of Secret Invasion today, I can't help thinking New Avengers was the beginning of the end for Bendis (well maybe Disassembled was). The NA arcs had some cool touches but the supposed "meta plot" wasn't very solid. It seems somewhere down the road Bendis lost it. I still enjoy most of his run on DD but a lot of his late output was "meh" for me.

Are you going to revisit DD's apparitions in other series ? I can remember some in John Byrne's Fantastic Four and also random team-ups with Spidey...

Francesco said...

Oh, yeah, that sucked, big time.
as did the rest of NA, or even MA, if we wanna say it all.

Unfortunately, I cam to the conclusion that the present day Bendis can only have the occasional "spikes" of awesomeness.

About the other appearences, I was just thinking about those you mentioned.

aaron said...

hey F! i've finally made time to sign up and leave the random comment....looking forward to another post!

Francesco said...

Thank you, Aaron!
Random comments from a friend are more than welcome.
I have different posts prepared, but, unfortunately, life is being a b*tch this side of the Atlantic, these days, and I'm not having the spare time I used to. But stay tuned and you won't be disappointed.

Gloria said...

"There's a sprinkle of Foggy Nelson goodness in it, too, and I'm sure some will appreciate that"

"Who, Me?" lady Guroriya whistles while looking at the other side...

Foggy sure is presented like a whining sissy here, but it must be said that it is quite reasonable for a non-superpowered average Joe like him to feel the way he does, and since his worst fears become true, we must give him a point for foresight.

And did you notice that Spiderwoman doesn't sniff anything when she carries the Fogster away? That means he heroically managed NOT to soil his pants when Carnage nearly *#?€+“”≠‚@÷ed him.

As for the rest of the story, the handful of heroes trapped with LOTS of supervillains at large was quite spectacular. I was only a bit annoyed that the easyness of the heroes' unmasking, particularly Spidey: you go around as carelessly as that, and you end having to deal with lords of the netherworld to make everyone forget the face under the mask (when he could just secure his musk with just a little bit of web-fluid)

Francesco said...

"Who, Me?" lady Guroriya whistles while looking at the other side...


Foggy might seem the "sissy" guy of the situation here, but the events have proven him the wiser of the bunch.
Seriously, holding all the supercriminals in the same place? With the most powerful in the same sub-basement so that it's just easier to contain a localized breakout?
That's could be a semipreposterous plot point there.

And about Spidey, I had intended to post some other images of what was happening to him in the meantime. It was actually he, not the good Foggy, the real sissy of the situation. Going fist swinging right in the middle of the inmates and getting ganged up by a bunch non-superpowered villains.

Jon said...


Thanks for reminding me of this issue. I am going to have to go and reread it, it was a classic. I remember finishing it and just thinking, "Oh sh*t".

Now I look back at it with a little bit of disappointment due to the events that have followed. But hey, I have to enjoy a good comic when they come along, so I'll shut up and enjoy it.

Great break downs. Bendis was on his game here.

And could you imagine being Foggy in this event. Wow...