New Avengers (Volume Two)
The New Avengers (Volume Two)
Issues #1 - #34, Annual #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
The first volume of The New Avengers saw Luke Cage, Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Spider-Woman form a team as a spin-off of the main Avengers book. Running from cover dates of 2005-2010, it eventually made way for the second volume, covered here, where Luke Cage was given the chance to run his own team.
Luke's initial pick for his new team were Iron Fist, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel and his wife Jessica Jones, as well as Marvel cash cows Spider-Man and Wolverine, who also somehow managed to both be on the original Avengers team, as well as, in Spider-Man's case, The Fantastic Four. Completing the line-up, and thus the reason for the title's inclusion on this site, was the Thing.
The title very much falls into all the worst excesses of modern Marvel, from storylines that feature in multiple other titles, to constant, self-aware glib humour and the decompressed storytelling that means the 36 issues (an Issue #16.1 is inexplicably included) only present five stories.
Worse still, these elements combine so that some of the more interesting elements - such as an Avengers vs. X-Men clash - are introduced in the title but then conclude outside it, leaving readers to pick up a two-issue exploration of how the Phoenix Force and a historical Iron Fist first came to be connected hundreds of years ago. Suddenly what would have once been two or three pages of backstory is the main plot, spread out beyond its natural lifespan.
There's also a problem with pacing when read as a whole. Lots of the later issues contain wall-to-wall battle sequences,(including the Thing taking a humiliating, one-sided beating in the Annual) whereas the earlier ones take the "decompressed storytelling" to its natural extreme, featuring dinner conversations and quips in place of plot.
Ben's involvement in the team is minimal, appearing in less than two thirds of the issues, and often just there to offer a one-liner and be apart from the action. As the title's focus was Luke Cage (and, later, Captain America and Iron Man, despite them not even being on the team), then the book already had one "strong man" character and so didn't really make room for another. With Luke getting a power-up and arguably being even stronger than Ben, it left him as the fifth wheel, and the least-developed of all the team.
The more adult tone of Marvel in this period - nine years past the publishing of Alias #1, where it was strongly implied that Jones and Cage had anal sex - does see some mild swearing and some sexual references. The revelation of Iron Fist's power being used to make a cheap joke about fisting is very much a low point for the company, and symptomatic of the title as a whole. With the chemistry between Power Man and Iron Fist a real fixture of their own title from 1978-1986, it's a real shame that they share no significant scenes together, and instead have Fist as a bystander in the book, torn between trite quips and taking a beating from Wolverine in a sparring session.
With seven pencillers taking part in the project, then the title often looks technically sound, albeit lacking real dynamism in many instances. Most curious is the pencilling of Mike Deodata, whose concept of photorealism extends towards making a resurrected Norman Osborn the double of actor Tommy Lee Jones.
Perhaps most surprising of all is that one of the weakest issues from an art standpoint is Issue #16.1, which was pencilled by the legendary Neal Adams. It's unclear whether Adams had lost his skills, approaching 70, or it was merely the inks of Tom Palmer that didn't bring out the best in his work. Certainly the most eccentric pencilling comes from Michael Avon Oeming who, as pictured, delivers a very different take on the team.
While this overview sounds negative, there is much to like with the title, and, while it does sadly dissolve into half-stories and the main characters becoming almost guests in their own title in favour of the more established Avengers, it very nearly received a higher rating on this site. For fans of the Thing then it adds nothing, and what little presence Ben has is frequently out of character, with the unlikely phrase of "dude" even once passing his lips. But this is a very readable book, even if its likeability does sometimes get submerged beneath wearing self-referentiality.
Reed Richards made a guest appearance in Issue #29, and from 2013-2015 a third volume was launched, based around the "Illuminati", a secret group of heroes made up of Reed, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Namor and Black Bolt.