In many ways, although Bendis has taken a more traditional approach in “Avengers,” “New Avengers” sticks with the ethos of the title as it was, continuing the stories of Cage and family, bringing back characters like Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo for a sequel to the “search for the sorcerer supreme” arc. Unfortunately, this means that Bendis’ flawed excesses are all in full evidence, and the sprawling cast of this issue is too much, even for him.
The story concerns a demonically-possessed Luke Cage attempting to get hold of the Eye of Agamotto. The New Avengers, naturally, attempt to stop him while also freeing their friend. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan (and in issue #2, why should they?!)
It’s unfortunate that the opening arc on “New Avengers” should be a follow-up to one of the more poorly-received arcs from the previous volume. Spokespeople from Marvel editorial are fond of saying that they plan to impose rules on Marvel’s mystical canon, but as of yet, it doesn’t appear to have happened. In this arc, Bendis is specifically naming each spell used as it is employed, but this only accounts for half of the situation. For there to be any real meaning, we also need to know what the restrictions are. Without them, it makes the stakes hard to fathom, and the three mystical characters — Voodoo, Strange, and Hellstrom — functionally indistinguishable from one another.
While some may be a fan of Bendis’ raw energy and enthusiasm, the issue feels chaotic and unstructured, a fight scene that stretches across an entire issue with no real beginning and no definite end. It’s a classic case of an issue which will read fine in the trade, but makes for an unsatisfying monthly instalment. It’s not decompression, because there’s a lot going on, but neither is it the work of compressed genius that “Casanova” is.
Immonen’s artwork, at least, is indisputably fantastic, with the artist making some sense out of the frantic events of the issue. Immonen has a particular talent for making characters seem like they’re moving rather than posing, and to give weight and force to everything in a panel. There’s nothing on the page that feels like mere decoration. It’s a fully-realised world we’re seeing.
In truth, there’s little about this issue that Bendis’ fans won’t have come to expect over the last few years. While I’m confident that the issue will serve a wider story worth reading, it’s hard to get too excited over this in and of itself. Better to just enjoy the jokes, take in the artwork and not worry too much about where the story is going until it actually gets there — then go back and read it all properly.