“New Avengers” #1 written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Steve Epting is a strange first issue. For an Avengers title being sold as the subversive flagship alongside Hickman’s core “Avengers” book, this issue is mostly Black Panther and his surrounding mythology. There is some set-up for the Illuminati aspect of the series, but for the most part this issue merely establishes the threat. This would be fine if the threat was clearer in nature, but the ambiguous mystery of it only pulls a thread — there’s no true idea of the metaphorical sweater that’s supposed to draw readers in.
If you’ve ever wanted the Black Panther book back, this issue will please you greatly. Hickman explores T’Challa as the lead character through his subjects, his kingdom’s rituals and his ability to launch straight into action. He is a straight back for this title that will provide an interesting point of view for what is about to come. The decision to open in Wakanda amidst a trial for the country’s young heroes is an interesting gambit. It feels insular when this title should be more open across many playing fields. The Wakandan stuff is all pretty good, but something about it feels off when applied to the a series called “New Avengers.”
The establishment of the villain of the issue, which is obviously leading into bigger things, is obliquely executed. It’s not clear who the villain is and what they want is not easily understood. This muddied complication is going to be a hassle for readers jumping into the title. The current argument is whether a first issue needs to explain and answer everything. I believe it certainly doesn’t but it should give enough to hook the reader. I didn’t find myself drawn into the problem set before T’Challa because it’s hinted at having immense power but I don’t know what for or why. There are hints for what’s coming but not enough is laid out to make me care. Hickman did a tenfold better job of doing this over in “Avengers” #1.
Steve Epting is able to keep up with Hickman’s grand ideas, though on a few occasions it feels like he should have been given more room on the page to breathe and deliver a big moment. His world building is dense, his character designs tight and his flow of action reads well. There are times where Frank D’Armata’s colors muddy the waters so a second look is required to parse what is specifically occurring. It’s a shame to see such great line work rendered with such waxy hues.
“New Avengers” #1 isn’t necessarily a bad comic, it’s just not good at doing what it really needs to do. For an introductory issue, the core cast is not really established beyond what an editorial caption would cover, the complication is present but not engaging and the course moving forward is a good enough hook but only comes after a full issue of treading water. I am certain this title will improve in the next issue but all I see is a bit of a mess when looking at the debut on its own.