And, now, the beginning of "The Heroic Age" is complete with the relaunch of "New Avengers" this week. Since "New Avengers" was the title that most represented the direction of Marvel for the past five years, its relaunch suggests that not everything that came before is being put aside as Bendis continues to write about an Avengers squad with Luke Cage at the center of things. Together with Stuart Immonen, Bendis delivers a really good first issue that transitions into the new status quo while picking up on some plot points set up in the previous volume of the title.
Bendis begins by answering one of the lingering questions from last month's "Avengers" #1: why does Luke Cage respond with "Then what was the #@%# point?" when asked to be an Avenger by Steve Rogers? The answer makes a lot of sense as Cage bristles at the idea of spending all of this time on the run to avoid becoming a government-approved superhero and the fact that Steve Rogers is now the face of the government doesn't change a thing. Cage's argument was always a bigger one about freedom and living the way he wants and Bendis carries that through very well. The response of Rogers and Tony Stark to sell Avengers Mansion to Cage for $1 and tell him to do things the way he wants will annoy the hardcore traditionalists, but is a fantastic twist and a well-deserved reward for Cage and his group of Avengers. One problem that I see is the number of crossover characters with the team in "Avengers" as Bendis sticks to familiar characters, adding only one or two new ones.
With part of the issue focusing on Cage and his not-so-new Avengers, Bendis intersperses scenes picking up on the supernatural plot introduced in the arc of "New Avengers" that had Brother Voodoo become the new Sorcerer Supreme. In that plot, Daimon Hellstrom warned that the barrier between the planes of reality have been weakened and he was right, as something has come through, attacking both him and Dr. Strange. Soon after, they go after Doctor Voodoo, a character that Bendis really has a good handle on. His bickering with his ghostly brother is amusing and light. As always, Bendis' dialogue skills come through in this issue.
In Stuart Immonen, Bendis has an artistic collaborator that makes the dialogue scenes visually interesting. Immonen has a great handle on the facial expressions and body language of characters with his strong and bold cartoony style. His line work has a clean fluidity to it and is very focused. Every panel narrows in on what's essential to the story, like a shot of Stark's hand when he asks Cage for a dollar or using a lot of single character or two-shot panels. It's simple and effective storytelling that also spotlights Immonen's line work. At the same time, he doesn't shy away from more complex drawings, doing large establishing shots often that show off how detailed his art can be.
Like "Avengers" #1, this issue also features eight pages of the continuing "Oral History of the Avengers" by Bendis with spot illustrations by Art Adams. Since this is just dialogue by Bendis, it reads relatively well, stronger than the first installment in "Avengers," but Bendis also indulges in some of his dialogue excesses. The 'behind the scenes' approach to the team has some interesting elements like members forgetting their encounter with the Space Phantom in "Avengers" #2, but is also so casual that characters don't always sound like themselves. But, there are also two Art Adams drawings, so even doubters get something.
"New Avengers" #1 is a continuation of the previous volume, but also a new chapter with Luke Cage setting up his team in Avengers Mansion. No longer on the run, Cage and company now get to be the sort of Avengers team that longtime fans will recognize and gain a sense of legitimacy as a result. A fun, strong opening issue that dives into the action by the end. So far, "The Heroic Age" is off to a very good start, especially in the Avengers' corner of the Marvel universe.