New Avengers #44

Story by
Art by
Billy Tan, Batt
Colors by
Justin Ponsor
Letters by
Albert Deschesne
Cover by
Marvel Comics

Remember all the fuss when Bendis took over "Avengers," blew everything up, and then launched this title with a new, very un-Avengers grouping? That seems like such ancient history, doesn't it, now that we've seen what Bendis has been planning all along? That team of Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, and the Sentry seems like a quaint little gang of heroes after everything that's happened in the past few years. If only they knew what they were in for! But those who complained that the "New Avengers" wasn't the REAL Avengers will have even more to complain about with this issue, because "New Avengers" #44 isn't about the Avengers at all -- new or old.

It's about Reed Richards, of the Fantastic Four.

But it's not even about him, really.

It's about a clone of Reed Richards.

Somehow, in the mind of Brian Michael Bendis, that makes it a "New Avengers" story.

I'm not one who demands a comic be anything in particular. I don't say, "It ain't the Avengers unless Captain America's in it," or "every Fantastic Four story has to have a sense of wonder and spectacle." I think a good writer and a good artist can pull off any type of story, and shouldn't be bound by short-sighted audience expectations.

But, still. . . it's a bit strange to see this story of a clone Reed Richards tormented and manipulated by the Skrulls in a comic called "New Avengers." So think of this more of a heads up than a criticism.

I do have some actual criticism of this issue, and it's mostly conceptual in nature. I'm a bit weary of all of these fill-in-the-blanks "Secret Invasion" tie-ins. We're getting a bunch of them this summer, particularly from Bendis, who keeps giving us some variation on, "this is what really happened between panels that one time." I actually appreciate it on a stylistic level, and I think it's a brilliant strategy to tie books into the crossover without relying on certain issues hitting at certain moments. These comics could come out in almost any order and they'd still make the same kind of sense. But it's just a bit too much at this point, halfway through the event. It's a bit of Skrull overkill on the reader's end.

I'm also a bit stupefied by the logic this issue is based on. I know it's all super-science, and Reed Richards is a magical stretchy guy who doesn't really exist, and Skrulls couldn't possibly transform the way they do and still follow the laws of physics, but this comic hinges on the notion that a clone has the same mind as the original. When the story hinges on getting the clone of Reed Richards to think of something so smart none of the Skrulls can possibly think of it themselves, I get a bit skeptical. Even if the Skrulls can create a perfect genetic match, and even if we allow that Reed's DNA has been restructured by cosmic rays and the Skrulls can match that, how can the Skrull's cloning technology mimic Reed's education and life experience? His nature? Since it can't, then all they have is a brain with the potential to be super-smart, but none of the connections in the brain that would give them the answer they want.

You can clone me all you want, but even if you grow my clone to adulthood instantly, my clone will have absolutely no idea how to write even a sentence without education, without training.

But if you go along with the rest of the comic book science, I guess a cloned, fully-educated mind isn't that much of a stretch. Sorry for the accidental Reed Richards pun.

Even though I am overwhelmed by Skrulls these days, and even though the comic seems based on spurious logic, I found the storytelling in this issue to be quite good. Bendis somehow makes us care about the emotional turmoil of this pseudo-Reed and the comic is structured like a neat little short story about Skrull middle-management and the way they prepared for the pending invasion in fits and starts. The Skrulls may look like efficient killing machines -- or not -- but they certainly had plenty of trouble getting their technique down over the years. And this issue shows their missteps in an interesting and slightly terrifying way.

This may not be your father's Avengers, or even your Avengers of a couple of years ago, but Bendis still knows how to tell a good story and Philip Tan's art captures the anxiety and uncertainty needed to pull it off. Plus, this issue might enhance your "Secret Invasion" experience, if you're really into Skrulls.

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