Okay, folks. Here’s the thing.
I’ve been so incredibly excited about the New Avengers team line-up ever since it was announced, and even more excited to realize that Al Ewing was the writer for the book. Two of my favorite Young Avengers, two of my favorite Mighty Avengers, one of my all-time favorite heroines, an underused but highly appreciated heroine, an Avenger who I grew to really like in the recent Avengers and Avengers World runs, and of course Clint Barton, Human Disaster. (I kid.) (Mostly.) Billy and Teddy were finally getting to be on a legit Avengers team, much to my own delight and great news for the Avengers’ criminally low numbers of LGBTQ+ members! Squirrel Girl gets to be an Avenger! This sounds fantastic! Everything is awesome, right?
The New Avengers confronts us with what I can only describe as something akin to Rob Liefeld’s inappropriately muscle-bound, anatomically horrifying, what-even-are-proportions ‘90s art all over again, and I want nothing more to make it go far, far away.
For comic books, which I would argue rely even more heavily on their visual aspects than their writing to initially attract and keep readers, something this egregious is akin to a death sentence for a new book. It’s always possible for great titles that start out with awful, ill-fitting art to get a second chance at life with a new artist, like the recent Dennis Hopeless Spider-Woman title did with Javier Rodríguez, but it’s just as possible (if not more likely) that poor sales result in cancellation, no matter what the reason for the poor sales might be.
Right off the bat, there’s a lot stacked up against this book that could get in the way of its success. It’s a main Avengers book made up almost entirely of characters who have never been full Avengers before, jumping off the back of a plot point that happened in a side Avengers title with which most readers won’t be familiar. That means its first issue not only has to establish the characters and character interactions of its entire cast, but also explain its backstory, introduce its initial conflict or conflicts, and actually have some aspect of said conflict or action — all within the twenty pages of a single issue. That’s a pretty daunting assortment of tasks, and all of those are tasks that fall mostly on the head of the writer. Art for a new #1 is largely what makes new readers pick up, look through, and actually buy a comic in the first place, meaning the art should be eye-catching, attractive, and fit with the style and tone of the story that’s being presenting along with it.
That is most certainly not the case here. I’m sure that Sandoval’s style (which seems to me to be a combination between certain aspects of manga-style artwork and full-on Liefeld) has found successful homes in other styles of comic books, but it decidedly does not fit with the atmosphere created by the writing of The New Avengers.
While it can be very difficult to separate a comic book’s writing from its art and visuals, the writing of The New Avengers paints a very different picture: it’s a story about a new, handpicked team created by the modern Avengers billionaire benefactor-and-hero, Sunspot, who looked at what was becoming of the Avengers near the end of Jonathan Hickman’s run and saw that the true mission of the team was being lost. Having recently bought a huge (formerly) evil organization of scientists to make them stop being evil, he’s decided to use both his money and his heroics to create a team to save and protect people. The team may not know each other very well, and they may not yet know quite how to work together and work with each other, but they’re all there to save people and do good work.
Oh, and Hawkeye’s been sent by SHIELD to keep an eye on them because the newly rebranded Avengers Idea Mechanics (yes, it used to be AIM) isn’t exactly trusted at face value, but Dum-Dum Dugan doesn’t really have much patience for subterfuge so he comes right out and tells Sunspot Hawkeye’s a “spy” (because a spy who you know is a spy and who knows you know they’re a spy is the best kind of spy, naturally). And the rest of the team fights crystal-headed people in France created by the evil 1610!Reed Richards, who is now on Earth-616 for some reason! What fun!
In all honesty, this new first issue tackles some of the problems facing it head-on, and doesn’t do a bad job of it at all. We get a rough sense of who everyone is and what they’re like in its large cast of characters (and it is a large cast), we get some ideas into how they interact with each other (Ava is the straight-laced Very Serious tiger god to Doreen’s irrepressible joy, and it’s a treat to see), and even a glimpse at the hierarchy and organization of the new team. There are nods to past character development in previous titles, which are a nice tip of the hat to long-time readers as well as incentive for new readers to go back and check out what those past developments were. There’s an introduction to not one but two different conflicts and a hint of future conflicts as well (the new AIM vs. SHIELD as well as new AIM vs. the Maker). We see the team using a combination of technology, force, and powers to tackle a problem, and each team member’s fighting techniques also gives us insight into their personalities, which is a nice touch.
I mentioned on Twitter right after reading this issue for the first time that if someone had sat down and merely read me the comic, never letting me see the art, I probably would have been head over heels in love with it without any reservations. The team! The banter! The character work! The French squirrels! (Don’t ask, just read.) But again, it’s nearly impossible to separate a comic from its art, and the art both burns my eyes and makes me sad whenever I look at it.
It just doesn’t fit the book.
Human anatomy is decidedly among the forefront of my issues with it (“the body doesn’t work that way” is a frequent refrain), not the least of which is the strange, ever-present issue of the sizes of relative body parts. Hands tend to be overly large, even to the point of “yaoi hands,” while heads are tiny and arms and legs are either larger and longer than they should ever be or frighteningly small. Light and shadow is used very harshly, with many instances of unexpected jagged shadows on faces or bodies. If I had to pick one word to describe the hair of every single character who shows up in this comic, it’d probably be “spikes.”
There’s no middle ground between “no muscles” and “inappropriately muscle-bound,” leading to strange moments where I stare at a Billy Kaplan who has an arm wider than his entire face (and a truly unfortunate haircut. I want to take a pair of scissors and fix it). Historically he’s one of Marvel’s heroes who doesn’t need muscles to fight, since he fights with magic, and thus seeing Billy portrayed as being as large and as bulkily muscular as Hulkling is when he’s being, well, Hulkling is pretty weird. I appreciate the amount of cape action that happens in this comic, because unlike Edna Mode, I do have a bit of a weakness for superheroes with dramatic capes, but it doesn’t mitigate the fact that the skinny little gay Jewish magic-user (with fantastic tight-wearing legs that he shares with his mother, the Scarlet Witch — yes, it’s a thing, just ask the YA fandom) from Young Avengers has suddenly become a bodybuilder. When did this happen?
Female anatomy is also suspect in this issue, with more than one character being subjected to the dreaded “boob socks” problem of comic book costuming and Squirrel Girl in particular looking quite off, especially after we’ve gotten used to seeing Erica Henderson’s take on her in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Additionally — to borrow a term — Youngblood’s Disease is rampant in this comic, with more than one character sporting blank white eyes or eyes that look like they’re scrunched shut.
I want to like it so badly, but the art is burning my eyes, and eyeball-burning is never a plus.
When taken in parts, it’s easy to dismiss the art and focus on the writing, and admittedly I do want to do just that. Ewing’s writing is very solid and takes on the impressive challenge of starting a story about a brand-new Avengers team (and a diverse one at that) filled with mostly non-mainstream characters in media res and delivers a quick opening with humor, tension, and intrigue, paired with a creative visual design for the antagonists and two large overarching plots. (And squirrels. Always squirrels.)
Sadly, we can’t dismiss the art from the story, and good grief, the art drags the story down. If I could rate these two aspects separately, I’d give the writing for The New Avengers a 9 and the art an absolute 0, but as it stands the art is enough to make my overall enjoyment of the book suffer. It’s a great team and a great concept that I do desperately want to read more of, but if it keeps looking like this I don’t know if I’ll want to keep looking at it.
New Avengers #1 was written by Al Ewing, with art by Gerardo Sandoval, colors by Dono Sánchez Almara, and lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna.
Images courtesy of Marvel
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Eve is asexual panromantic, a graduate student with no time for sleep (but always time for comics), a senior contributing writer for the Rainbow Hub, and an avid consumer of any type of media she can get her hands on. When not perusing her incredibly large collection of Marvel comics, she can be found reading, knitting in front of the TV, or on her laptop.