* Prices may differ from that shown
Sadly, I have not had the experience of reading the immediate precursor to this volume of new style Avengers tales that Bryan Michael Bendis is trying to weave. Put simply, if it's anything like this second volume, then it seems to be at odds with itself as to the direction it is taking. There seems to be no real direction, almost as if it's plodding along with no purpose, no end result for each individual mini-plot, and this collection does the series no favours.
There are two stories going on here, although the episodes follow each other in sequence. It's episodes 7-13 that are featured, with the follow on story starting us off after the revelation (for those who haven't read the previous issues) that 40 supervillains have managed to break out of America's toughest prison. Heading to the desert, Iron Man and a couple of the Avengers track down someone who believes himself to be Sentry, and having been involved in no end of high profile superhero events. Curled in the back of a cave, the Avengers for explanation, for as far as they know, they have never heard of him, apart from a couple of episodes in a comic book written years ago. Other than that, no one knows he exists.
This is really the first story, and although it's quite deep in places, there is just too much dialogue for me. Once the fighting elements kick in, there are an overwhelming number of superheroes from the Marvel-verse all in one place, to defend themselves and the planet against some gargantuan monster known as the Void, yet as soon as this commences, the action all happens without us seeing it, as we are subjected to a bunch of psychobabbling frames, even pages, as we are informed of what is actually going on....sort of. It's really confusing, to be honest, and the lack of visual action is frustrating.
We get a little action interspersed as the tale flicks from the present to the past to recount events from a couple of days ago, or that morning, and this helps to make the story a little more interesting, but the action is minimal considering the amount of superheroes on offer in one issue.
The second tale features the New Avengers as they start going after the supervillains as they scatter around the world. First stop Japan, and a couple of villains emerge here. We also get a little feature from Daredevil, as an attempt to recruit him into the Avengers doesn't completely go to plan, and then a mysterious masked character emerges to help them. Then, the return of the Silver Samurai, and the villainous Hydra, as if an influx of different characters would be enough to carry the story.
But the problem isn't the story, because in itself, it's qutie entertaining. There is a lot more action, and some of the fighting artwork is brilliant. Sure, there are a couple of confusing frames, but when there are dozens of samurai, and the whole piece is dark anyway, the challenge to vreate a perfect visual demonstration is a high bar to reach indeed. No, the problem isn't the story. The problem is that it just doesn't click as an Avengers tale. It's more suited to other Marvel characters, as if it were a mission for one of the individual comic book hoggers, or a group such as the X-Men. The Avengers were assembled to combat crime as a unit where individual efforts were not working. Now, they seem to just tackle whatever is around, and it doesn't really cut it as much. Assembly used to be exciting. Now, they all hang around together all the time anyway, forming their permanent little group.
Overall, I did enjoy it. I know this all sounds rather negative, but I did enjoy it. I had no problem in whizzing through this, and actually got lost in it. I also want to read the remainder of the issues to come, as it was left on quite an interesting plot development with Spider-Woman, and it goes to show that there are other things going on as opposed to just seeing the characters going through a shallow plot. There is depth, it just hasn't managed to be portrayed in a way that fits in quite just yet.
So, in conclusion, this is a New Avengers tale that is a decent comic book read, but does nothing special. It doesn't completely work, but there is no denying the entertainment value. The issue retails for £11.99. You'll probably be able to find it for cheaper. I borrowed it from the library. It's worth the read, but don't expect greatness from this development of the Avengers. At least, not quite just yet.
A review of the trade paperback for New Avengers volume 2, which reprints material first published in the New Avengers comic book, numbers seven to eleven. Note that this is a review of the UK edition, published by Panini. The UK volume doesn't match the format or presentation of the US volumes and wouldn't sit well with a collector. The US version reprints issues seven through to ten as well as New Avengers: Most Wanted Files.
During a breakout from America's highest security prison, a super-powered individual known as The Sentry was released along with over forty super-powered villains. Aware that The Sentry's awesome power could pose an enormous risk to the New Avengers, Iron Man and the team track him down to the Nevada desert. Huddled in a cave, an innocuous little man named Reynolds cowers from the arriving Avengers, fearful for what is about to happen to him. But Mr Reynolds is a bit of a mystery. He believes that he has unleashed one of the most fearful powers on Earth and yet The Avengers don't even know who he is. The only Sentry of which they're aware is a fictional comic-book character brought to life by an artist named Paul Jenkins. So who is it that sits huddled in a Nevadan desert cave - and why does nobody know who or what The Sentry is?
Having introduced us to a new team and a whole new concept, Sentry is the next instalment in Brian Michael Bendis's reinvention of the Avengers genre. Sentry follows on from the events of Breakout (portrayed in volume 1) picking up some threads first introduced there and running off with a new story (or two). This trade paperback is slightly curious in that it collects seven issues of the main series, but actually comprises two stand-alone stories - Sentry only covers four of those seven issues, with a three-part story arc later in the volume depicting a series of events re-introducing the Silver Samurai to the Marvel universe.
Sentry is an awkward, misplaced tale that bodes badly for the future of the series. In a similar vein to Breakout, it feels even less like an Avengers storyline and treads further distance in what appears to be an attempt to transmogrify the title into an XMen series. Everything about this volume cries out to be considered part of the X-continuity, from the very obvious inclusion of Wolverine on the team roster, to the strong presence of Emma Frost (the former mistress of the Hellfire Club) in dealing with the Sentry problem. David Finch's artwork is often very reminiscent of the sort of thing you will see in modern X-stories, and the combination of live action and "ethereal" psychokinetic events is also very commonly seen in the XMen books, where there are a number of ultra-power telepaths.
It makes Sentry hard work and not exactly the most exciting story going. Whilst an enormous contingent of heroes battles against some physical manifestation of the Sentry's power Emma Frost tries to help the mysterious Mr Reynolds by entering his mind and helping him undo whatever has been done to him in the first place. It's a terribly wasted opportunity. For starters, the assembly of heroes outside, including the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four, various X Men and the New Avengers, should merit something of a major cross-over event, but you actually get to see very little of the action up close and personal. Large parts of the narrative are dominated by the psychic tribulations of Reynolds and the intervention of his wife but to a casual, or even a more committed follower of the new series it lacks any kind of emotional resonance. Ironically, the idea that all memories of the Sentry have been wiped from the minds of our heroes seems to echo the fact that the character has no appeal and is not exactly high on the list of fan favourites to make a comeback. As with all stories related to telepathy and the like, the eventual conclusion is all perhaps just a little too neat, and by the end of the fourth chapter, it seems pretty clear that the preceding pages have just been a high-powered opportunity to bring some new clout onto the team.
Indeed, it's the scenes that depend less on The Sentry that have more appeal. The arch-criminals that escaped from Ryker's Island in volume 1 now seem to be the subject matter for an ongoing thread featuring the New Avengers catching up with everyone who escaped. Even at two per story, that's at least twenty or so stories to fill with similar tales and these interactions make for some good old-fashioned head kicking, albeit posing some new combinations of hero versus villain. The stand off in Sentry pits The Wrecker against a selection of the new team, with suitably dramatic and impressive effect and it's good to see the return of a nemesis as mean as this one. In fact, by the time the Sentry tale has panned out, it's likely that the reader will be yearning for more action akin to the Wrecker's onslaught than anything else.
The second tale is relatively different to the first, but equally out of place. It's a more intriguing tale of double-crossing and shadowy Japanese gang warfare, but once again, it's just not an Avengers tale. It feels more like the sort of thing you'd see in the pages of Wolverine and yet, ironically, the be-clawed one is conspicuous by his absence, explained by an apparent emergency for the X Men. This sets an obvious and dangerous precedent for the series, whereby it becomes clear that the mutant's allegiance is always going to be the mutant team so he isn't really a "proper" Avenger after all.
It's a darker, more visual tale than Sentry, pumped full of shadowy night time scenes involving silent, ghostly assassins and hordes of ninja warriors. It's all rather superficial, but plays well to Finch's artistic style that laps up the far Eastern tone and content. The story itself is a bit of a non-starter, however, that serves no real purpose (again) that to re-introduce another old character who will clearly take on greater significance in the future. That aside, it's an uncomfortable mixture that seems to be taking the title in an unwelcome direction. The Avengers has never really concerned itself with the trivialities of gang warfare and should probably not try and go in that direction. More intriguing is the ongoing role of the new Spider-Woman who seems to have conflicting loyalties, but this seems to come to a head at the end of the final chapter, presumably to be thoroughly understood in the next volume.
There are some lovely touches throughout this volume that will strike a positive note with loyal fans. It's great, for example, to see Spiderman's wife (Mary Jane) tottering around in the background at the new Avengers HQ, fondly reminding us that the characters have an emotional past that the new series won't ignore. In Sentry, some of the scenes are depicted in a Golden Age style, highlighting the strange continuity crossover with this book and the comic book represented within it (and there is a tableau of alternate Golden Age covers presented at the end for completeness.) The presence of the super-powered Illuminati gives the series a more complete feel to it too, suggesting that there is now a higher order to the Marvel Universe that the series can/will not ignore.
It has to be said, however, that this volume marks no real improvement over the first volume, save to be noted that it features more reprinted issues than volume one.
(One point to note is that this volume has actually been printed in three versions. The first American import has been re-printed once and there is also a UK version, published by Panini. The UK volume doesn't match the format or presentation of the US volumes and wouldn't sit well with a collector. They're similarly priced on www.amazon.co.uk and the only way to tell the difference when you place the order is to check the publisher listed.)