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A review of the trade paperback for New Avengers volume 3, featuring material originally published in the comic book of the same name, issue numbers 11 to 15, plus excerpts from Giant-Size Spider-Woman number 1. Imprinted by Marvel Comics US, this is widely available online or in UK book stores. Collectors be aware that this US imprint features three chapters of the original series (11, 12 and 13) that are featured in the UK imprint of volume 2 Sentry.
The world's organised crime syndicates are in complete disarray. Aware that the Japanese Yashida clan is up to something, Captain America looks up the crime-fighting superhero Daredevil and renews his offer of membership of the New Avengers. Daredevil declines, but not before he puts Cap in touch with a shadowy friend of his who knows everyone there is to know in Japan. But it transpires that there are darker dealings taking place than anybody could have expected. Madame Hydra is in town and for the New Avengers that could spell big trouble. But whatever happens, it soon becomes clear to Cap that somebody on the team is not quite what he/she purports to be....
For Brian Bendis's third instalment in the reinvented Avengers series, the writer shifts the action around the globe for three chapters, and tries to implement another new look and feel. Traditionally, tales that feature the Japanese underworld are more likely to feature some of the edgier, solo characters such as Elektra or Daredevil but in his continuing attempts to do something new Bendis clearly feels that it's an area that could benefit from some team action. It's an 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 here, briefly 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 the previous volume, 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 other than to re-introduce another old character to the Marvel Universe (The Silver Samurai) that will presumably 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.
Fortunately, the fourth and fifth chapters finally bring back some of the old school charm associated with the series that everyone has been waiting for. Following the events that take place against Madame Hydra earlier in the book, Cap takes it upon himself to find out exactly what's going on with Spider Woman and so the reader also discovers how the superhero came to get her powers back. This is pitched against the backdrop of a classic Avengers event - the first press conference - and the partnership works well. Bendis is clearly a long-term writer, prepared to invest a little at a time for a later pay off and whilst Secrets and Lies reveals something about what makes Spider Woman tick, it's clear that there's more to come (particular as the tale draws to an enigmatic close.) It's quite a gamble - Bendis is hoping that the audience is committed to a high level of intrigue with a character who may not be all that familiar, but it's fair to say that it pays off. The team's first press conference has a rather affectionate feel to it, particularly as this is accompanied by the return of yet another old face.
The last two chapters signal the arrival of a new regular artist to the series, with David Finch signing off on what was issue 13 of the regular series, welcoming Frank Cho as the regular artist from there on in. Cho's artwork is cleaner, more modern and arguably less mature than his predecessor's and the contrast is initially quite stark. There's a certain matter-of-factness about Cho's style that sits slightly awkwardly in comparison to Finch but both appeal in different ways. Ironically, Cho is better at crafting perfectly honed bodies, but isn't so adept with the facial features as Finch. Cho is unquestionably better, however, than Rick Mays, whose pencilling takes up an eight-page interval between chapters three and four (originally appearing in Giant Sized Spider Woman number 1).
These are the most pointless eight pages I've ever seen come to print. It doesn't help that the larger part of the content (and certainly all the important stuff) is essentially repeated by Cho later on in the book, but Rick Mays's artwork is horrible, all chunky lines and clumsy detail. It has a horribly childish detail to it and feels rather like that Nemi cartoon you see in Metro newspaper. It's a horrible contrast to the rest of the book and an unwelcome addition to this volume.
Compared to volumes one and two, this is probably the most satisfying of the first three New Avengers volumes. Bendis seems to be settling into the series quite well, demonstrating a breadth of vision that, at the very least, yields future promise. The new team's press conference (and altercation with J Jonah Jameson) gives things a lighter touch for the first time, but there's still plenty of intrigue and action. It's all still a long way from becoming a classic, however, but only time will tell if that will ever be a title applied to a New Avengers story.