Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book of the Week 4/40/08 New Avengers #40

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils by Jim Cheung
Inks by John Dell
Colors by Justin Ponsor
Letters by Albert Deschesne

Picking the book of the week can be a hard thing. There are so many factors that go into it. You want to pick a book that excites you and gives you an emotional response, you also want to try to be unique and look for different things in different books, I mean you don't want the same book to be the book of the week all the time.

That being said, last weeks book of the week was Mighty Avengers and this week the pick goes to New Avengers #40 and all for one simple reason.

Brian Michael Bendis really knows what he's doing.

We've already talked about how Bendis has planned Secret Invasion for years and that this is all coming to a head but this is just an amazingly crafted story. In this issue we're given the Skrull view of things and that may have been enough to grant this issue book of the week status. It was great to see things through the eyes of the Skrulls, to know and understand what they have planned and more importantly, why they're planning it. The Skrulls have become great villains and even better than that, they've become great characters. Learning about Skrulls in the recent months makes me want to know so much more and I'm very intrigued by their society and culture.

A man that can not be overlooked in the grand scheme of things is Mr Jim Cheung. I moon over Cheung all the time on the podcast and with good reason because his art is simply beautiful. There aren't a lot of artists that I get excited about but when I saw that Cheung was going to be drawing #40 with Bendis I became giddy with fanboyness and my expectations were met and exceeded.

Anyone who was a fan of New Avengers:The Illuminati will not want to miss this issue because a lot of back story was revealed here and a lot of things in this issue reflect directly back to Illuminati #1.

There were big reveals by both of the major comic companies this week and this issue had one of them and I was literally floored. I'm pretty sure that I gasped out loud because I didn't see it coming at all and it truly changes everything about what's going on in the Marvel Universe right now.

All in all this was a great book and this may possible be a perfect modern comic book. The big draw of comics, especially modern comics is the idea of an ongoing story that doesn't end, it only changes. Bendis is crafting a story that, if it continues to be executed as it has so far, will be the greatest comic story ever told.

I know that's a big statement, but I believe it.

I'm not going to ruin the shocking ending to New Avengers #40 here but Eric and I are really excited to talk about it so look forward to a major spoiler-full podcast this week!


Steven R. Stahl said...

NEW AVENGERS #40 is, perhaps, Bendis’s worst NA issue yet in terms of writing technique. Bendis tries to have Skrulls talk about genetics without using terms related to genetics, and fails miserably. For some specifics:

One Skrull uses the phrase “reverse biological engineering,” whereas Pym used “biological reverse engineering” in MIGHTY AVENGERS #6. Unfortunately, both phrases are meaningless; Bendis should have used “genetic engineering.” He also manages to use the word “genealogy” incorrectly.

Probably the worst bit of dialogue in the issue is the nonsensical string that includes “strip out the humans’ neural coded brain wave patterns” and means less than nothing.

In talking about the Illuminati, the Skrulls fail to recognize the differences between somatic mutants (e.g., the Hulk, the FF) and genetic mutants (the X-mutants).

In trying to justify the Skrulls’ supposedly undetectable impersonations, Bendis claims that sleeper Skrulls are so similar to the human originals that nothing can detect them, but he avoids metaphysics (magic), brain function differences, and, of course, their vulnerability to any tests involving tissue samples.

Perhaps the worst flaw in the storyline is the handling of Galactus. Given the timing of events, it was practically impossible for the Skrulls *not* to know about Galactus, (even as early as AVENGERS #133) so the prophecies and religious angle are irrelevant. The Skrulls are supposed to be aliens, but Bendis relies on a mix of Greek mythology and Biblical-style talk about a promised land.

Generally, it appears that reviewers aren’t reading the dialogue closely enough to recognize Bendis’s mistakes with word usage, or don’t have vocabularies sophisticated enough to recognize them. They might also have the commonly-seen attitude that plots in superhero comics are basically junk.


David said...

Well Steven it looks like you didn't enjoy Illuminati nearly as much as I did and that's ok.

As for the vocab, I think you're reaching here. It sounds like you know you're stuff but I don't really think the scientific terms and usage really need to be perfect and precise and their usage. I know Bendis isn't a scientist and it sounds like while that could take you out of the story just a little, it also sounds like a nit-pick and something that shouldn't ruin the whole issue for you.

In terms of the Skrulls not knowing yet of Galactus, I can see where they should have known before but I'm going with this because it makes the Skrulls richer characters. No writer has really gone in depth on the Skrulls like Bendis is currently doing and if he has to change a few things around to do so, than that's fine with me.

I personally love the prophecy about earth and the destruction of the Skrull homeworld. Just because the Skrulls are alien that doesn't mean that they won't have "human" traits. Every sentient life form has to have some kind of beiliefs or background and it was great to see these warrior Skrulls come to the conclusion that maybe there is more to life than just war.

Again I can see your problems with the issue but they seem very minor and forced. Did you like the issue at all, Jim Cheung's art, the last page reveal, the overall story?

I don't think this issue was as bad as you're letting it be.

Steven R. Stahl said...

I’m more aware of Bendis’s writing weaknesses than most people would be because I wrote for and edited a corporate newsletter for nine years. Using words correctly matters because using them incorrectly makes a person appear uneducated and/or sloppy.

In the case of “Secret Invasion,” he couldn’t have made it clearer in NEW AVENGERS #40 (see similar gobbledygook in trying to describe how HYDRA restored Spider-Woman’s powers in NA #14) that he doesn’t know enough about the details of genetics, and genetic engineering in particular, to use genetics as a plot element in the storyline. Genetics didn’t matter before in Skrull-oriented storylines because impersonation was simple and always uncovered within the course of the storyline. But now, in “Secret Invasion,” Bendis is claiming that Skrulls have impersonated heroes for years, are functioning as “sleeper” Skrulls unaware that they’re not human, and that the impersonation is undetectable—and to try to justify all those claims, he’s making assertions that are patently ridiculous, ignoring obvious means of detecting impersonation (magic, tissue tests), and, of course, using technical terms incorrectly.

If he can’t justify the plot elements by describing them coherently, then he shouldn’t be using them in the storyline. Ignoring the mistakes and editorial lapses simply because one likes the overall concept, the game-playing aspect of guessing who’s being impersonated, and the artwork, isn’t an adult response to the content. An SF writer would have taken a far different approach to the subject matter and focused on one or two specific Skrull agents within the storyline.

So, in terms of written content, there’s little to like because Bendis has shown that he’s not competent to handle the chosen plot material. Cheung’s layouts are great, but he draws only one type of face, and having all the characters resemble each other is distracting and damaging.


David said...

Well Steven at this point I'll just have to agree to disagree and say that different people are going to have different opinions on this story.

I do want to point out that having fun with this story, the art, and the guessing game is very much an adult response to the content. Different people get different things out of reading anything, including comics and to say there's a true way to interpret and enjoy the content just isn't true.

I am an adult man, I am educated and I loved this issue and this overall story and I'm having an immense amount of fun playing the guessing game and waiting to find out what's going to happen.

I feel like you are reaching with your issues with the story and it still doesn't make sense to me. Bendis isn't a Sci-Fi writer by form and while his explanation of things may not actually line up to what would be accurate maybe you just need to take a step back and take it for what it is.

I can understand if you can't do that and I'm not trying to say that you should "dumb down" the story. But this isn't a hardcore science fiction story and I feel like you're treating it as such.

As a fan of marvel comics and comics in general I am really excited about what Bendis is going with a story that could only be pulled off in the world of comic books and I am also happy that he has brought back new life to the Skrulls.

Like I have stated many times, I can understand your concerns about certain errors but I think you're letting the story be ruined for you when it doesn't need to be.

Chris M said...

I'd never notice the things Steven did, but I'll believe his statements on where Bendis messed up are accurate. Assuming Steven is correct, if I were him I'd probably be really dissapointed as well. I appreciate stories that are believable and writers who can take reality to tell those stories (versus making things up that are totally impossible). I don't like wasting time on comics that are total camp. If I read this and knew, "That's impossible and anyone who knew about this subject would know it" then I would probably have an impossible time ignoring it.

But despite my education I know nothing of these things of which Steven speaks and I was cool with everything in the book. If the Skrulls misspoke or weren't correct in describing differences between somantic and genetic mutants, I'm happy to think they're not perfect (versus the writer making a mistake), they're just generalizing, etc. I take Bendis as a great story teller, not a specialist in scientifics.

I believe Spider W. is a Skrull, and it makes me think of the past discussions in the pages about powers she never had before, etc.

And I think Skrulls are decendants of Battletoads. And if they're half as tough as that old NES game was, Earth doesn't stand a chance.