Posted by: Douglas Wolk on March 15, 2008
Two ’70s throwbacks, of different kinds. Short version: the new Mighty Avengers is a very nice execution of a badly flawed premise, and The Last Defenders struggles with the idea behind what it’s building on. More under the cut.
MIGHTY AVENGERS #10: I’m still really enjoying Brian Michael Bendis’s attempts to give every issue of this series (and of New Avengers) its own plot and tone–it helps prevent the sense a lot of other series have that they’re written for the trade and broken up wherever the plot allows–and I’m glad he’s still doing the info-overload tricks (the thought balloons, the constant internal chatter from Tony’s armor) that make this series read differently from its sibling. This issue: Iron Man and Dr. Doom, stranded in the ’70s! (Well, in the comics of the ’70s–when the issue plugged on pg. 2 came out, the band plugged on a T-shirt on the same page hadn’t formed yet.)
But the first premise of this issue is that Iron Man is terrified of setting off some kind of “butterfly effect” in the past that changes the present. Fair enough–but they discuss their previous experience with time travel this issue, and Tony wasn’t nearly as worried about changing history then. (I suppose there’s a Marvel Universe precedent for being able to change history, which is why we have e.g. “Days of Future Past,” but has there been a Marvel butterfly-effect story?) For that matter, if Tony had access to a time machine–and given the opening sequence of last month’s Fantastic Four, we have to assume that his pal Reed Richards still has one–wouldn’t the very first thing he would do be going back a few months to save Steve Rogers?
The second premise is that since Mastermind made everyone forget that Bob had ever existed, he can openly retrieve Reed’s time machine without fear of changing history. This makes no sense at all–if Mastermind makes me forget where I left my keys, that doesn’t mean they aren’t where I left them.
That said, the execution moves so smoothly the plot problems almost don’t get in the way. This is Mark Bagley in peak form–if Trinity looks this good, I’m going to be really happy. The production tricks are really clever, too: the little bottom-of-page ads for “on sale now!” comics, the “continued after next page” squibs, and the old-fashioned dot-screen coloring (anybody want to identify what the first comic to use that technique to indicate a sequence set in the past was? I’m curious) make the very contemporary verbal cat-and-mouse games between Iron Man and Dr. Doom seem weirdly anachronistic in a really appropriate way. (Doom’s dialogue is just far enough off–“Okay. Yes” doesn’t sound like him–that Tony’s suspicions that he’s a Skrull are reasonable.) Bendis can’t quite channel ’70s–the “It’s bedlam on the street as New York’s glitziest citizens run in mortal terror!” sequence is way cornier than Marvel comics of that era actually were–but as long as you don’t stop to think about logic, the style and flow of the story are Very Good.
THE LAST DEFENDERS #1: I’m not quite sure what Joe Casey and Keith Giffen are getting at here. The joy of Steve Gerber-era Defenders, which is what this is pretty much a callback to, wasn’t entirely that it was a team made up of second-stringers and characters who had absolutely nothing to do with each other except that they basically drank at the same bar; it was that Defenders was deliberately unimportant in the scheme of things, and Gerber could therefore do any bizarre thing he wanted with it. (A Trout In the Milk and friends wrote a series of very long posts on the dynamics of Gerber’s Defenders–all the parts are linked here.)
This story, though, is about Nighthawk, the Very Most Boring Superhero of All Time, assembling a new group of Defenders (under the auspices of the Initiative), which is sort of like assembling a new group of people to drink at a bar that closed 20 years ago. They don’t have anything to do with each other (the other three are She-Hulk, Colossus and the Blazing Skull); they fight some people affiliated with the Sons of the Serpent, which I always get confused with Kobra for some inexplicable reason, plus one of the Brothers Grimm refers to Nighthawk as “bird-man” the way the Hulk used to. Then there’s an apropos-of-nothing flashback to the Ancient One turning the Son of Satan away 40 years ago, some tonal fluctuations toward goofiness (a caption reading “The Sons of the Serpent are getting their mystic ceremony on,” the group smashing through a window as one of them yells “Defenders defenestrate!”), and finally a page on which Head seems to have drifted over from The All-New Atom (oh, fine, it’s a Rigellian recorder) and Yandroth explains to him that the Defenders are actually incredibly important if they’ve got a lineup that… is nothing like the one in this issue and a lot like the Dr. Strange/Namor/Hulk-era one. This could be the making of an interesting story about fruitless nostalgia, especially since the title of the miniseries (and the title page) imply that it’s meant to be the end of the line for the Defenders concept. But it seems to be an exercise in fruitless nostalgia instead, and the totally generic artwork doesn’t help. Eh, I’m afraid.
As long as I’m here, I might as well plug two not-comics-related projects I’m working on: Mincing Up the Morning is a collection of videos of musicians whose birthday it is each day, and Circle the Globe is a linkblog–just a bunch of interesting quotes and pictures and videos I encounter. Because, you know, everybody needs more stuff on the Internet to look at.