Hey, have I mentioned yet that I sort of predicted this series a year and change ago? Sure, I pitched it, if you can call it that, with J. H. Williams III, but the excellent Steve Epting was totally my second choice. Trust me!
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Illustrated by Steve Epting
To prevent the collision of our universe with another, the Illuminati, led by the Black Panther, must assemble NOW! It’s the most powerful and brilliant team in the Marvel Universe–The Black Panther, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Mister Fantastic, Namor the Sub-Mariner and The Beast–against an infinite legion of parallel realities.
For dealing with one of the more esoteric “teams” of the Marvel Universe, one which includes multiple characters that would leave new comic readers scratching their heads and asking “Who?,” “New Avengers” manages to have a fairly accessible start. Whether it was chosen and trimmed by Jonathan Hickman himself or editors Tom Brevoort and Lauren Sankovitch, the one-page introduction plucked from Bendis and Maleev’s “New Avengers: Illuminati” one-shot does an ideal job of introducing the Illuminati themselves, even though not a single member is named. Right now, we are viewing the group from T’Challa’s point of view, as the outsider; as he takes lead, we do not yet need to know who they are, what they’ve done, or what they represent. All the reader needs to know is that, to mangle the great American poet Kanye West, no seven men should have all that power, and we get that right from the start.
There is a bit of a roadblock to readers, though, and it may actually affect more avid comic fans than newbies. Following ‘Forever,’ his climactic “Fantastic Four” issue, Hickman did a brief arc focusing on the Black Panther which left T’Challa as king of the Wakandan dead. This is sure to be a major point in Hickman’s “New Avengers” run, and is understandably referenced a few times over the course of the issue; however, the little bit of information that is dropped is minute enough to the point of distraction. For new readers who know little of T’Challa or the Illuminati to begin with, it’s sure to be no big deal — they’re new to the character anyway. Comic readers with a passing familiarity with Black Panther but who missed those two issue of “Fantastic Four” may be left puzzled, as the comic brings it up enough without offering any answers.
I know, balancing long-form continuity with new jumping-on points is unfairly delicate. Kudos to Hickman for doing a much better job than many people who put out a comic with a number one on it.
Then there is, of course, the story itself. Much like his “Avengers,” this comic begins in a big way, with big ideas and big… you get the point. This is, in a sense, what we expect from Hickman at this point, and not in a bad way; through his work on “Secret Warriors” and “Fantastic Four,” we have learned that his sprawling, intricate plots, for all their ambition, are as delicately managed in his ongoings as in his miniseries. Through his work at Marvel, Hickman has honed his talent for grandiose speech — his characters might not always talk like you or I, but this cannot be held as a mark against them when their monologues are so enthralling. We are not in the thick of the action yet — now is the time for listening, and Hickman is quite adept at making his readers sit down and shut up. At the same time, all of the prophetic dialogue in this issue has the same effect as it does in “Avengers” itself. This first issue seems more like a very extended teaser than a full installment, despite having the necessary number of pages. With “Avengers” and “Fantastic Four,” it took until the second issue to actually feel like the first one had come to a close. Perhaps “New Avengers” is another casualty to this strange Marvel NOW epidemic.
Steve Epting falls into a similar school of art as the now-legendary Brian Hitch, as well as contemporary Mike Deodato. Epting’s art is based on delicate, precise realism, with all of his figures embodying a honed sense of anatomical study. That is just the framework, though — Epting is smart enough to know that only someone on par with Alex Ross in the 90s can make convincing sequential art with pure photorealism. Instead, Epting uses light and shadows to stylize his otherwise “pure” artwork, allowing for easier conveyence of motion and action. Even so, Epting’s art works best in a “widescreen” format, and so the majority of the issue is told through single panels stacked vertically. The results are visually impressive, without a hint of doubt, but it definitely contributes to the trailer-like nature of this issue. Time seems slowed down as we see separate images placed sequentially, rather than sequential art, if you catch my drift. It makes sense with the widescreen nature of the book, no doubt, and will surely enhance the experience in future issues, but here it is more of a hindrance than a help. Don’t get me wrong, though; Epting has been a revered name in comics ever since his work with Ed Brubaker on “Captain America” for good reason, and this issue is a great introduction for new readers to one of the most technically capable artists in the industry.
“New Avengers” may not explode to life, but it is still an exciting first look at what could be the most ambitious of the Marvel NOW! books. Master manipulator Jonathan Hickman is the ideal choice for Marvel’s shadowy bunch of string-pullers, and it will be great to see the synergy he and artist Steve Epting developed in “Fantastic Four” brought to bear right from the get-go. $3.99 is a bit much to throw down on yet another first issue that reads like it is somewhat unfinished, but other than that setback, this issue is pure quality, and a great way for Marvel to start off the new year.
Final Verdict: 8.7 – Buy It!