New Avengers is a title under the fairly real threat of losing its “top billing” status at the moment. A price hike combined with the end of the title’s long-running lynchpin, Secret Invasion, has left the book feeling a little superfluous to requirements, especially now that Dark Avengers is, for now at least, taking over the series’ position as Marvel’s “event” title. Meanwhile, regular artist Billy Tan, despite improving in leaps and bounds over the last year, is still far below the required level for “New Avengers” talent.
Tan’s attempts to convey the subtler expressions demanded in the opening scene where Carol watches TV are fairly painful – though more worryingly, out of costume, the character isn’t even recognisable through art alone. Elsewhere, Jessica Jones, previously a noteworthy example of a female character who wasn’t all breast and thighs is reduced to sporting the interchangeable T&A look that Tan seems incapable of deviating from. If an artist can’t even the features and body language of Marvel’s most well-defined female character right, one has to question whether they’re really ready for New Avengers.
Still, someone seems to be aware of this – alongside Tan’s sequences, we also see artwork from Chris Bachalo, who turns in some of his best work in years. A perfect choice to illustrate Dr. Strange’s sequences, Bachalo has shown a tendency to allow his love of experimental page-design to override his storytelling, but in this issue, the balance is perfectly pitched. Sadly, such work largely serves to highlight Tan’s inadequacy.
Of course, art rants aside, New Avengers #51 shows that Bendis and Breevoort are aware that the series has to raise its game. The writing is as good as New Avengers has ever been – the issue contains several sequences that’ll leave fans grinning, not least of them the long-awaited “first meeting” of Jessica Jones and Peter Parker, finally following up her retroactive insertion into Amazing Fantasy #15 back when Alias was wowing readers with “The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones”.
The overall arc, a quest for a new Sorcerer Supreme, is less instantly engaging, but still shows promise, bringing together Marvel’s various magic-wielders for an apparent magical epic the likes of which New Avengers hasn’t tried before. If that’s the direction the series is going, then it will, if nothing else, herald a return to the stand-alone, Marvel Universe-trotting arcs that made New Avengers a success in its early days, and that can only be a good thing.