Secret Invasion managed to noticeably dull my enthusiasm for New Avengers, and while it wasn’t terrible, the “Sorcerer Supreme” arc that followed didn’t do a whole lot to put the shine back on things. However, the arrival of Stuart Immonen on art, combined with Bendis re-focusing some of the action back on Luke Cage, has re-energised the title to this extent. Indeed, New Avengers #59 is the best issue for quite some time.
Part of that is because the Hood has finally been pushed to the background a little, and once again it’s the Avengers that take the spotlight. For most of this year, New Avengers has been a little too heavy on The Hood, so seeing the heroes actually starring in their own book is probably far more refreshing than it should be.
It’s not just that, though – the events of the issue move at a surprisingly rapid pace, and as a slightly grumpy comics fan who remembers when you got a whole story every issue, I’m to see someone using the 22-page format as a well-defined, stand-alone chapter, rather than an arbitrarily-enforced serialisation constraint. This issue is firmly about the rescue of Luke Cage, and takes that idea from conception to execution in one 22-page story. If this is the way Bendis is going to take his writing in the future, then the days of decompression are quite definitively on their way out.
But enough about the format – it’s the events of the issue that truly make it feel like an inventive read, as the Avengers take a leaf out of the villains’ book and deploy their own tactics against them. Now that the tide of authority has turned, it’s nice to see this kind of idea being explored, and for a change it gives almost all of the cast members a distinct opportunity to get involved. The large number of guest stars doesn’t even detract from that, and indeed, if anything it brings back the feeling that New Avengers used to have of being on the leading edge of the Marvel Universe.
Although decompression is off the table, Bendis’ usual stylistic tics don’t go entirely un-noticed – for some reason, he’s recently decided that Bucky-Cap should use slightly out-of-date vocabulary, which doesn’t make much sense given that the character has been continuously alive for decades, and at the same time puts him at odds with his depiction elsewhere. Still, in fairness, it just about works if you take this series in isolation, and at least it prevents him from sounding like every other character in the book.
After all that, the biggest complaint I have about the issue is actually the cover. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great – possibly my favourite Marvel cover of the year – but it suggests a story far more interesting than the one we actually got. It’s strange to come away from an issue this good feeling a little let down, but when you make a cover that striking and memorable, it’d be nice if the issue’s contents could remotely reflect it!