Thursday, April 12, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 02 (New Avengers #24)

One of the things Brian Michael Bendis does best around events is use tie-in issues of regular series to check in on characters. In New Avengers, he almost always focuses on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, and those issues where he does are almost always better than the average issue. If you look at New Avengers over its two volumes, you'll see that it's really a comic about Luke and Jessica with all of the Avengers and Marvel Universe crap piled on top. They are the heart of this book -- the core that it keeps returning to. Every other member of the team can be cast aside, usually because they have their own comics out there somewhere; identities separate from New Avengers. Since the end of The Pulse, Luke and Jessica haven't had that and, since then, this has been a comic about them.

Usually, events or big status quo changes are marked by us getting to see how this affects Luke and Jessica. When Civil War ended, they took charge of the team; when Secret Invasion ended, the focus was getting their baby back; when Siege ended, it was them getting the Mansion and finally having a home; now that Fear Itself and the ensuing fall-out with Norman Osborn has ended, Bendis takes a moment to catch up with the two and where they stand. The attack on the Mansion during Fear Itself put their daughter Danielle directly in danger and Osborn threatening Jessica and Danielle directly caused her to leave the Mansion during that story. Here, she returns as Luke makes a frantic plea on live television for her to come back.

In this respect, New Avengers #24 isn't the 'best' tie-in issue to Avengers vs. X-Men. There's some scenes that show what's going on a bit in issue one of that series, but, for the most part, it's the Luke and Jessica Show. And that's exactly what this should be. Bendis doesn't always deliver the best tie-ins. I found Secret Invasion's issues of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers to be mostly worthless. But, even those did something that you need to do with tie-in issues: they told stories that enhanced the main narrative in some way. Now, I didn't really care about the Spider-Woman Skrull's problems when she was hiding out in the Avengers, but that doesn't mean that others didn't or that those stories didn't add background to that character if you wanted some.

New Avengers #24 does that and goes further: it introduces the big event to readers of New Avengers and makes it mean something. Luke joining Captain America's quest to stop the Phoenix Force from reaching Earth means something more than just another superhero brawl, because of his discussion with Jessica where she made it apparent that she can't live at the Mansion anymore because it's not safe enough for Danielle. There's a parallel there between her calling him on his statement that she and the baby are his top priority and Cap calling Cyclops on protecting the world being his in Uncanny X-Men #10 this week (and there's why I should have included it here). Cyclops is choosing his people -- his family -- over everyone else, while Luke is choosing the world over his family. And, yet, in both cases, we want to say that each man is making the wrong choice. Is there a right one?

The background material on the Avengers' involvement in Avengers vs. X-Men #1 is important, particularly their goal to get Hope off planet and the Red Hulk's speeches about what's required here. He seems to be Captain America's right-hand man in strategy and, as the Avengers jump out of the Helicarrier to Utopia, he's the one reminding them on their jobs, giving the pump up speech. It's not flowery, it's direct and to the point. And it may hint at the Red Hulk's role in this event a little.

This event will have a lot of tie-ins and I'll try to spend time figuring out what role they play and if it's an effective one. New Avengers #24 is in a strange place, following up a big story in New Avengers (and Avengers) that followed directly from Marvel's last event. The title needed a breather to check in on its characters (meaning Luke and Jessica), but it also needed to lead into Avengers vs. X-Men. And it had to do so without showing us anything beyond the first issue of that series. That's a lot to work around and Bendis does a great job. He sets a high standard for what a tie-in issue should be in this event, and how he balances the needs of the comic he's writing and the event itself. The parallel between Luke and Cyclops is a nice touch that I would love to see expanded a little.

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #2, Avengers #25, and Wolverine and the X-Men #9.