I missed a new comic book day post last week for a number of reasons. One of which is that I am currently re-reading Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers. I was looking for something to read and picked up the first few issues to kill time, now I have the entire run out next to my bed. That’s well over 70 single issues and two event series.
On the whole, the entire run is a good read. Hickman’s plotting and scripting is excellent although his commitment to the long game can put some people off. Not me though, I love it. And the artwork too, I love that most of the time. There are a few moments I’m not to keen, like Leinil Francis Yu’s work on Avengers #19 where a moment of threatening behaviour and possible torture is depicted more like a scene from lesbian erotica; Yu’s work in this issue can best be summed up as tits and arse. However, this is an exception rather than a rule.
For example, Mike Deodato’s work in the New Avengers at this time is outstanding and it is issue 9 of that series that I'm going to look at here.
As way of narrative background: Thanos has sent his Black Order along with an invasion force to find the last of the Infinite gems. If you’ve been to the cinema recently this might be a bit familiar. In the New Avengers #9 each of the Illuminati (see years of Marvels comics for their back story) stand to defend their respective homes against the onslaught and keep hidden the whereabouts of the final Gem.
The confrontations in each location take place in this single issue which is a lot of action and story to pack into a single monthly comic but what Deodato manages to do is tell the reader everything they need to know about each of the Illuminati and their current situation in a single page. This makes it easy to speed up the action sequences and almost skip to the end without making the reader feel like they have missed something.
I’ve picked three pages which best illustrate Deodato’s approach and the impact that a single page can have on a set of characters and the narrative outcomes.
Firstly, let’s look at Black Panther. Wakanda is under siege but they are ready and holding back the initial invasion force. Then into the field steps the Black Dwarf. He is introduced in a standard rectangle panel, striding towards the reader. He is over confident, smug and full of himself. Deodato draws him small in the panel and surrounded by his speech, emphasising the notion that he is all talk.
In the next panel, Black Panther is shown in action, leaping and fighting through the panel. His speech is short and snappy; he is a man engrossed in the moment. This side by side comparison illustrates the difference between the two characters: one is unmistakably sure of himself while the other is prepared for the fight.
The final panel of the page shows that Black Panther is in fact the better of the two. His positioning is higher in the panel, above the striking fist of the Black Dwarf. The Panther’s hand is placed firmly on his enemy’s head, holding him down and out of the two of them, only the Panther's fist looks like it is going to hit the target. There is no doubt in this panel who the victor is going to be and this page acts as an allegory for the rest of the Wakandan fight so that when the narrative returns to this section of the story, the battle is over with no surprise as to the outcome. This single page sums up the entire fight in Wakanda.
Later in the issue The Jean Grey School is under attack from Corvus Glaive and his hoards. The X-Men are making a stand and on this page we can see Wolverine throwing everything he has towards the enemy, and the reader. Wolverine is the definition of determination in this illustration. He shatters through a wall of ice, as seen behind him, but also out of the boarders of the panel. His need to win is too big to be contained.
Unfortunately, in the next panel, the reader is shown how easy the mutant is stopped. The long panel has Corvus on one side and the speared Wolverine on the other; a long, metal spear separates them as if to say that Wolverine was nowhere near victory. He has been subdued and put in his place by Corvus and Deodato, who draws the X-man hunched and pushed almost off the page.
The following two panels highlight the defeat. The first of the two has the fiery background with solid silhouettes in the foreground, reducing Wolverine to a shape instead of the brash, bold character at the top of the page. The last panel goes one step further, as the foreground becomes a confusion of detritus with Wolverine's silhouette lost in chaos. He has been defeated, utterly.
As with the Black Panthers page, this one is also representative of the greater X-Men struggle. They give it their all and never surrender but ultimately they are defeated by a superior force.
Finally, Namor. The following page says everything you need to know about the Submariner at this point in the story. Proxima Midnight has just arrived at Atlantis and in the first panel of the page she is towering above the once great superhero. He is crouched, head down and almost swallowed in shadow. The reader and Proxima know that the fight has been won even before it has begun.
Deodato uses up over half of the page for this single panel because this image is all that is needed. Everything that happens with, and because of, Namor in this issue is because he is a broken character as shown here on this page. Atlantis is lost and it’s king is ready to sell his soul at the first opportunity. The betrayal from Namor which comes later in this issue comes as no surprise because the reader can see from this page alone that he has already been defeated.
What is also interesting is the colouring of the page by Frank Martin. In the previous two examples each of the pages have represented victory in one form or another. The first is Black Panthers and the second Corvus Glaives. In each case the over riding colour theme is red and orange which is very dynamic. In this page, Namor is washed with a cold blue with ice white light shining down on him. The colouring highlights his defeat and is a contrast to the brighter, winning feel of the other pages.
There are a number of big, world changing battles that take place in the pages of New Avengers #9 and this is only possible because of the economy of Deodato’s artwork. He aptly illustrates the conflicts between two characters and their relating forces through a couple of pages, usually with one page acting as narrative for the entire battle. This helps to give the massive storyline by Hickman weight and believability without having to run to hundreds of pages. The first few panels on the pages tell the reader everything they need to know about the heroes/villains and by the end of the page the outcome of each conflict is depicted with a clear and concise winner.
Hickman’s run on the Avengers fills so many issues but when he works with artists like Mike Deodato, it’s no wonder that his narrative and vision is so huge. Anything is possible when you can cover a worldwide invasion in a single, 25 page issue.
New Avengers #9
Published in 2013 by Marvel Comics
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Artist Mike Deodato
Colours by Frank Martin