newavengers49Ladies and gentlemen of Crawl Space, New Avengers reviews are back! Special thanks to Stella “Spider-Girl” for her months of excellent reviews. Compared to hers, my tenure will be a dark reign.

Speaking of Dark Reigns, this issue briefly shows the Avengers’ first reactions to Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. More importantly, it resolves the Luke Cage plot from last month’s ish. Yes, I used the R-word to describe the second issue in a Brian Bendis story arc. It truly is a brave new world.

WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILS: Billy Tan
INKS: Matt Banning
COLORIST: Paul Mounts
LETTERER: Albert Deschesne

On the condition that Luke Cage join Team Osborn, Norman Osborn pledges to rescue Cage’s skrull-kidnapped daughter. How? By feeding captured Skrulls to Venom one by one until one reveals the Skrull meeting place! There, Cage ambushes Skrull Jarvis, promising he wont kill the desperate alien if he does what’s right. As soon as Skrullvis surrenders baby Danielle, Bullseye ventilates his brain with a sniper bullet.

At Avengers tower, Cage digs out the Wrecker’s crow bar and beats the crap out of Bullseye and Venom with it while Jessica Jones flies away with baby. Norman calls Cage dishonorable, but Cage declares he could never join murdering scumbags before leaping through the window to the street below.

At their Bronx hideout, the New Avengers play with the baby until coverage of Norman’s sanctioned Avengers pops up on TV. Spider-Man, unable to process what he’s seeing, can only muster “wait, what?” Ronin declares the need to “mop the floor with [Osborn’s] brillo pad head” and take back the Avengers name.

Hooray for moral ambiguity! Luke Cage saved his baby by outright lying to Norman Osborn and stood watching while Osborn murdered helpless POWs. Fables author Bill Willingham’s recent blog post about the so-called “age of super hero decadence” (read this if you have not already), resparked comic fans’ old debate over the perceived trend toward murky protagonists and whether gray areas belong in a genre rooted, in the eyes of fools, in World War II moral clarity but that, in reality, dates back to Greek and Mesopotamian myth. Hercules didn’t convince Atlas to snag the golden apples of the Hesperides by telling him the truth, and Gilgamesh was a shameless philanderer. People have told stories about iconic individuals fighting villains with uncanny powers since the dawn of civilization, and anyone claiming 20th century American moral dualism defines the genre is guilty of a narrow perspective.

Willingham’s “right” take on the super hero genre apparently precludes good comics like The New Avengers #49, because Cage’s actions certainly weren’t “backed by a deep virtue and unshakable code.” He cheated an evil son of a bitch, one who kept his end of the deal, to save his baby from aliens and f***ed Osborn’s goons up with a crow bar. Knightly? Hell no. Satisfying? Oh, indeed. Adhering to a code would have gotten his daughter either killed or, at best, raised on a space ship as a captive of insane green people.

I do not mean Cage absolutely did the right thing; I’m saying that this lack of absolutes enriches the genre with intriguing complexity. Keeping murkiness out of super heroics would either require that our protagonists always find neatly-packaged answers to complex problems or that writers shelter heroes from all choices not cleanly delineated along good and evil. The former inevitably feels disingenuous or contrived and the latter defeats a key purpose of speculative fiction, which is to learn more about humanity, society, and philosophy in our own world by exploring questions related to those in a place with altered rules. If the super hero genre offers the opportunity to ask questions other genres do not (a theme I will revisit in future reviews–stay tuned), then limiting it impoverishes the frontier of human thought.

The New Avengers #49 is a good comic because it made me think. It’s also good because it efficiently progresses the overarching story. With only one issue between the Dark Avengers’ debut and their showdown with the good guys, I almost doubt Bendis actually wrote this. If only we had some Yiddish dialogue to be sure.

I have one nitpick and one broad complaint, and they’re both about Spider-Man. The nitpick is that, in my eyes, Peter should still remember his own daughter’s stillbirth, so him dangling a rattle in front of Danielle Cage and making good-natured jokes rings false and off-putting. Of course, Peter never had a kid in the current timeline, so this isn’t so much an inconsistency as a reminder to the reader that “One More Day” robbed us of some history that might have added another compelling layer to this story.

The broader complaint is that Marvel’s writers have so far glossed over Spider-Man’s stake in Dark Reign. He should be THE central character in a story about his nemesis rising to power, but from what I understand ASM has been slow to pick up on this (understandable given their writing schedule) and the core Dark Reign books have relegated him to the background. We get a two-word reaction in this issue, but hopefully issue fifty will show an epic freak out and see Pete take a proactive role in toppling Osborn.

Bulleye trying to stab Cage with a cereal spoon while Cage bashes his skull in with a crowbar.

4 out of 5 webheads. I tried to make this my most provocative review yet, so if you find yourself provoked, then by all means leave a comment.


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