Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The New Avengers: Nannies and Nazis

Cover by Stuart Immonen
The New Avengers: Nannies and Nazis (June 8, 2011)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Stuart Immonen, Daniel Acuna, Mike Deodato, Howard Chaykin
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Laura Martin, Rain Beredo, Edgar Delgado

After my success with the Avengers Academy, I decided to return to Marvel and this time turn towards the “grown-up” Avengers. This was a bit harder than I initially thought as there are like 8,000 (give or take) Avengers comics. There’s the Avengers Academy, the New Avengers, the just plain Avengers, etc. I can barely handle the fact that there’s like four separate Batman story arcs at any given time so when I’m facing the same challenge with unfamiliar characters, I get a bit overwhelmed.

I have to be honest though and admit that what compelled me to this issue of the New Avengers (which contained issues #7-9, all written by Brian Michael Bendis) was purely the title: NANNIES AND NAZIS. How could I turn that down?

According to the very handy explanation on the very first page (seriously, God bless Marvel for that): “Avengers commander Steve Rogers [Captain America] has given Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron First and the Thing the keys to Avengers mansion, a liaison in the controversial form of Victoria Hand, and free rein to protect the world any way they see fit.” Alright. Got it. Although the inclusion of the phrase “any way they see fit” was both amusing and slightly alarming. Is this like a superhero version of martial law? Obviously the new Avengers themselves also seem somewhat confused and uncomfortable with their roles and power in society, as a great deal of the tension of this story arc dealt with the group finding their footing as a crime-fighting team.

You know what I’ve like the most about the two Marvel comics I’ve read? The characters’ voices sound surprisingly real. Bendis seemed to stress the fact that regardless of the Avengers’ different powers, they arestill regular people dealing with regular issues, like friendship, finances and balancing family life with work. With a character like Batman, for example, you expect him to talk a certain way, think a certain way. The aforementioned issues may crop up every once in a while but are always dealt with in a cold Batman sort of way, very rarely showing the vulnerability that comes along with being a regular person. But that is not to take away from Batman or say oh my God, Marvel’s perfect. I just find Bendis’ writing of these characters surprisingly real. Of course, I did side-eye his use of the phrase “skank ho”, which was totally unnecessary to the plot or character development. It seemed terribly juvenile and not at all something a grown married woman would say, so I was disappointed in that.

There was plenty of humor in this comic, stemming especially from the extensive group dynamics, an aspect I am still grappling with as I am predominantly used to the solo hero plotline. There was also some fun little wink-wink-nudge-nudge in-jokes for readers, such as Dr. Stranger interrupting a story just when what Dr. Doom’s face looks like was about to be explained. Also, does Spider-Man seriously never reveal his true identity in the comics? Because his refusal to do so was a subplot in here. I had no idea this was an issue.

Anyway, another intriguing aspect of this story arc was the relationship between Luke Cage and his wife, Jessica Jones as they struggle with their identities as Avengers and parents to a new baby. Cage is portrayed as hyper-masculine and anxious to prove his worth as an Avenger, so much so that he insists to his wife that she should also become an Avenger and even “take his name” as Power Woman (obviously he’s Power Man. Not the most original but it’s clear-cut). She is reluctant and repeatedly offended that he is so demanding about this. Furthermore, she struggles with the idea of juggling the multiple identities that comes with being a superhero and a mother. “So is an Avenger the best person I am?” she asks in one panel. “I mean, right now the best person I am is married to you and the best person I am is being her mother.”

While I found the fact that this sort of conversation is being explored in a comic to be very refreshing and cool, I was sadly not surprised that it was woman having to deal with these issues predominantly rather than her husband. While Cage is very much aware that he is a father and a husband in this story arc, his identity as a superhero repeatedly comes first, so much so that Jones has to remind him of his duties towards his family. She, on the other hand, struggles with the age-old and traditionally female worry of juggling family and a career. It’s almost as if the comic was telling me that just because she’s a superhero doesn’t mean she gets to escape the issues that all women face. She’s a woman so she must be willing to either sacrifice her career or her family life. I would love to see this issue explored across both genders, not just women and I hope that as I read on, I will.

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