Lunacy is for me.

New Avengers #21

Let’s start with the closing lines from this issue’s official “Previously in Civil War…” synopsis:

Some heroes, such as Iron Man, see this as a natural evolution of the role of super heroes in society, and a reasonable request. Others, embodied by Captain America, take umbrage at this assault on their civil liberties.”

Ha ha, cripes. Not only is the character identified with the non-registration side of Civil War a walking symbol of American values, he gets to recognize the contextually objective status of “this assault on… civil liberties” while Iron Man, on the registration side, is granted merely an opinion (“[s]ome… see this”), swiftly thereafter inferred to be faulty by the construction of the text. Whose side are you one?! Hopefully not the obviously wrong one!!

This is the first Civil War-related comic I’ve actually sat down to read. It’s also the first issue of New Avengers I’ve done anything more than flip through. I’ve not read Avengers: Disassembled, the story evidently evoked by this current New Avengers: Disassembled storyline (this is Part 1). I’d like to say the only reason I’m reading this is due to artist Howard Chaykin, dipping his feet into the Marvel pool before diving in for a September-debuting run on Blade, but actually I’m a little bit interested in how one of these tie-ins might work as divorced from the main storyline.

As it goes, it’s not at all convoluted or confusing, just kind of stolid and broody. And at times weirdly self-referential - not only does writer Brian Michael Bendis throw in a quick flashback to his updated team lined up in their glory days (this is only issue #21, after all), but there’s a moment of metafiction at the very beginning, in which Cap stares at a blank drawing board, the narration grunting:

"Just try and focus. Think of something else. Anything else. This always works. This always works. Just draw. Focus your mind on the white paper and draw something. Express yourself. You used to do this so well you could pay the bills with it. Just stop thinking about everything else."

Taken out of context, it almost seems to be trying to say something about the nature of steering one's comic through the waters of yet another Event deluge, though the rest of the book sadly doesn't back such a notion up. Actually, nothing is really backed up by this opening bit - it remains utterly disconnected from the rest of the story thematically, and it doesn't really work as a surface-appeal lead-in to the assorted flashbacks, as Cap's narration remains constant as our viewpoint wavers from present to past to present to past - it might have landed as cutesy formal play (and I like cute things) had the visual execution been a little better on a concept level (the white board leading right into homage to past comics events, the narration our clue as to the present - this would also solve the staging problem patent in everyone sneaking up on Cap out of nowhere), but it just comes off as metafiction for metafiction's sake, a whiff of misplaced sophistication.

The comic then launches into Cap fighting a whole bunch of armored government thugs, which comes off fairly well in Chaykin's hands. He's still working in the simplified layout style of his other recent superhero pieces, nothing as design-oriented or intuitive as even recent work-for-hire like Challengers of the Unknown, but well-tempered for Cap hitting things and fires igniting. Albert Deschesne's letters buzz in the background in tight formation (a classic Chaykin flourish), enveloping the characters in dizzy noise activity, though I found Dave Stewart's colors in the sequence to be a bit too subdued, as if he was attempting to add gravity to a more heavy realist visual style - I find that Chaykin's inks stand out better in their jagged bite with a more popping bright approach to hue (even at night), which Stewart does gravitate toward in later daytime pages.

Bendis' script doesn't get any brighter in tone, though, as the issue moves on, Cap escaping the killers and teaming up with the Falcon to create a new (New) Avengers. Lots of talk about What Must Be Done, lots of captions about Trust, and a confrontation with Hank Pym that I think was supposed to illustrate the 'debate' behind Civil War's political undercurrent, but actually felt like one of those old bits where the obvious villain makes a gesture toward convincing the obvious hero of the rightness of their actions, only to have said hero knock the argument right down, then fight back when the baddie resorts to treachery. It's not that I'm expecting the most polished of political comment in my Marvel U comics, but if you're going to expend pages on characters lamenting and pondering the philosophy behind the latest tentpole, you probably shouldn't have that content boil down to yet another simple good guys/bad guys clash. It just seems like turgid, unnecessary hand-wringing over the same old same old.

Still, Chaykin's art always has its pleasures. There's a great image of the Falcon lifting Cap up, that mighty shield deflecting all oncoming dangers. In hands like this, the iconography at least is sound. And Bendis has a few good lines up his sleeve: "Come on Hank, grab your stuff and a bunch of ants and let's go." But the rest of it seems as passively misconceived as that trip back to the drawing board at the top. Maybe it's just the language of the Event talking.

Hawkgirl #53

Meanwhile, the week's other Chaykin superhero book is as loony as ever. I've decided that some of such feeling comes from Chaykin's very lines, which seem more fevered and harshly rendered, maybe due to Michelle Madsen's brighter colors (and simpler flesh textures), or maybe due to Chaykin himself matching writer Walter Simonson's increasingly wild plotting. As usual, Kendra is prone to thinking many things to herself - pretty much all the exposition the additional omniscient narrator doesn't tackle - but this time everything is cut short by a gigantic fight with the weird woman who's been lurking around for the last three issues. It turns out she's a hulking killer called Khimaera who serves a gigantic cosmic labia dentata which has gotten so angry over not having fresh souls to feast on that it brands its servant with tattoos and makes her prance across rooftops in a golden thong bikini.

Also wandering around is most of the supporting cast for this storyline, including those leather-clad voodoo skinheads, rough Lieutenant Grubs and his green partner Doucette (blonde asshole Chaykin design and dark-haired hero Chaykin design, respectively), and that cowardly bank guy who totally screwed the museum. A head is ripped off right before our eyes, as is Hawkgirl's top. There's cosmic visions and barbed wire. Chaykin's layouts aren't any more complex than what's to be seen in New Avengers, but his lines seem much more powerful, Khimaera's face attaining a nearly Frank Miller level of ragged scowl as the bruises and scratches on various bodies pile up.

As you might have already guessed, this is pretty much the polar opposite of a modern 'polished' superhero comic. The narrative style is largely resistant to the status quo of trade pacing for both better and worse - stuff happens in every issue, but there's going to be plenty of repetition in the eventual trade - and the plotting seems unconcerned with anything but giving Kendra monsters and criminals to fight while building up an issue-by-issue backstory of simple greed and pulp horror malevolence. It's sometimes clumsy, and I'm sure the hard-luck heroine's inability to win decisive victories will continue to grate on some. A male supporting cast member dies to give the female hero something to fight for, though this is no more interesting in its gender roles than it would be otherwise - and besides, we are looking at a heroine in a lacy bra fighting a scary bikini monster woman to the finish.

But you know, I guess I just find the texture of it all pleasing. Something about the old-fashioned roughness of Simonson's writing and the inky drive of Chaykin's art, I think. There are better evocations of older superhero comics on the stands today, but I keep finding something to bring me back in this series, something that would almost surely vanish if the creative team was different. Even comparing this to the week's other Chaykin book, I couldn't say it was all that much better, taking both on their own merits. Yet when things are that close, I tend to side with superhero power, solid blows, haphazard fun. Call it a victory of tie breaking.