What follows here is a review of issue # 6 and an overview of the first story arc (issues # 1 - 6).
BEWARE: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
One of these Avengers will DIE!
Not a real tough mystery.
Predictable outcome from a predictable visual trick and a lame story set-up.
WRITER: BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
COVER and PENCILS: STUART IMMONEN
INKS: WADE VON GRAWBADGER
COLORED BY: LAURA JEAN MARTIN with RAIN BAREDO
LETTERED BY: CHRIS ELIOPOULOS
ASSOCIATE EDITOR: LAUREN SANKOVITCH
EDITOR; TOM BREVOORT
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: JOE QUESADA
PUBLISHER; DAN BUCKLEY
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: ALAN FINE
Wait... that sensation in the air... an intangible wave carried in the aether... that touches the base of your skull, the dormant corners of your perception, and raises the tiny hairs on the back of your neck...
Do you feel it?
It is the psychic residue of readers' collective anguish after reading NEW AVENGERS V2 # 006.
It is the death of an Avenger.
It is the death... of MAGIC!
(OK. Not really.)
To start off; that cover "mystery" of which Avenger will DIE wasn't even a hard one.
Even if you couldn't tell from reading the previous few issues, and how Bendis set up the soon-to-be-dead Sorcerer Supreme; Doctor Voodoo to be an ineffectual (even more so than Bendis' usual handling of mystics) "pretender" to the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme, that cover image totally gives it all away.
As I noted in the comments section of the "Panels of Awesome" blog post about the odds of which character would take the big sleep - found [HERE], but I also called it (and foresaw, with fairly accurate detail, what happened in the issue) in my last post about New Avengers # 5 [HERE].
Basically, the ONLY character who is totally in darkness (i.e; "eclipsed by the shadow of DEATH") is Doctor Voodoo.
Sure, Doctor Strange is half-lit, but that's both a red-herring to mislead as well as a hint that Stephen Strange doesn't quite escape unscathed either (as we'll discuss when we get to the ending of the story).
If only the cover blurb said;
ONE OF THESE CREATORS WILL DIE!
Then, we'd have a good shot at finally being rid of Bendis.
NO, I'm NOT wishing any ill will or poor health to the man... just saying that since he's so eager to mete out death, perhaps he'd be a little open to "equal opportunity".
If only, the "death" of his "career" as a comic writer, at the very least.
Perhaps, he'd be better suited to writing prose fiction. Novels dealing with the themes of super-heroes and/or crime fiction. I think he'd be much more palatable in that medium.
Give him several hundred pages to run amok in and perhaps he'll be able to tell an engaging - and COMPLETE - story.
For some reason, he is unable to do so in the confines of comic book periodicals.
Even with the annoying modern practice of "decompressed" storytelling, wherein several pages can be dedicated to every minor event (like 3 pages of no dialogue or action, except for the eyes of the characters going back and forth watching a tennis match - *minor exaggeration there*) it is amazing that Brian Bendis still leaves out vital events that are crucial to the story at hand.
If you've ever read any (or heard an audio) interviews by Brian Bendis, you'd think to yourself, "This guy has some half-way decent ideas".
Unfortunately, MANY of them never seem to make it to the printed page.
SO many concepts and story segments seem to be cut due to space and end up on the "cutting room floor".
So many things happen off-panel, or unseen between issues, or are only implied long after the fact by a brief text bite, that it's hard to imagine anyone who has been working in comics as long as he has is still able to:
- continuously fall prey to the "Oops. Did I forget to include that?" aspect of omitting vital information.
- get further work with such shoddy workmanship.
Take this latest issue for example; after the previous issue had "the-unknown-entity-believed to-be-AGAMOTTO" (I will call it as such, because NO WHERE in the issue is that mystery truly solved) state that the reason he needs the EYE of AGAMOTTO back is because the VISHANTI "are no more"...
However, in this issue we find that is not the case. In point of fact,. the Vishanti seemingly kicked him OUT of the trinity (three beings comprised the Vishanti; Agamotto, his mother; Oshtur and Hoggoth).
And where does this information get laid on us?
In the brief text passage of the RECAP PAGE!
The recap page, as its name implies, is to recapitulate what we have THUS ALREADY READ (either for those who are slight of memory, or who may have missed an issue prior).
It is NOT the place where NEW and VITAL information is revealed for the first time.
THAT is some lazy-assed, hackity-hack-hack-hack writing, right there!
I'm not sure who is more to blame in such things;
- the writer - Brian Bendis?
- the "editor" - Tom Brevoort?
- the associate editor - Lauren Sankovitch?
- Editor-in-Cheif - Joe Quesada?
- ALL OF THE ABOVE?!?
That said, the entire story arc was lacking in any real cohesion, pacing and/or direction - save to kill off a character who was given a too-little-too-late chance to shine, and to take away one of the longest-held artifacts in Marvel canon (not that it really makes any difference, as I noted in great detail in my previous examination of this arc [HERE])- all in a failed attempt to create "rules" for magic in the Marvel Universe.
Issue # 6, the apparent pay-off to the arc, has left more unanswered problems than what it seemingly "solved".
Starting off with "Magic-Bullet Wolverine" being mystically sent off to the newly revealed "Light Dimension" to do battle, one-on-one with Agamotto (or at least, an entity seemingly supposed to be Agamotto) for the fate of all there is, the issue, and the creative team totally miss the point of how to choreograph anything other than straight-up super-punch-up fisticuffs.
"Agamotto", an all-powerful mystical being, does nothing more than shape-shift into likenesses of those from Wolverine's mind (people from his past and present).
While, Wolvie slashes with his omnipresent claws - said pigstickers enhanced by magic spells - mystically infused within them, so that all he need do is slash around wildly in order to perform complex spells and mystic attacks.
Oddly enough, if it weren't for all the footnoted spells, cited with which book and scroll, it would seem to me to be nothing more than a typical Wolverine "berzerker-barrage" against a foe who doesn't seem to be putting up all that much of a fight.
Oddly enough, "Agamotto" (yes, I will use the "quotation marks" since nowhere in the issue is the real identity of that entity truly proven)... an entity who was around when the Earth was young, and who has either discovered or created entire magic systems, spell-sets and artifacts of power, starts off by utilizing a disguise spell created by BARON MORDO; a 20th-century mortal, whose spell is on the "Scroll of Loki"... Loki being another ancient-immortal mystical entity (godling) who also out-dates and overpowers Mordo, and so it makes little sense for a spell by such a mortal to even be of consideration for such publication on parchment.
The entire thing makes no sense.
But, alas... that is merely the start of the issue.
Bendis' confusion and stupidity (or at least; utter lack of regard) continues unabated and unchecked by so-called "editors".
At the very least, to Bendis' "credit", he does have Wolverine state his lack of awe or fear of a foe who stoops to altering their appearance as a means of "psyching-out" a combatant.
It remains unclear whether he was using that dialogue to truly portray disdain at "Agamotto's" sub-par means of combat, or using that comment in an attempt to proactively deflect from any criticism of the story (since it would seem that he can't come up with anything more creative in terms of mystical combat).
Perhaps one of the most telling - and damning of Bendis' new "rules" of magic - is that already it would seem that he had grown tired of coming up with new and interesting names and references for his "spells", since the preponderance of those "cast" during the fight were all from a single source.. the "Scroll of Wabawab".
My immediate thought, upon reading the many, many Wabawab spells was that Bendis was merely using that nonsensical name as a "placeholder" in his script, until he would later go back and choose new names and sources for the spells.
However, he either never got back to it, or lost interest in the storyline... either way, proving my previous points of his being a sloppy writer who pays little attention to details - either those of previous canon or those of his own making.
Also proving my point (made in the examination of the last issue [HERE]) that such a system of magic is doomed to misuse and decay by future writers.
My secondary thought was that Wabawab was a sadomasochistic entity, since most of his spells were those that dealt with the dealing of attacks and punishment.
But, either way, since the GIANT--ALL-OR-NOTHING-MYSTICAL-BATTLE-TO-DETERMINE-THE-FATE-OF-ALL-THERE-IS was nothing but the same three or four spells from the scroll of Wabawab
(offensive spells being; Evenodor Attack Spell and/or Evanodor Punishment Spell with subtle variations to those two, and defensive spells being; Evanodor Compatriot Defense Spell and Evanodor Compatriot Boost Spell), I am wavering between my belief that Bendis merely used those as placeholders, and my belief that Bendis is a hack with no mind for magic.
(Of course, nothing is preventing BOTH from being true.)
Yet, to give what minor credit is due, Bendis at least utilized a spell or two from a previous issue (# 4 to be exact) repeating both; Carelli's Forced Mortal Astral Extraction spell - from the Book of Fire Appendix 309, and the Houdon-Lou Visualization Spell of the Real, so perhaps he has a crib-sheet of spells used, to help keep a sense of cohesion.
(Or, more likely, he thought it best to at least revisit a few earlier spells to give the veneer of a cohesive "spell-check".)
However, one of the most telling examples of Bendis' problematic grasp of magic-systems, and the failing of his "rules", as well as the lackadaisical aspect of his writing is that on several occasions, spells are cast that are attributed to the Vishanti.
If the Vishanti are indeed "no more" (or at the very least, disbanded) then those spells will have NO BACKING, no one from whom power or energy will be provided, and as such, will not be able to be cast.
You can't cast a spell that entreats an entity who will not (or is not able to) empower it.
For someone like Bendis to understand, it's like holding an old, rusty pistol that used to have, but no longer has bullets in it, and expecting it to fire just because you pull the trigger.
Or, having a electrical appliance, and expecting it to work without having it be plugged into an outlet - or even having electric power supply at all.
Also, in point of fact, having the Eye of Agamotto being used AGAINST Agamotto is something that has already been shown to be impossible (of course, one would need to recount and care to utilize past canon as well as believe that the entity being combated against is indeed Agamotto and not some pretender).
Unless, of course, Agamotto is so totally devoid of power that he has no ability to turn the eye away or do much else but use minor illusion as his primary defense. But that is almost unbelievable, and had not been established or supported by the story, since he obviously had enough power to rip open the skies and cause all the other mystical havoc of the previous issues.
The entire "mystic battle" comes across as nothing more than a backdrop for the portrayal of Doctor Voodoo's rapid loss of detachment and purpose as Sorcerer Supreme, instead becoming frantic at the reappearance of the spirit of his brother Daniel.
Although, long-deceased already, Daniel's spirit is in dire peril of final dissolution as he enters the battle to aid Wolverine against "Agamotto".
Unable to perform his duties and aid his brother from afar, Jericho Drumm breaks the mystic circle of all the Earth-bound Avengers and leaps into the dimensional portal, Eye of Agamotto in hand.
This proves to be the worst possible strategy, for not only does it remove the mystic anchor from the Earth-defense, place him in harms way, as well as expose the object of desire to the enemy who wishes to possess it.
However, such a power-grab is unmade by "Agamotto", as upon moments of his appearance in the Light Dimension, Doctor Voodoo announces that the Eye is the only thing to be able to defeat Agamotto, since the Vishanti have cast him out (a supposition that, unless you read the Recap page, is the first a reader has been exposed to such a concept) and as such, "Agamotto" must have been stripped of much of his power.
To that end, Voodoo casts a series of spells and seemingly destroys "Agamotto", the power of the spell turning Doctor Voodoo to dust as well, before the Eye of Agamotto fades away into nothingness.
Watching these events, Doctor Strange can not but help to shed tears of loss.
For of all things, Doctor Strange had always held the Eye of Agamotto among his most treasured of possessions (the Book of the Vishanti, and the Cloak of Levitation being the only others held in as high esteem).
He counted Jericho Drumm as a close compatriot, enjoyed a friendly (if not always totally positive) relationship with Agamotto, and revered the Vishanti as among those "gods" to whom he would supplicate himself in prayer and meditation.
Yet, in the span of a few moments, all of those have been lost - seemingly... forever.
The world of Stephen Strange has been dealt multiple blows, all while, admittedly, causing the effect of the saving of the world and reality as we know it.
Still, perception is reality, and what is the perception of a man who has lost most of what he has held dear - his friend, his treasured responsibility and his god - in essence - much of his reality - for the sake of the world?
To a man like Doctor Strange, the understanding that such losses are possible ramifications of such a task, but still... they are hard-felt losses, nevertheless.
I'm sure that part of his sorrow is that there must have been another way - any other way - to succeed without such high cost. Or, if not, that it should have been he who was faced with the challenge.
The take-away subtext being, that if he hadn't "failed" as Sorcerer Supreme, that none of these following events would have happened, or if they did, that he would have been better positioned, by experience and connection with other entities, to have best solved the crisis with a potentially less catastrophic finale.
To add to his injury, the spirit of Daniel Drumm comes back to Earth and takes temporary possession of Luke Cage, to accuse Strange of causing Jericho Drumm's demise.
Daniel attempts to attack Strange, but is cast out - all the while swearing vengeance upon him.
This is all as I partially predicted (in my review of issue # 5 - once again [HERE]).
It was also foreshadowed in the giant map of the time-line shown in (adjectiveless) Avengers # 5.
Remember the "Drumm of Revenge" note I blogged about a few months back? [HERE]).
One other thing that I posited was that, if the entity was not Agamotto, or even if it was, that the other entity with whom he consulted (in issue # 3) who appeared as the Ancient One, was none other than "He Who Sleeps but Shall Awaken"; Shuma Gorath!
And, perhaps as a tantalizing clue... at the end of the mystic battle, just prior to Doctor Voodoo's casting out of the entity, the appearance of "Agamotto" shifts to a large tentacled creature... a single eye (the Eye of Agamotto) superimposed over the shape.
All that giving the look of the elder god, Shuma Gorath!
A potential story avenue that I predicted in my review of issue # 4 [HERE].
C'mon... try to tell me that isn't some visual foreshadowing right there.
Before I begin my wrap-up of the review, I have to state that, as always, it is a pleasure to pore over the artwork of Stuart Immonen.
Every line, every figure, every expression is perfect!
I mean, look at the faces in the spread shown above: so many subtle emotions being expressed perfectly.
Even Spider-Man's facial expression is made obvious, all-the-while thought a full stocking mask - all without falling into the oft-abused trick of having the "eyes" on Spidey's mask change shape to convey complex feelings... all with a few well-placed lines on his brow.
Kudos to Mr. Immonen!
I hope he stays on the title for a long, long while.
But, sadly, he is but one portion of the creative team.
We are still left with Brian Bendis' half-formed stories, and an absent editorial staff who seem content to let his glaring shortcomings proceed to printed page.
If this entire arc was to establish new rules for magic, then it is an abject failure.
As I related in my review for issue # 5 (ok. once more... [HERE]), not only have the rules NOT been established, but there has been almost NO change whatsoever - barring the loss of a magic Swiss-Army-Knife such as the Eye Of Agamotto and temporary loss of several mystic entities.
No rules have been made.
The new parameters are flimsy and easily subject to abuse or decay.
No explanations have been offered to the situations behind the break-up of the Vishanti, the identity of the "Ancient One" (remember, there were TWO distinct voices being used in issue # 3).
Perhaps... just perhaps, since this story is far from being complete... that those two are the voices of Oshtur and Hoggoth, the two remaining entities of the Vishanti, who were trying to gain access to the Eye before Agamotto could do so.
But then, why would the "Ancient One" visage also be utilized by "Agamotto" in his dealings with the Avengers.
The entire thing makes little sense, and is lacking in details or anything even remotely resembling a resolution.
Instead, we are offered a half-formed concept, a failing set of "rules", and a loose "ending".
We are denied the Eye of Agamotto, (but seemingly still retain the lesser Eye; the "Amulet" of Agamotto, the ORB of Agamotto, and other artifacts of power belonging to him and/or others in the Vishanti, such as the BOOK of the Vishanti)...
However, since modern Marvel have stated that the EYE is the badge of the Sorcerer Supreme, it seems that we are to be denied an "official" Sorcerer Supreme?
Bendis' story also stated that without the Eye, our reality is "forfeit"... so... who will come to collect?
Or is that another dangling plotline?
We are given no answers.
Basically, we are told;
"F*** YOU, It's MAGIC!" * **
*Oddly enough, it's not the first time that such a sentiment was offered by Marvel in recent years.
Writer Joe Michael Straczynski stated that when the questions of the multiple errors, plot-holes and canonical conundrums of the "Deal with Mephisto" in the Spider-Man "One More Day" storyline, was presented to Editor-In-Chief; Joe Quesada, he was met with a reply of "It's Magic... we don't have to explain it!" [source]
**Here, for those who are unaware of the reference, is the original stand-up comedy act that brought to life, the term;
"F*** YOU, IT'S MAGIC"
(Warning: N.S.F.W. due to NONSTOP usage of the "F"-word)