Thursday, November 29, 2012

NEW AVENGERS v2 # 34
END TIMES: Part 4
- A REVIEW


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NEW AVENGERS (v.2) # 34
END TIMES – PART 4

BENDIS – story
MIKE DEODATO – art
(with “artist jam” assists from: CHUCK BB, FAREL DALRYMPLE, MING DOYLE, LUCY KNISLEY, BECKY CLOONAN & YVES BIGEREL)
RAIN BEREDO – colors


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Be sure to read the reviews of the previous three issues in this arc:
Issue # 31 [HERE]
Issue # 32 [HERE]
Issue # 33 [HERE]
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For those who like quick, spoiler-free, to-the-point reviews, I’ll post here what I tweeted about my take on reading New Avengers v.2 # 34:

"I read #NewAvengers 34. Bendis' #DoctorStrange arc wrap up. Some good, some bad, some BAD!, a few F*@% YEAH's & PLOT HOLES aplenty."

That sums it up nicely.

However, for those who like their reviews slightly more in-depth (and spoilery)… read on.

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*SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT!*

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Ostensibly, with the imperative of wrapping up the loose ends involved with the current story arc (and hopefully also doing so for the dangling plot-lines left over from the previous arcs dealing with Doctor Strange, Doctor Voodoo, Agamotto [and his All-Seeing Eye] and the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme) Brian Michael Bendis produced the script for this issue, wherein Daniel Drumm (Brother Voodoo) seeks the demise of Doctor Strange and the Avengers in retaliation for the death of his brother, Jericho (Doctor Voodoo) Drumm.
It is interesting to note, that in a title called “Avengers”, everyone in this story, not just the heroes, but the villain as well, is trying to avenge someone’s death.

As we saw in the first three issues in this arc, Daniel attacked and seemingly killed both Daimon (Son of Satan) Hellstrom and Jennifer (sorceress, friend of Man-Thing and inheritor of the magic of Zhered-Na)  Kale before turning his attentions to the New Avengers – and Dr. Strange.
Using his ability to possess the bodies of the living, Daniel hopped from one Avenger’s body to the next in split-second exchanges, in order to confuse and sew destruction. He also utilized his abilities to traverse the astral realms, and in so doing, brought about the death of Victoria Hand.

This final issue (both of the story arc, as well as of Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure on the franchise) is all about the final battle of Daniel Drumm (and in essence, due to his body-snatching ability: the entirety of the Avengers) vs Doctor Strange – to the death.

Starting where last issue left off, this issue begins with Strange manifesting among the Avengers, who are being trounced by Daniel Drumm’s body-hopping, hit-and-run combat technique.

However, Bendis immediately forgets the parameters of Daniel Drumm’s powers and has artist Mike Deodato draw the entire Avengers line-up standing against Strange, en masse, when Daniel is only able to possess ONE at a time. Even at split-second body-jumps, he can’t realistically control all the members of both teams simultaneously.
That said, it doesn’t stop the double-page spread, drawn by Deodato, from being 100% filled with F*@% YEAH awesomeness. The implied upcoming ass-kickery is truly exciting.
Also of illustrative excellence is the following page wherein Doctor Strange, dynamically foreshortened, in mystical prestidigitation mode, talks smack and (with the exception of Thor) nullifies the threat posed by these possessed aggressors by wrapping them in the Crimson bands of Cytorrak. Thor however, manages to break them all free with enchanted lightning summoned forth by Mjolnir.

What come next are several pages of battle; but it seems that the reader is the one who feels the most pain from the altercations, as each of the next 6 pages are drawn by a different artist in a “jam session” of conflicting and jarring styles.  Most of these artists (predominantly “indie” illustrators) are either not ready for prime-time, or were the improper choices for a series of scenes as dynamic as these should have been. With the exception of two pages, by Farel Dalrymple and Becky Cloonan, which were nice to look at but were simply the wrong tone for the book, the rest of these jam pages were cartoony and amateurish, and absolutely TORE me from the story and ruined what could have been an epic battle sequence.
However, even therein is something positive about them, as it was very interesting to see some of these artists, who otherwise seem uninitiated to how Dr. Strange's abilities work, bestow upon him some nifty new tricks. Perhaps my favorite new power being Lucy Knisley's portrayal of Strange's spoken spell being shown visually, granting Strange the ability to totally dominate Captain America, effortlessly bringing the super soldier to his knees.

Unfortunately, experimental art aside, Bendis didn’t do much to help things along much either, as it seemed evident that his story needed to wrap up, post haste, and so he chose a truly curious stratagem –  OUROBOROS LOGIC; A.K.A: the PLOT HOLE (or more accurately one of a series of plot holes, not first and foremost, the total disregard of his own [and others’] previous written work)!

The whole contradictory, circuitous logic of the plot resolution deals with the use of dark magic.

Daniel Drumm sought to kill sorcerers who were using dark magicks, since only they would have the true power to defeat him. Strange, ever a wielder of “white” magicks states in the story that “when [he] was Sorcerer Supreme [he] would NEVER EVER use the dark arts.”  Yet, the story-driven reason for Strange giving up the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme was because he did not feel worthy of it – due to his actually using the dark arts - to combat the Hulk during the “World War Hulk” debacle. (This is ignoring the fact that Strange HAD USED the dark arts even prior to that - during the entirety of the 2nd volume of ‘Strange Tales’ - out of necessity. But we’ve long known Bendis doesn’t read [or care about] what comics were written before his).

So, in order to defeat Daniel Drumm (who is in essence using forms of voodoo and necromancy – a dark magic), Doctor Strange must resort to using dark magic, and essentially dissipates Drumm’s spirit into nothingness by utilizing “Zhadana Spell of Astral Form Destruction – from the Scrolls of Damnation!

Damn.

Thus we find that once again (for the third major time for those counting [not including some other minor instances of same]) that when in absolute need, Doctor Strange WILL pull out the black magic cannon.

So, let me see if I understand Bendis’ entire plot resolution to the scenario that he himself put in place: Doc uses dark magic to combat a dire threat, and thus can no longer be Sorcerer Supreme,  is... to have Doc use dark magic to combat a dire threat in order to RECLAIM the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme?

OK. Gotcha.

And to wrap it all up, Bendis uses another plot hole but merges it with a “Deus ex machina” solution. (Ironic in that the very reason for Doctor Strange’s “demotion” from the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme and power loss being a direct result of editorial edict that HE was too much of a “Deus ex machina” – and thus proving the point that I have always stated; it’s not the fault of a character who is used as a “D.e.M” but the poor author who writes himself into a corner and thus has need of one.)

During the battle between Strange and Drumm, we saw Daimon Hellstrom (seemingly alive and well, in a void) speaking to someone off-panel about how all this is a test, and that there needs to be a Sorcerer Supreme. That someone..?

The ANCIENT ONE!

I’ve long been one to call for a return of the Ancient One, in some capacity, to Doctor Strange’s supporting cast, and while I was happy in some way to see him “in the flesh”, it also struck me as wrong.
First, it seemed inherently incongruous that this ancient master, steeped in myth and legend (and since dying having become “one with all”) would be able to be seen by such “mere” mortals as the Avengers. It would have been best if he were only visible to Strange. His standing in the presence of such colorfully attired super-heroes somehow reduces the Ancient One’s status. Does that make sense to anyone but me?

Still, aside from my own personal “feeling” about it is the story-driven fact that it makes little sense.
Remember back in issues # 1 – 6, when the spirit of the Ancient One was the one who stated that Strange was a failure and no good and blah-blah-blabbity-blah, and was in league with “Agamotto” in his efforts to defeat Strange and claim the Eye of Agamotto for whatever purpose? (Seriously, it’s complicated. Just go read my in-depth analysis of that arc [HERE]) Well… with ZERO mention of that whole event, the Ancient One just shows up and deems Strange fit to be Sorcerer Supreme and bequeaths once again to him the Cloak of Levitation and Eye of Agamotto.

But wait…uh…wasn’t the Eye destroyed? Doc sure thought so (and so, by extension, did we). So why is it no explanation is offered?
OK fine, Doctor Strange once again is in possession of the Eye of Agamotto…
Oh, but wait… isn’t Agamotto dead? Depending on which origin of the EYE you follow, it might not even work at all without Agamotto to empower it.
Oh, wait. I know… the answer is so simple. It’s BENDIS!

Still, Bendis continued to do one thing right... he has Stephen Strange THINK (and research) his way to a solution (albeit, off-panel).

And I do need to allow for the admission that seeing Doctor Strange standing triumphant with his talismans, once again the Sorcerer Supreme was indeed a totally F*@% YEAH moment! (and possibly worth the self-lobotomizing required to take all this at face value.)


While my overall thoughts for this story arc are positive ones, there are some disappointments:

The least of which is simply of a cover design –to- story ratio. The quadtych cover should have had Doctor Strange on the cover for # 34 as opposed to # 31. It’s his wrap-up, after all. Iron Fist featured fairly large in issue # 31, so swapping the two characters’ positions in the artwork would have been best – building to the crescendo of the Doctor Strange finale’. But that’s a very minor nit that only an obsessive-compulsive/anal-retentive, art-nerd like myself would note.


Mike Deodato's quadtych artwork for the covers of
NEW AVENGERS v2 # 31, 32, 33 34


One disappointment with the story is that Jericho (Doctor Voodoo) Drumm did not make an appearance. His tale, now, it seems, has been writ. But there is no way I can believe (nor Fred Hembeck, I’m sure) that it was meant to stay as it is, with Voodoo dead. I don’t doubt that the editors in charge had Voodoo’s name on as list of “characters you can kill off”. Heck… Hawkeye was on that list (remember his death in the “Disassembled” arc “NOT LIKE THIS!”) Well, Voodoo has never been popular, and yet… they were actually doing it. Jericho Drumm was growing as a character!

Jericho Drumm as ‘Doctor Voodoo’ was finally a chance at doing right by the character. Bendis treated him fairly well in his early dealings with the character (New Avengers v.1 # 29 - 30) and Voodoo had a better-than-average mini-series of his own, but once Voodoo became “an Avengers character” Bendis used him to further the ends of his own story. Perhaps Thor, in this issue, is being utilized to expresses the proper accusation – but instead of saying it to Dr. Strange, it is Bendis' way of addressing meta-commentary of fans' accusations to Bendis himself; “…YOU killed him. YOU set him up to fail.”
Even so, there were (and still are) many places for Doctor Voodoo to be used in the future.  His brother, as well. Voodoo is in itself a form of magic that deals with death, so I can believe he’ll be back – eventually.

Remember the whole “Drumm of Revenge” notation on the wall-map of Tony Stark’s future-self? (See it [HERE]) In a timeline of big events that affected the Marvel Universe, it was placed alongside such momentous events as the death of the Human Torch and the return of the original X-Men.
Far be it for me to say that this arc presented a minor foeman in the likes of Daniel Drumm (seeing as how he did manage to kill at least one “Avenger”; Victoria Hand), but this entire event took all of a day in “real” time and couldn’t have really been any more “important” than any other adventure.
It seems to me like something more substantial was initially intended, but time constraints, due to the onset of the new 'Marvel NOW!' era and Bendis’ choice to depart the Avengers franchise for all things “X”, led to a quick retooling of the story in the need to set things back to being as close to “pre-Bendis” as possible.

Due to the cyclical nature of the “implied growth” that comics presents, added to the end of the “Bendis-era” on the title, it basically was tantamount to “rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic”.
Unless… perhaps… this IS what was planned (in some manner or other) and the “Event” aspect of the “Drumm of Revenge” is but a simpler way of denoting the myriad aspects of this adventure: the death of an Avenger, the reinstatement of Doctor Strange as the major mystical force, and the “end” of the New Avengers. In which case, sure… I’ll buy that. I do think more was planned, but this will do.

Probably my biggest disappointment (and I know this will sound strange and slightly “blasphemous”,) is that I am NOT a fan of Doctor Strange’s NEW new look. Combining his new black and red costume with the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto is just a fashion nightmare. But THAT is the subject of my NEXT blog post. Look for it this weekend soon!


However, at the end of it all, we are left with Doctor Strange, once again, as the Sorcerer Supreme – and that is a great thing, indeed.





*UPDATE*
Check out the comments section for continued discussion on implied events, theories, the status of the Ancient One & Agamotto, and the fate of Doctor Voodoo.

16 comments:

Mario Di Giacomo said...

Just as a comment:

I'm 99% sure the AO was representing the Vishanti at the end there, possibly as an avatar of Agamotto. If you read carefully, at one point the off-panel "blue voice" uses the phrase "We agree". The Ancient One always speaks in first person, on-panel.

The logic hole is deeper than you think... riddle me this:

1. Stephen vacates the mantle out of some sense of misplaced guilt.
2. The Eye (NOT Stephen) chooses Jericho.
3. Agamotto attacks Jericho to reclaim the Eye, ultimately leading to his death.
4. Later on, Daniel attacks Strange who defeats him and reclaims the mantle.

Now, what we are supposed to believe is that all of this was set up to teach Strange that he was indeed still worthy of the mantle. Except....

In order for this to work, the Vishanti set Doctor Voodoo up, not only to lose, but to DIE. The test doesn't work, otherwise.

Now, if instead, the Eye had never been passed on, and Strange had defeated Agamotto/The Ancient One with dark magics, we'd have an interesting story arc. But by dragging the Drumms into into, Bendis has made the Vishanti beings who murdered a good man (two, technically) as well as a handful of innocents, just for the lulz.

This could all have been avoided, if Jericho had been killed by someone else. ANYONE else. But he wasn't, and the story falls apart.

As for the costume... I've already spoken on it. But it occurs to me that we are never given a _reason_ for Strange to suddenly start wearing the black & red costume, after so many months in civvies. So there's an easy justification for him changing it to something else (My vote is for something more like the Season One look, with a less pointy collar. :) )

Gatchaman said...

I agree with above comment in that the holes in the story logic are as plentiful as a perforated mafioso body after Punisher had at it.

If the Eye was taken away by the Vishanti then the Vishanti should be the ones giving it back to the Sorcerer Supreme, not AO, even though it could happen it seems so very unlikely. You guys have mentioned the rest.

The new black n red costume is terrible, especially how the chest design is now a red trident instead of the iconic energy-demon-bat thing. The best outfit has still been Marcos Martin's version in The Oath.

I actually would have preferred Strange to not get the title of SS back and instead have it tackled much more proficiently in his own or by another writer who, hopefully, wouldn't have fucked up continuity this bad.

Seriously. Thank Oshtur Bendis' run is over!

Anonymous said...

Looking at the Agamotto? Ancient One? good/bad issue, the whole thing is a complete mess. I'm just glad that one, I haven't collected it, and secondly that Dr Strange is back!

Mario Di Giacomo said...

Something occurred to me typing a reply on CBR:

Why didn't Stephen call The Ancient One/Agamotto/the Vishanti on the death and destruction caused by this "test"? Instead, he just accepts it and moves on.

~P~ said...

Thanks for the comments!

Mario - you may not believe me, but i DID think about the whole "test" aspect and how, if the whole thing WERE a test, then Jericho was set up to die.

However, I firmly believe that the ANCIENT ONE meant when he said that "everything is a test" is that LIFE ITSELF is a test.
I do not think that this whole "Agamotto / Eye / Ancient One" thing was a test.

If so, then why (and HERE's ANOTHER PLOT HOLE you may not remember...) was IRON FIST supposed to be a tainted "avatar" of Agamotto?
Remember THAT?
From N.A and 'Iron Man 2.0' - which was the whole reason Iron Fist got the new costume and went a little crazy soon after coming back from his talk with "the Ancient One" - in N.A. #3 or 4 or whatever.

And no, I also do not think that the Ancient One's use of the word; "we" in "We Agree" meant that he was speaking for anyone else (unseen).

I think it was just Bendis' poor grammar for meaning "We are in agreement" or "I agree with you".
I think the A.O. was agreeing with Hellstrom that, YES... there needs to be a Sorcerer Supreme.

But, those are just my 2cent opinions.

Since so much of Bendis' planned works tend to end up unused or forgotten, or "there was no room" we have to work with what is printed.

Except where an IMPLICATION is intended...
as is the case wherein Strange NEVER really states - emphatically - that Daniel Drumm got rid of the other mystics because they would be able to DESTROY Drumm via black magic!

Strange doesn't come out and state that at all, he just says that Drumm killed the others because they were USING black magic.

Then, Doc pulls out the pentagrams and lays down some damnation magic to win the day.

But from all that, we can INFER that Bendis meant that the black arts would be the only way to get rid of Drumm.

Ahh... Bendis. I feel he should give me a portion of his checks since i have to mentally "write" half of his stuff in order for it to make sense.

lol

Mario Di Giacomo said...

I did remember the Iron Fist thing, I just wanted to keep things a bit focused. :)

My biggest hope is that the next solo Strange project ignores a lot of this garbage. There is precedent, after all.

(I'm thinking specifically of Sensational Spider-Man #22)

H said...

I'm with Mario on this one, P: I think the Ancient One was speaking for the Vishanti, or at least Agamotto. Besides the 'we,' there's also a font change in the panel where he hands off the Cloak and the Eye.

But very little makes sense in that whole 'restitution' speech. The most successful moment is actually the fairly banal "Look, you were defending this world the whole time; you inspired others to stand up for you and you in turn stood up for them -- you're the man for the job and everyone knows it" point.

~P~ said...

While I don't doubt that whomever takes over this story (possibly even Hickman) may make it that the Ancient One WAS working with/for Agamotto and the Vishanti (although, he has a LOT of tap-dancing to do to take away the sting of Jericho Drumm's death - BUT I DO have a theory on THAT as well - which I'll add to the end of this reply)... I do NOT think that Bendis had that in play here.

Sure Bendis MAY have intended it as well... BUT... it is NOT what is on the page.
One of Bendis' BIGGEST failings is that he's still writing like a small-time indie writer, and leaving plot points on the cutting room floor because he "ran out of room".

The font change? A simple Typo by the letterer.
If there were MORE than one such font change, then it may mean something. One word balloon? A glitch.

Now, as for how anyone can turn this sow's ear into a silk purse:

Agamotto chose Jericho to be Sorcerer Supreme and set him up to "die" as a test.
But the test is that Jericho was WILLING TO DIE to protect the Earth!

WILLING TO DIE.

That's how Doctor Strange overcame death and became "immortal".

So, this was a test for BOTH of these men.
A test to see if Jericho WAS indeed worthy for the next step.
And a test to see how Strange would handle it.

Both men passed.

Jericho is not truly dead.
He has passed into another realm and is with the Vishanti -who also are not destroyed.

See?
Fixed!

Mario Di Giacomo said...

A useful out, but it needs a bit more massaging.

When Strange passed his trial, he immediately returned to Earth and his duties as Sorcerer Supreme. He didn't hang out with the Vishanti for a lengthy time period afterwards (only person I know who did that was Silver Dagger, and he didn't enjoy it at all :) ).

Furthermore, even if the Vishanti needed Jericho somewhere else... you'd think he'd have at least a free moment to tell his brother he was still alive?

Not sure it works for me. But then again, I've become phenomenally picky about my reading matter as my hair grays (I'll be able to cosplay as Stephen myself in a couple of years. ;) ) so perhaps I'm being unfair.

If I was going to bring back Jericho, I'd pick up some of the danglers from the Voodoo mini, and suggest that the being we thought was Agamotto when Jericho died was actuakky Marinette Bwa Chech in disguise, as was "Daniel", and both brothers Voodoo are prisoners of Ogoun.

That'd give a nice hook for a first arc of a new Strange title (of which I naturally have some thoughts on, but maybe I'll keep those for a rainy day.)

~P~ said...

Mario,
I LOVED much of the Voodoo mini series.
Ogoun has all the makings of a fabulous foe, and I was enjoying the history that was being set up therein.

Like you, I'd hope that if someone were to bring back Jericho, i would hope that they'd tie in those loose plot points.

As for the Strange cosplay, I'm right there with you. I need to replace the photo of myself at the top of the blog... that was taken when I first started the site and my temples have greyed since then.

lol

Mario Di Giacomo said...

I didn't like the series as well as you did (as you may recall from my old blog), but it had some potentially neat ideas in between angsty whining and Dr. Doom worship. :)



H said...

The trouble with the impostor-Agamotto scenarios is that you still hit a snarl -- why didn't the real Agamotto intervene? Did the Vishanti let someone else pose as themselves to test/teach their Sorcerers Supreme?

Jericho Drumm is probably alive somewhere, since Daniel couldn't find him in the nether realms, but preoccupied with something else. Maybe he got drafted into the War of the Seven Spheres and Strange never knew?

Mario Di Giacomo said...

That's not really a deal-breaker. Agamotto has been known to mess with Stephen in the past...

Susannah Redelfs said...

While I am VERY glad that the Doc is back to his old role of SS, and downright ecstatic that Bendis is done mutilating the character to go hack up the X-teams, this was a usual Bendis muddle of a story. And the art was, to put it simply, a downright mess. :-( I really do hope that some competent writer and brilliant artist will take up writing Strange, and do justice to the character. I think the latest series of the Defenders is done--can we hope for a solo title for Strange since they're (theoretically) planning a movie? Let's just hope we don't look back on Bendis' tenure as a sweet dream if they continue to write comics to promote the movieverse.

As usual, a great post, P! I hope to be more active now that I've finally found a place to settle.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

Cirdan said...

Strange should've just stuck to the title of Master of the Mystic Arts while he wasn't Sorcerer Supreme. Maybe he couldn't get the coffee stain out of it so decided Sorcerer Supreme or nothing.

Logic and dialogue aside, I definitely thought the art was wonderful (except the stupid battle cartoons).

It doesn't sound very Strange when he says you went and made me mad, but I was amused by the last words? nevermind. I don't have the vast resources you do, but I have been reading some stuff, and I was thinking of this part when I came across a short scene when Strange says his normal "By the Vishanti!" and the omniscient narrator says any passerbyer would hear "good heavens!"

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