The recently released The New Avengers Vol. 1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Stuart Immonen may be the best comic I never read when I was 12 years old. It features a to-the-brim team roster filled with marquee characters like Wolverine and Spider-Man, who share the spotlight with underappreciated B-listers such as The Thing, Ms. Marvel, and Luke Cage. The weird and mustachioed Dr. Strange arrives in a haze of smoke and light along with characters who would have been mostly unknown to me, like Iron Fist, Doctor Voodoo, Jessica Jones, and Mockingbird (super-power: goggles?). There are plenty of supernatural, demonic happenings afoot--mainly a character named "Daimon Hellstrom," who bears a flaming pentagram on his chest, which would explain why he never wears a shirt--and a dimensional rift that sends ghostly baddies clawing their way into the Marvel Universe. Insane comics like this are why my 12-year-old self never learned to properly throw a baseball--why go outside when I could obsess over a character named Doctor Voodoo?
The book's plot centers on Dr. Strange stressing over the loss of "the eye of Agamotto," a missing mystical trinket of apocalyptic importance, but no one on the team can fathom a villain who could muster the power to steal it. Cue Spider-Man:
"Maybe this Agamatto dude just wants his eye back." The team is stunned into silence, then Spider-Man says, "I, uh, I was joking. Is there an actual Agamatto and is that his actual eye?"
Dr. Strange (incredulously): "Yes."
Writer Brian Michael Bendis spreads plenty of dialogue around the New Avengers team, with The Thing and Ms. Marvel fighting for their lives while discussing the merits of the first Ghostbusters film, but Bendis saves the best for Spidey. At one point, Strange is possessed, and Wolverine defensively sinks his claws into him. Strange wakes up, heals himself with magic (sure), and then thanks Wolverine for his quick thinking: the stab shook Strange free from the spell. "He didn't know that," quips Spider-Man. "He stabbed you just to stab you."
Come for the demons and laughs but stay--and linger--for Stuart Immonen's incredible artwork. In this collection's six chapters, Immonen makes a play for the best contemporary superhero artist, and I cannot think of anyone who captures characters and travels panels the way he does. Everyone looks his or her best without puffed-up posing. Immonen flatters them in fluid lines that meet in sharp angles and dramatic shadows. Here's an odd compliment: he draws the best hair around. Where does the slight breeze come from that always seems to catch Ms. Marvel's hair (see above cover)? I've followed Immonen since his name-making days in Nextwave, but he's only improved, giving greater depth to figures and expressions. Inker Wade Von Grawbadger (not a supervillain) and colorist Laura Martin, with Matt Milla and Rain Beredo, all likely share in this growth.
The New Avengers need no further introduction, and if the next volume is as good as first, I may never throw a baseball again.