You should read Kelvin Green's on CB, it was funny.
Up to now, my general opinion of Brian Michael Bendis's superhero comics work has been that he has no idea how to write superhero comics--which one might consider a significant flaw unless, of course, one happened to be a Marvel editor. He can't write action scenes, and he can't put together a plot--both of which are fairly important to the genre. Less important is the ability to write limp pastiches of Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet screenplays, and yet that's what we've had over the past few years.
But wait! Now we have an editorial mandate. Everything is to be part of the Heroic Age, a return to the bright and dynamic adventure stories of the superhero genre's origins, and an explicit rejection of the grim-and-gritty nonsense of the past few years. Surely if there's a time for Bendis to put away his attempts at realism, to stop trying to turn the Avengers into a crime comic, and to embrace the four-colour brilliance of the genre, that time is now!
This issue opens with a group of junior Avengers murdering an old man. In the rain.
It might be useful, at this point, for someone to produce a handy checklist, in the manner of those lists Marvel produce to tell you which comics have nothing to do with the crossover of the month but that they want you to buy anyway. Hang on, I'll do it.
Handy-Dandy “Bendis Can't Write for Toffee”Checklist:
Homogenous Dialogue: Clearly, it is more "realistic" for everyone to sound the same. Even quasi-mythical Norse gods, who should sound like comedy Ren Faire enthusiasts,* get the same speech patterns as everyone else. Who knew? On the other hand, Thor does get one panel where his syntax is so garbled that I'm not sure he's even speaking English--so perhaps Bendis is trying (something other than my patience, obviously).
Plot is for Sissies: The Avengers spend half the issue talking about the Avengers, then Kang attacks them in their own home for a page, then Kang spends the last half of the issue talking about the Avengers. Sigh.
Real Heroes Stand Around Doing Nothing: The Avengers do a bit of rubble-clearing in Chicago at one point, but for the rest of the comic they Stand Around Doing Nothing--almost as if David Finch had never gone away. There's a brief bit of excitement when Kang attacks, but then it's straight back to the important work of Standing Around Doing Nothing. Now Romita Jr is a pretty dynamic artist, so I can only assume that this standing around business is scripted for some clever Postmodern reason that I'm too thick to understand.
Redundant Dialogue: Why say what you mean when you can instead say the same thing over and over again, or perhaps merely babble a load of gibberish? It may not be "realistic," but I tend to prefer it when Earth's Mightiest Heroes aren't stammering imbeciles. Or is that just me?
Referring to Previous Storylines by Their Published Titles: Wonder Man reels off a list of Bendis-era stories, which is just about as sensible as soldiers in 1915 referring to "World War One," but I suppose it's a handy way of pointing readers towards the collected editions. Perhaps in a few months we'll dispense with the charade altogether and just have characters plugging the books directly to the audience like that bit in The Truman Show.
Splash Pages Are Awesome. And Easy to Write: In all fairness, there are only three proper splash pages this issue, and all have a valid storytelling point--so, yeah, we can't count this one. Look at me being all fair and balanced like a proper journalist.
Willful Disregard of Storylines Not Written by Bendis: "For the first time ever, our needs are one," says Kang as he explains the threat facing the world--apparently forgetting that he already did this speech in Avengers #457 in 2001 (or that it's more or less the entire plot of Avengers Forever, a story that perhaps Bendis isn't allowed to read** for fear that the sheer brilliance of it will melt his face like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark).
That'll do for the checklist. If I ever review another one of these before Marvel come to their senses and get Van Lente, Slott, or Parker to write the title, we'll do this again.
John Romita Jr. tries his best and, for the most part, succeeds. His effortless grasp of characterization makes even Standing Around Doing Nothing look good. We even get a fight scene this issue, and JRJR's art begins to crackle at that point as his style is well suited to pages of big things exploding and super-persons slapping each other about on an epic scale. Alas, the "fight" consists of three panels of action and one of Standing Around Doing Nothing, so it's not quite epic as such.
One also has to single out Dean White's coloring, which has all the appearance of having been done with actual watercolours or inks, and is either a pleasing bit of old school artistry or a fiendishly clever bit of technological wizardry. Either way, it's an impressive job. Klaus Janson completes the trio of solid artists and the result is a great looking comic, which only makes the wasted potential all the more bitter a disappointment.
Rounding out the $3.99 package, a bargain at a quarter of the price, we get a text piece written by Bendis. Imagine four pages of that writing, without any pretty pictures as a distraction.
All in all, Avengers (volume four) #1 is your standard Brian Michael Bendis Avengers comic, which will tell you all you need to know about whether you should buy it or not. If you like how the franchise has been ground into the dirt going the past few years, then you'll like this. If you're illiterate, then you'll enjoy the pretty pictures. If you read the text piece, you may very well wish you were illiterate. On the plus side, there is a picture of a sandwich on the back cover.
* Which is part of what we love about Thor and the gang, obviously.
** I have this worry that we're heading for some kind of sequel to Avengers Forever, which, given how well Bendis understood the original Sentry miniseries, will be something akin to a war crime.