One of the most entertaining magic stories ever told is the Disney adaptation of T.H. White's classic, THE SWORD IN THE STONE. The climactic scene between Merlin and Madam Mim, where they engage in a wizards duel, is both suspenseful and amusing. The rules of the duel are simple: they must try to defeat each other by transforming into non-imaginary animals. Mim breaks the rules several times, most notably by turning herself into a dragon. Merlin, however, is able to defeat Mim anyway, by transforming into a germ and making her dragon deathly ill. What's great about this scene is that it imposes clear limits on the characters' magical abilities. The wizards can turn into animals, but can do little else. There are no super spells, no powerful zaps and blasts, no conjuring up invincible spirits. In short, no deus ex machina gimmicks are relied upon. Magic in this story is depicted as a tool rather than as an arbitrary power; the wizards must use their magic cleverly and strategically to succeed. They cannot simply use neat, new powerful spells to get themselves out of trouble.
I bring this up because Bendis has never imposed or followed any such rules when telling magic-based stories. I stopped reading the first volume of NEW AVENGERS, in part because the depiction of Dr. Strange and his powers made no sense. The good doctor could create awesomely complex illusions and transport the team willy-nilly around the world, but he could not stop a plane from crashing. Why? Who knows? Bendis never explained such gaps in the doctor's powers. He was too busy writing pointlessly long conversations between angry teammates to concentrate on the logic of the story itself.
From reading the opening issue of the rebooted NEW AVENGERS, it appears that Bendis will be telling yet another magic story without any logical consistency. This time Dr. Strange is quickly possessed by an unknown evil spirit and transformed into a bad guy. There's a bright mystical light show that accompanies this scene, but I'm not sure what the flashy lights do. I guess they make the book more visually exciting. Why is Dr. Strange so easily possessed? Who knows? Probably because Bendis thinks it's cool to make a good guy bad for a little while. It's an old Marvel cliche, heroes fighting heroes. But after CIVIL WAR and SECRET INVASION, I thought this new heroic age was going to avoid this formula for the foreseeable future. Silly me.
Bendis also gives Luke Cage mystical powers at the end of this first issue. Why? Who knows? Probably because Bendis thinks it'll be cool to see Marvel's biggest badass go all mystical for a story or two. But while this move may be fun and will undoubtedly provide a few eye-popping action scenes, it's unlikely to give the magical side of the Marvel Universe some much-needed definition. If powerful sorcerers are suddenly possessed and if street-level fighters are suddenly magical, then just about anything can happen in this book. For me, that kills the suspense before it even gets started. If the danger comes out of nowhere and if the plot twists come out of nowhere, then I figure the resolution will come out of nowhere, too. To paraphrase a fellow Outhouser, "It's magic, bitch; live with it."
Admittedly, it's still too early to dismiss the NEW AVENGERS completely. Bendis could still pen a story that's logically consistent. But I have this sinking feeling that he will be using magic here as he has before: as a device to complicate and resolve the plot at whim.
On a brighter note, Immonen does an awesome job on the art. He is able to fit a large cast of characters into every panel, without making scenes look crowded or awkward. He's an amazing illustrator, and I'm glad to see him on a major Marvel project. Too bad he's not on a more promising book.
Last edited by Eli Katz
on Fri Jun 18, 2010 4:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.