You'll find this hard to believe, I know. But there are writers and artists, as well as presumably editors, who don't seem to care about whether their work makes sense to anyone beyond the die-hard fanboy. Pity the guileless consumer who decides to shell out for a copy of, to take but one prominent example, The New Avengers #21, in the naive expectation that they'll be able to both understand and enjoy what's going on within the comic's covers. Sadly, neither sense nor entertainment awaits them. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has artist Mike Deodato open the issue with an shot of the Avengers Mansion surrounded by thousand of New Yorkers protesting against the presence of trouble-magnet superheroes in their city. We're then shown Jessica Jones, her baby and Squirrel Girl leaving the Mansion and walking into the crowd, an act of apparent bravery matched with a supposedly touching vulnerability which eventually inspires some of the protest's more volatile elements to riot. It's a scene designed to pluck, pluck and pluck again at the reader's heartstrings. There's the brave super-heroines, the beastly swarming mob, the obligatory fight-scene, the humorous and yet strangely impressive attack of a swarm of squirrels clearing a path for our plucky female leads, and there's even a genuinely amusing punchline to close the sequence.
|Jessica Jones, helpfully lining up herself and her baby for any super-villain's assassination attempt. After all, with Norman Osborn free again, why wouldn't Jessica be wandering around in the open in such circumstances?|
But the problem is that the scene doesn't make sense. It's all sensation and no substance. As unbelievable as it sounds, we're never told why Jessica Jones is behaving as she is in the first place. Why has she chosen to inflame an already obviously combustible situation? Where is she going and why is she headed there? She's presumably going away for quite a while, given the size of the suitcase she's carrying, and yet there's no sense of what she's doing or how it makes her feel. Is she pleased to be leaving, is she concerned about those folks she's left behind? Is she determined not to allow the crowd to intimidate her, or even striding out to try to talk sense to them before she moves on? Who can possibly say? The situation is never explained to us, which means that we have no idea at all of what the point-of-view character's motivation for the scene is. Worse yet, the little information we have been given by the preceding text page has informed us that:
"Norman Osbourn has escaped from prison and has previously threatened Jessica Jones' baby. This has rattled her to the core."
Lets leave aside the possibility - suggested by that last sentence's phrasing - that Jessica's baby is somehow smart enough to be exceptionally nervous about her own safety. (Many of Marvel's text introductions are apparently written by folks who'd struggle to attain clarity with a four-item shopping list.) Instead, let's consider the probability, based on the little information that the causal reader's been given, that only an idiot in such circumstances, "rattled" or not, would (a) make a such a clear target of herself and her child in the open while (b) plunging into a massive crowd of discontented ne'er-do-wells so obviously opposed to The Avengers. Had Jones discounted the probability that it's no coincidence such a demonstration of hostility has boiled up just as Osborn's regained his freedom? Is she so impossibly thick that she doesn't consider that such a crowd would be perfect cover for any number of villainous individuals intent on causing the Avengers hurt? Hasn't she the wit to glimmer that such a congregation of folks raging against The Avengers might not take well to one of the super-team's own striding into their midst?
|Apparently the only way out of Avengers Mansion is through the big gates where the thousands of angry people are. This is, it seems, true even so for a super-heroine who can fly. (What? No back door, no other gate?)|
To show somebody behaving so irresponsibly surely requires an explanation? After all, Jones doesn't need to be behaving in this way. She can actually fly, for one thing, which means that she could pop across the field behind her home, slip up and over whatever boundary marker exists there, and be gone without attracting very much attention at all. But then, the Avengers possess Quinjets which would allow her to exit the Mansion without putting herself in a fraction of the danger which she chose to face, and there's a host of members and associates who could, one way or another, ensure her, and her baby, safe passage. Even if for some reason Jessica herself can't take to the air, it still seems unlikely that the huge expanse of parkland which is shown surrounding the Mansion lacks any other exit except for the one obvious set of gates surrounded by the folks with bullhorns and placards. Why would Jones ever choose to head right into the only significant source of jeopardy that's in any way threatening her, and why would she do so carrying her child with her as she goes?
There's no good answer available in the pages of The New Avengers #21 to any of those questions, apart from that suggested by the fact that Mr Bendis' script needs Jones to behave stupidly in order for events to pan out as he wants. Common sense, it seems, would only get in the way of all that citizen-bluster and squirrel-pandemonium.
These aren't the only problems with this four-page opening sequence, though you'd think that would be enough for any writer concerned with the plight of irregular or even unfamiliar readers picking up The New Avengers. There's also the fact that a huge, antagonised public demonstration has gathered outside an institution central to one of the most important components of America's Nation Security State, and yet there's not a single police officer in sight. How is this possible? You'd expect the NYPD to be out in numbers if that many people appeared anywhere in town, and yet somehow there's nobody at all supervising this mass of discontent. That actually seems even more unbelievable that the appearance of what seems to be dozens of massive, crowd-suppressing super-squirrels at the scene's conclusion. Who knows where that scury of cutesy terrors has leapt from. Amusing as it might be for anyone so meta-conscious of comics history that they can playfully swallow the idea of Squirrel Girl's rodent army clearing a path for nanny, mother and child, it's also an entirely opaque matter to everyone else who's so unforgivably ignorant of the minutiae of Marvel lore.
What we have in this scene is an unnecessary complex and contradictory set of challenges being thrown at the less-than-regular reader of The Avengers. Perhaps those folks who've been following the series know why Jessica Jones is behaving so stupidly, or even where she might be going and why, but for the rest of us, the sequence is baffling. (The neophyte reader really is left entirely without safety wheels. To take but one example; Squirrel Girl isn't even named in the text, and nor are her super-powers mentioned, let alone explained.) On the one hand, the reader's being expected to know who these characters are in terms of their identities and their powers, and yet on the other, the reader's required to forget that they've ever seen Jessica behave in anything other than an entirely imbecilic fashion. A touch of the relevant details explaining clearly what's to come on the textpage might have helped, just as a degree of plot-seeding and foreshadowing in the story proper would have. Yet The New Avengers #21 is the product, it seems, of creators who just don't care whether their work means anything other than noise to those of us who (a) don't belong to the fannish, buy-every-issue Rump, and yet,(b) have tried to pay attention to what we've previously read.
To be completed on Sunday;