Writer Gerry Duggan (Deadpool, Infinity Wars) and artist Mike Deodato Jr’s (Amazing Spider-Man, Infinity Wars) new Avengers series — quasi-spinning out of the events of the ongoing Avengers: No Road Home — debuting here in its first issue is certainly savage and visually impressive. It is also frustratingly spartan, and narratively ineffective.
What’s it about?
“The most savage, most unkillable team of characters in the Marvel Universe is assembled! Wolverine! Venom! Elektra! Punisher! And in their midst – Conan the Barbarian! Conan has returned to the Marvel Universe and his new adventures begin here. What is the City of Sickles? Who is the Marrow God? How is the Hand involved? The roughest and most dangerous characters rumble through this new title starting with…Conan vs. Wolverine? ‘Nuff said.”
Now, that might sound unappealing or convoluted to some, and I warrant that it’s probably the strangest Avengers team to ever exist. That being said, I am firmly in the camp that comics should be playgrounds for ideas no matter how strange, convoluted, or…comical they might sound in paper. And even if you aren’t in that camp, Jason Aaron’s Conan reboot, accompanied by Donny Cates’ Venom are some of the best books Marvel is putting out today — the impetus and material to make something truly compelling is there.
Unfortunately, Duggan’s narrative misses the mark. Almost entirely, too. In a smattering of scenes which yes, introduce Conan more wholly to the wider Marvel universe, and provide a suitable enough reason for he and Wolverine to fight, little else happens that doesn’t serve to confuse or frustrate the reader. Disparate scenes of our main villain(s) sacrificing people to a blood filled pit in the Savage Lands, Brother Voodoo doing something with The Hand, and subtle hints to the debuts of Venom, and a few other characters do little to forward the narrative in an authentic or sensible way, and the circuitous dialogue — Conan wants treasure, Wolverine could care less Crom damn it — doesn’t help.
There’s little synaptic snaps of joy – Wolverine introducing himself as “Logan of Pabst” for example — that make me authentically hopeful that both the story and character work here will congeal into something more cohesive and enjoyable soon, maybe when the whole team is assembled, but it is undeniably lacking thus far.
Dissimilarly, Deodato Jr.’s art is a singular revelation. Of course, Duggan would deserve some credit for scripting the scenes here, but the tenacity and ferocity with which Deodato brings them to life is the lightning in the bottle effect that cannot be overstated. From an early shot where Wolverine takes a sword through the temple and remains standing, to a later one where he is waylaid by a whole bevy of shurikens and arrows, and onto big scenes like a sickly grinning monster with garishly long fingers emerging from that same blood pit, the visual language of this book as well as its choreography is uncompromisingly realized and, for lack of a better word…cool. It’s exactly the kind of thing people already on the hook for the premise of this series would be expecting, and it might just sway folks who weren’t sold yet, too. The diverse and dynamic colorwork from Frank Martin certainly helps, too, as the scenes journey from burnt oranges and blood reds to cool blues, pitch blacks and mossy greens in a real boon to the tone and storytelling.
Of course, a poor narrative and fantastic art can exist separately from each other, and in comics they often do, but rarely do they do so to the degree that is present in the first issue of Savage Avengers. Where one almost wholly fails at introducing anything tangible or effective, the other is quite the opposite — ferocious and immediately present. It remains to be seen if the two will more closely cohere in the future, and I am hopeful that they will, but for all its premise and posturing, this series has debuted with a bit of a yap more than a bark or bite. Unfortunate, but not un-fixable, and I’m still excited for the next issue.