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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 03/29/06
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

Each week we look through the upcoming releases to offer our two cents as to what's hot and what's not. You can agree with us or not, but spend your money wisely.

The New Avengers: Illuminati #1
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev

Many years ago, or once upon a time, in Wakanda, seven of the most charismatic (not necessarily most popular) heroes of the Marvel Universe sat down to break bread and discuss a very real problem.

In the aftermath of the Kree-Skrull War, it had become apparent to Tony Stark that every major super team had pieces of information that could have added up to the war happening. Since nobody communicated, they could not get the big picture until it was too late.

Sound disturbingly familiar?

Ahead of time, Illuminati sounded like a cool story idea and an excuse for a major crossover. But in the process of making it all logical, Bendis has a bedrock of meaning that gives this issue more depth than any of its follow-ups are likely to have.

Part of that effect arises out of Alex Maleev's astounding work, a style far different from his Daredevil days. Though he delineates the fantastic, Maleev does so in a way that makes all of them believable. The action is no less powerful, but we can read recognizable faces as they struggle with their fallibility.

The Black Panther, T'Challa, feels real without ever taking off his mask. Nor has Iron Man ever seemed so implacable a shell as he is with Maleev's art, hiding a Tony Stark that may have a heart of steel, even if it is in the right place. The road to Hell just might be paved with his cast-off armor.

In fact, the side that Tony Stark will clearly take in the upcoming Civil War is not the one I expected. Yet Bendis has thought out this character, and the rest of the secret cabal, with great efficiency.

With a few lines of dialogue, he exposes all their hypocrisies, but not in a way that makes these foibles arbitrarily appear for the sake of the story. He's right, for instance, that Professor X should really stop protesting that he never reads minds without permission. Bendis also deftly portrays the icy nobility of Namor without compromising his problematically shifting morality.

Everybody's morality shifts here. Like Identity Crisis for DC, Illuminati gives classic Marvel tales a dark subtext. It doesn't seem forced; instead, it's chillingly reasonable, from T'Challa's prophecy about the group's fate to Iron Man's assessment of himself as a "futurist."

Even the presence of Black Bolt makes sense, though one might think that he might have learned to carry around a laptop computer to communicate, or at least a chalkboard.

Illuminati leaves some big shoes to fill. This may be the most satisfying Marvel book of the year. The publisher may be trying to top it, and they may come close, but this is a rare synergy of good idea, good writer and good artist that still comes out greater than the sum of its parts.

Page 2 -- Blue Beetle #1, Captain America 65th Anniversary Special and more...

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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