Friday, March 16, 2007

Revolution Part One (Marvel comics)
New Avengers #27 When: April 2007
Why: Brian Michael Bendis How: Leinil Yu

The story so far...
The heroes of the Marvel Universe have been wrapped up in the Civil War, but whilst acting on behalf of the New Avengers in Japan, Ronin, aka Echo, finds herself unsure of where she stands and who she can trust in the battle.

As she infiltrates the Japanese underworld under the guise of an innocent woman, she stalks them as a symbol in the form of Ronin, someone they would never suspect could be breaking them up from right under their noses.

Wise to her game, Elektra and her clan, The Hand, intervene and although Echo sends out for help from her friends, she finds herself forced to confront the deadly assassin and her undying hoardes.

Previous Form:
Elektra (#14): Elektra has victories over Bullseye and Catwoman.
Echo: Echo has not yet been featured on the site.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Elektra 3 (Trained Athlete)
Intelligence: Elektra 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Elektra 3 (Trained Athlete)
Stamina: Elektra 4 (Trained Athlete)
Agility: Elektra 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting Ability: Draw 5 (Martial Artist)
Energy Powers: Draw 2 (Projectile Weapons)

Well, no sooner than I mention how one-sided some of our fights have been, than we get a situation like this, where you get two characters that are so-similar it's almost uncomfortable.

I'd have to be upfront and say I'm not really a huge fan of David Mack's contribution to the Marvel Universe. That's not to say I dislike Echo, I just haven't really invested the time in the character, and would say her handling beyond the introductory storyarc has probably been less than stellar.

I don't know what I would say about the Ronin suit. It might have some limited armor, but it's hard to tell if that's really anything substantial. It doesn't appear to slow her down, so I guess that levels things out.

Essentially she's maybe falls somewhere in the center of an attributes triangle that has Daredevil, Elektra and Bullseye on the three points. Certainly some of the more glaring parallels are with Elektra, but she shares traits with the two males of this corner of the universe, too. The nature of her imitative abilities -- which come from being deaf -- draw an obvious comparison to Matt Murdock's dis-able-abilities. Her abilities for execution of techniques brings Bullseye to mind.

While she seems to encompass the best of the three worlds, the character certainly hasn't earned her place in the Marvel Universe, and Elektra's far greater palette of experience gives her a massive edge.

It's up for argument to say who is the more skilled warrior. I would lean toward Elektra, but that may perhaps be because of those above listed reasons.
I feel Echo still has a ways to go before she earns initiation.

The Math: Elektra (Meta Class)
The Pick: Elektra and The Hand

What went down...
Having battered and stalked the denizens of the Japanese underworld, Ronin attracts the attentions of the assassin Elektra, and her band of Hand ninja. It was only a matter of time before this situation presented itsself.

Ronin leaps into action against the Hand, disarming some of them of their swords, ony to use the weapons on the freakish ninja creature themselves.
Ronin pops necks and slices through red robes, as the ninja burst into clouds of disgusting smoke all around her.

Elektra studies her adversary as the Ronin cuts through her hoardes.

For every ninja that goes down, there seems to be another, but Ronin remains steadfast in battle. Jumping kick, nunchaku, sweep, roundhouse kick, open palm to the skull -- Spak! Spak! Spak! -- the Hand go down.

That leaves only Elektra, and although she's ready, Ronin does not wait for her to initiate the attack.

They crash through a window out into the streets surrounding and spill into the alley below. Ronin seems to come off second, but still manages to deflect sai attacks with defensive nunchaku swipes.

Elektra blocks a kick, and slips around the jab. Another fist, and a boot find Elektra's palm and wrist, blocked and blocked again.

Ronin leaps a lunging fist, and Elektra uses the moment to retrieve her sai blades and that's the last tactical error Ronin has the opportunity to make.

Disregarding of any armor or additional protection the Ronin suit might provide, the pierce of the sai buries deep and true, finding flesh before straining against more bulk and material.

Elektra holds and then lowers her defeated opponent down, almost gently.
She pulls back at the cowl to reveal the red swelling eyes of Echo. Elektra knows her foe, and perhaps it's that, or perhaps it's the strength of her courage in battle that leads Elektra to do something inadvertently noble.

As the leader of the Hand Elektra is privvy to many things, and that includes mastery over life and death.
She orders Echo's resurrection. She will become one of her warriors, and will never lose like this again. She will live. For now.

The hammer...
For formality's sake alone, let us declare Elektra the winner!

Personally the farce that was the first Ronin saga, when it eventually arrived some months after various cover appearances (and a redesign), just dragged the character Echo further into the mire of what's to be disappointed with in comics.

Likewise, I skipped over her arc in Daredevil which interrupted part of Bendis and Maleev's run on the book. It's fair to say a mini-series probably wouldn't have sold as well as this, but it served a rare opportunity to cull a regular purchase from my list. Which again, isn't a slight to the character or Mack, but more the unfortunate handling of all these things, and having a limited budget as a comics reader.

Again we arrive at an unfortunate situation where the character is actually treated quite well, and finally it feels like there's a justification for the Ronin character to exist -- but again, there's a catch that is a little displeasing.
I think we've discussed before the disappointing nature of Brian Bendis' work on New Avengers, which has been compounded by Civil War, which left Bendis very little room to redeem his less than stellar take on the team.

Again we find ourselves in a situation where Bendis is actually displaying what makes him an enjoyable reader, but the Ronin story joins a slew of others that push the Avengers team very much to the back table.
To the credit of the issue, the latter third is dedicated to the new New Avengers -- the team that exists post-Civil War -- but it's still disappointing to see one of the better New Avengers issues featuring a tight focus on one individual character.

Wha Huh?! overlooked the existing What The...?! franchise, and it feels as though this book overlooks the pre-established [defunct] Avengers Spotlight series. A book where it would probably have felt much more at home.
Well, maybe that's downplaying the team cameo that does find it's way into the book, but never the less... Mixed feelings when it comes to rating this as an issue.

Fun to continue to diversify the characters featured in 2007, though, and also nice to get some more girls on the site. By the sheer nature of comics, and specifically fighting comics, I think we're always going to be bound slightly tighter to the male characters. Mind you, I think DC has become the greater minority on the site than females. Sorry, guys!

This was a prescheduled fight, and much to my chagrin the
rampaging Ragnell was off her game, and alerted her readers to International Women's Day a few days late. So, consider this a conveniently timed belated contribution.
With the current format I like the idea of playing to some of these themes, and via Ragnell and the Written World, it was one I was aware of and awaiting.

[If YOU know of an interesting theme or topical day coming up, drop a comment and let me know! - Calendarious Mike]

With so many comics floating around, themes like these are a nice excuse to force something onto the page. I don't want to overload Fridays with Marvel contributions (in light of Mondays and Wednesdays), but there was a recent duke that fits the criteria, so maybe in a few weeks.

I guess it's kind of a topical time to be featuring women in comics, with the release of the testosterone charged military masterpiece in 300 the movie.
Certainly on both sides of the big two fences there have been efforts to introduce more female characters. Contributions like Echo, and the new White Tiger, Batwoman and Question all respectively add another little twist.

Pfffft! We know this extra ranting is just an excuse to get this last scanned panel in, because it didn't fit in earlier!...Perhaps the only unfortunate thing, and again this is something we've discussed before, is the derivative nature of their characters. Even Echo, the most individual of the four listed, shares many similarities with characters already existing, including Elektra.

In a world where we haven't seen it time and time again, the poignancy of being christened on Elektra's sai might have been there, but this just feels like another chapter in Echo's following in the footsteps of Elektra, which maybe even cheapens the first character to a degree.

One can't help but flash back to interviews where creators, like Bendis, have expressed their reluctance to involve themselves with "Frank's character", but then go ahead and do something like this. Maybe that's even the motivation.
Maybe Echo is an opportunity to have cake and eat it too, I don't know, but it's a little disappointing, none the less.
Time will tell if it becomes a ham-fisted character device, or is just the fairly logical happenings of a superheroine in the universe.

One last thing I have to praise is Lienel Francis Yu!
I don't know if it's the coolest thing in the world to admit, but I really liked his pencil work on Wolverine around the mid and late nineties, and I think this issue just completely stepped it up. In a way he's almost like a more overtly pencilled Alex Maleev, and the colour palette here kind of nurtures this feeling.

So, despite my chagrin of it being New Avengers, full credit to the colour palette and the overall presentation of the issue. Certainly it evokes some of the qualities of Alex Maleev that works so well with Bendis' writing, but Yu brings a vibrance and kinetic action that Maleev might not be able to. Just a shame it was so short!

EDIT (June 17): You are no doubt aware by now that revelations from New Avengers #31 reveal that this was not Elektra at all, but rather a well trained Skrull facsimile! Rankings have now been changed accordingly.

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 5.5

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