Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, and Al Vey
Colors by Antonio Fabela and Chris Bachalo
Lettering by VC's Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
Despite being comprised of a cast of killers and psychopaths, Dark Avengers Annual #1 is an different animal: This is a story about faith, and about redemption. Following Marvel Boy after his defection from Norman Osborn, this story not only takes the interdimensional Kree warrior to new places, but it also represents some of the best qualities of its creative team.
First, a disclaimer: I haven't always liked Brian Michael Bendis' work. While I find his Ultimate Comics Spider-Man some superlative stuff, in many other books -- including the main Dark Avengers title, and New Avengers, on occasion -- I felt his dialogue was a little over-the-top, a little jokey, a little overwritten. But with this annual, I am more than happy to eat my words. For this story, Bendis' prolific dialogue just fits -- Marvel Boy is a character who isn't just on the run, but is morally and spiritually adrift. It's a simple question: "Why am I here? What do you want me to do?"
Yet by tying Marvel Boy back to the Kree Supreme Intelligence, Bendis gives this story an almost religious feel -- trying to recapture his ties to his homeworld is less science and more like a confessional, and it's a great way to lay in exposition about the dangerous Dark Reign he is living under. Something else that Bendis should be applauded for is the fact that he largely seems to be reining in his occasional tendency to go crazy with the word balloons -- while sometimes it's a little noticeable, oftentimes Bendis really seems to pace himself, allowing himself to really get a good feel of the alien "anti-voice" that Noh-Varr possesses.
I think a lot of the reason all this works has to be Chris Bachalo and company. In a lot of ways, I've seen Bachalo as the same acquired taste as Bendis -- when he hits, he hits, and when he misses, it hurts. This issue is not just a hit: it's a grand slam. From the opening splash of Marvel Boy diving from Avengers Tower to the claustrophobic, shadowy streets of New York City, Bachalo makes it work. While the splash pages not only allow the readers to soak in the details (and Bendis' captions), the fight scenes interestingly go smaller in the panels -- it's not necessarily a choice I would have expected, but it's to Bachalo's credit that he makes the unorthodox compositions and panel layouts work for the reader.
Additionally, the use of color by Bachalo and Antonio Fabela is just fantastic -- it goes from black-and-white to dingy oranges and reds, and there's this real oppressive use of shadows and grit that adds such an atmosphere to the whole piece. Something else that should be noted is the surprising use of the color white in this issue -- but again, it's all masterful usage that makes Bachalo's pencils pop. Letterer Cory Petit should also be commended for his work -- the placement of the balloons never interferes with the art, and the white text on black backgrounds helps establish both the dark mood of the world, as well the otherworldly nature of our hero.
As someone who hasn't been as enthusiastic about some of the creators' work, or even the Dark Avengers title as a whole, I have to say that this annual is some sublime work. Do I always like the direction it took? Not necessarily -- but just because I wasn't keen on Marvel Boy's new status quo doesn't mean I don't think Bendis and Bachalo didn't earn it. If you're looking to get some more information on Noh-Varr and the future of Marvel Boy, buy this book -- both the creative team and its alien protagonist shoot for the stars, and boy, does it ever pay off.