AVENGERS UNDERCOVER #1
One of the titles from Marvel NOW! that flew under the radar was Avengers Arena, a Hunger Games-esque story featuring some of the younger heroes from the Marvel U and it certainly made a few splashes as several of the characters died during the events of the series. Following the conclusion of that story, the characters have been laying low for a while, but Marvel has brought them back with another series that in an interesting way serves as a sequel to "Arena" while also telling its own story.
Writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Kev Walker, the original team for Avengers Arena, are back with much of the surviving characters and they've decided to mix things up a bit. The opening issue sets the groundwork for what will become the overarching story of the character infiltrating an evil organization and acting as double agents on the part of the Avengers. This is hardly mentioned in the debut issue, which feels more like a bridge between itself and Avengers Arena.
Hopeless clearly has an understanding of these characters and writes many of them with the kind of conviction and voice that is required for lesser known heroes, but what he has done remarkably well here is how the world has changed from Avengers Arena. Though the characters are the focus, it's how the world reacts to them and the events of the previous series that affects their actions, and that's the kind of story continuation we unfortunately don't see all that often in serialized comics. Usually after The Avengers defeat the bad guy, that's the end of that, but when these characters find themselves in a different world it's a place ripe for plenty of stories. Though some of the dialogue is especially on the nose, he has a good enough grasp on the characters and unique enough world that it's a very fresh story.
What is most memorable about Kev Walker's pencils in the series is how he manages to include so much into so little space. Many of the pages are divided up into a far more than average number of panels, including a lot of exposition, but the art doesn't suffer from the compression. Walker's style feels like a blend of Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers with Olivier Coipel's X-Men, a combo I can really get behind. He hits his peak with the more explosive moments in the comic while some of the more expository sections tend to drag with little visual help, though the sequence with Death Locket in a S.H.I.E.L.D. laboratory is no doubt one of the slowest in terms of pacing but one of the best overall in terms of its artistry.
Don't think that since Avengers Undercover is a continuation of Avengers Arena so that you have to read it first, because that's not true. The creators are telling a story succinct and contained enough that it can be read on its own or as the inherently different "sequel" that it is. New readers will get an intro to lesser-known characters, and long time readers will find a tale unlike anything else Marvel is publishing.
Head over to page 2 for our review of Captain Marvel #1!