Comics : New Avengers: Breakout (Prose Novel)
This review was first published on: Mar 2014.
According to the front cover blurb, Wired.Com said: "If you're impatient for a sequel to Marvel's The Avengers... the New Avengers: Breakout novel might be just the thing to tide you over."
Personally, I suspect that's a bit of a stretch.
New Avengers: Breakout (Prose Novel)
Oct 2013 : SM Guest
Find ISBN 9780785165170
Summary: Spider-Man & Spider-Woman Appear
The events of the prose novel generally follow the events of the comic book version, except when they don't.
On the character front, the key exceptions are the excising of Sentry, Daredevil and Wolverine from the mix. The Sentry is a fascinating character, but his presence would have caused an unnecessary distraction, so I can see why he was removed. His comic-book Breakout appearance was one step in a long character development which wouldn't have added much to this book.
Daredevil subsequently declined to join the New Avengers, so removing his appearance probably simplifies matters. Spider-Man pretty much covers his role anyhow. As for Wolverine, well he's just massively overexposed on every front. His absence is almost certainly an improvement!
But the main, and overwhelming change that the book makes compared to the standard continuity is the treatment of the Black Widow. In this book version, Natasha Romanoff is essentially unknown to the heroes and to S.H.I.E.L.D. Specifically, Clint "Hawkeye" Barton has never met her, until he sees her on the bridge of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier. And what is she doing there? Well, sort of spying, except that she's apparently spying in order to determine if she wants to leave the Russian camp and join S.H.I.E.L.D. Or else she's trying to prove that she's a capable spy, in order to improve her credentials. Or something similar. Honestly, it's all rather unclear exactly he Natasha imagined things proceeding.
How they do actually proceed is Natasha being captured by S.H.I.E.L.D.-agent Clint and his fellow-agent Spider-Woman, and then being summarily sentenced without benefit of any legal process to be imprisoned indefinitely in the Raft (the super-villain prison in the middle of New York). This is equally unusual, given that she actually possesses no super-powers. In the final analysis, that entire chain of events is a flawed MacGuffin whose only goal is to give Clint and Spider-Woman an excuse to escort Natasha down to the Raft just at the moment that Electro short-circuits the security systems and allows all the bad guys to escape.
From there, the plot picks up the general path of the original version. Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America and Luke Cage join the fight on the Raft. Some of the villains are captured, but others escape. Among the escapees is Karl Lykos aka Sauron the mind-controlling pterodactyl. The six not-yet-team-mates (Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, Cap, Luke, Iron Man and Spider-Man) do a little investigation to determine that Lykos was indeed behind the breakout, and they follow him to his base in the Savage Land. You know, that tropical, dinosaur-populated micro-climate in the heart of Antarctica.
The nearly-New Avengers take Natasha with them, as a blossoming will-they-won't-they-is-she-just-seducing-him-or-does-she-really-care relationship pretty much takes over the entire story. The New Avengers battle ancient jungle beasts, tackle Brainchild, Lykos and their savage-land mutates, and discover a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. base which has been taken over by Yelena Belova (the other Black Widow). Yelena and her breakaway S.H.I.E.L.D. members are using slave mutate labour to mine Vibranium for fun and profit.
The heroes are captured by the mutates, then escape, then are discovered and attacked by the rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. forces, but are the only ones left standing when the regular S.H.I.E.L.D. forces (lead by assistant director Maria Hill) detonate a nuclear micro-bomb in the middle of the battle. Impressed by Natasha's actions in the field, Captain America demands that Natasha be released to join his "New Avengers". Maria Hill is not inclined to grant his request, but Nick Fury turns up in time to save the day.
Well, that's the "plot". But really, it's not the guts of the story. While the action does keep moving along, it is equally a skeleton for the romantic and inter-personal dynamics that pervade the text.
The primary relationship is between Clint and Natasha. He's a worldly-wise former circus kid, she's a super-spy trained in the art of emotional manipulation. So when her skin tingles to his accidental touch, is she faking? Is he faking? Does she know that he is faking? Or is she faking his belief that he is faking in order to manipulate him on a deeper level?
And what about Jessica and Clint? Is the mis-matched good-agent/bad-agent banter between them actually dynamic erotic tension between two adults who are hiding their emotions? Is Jessica's mistrust of Natasha based on her belief that the Black Widow is manipulating Clint? Or is it actually a romantic resentment?
The other emotional sub-plot examines Peter's loner instinct. How can Luke Cage trust a partner who won't even reveal his true face? Can Captain America build a working team from this motley crew after the Disassembling of his original Avengers? Will these events bring these individuals together, or simply force them apart forever? Well, we know the answer to that one I guess.
These prose novels are faced with an impossible task. Set within overwhelming constraints, they are locked into characters which they can't develop to any significant extent.
Given that character development is the fundamental heart of writing, this leaves most prose novels scrambling to fill the void with action sequences - but are then equally hobbled by the fact that they can't kill off any well-known protagonists (or antagonists). So their ability to generate danger is equally constrained. It's a thankless job all around.
Writer Alisa Kiwtney attempts to work around this problem by changing the starting point, rather than the end point. She resets the Black Widow to "unknown" status, and then "develops" the character by bringing her back to the standard continuity status quo. The dynamic tension is then tied to the basic question "will Hawkeye and Black Widow screw each other or not — and if so, where and when?"
It's a rather roundabout way of squeezing a novel between the gaps of the framework in which she is forced to write. But it mostly works. The result is a super-hero-action-bodice-ripper-breakfast-club-buddy-cop mess which is charming enough just often enough to get you from page one to page last without too much effort.
I give this one three webs, which in the context of the unenviable challenges this genre presents, is actually a pretty good rating.