Introduction: Why I Love Comics

For anyone reading this, welcome to the Comic Book Column! In future entries, I will be discussing several storylines and famous comic books. In this entry, however, I want to illuminate my own background in the subject matter, along with why I write about comics.

Growing up, I was enamored with anything science-fiction related: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Ben 10, you name it. I was entranced by the genre. These larger than life stories with settings that ranged anywhere from outer space all the way back down to the sewers of New York captured my imagination and took me away.

Superheroes were never a huge focus for me. I saw a few Spider-Man cartoons, and Batman was in my periphery, but nothing really stood out as amazing. This all changed in the third grade with the release of one movie: Spider-Man 3. If you’ve seen Spider Man 3, that must sound strange. Spider-Man 3, the movie that ended the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy on a rather sour note, inspired my interest in superheroes, and eventually, comic books in general. At the time, however, as a nine-year-old, I didn’t see the cringe-inducing dance scenes or the overstuffed plot. All I could see were the colorful costumes and amazing powers on display. From Spider-Man’s red and blue suit swinging on the big screen, to Venom’s gigantic mouth with razor sharp teeth and protruding tongue, I was fascinated.

“Wise man once say, forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza”.

I went to see Spider-Man 3 in the theater a few times, each time awing at the special effects and action sequences. The larger-than-life story of Peter Parker captured my imagination. My fascination escalated from then on. At the school book fair, I bought an encyclopedia on Spider-Man, reading up on each and every character and concept within this amazing world I had discovered. From the colorful rogues’ gallery of villains, to each and every power which Spider-Man possessed, I learned it all in no time. I then rewatched all of the 90s Spider-Man cartoons, along with the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, until I could recite lines verbatim. Every fight scene, every word, all became a part of me. Then  I learned that there were 45 years of comics to read about this amazing, spectacular, sensational web-head, stories that were ongoing to this day. Needless to say, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s web-slinging wonder had me from that point on, forever.

Pretty cool for a third-grader

Ultimately, this unbridled passion was very simple: I wanted to be Spider-Man. He was smart, funny, and kind. He had an amazing power set, and went on awesome adventures. I’d be hard pressed to think of a kid who wouldn’t aspire to these qualities. The most important part of this aspiration, however, is that I didn’t just want to be Spider-Man.I felt like I could be Spider-Man. I was no genius, but I felt I was a reasonably smart kid. I could make a good joke every now and then, although I was no great comedian. I may not have the proportionate strength of a spider, but ultimately, I did my best to be a good person. At the end of the day, I felt that being a good person was a fairly attainable goal. That idea resonated with me above all: be a good person and do the right thing.

Sheer inspiration.

Fast-forward about 13 years into the future. I remain more invested in the wonderful world of comics than ever. It may come as a surprise that I never really outgrew stories about people with strange powers in colorful spandex, but there are plenty of features that kept me interested in comics over the years. For one thing, while Spider-Man is still certainly my favorite character in comics, there have been so many different stories that have caught my attention over the years. From the drama of the X-Men‘s “Dark Phoenix Saga” to the dark and gritty corners of Batman by Frank Miller, comics maintain a plethora of characters in which I have become engrossed. If I grew bored with Spider-Man one day, Superman was a good change of pace. If the X-Men were too moody for me, I could count on the Fantastic Four to cheer me right up. I could explore any part of the Marvel or DC universes at any time I wished.

Comics on infinite earths…

These characters are also diverse in their appeal and transmit different messages which can apply to different times in one’s life. In my angsty middle school years, for instance, the X-Men were relatable for their feelings of alienation and marginalization from regular society. Batman connected well in high school for his preparation in the face of any obstacle, all the while remaining calm and collected. In college, the dysfunction of Marvel characters such as the Hulk and the Fantastic Four resonated during a time of offbeat, idiosyncratic adventures. Through these diverse sets of character types, one message remained a constant, since I was nine years old: do the right thing.

Protecting a world that hates and fears them

The overall impact of this message on my life has only been exacerbated by one of the most comforting yet frustrating ideas in comic books: the story never ends. Today, all of the characters I have grown to love and learn from continue their stories in the pages of comic books. Spider-Man still fights the Green Goblin and struggles to make ends meet. The X-Men still protect a world that hates and fears them. Batman, for over 80 years, has continued to protect the streets of Gotham City. While there are certain criticisms over the fact that there can never really be a true, satisfying ending for these characters, I find this idea to be a comfort. All of the characters with whom I relate, from whom I learn, and about whom I love to read, continue on as I do. Spidey and I have been going strong since 2007, and even as he has had his marriage erased, gotten rich, been mind-swapped with Doc Ock, lost his fortune, and gotten back together with Mary Jane, he has remained Spider-Man. In the same way, I have gone through school, moved from my hometown, started college, and nearly graduated, while generally remaining the same person I am now. The amazing thing about comics is having these companions who travel with me through my journey, just as they journey themselves through different stories, writers, and artists over time.

The more things change…

It is this endurance of characters through comic books that make it such a unique medium. Even outside superhero comics, comic books have a way to continue where movies and television shows simply cannot. Actors grow old. TV shows end, never to return. Movie franchises finish off, and creators move on to new projects. The wonderful thing about comics is the way in which the medium can pick up where other mediums leave off. TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, and Firefly are all given room to continue and expand their lore within the world of comics, even after their respective TV runs are finished. Movie franchises such as Star Wars are allowed more space via a universe in the comic realm. Even childhood classics such as TMNT are revived and given new life within the pages of their own comic book. Not only do comic books allow for a continuation of these franchises, but the medium also has more story potential, unrestricted by special effects budgets or actor availability. From this freedom, movies and television can continue in a more imaginative direction than ever, including any characters the writer can think of, along with big ideas restricted only by a budget of the artist’s imagination.

TMNT Forever

It is my goal for this blog to share the love of comic books. I want to share all of the characters that have shaped my life from age nine onwards, along with the values they imbue upon readers everywhere. I want to discuss the best stories told in the medium of comics, superhero or otherwise. Most importantly, I hope this blog can illuminate what makes the medium of comic books so fantastic. The artwork, writing, and everything that makes comics what they are, deserve recognition for the distinctions they provide for the medium as a whole. It is these distinctions which have allowed comics to endure as long as they have, and allow them to continue to endure today. In the spirit of the enduring nature of comics, I intend to review not only comics I have read in the past, but also comics I will be reading for the first time as this blog continues. Even 13 years later, I am still discovering many wonderful comics, and will continue to explore this world for years to come. In that vein, I invite everyone reading to join me on this journey to discover endearing characters, larger than life ideas, and what makes comic books so enduring as a medium.

Bendis’ Avengers: Fear Itself Tie-Ins

In hindsight, the Avengers/New Avengers tie-ins for Fear Itself are some of the weirdest comics I’ve read. The central gimmick, featuring the Avengers talking to a camera in a mockumentary style, is certainly something Bendis hadn’t done in his previous Avengers comics. Even though it was fairly unorthodox, Bendis’ approach to these issues of Avengers/New Avengers had its charms. The insider perspective on the Avengers’ biggest battles which these issues provides makes Fear Itself feel more intimate. It’s this sense of intimacy which made the New Avengers issues particular favorites of mine. Bendis shrinks the focus of these issues, spending time with lesser-known characters like Squirrel Girl. Additionally, the classic street-level hero, Daredevil, joining the New Avengers, keeps the scale small while ramping up excitement for future New Avengers comics. Indeed, the Fear Itself tie-in comics are great at incorporating this massive event into Bendis’ existing Avengers narrative. Seeing Bendis put his own spin on an event which he didn’t write puts Fear Itself within the context of Avengers/New Avengers.

Guess the team’s sick of tie-ins too…

The events of Fear Itself are fairly straightforward. Cul, the Asgardian god of fear, invades the mortal plane and stirs panic around the globe. The god is aided by the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, and a group of warriors known as “the worthy”. These warriors are, in reality, a handful of superheroes and villains who have been possessed by Asgardian hammers, morphing into powerful slaves for Cul. All the while, the Avengers are hard-pressed to stop Cul and his forces. Within Bendis’ Avengers run, several recent events also inform the Fear Itself tie-ins. Squirrel Girl, for example recently became the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter. Faced with the perils of living in Avengers Mansion, Squirrel Girl found herself challenged in protecting the baby. Additionally, Mockingbird had recently taken the Infinity Formula, which prolonged her life after a near-fatal gunshot wound. The side effects of this formula remained to be seen. Finally, the main Avengers team had just recruited Noh-Varr, a Kree Warrior who was still adjusting to life on Earth, and the Red Hulk, the newest Avenger. Both of these members still had much to experience when it came to being an Avenger.

Fear Itself was an inside job…?

Centering around Fear Itself, these issues of Avengers/New Avengers undergo a drastic change in format. Indeed, the Fear Itself tie-ins are framed by a documentary, interviewing each member of the Avengers throughout the events of these issues. Every issue provides the reader with distinct perspectives from several Avengers, specifically focused on the specific events of the issue. These interviews act as a framing device for the narrative of each individual story. Bendis uses each issue to tell smaller, stand-alone stories which could not fit into the main Fear Itself mini-series. Each story occurs during Fear Itself, filling in the gaps by focusing on events which took place off-panel. While these tie-in stories demonstrate more of the Avengers’ role during Fear Itself, they also facilitate new developments for both Avengers and New Avengers. For example, Daredevil joins the New Avengers, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye develop a relationship, and Mockingbird deals with the side effects of the Infinity Formula. Bendis finds a way to incorporate these issues of Avengers/New Avengers into Fear Itself while still moving both series forward.

How would you react to a possessed Hulk?

The only recurring characters throughout the Fear Itself tie-ins are the small squad of Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Noh-Varr, and Hawkeye. This group has a solid dynamic, as the reader can tell that Bendis enjoys writing each of these characters. Spider-Woman, in particular, gets the most attention during these issues. After returning to Earth following the skrull invasion, Spider-Woman didn’t receive much focus during Bendis’ New Avengers/Avengers runs. These Fear Itself tie-ins, however, finally place Jessica Drew in the spotlight. The issue where Spider-Woman faces off against the possessed Hulk does much to illustrate her intelligence and quick-thinking. The mockumentary-style storytelling also adds much to Jessica’s character, focusing on her desire to prove her worth as an Avenger. I do take issue, however, with Spider-Woman and Hawkeye’s romance. Neither character showed any hints of interest towards each other beforehand, so the whole relationship comes out of nowhere. Additionally, the romance sub-plot feels unnecessary to the comic in general, adding nothing of value to the Avengers series. Despite this forced romance, the other members of the team are also given great character moments. Ms. Marvel boasts her leadership skills in the absence of Captain America and Iron Man. Indeed, Carol Danvers leads this squad into battle against the possessed Hulk and even Sin herself. Danvers’ anger around Bucky Barnes’ death also shows her strong devotion to the team. When the Avengers lose one of their own, she takes it personally. Overall, Ms. Marvel’s ongoing arc as a leader is given a great deal of attention here. Noh-Varr, finally, is the perfect rookie-Avenger. The Kree warrior experiences ups and downs, realistically depicting his early missions with the Avengers. While Noh-Varr does make mistakes, such as under/over-estimating his weaponry, he makes up for these mistakes through his formidable intelligence. Using his brains and advanced technology, Noh-Varr proves himself a valuable asset to the Avengers.

Smashing her place onto the team…

While this squadron of Avengers receives the most attention, Bendis still spends much time exploring several other characters. Squirrel Girl, for example, receives a good stand-alone story during Fear Itself. In the context of Bendis’ New Avengers, Fear Itself does a lot to progress Squirrel Girl’s character arc. Specifically, the reader gets to see what qualifies Squirrel Girl to be the New Avengers’ nanny. Squirrel Girl summons an army of squirrels against Sin’s army and defeats Wolverine in hand-to-hand combat, clearly displaying her qualifications for the job. All the while, Squirrel Girl maintains her endearing, relatable personality. Although formidable, the New Avengers’ nanny is still scared out of her mind, frantically fleeing from danger to protect the baby. In another instance of relatability, Squirrel Girl is star-struck when she meets Daredevil. Bendis never loses sight of Squirrel Girl’s down-to-Earth nature. Generally, this is where Bendis excels: giving a voice to obscure characters and fleshing them out more. Indeed, the reader gets a brief glimpse into Squirrel Girl’s life outside of the Avengers, attending NYU as an undergraduate student. Squirrel Girl’s inclusion in Fear Itself provides a good look at her role in the event, while also delving more into her character.

They’ve gotta give her dental for this…

Outside of Squirrel Girl, Bendis explores several other individual characters’ roles during Fear Itself. In fact, Bendis takes the opportunity to introduce new members to the Avengers, such as Daredevil. Including the man without fear in Fear Itself goes a long way in demonstrating the scope of this event. A global attack by Cul and Sin is especially prevalent in highly-populated areas such as New York. This catastrophe, then, would naturally attract more locally-based heroes like Daredevil. If nothing else, Bendis gives the reader a good look at the impact of Fear Itself on street-level heroes. Yet Bendis goes a step further, demonstrating how Daredevil’s heroism qualifies him as an Avenger. Daredevil’s recruitment onto the New Avengers continues Bendis’ more inclusive approach to the Avengers as a whole. Under the right circumstances, it seems, Bendis believes that any hero can be an Avenger. In this case, Daredevil is the perfect fit for a team like the New Avengers. He shares the street-level focus of the other members, and lifelong friendships with members such as Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Spider-Man. More importantly, the circumstances of both the Avengers and Daredevil match up perfectly. Daredevil is joining the team during Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil, when his life is taking a more optimistic turn. Additionally, the Avengers are enjoying a more prosperous period, during the Heroic Age. When circumstances line up in this way, Bendis has full rein to make nearly anyone an Avenger.

The Avenger without fear

While Bendis is known for expanding the Avengers roster, he also does much to prove each new member’s worth to the team. The Red Hulk, for example, is featured in an important issue which showcases his place as an Avenger. This issue pits the Red Hulk in a one-on-one battle with the Thing, who is possessed and enhanced in power by one of the Asgardian hammers. Standing his ground, the Red Hulk shows his resilience against hopeless odds. It’s this resilience which makes the Red Hulk a much more likeable member of the team than before. More importantly, the Red Hulk’s defense of Avengers Tower says much about what it means to be an Avenger. In the face of a crisis, no matter how few heroes remain, the Avengers continue to fight for what’s right. This does not mean that the Avengers are perfect. During one scene, for example, the Red Hulk is seen devouring eggs in a particularly unappealing manner, disgusting the other Avengers. The Red Hulk is, after all, a Hulk, so he is naturally different from the rest of the team. Yet, like the rest of the Avengers, it’s the Red Hulk’s strong will and devotion to the greater good which defines him as a hero.

A hero to the last

The final character who Bendis spotlights is Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird. After taking the Infinity Formula, Mockingbird is clearly going to experience some after-effects. While it would seem like Fear Itself would disrupt this character arc, Bendis incorporates Morse’s arc within the context of the event. Indeed, the battles during Fear Itself allow Morse to experiment with her new abilities provided by the Infinity Formula. Mockingbird is given a whole issue to play with her enhanced speed, strength, and endurance, progressing Bendis’ New Avengers in an organic manner. Furthermore, Bendis takes the opportunity to address any concerns surrounding Mockingbird’s usefulness to the team. The interview format of the issue allows Morse to express her previous feelings of uselessness, juxtaposed with action scenes of Mockingbird proving her worth. Over the course of the issue, Bendis shows what makes Mockingbird a unique asset to the Avengers, despite having no real powers. Overall, in the face of Fear Itself, Mockingbird’s new lease on life is contextualized quite well. When villains such as Sin and Cul invade the planet, the newly enhanced Mockingbird realizes that she was given a second chance at life for a reason.

That’s some leap of faith…

Bendis’ individual focus on specific characters enables him to go deeper into the Avengers’ thoughts and feelings. Compounding the effects of this smaller focus is the mockumentary-style interviews with the Avengers. Characters are given a chance to frame stories from their own perspective, detailing specific Avengers’ reactions and emotional processes within the events of the story. Additionally, heroes who are not even directly involved in specific events are given the opportunity to share their thoughts as well. Characters such as Spider-Man, for example, can comment on the Thing’s transformation into a mindless servant for Cul. It’s important to gain the Avengers’ individual insights into the events of Fear Itself , as Bendis shows how each character views their chaotic life. This perspective does much to illustrate the toll which being an Avenger can take, psychologically. During Fear Itself, Bucky dies, Avengers Tower falls, and the heroes are spread across the globe to stop countless catastrophes. As a result, Bendis shows the Avengers’ personal struggle with the situation. Jarvis cries, Captain America seems defeated, and the Avengers generally share a sense of mourning over their losses. Bendis’ tie-ins to Fear Itself show the humanity underneath the Avengers’ heroism through the lasting scars on their psyche. Through all of these interviews, however, Bendis ultimately explores the value of being an Avenger. On several occasions, the heroes revel in the honor of being a part of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Characters discuss criteria to be an Avenger, key Avengers moments, and the ups and downs which come with being on the team. Additionally, Bendis allows the reader to experience some of the very moments which the Avengers discuss. Daredevil joins the team, the Red Hulk defends Avengers Tower, the New Avengers arrive to save the rest of the team from Sin, and Spider-Woman finally proves her worth as an Avenger. All of these events are discussed with reverie, celebrating what it means to be part of the Avengers. The mockumentary format of these issues deconstructs the Avengers, delving into the team’s perspective on both the good and the bad.

Can I be an Avenger too?

Out of all of Bendis’ Fear Itself tie-ins, the New Avengers issues are my personal favorites. Within these issues, Bendis shines a rare spotlight on individual characters. Mockingbird, Squirrel Girl, and Daredevil are each given their moment to shine. The best part of these spotlight issues is how loosely they are tied to Fear Itself. A story about Squirrel Girl, for example, may tie-in to Fear Itself, but the main focus is still on the character arcs within New Avengers. Maintaining this focus keeps the momentum of the series going. I do wish that Bendis showed more of a reaction to the Thing’s possession from the New Avengers. Considering that this is his team, the New Avengers seem like they would be particularly disturbed by these events. Still, the New Avengers issues are much more consistent than the Avengers tie-ins. I did enjoy Bendis’ focus on Ms. Marvel’s squad of Avengers. Almost everyone on the team is given a good role, from Ms. Marvel’s leadership, to Noh-Varr’s technological expertise. The team-up with the New Avengers was also very exciting. Despite the fun of this squad, there are still a few problems in these issues. The Spider-Woman/Hawkeye romance is very forced, and Hawkeye himself is given very little to do outside of this subplot. The first issue to feature this team is also essentially a re-framing of Fear Itself #1, making it fairly redundant. The rest of the Avengers stories, focusing on individual characters, were fairly entertaining as well. The Red Hulk fighting to defend Avengers Tower is essentially one long fight scene. Yet the interviews from the other Avengers add much depth to the fight, saying much about what it means to be an Avenger and how the Red Hulk earned his place on the team. Finally, the issue focusing on Captain America is a bit of a mixed bag. This issue does a lot to show Rogers’ immediate reaction to Bucky’s death, which is absent from the main Fear Itself event. The story itself, featuring Rogers and a small team infiltrating one of Sin’s bases, makes for a nice espionage tale. Overall, however, the events of the issue are rendered moot by Bucky’s near-immediate return from the dead. Bendis does his best in showing the raw, human grief of Captain America. Yet external forces lessen the weight of this issue of Avengers.

Now that’s a fist-pumping moment

Ultimately, the Fear Itself tie-ins are a great experiment with the format of Avengers/New Avengers. Bendis takes the entire roster of the Avengers and re-frames Fear Itself from their perspective. This mockumentary-style of storytelling is certainly not typical for Bendis’ run. At this point, however, it’s nice to see Bendis shaking up the format of his Avengers saga, especially considering the fatigue of yet another event tie-in. After a while, tie-ins can become repetitive, but this batch does a lot to go in a fresh new direction. Sometimes the interviews contained a little too much exposition, but at least the characters delivered this exposition from a personal standpoint of the characters. These interviews also do a lot to frame the impact of Fear Itself on Bendis’ Avengers run overall. Daredevil joins the team, Red Hulk earns his place on the Avengers, and Squirrel Girl manages to protect Cage and Jones’ daughter. Focusing on the cast of Avengers/New Avengers, Bendis never loses sight of his own narrative within Fear Itself. In fact, the New Avengers tie-ins could probably be read without reading Fear Itself at all. Overall, Bendis does his best to progress his Avengers run in the face of Fear Itself. It’s still a shame that a mediocre event like Fear Itself had to interrupt Bendis’ run. Much is done to work around the event, but the tie-ins still prevent Bendis from telling a stand-alone story. Additionally, the artwork in Avengers is pretty inconsistent, rotating between John Romita Jr. and Chris Bachalo. This inconsistency is fairly jarring, since the art styles are so different. Personally, I am not a big fan of Bachalo’s style in these particular issues. Bachalo has done some great work on Spider-Man and X-Men, but his art in Avengers simply doesn’t match the tone of the series.

Joining the team with Cage’s approval

These Fear Itself tie-ins are going to have some significant consequences on Bendis’ Avengers run. Within the pages of New Avengers, for example, Daredevil and Squirrel Girl are going to play major roles. After experiencing her trial by fire, Squirrel Girl will continue to play a more active role as the New Avengers’ nanny. Daredevil will also be a great asset to the New Avengers, as an experienced lawyer, hand-to-hand fighter, and a human lie detector. On the Avengers side of things, the Hawkeye/Spider-Woman relationship will continue for the rest of Bendis’ run. The relationship itself does not contribute much to the story, but it does change the team dynamic a little bit. Hawkeye and Spider-Woman is still quite the forced pairing, but at least it doesn’t interfere with Bendis’ Avengers run. Both the Avengers and New Avengers are going to face the consequences of Avengers Tower’s destruction. Since the main Avengers team has no longer has a headquarters, they will have to move into Avengers Mansion with the New Avengers. This move crowds the mansion considerably, emphasizing just how large the Avengers has become.

“Guess we all gotta move in together, huh?”

That’s all for this week. Did you enjoy the format of Bendis’ Fear Itself tie-ins? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in next week, when I look at the return of Norman Osborn in the pages of both Avengers and New Avengers!

Bendis’ Avengers: Fear Itself

After a streak of exciting events at Marvel, Fear Itself filled me with considerable hype. It seemed like the whole Marvel Universe was going to be affected by this event, including the Avengers, the X-Men, and even the gods of Asgard. The whole premise of Fear Itself was unclear to me at the time, yet the teaser images that Marvel released left me intrigued. Ominous images showcasing different heroes and their respective fears got me very excited about Fear Itself. This event seemed like it would be a very personal look at Marvel’s heroes. Moreover, the character designs of “the worthy”, the villains of the story, were both beautiful and intimidating. The villains’ massive hammers and looming figures portrayed a seemingly unstoppable group of monsters, leaving me curious as to who could stop them. Additionally, the designs for the heroes’ defense armor were very cool. I couldn’t wait to see the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine go into action with these bright and colorful new weapons. Most of all, I remember Fear Itself as a great event for both Captain America and Thor. Both Avengers received plenty of big, crowd-pleasing moments, and it felt as if Fear Itself was centered around these two. While Fear Itself was written by Matt Fraction, it still connects to Bendis’ Avengers run.

Fear on the horizon…

In the context of Bendis’ Avengers, Fear Itself takes place during the Heroic Age. For the first time since Avengers Disassembled, it was a great time to be an Avenger. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were bigger and better than ever, including many heroes across the Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Academy. Becoming such a widespread enterprise, the Avengers had never been in a better place. None of this would be possible, however, without Steve Rogers, the former Captain America. Relinquishing the shield and title to his former sidekick, Bucky, Rogers became the new “top cop” of the world. Placing Rogers in charge of global security not only made the world a much safer place, it also made life easier for costumed superheroes. Rogers himself, while unaccustomed to such a political position, could not have been happier with his role in global security. Alongside this brave new world stood Asgard, the home of the norse gods. This fabled land hovered above Broxton, Oklahoma, and the gods coexisted peacefully with humankind. Following the events of Siege, Tony Stark and his company were even helping the gods rebuild Asgard. Times had never seemed more optimistic in the Marvel Universe.

Avengers Assembled for a better future

The purpose of Fear Itself, then, is to challenge the security and optimism of the Heroic Age. Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, unleashes a long-hidden Asgardian deity on the Earth: Cul, aka the Serpent, the god of fear. Cul manipulates the pre-existing fears of humanity, spreading panic and uncertainty across the globe. Additionally, seven hammers fall from the sky, finding and possessing several heroes and villains. These characters are transformed into physical nightmares and servants of the Serpent, wreaking havoc on the Earth. The Serpent is also destined to battle and kill Thor, eager to fulfill his purpose. Fearing for the safety of the Asgardians and his own son, Odin transports Asgard off of Earth, abandoning the humans. Despite Thor’s protests, the god of thunder is forcibly removed from Earth. Left to fend for themselves, the Avengers fight a desperate battle against Sin and the Serpent. All the while, the Avengers’ own fears are challenged, suffering considerable losses during their war with the Serpent.

Gods and Nazis

Out of all of the Avengers, Steve Rogers suffers the largest crisis of faith during Fear Itself. Indeed, from the very beginning, Rogers must deal with riots consisting of ordinary people who have given into their anger and fears. Rogers’ position as the world’s “top cop” is slowly becoming a considerable burden on the former Captain America. Compounding Rogers’ difficulties is the abandonment he faces by the Asgardians. When an overwhelming force such as the Serpent invades the planet, losing humanity’s most powerful allies essentially cripples global security. In the face of the Serpent’s attack, only the Avengers remain. Yet Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are not enough to stave off this attack, as their forces are spread far too thin around the world. Coordinating defense around this overwhelming assault often leaves Rogers uncertain about humanity’s chances. Indeed, in one scene, Rogers plainly says, “We’re going to lose”. It’s only when Bucky is killed that Rogers realizes what he must do. In order to restore humanity’s faith in heroes and combat their fears, Rogers takes up the mantle of Captain America once more. Putting on the stars and stripes again, Cap uses hope to fight fear. Rogers gathers a militia of civilians, rallying ordinary people through his own inspirational leadership and symbolism. In the end, when Rogers lifts Thor’s hammer, he exemplifies the triumph of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds.

Just like the founding fathers!

It’s this human spirit which, oddly enough, drives Thor. Despite being a god, Thor holds a special fondness for Earth. Indeed, placing Asgard eight feet above his adoptive home-world indicates Earth’s importance to Thor. The attachment which Thor feels towards Earth is largely why he fights so fiercely to remain and fight against the Serpent. Thor fights a battle on two fronts: facing the worthy, in defense of Earth, and confronting his own father, Odin, simply to leave Asgard and return to Earth. During both of these battles, Thor demonstrates an indomitable will, raw power, and even a crafty mind. For example, when Thor is imprisoned on Asgard, he works with his brother, Loki, to escape the fabled land and return to Earth. Thor also manages to fight off two of the worthy at once: the possessed heroes the Hulk and the Thing. Taking on the Asgardian-enhanced forms of these already-powerful Marvel heroes illustrate’s Thor’s strength and dedication to humanity’s defense. Even when the people of Earth turn on him, blaming Asgard for the Serpent’s invasion, Thor continues to defend humanity. Furthermore, Thor fights on despite the prophecy of his demise at the Serpent’s hands. Choosing to fight and die as a man on Earth, Thor confronts his fears on all sides.

Get ready to feel the thunder

None of the fears so far, however, are demonstrated on as personal a level as those of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Stark begins the story full of hope and idealism. Ever the futurist, Stark specializes in engineering, inspiring hope through the world he creates. For example, the project to rebuild Asgard, uniting gods and humans, all comes from Stark’s vision. Yet, as an engineer, Stark is finally confronted with a problem which his own ingenuity cannot fix. Every attempted solution towards the Serpent fails, rendering Stark’s Earthly methods useless. At the end of his rope, Stark finds that he must give in to the gods, humbling himself in front of Odin. Stark not only begs for Odin’s help, he even offers a sacrifice, relinquishing his sobriety in exchange for Asgardian aid. This is a powerful move, as Stark’s most personal demon is his alcoholism. Sacrificing his sobriety shows how far Stark is willing to go in the name of humankind. Stark’s act of faith pays off, uniting a man of science with the gods. Together, Stark and Odin combine the ingenuity of Earth with the weaponry of Asgard. Stark uses his talent for building to build Asgardian weapons against the Serpent’s forces. Giving in to the fantastical elements of Asgard and facing his inner demons, Stark creates a defense for Earth.

Going to work with the gods

Of course, it takes a while for Odin to assist in Earth’s defense. During Fear Itself, Odin is depicted as very apathetic towards humans. In fact, Odin is unsettled by Thor’s choice to place Asgard on Earth in the first place. There is a sense of superiority with which Odin carries himself, seeing men as petty ants compared to the glory of the gods. Odin is a very old-fashioned, cynical old man, accustomed to living high above humanity. For this reason, Odin’s mass exodus of Asgard from Earth can easily be seen as a sign of heartlessness. Certainly, Odin does not particularly show any affection towards humanity. Yet, overall, it is fear which drives Odin to abandon Earth. Specifically, the fear of losing Thor to the prophecy. There is a well hidden love that Odin harbors for his son, keeping Thor in chains for the thunder god’s own good. Despite his rough exterior, Odin is simply a father who is scared for his child. Witnessing the defiance of Thor and the Avengers, however, Odin is encouraged to confront his fears. Realizing that Thor will not stop fighting, Odin helps his son as much as he can. Working with Stark to build weapons of defense, Odin comes around to protecting the Earth, at least for Thor’s sake.

That’s racist

The rest of the cast is written pretty well. Bucky is given a good send-off, although Fear Itself does interfere with Ed Brubaker’s run on the character in Captain America. Indeed, it’s frustrating that Bucky was killed off during a bigger event, outside of his own title. This move limits the future for Brubaker’s Captain America considerably. It feels as if Bucky never really had a chance to explore his role as Captain America, especially on the Avengers. Killing Bucky also has little purpose outside of getting Steve Rogers back into the Captain America role. Still, Bucky’s final fight is very well written, especially when he finally yells “Avengers Assemble!” Bucky’s last stand against Sin does much to show his fighting spirit, something which would have been nice to see during Bendis’ Avengers. As a whole, it’s a shame that Bucky was killed so soon, with barely any time to grow into the Captain America role. I also think that Fraction writes Spider-Man very well, placing him in the “every-man” role once again. The scene where Spider-Man frantically searches for his Aunt May is a very human and relatable moment. The web-slinger’s interaction with his aunt is both touching and inspiring, motivating Spider-Man to re-enter the fight with his fellow Avengers. As a whole, the Avengers play a decent role throughout Fear Itself. The team operates like a well-oiled machine, constantly trying to preserve the peace. The size and diversity of the team says a lot about how far the Avengers have come during Bendis’ run. There isn’t any room for individual character moments, but the Avengers are still the well-assembled unit of heroes they’ve always been.

Going down swinging

Obviously, with a title like Fear Itself, fear is going to factor into the story. Indeed, it is the god of fear who invades the Earth, hinting at the theme in quite an unsubtle manner. The Serpent is a manifestation of Odin’s fears coming back to haunt everyone. Odin locked the Serpent away, yet the god still returned, illustrating how you cannot hide from fear. Rather, people must confront their fears head on. In the end, after spending so much of the story running from the Serpent, Odin finally decides to face him, uniting the forces of Asgard alongside humankind. Without the example set by Thor and the Avengers, Odin would never have faced his fears in the first place. Captain America confronts his fears by returning to his roots, Iron Man relinquishes control of his sobriety, and Thor faces death itself. In the end, the heroes look fear in the eye and fight back. In order to combat fear, the heroes use another primal weapon: hope. The hope which the Avengers instill in others is essentially weaponized when Stark creates Asgardian armor to combat the worthy. During the final battle, the heroes shine brightly, as news reports capture their inspirational actions on camera. Captain America lifts Thor’s hammer, indicative of the near-divine hope which heroes can instill upon others. Indeed, ordinary people stand with Captain America as a militia, inspired by the return of the legendary Steve Rogers to the role. The hope which the Avengers bring bridges the gap between gods and men. Throughout Fear Itself, Fraction examines the place of gods on Earth. While Odin is adamantly against the coexistence of gods and men, abandoning the Earth, Thor acts as a bridge between the two worlds. Despite being a god, Thor tells Odin that he chooses to be a man, fighting alongside his fellow Avengers. The Avengers themselves also stand as this middle ground, standing up for humanity as more than humans, yet less than gods. In the end, the Asgardian armor which the heroes wear indicates the middle ground between gods and men. Instilling hope in order to combat fear, the Avengers bridge the gap between mortals and immortals.

Asgardians, Assemble?

While Fear Itself has some nice ideas, the plot itself is fairly muddled. The main mini-series could have been significantly shorter and more focused. For example, much of Fear Itself jumps between many different settings, mainly to establish more tie-ins. The series generally lacks a focus on one central plotline, instead cutting from moment to moment. Seeing the hammers fall, one by one, reaching the worthy, takes up way too much time, doing very minimal for the overall plot. Even though Fear Itself does not feel like a cohesive storyline, there are still some great moments. Captain America lifting Thor’s hammer is inspirational, Bucky’s last stand is well written, Spider-Man and Aunt May’s conversation is sweet, but all of these moments seem strung together. None of the story feels connected, other than through mindless chaos and violence around the world. The story, overall, feels lackluster. Especially when asking the question: “what purpose does this story serve to the Marvel Universe”, I find that I have no real answer. The first and last issues of Fear Itself are fairly straightforward, establishing a premise and delivering a satisfying climax. Yet everything in-between is quite jumbled, losing the message of the story in between giant action scenes and irrelevant side-plots. Overall, Fear Itself tends to lose its way throughout its narrative

Pretty cool, out of context

Ultimately, considering the plot’s lack of coherence, Fear Itself‘s ideas even come off as quite lackluster. The story does not do much to explore the themes which Fraction establishes. Fear, as a main idea, is never very compelling, as the story isn’t as personal or character-focused as it should be. Characters like Captain America and Thor receive the most focus, and even then, it feels quite surface-level. The general idea of fear being overcome by hope is also quite generic, lacking in any real originality or creativity. I wish that Fraction had explored more of the division between gods and men, particularly when it comes to the role of gods on Earth. This theme is much more compelling than fear, and full of rich potential. I must admit, the artwork by Stuart Immonen is fantastic. Fear Itself is propelled much higher in quality due to Immonen’s pencils. The action scenes, especially, are entertaining to read. In particular, the fight between Thor and the Hulk/The Thing, and the final fight are both gorgeously rendered. There are plenty of great moments, which Immonen illustrates beautifully, but ultimately, Fear Itself seems pointless as an event. No real consequences come out of Fear Itself. Bucky is later revealed to be alive, removing the weight of his sacrifice, and Thor returns to life very soon after this event. The only real purpose of Fear Itself seemed to be making Steve Rogers Captain America again, just in time for his 2011 film debut in Captain America: the First Avenger. Fear Itself had potential, but overall, the event feels like a moderately entertaining waste of time.

So, what did this have to do with fear again?

The most substantial thing to come out of Fear Itself was the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America. In the pages of the Avengers, Rogers will become the team leader once again, finally returning to field duty. Additionally, Rogers’ return to the shield will make him a public figure for the team, communicating with the public and saving the world all at once. On a lesser note, Thor will be off the Avengers for a little while, at least until Avengers vs. X-Men, only a few months later. It’s weird to think that Thor even died, considering he’s gone from the pages of Avengers for such a short time. This death also does nothing for the character, since he essentially returns to life the same as he was before. Perhaps on a subtle level, Fear Itself introduces the re-emerging public fears and mistrust of superhumans. This mistrust does play a major role in Avengers and New Avengers, when Norman Osborn returns. Osborn will manipulate the media against the Avengers, attempting to reassert his position of authority from Dark Reign. While Osborn’s attempt is ultimately unsuccessful, PR issues will be a recurring trope for the rest of Bendis’ Avengers run. This may be the most lasting, yet subtle, contribution of Fear Itself to Bendis’ Avengers.

“Okay, so nothing’s changed. See you all tomorrow!”

That’s all for today. What did you think of Fear Itself? Are there any real consequences of the event that you can think of? Let me know on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check in tomorrow for my look at Bendis’ Avengers/New Avengers tie-ins to Fear Itself!

Bendis’ Avengers: The Children’s Crusade

As mentioned during my Young Avengers retrospective, the Young Avengers were never a particular favorite of mine. I always considered this team to be a lesser, junior varsity version of the Avengers. Despite my apathy towards the Young Avengers, Avengers: the Children’s Crusade certainly caught my attention. Finally, it seemed, the Young Avengers were given a mission of significance: finding the Scarlet Witch. After a considerable absence in the comics, I was always curious as to where the Scarlet Witch had been. Sure, I still wasn’t interested in the Young Avengers, but this seemed like a story worth reading. The problem, however, was that I could not keep up with the series. The Children’s Crusade lasted for nine issues, yet publication delays dragged the series on for far too long. By the time the mini-series was finished, the Children’s Crusade had run from 2010 to 2012. As a result, I lost interest in the series early on. The main issue with the publication delay was the way it placed the Children’s Crusade outside of Marvel continuity. Many significant events occurred from 2010 to 2012, leaving readers confused as to the Children’s Crusade‘s place in the Marvel timeline. Overall, the mini-series didn’t seem to fit in with the other comics which Marvel was publishing at the time. Although the series suffered from glaring publication delays and continuity issues, it was still beautiful to look at. Jim Cheung’s artwork is always awe-inspiring, illustrating big name heroes like the Avengers and the X-Men. I never read the Children’s Crusade during its publication, but I was always struck by how visually stunning the series was.

It’s gonna be a loooong crusade…

In the context of Bendis’ larger Avengers run, the Children’s Crusade is an important step for the Scarlet Witch. Previously, Wanda Maximoff was responsible for some of the worst events in Marvel history. Bendis began his run with the destruction of the Avengers at the hands of the Scarlet Witch. Wanda was responsible for the death of multiple Avengers, including her husband, and the destruction of Avengers mansion. Additionally, during Bendis’ House of M, Wanda wiped out 98% of the mutant population, sending the mutant race to near-extinction levels. Ever since then, however, the Scarlet Witch had vanished without a trace. If she was ever to resurface, the Scarlet Witch would be considered a pariah to both the Avengers and the X-Men. In the wake of Wanda’s destruction, a new Avengers team formed: the Young Avengers. Each member of this teenage group was related to a specific Avenger in some way. Specifically, Wiccan and Speed, two long-lost brothers, were possibly the reincarnated children of the Scarlet Witch. Considering Wiccan’s magical power-set, similar to the Scarlet Witch, and Speed’s powers, similar to Wanda’s brother, all signs indicated these young heroes as Wanda’s children. Furthermore, although the Young Avengers had a memorable twelve issue series, it had been a while since this team was relevant. Indeed, the Young Avengers, at this point, were relegated to cameo appearances in major events, such as Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. Given that the Young Avengers were not featured in any regular title at the time, the team was overdue for a comeback.

“So, your mom’s kinda crazy…”

Indeed, the Young Avengers were back with a vengeance, under their original creators, Allan Heinberg & Jim Cheung. 2010’s the Children’s Crusade sent the teen superheroes on their biggest mission yet. After losing control of his hex powers, Wiccan is placed under intense observation by the Avengers. Fearing that the Avengers will punish or torture him, Wiccan runs away. Joined by his fellow Young Avengers, Wiccan sets out to find his mother, the Scarlet Witch, in order to learn more about his powers and how to control them. Along the way, the Young Avengers encounter the Scarlet Witch’s family members, Magneto and Quicksilver, who guide them on their journey. For their own reasons, Magneto and Quicksilver are also interested in finding Wanda. Things become complicated when the team discovers Wanda in Latveria alongside Doctor Doom. Stricken with amnesia, the Scarlet Witch is engaged to marry the malevolent Doom. While the Young Avengers have to find a way to recover Wanda’s memory, they must also contend with the Avengers and the X-Men, who both hold Wanda responsible for her previous atrocities. Caught between the Avengers, the X-Men, Doctor Doom, and the Scarlet Witch herself, the Young Avengers can only rely on each other to achieve their goals.

Too many cooks

Wiccan, the Scarlet Witch’s son, acts as the catalyst for the Children’s Crusade. Although his powers are very similar to his mother’s, Wiccan is still only a teenager. As such, Wiccan remains very unsure of his place in the world, trying to establish his own identity. When he begins to lose control of his powers, Wiccan is understandably placed under a considerable amount of pressure. Recognizing the dark path on which the Scarlet Witch traveled, Wiccan is terrified that he will follow in his mother’s footsteps. Indeed, when the Avengers call Wiccan in for observation, he feels boxed in. Realizing the fear that the heroes have of his powers, Wiccan refuses to be treated like his mentally unstable mother. In order to avoid repeating history, Wiccan searches for his mother. By gaining answers about his parentage, Wiccan is looking to learn more about himself. Additionally, by finding and saving his mother, Wiccan is also looking to save himself. If the Scarlet Witch can be found and redeemed, perhaps Wiccan can find a solution to his own unstable power-set.

That’s one alternative to ancestry.com

Wiccan’s brother, Speed, on the other hand, is not as emotionally invested in this journey. Rather, Speed is generally along for the ride throughout the Children’s Crusade. Carrying over from the original Young Avengers series, Speed is still the hyperactive, impulsive kid of the team. Nonetheless, Speed accompanies his brother, showing through his actions that he cares about Wiccan. Despite all of the clever insults and jabs at his brother, Speed is constantly looking out for his brother. For example, at the beginning of the story, when Wiccan is held in Avengers Tower, Speed is the one who arrives to break him out. Additionally, although it seems as though Speed doesn’t care about his parentage, it’s revealed that he is actually quite wary about the dangers which Wanda Maximoff presents. More often than naught, Speed tries to caution Wiccan against going too far in finding Wanda. Suffering a much rougher childhood than Wiccan, Speed is generally more closed off to a potential connection to his mother. It is only in the very end of the series, when Speed realizes that Wanda isn’t a danger, that he becomes more receptive to his parentage. Despite distancing himself emotionally, Speed still shares several moments of bonding with Quicksilver and Magneto. Indeed, Speed connects with Quicksilver over their shared super-speed, and greatly admires Magneto’s power. Of course, most of these moments come from Speed’s immaturity, but this immaturity is still a nice distinguishing trait for the character. While Wiccan is more concerned with searching for the Scarlet Witch, Speed is generally on the adventure to have a good time.

Not a great choice of role models

Although Speed primarily joins Wiccan’s journey for the thrills, Hulkling, Wiccan’s boyfriend, is there for more serious reasons. Throughout the Children’s Crusade, Hulkling is depicted as extremely protective of his boyfriend. No matter what the decision is, Hulkling backs up Wiccan all the way. This support is a key distinguishing mark between Wiccan and the Scarlet Witch. While the Scarlet Witch was isolated, Wiccan is surrounded by strong sources of love and support. Hulkling’s love keeps Wiccan grounded, while Wanda had no one to stop her from losing control. Indeed, the relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan largely serves as the heart of the Children’s Crusade. Not only does Hulkling support Wiccan’s decisions, he also pushes Wiccan to confront his fears. For example, at the end of the story, Wiccan isolates himself, staying indoors during several major Marvel events. After months of quiet support, Hulkling finally pushes Wiccan to get back into the world and live his life. Hulkling forces Wiccan to live proudly, rather than hide in fear. The pathos of this relationship is indicative of the strong bond between the Young Avengers. This bond highlights the younger generation’s purity of heart. Even though Hulkling supports Wiccan, he has a certain reluctance about supporting Wiccan’s mission. For example, Hulkling sees the Maximoff family, including Magneto and Quicksilver, as trouble. Yet Hulkling continues to support Wiccan, just as Wiccan supported Hulkling when they confronted his Kree-Skrull heritage. Hulkling may have problems with the mission of the Children’s Crusade, but he still supports Wiccan as a devoted boyfriend.

Keeping each other grounded

At the center of this plot is Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch herself. From the beginning of the Children’s Crusade, Wanda is portrayed as a cautionary tale. Starting off as one of the purest, gentlest of the Avengers, Wanda lost control of her powers, becoming a superhero pariah. This cautionary tale is what mobilizes Wiccan into action, realizing that if he doesn’t find and redeem his mother, it may be too late to save himself. When Wiccan does find Wanda, her memory is gone, giving her a clean slate. The way Heinberg writes this memory-wiped Wanda says a lot about her character. Without any of the emotional baggage or powers, Wanda Maximoff is a sweet, almost naive young woman. She treats Wiccan with immense kindness upon meeting him, and even sees the good within Doctor Doom, enough to marry him. This angelic personality is a glimpse into Wanda’s true self, underneath the years of trauma and mental instability. Heinberg demonstrates how everything which Wanda has endured has torn down this kind personality, setting her out of control. Once Wanda’s memory is returned, the weight of her past nearly consumes her. Wanda is weighed down by the guilt which she carries, attempting to kill herself through magic. This repentance contributes greatly to Wanda’s character arc. Heinberg illustrates Wanda as a real person, with remorse for her actions, rather than a careless monster. While Wanda’s crimes were reprehensible, she realizes this, feeling that there is nothing which she can do to atone for her sins. It is only the love of her son, Wiccan, which keeps Wanda afloat as she attempts to care for the last good thing in her world.

Family reunion

The rest of the Young Avengers fill out the main cast nicely. Simply by joining Wiccan on his journey, the Young Avengers demonstrate the strength of their bond. Unlike the adult Avengers, this team is more like a family. From beginning to end of the Children’s Crusade, the Young Avengers stand united. The Young Avengers also act as a sort of moral conscience to the older heroes. Indeed, when the Avengers and the X-Men bicker over the Scarlet Witch’s fate, the Young Avengers intervene, defending Wanda in an objective and unbiased manner. The actions of the Young Avengers, who go to great lengths to protect the Scarlet Witch, inspire Wanda to atone for her sins. Rather than give in to despair, the Scarlet Witch takes responsibility for her past crimes, thanks to the Young Avengers’ heroic example. On an individual level, however, there isn’t much room for character arcs during the Children’s Crusade. The plot is so fast-paced, it seems as if each member of the Young Avengers becomes lost in the shuffle. Still, each Young Avenger gets some small moment to shine. Kate Bishop, in particular, shows off her leadership skills quite nicely. It’s amazing to think that Kate has become such a strong leader, despite not being an original Young Avenger. Stature also has a nice moment when the team goes back to the destruction of Avengers Mansion and saves her father, Ant-Man. This is a touching moment, reuniting a father and daughter for the first time in years. The Vision’s relationship with Stature is also very sweet, much like Hulkling and Wiccan. Patriot, however, still annoys me. His leadership pales in comparison to Kate’s, and he constantly makes idiotic decisions which result in disaster. For example, Patriot interferes with Wanda’s attempt at re-powering the mutant population, additionally allowing her power to be transferred into Doctor Doom. Not only does this action prevent the resurgence of a dying race, it places power directly in the hands of Marvel’s biggest villain. Out of the Young Avengers, Patriot is definitely my least favorite.

Kate Bishop, everyone

Much of the Children’s Crusade focuses on history. Specifically, learning from history, so as not to repeat it. Wiccan, for example, sees history begin to repeat itself in his own powers. Just as the Scarlet Witch couldn’t control her powers, Wiccan is beginning to lose control of his own powers. Fearing that history will repeat itself, Wiccan journeys to learn more about his familial history. Of course, digging up the history of his mother becomes a dangerous venture, opening old wounds within both the Avengers and the X-Men. Despite its dangers, history becomes even more necessary later on, as Wiccan uncovers the truth behind the Scarlet Witch’s powers and the crimes which she committed. By confronting the past, Wiccan is able to learn from it, both for himself and his mother. Confronting the past, however, raises several questions about redemption. Mainly, how can the Scarlet Witch hope to redeem herself after everything she’s done? Initially, Wanda has no hope for her own redemption, attempting suicide through magic. Furthermore, people like Wolverine are out to kill Wanda so that she can never commit another atrocity. Many, including Wanda, believe that she is too far gone. Yet it is the faith of children, particularly Wanda’s son, Wiccan, which gives her hope for her own future. The purity of the Young Avengers is the very force which drives the Children’s Crusade forward. In a sense, the Young Avengers are better than their adult counterparts, free of the baggage and emotional history with the Scarlet Witch. Looking through fresh eyes, the Young Avengers see a kind, confused, and ultimately tormented woman who needs help. Rather than condemn Wanda, the Young Avengers help her, believing that she can still be a hero. When the Avengers and X-Men fight among themselves, the Young Avengers stand as a family, working together to help Wiccan’s mother.

Telling it like it is

Generally, the Children’s Crusade has a fairly solid plot. The first few issues begin an exciting premise, launching the Young Avengers on a fun quest. Encounters with the Avengers, Magneto, and Quicksilver do a lot to emphasize the stakes and importance of finding the Scarlet Witch to the overall Marvel Universe. Additionally, the final issues are very exciting, featuring a massive clash between the Avengers, the X-Men, and Doctor Doom himself. Once again, seeing such iconic characters in this title says much about the Scarlet Witch’s crucial role in the Marvel Universe. It really helps that Heinberg provides both the Avengers and the X-Men’s perspective on the Scarlet Witch, considering the different impact she’s had on both teams. Wanda’s own remorse is given considerable attention, which is especially important, rather than simply waving away all of her past crimes. Wiccan’s struggle to get through to his mother is both convincing and heartwarming. The place where the series drags, however, is in the middle few issues, when the Young Avengers have to restore Wanda’s memory. While it is necessary to address the issue of Wanda’s amnesia, this part of the series has no real consequence on the rest of the story. Perhaps Heinberg could have shortened this section by an issue or two. Furthermore, revealing Doom as the mastermind behind Wanda’s mental breakdown feels a bit cheap. Heinberg seems to be excusing the Scarlet Witch of all responsibility for the Avengers’ destruction and the mutant decimation. It’s difficult to find the middle ground between making Wanda a complete monster and making her into a saint. Yet conveniently revealing Doom as the culprit behind Wanda’s actions goes a little too far, suggesting almost complete innocence on her part. Finally, the ending, while very well written, is a bit grim for my taste. Stature dies, the Vision dies, and the Young Avengers disband. It feels as though the Children’s Crusade suddenly went from a fun adventure into a rather dour storyline. Even so, this ending does show the consequences of being a Young Avenger, raising the stakes. Heinberg also manages to send the Young Avengers out on a kind of bittersweet note, giving the team the sense of closure they needed.

You sure about that?

As a whole, the Children’s Crusade is a very well done journey to recover the Scarlet Witch. More importantly, this series does much with the consequences of Wanda’s actions. The Scarlet Witch is not simply given a happily ever after. Rather, Heinberg takes Wanda through personal feelings of guilt and remorse, simultaneously confronting her with the wrath of both the Avengers and the X-Men. Both of these parties are given a lot to say, adequately expressing their position on the Scarlet Witch’s crimes. Choosing the Young Avengers for this particular mission was also a smart move. Considering Wiccan and Speed’s personal connection with the Scarlet Witch, it’s only natural that they would be the ones to search for her. Additionally, finding Wanda brings a sense of closure to the Young Avengers, since Avengers Disassembled brought them together in the first place. Recovering the Scarlet Witch, the Young Avengers come full circle, addressing the disaster which initially assembled the team. I do wish that there was more room for individual character arcs, though. Perhaps another Young Avengers series leading into the Children’s Crusade would have fleshed out the team a bit more. Still, the Young Avengers are an endearing group. Finally, The Children’s Crusade is a great mini-crossover between the Avengers and the X-Men. Heinberg does an excellent job highlighting the differences between these two teams. Seeing how each team reacts to Wanda’s return is both believable and presents a balanced view of the Scarlet Witch’s past. Cheung’s artwork also renders the Avengers and the X-Men beautifully, leaving me speechless at every double-page spread. Ultimately, the Children’s Crusade is a worthy story for the Scarlet Witch’s return.

Avengers vs. X-Men: Round Zero

After the Children’s Crusade, the Young Avengers are essentially finished, at least during Bendis’ era on Avengers. Two of its members are dead, and the remaining Young Avengers are retired. The only breakout star of the team will be Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye. Kate’s leadership and personality throughout the Young Avengers series earns her a significant role in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, alongside Clint Barton. Later on, Kate will headline her own series, All-New Hawkeye, by Kelly Thompson. As for the Scarlet Witch, the Children’s Crusade has officially placed Wanda back on the board. Following significant delays, the Children’s Crusade ended in 2012, just in time for Avengers vs. X-Men. During this major event, the Scarlet Witch is going to play a pivotal role, finally earning her way back onto the Avengers. Wanda’s redemption will take some time, but it will eventually pay off. Speaking of Avengers vs. X-Men, the Children’s Crusade plants some major seeds for this upcoming event. Establishing the tensions between the Avengers and the X-Men, particular due to their differing perspectives, the Children’s Crusade sets the stage for one of Marvel’s biggest conflicts. The result of this conflict will resolve several plot threads, stemming from events such as House of M and Avengers Disassembled. None of this resolution would be possible without the return of the Scarlet Witch.

Saying goodbye

That’s all for today. What did you think of Avengers: the Children’s Crusade? Did the Scarlet Witch get a convincing return? Were the Young Avengers given a worthy comeback? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Matt Fraction’s big event, Fear Itself!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers: the Heroic Age

Once the Heroic Age began, I thought that the New Avengers were finished. The story in New Avengers was done, and Bendis had already announced his new flagship Avengers series. So imagine my excitement and joy when Marvel announced a new volume of the New Avengers alongside the main Avengers title. Even though the New Avengers’ first series was over, Bendis had no intention of leaving these characters anytime soon. Even in the Heroic Age, the New Avengers still had a place in the Marvel Universe. I loved how there were now two major Avengers teams. While the main group focused on big, world-ending events, the New Avengers stayed grounded and Earth-based in their adventures. As an added bonus, I got to read about Spider-Man and Wolverine in two Avengers titles at once! The most surprising thing about this New Avengers series, however, was its newest member: The Thing, of the Fantastic Four. I could not believe my eyes when I saw Ben Grimm on the cover of the first issue of New Avengers. To me, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were two entirely separate entities. So, while I was excited by the addition of the Thing, I was also quite shocked. As soon as a member of the Fantastic Four became an Avenger, I knew that the Heroic Age was going to be an entirely different era for the New Avengers.

Something’s different here…

With a name like the Heroic Age, this was obviously a brighter era for the Avengers than recent years. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, became the head of national security. Rogers’ role as the superhero community’s new “top cop” placed the Avengers in a better position than ever, both publicly and politically. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes grew to an enormous size, dividing into four separate teams. Additionally, superheroes were now free to act of their own accord, unfettered by the superhuman registration act. Rogers himself hand-picked a flagship Avengers group to live in Avengers Tower and battle major threats. Despite the Avengers’ fresh start, some aspects of Dark Reign still carried over into the Heroic Age. Victoria Hand, Norman Osborn’s right-hand woman, was arrested at the end of Siege. Yet Rogers, recognizing Hand’s talent and dedication to her country, decided to give her a second chance among the heroes. Furthermore, Brother Voodoo was still the sorcerer supreme, while Doctor Strange continued to atone for his past use of black magic. Guiding Voodoo in the ways of the mystic arts, Strange acted as a mentor for the new sorcerer supreme.

Adjusting to the Heroic Age

It’s these events which guide the direction of the New Avengers during the Heroic Age. After all of the New Avengers’ sacrifices, Cage wants to keep being a hero on his own terms, without reporting to anyone, even Captain America. Realizing that Luke Cage would never take orders in the main group of Avengers, Steve Rogers gives Cage his own team. Cage is given the keys to Avengers Mansion and free rein to pick his own Avengers lineup, so he can keep his version of the Avengers going (of course, Rogers notes that Cage can’t pick Thor or Iron Man). Although Cage is free to act of his own accord, Rogers also assigns Victoria Hand the New Avengers as a consultant. The inclusion of Hand on the team heightens tensions, as the New Avengers remain suspicious of Osborn’s former associate. More immediately, the New Avengers have to deal with an invasion from the spiritual realm. A mysterious force has recently taken possession of different mystical characters, including Daimon Hellstrom, Brother Voodoo, and Doctor Strange. The team must figure out who is behind this mystical invasion and how to stop it. Additionally, HAMMER, Osborn’s former organization, resurfaces, and Luke Cage and Jessica Jones struggle to raise their daughter as members of the New Avengers.

Doing things their way

Of course, Cage is still quite comfortable as the leader of the New Avengers. The series begins with Cage living a life of luxury for a change. He has his own team of Avengers, he lives in a mansion, and he can still be with his wife and daughter. For once, everything is going in Cage’s favor. This is not to say that Cage’s life is without any problems. Indeed, Bendis centers the story around Cage and Jessica Jones, focusing on the balancing act between parenting and Avenging. Cage has to find a nanny for his daughter, make time for date night with Jessica, and manage to lead the New Avengers all at once. The everyday problems which Cage and Jones face together continue to ground New Avengers as a series. Connecting with Cage on a human level, the reader is able to root for his team of Avengers that much more. These heroes are very much like Cage: street-level, down-to-Earth superheroes. Bendis clearly centers the team around Cage, picking some of his best and most trusted friends for the New Avengers. Heroes like Iron Fist, Spider-Man, and even Wolverine stand for the grounded superheroics which Cage exemplifies.

Quite an easy fix

In this Heroic Age, there is plenty of room for change in the New Avengers. One of the biggest shifts on the team is the role of Cage’s wife, Jessica Jones. A former superhero herself, Jones spent much of the previous series looking after her daughter, Danielle. Yet, in the wake of the Heroic Age, Jones feels a bit more optimistic, looking to rejoin the superhero community. To re-explore her time as a superhero, Jones decides to be a more active part of the New Avengers. Much like Cage, Jones struggles to balance parenthood with life as an Avenger. Indeed, a task as seemingly mundane as finding a nanny can be quite challenging, considering the dangers which the New Avengers face. While Jones is trying to reconnect with her heroic roots, it’s difficult to reconcile being a superhero with being a parent. Yet Jones manages to strike a balance, perhaps even more than her husband. Cage can be quite stubborn and hot-headed at times. For example, when Hand gives the New Avengers their paychecks, Cage initially refuses, on the principle that he doesn’t work for anyone. Yet Jones takes the check, reminding Cage that they need the money for their daughter. Moments like these make Jones a balancing force for Cage’s principle-driven mindset. At the same time, Cage encourages Jones to take more risks, fully supporting her more active role on the team. Maintaining an even focus on superheroics and parenting, Jones and Cage balance each other out quite well.

The name might need some work…

Returning to the New Avengers for the first time in a while is the former sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange. During the first story arc of the series, Strange drives much of the plot forward. Approaching the New Avengers for help, Strange takes the team into more mystical territory for a change. The typically grounded New Avengers are brought out of their element, introducing some variety to the series. The mystical genre which Strange delivers demonstrates the diverse perspective which he brings to the New Avengers. It’s this element which has been missing in New Avengers since his absence from the team. Furthermore, by coming to the New Avengers for help, Strange illustrates his high regard for the team. Even after a considerable absence, Strange looks back on his time among the New Avengers quite fondly, making the team feel more like a family. Indeed, rejoining the New Avengers appears to give Strange a renewed sense of purpose. Initially, stopping a mystical invasion alongside the New Avengers gave Strange a more immediate purpose. After this adventure, however, and the death of Brother Voodoo, Strange must carry on. Welcomed back to the New Avengers with open arms, Strange rediscovers his purpose as a true hero, alongside his superhero family.

One of the family

The New Avengers welcome old faces as well as new ones to their ranks. Surprising readers everywhere, the team recruits Ben Grimm, the Thing, onto the New Avengers. This move says a lot about Bendis’ view of the Avengers as a team. Ever since his initial New Avengers roster, Bendis has expanded the view on who can be an Avenger. Including popular heroes such as Spider-Man and Wolverine onto the Avengers certainly goes beyond the traditional members of the team. Following the events of Siege, Bendis continued to play with the Avengers’ roster, adding members such as the Protector and the Red Hulk. The underlying message which Bendis seems to be sending is one of inclusion. Anyone can be an Avenger, regardless of popularity or attachment to other franchises. In this case, the inclusion of the Thing does make a good fit. Considering that the New Avengers are a street-level team, Ben Grimm is a surprisingly natural addition. Grimm is the most down to Earth member of the Fantastic Four, growing up in the rough neighborhood of Yancy Street and generally being the everyman of the team. Additionally, Grimm is connected to several of the New Avengers, sharing friendships with Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. In an era like the Heroic Age, this is the perfect time for Bendis to experiment with new members. Grimm brings a lot of fun to the series. Seeing the Thing banter with Spider-Man, demolish all of the enemies in his path, and generally be a good-natured hero reminds the reader why he’s such a perfect fit for the New Avengers. Furthermore, the phenomenal characterization of the Thing indicates how well Bendis can write for characters about whom he truly cares.

Clobberin’ time already?

The rest of the New Avengers are all very entertaining to read as well. After nearly seventy issues of the first New Avengers series, there is a familiarity within the group that makes them feel like a family. Veteran members such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Mockingbird, and Ms. Marvel all share a fun team dynamic, illustrated by Bendis’ light-hearted dialogue. Even though this is a new era for the team, the New Avengers still feel like the group which Bendis wrote during their original series. The whole group is very diverse and well-balanced, in both power-sets and personalities. Doctor Strange and Iron Fist share similar mystic roots, Spider-Man and the Thing are classic, wise-cracking heroes, and Ms. Marvel and Jessica Jones are the super-strong flying members of the team. While there are similarities within the team, no one feels redundant, giving each member a distinct role. Rounding out the team, the New Avengers gain a manager in the form of Victoria Hand. The New Avengers are now a legitimate team, enjoying regular paychecks and someone like Hand to coordinate their activities and public relations. Hand’s presence also adds a nice sense of drama and tension to the series, considering how closely she worked with Norman Osborn. Finally, making Squirrel Girl the new nanny for Cage and Jones’ daughter is a clever move on Bendis’ part. Squirrel Girl is not only a great choice as a super-powered nanny, she also has a fun personality which brings more life to Avengers Mansion. Now that the New Avengers are living more comfortably, its nice to see them enjoy benefits such as paychecks and superhero nannies.

There’s always time for team banter

Although the New Avengers do enjoy some new luxuries, they remain true to their core principles. Indeed, the second volume of New Avengers is built on the premise of staying true to these principles. This team is not the Avengers, they’re the New Avengers, heroes on their own terms. Rather than living in Avengers Tower and answering to Steve Rogers, the New Avengers remain on the ground, fighting for their neighborhood. Even after defeating Norman Osborn and overcoming the political stigma against superheroes, the New Avengers carry on just as they did before. In this way, the team stays grounded and humble in its efforts. The New Avengers are very much grounded by a focus on family. Bendis depicts the everyday struggles of raising a daughter in the chaotic world of the Avengers, including finding a nanny and living with a large group of superheroes. Additionally, the New Avengers, as a whole, are more of a family than a team. The team welcomes Doctor Strange back, like an old relative, with open arms. Iron Fist maintains his brotherly bond with Luke Cage, helping him buy and move in to Avengers Mansion. Cage and Jones are attacked by doombots on their date night, saved by Ms. Marvel, who happened to be flying by. Even Wong, Doctor Strange’s old servant, returns to assist the New Avengers in their new home. Everyone on the team shares a close bond and a group dynamic which indicates their familial relationship. Small scenes of the New Avengers in the kitchen go a long way to demonstrate the closeness of the team. This close bond allows the New Avengers to overcome vendettas from old enemies together. Indeed, the New Avengers constantly help each other tackle re-emerging threats, such as attacks from the spiritual realm and HAMMER. Acting as one, the New Avengers are able to put unfinished business behind them once and for all, looking after their own.

Just chilling after a mystical invasion

Indeed, the first story arc focuses on assisting Doctor Strange during an invasion from the spiritual realm. This arc kicks off the series with a bang, getting into the action right away. Despite the fast pace, this opening arc manages to introduce the team very well, setting up the main roster within the first issue. There is plenty of great action throughout, the banter establishes an entertaining team dynamic, and the artwork by Stuart Immonen fits the story perfectly. Focusing on mysticism in this arc also sets the tone for the new series, distinguishing the Heroic Age from earlier eras. Bendis seems to be headed in more experimental directions with the New Avengers. The only issue I had with this first arc is the strange inclusion of Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Barton shows up in the first issue briefly, then vanishes for a while, only to leave on “urgent Avengers business” in the middle of the story. Including Hawkeye felt fairly pointless to the story. It seems as if Bendis wanted him on the New Avengers at first, but then he changed his mind a little while later. The whole inclusion/removal of Hawkeye just felt sloppily done. Following this arc, the next couple of issues are smaller, one-shot stories. These issues give the team a chance to breathe and establish their day-to-day operations. Bendis includes how the team is paid, who’s still on the team, Cage and Jones hiring a nanny, and even a date night between the couple. Date night is a very fun issue, showing just how well Bendis writes Cage and Jones. If Avengers had more of these smaller issues, I think that series could have been a bit stronger. The final arc in these issues is sort of a mixed bag. I mainly enjoy the events of the present day, when the New Avengers take on HAMMER. There’s some great action, good tension between the team and Hand, and some stakes to the story, once Mockingbird is critically wounded. The flashbacks, however, focusing on Nick Fury’s “Avengers” in the 1950s, feel tacked on. There is only a very loose connection between these flashbacks and the present day, explained briefly at the end of the story. It seems as if Bendis simply wanted an excuse to write the flashbacks about Fury, using this arc as a chance to experiment with this idea. A separate mini-series might have been a better avenue in which to write Fury’s story. Additionally, injecting Mockingbird with the infinity formula at the end of the story doesn’t have any real long-term consequences, despite Fury’s warnings that she may regret being able to live for so long afterwards. Overall, the final arc is decent, but a bit disjointed.

So date night kind of got sidetracked…

Between New Avengers and Avengers, the former is definitely off to a better start. The New Avengers have a great team dynamic, the stories are simple but still fun, and Bendis manages to keep things character-focused and grounded. Maybe the New Avengers have simply had a better chance to develop during the previous volume, but Avengers just doesn’t have the same group dynamic or focus on the team as a whole. Still, New Avengers is a bit past its prime. I consider the post-Civil War through Siege era to be the glory days of the New Avengers, when they were a scrappy group of outlaws. Even so, I really enjoy seeing the team continue during the Heroic Age. The second volume of New Avengers feels like a victory lap for the team, and on a meta level, Bendis himself. Bringing the Thing onto the New Avengers is a very fun, unconventional move. Some aspects of the stories felt forced, like the Nick Fury flashbacks, but for the most part, this second volume is a solid set of adventures. Everything featuring the New Avengers’ group dynamic works beautifully, showing how far they’ve come as a team. Some of the best stories are the smaller ones, such as Cage and Jones’ date night. Bendis’ true talents lie with the more intimate, character-focused stories.

They’ve still got it

Although these initial issues are only the beginning for the New Avengers, their events will carry on through the rest of the series. Specifically, following the death of Brother Voodoo, his brother, Daniel Drumm, swears revenge on the New Avengers. Drumm bides his time, finally returning in the last arc of the series to exact his revenge. This final story brings the events of the New Avengers full-circle, concluding on a mystical note with which the series began. The return of HAMMER is also going to have serious consequences for the New Avengers. When Norman Osborn makes a comeback, escaping from prison, he will use all of HAMMER’s resources to come after the New Avengers. The entire team, especially Luke and Jessica, will feel the impact of Osborn’s villainous return. In the more immediate future, Squirrel Girl, the new nanny, will receive a lot more focus during Fear Itself. The New Avengers tie-ins for this event are going to show the challenge of being the nanny for the New Avengers. Yet Squirrel Girl will be more than up to the task. Additionally, these tie-ins will detail the infinity formula’s effects on Mockingbird, particularly the increase to her powers. Out of these initial issues, New Avengers carries ramifications throughout the rest of the series.

Heroes on their own terms

That’s all for today. What are your thoughts on the second volume of New Avengers? Are you glad Bendis kept the series going? I’d love to see your take on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow, when I look at the non-Bendis mini-series, Young Avengers: the Children’s Crusade!

Bendis’ Avengers: The Heroic Age

I remember when, for the first time since Avengers Disassembled, Bendis was announced to write the classic Avengers title. There was no adjective attached to the team, like “new”, “mighty”, or “dark”. This time, Bendis had a clean slate to make the main Avengers comic his own. In my mind, Bendis’ reinvention of the classic Avengers series was ripe with possibilities. Simply looking at the team’s roster, I could tell that Bendis was combining the best of the old with the best of the new. My favorite characters, Spider-Man and Wolverine, were finally on the same team as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. An all-star lineup of this caliber officially made this the coolest looking Avengers team that I’d seen. Most importantly, things were heading in a brighter direction in the Marvel Universe for the first time in a while. The Heroic Age ended years of internal conflict and political uncertainty for Marvel’s heroes. All of the good guys were finally on the same side, Ronin went back to his identity as Hawkeye, and the heroes were treated like heroes by the public again. In this new status quo Bendis could focus on getting back to basics. Relaunching the main Avengers title seemed like a bright new era for some of my favorite heroes, and I couldn’t wait to see them go into action.

Talk about a new golden age…

Bendis’ new Avengers title is centered around this new, Heroic Age status quo. Following the events of Siege, Steve Rogers was appointed as the new “top cop” of the Marvel heroes, essentially placing him in charge of world security. Rogers ushered in a new age for the Marvel landscape, abolishing the superhuman registration act and expanding the Avengers’ roster immensely. In fact, the Avengers became so large that they were split off into four titles: Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Academy. Finally, after a long, difficult period of political uncertainty from Civil War through Siege, the heroes were free from political agendas or government interference. Additionally, heroes such as Noh-Varr were now free to achieve their potential. Indeed, Noh-Varr, after fleeing from Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, finally found his purpose on Earth. Naming himself the Protector and donning a new costume, the Kree warrior was at last becoming the hero he was trying to be since Secret Invasion. Despite this bright new status quo, some issues remained unresolved. For example, the Illuminati, a group of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe, was still hidden from the rest of the heroes. These men acted covertly in order to protect the world at large. One of their more significant decisions was to split up the infinity gems, hiding each stone in a separate location. The secrecy of such a powerful action will not bode well for the Avengers.

Avengers Assemble indeed!

The main premise of Bendis’ Avengers builds off of Bendis’ Heroic Age, acting as both a fresh start and a continuation of what came before. Steve Rogers begins the series by selecting the flagship Avengers team. This team consists of Iron Man, Captain America (Bucky), Thor, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. Acting as the public face of the Avengers, this group of heroes is tasked with larger-scale threats. The Avengers operate out of Stark Tower, establishing themselves as the premiere superhero team of the Heroic Age. The team almost immediately embarks upon their first adventure when Kang the Conqueror approaches his old enemies for help. The Avengers are tasked by their adversary with fixing the broken timestream, becoming entangled in an intricate time-travel plot between Kang, Ultron, and their future children. Later on, all of the Avengers teams must band together in order to stop the Hood from acquiring all of the infinity gems. The former New Avengers villain has discovered the Illuminati’s hiding places for the stones, forcing the Avengers not only to confront him, but the Illuminati as well. Several bonds are tested by the discovery of the Illuminati’s existence, putting the new Heroic Age in jeopardy.

The old order changeth

During both of these epic storylines, the one central Avenger seems to be Tony Stark/Iron Man. In Rogers’ absence, there is no real leader of the Avengers, yet Stark maintains a central focus throughout the title. Bendis devotes much of his attention to Stark’s futuristic outlook and its consequences. Indeed, the first arc of the Avengers is based on time travel, specifically the events of the future. Stark plays a vital role in this arc, working to understand and repair the break in the timestream. It’s Stark who leads a small band of Avengers into the future, and when the team arrives, it’s an older version of Iron Man who greets them. Interacting with his future self only leaves Stark even more concerned about the future of the Avengers, and the world as a whole. Iron Man now knows that he must be prepared for what’s coming, as his future self warns him of imminent threats. Yet the bearing the burden of the future on his own ultimately comes back to bite Stark. In the second story arc, when the Hood gains control of the Illuminati’s infinity gems, Stark must confide in the other Avengers. Realizing that he cannot control the fate of the future as one man, Stark relies on his teammates, working with the Avengers to recover the infinity stones. Once Stark wields the Infinity Gauntlet, he realizes that mankind must be free to make their own progress, choosing to relinquish the power of the gauntlet. Although he is deeply concerned with the future, Stark realizes he cannot solely control the fate of humankind.

Avengers intervention!

The next classic member of the Avengers is Thor. Just like Iron Man, Thor’s presence gives the team a more classic Avengers feel. Thor’s power levels, for example, bring the Avengers back up to a large-scale, cosmic-level status as a team. The god of thunder is certainly the Avengers’ main powerhouse, taking on beings of immense power such as Galactus, Kang, and the Hood, who wields several infinity gems. A nice touch which Bendis adds to the book is the sense of awe which the Avengers display in Thor’s presence. This Avengers group is a mix of the old and the new, so the reactions of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman to someone like Thor contributes much to the god of thunder’s status as an Avenger. Thor is a founding member of immense power and nobility, and Bendis does an excellent job demonstrating how important and inspiring this is for the team’s morale. When Thor blasts Kang out of Avengers Tower, the rest of the team gapes in awe, while Hawkeye simply says, “That would be what it’s like to be on the Avengers with Thor”. Bendis also includes several moments that showcase Thor’s nobility and wisdom. Specifically, when inducting new members to the Avengers, Thor shows great insight into these heroes’ character. New members such as the Protector and the Red Hulk are given a chance because Thor can see their heroism and strength. Fighting side by side with the Red Hulk against the Hood, for example, Thor is a great comrade in arms for old and new Avengers. Overall, Bendis returns Thor to a major player in the Avengers.

Now that’s a heavy-hitter

While Bendis insures the return of classic Avengers to the title, he also makes room for plenty of newcomers. Continuing his character arc from earlier in Bendis’ Avengers saga, Noh-Varr finally joins the team. Joining Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a natural progression for Noh-Varr’s character. Indeed, after deciding to embrace his role as the Earth’s Kree protector, it seems as if Noh-Varr has finally found his footing as a true hero. Naturally, then, the Avengers are a great team on which the Protector can fulfill his purpose and contribute to the protection of mankind. Additionally, adding the Protector to the team shows Bendis’ enjoyment in expanding the Avengers’ ranks. After adding popular heroes such as Spider-Man and Wolverine, and obscure characters such as Luke Cage and Spider-Woman, Bendis is certainly willing to make nearly anyone who qualifies into an Avenger. If a hero can be an Avenger, why shouldn’t they be? Indeed, Noh-Varr brings many skills to the ranks of the Avengers, including his great intelligence. Showing off Noh-Varr’s intellect contributes to his interactions with Avengers such as Stark and Spider-Man, as he begins to bond with the team. Adding the Protector’s knowledge of alien technology and time travel makes him a valuable asset, especially when the Avengers need to fix the timestream. Bendis also writes a lot of fun character interactions between Noh-Varr and the others, poking fun at the cultural differences between humans and Kree. Particularly, seeing Noh-Varr struggle to figure out Spider-Man’s jokes is a lot of fun. Bendis has always been quite adept at this witty kind of dialogue, which also adds to the group dynamic. All of these factors make Noh-Varr a great addition to the Avengers.

Our little boy, all grown up

Bringing on the Red Hulk is another bold move on Bendis’ part. On the one hand, adding a Hulk to the Avengers feels perfectly consistent with the team’s history. Combining the Red Hulk’s raw power with that of Thor evokes the original lineup of the founding Avengers. The Red Hulk’s strength is certainly necessary in the face of major threats such as the Hood with the infinity gems. Indeed, the Red Hulk plays a major role in combating the Hood, taking him on single-handedly several times. More importantly, Bendis emphasizes the Red Hulk’s strategic mindset. Unlike his green counterpart, the Red Hulk has a rich military background, as General Thunderbolt Ross. Bendis certainly does not forget the character’s history, distinguishing the Red Hulk from the other powerful heroes on the Avengers. It’s the Red Hulk’s strategy and tactics which aid against the Hood, in addition to his strength, showing the character’s well-rounded nature. Furthermore, the circumstances under which the Red Hulk joins the Avengers is in the true spirit of the team. Bendis introduces the Red Hulk naturally, coming to the Avengers after his own encounter with the Hood. It’s the pure chance of the Red Hulk’s fight with the Hood which connects him to the Avengers, yet this chance encounter becomes an opportunity for the Red Hulk to join the team. The Avengers come together under dire circumstances that involve them all, bringing together heroes from all over. Once again, if a hero can be an Avenger, why not give them a chance?

Seizing his opportunity

The rest of the team is a great collection of heroes. Unfortunately, most of the Avengers serve as glorified cameos for both of Bendis’ stories. Captain America/Bucky, for example, should be vital to the team. At last, Bucky has the opportunity to be on a classic Avengers roster and demonstrate his unique skills. Yet Cap only gets a few moments to show off his marksmanship that don’t really do much for his character. Clint Barton has become Hawkeye again, but beyond his return to the role, not much is done with the character. Spider-Man has some good quips and Wolverine does his fair share of stabbing, but both characters seem like they’re only there because of their popularity. Spider-Woman also just seems to be on the team because Bendis likes her character, but she is given a minimal role thus far. There isn’t a lot of insight into these characters’ thoughts/feelings either, leaving them as colorful extras in Bendis’ narrative. Still, at least Bendis’ knack for dialogue gives the team a few fun moments. Particularly, former New Avengers Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Hawkeye, share plenty of light banter which provides good comedic relief. If Bendis had focused more on these characters, and the team dynamic in general, Avengers would feel more fully like a team book. Indeed, Bendis’ New Avengers run and the first few pages of Avengers illustrate his skill with entertaining character dynamics. Additionally, Maria Hill serves a nice role as the Avengers’ consultant. Giving the Avengers someone who speaks on behalf of the government, and regular humans in general, really grounds the team. This way, the Avengers never stray too far from the people’s interests, while remaining free to act of their own accord.

Some colorful extras…

It seems to be the very idea of the Avengers which Bendis grapples with throughout these two story arcs. While it seems that the Avengers are stronger than ever in light of the Heroic Age, it’s this very strength which may threaten the world. Much of the first story arc, for example, explores a possible future in which the Avengers are responsible for the Earth’s decimation. Bringing their own power up against the likes of Kang and Ultron leads to humanity’s downfall. Additionally, Simon Williams, formerly Wonder Man, tells Steve Rogers to shut down the Avengers, fearing that the team has become too much like an army. Indeed, it is this army which is seen to have decimated humanity during the battle with Ultron in the future. Witnessing the consequences of their power, the Avengers must insure the responsible use of their combined might. Instead of fighting, the Avengers negotiate with Ultron, averting a catastrophe by using their brains instead of their brawn. Furthermore, only a small band of Avengers speaks to Ultron, showing a group of heroes at work, rather than an army. In seeing the future, the Avengers realize the balance they must strike between being proactive and being reactive. While the team is expanding, making the world safer than ever, they must also be wary of the consequences behind their actions. Literally facing their own future, the Avengers realize that they have to keep themselves in check, remaining humanity’s defenders instead of their destroyers. The Avengers certainly keep their own members accountable, such as when they confront Iron Man and his involvement with the Illuminati. Previously acting under no accountability, the Illuminati now face the judgement of their peers. For example, the secrecy of the Illuminati is criticized heavily. Specifically, by placing such immense power in their own hands, the Illuminati only took the consideration of a select few into account. Additionally, when the Hood discovered the hiding places of the infinity gems, he demonstrated the danger of messing with such immense power. When the Avengers learn of the Illuminati’s actions, the heroes act to fix the mistakes of their own, recovering the gems. By working together, and holding each other accountable, the Avengers are able to act in the interests of all, rather than a select few. The Hood is brought down, and the gems are returned to their rightful places, thanks to the cooperation of the entire Avengers team.

With great power, there must also come crazy alternate futures

While each of these themes are very powerful on a conceptual level, the specific story arcs of the Avengers are not executed as well. The first story arc, in particular, is overstuffed with ideas. There are far too many time-travel based twists and turns to the plot which complicate things unnecessarily. Often, the Avengers’ mission shifts from one goal to the next, and the whole broken timestream plot generally loses coherence. Bendis does present many exciting, entertaining moments, big action scenes, and beautiful glimpses into the future. Much of this is brought to life dazzlingly by John Romita Jr. Yet the story ultimately loses focus on the Avengers themselves, giving most of the spotlight to Iron Man and Noh-Varr. Considering that this is the first story arc featuring the new Avengers team, I would have liked to have seen a greater focus on all of the Avengers. Overall, the first story arc crumbles under the weight of its own ambition, presenting some great ideas with minimal focus. Bendis also takes a lot of time setting up his big event, Age of Ultron, which does not pay off in the main Avengers title. The second story arc is an improvement in many ways. The Infinity Gauntlet story addresses the issues with the Illuminati, especially the consequences of their actions. Specifically, when the Hood gains some of the infinity gems, he shows what can go wrong when power like the Illuminati’s falls into the wrong hands. Additionally, Bendis finally gives the readers a confrontation between Steve and Tony about the Illuminati, and other unresolved issues which were not addressed in Avengers: Prime. This conflict between the two heroes demonstrates how some wounds never fully heal between friends. The story also has beautiful splash pages, a great inclusion of every Avengers team, fun action scenes, and entertaining character moments. My only issue with this story is its ending, when the Illuminati secretly decides to hide the gems again, with Steve Rogers joining the group this time. The ending is written as if the characters have learned nothing. During the story, Bendis made it seem as if the Illuminati learned that even they, as heroes, cannot take it upon themselves to wield such great power. Yet, not only do they continue to meet in secret and hide the gems, but Rogers becomes part of their operation. Not only does this action contradict the lesson which the group should have learned, it makes Rogers look like a hypocrite for chastising Iron Man earlier on. While this story arc is very entertaining and thought-provoking, it stumbles in the conclusion.

Action worthy of the Avengers

Re-reading Bendis’ Avengers, these first two arcs have a lot more flash than substance. John Romita Jr.’s artwork is gorgeous, there are some amazing action scenes, funny moments, and a great roster of heroes. The plot itself, unfortunately, is a bit of a jumbled mess, especially during the time-travel story arc. Bendis makes things way too convoluted for my taste, and the stories simply don’t hit as powerfully as Bendis’ more grounded, New Avengers work. The Infinity Gauntlet story arc is much better than the first arc, but still, the story loses its message in the ending. It feels as if Bendis is trying to say something about power and how heroes should wield it, yet there are so many contradictory messages which muddle the overall point. Should the Illuminati disband, realizing the consequences of their actions, or should they continue in secret, realizing that they are needed more than ever? Bendis, in a way, says both, in the most confusing way possible. There’s also generally too many characters for anyone to receive significant focus, outside of Iron Man, Noh-Varr, and the Red Hulk. Of course, these last two are new members, so it would feel strange if Bendis did not give them any attention. The Avengers in this title feel more like props than actual characters, sacrificed for the sake of an over-convoluted plot. Overall, Bendis definitely displays stronger work in more grounded, character-focused stories, rather than massive, sci-fi blockbusters.

Maybe don’t assemble all at once…

Going forward, the time-travel story arc will only hold significance outside of Bendis’ Avengers series. Specifically, Ultron will return during an alternate future story, entitled Age of Ultron. This will be the final story which Bendis writes that features the Avengers, although it ultimately holds little weight in his overarching Avengers run. During the actual Avengers series, however, Bendis’ new members will continue to show great importance to the team. The Red Hulk and Noh-Varr will be featured heavily throughout Bendis’ run, even during big events such as Fear Itself and Avengers vs. X-Men. During these tie-in issues, Bendis’ new members demonstrate several valuable skills to the Avengers and are given some great character insight. Finally, the Illuminati is essentially finished after Bendis’ Infinity Gauntlet story arc. The group never really makes another appearance in Bendis’ Avengers run, outside of one failed meeting during Avengers vs. X-Men. Perhaps this shows that the Illuminati shouldn’t be operating anymore, despite the confusing ending to this last arc. The absence of the Illuminati indicates that their incident with the Hood showed them the consequences of their actions. For the rest of Bendis’ Avengers run, Earth’s Mightiest heroes act as one, harboring no more secrets between each other.

I guess this pays off somehow…

That’s all for today. How do you feel about the Heroic Age? Do you like Bendis’ epic, sci-fi stories, or his more grounded, street-level ones? Let me know on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow for my look at Bendis’ take on New Avengers in the Heroic Age!

Bendis’ Avengers: Avengers: Prime

In the pages of Siege, Bendis finally reunited the three core Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. With Marvel’s trinity back in the game, it seemed as if the Avengers were returning to their glory days. Indeed, at the time of Avengers: Prime‘s publication, I could tell that Bendis was reforming the classic Avengers from the ground up. Twelve-year-old me was filled to the brim with excitement. A limited series, focused exclusively on the three biggest Avengers of all time, written by the guy behind New Avengers? Needless to say, I bought and read every issue. What excited me the most was the re-connection between Cap, Iron Man, and Thor. After Civil War, how could Cap and Iron Man forgive each other? After so much time away from the Avengers, would Thor’s presence help mend the old wounds between these two? Beyond the character moments, the comic was simply beautiful to behold. Alan Davis’ artwork brought the action and adventure to life in a bold and eye-popping manner. Seeing the big three Avengers venture off into otherworldly realms and adapt to their surroundings was a lot of fun. Overall, I have very fond memories of Avengers: Prime, kicking off the Heroic Age.

The big three are back

The Heroic Age was a bold new era for the Marvel Universe and its heroes. Following the events of Siege, Norman Osborn was finally out of power, and Steve Rogers was the next “top cop” of the Marvel Universe. All seemed right with the world. The superhuman registration act was abolished and Marvel’s heroes were reunited, including Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. Although things seemed to be turning out well for the heroes, there was still plenty of work to be done. Old wounds, particularly between Captain America and Iron Man, needed time to heal. Considering the unresolved nature of Civil War, these two lead Avengers had to have a serious talk before they could work together again. Additionally, Thor’s home, Asgard, was almost completely destroyed during Siege. It would take time, and a lot of help from the Avengers, to get Asgard back on its feet. In the midst of personal conflict and devastated homes, the Avengers were also needed in the world at large. The aftermath of Siege left a world in dire need of its heroes. This was a second chance to start the Avengers from scratch, without repeating any of their recent mistakes over the years.

Picking up the pieces

Indeed, Avengers: Prime embodies this fresh start for the team. Bendis uses this mini-series as a way to clean the slate for the Heroic Age. Avengers: Prime begins with the unresolved tension between Steve Rogers and Iron Man. Rogers clearly has issues trusting Stark, recalling his recent mistakes during Civil War and Secret Invasion, which led to Osborn’s rise to power. Stark, by contrast, is fed up with Rogers’ rigid sense of morality and unwillingness to let things go. Thor, meanwhile, is frustrated with his allies’ petty bickering, feeling more detached from his fellow Avengers than ever. Still, the three Avengers continue to work together on clean-up after the events of Siege. Eventually, the Avengers discover a mysterious portal, which takes each of them to a different one of the nine realms. Rogers, Iron Man, and Thor find themselves separated and lost in strange new lands. The Avengers must then find each other and figure out who is behind their abduction into different realms. Along the way, each Avenger stumbles upon several allies and enemies across the realms. Eventually, the three main Avengers have to work together for the first time in years, overcoming their differences in order to defeat their mysterious foe.

They’ve got their work cut out for themselves

Throughout Avengers: Prime, Bendis highlights the vital role that each of the three Avengers brings to the team. First and foremost is Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. Despite Rogers’ “holier-than-thou” exterior, Bendis slowly reveals Rogers’ own insecurities throughout the story. Even though Rogers has won a major victory by the end of Siege, he’s well aware that there is still plenty to fix going forward. The broken trust between Rogers and Stark is a major obstacle that Rogers has to overcome. At his core, Steve Rogers is a soldier. The man needs a team on which he can rely, and when he doesn’t feel he can rely on Stark, Rogers can’t work alongside him. Mending the broken trust between Stark and himself is only the first step in this second chance Rogers has been given. Rogers is the type of hero who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and, being placed in charge of national security, Rogers feels a greater sense of responsibility than ever. Steve knows that any move that he makes next is crucial for this second chance, and he can’t afford to repeat the mistakes which resulted in Civil War. Aside from the internal conflict, Bendis also shows off a lot of Rogers’ fighting skills as well. Indeed, when Rogers first arrives in the land of the dark elves, he manages to take down an entire barroom of these creatures with ease. Rogers may be the least powerful of the three Avengers, but he is certainly the most skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Combining Rogers’ leadership and fighting skills, Bendis shows why Steve is so important to the Avengers.

Captain of the ship

Complementing Rogers, Iron Man/Tony Stark is just as vital to the Avengers. While Rogers is given a second chance to lead the team, Stark’s second chance is to earn the Avengers’ trust back. This is quite the task for Stark, considering his numerous mistakes during events such as Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Dark Reign. Yet after all of his personal blunders, Stark still wants to prove himself to his friends. Bendis depicts Stark as the most flawed and human out of the main three Avengers. He’s made many mistakes, but he’s trying to be better. In the face of Rogers’ moral superiority, this is quite an intimidating challenge for Stark. Still, Bendis portrays Stark as a mechanic at heart, believing that “Anything can be rebuilt. Anything”. Where Rogers thinks on a conceptual level, realizing that things need to be fixed, Stark focuses on how to fix things. For example, Stark presents some ideas on how to rebuild Asgard, and he is able to repair his own armor when he’s stranded at the beginning of the series. This technical mindset makes Stark essential to the team. Bendis also gives Stark the most attitude of the three Avengers. Stark provides many quips, sarcastic remarks, and general comic relief. This becomes an advantage for the character, who is able to talk his way out of several situations. In one scene, Stark convinces the troops of Fafnir, the dragon, to flee, bluffing that Thor is on his way to smite them. Stark’s quick wit and technical genius make him an essential asset to the Avengers.

Such a way with words…

Completing Bendis’ Avengers trifecta is Thor, the god of thunder. Thor is often depicted as the connective tissue between Rogers and Stark. Despite these characters’ issues, they both come to Thor’s aid during and after the siege of Asgard. Thor was never part of Civil War and generally has no quarrel with either of his teammates. This neutrality of the character essentially makes Thor the glue that holds Rogers and Stark together, at least until they can resolve their conflict. Additionally, Thor is the most useful of the three Avengers when it comes to traversing the nine realms. Living for several millennia and traveling across many realms in his lifetime, Thor brings a plethora of knowledge and experience to the Avengers. Indeed, it is this experience which guides Rogers and Stark through the events of Avengers: Prime. Thor is often the Avenger who brings context to the events of the story, guiding his teammates throughout their fantastical voyage. On top of his personal experience and even temper, Thor is also by far the powerhouse of the Avengers. This raw power has been missing from the team for years, leaving them without a mighty warrior to fend off larger threats. For example, it’s Thor who ultimately takes on Hela, the main villain of the story, determining the fate of all existence. Without the might of the thunder god on their side, Rogers and Stark would be nearly defenseless against all-powerful enemies. Tempered by humility and wisdom, Thor makes a big difference as the muscle of the Avengers.

Just a regular Thursday for him…

The one major character outside of the big three Avengers is Amora, the Enchantress. Amora’s conflict with Thor serves a unique purpose throughout Avengers: Prime. Similarly to Stark and Rogers, Amora initially lets her past conflict with Thor interfere with her judgement. Indeed, Amora teams up with Hela, the goddess of death, in order to kill Thor and destroy all of existence. Eventually, however, Amora realizes her own folly. Recognizing that she allowed her personal conflicts to cloud her mind, Amora decides to help Thor in order to save the universe from Hela’s wrath. While Amora does not necessarily forgive Thor for their past conflicts, she acknowledges that she cannot let these issues put all of existence in jeopardy. Furthermore, while Amora recognizes her problems with Thor and Asgard, she would rather take the time to settle them, rather than simply end all of existence. It is this momentary setting aside of conflict which mirrors the Avengers’ own predicament. Rogers, Stark, and Thor, must all come together, despite past conflict, to stop a common foe. In this way, the heroes can gain the opportunity to resolve their own issues.

Look who came to her senses…

Putting aside their internal conflict momentarily, the Avengers are given the chance to start from scratch. Indeed, Avengers: Prime is an adventure that very much takes the team back to basics, stripping them of previous baggage. To begin with, the mini-series only features the three core members of the Avengers, cutting the roster down to the bare minimum. These three different heroes must unite to fight a common foe, who none of them can defeat on their own. This very concept is at the heart of the Avengers’ origin, starting the team from the ground up once more. On a more physical level, each of these Avengers is stripped down to his most basic skills/tools. Steve acquires a new shield and armor in battle, Stark modifies an old Iron Man suit with the technology available to him, and even Thor has to make do without his hammer for a while. Physically stripping down the Avengers, Bendis distills them down to their core. Steve is a soldier, Stark is a mechanic, and Thor is a warrior god. Starting from scratch gives the Avengers a chance to begin anew with each other as well. Taken away from the world of their previous mistakes, the Avengers get a chance to fight alongside each other again. This battle, for the fate of existence is morally straightforward, giving them the opportunity to unite over a common goal. Taking the Avengers away from Earth for a while also allows them to remember their own camaraderie. Steve and Tony begin to banter again, even sharing memories over a fire in one scene. Thor is forced to rely on his friends, remembering what makes them such trustworthy and formidable allies. While none of the Avengers can simply forget their past mistakes, they can start fresh, going back to the bond that made them into Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Recognizing that they have to move forward and do things differently, the Avengers use their circumstances to rebuild themselves from the ground up.

Just some casual campfire talk

These ideas generally come across very well in the plot. Yet it takes a while for the story to really get moving. For the first couple of issues, Bendis focuses on the Avengers’ separation, as each member navigates through a different realm. Seeing each Avenger find his way in unfamiliar territory is fun for a while. Still, Bendis drags the initial premise out for a little too long. It’s not until three issues in that the Avengers all find each other again. Considering that this is a five issue mini-series, most of the time seems to be spent on the separation of the Avengers. It’s when the team finally reunites that the story finally starts to pick up. The moments of bonding are nice to see, especially the scene with all three Avengers reminiscing over a campfire. I think there could have been more scenes like this one, just showing the Avengers sharing a quiet moment of friendship. It reminds the reader of the Avengers’ humanity and common bond. Bendis definitely could have removed the love interest for Rogers, instead focusing more time on the friendships between the Avengers. Additionally, taking Rogers and Stark out of their element was a lot of fun. Giving both characters new weapons and armor in new territory makes for a very different, fantastical kind of Avengers story. There are also a lot of great action set-pieces, especially during the final fight, when the Avengers rally an army against Hela. Iron Man riding Fafnir the dragon is a particularly amazing image. Hela herself was a good villain for the story, giving these big name Avengers a worthy foe. Hela’s motives for destroying all of existence are shaky. Simply being upset because Asgard is now on Earth seems fairly petty, failing to justify the destruction of the universe. Still, the villain’s motives are inconsequential, considering the main focus is on the heroes and their reunion.

They may not be Avengers, but they’re assembled

Overall, Avengers: Prime is a good intro to Bendis’ Heroic Age material. The mini-series shows exactly what a classic Avengers series can be under Bendis’ pen. There are some great character interactions, the action is fast-paced and exciting, and the series is generally a lot of fun. There isn’t too much to think about in terms of plotline, but Avengers: Prime is certainly some good, old-fashioned Avengers fun. I do wish that Bendis had focused more on the healing between Steve and Tony. I was waiting for a big heart-to-heart discussion between the two about Civil War which might clear the air. Yet Bendis doesn’t do much past the initial argument and concluding apology between Tony and Steve. The campfire scene, again, was nice, along with all of the witty banter between Steve and Tony, but I felt that the characters forgave each other a little too quickly. Generally, though, Avengers: Prime does a good job at re-establishing the big three of the Avengers. Things may never be the same between them, but the Avengers’ trinity still share a bond which allows them to move forward together. Avengers: Prime pushes its heroes to go back to their roots, simultaneously allowing them to move forward.

This is a bit much

Avengers: Prime appropriately lays the groundwork for Bendis’ Heroic Age. Following this reunion of the big three, the Avengers will re-assemble, stronger than ever. Steve Rogers hand-picks his own Avengers team, one which includes Iron Man and Thor. This team will be the flagship of the Heroic Age, an era in which Rogers is the head of national security. Following Avengers: Prime, Rogers, Stark, and Thor, will be the faces of this Heroic Age. Not everything is perfect, however. During the Heroic Age, the trust issues between Rogers and Stark resurface. Specifically, discovering the existence of the Illuminati, Rogers will become furious with Stark. Debates over power and control from Civil War will resurface during this storyline, showing that Avengers: Prime may not have entirely resolved Rogers and Stark’s conflict. Finally, the existence of Asgard on Earth will prove tricky, to say the least. While Stark will aid in rebuilding the fabled land, Thor’s home will bring its own problems to Earth. During Fear Itself, for example, the fear deity known as the Serpent will attack Earth. This leads the gods of Asgard to abandon Earth, severing the relationship between gods and mortals. Left to fend for themselves, the mortal heroes must fight the serpent without Asgard’s aid. Although Avengers: Prime ushers in a new era, things are still far from perfect.

Reunited and it feels so good

That’s all for today. What do you think of Avengers: Prime? Do you like how Bendis portrays Marvel’s trinity? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check in on Monday, when I begin my look at Bendis’ main Avengers title!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #61-64/Finale

Reading the New Avengers tie-ins for Civil War and Secret Invasion, it came as no surprise that the title would also tie-in to Bendis’ next big event, Siege. By the end of the series, New Avengers was almost inherently connected to big, game-changing events. Even though I came to expect New Avengers tie-ins to Siege, I remember initially being disappointed by these Siege tie-in issues. For starters, the first two issues of tie-in material didn’t even take place during Siege. Reading the massive, blockbuster events in Siege, I was hoping that New Avengers would show more of the action on Asgard. Yet the first half of tie-in material took place before Siege even happened. The following two issues partially fulfilled my action-quota, showing bits and pieces from the siege of Asgard. Yet even those two issues felt like filler, cutting away to earlier character moments which seemed irrelevant. In hindsight, these four tie-in issues were much better than I remember. Bendis uses these issues to focus on character development and hidden plot points before and during Siege. At the time, however, I just wanted more action, ignoring the important character moments in these final issues. One issue which I enjoyed both as a kid and an adult, however, was the New Avengers: Finale comic. I remember feeling so many emotions as Bendis brought this long-running series to a close. I grew up for years with this group, which I still consider to be my Avengers team. Seeing the whole thing end felt bittersweet, like the series finale to a good TV show. I hadn’t felt so melancholy, yet satisfied, until I read the ending to New Avengers.

One last time

The ending of New Avengers centers around the events of Siege. During this event, Norman Osborn and his forces make one final, desperate grab at power. Believing Asgard to be a threat, Osborn leads a siege on Thor’s fabled home. Witnessing this horrific assault, the original Captain America gathers the Avengers. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes then venture to Asgard, in order to aid Thor and stop Osborn once and for all. Prior to these events, in the pages of New Avengers, the Hood and his gang recently agreed to work for Osborn. Following a major humiliation at the New Avengers’ hands, Osborn tasked these supervillains with killing the street-level heroes. This deal placed the New Avengers in serious jeopardy, as both Osborn’s Avengers and the Hood’s army were after them. Yet there emerged some hope for the heroes, in the form of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. Before Siege, Rogers had come back from the dead. Sticking to the shadows, Rogers caught up on the current status of the Marvel Universe, preparing to make his move against Osborn and his team. With their former leader back in the game, the New Avengers finally had a fighting chance against Osborn.

Let’s go get im

The final issues of New Avengers begin right after Rogers’ return, yet before the events of Siege. Although these issues do serve as tie-in material for Siege, the main purpose is to conclude the story of the New Avengers. As mentioned previously, event comics had become intertwined with New Avengers, to the point where tie-ins were essentially regular issues. Bendis uses the last issues of New Avengers to tell the story of the team before, during, and even a little bit after, the events of Siege. Most of the issues focus on the New Avengers’ conflict with the Hood and his gang. Much like the New Avengers, the Hood’s gang aren’t prominently featured during Siege itself. It only makes sense, then, that Bendis features the last bit of conflict between these lower-level teams in the pages of New Avengers. By contrast, larger-scale conflicts, such as those between the big name Avengers and Osborn’s forces, would be featured in the main Siege event. These final issues of New Avengers are also a good opportunity to dive deeper into the series’ protagonists one last time. Focusing on the marriage between Ronin and Mockingbird, for example, or the fun dynamic between Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, are both smaller character moments which Siege can’t fully explore.

Some deleted witty banter from Siege

Indeed, Clint Barton/Ronin and Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird are given an issue or two to focus on their marriage. Following their reunion at the end of Secret Invasion, Ronin and Mockingbird haven’t had much room to explore their relationship. During the hectic events of Dark Reign, there was never a good time for Bendis to pause and look at these characters individually. Now, given the gap between Dark Reign and Siege, Bendis can give these characters a bit of a breather. Taking a pause from the action, Ronin and Mockingbird realize that they’re still unsure where their relationship stands. After being held captive by the Skrulls for so long, Mockingbird is understandably changed. Additionally, Ronin is a much darker character than he once was, showing how time may have created a dramatic rift between the couple. Given the hope of Steve Rogers’ return, and the possibility of winning the battle against Osborn, both Ronin and Mockingbird are terrified of pondering their marital status. If they are given time to reflect, perhaps the couple might not like what they find. It’s the events of Siege, however, which essentially scare the couple straight. When Ronin mistakenly believes Mockingbird to have died, he realizes how much she truly means to him. In return, Mockingbird is moved by Ronin’s concern for her safety, realizing her love for her husband. It is this sentimental, character-focused arc which shows Bendis’ ability to explore the New Avengers in the midst of a massive event like Siege.

“Stay out of this, Spidey!”

Additionally, Bendis has plenty of room to look at characters before the events of Siege, including Steve Rogers and Bucky, the current Captain America. Bendis provides a nice window into Rogers’ activity after his return, and before the events of Siege. Specifically, including the exploits of Rogers and Bucky gives the reader a fun look at the characters’ dynamic. Scoping out the wreckage of Rogers’ old apartment, after an attack by Osborn’s forces, Rogers and Bucky demonstrate a strong rapport. As partners in World War II, Rogers and Bucky are back in action, sharing a bond of brotherhood. In battle, the two soldiers flow together seamlessly, fighting off a couple of the Hood’s gang members. It’s also nice to see Bucky catching Steve up on things that he’s missed, such as the Hood’s gang. Not only does this give Steve some knowledge of the world, it also shows how much Bucky has experienced in his time with the New Avengers. Steve may have started the team, but Bucky has spent a good deal of time alongside them. The New Avengers’ reaction to Steve’s return is another good opportunity which Bendis uses well. Luke Cage’s excitement and Ms. Marvel’s emotional hug with Steve are both very heartwarming, capturing the smaller moments of Steve’s return nicely. I do wish that Bucky and Steve had more personal dialogue. For example, what does Steve think of Bucky joining the New Avengers? I guess Ed Brubaker already covered most of these moments in Captain America, but a few more in New Avengers wouldn’t hurt.

“I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed”

Another fun pre-Siege pairing is between Spider-Man and Spider-Woman. Since her return at the end of Secret Invasion, Spider-Woman didn’t really get that much to do. These couple of issues change that, featuring Spider-Woman significantly. The character’s interactions with Spider-Man have a two-pronged effect: detailing more about Spider-Woman, while at the same time establishing a fun dynamic between the characters. Bendis’ dialogue between the two Avengers is spot-on, contrasting the all-business personality of Spider-Woman with Spider-Man’s constant quips and talkative nature. Later on in the story, Bendis also does a nice job turning this dynamic on its head. Spider-Man shows more of his serious side when Spider-Woman is under mind-control by Mandrill, one of the Hood’s gang. Using his brains and his heart, Spider-Man manages to reach Spider-Woman, freeing her from Mandrill’s control. Additionally, when Spider-Woman is tempted to kill Mandrill, Spider-Man gets through to her once more, knowing that she’s above cold-blooded murder. These issues show a rare occasion where Bendis’ Spider-Man isn’t just the comic relief. Indeed, the web-slinger’s experience shines through. Spider-Man realizes that leaving the Hood’s gang for the police means that they’ll be released soon, yet he also understands the reality that getting them off the streets, even for a while, will have to be enough for the moment.

I’d watch this buddy-cop movie

Throughout the final issues of New Avengers, the one, festering nuisance of the team remains the Hood. Before, during, and after Siege, the Hood and his gang are the primary focus for the New Avengers. Acts such as working for Norman Osborn, supplying the norn stones for Osborn’s forces, and involving his gang in the siege of Asgard show all of the Hood’s behind-the-scenes importance. Through all of Siege, the Hood barely manages to make it out alive, almost making him the one criminal who got away. The New Avengers will not stand for this man’s escape, however. The Hood is one last hindrance to the team, the final itch that needs scratching. When all of the big heroes, such as Iron Man or Thor, believe the fight is over, the New Avengers know that small-time guys like the Hood are still out there. It’s genius that Bendis makes the Hood the final problem for the New Avengers to solve. The New Avengers were formed to hunt down escaped criminals, so it only makes sense that their last mission fulfills their original purpose. Guys like the Hood are the ones that most people don’t think about, not like Doctor Doom or Loki. Yet, to a team like the New Avengers, the Hood is an ever-present danger that must be stopped.

Some under-the-table dealings…

Who better to lead the New Avengers’ final charge than Luke Cage, the heart and soul of the team? Cage isn’t featured much until the finale, but he still has some small, fun moments throughout these final issues. One particularly sweet moment comes when Cage helps out Steve and Bucky in the wreckage of Rogers’ apartment. As it turns out, Cage returned to retrieve the pacifier for his baby daughter, Danielle. It’s a very small moment that reminds the reader how down-to-Earth Cage is. Of course, his reaction to Steve’s return is also very nice. Once the finale issue begins, however, Cage takes center stage. Indeed, it’s Luke’s conviction which compels the New Avengers to go after the Hood one last time. Cage even takes the initiative in calling Wolverine to assist, showing his connections with each member of the team. The last few pages of the finale are also capped off with a beautiful speech by Cage. Luke reminisces on the team’s adventures, all the while summing up what New Avengers has all been about. The speech ends with a simple, yet powerful wish by Cage to take a walk in the park with his wife and daughter, which he does. The page of all the New Avengers walking in the park is beautiful, showing why Cage is the center of this team. Seeing him in the park with his family is both inspiring, in light of all of the team’s hardships, yet a very relatable, human moment.

Cage for president!

Amidst the epic, sweeping scope of Siege, New Avengers takes the time to focus on some of the smaller issues, at which it excels. Most of these issues are things which don’t usually receive much focus in larger events. The team only takes on a few members of the Hood’s gang at a time, which is reminiscent of the original New Avengers issues. The team began by going after one criminal at a time, so seeing only a couple of New Avengers take on two members of the Hood’s gang reminds the reader of the series’ beginnings. Even in the finale, the New Avengers spend their time going after the Hood, one criminal who just happened to be associating with two others at the time. These are not major, global-catastrophe level threats. Yet the Hood and his gang are still real threats, ones that hit close to home. The New Avengers, from the start, were formed to battle this level of supervillain. Going after the Hood shows how the New Avengers stand by their principles. Immediately after Siege, the New Avengers are remain unsure of where they stand with the government. Still, the team saddles up to hunt down one criminal, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Even if the New Avengers remained fugitives, they chose to finish their mission, without any thought of praise or reward. Ironically, it’s for this reason that the New Avengers are indeed rewarded. Enduring times such as Secret Invasion and Dark Reign, the team’s patience is rewarded by the return of Steve Rogers, who brings a new hope to the heroes. Taking down Norman Osborn under Rogers’ leadership, the team feels a sense of vindication. The New Avengers stuck by their principles ever since the end of Civil War, despite the sacrifices that came with them. The team’s beliefs are finally validated when the superhuman registration act is abolished. Finally, the New Avengers are free to live, going for a stroll through the park together.

Finishing the job

Re-reading these stories, the final issues of New Avengers are far better than I remember. Specifically, the issues focusing on Steve/Bucky and Spider-Man/Spider-Woman fighting members of the Hood’s gang hold up very well. The character interactions between Spider-Man and Spider-Woman are very fun to read, and there are plenty of great fight scenes during both segments of this story. Luke Cage’s entrance during Steve/Bucky’s segment is very satisfying as well. Steve’s reunion with the New Avengers is very heart-warming, and it feels well-earned. These issues act as a nice prelude to Siege, setting up Steve’s re-connection with the New Avengers and showing exactly how Nick Fury and his Secret Warriors got involved with the Avengers. The next couple of issues are definitely the least interesting of the bunch. There are some fun cuts to the New Avengers during the siege of Asgard, but the flashbacks to Ronin/Mockingbird’s relationship problems didn’t really add much to the series as a whole. There wasn’t much of substance to explore in this relationship, and it seemed like this sub-plot was introduced just to parallel the Hood’s relationship with Madame Masque. The Hood and Madame Masque, on the other hand, got some decent exploration, leading into the finale quite well. Seeing things crumble around the Hood and Masque made them slightly sympathetic, conveying their downfall very well. These events lead into the finale, which remains by far my favorite of these final issues. New Avengers, as a series, culminates in this one issue. The story is no longer about Siege, it’s about the New Avengers. Reading this last mission was exciting, funny, and an all-around joy. Everyone on the team gets a moment to shine, from Spider-Woman to Ms. Marvel. The finale has plenty of great callbacks to the team’s history, tying up all loose ends. It feels great to see the team finish up on their terms, despite Siege already being finished. Wolverine’s return had me cheering in my head. Reuniting the whole team is the best way to end the series. That’s what the finale feels like: a true ending, which is satisfying on all levels.

“I’m back, bub!”

The final issues of New Avengers have a lot to love. The smaller focus, in general, complements the bombastic feel of Siege very well. Much context is given to certain parts of Siege, too, such as Nick Fury’s entrance, introducing the norn stones, and the inclusion of the Hood’s gang. Bendis takes advantage of a good opportunity here, going smaller and focusing more on the details than in Siege. The New Avengers, as a whole, were featured in these last issues in a way that Siege did not have space to do. Plenty of key character moments and interactions are included in New Avengers that may have gotten lost in the shuffle during Siege. For example, the small moments of dialogue during the siege of Asgard are included a lot more in New Avengers than in Siege itself. Above all, the finale issue is the most satisfying among the last few New Avengers issues. The finale strikes an emotional chord with me every time. Bendis writes what feels like a true send-off for the New Avengers, showing how far they’ve come as a group and as individuals. It’s not even a problem that the ending ties into Siege. New Avengers has become so embedded in events that the ending feels perfectly natural. Despite its strong ties to a major event, the ending to New Avengers belongs to the main series.

Look who just got a lot more free time…

After all of the loose ends are tied up, the events of New Avengers don’t have a lot of implications for the future. This doesn’t stop Bendis from continuing his run, however. On a smaller note, the marital drama between Ronin and Mockingbird will be addressed later on. At first, the couple attempts to work on their marriage, once Barton becomes Hawkeye again. Yet the marriage does not last, indicated especially by the fact that Hawkeye and Mockingbird are on two different Avengers teams. Indeed, the New Avengers are going to begin anew, during the Heroic Age era. Luke Cage is given free rein to create a New Avengers team on his own terms. This new team is given a re-modeled Avengers Mansion, many of its old members return, and several new members join the team as well. Even though the New Avengers finished their initial run, the team will continue during a brand new era. During this Heroic Age, a core team of Avengers will form as well. Many of the New Avengers will move over to this team, including Bucky, Spider-Woman, and Clint Barton, who becomes Hawkeye once more. Additionally, Spider-Man and Wolverine, thanks to the magic of popularity, will be on both the Avengers and the New Avengers. Creating two Avengers teams allows the heroes to focus on both street-level and cosmic threats. The main New Avengers series may be over, but the team and its members carry on under Bendis.

The end of one era, the beginning of another

That’s all for today. What do you think about the ending to New Avengers? New Avengers as a whole? I would love to hear your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ Heroic Age prelude, Avengers Prime!

Bendis’ Avengers: Siege

When Marvel Comics first announced its latest event, Siege, in late 2009, I couldn’t have been more excited. After years of uncertainty and internal conflict during Civil War, World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, and Dark Reign, it looked like the good guys were finally coming together. Siege presented the return of classic heroism that Secret Invasion should have been. On top of it all, Captain America was back! The inspiration, the glue that held the Marvel Universe together, was finally returning to the spotlight, restoring the heroic symbol of Bendis’ Avengers. Overall, I remember feeling a sense of satisfaction when Siege was released. My patience was finally rewarded, and all of my favorite characters were going to get a win for the first time in years. On top of this victory, I was ecstatic to see the reunion of heroes such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. I remember reading in awe as Marvel’s trinity came together for the first time since Avengers Disassembled. Reuniting the three biggest Avengers, to me, symbolized a resurgence of hope in the Marvel Universe.

Reunited and it feels so good

This feeling of hope returned at the perfect time. For the past year and a half, doom and gloom pervaded the atmosphere of Marvel Comics. Norman Osborn practically ran the world during the Dark Reign era, creating a miserable environment for heroes such as the New Avengers and the X-Men. Fortunately, the end of Osborn’s reign was in sight. The former Green Goblin was clearly losing control of his power, repeatedly humiliated or undermined by heroes who defied his authority. Additionally, Osborn lost control of his own secret group, the Cabal, illustrated during a falling out between Doctor Doom and himself. Compounding Osborn’s unstable reign of authority was the return of Steve Rogers, the original Captain America. After returning from the dead in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Reborn, Rogers remained in the shadows, waiting to make his move against Osborn and his corrupt regime. Additionally, Thor had been back on Earth for a while at this point, establishing new Asgard above Broxton, Oklahoma. Since Asgard hovered eight feet above Earth’s soil, it was considered a sovereign land, immune to Earthly law. Yet Loki, Thor’s brother and a member of Osborn’s Cabal, quietly plotted against his brother and Asgard. All of the pieces were in place for one grand, intersecting event.

The end of a Dark Reign…

The premise of Siege is fairly straightforward, bringing together several plot threads. Loki manipulates Osborn, who is losing his sanity and political clout, into one last, desperate move: the siege of Asgard. Accompanied by HAMMER, the Dark Avengers, and many super-powered villains, Osborn launches a full-scale assault on Thor’s home. Despite his best efforts, Thor is ultimately overwhelmed by Osborn’s forces, especially the Sentry. Backed into a corner, Thor and the Asgardians appear to be fighting a losing battle against Osborn and his army. The intervention of Steve Rogers, however, comes in time to save the day. Witnessing the siege on television, Rogers assembles every hero he can find, including the New Avengers, Young Avengers, and Secret Warriors. Meanwhile, Tony Stark, recovering from his ordeal during Dark Reign, enters the fray, reuniting with old friends Captain America and Thor. Together, the heroes come to Asgard’s rescue, putting a stop to Osborn’s regime once and for all. The battle is hard fought, and not without cost. The Sentry, working for Osborn, loses control of his power. Everyone present must then join forces to stop the rogue Avenger.

Whose side is Loki on again?

Siege‘s reunion of heroes would not be possible without Captain America. After Civil War, the Marvel Universe became very uncertain and less hopeful. Without Captain America’s inspiration and leadership, the Avengers felt a little more cynical and hollow. Returning to the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers brings with him all of the pure, good-natured heroism which was missing in recent years. Rogers’ mission is simple: defend Asgard from Osborn’s forces. There is no political agenda, no morally gray areas, and no compromise. It’s the simplicity of Rogers’ motivations which carries over to the rest of the heroes. Cap inspires the Avengers to do the right thing for its own sake. Indeed, Bendis perfectly demonstrates Cap’s leadership skills. Rogers calls, and countless heroes immediately answer and assemble behind him, without question. Bucky, the current Captain America, even recognizes this, relinquishing the iconic shield to Rogers. Bucky knows that people want to be inspired by Rogers. More importantly, the Avengers should follow Captain America into battle, shield and all. When Cap yells the iconic “Avengers Assemble!” it’s a grand moment, one that makes readers want to get up and cheer. No one else comes close to this iconic level of leadership. Rogers clearly hasn’t lost a step since he’s been away, immediately responding against Osborn’s illegal assault on Asgard. It seems as if Rogers has been waiting for this moment, to step in when the world truly needs him and the Avengers once more. Cap’s preparation shows true heroism, the kind that is always ready to defend the world against power-mad lunatics like Norman Osborn.

Leading the charge

Making another triumphant return is Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Bendis makes this return one of redemption, as Stark has fallen far since Civil War. After becoming director of S.H.I.E.L.D., failing to prepare for Secret Invasion, and losing everything during Dark Reign, Stark is due for a comeback. In the beginning of Siege, Stark is still recovering from the events of World’s Most Wanted and Stark Disassembled in Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man run. The consequences of these story arcs nearly broke Stark, as penance for his more villainous acts during Civil War. While I admit, it would have been nice to see some of the consequences for Stark’s actions somewhere in Bendis’ Avengers run, the beginning of Siege at least peers into how far Stark has fallen. This look into Stark’s broken state makes it all the more satisfying when he gets back in the game. It’s especially nice to see Captain America bring Stark’s armor to him, mending the rift between old friends. When Stark returns, in a very retro-looking armor, he evokes the Iron Man of old. There is a certain nostalgia for simpler times from this classic suit of armor, accompanied by Stark’s reunion with the Avengers. Indeed, Stark’s return to the Avengers feels like old times. Iron Man returns to his role as the brains of the group for the first time since before Civil War. Bendis gives Stark several stand-out moments, including turning the HAMMER helicarrier into a massive bullet, and remotely shutting down Osborn’s Iron Patriot armor. These moments highlight Stark as another essential component to the Avengers.

Back to basics

The final piece to the puzzle which Bendis assembles is the god of thunder himself, Thor. Despite returning to Earth several years prior to Siege, Thor remained somewhat detached from the Avengers. In Thor’s solo title, much focus was spent on rebuilding Asgard and re-establishing Thor’s connection with Earth. It is this pull between two worlds which defines Thor. While Thor loves the Earth and lives to protect others, he also has a duty to Asgard, which has taken up much of his recent life. It is only when Osborn and his people invade Asgard that Thor sees what he’s been missing on Earth. When the Avengers arrive, especially Captain America and Iron Man, Thor is reminded of humanity’s capacity for selflessness and nobility. Additionally, Thor remembers the close friendships that he’s established in the Avengers. It’s this reminder of the Avengers’ place in his life which inspires Thor to fight back against Osborn’s forces. In return, Thor brings the raw power which the Avengers have been missing recently. During the final fight with the Sentry, Thor summons everything he has to take down the berserk Avenger. Adding centuries of battle experience to the table makes Thor pivotal against beings like the Sentry. Combining this power with his nobility and connection to other realms, Thor is a vital member of the Avengers.

The wrath of a god

Opposing these classic heroes is a classic villain, Norman Osborn. At first, Osborn tries to appear as more than a simple villain, posing as a major political figure. Indeed, the original purpose for invading Asgard was to assert the authority of the fifty state initiative all around the US. Yet Osborn goes too far, taking on a sovereign territory illegally. Moreover, Osborn attacks the gods, demonstrating the hubris in his position of authority. As a whole, this misuse of authority demonstrates a situation in which the political order is abused. When the world’s “top cop”, in charge of the superhuman community, goes rogue, who is there to respond? When the system of accountability breaks down, how can these rogue agents be stopped? Osborn’s actions almost cry out for an answer from Captain America and his Avengers, showing the flaws in the superhuman registration act. More importantly, Captain America’s Avengers show how more traditional heroism triumphs over politically ensnared superheroics. While the Avengers fight to protect Asgard and its people, Osborn fights to gain more political power. This greed leads to Osborn’s downfall, highlighting the problem of mixing heroism with politics. Ultimately, Osborn’s true nature is exposed. When his armor is removed, Osborn reveals his green-painted face as he screams psychotic nonsense at the heroes. Despite all of the political rhetoric and media manipulation, Osborn is just another power mad lunatic who gets punched out by Spider-Man.

The moment we were all waiting for…

All of the problems with the superhuman registration act culminate in the Sentry’s spiral into madness. Since the reign of Tony Stark, the Sentry has been manipulated by everyone in a position of power. Registering the Sentry and using him for the government’s agenda, everyone in power has treated him as a blunt instrument. This exploitation has finally tipped Bob Reynolds over the edge. Throughout Dark Avengers, Osborn continued to push Reynolds mentally and physically, encouraging him to let loose on whoever Osborn targeted. Now, being told to destroy Asgard, the Sentry is given full clearance to relinquish control of his own power. This character downfall is very reminiscent of the Scarlet Witch in Avengers Disassembled. Specifically, the Sentry tears Ares in half, similarly to how the Vision was torn in half during Disassembled. Yet, through previous experience, the Avengers know what must be done. Before the Sentry can cause any further harm, Thor kills him, ending Reynolds’ reign of terror on Asgard. Personally, I can’t say that I’ll miss the Sentry. By the end of Siege, I was fairly sick of the character. He’s generally become a plot device with no personality. I think Bendis made the right move by killing him off.

Over the edge

Siege brings together some big ideas from throughout Bendis’ Avengers run. After tearing the Avengers apart in Disassembled, Bendis uses Siege to bring the team together again. The whole story is a return to form for the Avengers, and Marvel heroes in general. Bendis celebrates exactly what makes the Avengers heroes. Rather than acting as a fascistic assault force, the Avengers assemble to defend others. The team comes together on a day like any other, fighting the foes that no one hero could fight alone. Indeed, since Thor couldn’t fight Osborn’s army alone, the Avengers came together to stop this fascistic empire. Bringing in iconic Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, further emphasizes the Avengers’ return to their roots. Marvel’s trinity represents a group of diverse heroes uniting to fight against a common foe. Through the return of the Avengers, Bendis highlights key differences between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Norman Osborn. There is a humility inherent in the heroes, one which Osborn does not possess. Indeed, Osborn’s hubris leads him to attack the gods, showing the selfish motives behind a politically-backed super-cop. The Avengers defend the gods, without any thought of political gain or public image. Simply defending those in need, because it is the right thing to do, motivates the Avengers. The purity of the Avengers’ motives highlights their own heroism, and the flaw in trying to politicize superheroes. Eventually, people like Osborn wind up in power. These manipulative villains twist heroism into something ugly and dirty, removing the idealism behind superheroes. Additionally, Siege brings a lot of ideas in Bendis’ run full circle. For example, Loki tries to create an incident similar to the one in Stamford, Connecticut, which started Civil War. Yet this attempt is not as successful, showing how you can’t artificially start a war. Furthermore, Osborn, without authorization, invades Asgard, similarly to how Nick Fury illegally invaded Latveria in Secret War. This move led to the downfall of Osborn, just as it did with Fury. The Sentry lost control of his power, just like the Scarlet Witch in Disassembled. Yet this time, the hero’s loss of control brings the Avengers together, rather than tearing them apart. It’s twists on previous plot threads such as these that make Siege such a satisfying culmination of Bendis’ previous work.

Fighting the good fight

There isn’t that much to be said about Siege‘s plot. This is not to say that the plot is bad, it’s just not overly complex. Once Siege gets going, it essentially becomes a massive brawl on Asgard. The fight is immensely satisfying to watch, serving as the pay-off to years of events and shifts in the status quo. Finally, a triumphant battle for Marvel’s heroes! The only real issue I had with the plot was in Osborn’s motivations. I get the idea that Loki was manipulating Osborn, but this could have been made more explicit. At first, it just felt very sudden that Osborn was immediately ready to invade Asgard. If Bendis had built up Loki’s manipulation of Osborn, gradually leading into Siege, the beginning of the event would have been more believable. Once the event gets started, however, I can overlook the questionable motivations behind Siege. The whole event is short and sweet, lasting only four issues. After making Disassembled too short and Secret Invasion too long, Bendis gets Siege just right. The event says what it needs to say, serves as a blockbuster conclusion to much of Bendis’ Avengers run, and does so in just the right amount of time.

But where’s the motivation?

Overall, I love Siege. It’s a great conclusion to the long, winding road on which Bendis places the reader since Avengers Disassembled. Bendis especially did a great job tearing everything apart, only to bring it back together, even better than before. The Avengers feel stronger than they ever were, Nick Fury returns, and the heroes feel like heroes again. If Bendis’ run ended at Siege, I would still feel completely satisfied. Everything ties itself up nicely. I’m still not a fan of the Sentry, and Osborn’s initial motivation to invade Asgard felt a bit rushed. Yet both the Sentry and Osborn served their purposes well in the story. Giving the Avengers a reason to reunite and a powerful foe to overcome only makes them shine brighter. As far as villains go, Osborn and the Sentry are certainly worthy of this kind of event. There are also so many stand-out moments and pieces of character development throughout Siege. Marvel’s trinity shines throughout, and the artwork by Oliver Coipel captures the epic fight scenes beautifully. Siege is a major crowd-pleasing event, which, after years of build-up, feels earned. By the end, I found myself very excited for the future of the Avengers.

Looking to the future

Indeed, the ending of Siege teases the new status quo: the Heroic Age. Following years of internal conflict and rifts between the heroes, the Avengers can finally reunite as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Steve Rogers becomes Marvel’s new “top cop”, abolishing the superhuman registration act. Rogers also hand-picks members for four different Avengers teams. Iron Man and Thor rejoin the Avengers, and the team feels stronger than ever. While Norman Osborn is gone for the moment, after his arrest at the end of Siege, he will return soon enough. In the pages of Avengers and New Avengers, Osborn makes one last attempt at power. Bendis shows Osborn’s persistence towards political power, continually trying to defame and eliminate the Avengers. The most lasting change from Siege, however, is the redefinition of the Avengers. More specifically, what does it mean to be an Avenger? After Siege, practically anyone and everyone can be an Avenger. Mixing the old members such as Iron Man and Thor, with new ones like Spider-Man and Wolverine, Bendis creates an Avengers in which all are welcome. Even heroes such as Daredevil and the Thing will eventually join the team. This addition of new members shows that, while Siege concludes Bendis’ more serious narrative, he now has the chance to simply have fun with the Avengers.

We’re gonna need a bigger tower…

That’s all for today. What did you think of Siege? I’d love to see your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I dive into the New Avengers tie-ins to Siege!

Bendis’ Avengers: Dark Avengers

I must admit, at the time of its release, I never actually read Dark Avengers. The only exposure that I had to this new team was in Bendis’ New Avengers run. In the context of New Avengers, there really wasn’t much to be said about the Dark Avengers themselves. The team was simply a group of villains posing as heroes, hunting down the real heroes. As simple as this idea was, I always enjoyed the concept behind Dark Avengers. There’s something appealing, in a twisted sort of way, about a dark mirror to the Avengers. Seeing the villains masquerade as heroes opened up a lot of storytelling possibilities in my mind. The one thing about the Dark Avengers that piqued my curiosity was the inclusion of the Sentry, Ares, and Noh-Varr on the team. If the Dark Avengers were all villains, what were these heroes doing with them? I suppose I missed out on the answer to this question by not reading the main title. It was also quite a bold move to put Norman Osborn, the former Green Goblin, in a suit of Iron Man armor painted red, white, and blue. As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, I will always see the Green Goblin when I see Norman Osborn. So when Osborn was placed in charge of national security, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the psychotic mind of the Goblin re-emerged.

Dark days ahead…

At this point, however, the world of Marvel was at Osborn’s fingertips. After publicly killing the Skrull queen during Secret Invasion, Osborn replaced Tony Stark as the world’s “top cop”. Osborn was placed in charge of the fifty state initiative, the new organization known as HAMMER, and his own team of Avengers. While publicly, the world seemed a lot safer with Osborn in charge, behind closed doors, Osborn had his own agenda. Assembling his own version of the Illuminati called the Cabal, Osborn and some of the biggest villains in the Marvel Universe planned to divide the world between themselves. While the Cabal protected Osborn’s interests, Osborn looked out for the sinister goals of members such as Doctor Doom and Loki. Additionally, prior to being handed the keys to Avengers Tower, Osborn was the head of the Thunderbolts, a group of criminals who went on black ops missions for the government. This team included Moonstone, Bullseye, and Venom, some of the most psychotic criminals in Marvel Comics. The Thunderbolts helped Osborn ward off the Skrull invasion, standing alongside Earth’s heroes. Along with Osborn and his Thunderbolts, the Kree Warrior, Noh-Varr, also proved himself during Secret Invasion. After the intervention of the Illuminati, Noh-Varr became convinced of humanity’s worth, defending the planet from the Skrull invasion.

Dark Illuminati?

After successfully defeating the Skrulls, Osborn takes advantage of his new position of power, forming his own team of Avengers. These “Dark Avengers” are comprised of Osborn’s Thunderbolts, Noh-Varr, the Sentry, Ares, and Wolverine’s evil son, Daken. All of the villains (Bullseye, Moonstone, Venom, and Daken) are dressed as heroes (Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and Wolverine) in order to boost the public image of these new Avengers. For all intents and purposes, the Dark Avengers are the official Avengers team, fighting for the people’s interests. Throughout Bendis’ series, however, the reader witnesses the dark underbelly of these Avengers’ operations. Each member is a different kind of psychopath. Venom eats people, Bullseye is a gleeful killer, Moonstone manipulates everyone around her, and the Sentry is deeply unstable. Osborn himself undergoes a mental breakdown, showing how fragile this whole “Avengers” facade truly is. Despite the dark and disturbed nature of these Avengers, this team accomplishes a relative amount of good. Threats such as Morgan Le Fay and the Molecule Man are confronted, albeit always with some hidden agenda.

Yep, that’s us, the good guys…

Indeed, the star of the series, Norman Osborn, is never without his own agenda. In the beginning of Dark Avengers, Osborn has several components to his agenda, from the Avengers to HAMMER to the Cabal. Bendis presents Osborn as a smooth-talking businessman, always playing on three different teams, without any clear loyalty to anyone but himself. Osborn uses everyone to his advantage, especially his team of Avengers, which is largely a publicity stunt. Bendis portrays Osborn as a kind of satire on contemporary politicians. From the moment Osborn landed the killing blow on the Skrull queen, he’s been in the right place at the right time, manipulating public image in his favor. In reality, Osborn never does much to protect the world, but his manipulation of the media spins the public narrative in his favor. As readers, we see Osborn present himself publicly as a reformed criminal who has worked his way into power, when on the next page, he is plotting with the Cabal to take over the world. Despite the smooth manner in which Osborn manipulates the media, the pressures of power quickly overtake him personally. Over the course of Dark Avengers, Bendis shows Osborn gradually lose his grip. For example, there are moments when Osborn locks himself in his laboratory, at which point the reader sees Osborn collapsing as he hears voices of the Green Goblin in his head. Osborn’s loss of sanity leads him to gradually lose control of his daily life, becoming irritable and impatient. Despite his initial ease into power, Osborn cannot maintain his facade of control forever.

Can’t take the goblin out of the Osborn…

Losing control right alongside Osborn is Bob Reynolds, the Sentry. It’s at this point in Bendis’ run where the Sentry has almost completely gone off the deep end. Osborn is a major catalyst for the Sentry’s downfall, encouraging Reynolds to let his power loose on several occasions. As Osborn begins to lose his grip on sanity, the Sentry’s downward spiral increases at an almost exponential rate. More often than with the New Avengers or the Mighty Avengers, Bob is treated as a blunt instrument rather than a valued member of the team. In fact, surrounded by psychopaths and killers, the Sentry is more isolated on the Dark Avengers than ever before. The team distrusts the Sentry, and he distrusts his teammates just as much. Near the end of Dark Avengers, Bendis puts a lot of time into the Sentry’s backstory, revealing many dark secrets about the character. It feels as if Bendis portrays the Sentry as an almost inherently disturbed individual, in order to justify his downfall later on. By the end of the series, Bendis is essentially using Dark Avengers as a vehicle for the Sentry’s fall from grace, rather than a series about the Dark Avengers.

It makes you a tool for a supervillain

Despite Bendis’ focus on some of the more unstable characters in Dark Avengers, there are still a few sympathetic members of the team. Surprisingly, Bendis gives the most pathos to Ares, the god of war. Initially, I was confused about why Ares would join the Dark Avengers. Yet his reasoning is sound. Since Osborn killed the Skrull queen, Ares mistakenly sees him as an honorable warrior. Additionally, it is the mission to fight for a noble cause which drives Ares, no matter who he fights alongside. The combination of misinformation about Osborn and a sense of duty places Ares in a group of killers and criminals. Furthermore, Ares himself was never a shining example of nobility to begin with. Bendis keeps Ares’ more distasteful characteristics consistent, including scenes of Ares hitting on Moonstone or getting into fights with his teammates. Ares’ flaws run even deeper, as Bendis shows Ares’ role as an absentee father. Phobos, the god of fear, is the son of Ares, who is almost never around. When Ares is around his son, their interactions are tense and confrontational. Yet Ares still recognizes his poor parenting. Indeed, when he discovers that Phobos is a member of Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors, Ares lets his son go, simply asking that Fury look after him. This request for his son’s well-being shows a softer side to Ares, making him much more sympathetic than the rest of the Dark Avengers.

Flawless logic

Following Ares, the closest character to a hero in Dark Avengers is Noh-Varr. Yet Bendis barely gives the Kree warrior anything to do during the course of the series. He’s only on the team because of his own naivete, failing to recognize that these Avengers are psychotic criminals. As soon as Noh-Varr realizes that the Avengers are not who they say they are, he takes off fairly quickly. The few issues in which Noh-Varr is present don’t do much to explore his character, and writing him off the title eliminates the possibility of any further exploration. Bendis only really gets to further Noh-Varr’s arc in Dark Avengers Annual, an issue focused exclusively on the character. This one issue does more for Noh-Varr than the entirety of the main Dark Avengers series, and it’s a personal favorite of mine. Dark Avengers Annual shows Noh-Varr adapting to Earth culture, exploring the streets of New York, meeting students at NYU, and finally discovering his purpose on Earth. Most importantly, Bendis gives the reader a look at Noh-Varr’s feelings of isolation, especially while he is hunted by the Dark Avengers. Ultimately, Dark Avengers isn’t the most extensive chapter for Noh-Varr’s character, but it does plant the seeds for future stories.

“You mean you’re NOT Ms. Marvel?!”

The rest of the team isn’t given much to do either. Moonstone, Bullseye, Venom, and Daken, are mostly present to masquerade as Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, respectively. The gimmick of villains disguised as heroes isn’t developed very much, past the first issue. There is still a lot of fun banter between these characters, in a very different sense than in New Avengers. This team of Avengers actively hates each other, and the dialogue presents this in a very clear yet entertaining manner. The Dark Avengers are more of a publicity stunt than an actual team, and Bendis shows how little each member regards the others in private. Additionally, Victoria Hand is a great addition, acting as a consultant for the team. Hand is a good foil for the Dark Avengers, keeping everyone, including Osborn, in check. Bendis adds a layer of nuance to Hand, as she actually believes in Osborn and his goals. Hand’s bad history with S.H.I.E.L.D. makes her loyalty to Osborn very believable. Rather than a cartoon-ish henchwoman, Victoria Hand feels like a real person. Overall, I do wish that this cast of characters received a more individualized focus. Perhaps if Bendis had more room, he could write one-shot issues examining each member of the team. As it is, the Dark Avengers, much like the Mighty Avengers, feel like an underdeveloped team.

Laying down the law

As a whole, Dark Avengers does an excellent job exploring the idea of perception versus reality. The Dark Avengers team is a great illustration of contrasting perception and reality. Osborn presents this team to the public as the Avengers, heroes willing to protect the common good. Beneath this facade, however, lies a group of killers and psychopaths, which the public never sees. Additionally, Osborn himself slowly loses his mind behind the scenes, despite presenting himself in a polished, professional manner on television. The only member of the team who is the same in public and private is Ares. Despite a rough, unpolished personality, Ares is the most authentic member of the Dark Avengers. Even though the rest of the team is not who they say, they still maintain control of their public image. Much of Dark Avengers examines the importance of control, particularly maintaining control in the face of enormous responsibility. Over the course of the series, the pressures of being in charge lead to a loss of control for Osborn. As a consequence of losing his own sanity, Osborn loses control of the Dark Avengers, and even the Cabal, as Doom turns on him and Loki manipulates Osborn. This loss of control is indicative of the cracks in Osborn’s designs. Creating an Avengers team that is more of a group of political pawns than an actual team, Osborn leaves himself isolated. Osborn’s isolation leaves him without any support during his own mental spiral, as the Dark Avengers are an empty shell of a team with zero loyalty to their leader. Despite controlling public image for a time, eventually, Osborn cannot maintain his own grip on power, leaving him lost and alone.

Not exactly a model of mental health…

The actual story arcs in Dark Avengers are quite adept at exploring the previous themes. Dark Avengers’ initial arc, featuring a confrontation with Morgan Le Fay in Latveria, starts off the series nicely. While the Dark Avengers are publicly shown confronting a dangerous menace in Latveria, in reality, Osborn only went as a favor to Doctor Doom, the ruler of the nation. Osborn’s hidden agenda shows the different levels at which he is playing, using the Avengers as mere pawns in his political game of chess. This story is also a nice follow-up to the Mighty Avengers’ siege of Latveria, showing Osborn un-doing Stark’s progress as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. There is a lot of fun action, and seeing Osborn work with Doom demonstrates that this is not the heroic Avengers of old. The next couple of issues consist of a short story arc which features Osborn’s day to day operations. Bendis does a good job contrasting Osborn’s appearance on a talk show with his activities behind the scenes. While Osborn presents himself and the Dark Avengers well, the team’s activities indicate a toxic, sinister group of individuals. The following story arc of the Dark Avengers fighting the Molecule Man goes into some fascinating psychological territory. Seeing each member of the Dark Avengers torn apart, literally and figuratively, the reader gains a deeper insight into the team, especially Osborn and the Sentry. The artwork during Osborn’s psychological torture at the hands of the Molecule Man is also very well done. Additionally, Victoria Hand is spotlighted, showcasing her excellent negotiation tactics and her background with S.H.I.E.L.D. The final arc mainly acts as a prelude to Siege, focusing on the Sentry in great detail. Most of these issues are spent setting up the Sentry’s downfall during Siege, with little focus on the actual Dark Avengers. There are a few good character moments for Bullseye, but ultimately, not much else for the rest of the cast. The Sentry himself has gotten quite tiring as a character. Reynolds doesn’t have any compelling character motivations or identity, acting more like a tool for Osborn than anything else.

“Don’t confuse the issue with facts!”

Overall, Dark Avengers has a lot of great ideas that are never explored fully. The whole concept of an “evil Avengers” group is fantastic, but the idea never goes anywhere beyond its initial premise. The Sentry, for all of the focus on his fragile mental state, doesn’t feel like a fully-formed character either. Ultimately, the series feels too short for its own good. If Bendis was given more time between major events, I think he could have done more with the concept here. As it stands, Dark Avengers feels similar to Mighty Avengers, in that it seems to be written out of necessity for the current status quo. Most of the cast, just like Mighty Avengers, feels underdeveloped. There isn’t much of significance to be missed if readers only read about the Dark Avengers in other titles like New Avengers. Still, there are some decent parts to the book. Osborn’s personal descent into madness is done well, showing how unsustainable Dark Reign‘s status quo really is. With the former Green Goblin in charge, national security was bound to implode eventually. Ares is also developed in a sympathetic and believable way, making him a stand-out member of the team. Victoria Hand is a great new character, given a great backstory and a sensible personality to balance out the rest of the cast. There are plenty of great ideas in Dark Avengers, but the run just seems too short to explore them all fully.

Great start, now what?

Going forward, Dark Avengers plants the seeds for several storylines. Noh-Varr will return, given much more material than in Dark Avengers. During the Heroic Age, Noh-Varr becomes the Protector, joining the main Avengers team. Once the Kree warrior is free of Osborn and the Dark Avengers, he will finally get the chance to be a hero. Victoria Hand will also be an important part of the Heroic Age. Seeing the potential in Hand, Steve Rogers appoints her as a consultant to the New Avengers. Needless to say, this decision will not go over well with everyone. The tension and suspicion behind Hand’s role on the team will result in plenty of drama in the pages of New Avengers. Before the Heroic Age, however, comes Siege, and Norman Osborn’s ultimate downfall. Finally snapping and deciding to invade Asgard, Osborn will lose all public favor and government credibility. Both Osborn and the Sentry will completely crack, resulting in the end of Dark Reign and the Sentry’s demise. Additionally, Ares’ sense of honor will lead him to turn on Osborn, ending in tragedy. In sum, the facade of the Dark Avengers will soon end, exposing Osborn and his cohorts’ true nature.

Yeah, this’ll last

That’s all for today. What do you think of Dark Avengers? Great idea, poor execution? Did you like the way it was executed? Was the idea just bad to begin with? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow, when I dive into Bendis’ next big event: Siege!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #48-60

Secret Invasion, for me, felt like the climax to Bendis’ Avengers saga. It seemed that the Avengers were finally coming back together after the post-Civil War tensions. So when I saw that the blockbuster event only served to propel Marvel’s heroes into an even darker status quo, I was a bit disappointed. That is, until Bendis unveiled the new lineup of my favorite team, the New Avengers. As soon as I saw the cover of New Avengers #48, featuring Bucky Barnes’ Captain America, I was more excited than ever. This was a brand new era for the street-level Avengers, shaking things up in a major way. The team gained new members, along with new challenges. Pitting the rebel Avengers against Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers presented an exciting new status quo. These Dark Avengers went on the hunt for unregistered heroes, and they weren’t even former allies like Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers. Instead, the New Avengers became hunted by ruthless killers such as Bullseye and Venom. Putting the villains in charge was a nice twist, and it certainly made it easier for me to root for the New Avengers, the more heroic underdog team. At the same time, adding new members such as Ms. Marvel and the real Spider-Woman gave me hope as I reader. I enjoyed that, though the villains were in charge, the heroes were slowly reuniting, ending the whole “hero vs. hero” conflict of Civil War. Even as outlaws, the New Avengers were a team that stood together.

Now that’s quite a lineup

Following the events of Secret Invasion, however, heroes were not seen in a favorable light. Tony Stark failed to protect the Earth in the public’s eyes, leading to his removal as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. In his place, Norman Osborn, who landed the killing shot on the Skrull queen, was placed in charge of the fifty state initiative and the new organization HAMMER. Additionally, Osborn was given his own Avengers team, consisting of villains such as Moonstone, Bullseye, Venom, and Wolverine’s son, Daken. All of these villains were disguised as the heroes Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, respectively, fooling the public into trusting this group of criminals. Meanwhile, the street-level criminals in the Hood’s gang were still active, continuing to take advantage of being beneath the initiative’s notice. The New Avengers remained the only heroes to stop these villains, yet their status as outlaws made it especially difficult to hunt the Hood and his gang. Finally, Doctor Strange was recently stripped of his title as sorcerer supreme, following his recent use of dark magic. Leaving the New Avengers, Strange went on a journey to find the new sorcerer supreme. Without a master of the mystic arts to defend the Marvel Universe, the Earth was vulnerable to supernatural threats.

What’s wrong with this picture?

All of these contextual factors within Bendis’ run justify the need for the New Avengers. Someone has to oppose Osborn’s faux Avengers, and defend New York from super-criminals like the Hood and his gang. Moreover, with Tony Stark’s Mighty Avengers out of the picture, the New Avengers stand as the only Avengers team comprised of actual heroes. In the face of their challenges as heroes, the New Avengers still struggle to be ordinary human beings. After Secret Invasion, for example, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter, Danielle, was kidnapped by a Skrull posing as the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis. The loss of their daughter leaves Cage and Jones in a desperate position, searching hopelessly for Danielle and her kidnapper. In light of the enormous strain placed on the New Avengers as a team and individuals, times seem bleaker than ever. The New Avengers, struggling against the Dark Avengers and the Hood’s gang, must also fight to prove themselves to the public. Grappling with the physical, personal, and political challenges of Dark Reign, the New Avengers are truly at their lowest point.

Enemies on every corner

Exemplifying the darkness of the New Avengers’ situation is Clint Barton, aka Ronin. After a few story arcs following Barton joining the team, Bendis is finally able to fully delve into the former Hawkeye’s psyche. Much focus is placed on the anger and bitterness Barton holds against Osborn. Traditionally on the right side of the law, it pains Barton to see a psychopath like Osborn in a position of power, while he and the New Avengers are branded as criminals. Demonstrating Barton’s old-fashioned belief in the general public, Bendis has Barton start a media war with Osborn, attempting to convince people that the New Avengers are the real heroes. When Barton’s appeal to the public fails, he grows even more jaded, contemplating morally darker options. Indeed, several times, Barton goes so far as to suggest killing Osborn, showing how desperate the classic Avenger has become. The frustration which Barton shows throughout this era of New Avengers is very much consistent with the character. Used to the comfortable legitimacy of the classic Avengers, Barton cannot cope with the New Avengers’ status as criminals, especially when a super-criminal like Osborn is hailed as a hero. Yet it is also Barton’s classic Avengers experience which aids the team during this difficult time. Elected as the New Avengers’ leader, Barton evokes the spirit of his mentor, Steve Rogers. Barton organizes group meetings, much like the original Avengers, and coordinates tactics through group discussion. Taking charge of the New Avengers, Barton brings a classic Avengers feel to the team.

Telling it like it is

Contrasting Barton’s classic Avengers sensibilities is Spider-Man, a veteran New Avenger and outlaw. During the chaotic period of Dark Reign, Spider-Man grounds the team, acting as a moral rock for the New Avengers. It’s the web-slinger’s personal experience as an outlaw which informs his own morality. While the public normally hates Spider-Man, favoring the corrupt and the powerful, he has learned through experience to do the morally right thing regardless. Spider-Man says this himself, telling Barton, “Now that you have to feel what it’s like to be, you know, me every single day…you’re cracking up”. The wall-crawler demonstrates his moral perseverance, especially considering his arch-enemy, Norman Osborn, is the one in charge of the fifty state initiative. While Spider-Man is living his worst nightmare, seeing the former Green Goblin responsible for national security, he continues to be the hero he’s always been. Spider-Man even goes so far as to reveal his identity as Peter Parker to the rest of the group, showing how much he trusts the New Avengers. In a world where Norman Osborn is in charge of his own Avengers and the good guys are on the run, Spider-Man is still able to enjoy small victories, taking a cheap shot at Osborn and redirecting a nanite bomb at Osborn’s summer home. Furthermore, Spider-Man is always able to keep things light, constantly quipping and acting as comic relief for the New Avengers. The wall-crawler develops a great friendship with Jessica Jones upon learning that they attended the same high school, and he’s truly the everyman of the team. No matter how dark the situation is, Spider-Man always manages to comment on the lunacy of the New Avengers’ current predicament.

You tell em, Spidey

Another relatable, everyman perspective comes through Luke Cage. At the beginning of the Dark Reign era, Cage desperately searches for his lost daughter. Cage, a terrified parent, is one of the most human Avengers, being a man who just wants to protect his daughter. Going to Norman Osborn for help, Cage is truly desperate to find Danielle. Yet Cage never truly compromises his own morals. In fact, once Osborn helps him find Danielle, Cage proceeds to incapacitate the Dark Avengers and flee from Avengers Tower. Cage clearly knows who he is and knows the right thing to do, even when the world seems upside down. Indeed, once Cage has found Danielle, his own internal conflict is resolved for the rest of Dark Reign. After fighting the superhuman registration act for so long, Cage has adjusted to living outside of a system which he knows is wrong. Cage’s strong moral conviction makes him a cornerstone of the New Avengers. When Cage is captured by the Dark Avengers, the New Avengers go to great lengths to recover their teammate. Furthermore, Jessica Jones gathers all of Cage’s super-hero friends to help save him, indicating the strong impact which Cage has on the whole superhero community. After years on the New Avengers, Cage remains the heart and soul of the group.

Those are some good friends to have

Boosting group morale even further is the addition of Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel. Acting as the New Avengers’ second-in-command, Danvers is given the opportunity to boast her leadership skills from the pages of Mighty Avengers. For example, when the New Avengers stage a raid on HAMMER, Danvers leads the charge, defiantly crying, “Avengers Assemble!” Additionally, Danvers displays serious confidence, taking on the Hood in a one-on-one fight during a brawl between the New Avengers and the Hood’s gang. Danvers is also the voice of reason when necessary, talking Barton down when he shares his desire to kill Osborn. It’s Danvers’ history with Barton, as a fellow classic Avenger, which makes it easier for her to reach him. Having experience with both the old and New Avengers makes Danvers a nice bridge between both teams. In another scene, Danvers handily dispatches Osborn in battle, confidently explaining how her morality makes her superior to Osborn and that’s why he’s going to lose. Holding the moral high ground in the heat of battle, Danvers showcases what it means to be an Avenger during desperate times. It’s also just nice to see Danvers with the New Avengers again, as she meshes well with the group. Danvers’ friendship with Jessica Jones and Spider-Woman, not to mention the banter with Spider-Man and Wolverine, makes her a much better fit for this team than the Mighty Avengers.

Letting him have it

The biggest new addition to the New Avengers during this time is Bucky Barnes, the new Captain America. As the former sidekick to the original Captain America, Bucky is a great embodiment of Steve Rogers’ legacy. It was Rogers’ idealism which formed the New Avengers in the first place, so including Barnes, on the team only feels natural. Barnes also provides the New Avengers with their new headquarters, in Rogers’ old apartment. This new setting makes it clear that the New Avengers are Steve Rogers’ team, and the rightful inheritors of the original Avengers’ legacy. Bucky himself has many of fun moments on the team. Bendis includes a lot of subtle character traits for Bucky, including a strategic mindset and some impressive battle tactics. There’s also plenty of funny moments, such as Bucky’s insistence to the team that “You should all take guns” or to “Stop calling me Bucky-Cap!” Bucky also gets understandably agitated at the team for messing up Rogers’ apartment, making for some humorous discussions. Still, outside of these smaller moments, it feels as if Bendis couldn’t do much for Bucky’s personal character arc in the pages of New Avengers. Since Ed Brubaker was writing the main Captain America series at the time, perhaps there was only so much that could happen to the character outside of his own title. Yet I was still surprised at how little character insight Bendis gave Bucky overall.

Fun with Bucky…

The rest of the team has its ups and downs. Wolverine is only present for the first couple of stories in this era, but he continues to play an appropriate role on the team. Logan is certainly the most pragmatic member of the New Avengers, leading the team on a hunt through the criminal underworld when searching for Cage’s daughter, for example. There is a necessary conviction that Wolverine brings to the New Avengers during Dark Reign, knowing what needs to be done during difficult times. Indeed, while the other Avengers are all given internal monologues during a fight with the Hood’s gang, all Wolverine can think of is killing every criminal there. Additionally, the real Spider-Woman returns, officially joining the New Avengers for the first time. Spider-Woman does have some stand-out moments, luring the Dark Avengers into a trap and taking on Madame Masque in a very cool fight sequence. Overall, though, there isn’t much for the character to do, outside of trying to earn everyone’s trust and shooting the occasional venom blast. It feels strange that Spider-Woman was more important to the New Avengers as a Skrull impostor than the real Jessica Drew. Not much is done to address Spider-Woman’s tension with the team, other than some offhanded dialogue here or there. Finally, Mockingbird, Barton’s long-lost wife, joins the New Avengers. Mockingbird is another great example of a classic Avenger reinventing herself in a brave new world. Over the course of Dark Reign, Mockingbird designs a new costume, and simply has fun being back on Earth after her capture by the Skrulls. Bendis gives Mockingbird some fantastic moments, particularly when the rest of the team is de-powered. During this moment, Mockingbird stands alone against the Hood’s gang. Mockingbird’s resourcefulness aids her long enough to save her fellow Avengers, showing the unique skill-set that the character brings to the table. As a whole, the New Avengers form a pretty cohesive team.

Like a well-oiled machine

Much of the Dark Reign period focuses on the New Avengers’ desperate circumstances. Almost every member of the team is at the end of their rope, feeling cornered by Osborn and his Dark Avengers. The oppression which the New Avengers experience at Osborn’s hands compounds issues such as finding Cage’s daughter or fighting the Hood and his gang. No matter what they try, from setting a trap for the Dark Avengers to starting a media war with Osborn, the New Avengers find that their plans backfire every time. Finding themselves cornered more and more every day, the team is forced to ask: how far are they willing to go to stop Osborn? This question drives some, like Barton, to consider crossing the line, seeing no other way out. Yet, in desperate times, it is those who are used to hardship, such as Luke Cage and Spider-Man, that refuse to give in to their current pressures. Due to their moral convictions, the team resolves to endure their situation with patience, fighting as the heroes that they’ve always been. The New Avengers also endure by staying together. More importantly, there are signs that all the heroes, even those who weren’t on the team before, are standing together now. From the post-Civil War outlaws, to former members of the Mighty Avengers, to former Skrull captives, and even Captain America, everyone stands together in the face of Dark Reign. After the Skrull invasion, trust isn’t an issue anymore, and the real enemy now stands in the open. In trusting the New Avengers with Steve Rogers’ apartment, Bucky recognizes this team as the true Avengers. Additionally, when all of Luke Cage’s friends come to the New Avengers’ aid, Bendis demonstrates how the superhero community is slowly reuniting as a whole. The core of this superhero reunion comes from the New Avengers’ endurance as a team. Immediately following Secret Invasion, while heroes such as Thor and Iron Man went their separate ways, the New Avengers assembled once more. Without question, the New Avengers knew that they were needed. While the team realizes their position as outlaws, and that another team is the “official” Avengers, the New Avengers also know that they are in the right, and that they’re needed. During this time, there is no question that the New Avengers are the true heroes, leading them to rise above the public perception and continue to fight the good fight.

Heroes united

The first story arc of Dark Reign leads into the New Avengers’ status quo a little more gradually. Bendis initially focuses on tying up loose ends, as Cage and Jones search for their missing daughter. While this story is not centered on the New Avengers as a whole, it does show a lot about how far this team has come. The New Avengers feel like a family, searching far and wide for Danielle Cage. Bendis can also never do any wrong writing Luke and Jessica, as they are the heart of his whole Avengers saga. Things really pick up, however, in the over-sized 50th issue. Bendis spends this issue on a confrontation between the New Avengers and the Dark Avengers, one which backfires. This story is relatively short but sweet, setting the stage for the New Avengers’ uphill battle. Bendis then spends a few issues on the New Avengers helping Doctor Strange find the new sorcerer supreme. These few issues feel the most tangential out of the Dark Reign stories. It’s nice to see Doctor Strange return, as it makes the New Avengers feel more like a family, and setting up the Hood as the main antagonist adds a sense of continuity to the series. Yet overall, this story doesn’t focus as much on the New Avengers, instead examining the mythos of the supernatural area of the Marvel Universe. Still, the story is pretty fun, and a nice break from the doom and gloom of Dark Reign. The final arc of Dark Reign is by far the best. When the Hood’s gang depowers the New Avengers, the team is left defenseless against these super-criminals and Osborn’s Avengers. What I love about this story is seeing the New Avengers at their lowest point. Backed into a corner, the team is forced to rely on their own resourcefulness to escape with their lives. Furthermore, when Cage is gravely injured after being de-powered, he is forced to turn himself in to Osborn for medical treatment. Seeing the New Avengers and all of Cage’s friends rally to rescue him is awe-inspiring. Overall, this final story solidifies the New Avengers as a scrappy, underdog team who still manage to come out on top. Seeing the New Avengers win against unbeatable odds is truly satisfying.

All these different perspectives, and the big question is: “how do we get out of this one?”

Ultimately, I’d say that this is my favorite era of the New Avengers. Despite being at their lowest point, this team continues to endure. In fact, Dark Reign seems to strengthen the team’s convictions, showing a disadvantaged yet morally sound group of heroes. The New Avengers feel like true underdogs, relying on their wit and will in order to save the day, more than sheer power alone. As always, Bendis includes some great character interactions. The banter between the New Avengers makes them feel like real people, as well as a close knit team. Certain characters are also given great moments to shine, such as Ronin, Cage, Ms. Marvel, and Mockingbird. The characters can be fun but at the same time share personal moments of drama which shape the heroes. The New Avengers as a team are a good mix of different types of characters, from street level heroes to classic Avengers. Bendis does a great job delving into each character’s mind-set on several occasions, providing internal monologues for each New Avenger. Overall, it would have been easy for Bendis to simply make Dark Reign a “good vs. evil” brawl, but the New Avengers don’t get off that easily. Facing the weight of public opinion and the US government, the New Avengers are forced to deal with the absurd reality of a world where the villains rule. This forces the team to fight from both a physical and political frontier, defining the core struggle of the New Avengers.

Debating a course of action

Out of the Dark Reign era, Bendis’ New Avengers will have several consequences on his greater Avengers run. Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo, the new sorcerer supreme, will return after Siege, recruiting the New Avengers once more to battle mystical forces. This more mystical focus is going to distinguish the New Avengers even further from the traditional, classic Avengers team. Instead of fighting cosmic beings or alien invasions, the New Avengers fight street-level and supernatural threats. More immediately, the New Avengers are finally going to be vindicated after years on the run from the law. Steve Rogers has returned from the dead, rallying the Marvel heroes against Norman Osborn when he stages a siege of Asgard. Ousting Osborn will result in a new, Heroic Age, which finally frees the New Avengers to live their lives in peace. Still, the road will not be an easy one. After striking a deal with Osborn, the Hood and his gang will also be a major part of Siege. The street-level New Avengers will have to defeat this gang of super-villains once and for all, a final battle for this team of heroes. The battle will not be easy, but at least now, the heroes are finally united against true villains.

Here comes the final smackdown…

That’s all for today. What are your thoughts on Dark Reign? How do you feel about the New Avengers during this period, or in general? I want to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and please share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Be back tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ psychotic group of villains in Dark Avengers!