When I first got into comics, there was one major writer on the Avengers at the time: Brian Michael Bendis. Over the course of eight years, Bendis crafted several epic tales that redefined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, from Avengers Disassembled, to Secret War, to House of M, many other stories. Even when Bendis did not personally write an event, such as Civil War or Fear Itself, he took care to shape the shifting status quo around these earth-shattering episodes in regular titles such as New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, and several others. All of the work which Bendis put into the Avengers franchise not only redefined the team, but redefined their place in the overarching landscape of the Marvel Universe. Over the past month, I’ve gone back and re-read Bendis’ Avengers saga. Despite my nostalgia for these stories, I’ve tried to analyze Bendis’ Avengers tales under their own merit and their overall place in Bendis’ larger narrative. Every day, I’ll be looking at another of Bendis’ stories, starting from Avengers Disassembled and finishing with Avengers vs. X-Men. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!
I remember loving Avengers Disassembled as a kid. When I first read this story, Marvel was currently publishing Bendis’ New Avengers title, featuring popular characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. Reading this title, I always wondered, whatever happened to the old Avengers? Disassembled answered my question in spades. The whole event seemed huge, at a time when big events in comics only happened once every few years. It was awe-inspiring for me to see the Avengers’ last stand against unbeatable odds, not to mention witnessing the gathering of every Avenger in history. As a nine year-old kid, seeing big names such as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four on the same team with classic Avengers such as Captain America was like a dream. Most importantly, seeing such a full lineup of heroes together gave me a glimpse into the full history of the Avengers, a history of which I was only just starting to learn. I became inspired to go back and read classic Avengers comics from the 1960s and ’70s, just to get a full appreciation for the team. Ironically enough, however, the whole point of Disassembled was to use the Avengers’ history to destroy and rebuild the team.
In the greater context of Bendis’ Avengers saga, Avengers Disassembled is a sort of prologue, setting the stage for everything to come. Bendis needed to tear down the old status quo in order to build up a new chapter in Marvel history. Disassembled sets the foundation for stories such as New Avengers, House of M, and eventually even Avengers vs. X-Men. Additionally, after Avengers Disassembled, the Avengers as a team would be forever changed. The classic lineup of characters were replaced with newer ones, the fundamentals of the team were re-established, and the Avengers’ place in the Marvel Universe became much more central than before. Individual characters such as the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and even more obscure characters such as Wonder Man began long character arcs which continued throughout Bendis’ Avengers run, despite much fan controversy around their depiction. Bendis’ collaboration with artist David Finch also begins here, shifting the tone of the Avengers in a more grounded direction. Despite the bombastic, epic feel of Avengers Disassembled, the artwork also succeeds in conveying earnest human emotion and gritty action sequences. The whole event is filled with ugly moments of brutality, in the best possible way. Even considering the artwork and Disassembled’s place in Bendis’ narrative, as a stand-alone story, the tale has plenty of room for improvement.
The basic premise of Disassembled arrives when the team falls under attack by a mysterious enemy. This mastermind pits the Avengers against all of the ghosts of their past, including Ultron, a zombified teammate, the Kree Empire, and even Tony Stark’s alcoholism. The Avengers are hit with all of these threats nearly simultaneously, overwhelming the team. It seems that Bendis tears down a decades-old team such as the Avengers with the weight of their own continuity. Yet Bendis also celebrates this continuity, uniting past and present Avengers in a final battle against the team’s demise. Even sixteen years later, it’s inspiring to see how many heroes have dedicated themselves to the Avengers over the years. Showcasing the sheer number of Avengers during its history, Bendis highlights the positive legacy of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Throughout the tragedy that is Avengers Disassembled, several iconic aspects of the Avengers are destroyed. Avengers Mansion is blown up in the first few pages, the team loses their UN security clearances, and there are even a few heartbreaking character deaths. It’s the emotional exploration of these tragic events where Bendis tends to fall short. Specifically, Disassembled could spend a lot more time focusing on the impact which its event has on individual Avengers.
More than any other character, Captain America embodies the spirit of the Avengers. As the leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Captain America is a rallying point for the whole team. When Captain America appears on the scene during Disassembled, he is a commanding presence, working to get the job done and inspiring others to do so. There is never a moment in the story when Captain America stops fighting to stop the chaos around them. Even so, he is still just as overwhelmed as the rest of the team. Captain America is caught completely off-guard against an out-of-control She-Hulk, a defective Vision, and a random Kree invasion. Bendis does an excellent job showing how out of his element Captain America is. Still, it would have been even more effective if Bendis had included some insight into Captain America’s personal thoughts. What do these devastating events mean to Captain America, the face of the Avengers? How does the Avengers’ darkest hour feel for someone who’s dedicated his whole life to the team? Bendis does not provide much insight into these ideas, which would have added a lot of personal touch to the story.
The second biggest perspective which Bendis gives the reader is that of longtime Avenger Hawkeye. Even more than Captain America, Bendis gives Hawkeye a clear voice in the face of catastrophe. The avenging archer acts as the grounded voice of reason for the team, offering up a sobering perspective as to why they are under attack. Hawkeye speaks his mind, criticizing the team by saying, “The way we live– we sort of had a day like this coming”. Commentary such as this lends a lot to Hawkeye’s characterization and the nature of the Avengers as a team. Hawkeye is the group’s voice of reason in a time when the Avengers have lost sight of how or why they could fall victim to their own past. The archer also has several strong relationships with his teammates, such as some fun banter with Ant-Man at the beginning of the story, and the sense of loyalty he shows towards Captain America throughout the tale, constantly looking to his mentor for guidance. It is the endearing qualities of Hawkeye which make his death all the more heart-breaking, heroically sacrificing himself to destroy a Kree battleship. This sacrifice feels like the emotional climax of Disassembled, highlighting the tragedy behind the story. If Bendis had devoted as much time to the other characters as he did to Hawkeye, he could have crafted a more impactful and personal story.
For example, Iron Man shows remarkable potential for character exploration in the beginning of Disassembled. Addressing a UN assembly, Tony Stark is suddenly overcome with a feeling of intoxication, sending him into a drunken rage. Stark’s outburst ruins his own image, while simultaneously losing the Avengers’ UN security clearance. The heartbreaking moment arrives when Stark, in tears, quietly confides in the Scarlet Witch, “I didn’t have anything to drink”. Manipulating the Avengers through Stark’s personal struggle with alcoholism is an excellent way to focus on the group as individuals. Stark feels guilt and shame from this reminder of his inner demons, and is confronted by distrust and disdain from the UN and teammates such as Hank Pym. Additionally, this personal attack impacts the whole team, as Stark loses UN security clearance and public confidence. Conceptually, these effects on the team are all quite important, but the emotional resonance is lost within the story. After a confrontation with his teammates, Stark storms off, only returning near the final battle to assist the Avengers. Stark’s absence could have been explored in much greater detail. For example, Bendis could have shown where Stark went, what he did while he was gone, and why he chose to return to the Avengers. Illustrating the emotional struggle of Tony Stark is a missed opportunity, one which would have added additional impact to the Avengers’ tragic demise.
The root of the Avengers’ failure comes from their own teammate, the Scarlet Witch. At the end of the story, Wanda Maximoff is revealed to be the manipulator behind all of the Avengers’ recent misfortunes. Wanda’s sudden betrayal of the team emphasizes just how far the Avengers have fallen, failing to see the mental breakdown of one of their own members. Bendis almost seems to be saying that the Avengers have become too big for their own good, losing sight of personal relationships and more grounded issues. Of couse, Wanda’s sudden nervous breakdown does seem a bit sudden within the overall context of the Avengers’ history. To Bendis’ credit, he does use past continuity such as the loss of Wanda’s children to justify her descent. Still, there is not much of a build-up felt towards her sudden burst of madness. Rather, Wanda feels more like a plot device to destroy the Avengers while making their destruction a tragic failure on their part. Within the context of the story, Wanda’s betrayal works, serving as a painful lesson for the team. Additionally, Bendis does not really feature Wanda prominently until her reveal at the end of the story. Perhaps this is intentional, showing how the team has lost track of its own members. If the Avengers kept a closer eye on each other, perhaps the Scarlet Witch could have gotten help sooner. Even so, more build up would have further developed Wanda’s mental breakdown and betrayal. Perhaps if Bendis had a longer run on the Avengers before Disassembled, Wanda’s fall from grace would have felt more natural.
The final two characters who deserve mention are Hank Pym, aka Yellowjacket, and his ex-wife, Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp. Bendis uses the strained relationship between these two Avengers to once again highlight the turbulent history of the team. The brief time spent with the couple serves as a touching and heartfelt reminder of their personal history, all the way back to the original tales of Ant-Man and the Wasp. For example, when Janet is in a coma, Hank sits by her side, quietly pleading for her to wake up as he muses on their rocky past. Bendis’ use of Hank and Janet in this story perpetuates the idea that the Avengers need to come back down to Earth. More attention and care must be paid to the Avengers’ personal relationships in order to save the team from themselves. Once again, however, moments like the hospital scene are few and far between, hidden between moments of explosions and titanic action set-pieces to physically destroy the team. Overall, there is a little too much attention paid to physical attacks on the team, as opposed to the personal impact on the individual team members.
Although character moments tend to be sidelined, Disassembled still offers some interesting thematic elements. Bendis embraces an “out with the old, in with the new” approach to the Avengers. While much of Avengers history is celebrated, from the return of old villains to classic teammates, Bendis seems to be in a hurry to dispense with it all. Since the event only takes place over the span of four issues, everything happens quite fast, from the mansion being destroyed, to the death of several team members, and ultimately the Avengers disbanding. Bendis does set up the dissolution of the “old” Avengers quite nicely. At the beginning of Disassembled, the team receives a message from classic Avenger the Vision. Like a harbinger of doom, Vision says, “You are no longer in control of anything that we, as a group, held dear. Or what we, as individuals, held as important. Our time is over”. This ominous message sets the tone for Bendis’ tale, wiping the slate clean as soon as possible. Despite the speed of the event, Disassembled also makes a point about the consequences of past failures. Failing Wanda Maximoff, themselves, and the team as a whole, the Avengers suffer throughout Bendis’ story. Given more space to write Disassembled, Bendis could have focused more on individual failures, focusing more on characters such as Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and even Captain America. Perhaps doubling the story to eight issues would have given Bendis more space to explore characters. Bringing this theme of failure into a more individual focus would solidify its impact more. Despite the doomed nature of Disassembled, Bendis still writes the Avengers as heroic until the end, assembling one last time. Despite all of the death and chaos around them, Avengers from all of history gather together to protect their team.
Ultimately, however, the overall plotline still feels quite rushed. I can understand how condensing the events of Disassembled makes the readers feel as overwhelmed as the Avengers, but a lot of good character moments are sacrificed in favor of sheer chaos. More room to tell this story would have allowed Bendis to delve deeper into different characters’ thoughts and emotions. It feels as if Bendis didn’t want to waste time clearing the stage for his future plans. Despite its condensed nature, Disassembled also doesn’t really feel as devastating as it should. Many times, readers are simply told and not shown how important the events transpiring are, with lines such as “Why is this happening? I feel like I’ve gone insane” and “I don’t even know what’s happening”. While lines such as these are meant to convey the confusion around the events in the story, I can’t help but feel that the Avengers have been through worse. After reading tales such as Under Siege, where the mansion is taken over by the Masters of Evil and several members are beaten near to death, or the Kang Dynasty, where Kang the Conqueror takes over the planet and murders thousands, Disassembled hardly feels like the worst day in Avengers history. Of couse, after decades of history, it’s hard to write an event that ends the whole team. The story seems to end the team out of necessity for future stories. Finally, while it is amazing to witness every Avenger ever fight alongside each other, the cast gets to feel a little too crowded. As mentioned earlier, important character moments from classic Avengers such as Captain America are put on the backburner in favor of epic action scenes. Maybe the crowded nature of the team serves to emphasize Bendis’ point, that the Avengers have gotten too big for their own good. A smaller lineup with less baggage could focus more in-depth on individual characters.
The ending of Disassembled is also a bit unsatisfactory at times. Once again, the reveal of the Scarlet Witch as the main antagonist comes a bit out of left field. More importantly, Wanda’s betrayal is not given much time for exploration. Specifically, characters such as Captain America or other Avengers are not given a chance to directly interact with or confront Wanda for her actions. When such a key member of the team betrays the Avengers, it seems like a discussion is warranted between teammates. Instead, Bendis brings in Doctor Strange, also out of the blue, to come sweep up the Avengers’ problems. Strange feels like a deus ex machina to wave away an enemy which the Avengers cannot face themselves. Perhaps Bendis’ point of failure is conveyed through the Avengers’ uselessness, showing just how severely the team has failed. Not only did the team fail to notice the breakdown of their own member, but they could not stop her themselves. Still, Strange’s intervention has little build-up, and feels anticlimactic to the story. The most satisfying part of the conclusion comes during the Avengers Finale one-shot. During the finale, Bendis finally gets the chance to slow down and show the characters reflecting on everything they just experienced. That said, by the time the characters get to share their feelings around the team’s demise, Disassembled is nearly finished. Bendis still manages to squeeze out one last bit of appreciation for the Avengers’ history, as its members share their favorite moments with each other. This highlight reel of Avengers history gives the reader a great feeling of nostalgia and loss for the “classic” Avengers, a team which is now lost to both heroes and readers. The finale issue is the character-driven story which was missing during the main event, finally making the reader feel something for the Avengers.
When all is said and done in Avengers Disassembled, this is merely the beginning for Bendis’ saga. As mentioned previously, Bendis needed to tear down the “old” Avengers in order to build everything back up again. Removing the classic Avengers from the board left a void to be filled by the New Avengers, probably my favorite lineup of Avengers. This team is filled with grounded storylines and great character moments, both of which I felt were lacking in Disassembled. Once Bendis is able to write about characters he really wants to write, such as Luke Cage and Spider-Man, he really shines with great moments. Additionally, this is the beginning of a long character arc for the Scarlet Witch. No longer is Wanda Maximoff the beloved Avenger of old, instead becoming the black sheep of the family. Events such as House of M compound this issue, continuing her journey of shame and remorse in Young Avengers and Avengers vs. X-Men. Finally, the character deaths of Disassembled leave quite an impact on the Avengers as a team and as individuals. While the Avengers undergo several changes, from adjectives such as New to Mighty to Dark, the classic Avengers of old disappear. Additionally, characters such as Hawkeye would eventually return during Bendis’ era, undergoing intense character journeys. Hawkeye’s tenure as Ronin, for example, provided a great exploration of his darker mindset at the time. Overall, while all of the characters who were killed were eventually resurrected, and the Avengers would eventually reform, Disassembled is a nice way to clean the slate for a new era of the Avengers. This era would redefine what the Avengers was, and the team’s overall place in the Marvel Universe.
That’s all for today. Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ overlooked series, The Pulse! Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow the column on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! Be sure to share your thoughts as well! What did you think of Avengers Disassembled? What are your overall thoughts about Bendis’ Avengers run? All ideas are welcome!