We’ve finally arrived at the heart of Bendis’ Avengers saga: the New Avengers. When I first read this series, I thought it was the coolest thing on the planet. Spider-Man and Wolverine, some of my favorite characters, were headlining the premiere Marvel superhero team! Classic Avengers such as Captain America and Iron Man gave this group a sense of legitimacy, reassuring my excitement that this was indeed the Avengers. My memory is filled with nostalgia for this star-powered lineup, not to mention the witty dialogue of the series. Particularly, as a fan of Spider-Man, I remember loving all of the fun lines Bendis wrote for the web-slinger. Most importantly, I remember the New Avengers being my version of the Avengers. In my mind, you couldn’t have an Avengers team without Spider-Man and Wolverine. The New Avengers were the main Avengers team at the time, representing what Earth’s Mightiest Heroes had become.
After destroying the original Avengers in Disassembled and getting rid of Nick Fury in Secret War, Bendis had cleared the stage of the Marvel Universe. Finally, with the New Avengers, Bendis was ready to make his move, re-creating the Avengers from the ground up. At the time, there had been no active Avengers team since Disassembled (with the exception of the Young Avengers), so relaunching the title and re-starting the Avengers was a huge deal. Moreover, introducing non-traditional, big-name characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine to the Avengers proved controversial, challenging previous notions about who could and should be an Avenger. Luke Cage was also brought into the fold, finally given a central focus after the smaller, supporting role he played in the Pulse. Bendis’ New Avengers made all of these important moves in just one series.
The formation of the New Avengers is very much a traditional Avengers-style origin. During a massive breakout at Ryker’s Island Penitentiary, several heroes arrive on the scene, under various circumstances, to combat the prison break. Bendis expertly crafts the origin of this team, showing all of the different reasons why each of the heroes are on the scene. After the prison breakout, veteran Avengers Captain America and Iron Man discuss the need for a new Avengers team. Seeing the breakout as a moment of fate, Captain America suggests assembling a new team from the group that responded to the prison riot. Indeed, Bendis suggests a specific need for a new group of Avengers, highlighted in the almost coordinated response of the heroes to such a massive prison break. Once assembled, the New Avengers are tasked with finding and re-capturing those who escaped Ryker’s Island. Over the course of their mission, the New Avengers encounter many supervillains, including Electro, Sauron, and the Wrecker. These smaller-scale villains are not traditional Avengers foes, indicating a shift from the cosmic-level threats of the classic Avengers to a more grounded, localized focus of the New Avengers.
Headlining this new group of Avengers are classic members Captain America and Iron Man. These original members are well-positioned as experienced coaches for the new team. Both Cap and Iron Man have been Avengers for the longest time, making them the ideal choices to kick-start the New Avengers. Where Bendis really hits the mark is voicing the different perspectives of the two heroes. Cap is the more idealistic one of the two, believing that fate brought this new team together. Without Cap’s vision of a new Avengers team, the New Avengers would never have begun in the first place. On the other hand, Iron Man is more pragmatic, understanding that the team will need to change with the times. This includes dealing with Maria Hill, the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and enlisting members such as Wolverine, who are not as shy about killing when necessary. The views of both Cap and Iron Man complement each other nicely, balancing out the leadership of the team. Still, I personally cannot wait until the point in the series when Cap and Iron Man are off the team. Bendis writes these two competently, and gets the characters, but they’re certainly not the part of the team that makes the New Avengers appealing. Once Cap and Iron Man are gone, the team really gets down to the street-level, working-class heroics for which the New Avengers are known. Until then, it makes sense for these classic Avengers to get the new team started.
Speaking of street-level heroes, some of the best material of the New Avengers comes from new members Luke Cage and Spider-Man. To me, these two represent everything that the New Avengers are about: street-level heroes who wouldn’t normally be on an Avengers team. Cage and Spider-Man are just ordinary guys who want to make a difference, no matter how small. Bendis illustrates the unorthodox inclusion of Cage and Spider-Man through the characters’ hesitance towards joining the Avengers. Yet Bendis also makes it very clear that this will be a new kind of Avengers, one that needs the grounded focus which Cage and Spider-Man provide. Additionally, the banter between Cage and Spider-Man is genuinely funny, and will become a trademark of Bendis’ New Avengers run. Including both Cage and Spider-Man also demonstrates how diverse Bendis’ Avengers team is. While Spider-Man is obviously the biggest name at Marvel, Cage was not very well known before his time in New Avengers, balancing out all-star characters with more obscure ones.
Another more obscure character brought into the mix is Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman. By including such a little-known character on the team, Bendis gives himself a lot of room to explore Spider-Woman’s character. Since Spider-Woman did not have a series of her own, New Avengers became a great series to delve into her character and several other obscure characters later on. The genius of including Spider-Woman on the New Avengers is the sense of drama that her mysterious past brings to the team. From the beginning, her allegiance is left unclear, as the reader is unsure whether she works for S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, the Avengers, or even a rogue Nick Fury. Spider-Woman’s ambiguity as a character, combined with her unexplored backstory, leaves much potential for further storytelling later in the series. It’s also fun to see the character reveal surprising new aspects about herself as the series progresses. For example, during a fight with the Wrecker, Spider-Woman unleashes her pheromone powers, dazing the villain so the rest of the team can take him down. This results in a hilariously awkward discussion with the rest of the team, once more showcasing Bendis’ talent for comedic dialogue. Some of the best comedic moments of Bendis’ New Avengers come from the team’s reaction to someone’s history or powerset.
Probably the most controversial and unlikely member of the New Avengers is Wolverine. It’s easy to see why the inclusion of Wolverine, the most popular X-Man, into Marvel’s other big team, would be unpopular with some fans. With his own solo title and prominent role in the X-Men, isn’t Wolverine overexposed as it is? I’ll admit, however, that I am a fan of Logan’s inclusion in New Avengers. While I don’t think that Wolverine would work in a traditional Avengers lineup, among the likes of Thor and the Vision, he is rather perfect for this particular group. Logan’s interactions with the other characters, particularly Cage, Spider-Man, and Spider-Woman, is a huge reason why he’s such a good fit for the New Avengers. Bendis really takes advantage of the chemistry that certain characters have with each other. Including Wolverine is also a good indication of how different this team of Avengers is. Logan is willing to go to darker places, a necessity for an Avengers team which is more grounded and street-level. Bendis also makes sure not to force Wolverine’s inclusion onto the team from the get-go. It is only during the New Avengers’ first mission, in the Savage Land, where they encounter Wolverine by chance, pursuing the same villain as the Avengers. Including Wolverine later on, through a chance encounter, makes for a more natural introduction of the X-Man onto the New Avengers.
Indeed, much like Wolverine, several other characters are gradually introduced onto the New Avengers. Out of the whole team, the one who receives the most build-up is Bob Reynolds, the Sentry. Initially introduced during the breakout at Ryker’s Island, the Sentry is probably the member of the team with the cleanest slate. Besides Paul Jenkins’ titular mini-series, there wasn’t much to the Sentry as a character before New Avengers. It isn’t until issue #7 that the character is truly brought into the fold, as Bendis explores the lost history and fractured psyche of the character. As such a powerful character with serious mental health issues, the Sentry is very reminiscent of the Scarlet Witch. In this way, the Sentry serves as a second chance for the Avengers to help a friend in need, spending an entire story arc reaching out to help Bob figure out who he is and how to combat the Void, the darker side of his mind. Bendis makes a smart move by including the Sentry. While the character is as powerful as a classic Avenger like Thor, he still struggles to keep his mental health under control. This check on the Sentry’s power prevents him from becoming a deus ex machina that can come out of nowhere and save the whole team. I admit, I find the Sentry to be the least interesting member of the New Avengers, but at least he is used sparingly.
By building a smaller, core team of Avengers, Bendis manages to bring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes back to basics. Instead of the dozens of heroes which have populated the team before, the New Avengers are merely a group of seven. Additionally, the New Avengers assembled in a similar fashion to the original team. Several heroes, out of their own separate circumstances, came together to fight a battle that no one of them could fight on their own. The New Avengers also stumbled upon an additional member, Wolverine, similarly to how the original team discovered Captain America near the beginning of their career. Bendis even suggests this in his dialogue, as Captain America observes the similarities between the New Avengers and the old Avengers, and Iron Man states Wolverine’s similarity to Captain America. Despite going back to basics, Bendis also decides to shift the Avengers’ core focus. The New Avengers stay closer to the ground, recruiting street-level heroes such as Luke Cage and Spider-Man, and going after one escaped super-criminal at a time. The New Avengers address the failures of the original team, helping the Sentry after the old Avengers could not help the Scarlet Witch. Furthermore, recruiting more lethal members such as Wolverine provides pragmatic solutions to worst-case scenarios. While Bendis returns to the roots of the Avengers, he also branches off into new directions from the central concept.
For the most part, the story arcs in these first ten issues are very well done. The first three issues, covering the New Avengers’ formation, are even more engaging than I remember. Bendis conveys the distinct circumstances for each character’s arrival at Ryker’s Island excellently, and the cohesion of the group is exciting to see. The fight during the breakout is a great sign of the kind of series Bendis is going for, including all of the big action and fun banter for which the series is known. Seeing Cap and Iron Man talk about the breakout, reflecting on the idea of the Avengers, is another much-needed character moment. These smaller moments were missing in Disassembled, and it’s nice to see the characters stop and reflect on what the Avengers means to them. The next three issues, during which the New Avengers come together and search for the breakout prisoners, continue to set the tone for the series. There is plenty of fun dialogue between the characters, and the team’s first real mission is full of great moments that show off their unique dynamic. The final story arc, focused on the Sentry, has its ups and downs. Focusing on the Sentry does a lot to establish the character and his mental problems, but it could have taken up less space. I would have rather focused on the New Avengers going after more breakout prisoners. For example, the side-plot of this storyline features the New Avengers fighting the Wrecker, an escaped supervillain. This one fight is everything that makes the New Avengers great. This team is scrappy, unpolished, yet ultimately effective. There’s lots of fun dialogue and great action, making for an entertaining mission all-around. While the Sentry does serve a purpose for this new team, I would have preferred that Bendis spent more time on the New Avengers as a whole, rather than one member.
Overall, I was surprised that I still enjoyed New Avengers just as much as I did when I was a kid. Bendis hooked me from the first few issues. This new team is established practically from scratch, keeping things simple, but at the same time changing the team dynamic and adding in a sense of fun. The lineup of characters is also expertly chosen. Including a diverse range of classic (Captain America and Iron Man), popular (Spider-Man and Wolverine), and lesser-known (Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, the Sentry) characters on the team makes for a diverse set of Avengers. I’m still not very fond of the Sentry as a character, but at least he’s not around all of the time. The New Avengers still hasn’t quite hit its stride yet, only happening when Captain America, Iron Man, and the Sentry are gone, leaving only the street-level heroes. At the same time, the first ten issues of this series show great promise, and a lot of the key elements of New Avengers are already in place. New Avengers is definitely the series Bendis wanted to write since Disassembled.
New Avengers is going to have some serious ramifications on the greater Marvel Universe. The Sentry, for example, is going to become a significant part of Bendis’ Avengers saga. Bob Reynolds constantly follows the shifting status quo, moving between different Avengers teams such as the New Avengers, the Mighty Avengers, and the Dark Avengers. It’s somewhat of a recurring trope that whoever has the Sentry on their side is in the position of power. This is going to take quite a toll on the Sentry’s mental state, with dangerous consequences. The New Avengers themselves are also going to undergo a lot of changes as the status quo shifts, from Civil War, to Secret Invasion, to Dark Reign, to Siege. Yet, through the span of Bendis’ run, the New Avengers stay grounded and heroic. Over time, the team becomes the scrappy, street-level Avengers who endure through the many changes of the Marvel landscape. Core members such as Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine stick around, representing this unique version of the Avengers. Ultimately, introducing the New Avengers changes the very idea of the Avengers. Particularly, by including nontraditional members such as Spider-Man and Wolverine, Bendis essentially opens the door for anyone to be an Avenger. This looser definition of the team is quite controversial, as some fans say that the “true” Avengers ended with Disassembled. Personally, I’m not against the inclusion of characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. If the Avengers are indeed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, don’t big name characters like Spider-Man fall under this category? Of course, this isn’t to say that characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine should be the main focus of the team. Yet they should at least be included among the ranks of the Avengers. The New Avengers is the type of team which warrants a diverse set of heroes: some classic, some popular, and some obscure. Bendis includes all of the above, creating a new type of Avengers for a new generation of readers.
That’s it for today. What do you think of New Avengers? Is it a real Avengers team, or did the real Avengers end with Disassembled? Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in on Monday, when I talk about Bendis’ big Avengers/X-Men event, House of M!