After reading the first two volumes of Bendis’ New Avengers, I couldn’t get enough. As a kid, there’s no better feeling than discovering more of something you love. I got that feeling from New Avengers volumes 3 and 4. Bendis’ Avengers had become my new favorite team, with all of the action, excitement, and fun dialogue. Up until this point, though, one thing had continually confused me about the New Avengers: who was the eighth member? I remember constantly seeing some strange ninja on the cover of New Avengers for several issues. Yet this mysterious ninja never actually appeared in the comics. This is the period in New Avengers which satisfied my curiosity, finally revealing the mysterious ninja Avenger. Plus, I got to see the New Avengers fight ninjas. How cool is that? Volume 4 of New Avengers, featuring a new villain, the Collective, was very strange to me at the time. The most that I remember about this story arc is the death of Alpha Flight (Canada’s premiere superhero team) and the growing tension between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. This tension largely served to set up the next big event, Civil War. Ultimately, however, New Avengers volume 3 and 4 were just exciting for continuing the adventures of this new team.
These latest tales of the New Avengers are very much situated in a post-House of M world. The mutant population has been decimated to a paltry number of 198, and the heroes who remember the Scarlet Witch’s altered reality continue to adjust to the real world. Simultaneously, tensions continue to rise between the New Avengers and the public, as suspicion grows around this new team’s clandestine operations. For example, the Sentry’s watchtower sits above Stark Tower, leaving the public curious, at the very least, as to what is going on in the heroic community. Compounding the public’s suspicion of the New Avengers is the strained relationship between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Still under the command of director Maria Hill, S.H.I.E.L.D. maintains an antagonistic relationship with the New Avengers, building up tension for Civil War. It is this relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the public at large which informs volumes 3 and 4 of New Avengers.
New Avengers volume 3 follows the premise of the first ten issues, as the New Avengers pursue more escaped super-criminals from Ryker’s Island. This time, the super-criminal in question is Harada Yashida, the Silver Samurai. Not only must the New Avengers hunt down Yashida, they must also prevent him from reclaiming his position as the head of the Hand, an organized ninja crime syndicate. Leading into the New Avengers’ mission, Captain America sends Ronin, a mysterious new member, to retrieve relevant intel for the team. The New Avengers then arrive in Japan, teaming up with Ronin and setting out to shut down dealings between the Hand and HYDRA. New Avengers volume 4, on the other hand, deals with the fallout of House of M. Specifically, when the excess energy from millions of de-powered mutants is transferred into one man, the New Avengers have to stop this man’s rampage across North America.
Throughout these two story arcs, the team leaders, Captain America and Iron Man, struggle to stay on top of the situation. Specifically, when it comes to public relations and dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D., Bendis gives the reader the sense that trust of superheroes is breaking down. Under these circumstances, Cap and Iron Man grow frustrated that their best efforts to regain the public trust simply aren’t enough. Going public, for example, does not make the New Avengers heroes in the eyes of the media, and S.H.I.E.L.D. will only reluctantly call in the team for help. Both Cap and Iron Man adjust to these times of suspicion in their own ways. Captain America acts more covertly than before, recruiting secret operatives such as Ronin. This surreptitious behavior foreshadows Cap’s actions in Civil War, when he goes underground and forms the rebellious Secret Avengers. Iron Man, by contrast, becomes more pragmatic, openly communicating with S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to stave off their growing mistrust of superheroes. Opening up a line of communication between the Avengers and organizations such as S.H.I.E.L.D. begins Iron Man’s transformation into the face of the superhuman registration act later on. These diverging behaviors of the New Avengers’ leaders gradually begins the rift which will be formed during Civil War.
Spider-Woman receives the most focus out of all of the New Avengers during these two story arcs. In volume 3, Jessica Drew’s dealings with HYDRA come to a head. When the New Avengers confront the Hand, it is revealed that HYDRA is partnered with the Japanese organization, placing Jessica in a tight spot. Bendis does a great job building the tension between Jessica’s loyalty to HYDRA and her loyalties to the Avengers. Jessica even goes so far as to allow Madame Hydra to escape Avengers custody by opening the quinjet airlock, endangering Captain America’s life. Once Jessica’s ties to HYDRA become exposed, Bendis takes the opportunity to flesh out more of the character’s backstory. Prominently featuring such an obscure character in an Avengers comic is indicative of how well Bendis rounds out the team roster. During her background issue, Spider-Woman is developed into a sympathetic character, placed in a difficult position as a super-spy. Indeed, Bendis portrays Jessica as a sort of outsider of the group, feeling that she cannot share who she is with the rest of the Avengers.
In addition, Ronin, the mysterious new member of the New Avengers, is finally featured in Bendis’ run. Ronin’s presence adds an air of mystery to the title, as the reader is left unsure of this new member’s identity. Furthermore, Ronin’s role as a secret operative is a nice practical touch to the New Avengers. When dealing with international organizations like the Hand, it only seems necessary that the New Avengers would require international operatives to perform recon. As a more grounded team, the New Avengers would probably need a member with martial arts training and a knowledge of criminal organizations such as the Hand. While including Ronin is a great idea, the character beneath the mask, when revealed, is sort of a letdown. Maya Lopez, a former Daredevil ally, is not really developed in these pages. The reader has to have read Daredevil to understand the character. Otherwise, Ronin herself is essentially a plot device. Lopez is mainly in the story to serve as recon for the team. While this is a nice plot point, and adds some intrigue to the story, Ronin feels like she should have been explored further. Similarly, in volume 4, the Sentry makes a reappearance on the team. It makes sense that he is only used sparingly, considering the character’s power levels and mental state. Still, when the Sentry does appear, he only acts as the team powerhouse, throwing the Collective into the sun. The Sentry still doesn’t capture much of my interest, and I can’t wait until he moves to the Mighty Avengers title. The character is simply not grounded enough to be a New Avengers character.
The other, more grounded members of the New Avengers, are given some good material in these issues. Luke Cage, for example, gets a phenomenal scene at the beginning of the Collective storyline. Cage has the idea to go into rough neighborhoods, scaring off petty criminals so ordinary citizens can go about their days. Bendis writes a very inspirational speech from Cage to the media, which goes to show the grounding influence which Cage has on the team. It’s no surprise that Cage will soon become the leader of the New Avengers, as he truly comes into his own in these two volumes. Spider-Man, of course, gets plenty of fun quips and dialogue. Yet Bendis also shows off some of the character’s bad history with the press, such as when the Avengers decide to go public. The web-slinger’s hesitation to stand as an Avenger publicly reveals a lot about how the media has crucified him over the years. This makes it all the more satisfying when the Avengers decide to stand by Spider-Man, vouching for him with the Daily Bugle and standing with him when the team goes public. Even though the media continues to slander the New Avengers immediately afterwards, at least Spider-Man has people to stand with in solidarity. Wolverine is treated very practically by Bendis during these two storylines. During the first story arc, for example, Wolverine is absent, as he also has duties with the X-Men. Additionally, when the Avengers go public, Wolverine chooses not to appear, knowing what his reputation as a killer would do to the team’s image. This is a very pragmatic approach to publicity: the New Avengers have members who visually represent the team, but they also have more covert members who can still be effective. During the Collective storyline, Wolverine gets a couple of nice moments. For instance, Logan shows his more compassionate side when Ms. Marvel loses control of her powers and he calms her down. I do wish, however, that Bendis had shown more of Logan’s reaction to the deaths of Alpha Flight’s members. Alpha Flight is full of Wolverine’s friends, so it would make sense if Logan were featured more prominently when combating their killer. Yet Wolverine gets no more prominence in the story than any of the other New Avengers. Overall, I continued to enjoy the inclusion of these three New Avengers.
During these ten issues, Bendis also begins to feature Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, quite prominently. Including Danvers is the start of a well-written character arc, which will continue in Bendis’ Mighty Avengers. For example, Bendis includes a conversation between Danvers and Captain America, in which Danvers shares her newfound feelings of confidence from House of M. This conversation is a great example of a rare positive consequence of House of M, in which Danvers experienced a fulfilling life as the new Captain Marvel. Later on, during the Collective story arc, Danvers shows off some raw power to go with her newfound confidence, absorbing much of the Collective’s energy. The confidence and power displayed by Danvers are important precursor’s to Danvers’ leadership of the Mighty Avengers. Overall, including Danvers in New Avengers begins the trend of folding more classic Avengers into Bendis’ narrative. Even though Danvers is not officially on the Avengers anymore, she becomes a recurring character in the New Avengers, eventually joining the team. Other classic members will continue to join the New Avengers, including Hawkeye and Mockingbird, a trend begun by Ms. Marvel.
Throughout these ten issues of New Avengers, Bendis builds up an air of paranoia and secrecy within and around the team. Spider-Woman, for example, is a perpetual wild card, whose secrets come to a head in the third volume. Ronin is a shadowy, mysterious member whose identity is not even revealed until the end of the Hand storyline. S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly does not trust the New Avengers, going so far as to kidnap Spider-Man and forcibly extract information about House of M from his mind. To combat the air of suspicion around the team, the New Avengers attempt to more publicly be a force for good. Making the New Avengers go public, going into rough neighborhoods, and publicly combating the Collective all exemplify the traditional types of heroism which the New Avengers try to practice. Ultimately, despite the New Avengers’ best efforts, public mistrust prevails. Bendis uses the media slander and S.H.I.E.L.D. tensions to bring the New Avengers down to the level of Spider-Man in terms of public relations. Indeed, even after seemingly cutting a deal between J. Jonah Jameson and the wall-crawler, the Avengers are still slandered by the Daily Bugle immediately after going public. No matter how hard the New Avengers try to do the right thing, they cannot please everyone. This constant struggle with public trust and image makes the New Avengers a different kind of team, one that battles real life enemies like the press and the government.
As far as story arcs go, the story around the Hand is definitely the best of these issues. The battle with the Hand and HYDRA is a very fun, covert kind of operation for this new team. Including secret agents like Ronin, and excluding more powerful members like the Sentry continues the smaller scale feeling of the New Avengers. The whole fight between the New Avengers and the Hand is a blast to read, and shows the New Avengers as a fun, scrappy team. The next two issues delve deeper into Spider-Woman’s recent history, revealing a lot of Jessica’s secrets. Bendis clears the air around the character in time for the New Avengers to go public. The public reveal backfires, indicating the changing public perception of superheroes. The final arc acts as a kind of aftermath to House of M, dealing with the Collective. The battle with the Collective is more of a mindless smash-up with little for most of the members to contribute. However, Bendis also deals with the growing tension between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, which serves as a great build up for Civil War.
For the most part, issues 11-20 of New Avengers continue a lot of what made the first ten issues so entertaining. The title remains grounded, specifically during the Hand storyline and the Spider-Woman issues. Additionally, there is a lot of great dialogue between characters, and even Captain America gets in on the quips. Plenty of fun action is to be had, and the artwork by David Finch, Frank Cho, and Mike Deodato is fantastic. There are still some issues in the series, particularly in the Collective story arc. Overall, the fallout of House of M could have been handled in a much more grounded way which is consistent with New Avengers‘ tone. For example, the New Avengers could have dealt with a social issue, such as the extinction-level status quo of mutants. The Collective, as a villain, left much to be desired, essentially being a big pile of energy. Despite the lackluster Collective story, there are still plenty of great aspects to all ten issues. One particular aspect which I enjoyed is the growing mistrust of the New Avengers. It feels like, beyond building up to Civil War, the title is heading towards the New Avengers in their prime. This is the New Avengers that I know and love: the outlaws, the rebels, and the misfits who continue to do the right thing. One last moment I loved was the New Avengers going public, receiving a bit of love from New York, if only briefly. The group shot in front of the crowd was a nice callback to the end of Avengers Disassembled.
Despite their smaller scale, these ten issues of New Avengers are going to have some important ramifications on Bendis’ overall run. Ronin, for example, is going to return in a big way after Civil War, helping to usher in a new era for the New Avengers. Introducing a secret agent in Japan plants the seeds for future New Avengers battles against the Hand, and Maya Lopez is going to become a more regular member of the team. The Ronin identity itself will play an important part of New Avengers, shifting to another Avenger for a while. Additionally, many of the New Avengers’ issues with S.H.I.E.L.D. are going to erupt during Civil War, a game-changer which will redefine the landscape of the Marvel Universe. The outcome of this superhero civil war will change the superhero community, redefining the New Avengers as a team. Furthermore, the whole roster of the New Avengers will receive its first major shakeup. Finally, although it seems as if Spider-Woman’s secrets have all been revealed, this is far from the case. Jessica Drew is more than what she appears, and there is another layer behind her backstory conveyed here. Spider-Woman’s secrets are going to have massive implications during Secret Invasion, in which the New Avengers play a significant role.
That’s all for today. What’re your thoughts on the New Avengers’ pre-Civil War exploits? Is Ronin as cool as I think? Is the Collective really a lame villain? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! That’s all for today! Come back tomorrow, when I look at Mark Millar’s game-changer: Civil War!