Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #21-25

When I initially saw that volume five of Bendis’ New Avengers was purely a Civil War tie-in, I wasn’t interested. At the time, event tie-ins felt pretty unnecessary. If I wanted to read about the event, wouldn’t I just read the main Civil War series? Additionally, isn’t a great series like New Avengers just being interrupted by this event? I enjoyed seeing the New Avengers team together, yet the tie-in issues for Civil War kept the team apart. I missed the fun team dynamic that the first four volumes boasted. When I finally got around to reading these tie-in issues, however, I remember enjoying them (to varying degrees). A few of these issues surprised me with the amount of great character moments that Bendis gave individual New Avengers. Much of this character work is missing in the main event, and Bendis fills in a lot of the blanks for Civil War.

Civil War: the Missing Chapters

Clearly, the main backdrop of these five issues is the line-wide crossover, Civil War. This event perpetuates a massive divide between the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, with the New Avengers being no exception. The superhuman registration act has been instated, leaving all Marvel heroes with a choice. Heroes are all forced to take a side between Iron Man’s pro-registration team and Captain America’s anti-registration movement. The split within the heroic community leaves the New Avengers fractured. It seems as if the team is in a state of transition during Civil War. The initial roster of New Avengers has had its time, but soon after Civil War, the team reforms as a new kind of group. For now, each of the New Avengers is isolated, being forced to choose between two sides. In addition to the whole Civil War setting, Luke Cage has also recently married Jessica Jones. Now that Cage, Jones, and their baby are officially a family, many issues arise around raising a child in the hazardous Marvel Universe. As Civil War escalates, protecting a family becomes more and more difficult.

Becoming a true believer…

These Civil War issues are a series of one-issue, character-focused stories, examining New Avengers who don’t have a solo series (unless they’re Captain America or Iron Man). Over the course of these stories, Bendis spotlights the role of each New Avenger in the context of Civil War. Besides Cap and Iron Man, all of these New Avengers struggle to find where they stand in this massive conflict. Luke Cage must consider his family, Spider-Woman juggles the war with her mission as a spy, and the Sentry tries to reconcile his power with the war. It is very important that all of these stories are told, not just for the sake of the characters. Rather, since Bendis did not write Civil War himself, it is useful to see the story in the context of his own work. Since the events of Civil War will indeed have massive repercussions on his overall Avengers saga, it feels necessary that Bendis puts his own spin the crossover. In terms of tone and character, Bendis’ New Avengers tie-ins manage to incorporate Civil War into his larger narrative.

The great divide

Speaking of characterization, Bendis provides a closer look at the leaders on both sides of Civil War‘s conflict. Specifically, Captain America is the first to receive his own New Avengers solo issue. While this might feel unnecessary, Bendis does get the chance to delve further into Cap’s psyche than Millar did during Civil War. Including internal monologues throughout the issue, Bendis incorporates much of what Cap is thinking and feeling about Civil War. Indeed, several bits of internal monologue delve deeper into the Captain’s confusion surrounding the whole conflict. To Steve Rogers, it feels like the world has gone crazy. This confusion has also left Rogers paranoid, isolating himself from others, even his partner, the Falcon. To Cap, it feels as if everyone is turning against him. Furthermore, there is much internal conflict to Rogers’ character, as he feels that he doesn’t belong in the present day environment anymore. All of the nuance to Cap’s character is filled in during his solo issue, as Millar’s main event seemed too focused on plot points and action than character. Bendis, on the other hand, makes the most of his look at the sentinel of liberty.

Secret Avengers, assemble!

On the other side of the conflict, Bendis focuses on Iron Man. The large benefit of Bendis’ writing here is how much more human Stark is portrayed than in the main Civil War comic. Peppering in different scenes of Iron Man throughout these issues, Bendis shows the reader just how much pressure is behind leading the registration movement. Stark’s motivations seem more fleshed out in the New Avengers issues. For example, scenes where Stark goes to convince others, such as Cage or the Sentry, to register with S.H.I.E.L.D., show Stark in a much more diplomatic light. At one point, Stark tells the Sentry, “You need to save the heroes of our world from hurting each other any more than they have to”. The practical, reasonable dialogue which Bendis gives Stark is much more nuanced than Millar’s Stark, who creates clone Thors and recruits supervillains for his cause. Still, there are moments of questionable action on Stark’s part. For example, when Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. abduct Spider-Woman out of nowhere and detain her in a helicarrier, or when Stark barges in on the Sentry’s bedroom. Moments such as these don’t do a lot to deter the fascistic image which Civil War built around Stark. While Bendis definitely tries to make Stark at least sound more reasonable, he doesn’t do much to change Stark’s dubious actions.

Way less punching than Civil War

Outside of the main two figures of the conflict, there are some particularly fascinating character close-ups throughout these issues. For the first time, I’m surprised to say, Bendis got me interested in the Sentry. The uncertainty around the Sentry’s place in Civil War raises some important questions about such a powerful character. If the Sentry can end the whole conflict, should he? What place does such a powerful being have on either side of this war? Overall, the Sentry ponders his overall place in the world, as he meditates on the moon. These questions reflect much of the concern around having a powerful character such as the Sentry on a team like the New Avengers. What is his place? It’s nice to get a glimpse into the Sentry’s head for once, asking the same questions as the reader. While Bendis does not necessarily provide any answers to these questions, at least the questions are addressed in the first place. Additionally, during the Sentry’s encounter with the Inhumans, we learn more about the peace which the hero craves. Spending time in the Inhumans’ care, the Sentry shows a softer, more relaxed side. The fact that the Sentry’s sense of peace is cut short by his recruitment into Civil War makes his longing for tranquility all the more tragic. Everyone is looking to exploit the Sentry’s power, when he simply wishes to live in peace. The Sentry may not be the most interesting character, but Bendis does manage to add a new angle to Bob Reynolds’ plight.

Having a little “me” time…

Civil War also serves to further complicate the ongoing character arc of Spider-Woman. Bendis does an excellent job interweaving Jessica Drew’s life as a secret agent with the larger registration plotline. Jessica is now more of a woman on the run than ever before. S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t trust her, HYDRA is trying to reclaim her, and Nick Fury is still missing. Jessica’s feelings of isolation are perpetuated by the registration act, which leaves her with virtually nowhere to run. It is comforting, then, that by the end of Jessica’s Civil War story, she can finally find a place with Captain America’s Secret Avengers. The personal trials which Jessica endures between both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA provide a more complete background on why she ends up siding with Captain America. Bendis continues to flesh out Jessica as a character, giving her characteristics ranging from bravery to quivering fear, as a result of her pursuit by large organizations. Ultimately, Bendis succeeds in using Civil War as a vehicle to move Spider-Woman’s personal journey forward.

Like a regular Jane Bond…

Of course, the most well-written chapter in Bendis’ Civil War tie-in focuses on Luke Cage. It is this chapter of New Avengers in which Cage attains his central role in the title. The best part about Cage’s story is the simplicity behind his motives: all the man wants is to raise his daughter and live peacefully in his neighborhood. Cage has none of the uncharacteristic hostility towards the pro-registration forces that plagued the main Civil War title. Rather, Cage acts out of self-defense, choosing only to become involved in the conflict when S.H.I.E.L.D. comes knocking on his front door. There is something admirable about Cage standing by his principles, primarily to set the right example for his daughter. Cage wants to raise his kid right, and that means standing his ground against a law in which he doesn’t believe. When Cage ends up joining the anti-registration movement, it is a powerful moment. After building up Cage’s family, his own values, and the pathos behind the character, it feels good to see him take a stand. Bendis does an excellent job in using Civil War to propel Cage to the forefront of New Avengers, as the true heart of the series.

Family matters

The smart thing about making these issues solo stories is the way each of these heroes feels isolated. Captain America is seen sitting alone, painting, Luke Cage waits for S.H.I.E.L.D. to arrest him in his house, Spider-Woman is on the run from several organizations, the Sentry meditates on the moon, and Iron Man sits alone in Stark Tower. Each of these situations demonstrates how far Civil War has gone in dividing the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Dividing and isolating each of the New Avengers shows the reader much of the inner turmoil which plagues them individually. The choices of war leave each hero with much to consider. While Cap and Iron Man have obviously made up their minds, Cage, Spider-Woman, and the Sentry are left to balance their own personal issues against their roles in the war. Specifically, given each of their circumstances, where do they go? What should each hero do with their skills? Choices are developed and explored thoroughly throughout these issues. These choices lead the fractured team through a period of transition. Civil War has thrown New Avengers, its characters, and the team as a whole, into nebulous territory. Bendis uses the chaos of the situation to isolate each of the heroes and figure out where each individual journey will lead. Civil War is the ultimate vehicle for change, both for the New Avengers as a whole and for its individual members.

All by myself…

In terms of the individual issues, the quality of the stories is a mixed bag. The first issue, focusing on Captain America, certainly has its moments. Bendis takes a good opportunity to delve into Cap’s thought process concerning the war, which is absent in the main Civil War title. The issue also gives a nice look at the beginning of Cap’s recruitment drive for the Secret Avengers. Overall, however, the issue feels like something that could have been included in the main Captain America title, as it doesn’t focus on the New Avengers as a whole. The second issue is probably the best of the bunch. Bendis gives Luke Cage some great character moments, the relationship between Luke and Jessica is really sweet, and the artwork by Leinil Yu is fantastic. The ending, when the resistance shows up to save Luke, is also a great action set-piece. This story, overall, makes it clear why Luke Cage is the central focus of the New Avengers going forward. The Spider-Woman issue is another great character-focused story. The pace proceeds very quickly, as Jessica is constantly on the run from organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, and Bendis finds a way to fit Spider-Woman’s character arc into the larger Civi War event. S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man come off as a little fascistic in this issue, however. I wish Bendis would have toned down the villainy of the registration movement during these issues. The Sentry issue is definitely the strangest one. While the initial introspection of the Sentry is well done, things get a little weird afterwards. The Sentry’s encounter with the Inhumans doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose, besides showing him a little more at peace, and the romance with Crystal is a fairly tacked on. The ending, however, when Iron Man recruits the Sentry, is a great character moment, as you can tell the Sentry doesn’t want to leave. The final issue, focusing on Iron Man, is probably the least character-focused. There is a great examination of how Stark’s image has changed through the war, especially by his employees. Maria Hill, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is also given some important character development, when she saves Stark from a disgruntled employee. Hill’s relationship with Stark is also nicely developed. Still, I do wish Bendis did more to explore Stark’s thought process and feelings behind Civil War. This issue is the only one in which the main character does not get an internal monologue, lacking the insight of the other stories. Jim Cheung’s artwork, however, remains beautiful.

Secret Avengers smackdown

Overall, I think Bendis does a lot with these Civil War tie-ins. The stories manage to fill in some blanks in terms of character development, particularly with Captain America. The main Civil War event largely jumped from plot point to plot point, so Bendis’ smaller issues are able to tap into some unexplored areas of the story. Most of the New Avengers are given well-written motives and explanations for their part in Civil War, and some quieter character moments as well. These issues also serve as a nice period of transition for the New Avengers. It’s not often in a team book like this one that individual characters can be explored one at a time. This opportunity allows Bendis to individually move each character forward in a compelling and believable way. The main flaw that I find in looking back at these issues lies in the two issues focused on Captain America and Iron Man. Since both of these heroes have their own titles, each of their respective issues in New Avengers could have been devoted to something more relevant to the team. For instance, Captain America’s issue could have focused on the Secret Avengers fighting criminals. Iron Man’s issue, on the other hand, could have followed the pro-registration heroes as they went on the job as registered superheroes. Stories of this nature would have filled in some more gaps from Millar’s main Civil War story.

Still a bit fascistic…

Going forward, Luke Cage’s tie-in story is going to be the basis for his role as the central protagonist of New Avengers. Many key elements of the series are established in Cage’s story, including the fugitive status of the New Avengers, standing by one’s principles, and the focus on Cage and Jones trying to raise their daughter. All of these elements will continue for the rest of the New Avengers series, and Cage is going to lead the New Avengers post-Civil War. As mentioned during several previous blog posts, Spider-Woman’s story is only going to become more complicated. Despite the sympathetic and tormented portrayal of Jessica Drew during Civil War, there is still going to be much more to her than meets the eye. Allegiances shift, more questions are asked, and the answers lead straight into Bendis’ Secret Invasion. Finally, the focus on the Sentry’s endless quest for inner peace is merely beginning during Civil War. Massive events such as Civil War and World War Hulk will constantly interrupt the Sentry’s longing for peace, and powerful people like Tony Stark and Norman Osborn will continue to use the Sentry as a tool. This frequent manipulation will not end well, for the Sentry or the rest of the Avengers. Civil War is a launchpad for the New Avengers as a whole, sending each character on a new trajectory in their respective journeys.

Mission statement of the series

That’s all for today. What do you think about tie-ins? How about the Civil War tie-ins? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Join me again tomorrow, when I look at a non-Bendis event, the world-breaking World War Hulk!

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