When I first got into comics, the Avengers were in an unusual spot. Civil War had just finished, leaving a divided community of superheroes in its wake. Between several different Avengers teams, the group to follow was Bendis’ street-level New Avengers. This group of heroes included very nontraditional members, such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, and several other non-classic Avengers. Despite the unorthodox nature of the team, the New Avengers had a certain charm which spoke to me. These outlaw Avengers, for the longest time, felt like the underdogs of the Marvel Universe. They were the rebels who fought super-criminals under a government which sought to bring them down. While the post-Civil War New Avengers were in a dark place, there remained a sense of fun and optimism to the title, which I enjoyed a lot. The New Avengers lineup was full of bantering, street-level, and most importantly, human, superheroes. I remember growing to love the less traditional, street-level New Avengers team. For me, the post-Civil War New Avengers were the Avengers.
This New Avengers team rose from the ashes of Mark Millar’s game-changing Civil War. When the war finished, it seemed that the pro-registration forces had beaten the anti-registration heroes. The fifty state initiative was the big new idea, implementing a government-registered superhero team for every state in the US. In New York, Iron Man and the Mighty Avengers were the official Avengers team. Despite the triumph of the superhuman registration act, the superhero community suffered almost irreparable damage. Captain America, the longtime Avengers leader and face of the anti-registration movement, was assassinated. Iron Man was despised by many for his recent actions during Civil War, as well as his responsibility for the events of World War Hulk. Heroes who disagreed with superhuman registration retired or left the country, with only a small pocket of anti-registration heroes remaining. In addition to this new status quo, Bendis still had some loose ends remaining from earlier in his Avengers saga. Echo, acting as Ronin, was still keeping an eye on the criminal organization the Hand for the New Avengers. Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, was resurrected after House of M, subsequently disappearing. Both of these plot threads needed to be addressed in the context of the Avengers’ new status quo.
Due to this new status quo, Bendis’ New Avengers shifts in an entirely different direction from its pre-Civil War days. The New Avengers, now under Luke Cage’s leadership, remain the last pocket of the anti-registration forces from Civil War. These outlaw Avengers choose to carry on in Captain America’s name, in spite of the superhuman registration act and Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers. While in direct opposition to the other heroes, the New Avengers still focus on fighting criminals, including the Hand and a new gang of supervillains led by the Hood. The New Avengers remain outlaws, but they still try to find a purpose as heroes in the new political climate. Indeed, throughout Bendis’ post-Civil War run, the New Avengers try to reconcile their own identities with their status as outlaws. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, for example, try to give their daughter a proper home while constantly fleeing from the authorities. Classic Avengers such as Clint Barton also try to continue their duties in the face of an increasingly unfamiliar world. Overall, Bendis balances the New Avengers’ new outlaw status with their identification as heroes.
Out of all of the New Avengers, Luke Cage is probably tasked with the largest adjustment to the new world order. Continuing Cage’s character arc from the Civil War tie-ins, Bendis depicts the complexity of achieving simple goals in light of overwhelming obstacles. All Cage wants is to live a nice life with his wife and daughter and to protect his neighborhood without disruption from the likes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Tony Stark. Now that Civil War is over, however, Cage is also tasked with leading the last remaining anti-registration heroes. The balancing act between fatherhood and leading a team is one which Bendis portrays very well, continuing until the end of his New Avengers run. If Cage wants to set a good example for his daughter, he has to stand up for what he believes. Yet, in standing by his principles, Cage ironically endangers himself and the family he is trying to protect. Despite this dilemma, Bendis always writes Cage as the beating heart of the New Avengers. Cage grounds the team, motivating them to carry on in Steve Rogers’ name. From going after the Hand to taking down the Hood and his gang, Cage continues to lead the New Avengers on a noble mission of good old-fashioned heroism. Cage truly believes in the New Avengers’ cause, standing by his principles in the face of constant sacrifice. In his own words, commenting on this rogue Avengers team, Cage says, “We are the Avengers”.
Bendis also returns Clint Barton to the fold, after a long absence post-House of M. Barton must adjust to circumstances in a much more literal sense, following his traumatic death and resurrection. The former Hawkeye is thrown into an unfamiliar world, leaving the Avenger unsure of where to go and who to trust. When a classic Avenger wakes up and finds Captain America dead, the Avengers divided, and Tony Stark as the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the world seems a lot less stable than it once was. In the face of uncertainty, Barton has to reinvent himself. No longer part of a classic Avengers team, Barton cannot be Hawkeye, the avenging archer. Instead, Barton takes up the mantle of Ronin, commenting on his lost sense of identification with the world. While this identity shift is a fairly big deal, Bendis does not delve too deeply into Barton’s psyche until Dark Reign, when the reader truly gets a sense of how much darker Barton’s journey has become. For now, however, Barton does add much to the team dynamic. Coming from a classic Avengers background, Barton is more motivated than any of the New Avengers to honor Steve Rogers’ legacy. Barton knows what Rogers would do in any given situation, lending much experience and perspective to the team. It’s also nice to see the former Hawkeye share banter with characters like Spider-Man during battle.
While New Avengers such as Cage and Barton adjust to the post-Civil War era, new villains arise in the wake of this new status quo. Parker Robbins, the Hood, is a prime example. Bendis is sure to give a purpose to this new super-criminal’s uprising. Taking advantage of the current hero vs. hero environment, the Hood unifies the super-criminal underworld as its new Kingpin. Many of the jobs that the Hood’s gang takes are below the radar, operating on a small, almost unnoticeable scale. The Hood’s methods make him the perfect sort of villain for the New Avengers. These are street-level heroes who focus on threats that larger teams, such as Stark’s Mighty Avengers, tend to ignore. It’s the Hood’s street-level villainy, combined with his dabbling in the mystic arts, which makes him the primary antagonist for the New Avengers all the way through Siege. The Hood is a grounded, slightly mystical foe, who gives the New Avengers a more straightforward villain to battle during uncertain times. Ultimately, there isn’t that much to the Hood in terms of motivation. Bendis depicts the Hood as a common thug with too much power at his disposal. Yet, the important thing about the Hood is the role he plays as a contrast to the New Avengers.
As a whole, the New Avengers go through a major upheaval after Civil War. New members Dr. Strange and Iron Fist, for example, take the team into new territory. Both of these heroes tend to be New York-based, street-level types, much like Cage or Spider-Man. These locally-focused heroes ground the New Avengers even more than before Civil War, further cementing the New Avengers’ place as a street-level team. Additionally, the focus on the mystical which both Strange and Iron Fist add is an important distinguishing feature for the team. The New Avengers may not deal with giant, intergalactic threats, but they do occasionally delve into mystical territory. Maya Lopez also returns, as Echo instead of Ronin. Echo acts as the catalyst for the New Avengers’ initial mission to Japan, giving the team new purpose. Once the team aids her in taking down the Hand, however, Echo begins to lose her own purpose. It feels as if Bendis does not know what to do with the character, giving her very little in terms of personality or a significant role on the team. Still, veteran members Spider-Man and Wolverine continue to bring much to the table. Spider-Man’s experience as an outlaw and street-level hero makes him the perfect kind of member for the New Avengers. The web-slinger makes for great comic relief, and his experience adds a good layer of perspective to the team. Wolverine has a darker edge, befitting this darker period of the New Avengers. Logan’s experience with the Hand and the criminal underworld are very useful during the team’s adventures, gaining valuable intel for the New Avengers. Overall, the New Avengers’ first major lineup-change takes the team in a much more grounded, street-level direction.
This shake-up in the roster is only part of the New Avengers’ struggle to re-define themselves. Following Civil War, the team slowly tries to find its purpose. The war is over, and the anti-registration side lost. Throughout the first story arc, many members find themselves asking if the New Avengers shouldn’t just go home. Specific members, such as Clint Barton, exemplify the struggle of purpose in the face of a new status quo. For example, where should Clint go, now that he has returned to the world? Is there a place for Hawkeye, an old-fashioned hero, in a world where heroes have changed entirely? Compounding this question of purpose is a new question of trust. When the New Avengers discover a Skrull infiltration, subsequently suffering betrayal at the hands of Spider-Woman, they are left to wonder who can be trusted. While the investigation into the Skrulls gives the team a new purpose, it also puts the New Avengers at odds with one another. In light of an already fractured superhero community, the lack of trust within the team makes the New Avengers’ current situation all the more difficult. Especially considering the safety of Cage’s baby girl, adding trust issues to a team of outlaw superheroes puts the New Avengers on edge like never before. Yet in the face of re-definition and trust issues, the New Avengers ultimately rise to the occasion, taking the fight to more straightforward, albeit lower-level, villains. While the Mighty Avengers and other teams fight larger scale threats, the New Avengers maintain a focus on the streets. This team continues to fight ninjas, supervillains, and all of the threats which remain unnoticed by those in power. The New Avengers use this tumultuous period of transition to ground themselves even further in old-fashioned heroism.
Bendis tackles all of the aforementioned themes with some very well-written story arcs. The first major arc introduces the new team, re-establishing the status quo for the New Avengers. Bendis does a good job interweaving flashbacks and the present day throughout this initial story, opening with an exciting action scene of the New Avengers fighting the Hand. The flashbacks answer several important questions, explaining who is in the Ronin suit, why the New Avengers are in Japan, how the team decided to continue after Civil War, and many other important details. The non-linear storytelling is especially helpful for pacing, alternating between action and set-up at a regular intervals. Overall, after the weight of Civil War, it feels good to see the New Avengers together again, bantering and fighting criminals simultaneously. The second story arc, “The Trust”, is where tensions begin to rise. After the discovery of a Skrull infiltration, the New Avengers are at odds with each other, with no idea who to trust. Simultaneously, the rise of the Hood and his gang of criminals is given ample time for development, cementing their place as recurring villains for the New Avengers. This arc definitely provides an in-depth look at the team, particularly Cage and Jessica Jones. Still, certain characters could have used a little more focus, such as Echo and Iron Fist, who feel a bit underdeveloped. The story is also disrupted briefly by a strange crossover between New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, which did not add anything crucial to the overall plot. Overall, “The Trust” manages to re-establish the New Avengers as more of a tight-knit group than before, and the final two issues of the arc are very strong. The battles with the Hood’s gang are very indicative of the danger in which the New Avengers live, especially as outlaws with few places to turn. Finally, the stand-alone issues during this period are also very well done. Clint Barton’s mission to find Wanda Maximoff is a nice character close-up, showing what the former Hawkeye has been up to since House of M. The issue focusing on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ struggling marriage is quite powerful, further demonstrating how well Bendis understands these two characters. Furthermore, this issue illustrates the strain of the current situation on Cage and Jones, two people just trying to maintain a family. The final stand-alone issue, featuring Echo, is a rare look at the character. Bendis ties Echo’s disconnect with the rest of the team into Secret Invasion well, showing how easily a Skrull could have replaced her or anyone else. The issue does have a strange ending, where Echo and Clint get together. There is no consequence or follow-up to this event, making it seem fairly pointless. Still, the issue is a nice look at the character and a good lead-in to Secret Invasion.
As a whole, New Avengers post-Civil War feels like the Avengers title which Bendis always wanted to write. With no Captain America or Iron Man to look after the team, this outlaw group of Avengers is constantly on the ground and on the run. All of these elements make for a great team of underdogs who you can’t help but root for in the end. Bendis maintains some great character focus throughout these issues, including the difficulties in Cage and Jones’ marriage, Strange’s problems with housing the team, and Clint Barton finding his place in the world. Character close-ups such as these make the team members feel like real people. Adding in the witty banter and group dynamic, the reader really gets to know the New Avengers during these issues. Furthermore, this version of the New Avengers is simply an entertaining group. Their adventures are full of action, humor, tension, and even some drama, making the New Avengers an exciting team to follow. Characters like Spider-Man keep things light-hearted, Luke Cage adds pathos, Wolverine adds a darker edge to the group, and almost everyone else brings something to the table. In the face of a darker, uncertain status quo, there is still plenty of fun to be had in the pages of New Avengers.
From this point on, the post-Civil War version of the New Avengers is the team that readers will get to know and love. The street-level, witty group of underdogs will be the New Avengers until the end of Bendis’ run in 2012. Even through a few occasional roster changes, the post-Civil War New Avengers, at its core, is the team which Bendis writes for the rest of his run. Additionally, the Hood and his gang are going to plague the New Avengers all the way through Siege in 2010, becoming the team’s primary antagonists. Many other mystical threats will surface, especially when Dr. Strange searches for a new sorcerer supreme during Dark Reign, and during several battles with the Hood. The New Avengers will also encounter several mystical beings, continuing the semi-mystical focus which the Hood brings to the series. More immediately, the Skrull infiltration is going to impact the entire Marvel Universe fairly soon. Secret Invasion will reveal much about the Skrull infiltration, additionally shaking up the Avengers’ status quo even more than Civil War did. As Bendis continues to deconstruct the Avengers during and after Secret Invasion, the New Avengers will carry on. The New Avengers will continue to be the rock of Bendis’ Marvel Universe.
That’s all for today. What do you think about the outlaw New Avengers? Do you love them like I do, or are they not your taste? I’d love to hear about it on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow, when I talk about Bendis’ legitimate superhero team, the Mighty Avengers!