Bendis’ Avengers: The Mighty Avengers

I was never interested in the Mighty Avengers. After reading Civil War, where government-registered heroes were practically villains, why would I want to read about a pro-registration Avengers team? At the time, the New Avengers, the anti-registration group, was my kind of team. I rooted for the rebels, the underdogs, and the misfits. The Mighty Avengers were the exact opposite, representing the establishment. The whole team seemed like a group of government stooges. Iron Man was the worst of them all. After the way he was written in Civil War, nothing that Tony Stark did would redeem him in my eyes. Iron Man was the embodiment of “the man”: the guy in charge who pushed everyone else around. Over time, however, I did come around to the Mighty Avengers team. As this group appeared more often in New Avengers and Secret Invasion, I came to see that they weren’t really the bad guys. Rather, the Mighty Avengers were different kinds of heroes, with differing political views from the New Avengers.

Super-cops!

After the events of Civil War, the pro-registration Avengers were the top dogs of the Marvel Universe. It was a brand new era for superheroes, as most essentially became government agents. The fifty state initiative implemented a superhero team in every state. In New York, the registered team was the Mighty Avengers. The superhuman registration act held superheroes to a new standard of accountability, responding to public mistrust. Even before the fatal incident in Stamford, Connecticut, trust in superheroes was waning. Before the registration act, it had been a long time since heroes were viewed favorably by the public. In addition to the superhuman status quo, certain characters underwent significant developments prior to Mighty Avengers. For example, during Bendis’ New Avengers run, Carol Danvers developed a new confidence. The events of House of M gave Danvers a newfound belief in her own power, making her a more capable hero than ever.

New world order

Bendis’ Mighty Avengers follows the titular superheroes, under Danvers’ leadership. The Mighty Avengers are the face of the fifty state initiative, assembled from scratch in order to give people faith in heroes again. Tony Stark and Carol Danvers hand-pick each member of the team, selecting members based on public appeal and fighting effectiveness. This new, government-registered team of Avengers takes on all of the major threats to the world, including Ultron, symbiote invasions, and Doctor Doom. Facing these major threats places the Mighty Avengers in the public eye, making them the face of the entire superhero community. At the same time, impending threats loom right around the corner, such as the Skrull infiltration. This infiltration weighs heavily on Stark in particular, featuring in a good portion of the comic and foreshadowing Bendis’ Secret Invasion event.

Just like the Avengers of old…

In the wake of Civil War, Stark is doing his best to repair the rift between superheroes and the general public. Bendis writes Iron Man as a sort of PR coordinator for superheroes, assembling the Mighty Avengers very deliberately. The whole first issue of the title focuses primarily on Stark’s selection of each member of the team. After making so many mistakes during Civil War, Stark begins the series attempting to make amends, recruiting old friends such as the Wasp and Wonder Man in order to return to his heroic roots. Placing Danvers in charge of the team also demonstrates Stark’s new tactics, delegating to those in whom he has faith. Yet Stark can’t let go of old habits, taking too much control of the situation at times. For example, while Stark places Danvers in charge of the Avengers, sometimes he makes executive decisions for the team, recruiting new members and choosing specific missions. If the series ran for a bit longer, perhaps Bendis could have explored this character flaw. Yet the second half of Bendis’ run on Mighty Avengers focuses significantly on the Skrull infiltration. Specifically, Stark’s paranoia around the infiltration keeps him detached from the rest of the team, taking focus away from the group dynamic. While Bendis does set up some interesting characterization for Stark, the lead-in to Secret Invasion overrides this initial character arc.

What a control freak

One character arc that continues before and after Mighty Avengers is that of Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel. As the field leader of the team, Danvers comes into her own, breaking free from the shadow of the original Captain Marvel. Bendis gives Danvers a new confidence and a stronger power-set, extending the arc he began during House of M. Yet Danvers’ breakout role in the series is not without its difficulties. Indeed, Ms. Marvel struggles as the leader of the Mighty Avengers, especially considering the new team roster. While Danvers can rely on classic Avengers such as the Wasp and Wonder Man, loose cannons such as Ares and the Sentry pose trouble for Ms. Marvel. Additionally, Stark’s perpetual undermining of Danvers’ authority constantly places her leadership in question. Once again, all of these issues are set up nicely, but never fully addressed, as the Secret Invasion prelude focuses more on Stark than anyone else. Ultimately, Danvers deserves more than the character arc she receives in Mighty Avengers, as there is never a moment of resolved leadership during her time in the title. Still, Mighty Avengers is but a stepping stone for Danvers’ later role in Bendis’ Avengers run.

Leader of the pack

Another breakout star in Bendis’ Mighty Avengers is the god of war, Ares. Strong, ruthless, and brutally honest, Ares is much like a combination of Thor and Wolverine. This hybrid of raw power and sheer brutality makes Ares a great addition to the team, as the god of war has the power and the willingness to fight the nastier battles of the Avengers. Bendis also fleshes out Ares’ characterization, writing him as kind of a jerk and a pretty big misogynist. Despite some of these distasteful qualities, when the chips are down, Ares is also given a sense of honor which compels him to do the right thing. For example, Ares is willing to risk his life by shrinking down and venturing inside of Ultron, in order to destroy the mad android. Overall, Ares is simply a fun new character. The oblivious, outdated nature of his dialogue adds levity to the team, and Ares’ straightforward demeanor is quite refreshing. Without too much continuity or an outside solo title, Ares is free for Bendis to write in any way he wants, clearly having fun with the character.

God of War indeed

The Mighty Avengers is also a period of transition for Bendis’ favorite powerhouse, the Sentry. Throughout the series, there are clear signs that Bob Reynolds is losing control of his mental state. Certain moments raise red flags for the Sentry, such as when Ultron tricks Bob into thinking his wife is dead, sending the Avenger into a frenzy. Additionally, when Doctor Doom sends Stark and the Sentry into the past, Bob shows considerable signs of distress and confusion. Other than these mental issues, however, Bendis does not include much more to explore the Sentry. I wish that, on this new team, the Sentry was given more of a connection with his teammates. Everyone on the team just seems scared of the Sentry, keeping their distance. This isolation is helpful to show the Sentry’s deteriorating mental state, but without at least one individual connection to the Avengers, the Sentry is a hard character with which to sympathize. Generally, the Sentry seems to be on the team for two reasons: being the team’s muscle and losing his mind at the wrong moments. The Sentry’s downfall does pay off later, in Bendis’ Dark Avengers, but for now, there is not much consequence to his arc.

Frighteningly strong…

The rest of the team isn’t given much to do for most of Bendis’ run. These more traditional Avengers are mainly there to add some classic names to the roster. Wonder Man, for example, a classic Avenger, seems redundant to the team. Especially considering the Sentry’s power, there isn’t much for Wonder Man’s famous ionic power to contribute. Bendis mainly uses Wonder Man as a punching bag to show how powerful other characters are. Additionally, the Black Widow gets a couple of cool moments, but her skills are also overshadowed by battle-trained members like Ares. There isn’t a moment in the series where Black Widow feels like an essential member of the team. Finally, and most importantly, is the founding Avenger, the Wasp. Janet van Dyne is written perfectly in-character by Bendis, including all of the classic wit and charm. Janet is the heart of the team, acting as emotional support for members like Stark and Danvers. Yet, for a founding Avenger, Janet isn’t given much to do. There is a moment when Janet explores her growing ability, but this is overshadowed by the symbiote invasion. Overall, all of these classic Avengers feel like side characters instead of the main team.

A small part on the team…

Bendis’ initial story arcs in Mighty Avengers deal with a few important themes. From the series’ inception, Mighty Avengers focuses on going back to basics. Stark assembles the Mighty Avengers specifically to regain the public’s faith in heroes, trying to harken back to the classic Avengers. While registration has changed the heroes’ methods of operation, recruiting classic Avengers for the Mighty Avengers and fighting iconic supervillains takes the Avengers back to their traditional heroic status. Of course, Bendis does include the necessary growing pains that come with a new team. The combination of classic Avengers and some of the newer members makes for a volatile mixture which does not immediately work out. Ares, for example, is brash and impulsive, and the Sentry is mentally unstable, making for a dangerous combination which the other Avengers have difficulty handling. Despite the Mighty Avengers’ internal struggles, Bendis makes this the team that steps out into the spotlight. The Mighty Avengers try to be a reminder that heroes can still be a source for hope, tackling globe-threatening beings and protecting the innocent. In times of hero vs. hero conflict, the Mighty Avengers attempt to show the public that heroes can still fight for a greater cause.

Starting from scratch

The actual story arcs in Bendis’ run are a mixed bag. Mighty Avengers starts off strong in the first arc, focusing on the conflict between the Avengers and Ultron. This arc introduces the new team pretty well, specifically during the first issue’s look at each individual member and why they were chosen. Additionally, having Stark taken over by Ultron is a good way to show the Mighty Avengers standing on their own, under Ms. Marvel’s leadership. The fight with Ultron is filled with great action and high stakes, such as when Ultron takes over Iron Man’s armory or Ares shrinks down inside of the android. While each member gets a chance to shine in this story, Ultron himself is not written as a very compelling villain. Bendis doesn’t give the character much motivation or a plan besides “take over the world”, but the story is still full of fun, Avengers-style action. The next story arc, featuring a symbiote invasion of New York, was definitely the weakest of the series. Most of the team is taken out of commission by the symbiotes, the New Avengers crossover doesn’t add much, and most of the story is overtaken by the set-up for Secret Invasion. Overall, this story serves little purpose, aside from setting up the final arc, where the Mighty Avengers go after Doctor Doom. This final arc is a lot of fun, featuring some fantastic splash pages by Mark Bagley and an overall classic-feeling Avengers adventure. The time-travel hijinks with Doctor Doom were also very enjoyable, including the retro-style artwork during the scenes in the past and cameos by classic Marvel characters. The rest of the story is fairly straightforward, essentially being a giant fight between the Avengers and Doom. Still, it’s a fun, albeit simple, story.

Alone against Ultron!

All in all, Mighty Avengers could have benefited from a longer run. The brief time that readers get with the new team is pretty fun, but it feels like more could have been done if not for Secret Invasion cutting this run short. Suddenly changing the status quo with Secret Invasion so soon after the Mighty Avengers’ formation leaves little room for development. The Mighty Avengers never got the chance to meld together like the New Avengers. Most of the team doesn’t contribute much, and there is a considerable lack of rapport between team members. Strange thought bubbles emerge every now and then to hint at internal conflict, but none of the tension between teammates ever pays off. Overall, with such a short run, Mighty Avengers seemed like it was written out of necessity, briefly showing the pro-registration side of things. Bendis does not seem quite as invested in the Mighty Avengers as he does the New Avengers, lacking the team dynamic and characterization of the latter team. The world-threatening, high stakes Mighty Avengers stories don’t have the same spark as Bendis’ more down to Earth stories. Mighty Avengers generally feels like a supplementary series.

A little more of this, please

Moving forward, Mighty Avengers is going to serve as a launching point for greater developments in Bendis’ Avengers run. Ms. Marvel, in particular, is going to become an even more powerful and confident hero after her time leading the Mighty Avengers. Joining the New Avengers following Secret Invasion, Danvers is going to become part of a team that is much worthier of her character arc. The New Avengers give Danvers a good team dynamic for her leadership skills and power set, continuing her character arc. Ares and the Sentry will also carry on into Bendis’ new series, Dark Avengers, under the command of Norman Osborn. Ares, in particular, shows a more decent side to his character during this run, even becoming likable for a change. The Sentry, on the other hand, continues his descent into madness under Osborn’s control. Finally, Mighty Avengers leads straight into Secret Invasion, despite all of Stark’s attempts to nip the Skrull infiltration in the bud. From the Skrull invasion, the Mighty Avengers are ousted as the official Avengers team, replaced by Osborn’s Dark Avengers. Stark, specifically, loses everything to Osborn, leaving a darker and more sinister regime in charge of the fifty state initiative.

Don’t get too comfortable, guys…

That’s all for today. What did you think of Mighty Avengers? Was it too short? Was the series overshadowed by Secret Invasion? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Be sure to join me tomorrow when I look at Bendis’ limited series, New Avengers: the Illuminati!

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