Secret Invasion, for me, felt like the climax to Bendis’ Avengers saga. It seemed that the Avengers were finally coming back together after the post-Civil War tensions. So when I saw that the blockbuster event only served to propel Marvel’s heroes into an even darker status quo, I was a bit disappointed. That is, until Bendis unveiled the new lineup of my favorite team, the New Avengers. As soon as I saw the cover of New Avengers #48, featuring Bucky Barnes’ Captain America, I was more excited than ever. This was a brand new era for the street-level Avengers, shaking things up in a major way. The team gained new members, along with new challenges. Pitting the rebel Avengers against Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers presented an exciting new status quo. These Dark Avengers went on the hunt for unregistered heroes, and they weren’t even former allies like Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers. Instead, the New Avengers became hunted by ruthless killers such as Bullseye and Venom. Putting the villains in charge was a nice twist, and it certainly made it easier for me to root for the New Avengers, the more heroic underdog team. At the same time, adding new members such as Ms. Marvel and the real Spider-Woman gave me hope as I reader. I enjoyed that, though the villains were in charge, the heroes were slowly reuniting, ending the whole “hero vs. hero” conflict of Civil War. Even as outlaws, the New Avengers were a team that stood together.
Following the events of Secret Invasion, however, heroes were not seen in a favorable light. Tony Stark failed to protect the Earth in the public’s eyes, leading to his removal as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. In his place, Norman Osborn, who landed the killing shot on the Skrull queen, was placed in charge of the fifty state initiative and the new organization HAMMER. Additionally, Osborn was given his own Avengers team, consisting of villains such as Moonstone, Bullseye, Venom, and Wolverine’s son, Daken. All of these villains were disguised as the heroes Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, respectively, fooling the public into trusting this group of criminals. Meanwhile, the street-level criminals in the Hood’s gang were still active, continuing to take advantage of being beneath the initiative’s notice. The New Avengers remained the only heroes to stop these villains, yet their status as outlaws made it especially difficult to hunt the Hood and his gang. Finally, Doctor Strange was recently stripped of his title as sorcerer supreme, following his recent use of dark magic. Leaving the New Avengers, Strange went on a journey to find the new sorcerer supreme. Without a master of the mystic arts to defend the Marvel Universe, the Earth was vulnerable to supernatural threats.
All of these contextual factors within Bendis’ run justify the need for the New Avengers. Someone has to oppose Osborn’s faux Avengers, and defend New York from super-criminals like the Hood and his gang. Moreover, with Tony Stark’s Mighty Avengers out of the picture, the New Avengers stand as the only Avengers team comprised of actual heroes. In the face of their challenges as heroes, the New Avengers still struggle to be ordinary human beings. After Secret Invasion, for example, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter, Danielle, was kidnapped by a Skrull posing as the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis. The loss of their daughter leaves Cage and Jones in a desperate position, searching hopelessly for Danielle and her kidnapper. In light of the enormous strain placed on the New Avengers as a team and individuals, times seem bleaker than ever. The New Avengers, struggling against the Dark Avengers and the Hood’s gang, must also fight to prove themselves to the public. Grappling with the physical, personal, and political challenges of Dark Reign, the New Avengers are truly at their lowest point.
Exemplifying the darkness of the New Avengers’ situation is Clint Barton, aka Ronin. After a few story arcs following Barton joining the team, Bendis is finally able to fully delve into the former Hawkeye’s psyche. Much focus is placed on the anger and bitterness Barton holds against Osborn. Traditionally on the right side of the law, it pains Barton to see a psychopath like Osborn in a position of power, while he and the New Avengers are branded as criminals. Demonstrating Barton’s old-fashioned belief in the general public, Bendis has Barton start a media war with Osborn, attempting to convince people that the New Avengers are the real heroes. When Barton’s appeal to the public fails, he grows even more jaded, contemplating morally darker options. Indeed, several times, Barton goes so far as to suggest killing Osborn, showing how desperate the classic Avenger has become. The frustration which Barton shows throughout this era of New Avengers is very much consistent with the character. Used to the comfortable legitimacy of the classic Avengers, Barton cannot cope with the New Avengers’ status as criminals, especially when a super-criminal like Osborn is hailed as a hero. Yet it is also Barton’s classic Avengers experience which aids the team during this difficult time. Elected as the New Avengers’ leader, Barton evokes the spirit of his mentor, Steve Rogers. Barton organizes group meetings, much like the original Avengers, and coordinates tactics through group discussion. Taking charge of the New Avengers, Barton brings a classic Avengers feel to the team.
Contrasting Barton’s classic Avengers sensibilities is Spider-Man, a veteran New Avenger and outlaw. During the chaotic period of Dark Reign, Spider-Man grounds the team, acting as a moral rock for the New Avengers. It’s the web-slinger’s personal experience as an outlaw which informs his own morality. While the public normally hates Spider-Man, favoring the corrupt and the powerful, he has learned through experience to do the morally right thing regardless. Spider-Man says this himself, telling Barton, “Now that you have to feel what it’s like to be, you know, me every single day…you’re cracking up”. The wall-crawler demonstrates his moral perseverance, especially considering his arch-enemy, Norman Osborn, is the one in charge of the fifty state initiative. While Spider-Man is living his worst nightmare, seeing the former Green Goblin responsible for national security, he continues to be the hero he’s always been. Spider-Man even goes so far as to reveal his identity as Peter Parker to the rest of the group, showing how much he trusts the New Avengers. In a world where Norman Osborn is in charge of his own Avengers and the good guys are on the run, Spider-Man is still able to enjoy small victories, taking a cheap shot at Osborn and redirecting a nanite bomb at Osborn’s summer home. Furthermore, Spider-Man is always able to keep things light, constantly quipping and acting as comic relief for the New Avengers. The wall-crawler develops a great friendship with Jessica Jones upon learning that they attended the same high school, and he’s truly the everyman of the team. No matter how dark the situation is, Spider-Man always manages to comment on the lunacy of the New Avengers’ current predicament.
Another relatable, everyman perspective comes through Luke Cage. At the beginning of the Dark Reign era, Cage desperately searches for his lost daughter. Cage, a terrified parent, is one of the most human Avengers, being a man who just wants to protect his daughter. Going to Norman Osborn for help, Cage is truly desperate to find Danielle. Yet Cage never truly compromises his own morals. In fact, once Osborn helps him find Danielle, Cage proceeds to incapacitate the Dark Avengers and flee from Avengers Tower. Cage clearly knows who he is and knows the right thing to do, even when the world seems upside down. Indeed, once Cage has found Danielle, his own internal conflict is resolved for the rest of Dark Reign. After fighting the superhuman registration act for so long, Cage has adjusted to living outside of a system which he knows is wrong. Cage’s strong moral conviction makes him a cornerstone of the New Avengers. When Cage is captured by the Dark Avengers, the New Avengers go to great lengths to recover their teammate. Furthermore, Jessica Jones gathers all of Cage’s super-hero friends to help save him, indicating the strong impact which Cage has on the whole superhero community. After years on the New Avengers, Cage remains the heart and soul of the group.
Boosting group morale even further is the addition of Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel. Acting as the New Avengers’ second-in-command, Danvers is given the opportunity to boast her leadership skills from the pages of Mighty Avengers. For example, when the New Avengers stage a raid on HAMMER, Danvers leads the charge, defiantly crying, “Avengers Assemble!” Additionally, Danvers displays serious confidence, taking on the Hood in a one-on-one fight during a brawl between the New Avengers and the Hood’s gang. Danvers is also the voice of reason when necessary, talking Barton down when he shares his desire to kill Osborn. It’s Danvers’ history with Barton, as a fellow classic Avenger, which makes it easier for her to reach him. Having experience with both the old and New Avengers makes Danvers a nice bridge between both teams. In another scene, Danvers handily dispatches Osborn in battle, confidently explaining how her morality makes her superior to Osborn and that’s why he’s going to lose. Holding the moral high ground in the heat of battle, Danvers showcases what it means to be an Avenger during desperate times. It’s also just nice to see Danvers with the New Avengers again, as she meshes well with the group. Danvers’ friendship with Jessica Jones and Spider-Woman, not to mention the banter with Spider-Man and Wolverine, makes her a much better fit for this team than the Mighty Avengers.
The biggest new addition to the New Avengers during this time is Bucky Barnes, the new Captain America. As the former sidekick to the original Captain America, Bucky is a great embodiment of Steve Rogers’ legacy. It was Rogers’ idealism which formed the New Avengers in the first place, so including Barnes, on the team only feels natural. Barnes also provides the New Avengers with their new headquarters, in Rogers’ old apartment. This new setting makes it clear that the New Avengers are Steve Rogers’ team, and the rightful inheritors of the original Avengers’ legacy. Bucky himself has many of fun moments on the team. Bendis includes a lot of subtle character traits for Bucky, including a strategic mindset and some impressive battle tactics. There’s also plenty of funny moments, such as Bucky’s insistence to the team that “You should all take guns” or to “Stop calling me Bucky-Cap!” Bucky also gets understandably agitated at the team for messing up Rogers’ apartment, making for some humorous discussions. Still, outside of these smaller moments, it feels as if Bendis couldn’t do much for Bucky’s personal character arc in the pages of New Avengers. Since Ed Brubaker was writing the main Captain America series at the time, perhaps there was only so much that could happen to the character outside of his own title. Yet I was still surprised at how little character insight Bendis gave Bucky overall.
The rest of the team has its ups and downs. Wolverine is only present for the first couple of stories in this era, but he continues to play an appropriate role on the team. Logan is certainly the most pragmatic member of the New Avengers, leading the team on a hunt through the criminal underworld when searching for Cage’s daughter, for example. There is a necessary conviction that Wolverine brings to the New Avengers during Dark Reign, knowing what needs to be done during difficult times. Indeed, while the other Avengers are all given internal monologues during a fight with the Hood’s gang, all Wolverine can think of is killing every criminal there. Additionally, the real Spider-Woman returns, officially joining the New Avengers for the first time. Spider-Woman does have some stand-out moments, luring the Dark Avengers into a trap and taking on Madame Masque in a very cool fight sequence. Overall, though, there isn’t much for the character to do, outside of trying to earn everyone’s trust and shooting the occasional venom blast. It feels strange that Spider-Woman was more important to the New Avengers as a Skrull impostor than the real Jessica Drew. Not much is done to address Spider-Woman’s tension with the team, other than some offhanded dialogue here or there. Finally, Mockingbird, Barton’s long-lost wife, joins the New Avengers. Mockingbird is another great example of a classic Avenger reinventing herself in a brave new world. Over the course of Dark Reign, Mockingbird designs a new costume, and simply has fun being back on Earth after her capture by the Skrulls. Bendis gives Mockingbird some fantastic moments, particularly when the rest of the team is de-powered. During this moment, Mockingbird stands alone against the Hood’s gang. Mockingbird’s resourcefulness aids her long enough to save her fellow Avengers, showing the unique skill-set that the character brings to the table. As a whole, the New Avengers form a pretty cohesive team.
Much of the Dark Reign period focuses on the New Avengers’ desperate circumstances. Almost every member of the team is at the end of their rope, feeling cornered by Osborn and his Dark Avengers. The oppression which the New Avengers experience at Osborn’s hands compounds issues such as finding Cage’s daughter or fighting the Hood and his gang. No matter what they try, from setting a trap for the Dark Avengers to starting a media war with Osborn, the New Avengers find that their plans backfire every time. Finding themselves cornered more and more every day, the team is forced to ask: how far are they willing to go to stop Osborn? This question drives some, like Barton, to consider crossing the line, seeing no other way out. Yet, in desperate times, it is those who are used to hardship, such as Luke Cage and Spider-Man, that refuse to give in to their current pressures. Due to their moral convictions, the team resolves to endure their situation with patience, fighting as the heroes that they’ve always been. The New Avengers also endure by staying together. More importantly, there are signs that all the heroes, even those who weren’t on the team before, are standing together now. From the post-Civil War outlaws, to former members of the Mighty Avengers, to former Skrull captives, and even Captain America, everyone stands together in the face of Dark Reign. After the Skrull invasion, trust isn’t an issue anymore, and the real enemy now stands in the open. In trusting the New Avengers with Steve Rogers’ apartment, Bucky recognizes this team as the true Avengers. Additionally, when all of Luke Cage’s friends come to the New Avengers’ aid, Bendis demonstrates how the superhero community is slowly reuniting as a whole. The core of this superhero reunion comes from the New Avengers’ endurance as a team. Immediately following Secret Invasion, while heroes such as Thor and Iron Man went their separate ways, the New Avengers assembled once more. Without question, the New Avengers knew that they were needed. While the team realizes their position as outlaws, and that another team is the “official” Avengers, the New Avengers also know that they are in the right, and that they’re needed. During this time, there is no question that the New Avengers are the true heroes, leading them to rise above the public perception and continue to fight the good fight.
The first story arc of Dark Reign leads into the New Avengers’ status quo a little more gradually. Bendis initially focuses on tying up loose ends, as Cage and Jones search for their missing daughter. While this story is not centered on the New Avengers as a whole, it does show a lot about how far this team has come. The New Avengers feel like a family, searching far and wide for Danielle Cage. Bendis can also never do any wrong writing Luke and Jessica, as they are the heart of his whole Avengers saga. Things really pick up, however, in the over-sized 50th issue. Bendis spends this issue on a confrontation between the New Avengers and the Dark Avengers, one which backfires. This story is relatively short but sweet, setting the stage for the New Avengers’ uphill battle. Bendis then spends a few issues on the New Avengers helping Doctor Strange find the new sorcerer supreme. These few issues feel the most tangential out of the Dark Reign stories. It’s nice to see Doctor Strange return, as it makes the New Avengers feel more like a family, and setting up the Hood as the main antagonist adds a sense of continuity to the series. Yet overall, this story doesn’t focus as much on the New Avengers, instead examining the mythos of the supernatural area of the Marvel Universe. Still, the story is pretty fun, and a nice break from the doom and gloom of Dark Reign. The final arc of Dark Reign is by far the best. When the Hood’s gang depowers the New Avengers, the team is left defenseless against these super-criminals and Osborn’s Avengers. What I love about this story is seeing the New Avengers at their lowest point. Backed into a corner, the team is forced to rely on their own resourcefulness to escape with their lives. Furthermore, when Cage is gravely injured after being de-powered, he is forced to turn himself in to Osborn for medical treatment. Seeing the New Avengers and all of Cage’s friends rally to rescue him is awe-inspiring. Overall, this final story solidifies the New Avengers as a scrappy, underdog team who still manage to come out on top. Seeing the New Avengers win against unbeatable odds is truly satisfying.
Ultimately, I’d say that this is my favorite era of the New Avengers. Despite being at their lowest point, this team continues to endure. In fact, Dark Reign seems to strengthen the team’s convictions, showing a disadvantaged yet morally sound group of heroes. The New Avengers feel like true underdogs, relying on their wit and will in order to save the day, more than sheer power alone. As always, Bendis includes some great character interactions. The banter between the New Avengers makes them feel like real people, as well as a close knit team. Certain characters are also given great moments to shine, such as Ronin, Cage, Ms. Marvel, and Mockingbird. The characters can be fun but at the same time share personal moments of drama which shape the heroes. The New Avengers as a team are a good mix of different types of characters, from street level heroes to classic Avengers. Bendis does a great job delving into each character’s mind-set on several occasions, providing internal monologues for each New Avenger. Overall, it would have been easy for Bendis to simply make Dark Reign a “good vs. evil” brawl, but the New Avengers don’t get off that easily. Facing the weight of public opinion and the US government, the New Avengers are forced to deal with the absurd reality of a world where the villains rule. This forces the team to fight from both a physical and political frontier, defining the core struggle of the New Avengers.
Out of the Dark Reign era, Bendis’ New Avengers will have several consequences on his greater Avengers run. Doctor Strange and Brother Voodoo, the new sorcerer supreme, will return after Siege, recruiting the New Avengers once more to battle mystical forces. This more mystical focus is going to distinguish the New Avengers even further from the traditional, classic Avengers team. Instead of fighting cosmic beings or alien invasions, the New Avengers fight street-level and supernatural threats. More immediately, the New Avengers are finally going to be vindicated after years on the run from the law. Steve Rogers has returned from the dead, rallying the Marvel heroes against Norman Osborn when he stages a siege of Asgard. Ousting Osborn will result in a new, Heroic Age, which finally frees the New Avengers to live their lives in peace. Still, the road will not be an easy one. After striking a deal with Osborn, the Hood and his gang will also be a major part of Siege. The street-level New Avengers will have to defeat this gang of super-villains once and for all, a final battle for this team of heroes. The battle will not be easy, but at least now, the heroes are finally united against true villains.
That’s all for today. What are your thoughts on Dark Reign? How do you feel about the New Avengers during this period, or in general? I want to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and please share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Be back tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ psychotic group of villains in Dark Avengers!