Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers: the Heroic Age

Once the Heroic Age began, I thought that the New Avengers were finished. The story in New Avengers was done, and Bendis had already announced his new flagship Avengers series. So imagine my excitement and joy when Marvel announced a new volume of the New Avengers alongside the main Avengers title. Even though the New Avengers’ first series was over, Bendis had no intention of leaving these characters anytime soon. Even in the Heroic Age, the New Avengers still had a place in the Marvel Universe. I loved how there were now two major Avengers teams. While the main group focused on big, world-ending events, the New Avengers stayed grounded and Earth-based in their adventures. As an added bonus, I got to read about Spider-Man and Wolverine in two Avengers titles at once! The most surprising thing about this New Avengers series, however, was its newest member: The Thing, of the Fantastic Four. I could not believe my eyes when I saw Ben Grimm on the cover of the first issue of New Avengers. To me, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were two entirely separate entities. So, while I was excited by the addition of the Thing, I was also quite shocked. As soon as a member of the Fantastic Four became an Avenger, I knew that the Heroic Age was going to be an entirely different era for the New Avengers.

Something’s different here…

With a name like the Heroic Age, this was obviously a brighter era for the Avengers than recent years. Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, became the head of national security. Rogers’ role as the superhero community’s new “top cop” placed the Avengers in a better position than ever, both publicly and politically. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes grew to an enormous size, dividing into four separate teams. Additionally, superheroes were now free to act of their own accord, unfettered by the superhuman registration act. Rogers himself hand-picked a flagship Avengers group to live in Avengers Tower and battle major threats. Despite the Avengers’ fresh start, some aspects of Dark Reign still carried over into the Heroic Age. Victoria Hand, Norman Osborn’s right-hand woman, was arrested at the end of Siege. Yet Rogers, recognizing Hand’s talent and dedication to her country, decided to give her a second chance among the heroes. Furthermore, Brother Voodoo was still the sorcerer supreme, while Doctor Strange continued to atone for his past use of black magic. Guiding Voodoo in the ways of the mystic arts, Strange acted as a mentor for the new sorcerer supreme.

Adjusting to the Heroic Age

It’s these events which guide the direction of the New Avengers during the Heroic Age. After all of the New Avengers’ sacrifices, Cage wants to keep being a hero on his own terms, without reporting to anyone, even Captain America. Realizing that Luke Cage would never take orders in the main group of Avengers, Steve Rogers gives Cage his own team. Cage is given the keys to Avengers Mansion and free rein to pick his own Avengers lineup, so he can keep his version of the Avengers going (of course, Rogers notes that Cage can’t pick Thor or Iron Man). Although Cage is free to act of his own accord, Rogers also assigns Victoria Hand the New Avengers as a consultant. The inclusion of Hand on the team heightens tensions, as the New Avengers remain suspicious of Osborn’s former associate. More immediately, the New Avengers have to deal with an invasion from the spiritual realm. A mysterious force has recently taken possession of different mystical characters, including Daimon Hellstrom, Brother Voodoo, and Doctor Strange. The team must figure out who is behind this mystical invasion and how to stop it. Additionally, HAMMER, Osborn’s former organization, resurfaces, and Luke Cage and Jessica Jones struggle to raise their daughter as members of the New Avengers.

Doing things their way

Of course, Cage is still quite comfortable as the leader of the New Avengers. The series begins with Cage living a life of luxury for a change. He has his own team of Avengers, he lives in a mansion, and he can still be with his wife and daughter. For once, everything is going in Cage’s favor. This is not to say that Cage’s life is without any problems. Indeed, Bendis centers the story around Cage and Jessica Jones, focusing on the balancing act between parenting and Avenging. Cage has to find a nanny for his daughter, make time for date night with Jessica, and manage to lead the New Avengers all at once. The everyday problems which Cage and Jones face together continue to ground New Avengers as a series. Connecting with Cage on a human level, the reader is able to root for his team of Avengers that much more. These heroes are very much like Cage: street-level, down-to-Earth superheroes. Bendis clearly centers the team around Cage, picking some of his best and most trusted friends for the New Avengers. Heroes like Iron Fist, Spider-Man, and even Wolverine stand for the grounded superheroics which Cage exemplifies.

Quite an easy fix

In this Heroic Age, there is plenty of room for change in the New Avengers. One of the biggest shifts on the team is the role of Cage’s wife, Jessica Jones. A former superhero herself, Jones spent much of the previous series looking after her daughter, Danielle. Yet, in the wake of the Heroic Age, Jones feels a bit more optimistic, looking to rejoin the superhero community. To re-explore her time as a superhero, Jones decides to be a more active part of the New Avengers. Much like Cage, Jones struggles to balance parenthood with life as an Avenger. Indeed, a task as seemingly mundane as finding a nanny can be quite challenging, considering the dangers which the New Avengers face. While Jones is trying to reconnect with her heroic roots, it’s difficult to reconcile being a superhero with being a parent. Yet Jones manages to strike a balance, perhaps even more than her husband. Cage can be quite stubborn and hot-headed at times. For example, when Hand gives the New Avengers their paychecks, Cage initially refuses, on the principle that he doesn’t work for anyone. Yet Jones takes the check, reminding Cage that they need the money for their daughter. Moments like these make Jones a balancing force for Cage’s principle-driven mindset. At the same time, Cage encourages Jones to take more risks, fully supporting her more active role on the team. Maintaining an even focus on superheroics and parenting, Jones and Cage balance each other out quite well.

The name might need some work…

Returning to the New Avengers for the first time in a while is the former sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange. During the first story arc of the series, Strange drives much of the plot forward. Approaching the New Avengers for help, Strange takes the team into more mystical territory for a change. The typically grounded New Avengers are brought out of their element, introducing some variety to the series. The mystical genre which Strange delivers demonstrates the diverse perspective which he brings to the New Avengers. It’s this element which has been missing in New Avengers since his absence from the team. Furthermore, by coming to the New Avengers for help, Strange illustrates his high regard for the team. Even after a considerable absence, Strange looks back on his time among the New Avengers quite fondly, making the team feel more like a family. Indeed, rejoining the New Avengers appears to give Strange a renewed sense of purpose. Initially, stopping a mystical invasion alongside the New Avengers gave Strange a more immediate purpose. After this adventure, however, and the death of Brother Voodoo, Strange must carry on. Welcomed back to the New Avengers with open arms, Strange rediscovers his purpose as a true hero, alongside his superhero family.

One of the family

The New Avengers welcome old faces as well as new ones to their ranks. Surprising readers everywhere, the team recruits Ben Grimm, the Thing, onto the New Avengers. This move says a lot about Bendis’ view of the Avengers as a team. Ever since his initial New Avengers roster, Bendis has expanded the view on who can be an Avenger. Including popular heroes such as Spider-Man and Wolverine onto the Avengers certainly goes beyond the traditional members of the team. Following the events of Siege, Bendis continued to play with the Avengers’ roster, adding members such as the Protector and the Red Hulk. The underlying message which Bendis seems to be sending is one of inclusion. Anyone can be an Avenger, regardless of popularity or attachment to other franchises. In this case, the inclusion of the Thing does make a good fit. Considering that the New Avengers are a street-level team, Ben Grimm is a surprisingly natural addition. Grimm is the most down to Earth member of the Fantastic Four, growing up in the rough neighborhood of Yancy Street and generally being the everyman of the team. Additionally, Grimm is connected to several of the New Avengers, sharing friendships with Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. In an era like the Heroic Age, this is the perfect time for Bendis to experiment with new members. Grimm brings a lot of fun to the series. Seeing the Thing banter with Spider-Man, demolish all of the enemies in his path, and generally be a good-natured hero reminds the reader why he’s such a perfect fit for the New Avengers. Furthermore, the phenomenal characterization of the Thing indicates how well Bendis can write for characters about whom he truly cares.

Clobberin’ time already?

The rest of the New Avengers are all very entertaining to read as well. After nearly seventy issues of the first New Avengers series, there is a familiarity within the group that makes them feel like a family. Veteran members such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Mockingbird, and Ms. Marvel all share a fun team dynamic, illustrated by Bendis’ light-hearted dialogue. Even though this is a new era for the team, the New Avengers still feel like the group which Bendis wrote during their original series. The whole group is very diverse and well-balanced, in both power-sets and personalities. Doctor Strange and Iron Fist share similar mystic roots, Spider-Man and the Thing are classic, wise-cracking heroes, and Ms. Marvel and Jessica Jones are the super-strong flying members of the team. While there are similarities within the team, no one feels redundant, giving each member a distinct role. Rounding out the team, the New Avengers gain a manager in the form of Victoria Hand. The New Avengers are now a legitimate team, enjoying regular paychecks and someone like Hand to coordinate their activities and public relations. Hand’s presence also adds a nice sense of drama and tension to the series, considering how closely she worked with Norman Osborn. Finally, making Squirrel Girl the new nanny for Cage and Jones’ daughter is a clever move on Bendis’ part. Squirrel Girl is not only a great choice as a super-powered nanny, she also has a fun personality which brings more life to Avengers Mansion. Now that the New Avengers are living more comfortably, its nice to see them enjoy benefits such as paychecks and superhero nannies.

There’s always time for team banter

Although the New Avengers do enjoy some new luxuries, they remain true to their core principles. Indeed, the second volume of New Avengers is built on the premise of staying true to these principles. This team is not the Avengers, they’re the New Avengers, heroes on their own terms. Rather than living in Avengers Tower and answering to Steve Rogers, the New Avengers remain on the ground, fighting for their neighborhood. Even after defeating Norman Osborn and overcoming the political stigma against superheroes, the New Avengers carry on just as they did before. In this way, the team stays grounded and humble in its efforts. The New Avengers are very much grounded by a focus on family. Bendis depicts the everyday struggles of raising a daughter in the chaotic world of the Avengers, including finding a nanny and living with a large group of superheroes. Additionally, the New Avengers, as a whole, are more of a family than a team. The team welcomes Doctor Strange back, like an old relative, with open arms. Iron Fist maintains his brotherly bond with Luke Cage, helping him buy and move in to Avengers Mansion. Cage and Jones are attacked by doombots on their date night, saved by Ms. Marvel, who happened to be flying by. Even Wong, Doctor Strange’s old servant, returns to assist the New Avengers in their new home. Everyone on the team shares a close bond and a group dynamic which indicates their familial relationship. Small scenes of the New Avengers in the kitchen go a long way to demonstrate the closeness of the team. This close bond allows the New Avengers to overcome vendettas from old enemies together. Indeed, the New Avengers constantly help each other tackle re-emerging threats, such as attacks from the spiritual realm and HAMMER. Acting as one, the New Avengers are able to put unfinished business behind them once and for all, looking after their own.

Just chilling after a mystical invasion

Indeed, the first story arc focuses on assisting Doctor Strange during an invasion from the spiritual realm. This arc kicks off the series with a bang, getting into the action right away. Despite the fast pace, this opening arc manages to introduce the team very well, setting up the main roster within the first issue. There is plenty of great action throughout, the banter establishes an entertaining team dynamic, and the artwork by Stuart Immonen fits the story perfectly. Focusing on mysticism in this arc also sets the tone for the new series, distinguishing the Heroic Age from earlier eras. Bendis seems to be headed in more experimental directions with the New Avengers. The only issue I had with this first arc is the strange inclusion of Clint Barton/Hawkeye. Barton shows up in the first issue briefly, then vanishes for a while, only to leave on “urgent Avengers business” in the middle of the story. Including Hawkeye felt fairly pointless to the story. It seems as if Bendis wanted him on the New Avengers at first, but then he changed his mind a little while later. The whole inclusion/removal of Hawkeye just felt sloppily done. Following this arc, the next couple of issues are smaller, one-shot stories. These issues give the team a chance to breathe and establish their day-to-day operations. Bendis includes how the team is paid, who’s still on the team, Cage and Jones hiring a nanny, and even a date night between the couple. Date night is a very fun issue, showing just how well Bendis writes Cage and Jones. If Avengers had more of these smaller issues, I think that series could have been a bit stronger. The final arc in these issues is sort of a mixed bag. I mainly enjoy the events of the present day, when the New Avengers take on HAMMER. There’s some great action, good tension between the team and Hand, and some stakes to the story, once Mockingbird is critically wounded. The flashbacks, however, focusing on Nick Fury’s “Avengers” in the 1950s, feel tacked on. There is only a very loose connection between these flashbacks and the present day, explained briefly at the end of the story. It seems as if Bendis simply wanted an excuse to write the flashbacks about Fury, using this arc as a chance to experiment with this idea. A separate mini-series might have been a better avenue in which to write Fury’s story. Additionally, injecting Mockingbird with the infinity formula at the end of the story doesn’t have any real long-term consequences, despite Fury’s warnings that she may regret being able to live for so long afterwards. Overall, the final arc is decent, but a bit disjointed.

So date night kind of got sidetracked…

Between New Avengers and Avengers, the former is definitely off to a better start. The New Avengers have a great team dynamic, the stories are simple but still fun, and Bendis manages to keep things character-focused and grounded. Maybe the New Avengers have simply had a better chance to develop during the previous volume, but Avengers just doesn’t have the same group dynamic or focus on the team as a whole. Still, New Avengers is a bit past its prime. I consider the post-Civil War through Siege era to be the glory days of the New Avengers, when they were a scrappy group of outlaws. Even so, I really enjoy seeing the team continue during the Heroic Age. The second volume of New Avengers feels like a victory lap for the team, and on a meta level, Bendis himself. Bringing the Thing onto the New Avengers is a very fun, unconventional move. Some aspects of the stories felt forced, like the Nick Fury flashbacks, but for the most part, this second volume is a solid set of adventures. Everything featuring the New Avengers’ group dynamic works beautifully, showing how far they’ve come as a team. Some of the best stories are the smaller ones, such as Cage and Jones’ date night. Bendis’ true talents lie with the more intimate, character-focused stories.

They’ve still got it

Although these initial issues are only the beginning for the New Avengers, their events will carry on through the rest of the series. Specifically, following the death of Brother Voodoo, his brother, Daniel Drumm, swears revenge on the New Avengers. Drumm bides his time, finally returning in the last arc of the series to exact his revenge. This final story brings the events of the New Avengers full-circle, concluding on a mystical note with which the series began. The return of HAMMER is also going to have serious consequences for the New Avengers. When Norman Osborn makes a comeback, escaping from prison, he will use all of HAMMER’s resources to come after the New Avengers. The entire team, especially Luke and Jessica, will feel the impact of Osborn’s villainous return. In the more immediate future, Squirrel Girl, the new nanny, will receive a lot more focus during Fear Itself. The New Avengers tie-ins for this event are going to show the challenge of being the nanny for the New Avengers. Yet Squirrel Girl will be more than up to the task. Additionally, these tie-ins will detail the infinity formula’s effects on Mockingbird, particularly the increase to her powers. Out of these initial issues, New Avengers carries ramifications throughout the rest of the series.

Heroes on their own terms

That’s all for today. What are your thoughts on the second volume of New Avengers? Are you glad Bendis kept the series going? I’d love to see your take on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back tomorrow, when I look at the non-Bendis mini-series, Young Avengers: the Children’s Crusade!

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