In hindsight, the Avengers/New Avengers tie-ins for Fear Itself are some of the weirdest comics I’ve read. The central gimmick, featuring the Avengers talking to a camera in a mockumentary style, is certainly something Bendis hadn’t done in his previous Avengers comics. Even though it was fairly unorthodox, Bendis’ approach to these issues of Avengers/New Avengers had its charms. The insider perspective on the Avengers’ biggest battles which these issues provides makes Fear Itself feel more intimate. It’s this sense of intimacy which made the New Avengers issues particular favorites of mine. Bendis shrinks the focus of these issues, spending time with lesser-known characters like Squirrel Girl. Additionally, the classic street-level hero, Daredevil, joining the New Avengers, keeps the scale small while ramping up excitement for future New Avengers comics. Indeed, the Fear Itself tie-in comics are great at incorporating this massive event into Bendis’ existing Avengers narrative. Seeing Bendis put his own spin on an event which he didn’t write puts Fear Itself within the context of Avengers/New Avengers.
The events of Fear Itself are fairly straightforward. Cul, the Asgardian god of fear, invades the mortal plane and stirs panic around the globe. The god is aided by the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, and a group of warriors known as “the worthy”. These warriors are, in reality, a handful of superheroes and villains who have been possessed by Asgardian hammers, morphing into powerful slaves for Cul. All the while, the Avengers are hard-pressed to stop Cul and his forces. Within Bendis’ Avengers run, several recent events also inform the Fear Itself tie-ins. Squirrel Girl, for example recently became the nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter. Faced with the perils of living in Avengers Mansion, Squirrel Girl found herself challenged in protecting the baby. Additionally, Mockingbird had recently taken the Infinity Formula, which prolonged her life after a near-fatal gunshot wound. The side effects of this formula remained to be seen. Finally, the main Avengers team had just recruited Noh-Varr, a Kree Warrior who was still adjusting to life on Earth, and the Red Hulk, the newest Avenger. Both of these members still had much to experience when it came to being an Avenger.
Centering around Fear Itself, these issues of Avengers/New Avengers undergo a drastic change in format. Indeed, the Fear Itself tie-ins are framed by a documentary, interviewing each member of the Avengers throughout the events of these issues. Every issue provides the reader with distinct perspectives from several Avengers, specifically focused on the specific events of the issue. These interviews act as a framing device for the narrative of each individual story. Bendis uses each issue to tell smaller, stand-alone stories which could not fit into the main Fear Itself mini-series. Each story occurs during Fear Itself, filling in the gaps by focusing on events which took place off-panel. While these tie-in stories demonstrate more of the Avengers’ role during Fear Itself, they also facilitate new developments for both Avengers and New Avengers. For example, Daredevil joins the New Avengers, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye develop a relationship, and Mockingbird deals with the side effects of the Infinity Formula. Bendis finds a way to incorporate these issues of Avengers/New Avengers into Fear Itself while still moving both series forward.
The only recurring characters throughout the Fear Itself tie-ins are the small squad of Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Noh-Varr, and Hawkeye. This group has a solid dynamic, as the reader can tell that Bendis enjoys writing each of these characters. Spider-Woman, in particular, gets the most attention during these issues. After returning to Earth following the skrull invasion, Spider-Woman didn’t receive much focus during Bendis’ New Avengers/Avengers runs. These Fear Itself tie-ins, however, finally place Jessica Drew in the spotlight. The issue where Spider-Woman faces off against the possessed Hulk does much to illustrate her intelligence and quick-thinking. The mockumentary-style storytelling also adds much to Jessica’s character, focusing on her desire to prove her worth as an Avenger. I do take issue, however, with Spider-Woman and Hawkeye’s romance. Neither character showed any hints of interest towards each other beforehand, so the whole relationship comes out of nowhere. Additionally, the romance sub-plot feels unnecessary to the comic in general, adding nothing of value to the Avengers series. Despite this forced romance, the other members of the team are also given great character moments. Ms. Marvel boasts her leadership skills in the absence of Captain America and Iron Man. Indeed, Carol Danvers leads this squad into battle against the possessed Hulk and even Sin herself. Danvers’ anger around Bucky Barnes’ death also shows her strong devotion to the team. When the Avengers lose one of their own, she takes it personally. Overall, Ms. Marvel’s ongoing arc as a leader is given a great deal of attention here. Noh-Varr, finally, is the perfect rookie-Avenger. The Kree warrior experiences ups and downs, realistically depicting his early missions with the Avengers. While Noh-Varr does make mistakes, such as under/over-estimating his weaponry, he makes up for these mistakes through his formidable intelligence. Using his brains and advanced technology, Noh-Varr proves himself a valuable asset to the Avengers.
While this squadron of Avengers receives the most attention, Bendis still spends much time exploring several other characters. Squirrel Girl, for example, receives a good stand-alone story during Fear Itself. In the context of Bendis’ New Avengers, Fear Itself does a lot to progress Squirrel Girl’s character arc. Specifically, the reader gets to see what qualifies Squirrel Girl to be the New Avengers’ nanny. Squirrel Girl summons an army of squirrels against Sin’s army and defeats Wolverine in hand-to-hand combat, clearly displaying her qualifications for the job. All the while, Squirrel Girl maintains her endearing, relatable personality. Although formidable, the New Avengers’ nanny is still scared out of her mind, frantically fleeing from danger to protect the baby. In another instance of relatability, Squirrel Girl is star-struck when she meets Daredevil. Bendis never loses sight of Squirrel Girl’s down-to-Earth nature. Generally, this is where Bendis excels: giving a voice to obscure characters and fleshing them out more. Indeed, the reader gets a brief glimpse into Squirrel Girl’s life outside of the Avengers, attending NYU as an undergraduate student. Squirrel Girl’s inclusion in Fear Itself provides a good look at her role in the event, while also delving more into her character.
Outside of Squirrel Girl, Bendis explores several other individual characters’ roles during Fear Itself. In fact, Bendis takes the opportunity to introduce new members to the Avengers, such as Daredevil. Including the man without fear in Fear Itself goes a long way in demonstrating the scope of this event. A global attack by Cul and Sin is especially prevalent in highly-populated areas such as New York. This catastrophe, then, would naturally attract more locally-based heroes like Daredevil. If nothing else, Bendis gives the reader a good look at the impact of Fear Itself on street-level heroes. Yet Bendis goes a step further, demonstrating how Daredevil’s heroism qualifies him as an Avenger. Daredevil’s recruitment onto the New Avengers continues Bendis’ more inclusive approach to the Avengers as a whole. Under the right circumstances, it seems, Bendis believes that any hero can be an Avenger. In this case, Daredevil is the perfect fit for a team like the New Avengers. He shares the street-level focus of the other members, and lifelong friendships with members such as Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Spider-Man. More importantly, the circumstances of both the Avengers and Daredevil match up perfectly. Daredevil is joining the team during Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil, when his life is taking a more optimistic turn. Additionally, the Avengers are enjoying a more prosperous period, during the Heroic Age. When circumstances line up in this way, Bendis has full rein to make nearly anyone an Avenger.
While Bendis is known for expanding the Avengers roster, he also does much to prove each new member’s worth to the team. The Red Hulk, for example, is featured in an important issue which showcases his place as an Avenger. This issue pits the Red Hulk in a one-on-one battle with the Thing, who is possessed and enhanced in power by one of the Asgardian hammers. Standing his ground, the Red Hulk shows his resilience against hopeless odds. It’s this resilience which makes the Red Hulk a much more likeable member of the team than before. More importantly, the Red Hulk’s defense of Avengers Tower says much about what it means to be an Avenger. In the face of a crisis, no matter how few heroes remain, the Avengers continue to fight for what’s right. This does not mean that the Avengers are perfect. During one scene, for example, the Red Hulk is seen devouring eggs in a particularly unappealing manner, disgusting the other Avengers. The Red Hulk is, after all, a Hulk, so he is naturally different from the rest of the team. Yet, like the rest of the Avengers, it’s the Red Hulk’s strong will and devotion to the greater good which defines him as a hero.
The final character who Bendis spotlights is Bobbi Morse, aka Mockingbird. After taking the Infinity Formula, Mockingbird is clearly going to experience some after-effects. While it would seem like Fear Itself would disrupt this character arc, Bendis incorporates Morse’s arc within the context of the event. Indeed, the battles during Fear Itself allow Morse to experiment with her new abilities provided by the Infinity Formula. Mockingbird is given a whole issue to play with her enhanced speed, strength, and endurance, progressing Bendis’ New Avengers in an organic manner. Furthermore, Bendis takes the opportunity to address any concerns surrounding Mockingbird’s usefulness to the team. The interview format of the issue allows Morse to express her previous feelings of uselessness, juxtaposed with action scenes of Mockingbird proving her worth. Over the course of the issue, Bendis shows what makes Mockingbird a unique asset to the Avengers, despite having no real powers. Overall, in the face of Fear Itself, Mockingbird’s new lease on life is contextualized quite well. When villains such as Sin and Cul invade the planet, the newly enhanced Mockingbird realizes that she was given a second chance at life for a reason.
Bendis’ individual focus on specific characters enables him to go deeper into the Avengers’ thoughts and feelings. Compounding the effects of this smaller focus is the mockumentary-style interviews with the Avengers. Characters are given a chance to frame stories from their own perspective, detailing specific Avengers’ reactions and emotional processes within the events of the story. Additionally, heroes who are not even directly involved in specific events are given the opportunity to share their thoughts as well. Characters such as Spider-Man, for example, can comment on the Thing’s transformation into a mindless servant for Cul. It’s important to gain the Avengers’ individual insights into the events of Fear Itself , as Bendis shows how each character views their chaotic life. This perspective does much to illustrate the toll which being an Avenger can take, psychologically. During Fear Itself, Bucky dies, Avengers Tower falls, and the heroes are spread across the globe to stop countless catastrophes. As a result, Bendis shows the Avengers’ personal struggle with the situation. Jarvis cries, Captain America seems defeated, and the Avengers generally share a sense of mourning over their losses. Bendis’ tie-ins to Fear Itself show the humanity underneath the Avengers’ heroism through the lasting scars on their psyche. Through all of these interviews, however, Bendis ultimately explores the value of being an Avenger. On several occasions, the heroes revel in the honor of being a part of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Characters discuss criteria to be an Avenger, key Avengers moments, and the ups and downs which come with being on the team. Additionally, Bendis allows the reader to experience some of the very moments which the Avengers discuss. Daredevil joins the team, the Red Hulk defends Avengers Tower, the New Avengers arrive to save the rest of the team from Sin, and Spider-Woman finally proves her worth as an Avenger. All of these events are discussed with reverie, celebrating what it means to be part of the Avengers. The mockumentary format of these issues deconstructs the Avengers, delving into the team’s perspective on both the good and the bad.
Out of all of Bendis’ Fear Itself tie-ins, the New Avengers issues are my personal favorites. Within these issues, Bendis shines a rare spotlight on individual characters. Mockingbird, Squirrel Girl, and Daredevil are each given their moment to shine. The best part of these spotlight issues is how loosely they are tied to Fear Itself. A story about Squirrel Girl, for example, may tie-in to Fear Itself, but the main focus is still on the character arcs within New Avengers. Maintaining this focus keeps the momentum of the series going. I do wish that Bendis showed more of a reaction to the Thing’s possession from the New Avengers. Considering that this is his team, the New Avengers seem like they would be particularly disturbed by these events. Still, the New Avengers issues are much more consistent than the Avengers tie-ins. I did enjoy Bendis’ focus on Ms. Marvel’s squad of Avengers. Almost everyone on the team is given a good role, from Ms. Marvel’s leadership, to Noh-Varr’s technological expertise. The team-up with the New Avengers was also very exciting. Despite the fun of this squad, there are still a few problems in these issues. The Spider-Woman/Hawkeye romance is very forced, and Hawkeye himself is given very little to do outside of this subplot. The first issue to feature this team is also essentially a re-framing of Fear Itself #1, making it fairly redundant. The rest of the Avengers stories, focusing on individual characters, were fairly entertaining as well. The Red Hulk fighting to defend Avengers Tower is essentially one long fight scene. Yet the interviews from the other Avengers add much depth to the fight, saying much about what it means to be an Avenger and how the Red Hulk earned his place on the team. Finally, the issue focusing on Captain America is a bit of a mixed bag. This issue does a lot to show Rogers’ immediate reaction to Bucky’s death, which is absent from the main Fear Itself event. The story itself, featuring Rogers and a small team infiltrating one of Sin’s bases, makes for a nice espionage tale. Overall, however, the events of the issue are rendered moot by Bucky’s near-immediate return from the dead. Bendis does his best in showing the raw, human grief of Captain America. Yet external forces lessen the weight of this issue of Avengers.
Ultimately, the Fear Itself tie-ins are a great experiment with the format of Avengers/New Avengers. Bendis takes the entire roster of the Avengers and re-frames Fear Itself from their perspective. This mockumentary-style of storytelling is certainly not typical for Bendis’ run. At this point, however, it’s nice to see Bendis shaking up the format of his Avengers saga, especially considering the fatigue of yet another event tie-in. After a while, tie-ins can become repetitive, but this batch does a lot to go in a fresh new direction. Sometimes the interviews contained a little too much exposition, but at least the characters delivered this exposition from a personal standpoint of the characters. These interviews also do a lot to frame the impact of Fear Itself on Bendis’ Avengers run overall. Daredevil joins the team, Red Hulk earns his place on the Avengers, and Squirrel Girl manages to protect Cage and Jones’ daughter. Focusing on the cast of Avengers/New Avengers, Bendis never loses sight of his own narrative within Fear Itself. In fact, the New Avengers tie-ins could probably be read without reading Fear Itself at all. Overall, Bendis does his best to progress his Avengers run in the face of Fear Itself. It’s still a shame that a mediocre event like Fear Itself had to interrupt Bendis’ run. Much is done to work around the event, but the tie-ins still prevent Bendis from telling a stand-alone story. Additionally, the artwork in Avengers is pretty inconsistent, rotating between John Romita Jr. and Chris Bachalo. This inconsistency is fairly jarring, since the art styles are so different. Personally, I am not a big fan of Bachalo’s style in these particular issues. Bachalo has done some great work on Spider-Man and X-Men, but his art in Avengers simply doesn’t match the tone of the series.
These Fear Itself tie-ins are going to have some significant consequences on Bendis’ Avengers run. Within the pages of New Avengers, for example, Daredevil and Squirrel Girl are going to play major roles. After experiencing her trial by fire, Squirrel Girl will continue to play a more active role as the New Avengers’ nanny. Daredevil will also be a great asset to the New Avengers, as an experienced lawyer, hand-to-hand fighter, and a human lie detector. On the Avengers side of things, the Hawkeye/Spider-Woman relationship will continue for the rest of Bendis’ run. The relationship itself does not contribute much to the story, but it does change the team dynamic a little bit. Hawkeye and Spider-Woman is still quite the forced pairing, but at least it doesn’t interfere with Bendis’ Avengers run. Both the Avengers and New Avengers are going to face the consequences of Avengers Tower’s destruction. Since the main Avengers team has no longer has a headquarters, they will have to move into Avengers Mansion with the New Avengers. This move crowds the mansion considerably, emphasizing just how large the Avengers has become.
That’s all for this week. Did you enjoy the format of Bendis’ Fear Itself tie-ins? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in next week, when I look at the return of Norman Osborn in the pages of both Avengers and New Avengers!