Bendis’ Avengers: Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion was the first Marvel event which I followed as each issue was released. Naturally, following such a massive event filled me with recurring feelings of excitement. Every month, picking up the next issue of Secret Invasion, I continued to speculate about what was going to happen next. The covers were beautifully ominous, the stakes were high, and the whole Skrull invasion had been building from the beginning of Bendis’ New Avengers series. Secret Invasion, as an event, felt all-encompassing, involving all of the big names from the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Characters appeared in Secret Invasion who hadn’t been involved in the broader Marvel Universe for years, including Nick Fury, Thor, and Bucky Barnes as Captain America. Even smaller characters, such as the Young Avengers and the Thunderbolts, were included in the action. Secret Invasion felt like the largest event ever. Obviously, this leaves me looking at Secret Invasion with rose-tinted goggles. I remember all of the epic, blockbuster moments, and exciting pay-off from Bendis’ New Avengers which captivated me as a kid. Even considering my own personal nostalgia, while Secret Invasion is not perfect, it holds up pretty well.

Secretly pretty good?

Within the context of Bendis’ Avengers run, Secret Invasion feels like the pay-off for years of set-up. Ever since Avengers Disassembled, Bendis built up an atmosphere of uncertainty and division in the Marvel Universe. In Disassembled, Bendis tore down Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, subsequently removing Nick Fury from the board in Secret War, decimating the mutant population in House of M, dividing the superhuman community in Civil War, and confronting the heroes with their sins in World War Hulk. While Bendis did not personally write all of these events, he shaped the environment in which they took place. In the pages of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, Bendis formed a tense and morally gray world. This new, unstable era for the Marvel heroes left the Avengers divided and unsure of themselves. Additionally, series such as New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, and New Avengers: Illuminati all slowly revealed a secret infiltration of the Earth by the Skrulls, a shape-shifting alien race. This infiltration caused a spread of mistrust and paranoia in the superhuman community, isolating the outlaw New Avengers and sending Tony Stark on an obsessive hunt for the Skrulls. In light of the Skrull infiltration, one major player remained under suspicion: Spider-Woman. Throughout Bendis’ New Avengers run, Jessica Drew constantly shifted allegiances, between S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, Nick Fury, and the Avengers, leaving her true loyalty unknown. Furthermore, Jessica defected from the rebel New Avengers to the pro-registration Mighty Avengers, leaving those on both sides uncertain of her motives for doing so.

A rather tense state of affairs

After years of building up an environment of uncertainty, a Skrull infiltration, and Spider-Woman’s suspicious behavior, Bendis uses Secret Invasion as the culmination of these plot threads. The Skrulls finally make their move on Earth, moving from a surreptitious infiltration to full-scale invasion. Every major line of defense is disrupted, stranding the Avengers in the Savage Land, sending the Fantastic Four’s headquarters into the Negative Zone, crashing the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier into the ocean, blowing up the SWORD space station, attacking Thunderbolts mountain, infecting all Stark technology with a virus, and capturing Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. Each of these actions is carried out by a different Skrull agent, posing as a key player in the Marvel Universe. Skrulls pose as trusted individuals, such as former Ant-Man Hank Pym, or the Avengers’ butler, Jarvis. These sudden betrayals expose the vulnerability of the Marvel Universe, taking advantage of years of trusted relationships. The Skrulls take advantage of the little trust left in the divided superhuman community. Out of this invasion, humanity must come together in order to regain control from the Skrulls. Old friends must return, old alliances must reform, and heroes must become the shining beacon of hope they once were. This call for action is answered in the most unlikely of places, such as the Young Avengers, the fifty-state initiative, and Nick Fury’s Secret Warriors.

From infiltration to invasion

Out of everyone in the event, Iron Man is hit by Secret Invasion the hardest. Secret Invasion represents everything which Tony Stark tried to prevent. Throughout Civil War, Mighty Avengers, and the Illuminati, Stark worked to protect the Earth from disasters like the Kree-Skrull War, while staving off public mistrust of heroes. Yet, while Stark is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the leader of the Avengers, he is still rendered defenseless against the Skrull invasion. Stark’s technology is crippled, he is impaired by an alien virus, and the Avengers are stranded from the rest of civilization. Despite seeing the invasion coming, Stark remains unprepared for its impact. More importantly, Stark’s actions to protect humanity ironically caused the invasion. The Illuminati’s actions have once more come back to haunt them, leaving humanity to pay the price. Ultimately, Stark must rely on others to save the world, rather than take matters into his own hands like before. It is the other Avengers which help Stark escape the Savage Land, and it is the unification of the Avengers, Young Avengers, Secret Warriors, the Initiative, the Thunderbolts, and even some super-criminals, which stops the Skrull invasion. Through this united front of heroism, Stark remembers what being an Avenger is all about.

Teamwork!

Several other Avengers are deeply impacted by Secret Invasion, including Clint Barton, the former Hawkeye. Barton illustrates how drastically the environment has shifted around superheroes in recent years. As a classic Avenger, Hawkeye represented the old-fashioned, simpler times of heroism pre-Avengers Disassembled. Now, as Ronin, Barton has become jaded by his own death and resurrection, along with recent events such as Captain America’s death and Civil War. There is a certain lure for Barton to return to the simpler times of the past. For example, when the Avengers encounter a ship full of retro-style supeheroes in the Savage Land, no one knows if these heroes are real or Skrulls. Barton wants to believe that heroes like his mentor, Captain America, and his wife, Mockingbird, are still alive. Indeed, Barton is so convinced that the woman on the ship is Mockingbird, that when she is revealed to be a Skrull, he shoots her in a fit of rage. His hopes dashed, Barton has to accept the reality of the world in which he lives. Resolving to defeat the Skrulls, Barton is able to focus on the true enemy, finally taking him back to simpler times as Hawkeye. For example, when Kate Bishop, the new Hawkeye, is injured, Barton takes her bow and begins firing arrows like the old days. This brief character moment shows how Barton has returned, if only for a moment, to his glory days. In order to resemble his old Hawkeye persona, Barton must accept his current situation and work towards the future.

Hawkeye returns

Between both the New Avengers and the Mighty Avengers lies Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman. At long last, Jessica’s true allegiances are revealed. Spider-Woman is revealed to be Queen Veranke of the Skrull empire, the true mastermind behind Secret Invasion. Making Spider-Woman a facade for the queen is a clever move on Bendis’ part. Throughout his New Avengers run, Bendis kept readers guessing as to Spider-Woman’s loyalties, slowly peeling back the layers to the character. Additionally, no one in the Marvel Universe knew much about Spider-Woman’s backstory, so making her the Skrull queen is a move which no one would suspect. Of course, as soon as Spider-Woman defected from the New Avengers to the Mighty Avengers, it became pretty apparent to the readers that she was a Skrull. Yet it was still unclear that she was the queen, or what her motives were. Playing both Avengers teams against each other is also a clever move, further dividing the already fractured superhuman community. Generally, Veranke’s tactics are well executed, playing off of the uncertainty and mistrust in the Marvel Universe. From there, the united Skrull front can take over from the divided humans. While Queen Veranke is very clever and manipulative, I wish Bendis had fleshed out her motives a little more in the main Secret Invasion series. Overall, she came off as a typical megalomaniac, with desires of world conquest. The tie-in issues in New Avengers and Mighty Avengers do a much better job developing Veranke’s character and motivation, so I would recommend reading the main series alongside these tie-ins.

Up to no good…

One of the smartest tactics of the Skrull invasion was removing Reed Richards from the equation. As the smartest man in the Marvel Universe, and the most formidable foe of the Skrulls, Richards poses an immense threat to the shape-shifting aliens. Capturing Richards not only removes the expert in dealing with the Skrulls, but is also separates Mr. Fantastic from the rest of the Fantastic Four. Dividing the Fantastic Four, much like the Avengers, removes more of Earth’s defenders from the board. What the Skrulls do not count on, however, is the intervention of Abagail Brand, director of SWORD. As an alien expert, Brand is able to infiltrate the Skrull armada and rescue Reed Richards. More importantly, it is the cooperation and trust between Richards and Brand which ultimately saves them. Working together to escape the Skrull fleet and return to Earth, Richards and Brand demonstrate the necessity of unity in the face of invasion. When Richards returns to Earth, he spreads this sense of unity to the rest of the heroes. By developing technology to detect Skrulls, Richards unites the Marvel heroes against their common enemy. It is only appropriate, as the leader of Marvel’s first family, that Richards is the one to unify the heroes against the Skrull invasion.

Not so fantastic now…

Before Richards can return, however, some unlikely characters step into the spotlight, holding the line against the Skrulls. After a four year absence from the Marvel Universe, Nick Fury makes a triumphant return. Fury’s appearance evokes a sense of nostalgia, as the former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. rallies the troops against a common enemy. A glimmer of hope emerges from the resurgence of old heroes like Fury. It’s also funny to see how Fury’s reveal during Secret Invasion mirrors that of the Skrull invasion. After years of secretly monitoring the Skrull infiltration, Fury comes out of the shadows for one glorious assault, just as the Skrulls emerged after years in the shadows. Fury’s new team, the Secret Warriors, is also an exciting new addition to the cast. In a sense, Fury seems to have found the perfect blend of heroes and secret agents. On one hand, Fury no longer is bound by the bureaucracy of S.H.I.E.L.D., free to act autonomously. On the other hand, Fury has his own trained assault squad, rather than a group of heroes who wouldn’t normally answer to Fury. Additionally, this group serves a noble purpose, guiding young superhumans in using their powers for good. Fury’s return is monumental, revealing much about the character’s development over the years.

Fury and his lil’ commandos

Finally, there are always going to be those who take advantage of a situation such as Secret Invasion. In this case, Norman Osborn, the former Green Goblin and head of the Thunderbolts program, wastes no time in furthering his own goals. Bendis writes Osborn quite well, showing how when people like Tony Stark and the Avengers are unable to defend humanity, unexpected characters will step up. For example, when a Skrull posing as the original Captain Marvel attacks Thunderbolts mountain, Osborn uses his persuasive tactics to convince this Skrull to revolt against his people. At first, it seems as if Osborn is indeed developing into a noble and selfless hero. Seeing a former villain fearlessly run into the battle alongside the heroes is an inspiring sight to see. Yet, the ending does reveal how opportunistic Osborn’s motives truly were, waiting for the right moment to publicly display his heroic feats. In doing so, Osborn visually manipulates his way into the public favor to win more power. If the heroes were more united earlier on, people like Osborn would not have the opportunity to grab power.

Seizing his moment

Re-reading Secret Invasion, I was surprised at how many themes Bendis addresses. The most obvious question Bendis tackles is that of trust. After years of building a tense, uncertain environment in the Marvel Universe, Bendis reveals the Skrull infiltration. This infiltration hits the foundations of the Marvel Universe, including the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D., and even the intergalactic agency SWORD. It is the lack of trust perpetuated by the initial infiltration which continues to divide the Marvel Universe, until the Skrulls are able to initiate a full-on assault. By this point, with two Avengers teams who cannot even trust each other, the Skrulls have manipulated humanity’s divisions enough to strike. The truly fascinating aspect of the Skrull infiltration is that they merely preyed upon the already existing tension in the Marvel Universe. While many heroes, such as Clint Barton, hoped that the Skrulls were posing as larger figures, such as Captain America or Iron Man, the truth is that the heroes created their own divided circumstances. Ultimately, the Marvel heroes must accept their mistakes, rather than blaming the Skrull infiltration. Furthermore, in the wake of the invasion, Bendis poses the question: who is left to defend humanity? Removing major players like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four allows unlikely heroes to emerge. In the Earth’s most desperate hour, old friends return, including Nick Fury, Thor, and even Bucky Barnes’ Captain America. Additionally, lesser known/experienced characters step up, from the Young Avengers to the Initiative. Even villainous characters, such as the Hood and his gang, emerge to fight the Skrull horde. It is the rise of so many defenders which encourages the reunion of the Avengers, even after all of their differences. Personal politics and the status quo must be put aside so that the heroes of Marvel can unite to protect their planet.

Facing their past

The overall plotline of Secret Invasion has its ups and downs. Secret Invasion starts off very strongly. The coordinated, almost orchestral, assault on the Earth’s defenses is rendered beautifully. Bendis does a nice job showing just how deeply the Skrulls have infiltrated humanity’s organizations. The sub-plot of the Avengers on the Savage Land starts off strong, but loses steam by the end. It is exciting to see the Avengers face off against older versions of themselves, showing how much times have changed. Yet, it becomes clear over time that all of these retro-Avengers are Skrulls, eliminating the most fascinating part of this battle. Still, getting the Avengers off-board so that heroes like the Young Avengers and Secret Warriors can step into the spotlight is a good move. Fury’s return is momentous, and seeing smaller-time heroes come together is a nice change of pace. The last few issues turn into a giant action set-piece, devolving into “humans vs. skrulls” once Richards arrives with a Skrull-detector. The fight is massive, beautifully illustrated, and contains some iconic character moments. Yet it feels like most of what Bendis wants to say has been said at this point, so the fight doesn’t need to last as long as it does.

Seriously, there’s at least 4 of these splash pages

Looking back, Secret Invasion has a very intriguing premise, with some excellent build-up on Bendis’ part. The pay-off, for the most part, is very engaging, especially when all of the heroes finally unite to battle the Skrulls. I also enjoyed the fact that there were fewer Skrull infiltrators than expected. Very few readers enjoyed this aspect of the event, but I think it says a lot about how the Skrulls did not cause the heroes’ divided and bleak times. Rather, the heroes screwed things up, and the Skrulls just took advantage of this. Placing more responsibility on the heroes is a nice twist. I also loved seeing the return of major players to the Marvel Universe, such as Nick Fury, Thor, and Bucky-Cap. The final fight was very exciting and fast-paced, and including so many characters made it a pleasure to read. I do wish, however, that the series had been a little shorter, as the middle issues dragged a bit. For example, much time is wasted on the Savage Land, when the heroes could have left much sooner. Secret Invasion also feels more like a transitory event when it was set-up as a major climax for Bendis’ Avengers run. Considering that Bendis built-up this whole environment of tension and hostility, finally paying off in Secret Invasion, the reunion of the Avengers feels like the natural conclusion to this event. Yet, in the end, the heroes go their separate ways, making way for an even darker, more uncertain status quo. While I am a fan of Dark Reign, in hindsight, it doesn’t feel quite natural for Secret Invasion to end on such a dour note. Regardless, I enjoyed Secret Invasion more than I expected to.

Now that’s assembled

Out of Secret Invasion, a brand new status quo emerges. The lineup of the New Avengers, for example, changes almost as dramatically as it did following Civil War. At the end of Secret Invasion, everyone replaced by a Skrull is found, including Spider-Woman and Mockingbird. Both returning heroes join the New Avengers, as Spider-Woman must find her place in the world, and Mockingbird struggles to reunite with her husband, Clint Barton, after so long. Ms. Marvel also joins the New Avengers, along with Bucky-Cap. Many exciting adventures continue with this roster in the pages of New Avengers. Additionally, Tony Stark is now ruined in the public eye. After failing to defend the planet, Stark loses his position as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., his company is bankrupt, and he is no longer the leader of the Avengers. Despised by the public, Stark is sent on his way as he becomes a greater pariah than ever. Finally, a new world order is established, under the reign of Norman Osborn. Killing the Skrull queen on live television, Osborn is entrusted as the head of the new organization HAMMER, and gains his own team of Avengers. From this point forward, the Marvel Universe heads into its darkest era yet, as the villains have the keys to the country’s security. Villains are on the Avengers, Osborn has his own, darker Illuminati, and unregistered heroes are treated more like criminals than ever.

Out of the frying pan…

That’s all for today. What did you think about Secret Invasion? Am I just blinded by nostalgia? Or is it actually pretty good? Share your thoughts on Twitter @book_column and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ New/Mighty Avengers tie-ins to Secret Invasion!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers: The Illuminati

The very idea of the Illuminati always seemed fairly strange to me. Simply calling this group the Illuminati rubbed me the wrong way. Not to mention the premise, a secret organization made up of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe, for the sole purpose of determining how to protect the world. Needless to say, the whole idea felt a little too elitist for my taste. As a kid, I was more interested in the more traditional, self-sacrificing, honest heroes, like Spider-Man or Captain America. The Illuminati, by contrast, seemed like a group of intellectual jerks. After reading World War Hulk and Civil War, seeing the catastrophe which the Illuminati brought to the Marvel Universe left me with even more distaste for these characters. Cloning Thor and shooting the Hulk into outer space were not particularly heroic acts. Beyond character likability, two primary reasons kept me from reading New Avengers: the Illuminati. First, there seemed to be far too much continuity of which one should be aware in order to understand the mini-series. Events such as the Kree-Skrull War, Secret Wars, and the Infinity Gauntlet are featured heavily in the Illuminati. Second, the series itself did not feel that important for what I was reading at the time: the more street-level New Avengers series. Yet, after reading the Illuminati, I find that there is more to this mini-series than meets the eye.

A little too “big brother” for me

In the context of Bendis’ Avengers run, the Illuminati plays a major role, including events such as World War Hulk, Secret Invasion, and even Civil War. During World War Hulk, it was discovered that the Illuminati, a group of some of the smartest superheroes, had sent the Hulk into outer space against his will. It was believed that the Hulk would be at peace on an uninhabited planet, protecting both the Hulk and the Earth. Yet the Hulk instead landed on the war world of Sakaar, fighting his way out of slavery and becoming the world’s new king. Later, the Hulk returned to ravage New York and exact revenge on the Illuminati for their actions. Similarly, Civil War demonstrates some of the consequences of the Illuminati’s questionable actions. For example, Tony Stark and Reed Richards, two members of the Illuminati, created a clone Thor, which then killed longtime superhero Goliath. Additionally, Stark and Richards created a prison for unregistered heroes in the negative zone and recruited supervillains to hunt down these heroes. While none of these morally reprehensible acts were the actions of the Illuminati as a whole, Stark and Richards committed these acts under the same logic as sending the Hulk into space. Namely, these men believed that their actions would make the world a safer place. Finally, the events of the Illuminati accompany the lead-in to Secret Invasion in the pages of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers. During this period of time, Skrulls have been revealed as infiltrating key areas of the Marvel Universe.

Picking up the pieces

Clearly, the Illuminati fits very well into Bendis’ larger Avengers narrative. Furthermore, this mini-series connects itself to the larger Marvel continuity. In response to the classic Kree-Skrull War, when the Earth was caught between two warring alien races, the Illuminati came into being. This group consisted of key figures in every major area of the Marvel Universe, acting in secret to protect the Earth from any future disasters. Each issue of the Illuminati jumps to a different point in Marvel history, specifically addressing a major event such as the Kree-Skrull War or the Infinity Gauntlet. Following up on these near disasters, the Illuminati takes measures to ensure that incidents such as these never happen again. For example, the Illuminati threatens the Skrull Empire against coming back to Earth, keeps the cosmic being known as the Beyonder from losing control of his power, and even gathers to keep the infinity gems out of the wrong hands. Eventually, however, the actions of the Illuminati come back to haunt them. The consequences of the Illuminati’s proactive methods lead into the present day, explaining incoming events such as Secret Invasion.

No six men should have all this power…

Representing the Avengers in this cabal is Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Stark is the one who proposes the initial idea of the Illuminati, continuing Bendis’ pragmatic characterization of the Avenger. Just as he understood the need for the Avengers in the pages of New Avengers, Stark believes in the necessity of a group like the Illuminati. After feeling how powerless the Avengers were in the face of the Kree/Skrull War, Stark feels the need to be more proactive in defending the Earth. Yet it is this sense of powerlessness which drives Stark too far on occasion. Feeling that he must have absolute control of the situation, Stark often cannot see past his own fears. For example, when Stark tries to convince the rest of the Illuminati to support superhuman registration, his own obsession with protecting the superhuman community blinds him to the others’ perspectives. Additionally, the Illuminati is a major contributing factor to Stark’s downfall in the eyes of the superhuman community. Sending the Hulk into space and becoming the chief enforcer of the superhuman registration act are only two products of Stark’s narrow-minded vision. Acting in such a unilateral manner results in several major mistakes, isolating him from the superhuman community and even the other members of the Illuminati.

The control freak loses control

The Illuminati also serves to isolate Reed Richards, of the Fantastic Four, from his own family. While Richards is a man of science, at heart, he is also a family man. Everything that Richards does, he does for the sake of the Fantastic Four and his children. Making a brighter future has always been Richards’ goal, especially for the sake of his family. By this logic, it is only natural that Richards would want to be proactive in defending the planet, to build a better world. Yet the fatal flaw in Richards joining the Illuminati is how it cuts him off from his family. Without the Fantastic Four to ground him, Richards loses sight of the reason he joined the Illuminati in the first place. Working with men of science like Stark leaves Richards detached from the moral conscience of his wife Sue, or best friend Ben Grimm. Even in moments when Richards tries to do the right thing, such as destroying the infinity gems, he is forced into a moral compromise. Since he cannot destroy the stones, Richards gives each member of the Illuminati a gem to hide. While well-meaning, this action is problematic in trusting so much power to so few individuals. Without his family, Richards falls into the gray area of morality.

Like some kinda future foundation…

Yet some members, like Doctor Strange, are more comfortable in making unilateral decisions for the greater good. Indeed, as the sorcerer supreme, Strange is accustomed to confronting hidden problems from the safety of the shadows. Some burdens, Strange understands, cannot be carried by ordinary mortals. Rather, Strange is used to dealing with the issues which only present themselves behind-the-scenes. There is a certain amount of arrogance that comes with Strange’s paternalistic treatment of humanity. Realizing the danger of wielding power such as the Infinity Gauntlet, Strange still believes his own sense of morality and discipline will triumph. As the Illuminati’s ambassador to the mystical realms, Strange may hold more power than any of the other members. Strange plays a key role in finding the infinity gems, locating the Beyonder, and several other important tasks. Trusting Strange with the power to handle these issues risks dangerous consequences, which the sorcerer faces in the pages of World War Hulk and New Avengers.

A strange, lonely existence…

Similarly to Strange’s hubris is that of Professor Charles Xavier. Representing the entire mutant community, Xavier acts in secret on behalf of a whole species. In saving the Earth from potential threats, Xavier hopes to work with the Illuminati to ensure a future for his students. It’s quite fortunate, then, that Xavier is often the ethical voice of reason in the Illuminati. As a telepath, Xavier knows all of the consequences for crossing moral and ethical boundaries. Yet placing sole responsibility of the mutant race on one man becomes a moral quandary, especially considering the discreet nature of his actions. Being the chief genetics expert of the Illuminati, Xavier knows how to handle mutants, inhumans, and all genetic variants in-between. Without the collaboration of any other mutants, however, especially his own X-Men, Xavier is unaccountable for his actions, giving him free rein to represent the mutant community however he sees fit. As one man, Charles Xavier lacks the capacity to act in the best interests of a whole community.

You’d know, wouldn’t you, Chuck?

The most blatantly arrogant member of the Illuminati is Prince Namor, the king of Atlantis. Throughout the Illuminati, Namor is often the “bad cop” of the group. Namor speaks his mind in all of the most morally repugnant ways, pushing the Illuminati into questionable territory. For example, when trying to convince alien Noh-Varr to cease his war on the Earth, Namor repeatedly beats and threatens the Kree warrior. Despite his immoral behavior and blunt personality, Namor does manage to hold his fellow members accountable for their actions. Namor reminds the other Illuminati members of their heroic nature, including bluntly telling Reed Richards how lucky he is to have his family. By reminding the heroes of who they are, Namor shows how his brutal honesty can work for both good and bad purposes. Still, Namor’s presence is generally quite volatile, indicative of how fragile the Illuminati’s alliance truly is. For example, when Iron Man decides to shoot the Hulk into outer space, Namor disagrees, violently attacking the armored Avenger. This outburst reminds the reader of how self-interested each member of the Illuminati is, acting for individual causes rather than a united goal.

A surprisingly wholesome truth

Over the course of the Illuminati, Bendis illustrates how being proactive can go too far. Indeed, trying to take preventative measures leads to extreme consequences throughout the Illuminati. For example, when the Illuminati try to prevent another Kree-Skrull War, they end up getting captured and experimented upon. This experimentation later provides the genetic material that the Skrulls require for their infiltration leading into Secret Invasion. Preventative measures tend to escalate into catastrophe, demonstrating the danger of proactive heroism. This danger results from the arrogance of the Illuminati. Each member of the group believes that they represent the best interests of their respective communities. Stark thinks he knows what’s best for the Avengers, Richards believes he is protecting the Fantastic Four, Strange fights to defend the mystical realm, Xavier protects the mutants, and Namor defends the sea. Yet no one person can represent a whole community, as shown through the many mistakes of the Illuminati which resulted in events such as Civil War, World War Hulk, and Secret Invasion. Furthermore, by attempting to the represent their respective spheres, each member of the Illuminati ironically isolates themselves from these communities. The burden of acting in secrecy has major consequences, making Stark a pariah in the Avengers, Richards estranged from his family, Xavier isolated from his students, and Strange stripped of the title of sorcerer supreme. Ultimately, Bendis seems to say that, no matter how good our intentions are, humans are not meant to wield immense power in isolation.

Their actions crashing down around them…

Each story in the Illuminati examines a different point in Marvel history, during which the Illuminati secretly acted to protect the Earth. The first issue kicks things off with a bang, detailing the Illuminati’s venture into the Skrull Empire to prevent another Kree-Skrull War. Seeing the retro, 1970s versions of each hero is fun, and the Illuminati’s capture and experimentation is a good look at the more immediate consequences of their actions. Even without the inclusion of the long-term ramifications of this story, this issue goes to show the danger of threatening a power like the Skrull Empire. The next issue, following up on the Infinity Gauntlet, is pretty fun. Seeing the Illuminati search for the infinity gems is very exciting and fast-paced, and the temptation behind the gauntlet’s power is emphasized very well. The ending, where each member takes a stone for safe-keeping, does a nice job showing how arrogant the Illuminati has become. The group believes themselves to be humanity’s secret defenders, blind to their own hubris. The story following up on Secret Wars is a mixed bag. On one hand, making the Beyonder an inhuman and a mutant is an interesting twist. The actual story, on the other hand, is a jumbled, confused affair, with little consequence. Not much is done to deal with the Beyonder, leaving this story feeling a bit wasted in potential. Perhaps if Bendis wrote a scenario in which the Illuminati had to take extreme measures to stop the Beyonder, the reader could see how dirty the group’s hands truly are. Still, the issue where the Illuminati confronts Noh-Varr, a fanatical Kree warrior, is a nice one. This story is a rare exception in the series, showing how not everything the Illuminati does is for the worse. Indeed, the Illuminati simply talk to Noh-Varr, convincing him that humanity is worth saving. Finally, the last issue brings the whole series full circle. Tying back to the initial conflict with the Skrulls, the Illuminati discover their culpability in the Skrull infiltration. Yet there is nothing which the group can do about this, as it is revealed that one of their own is also a Skrull. The lack of trust, due to the infiltration, which the Illuminati inadvertently caused, shatters the alliance. It’s a nice way to close out the series, showing how a group like the Illuminati causes its own downfall. At the same time, the ending is an excellent set-up for Secret Invasion.

Flashback Friday?

Ultimately, I think Bendis does a lot of great things in the Illuminati. The mini-series ties into Marvel history, simultaneously bringing these hidden events into the context of his overall run. I would still say that the Illuminati is a little too continuity-heavy for some readers. As someone who has read the Kree-Skrull War, Secret Wars, and the Infinity Gauntlet, I did have a greater appreciation for the Illuminati‘s connection to these events. Still, Bendis does a nice job explaining the gist of these major points in Marvel history, making the Illuminati accessible for those who are only interested in Bendis’ overall Avengers run. The characters chosen for the Illuminati were also perfect, as each represents a major corner of the Marvel Universe. Each character’s motivation is pretty clear, especially when the group is at odds with itself. Certain characters, such as Stark and Richards, do get more attention than others, so I would have liked to have seen more from characters like Doctor Strange. The cast of characters were all given something to do, however, despite a lack of insight into certain perspectives. Furthermore, the episodic format of the Illuminati is a nice touch, giving readers glimpses into important moments for the group. These moments fit into the history of the Marvel Universe well, addressing the context behind each time period. Bendis does leave room for potential future storylines, as the reader is left to wonder if they’ve truly seen all of the Illuminati’s activity over the years. The Illuminati, overall, explores some fascinating ideas, planting the seeds for future tales.

Coming together, for the last time…

The first major ramification of the Illuminati is going to be Noh-Varr’s character arc. This Kree warrior is going to become a major player in Bendis’ Avengers run, starting in Secret Invasion. The Illuminati’s talk with Noh-Varr will make an impact on him, as he decides to become a hero of Earth. Noh-Varr’s heroic arc continues through Dark Avengers and during Bendis’ adjective-less Avengers title. Further in the future, the infinity gems will play an important role in Bendis’ Avengers. Specifically, the Illuminati’s hiding places will not be so hidden anymore, leading to a clash between the Avengers and the Hood over the infinity gauntlet. More importantly, this event will result in further conflict between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark over the existence of the Illuminati. The most immediate consequence of the Illuminati, however, comes in the pages of Secret Invasion. As a direct result of the Illuminati’s first mission, the Skrull infiltration will turn into a full-scale invasion. This invasion leads to the downfall of Tony Stark, losing his status as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and leader of the Avengers. In his place, Norman Osborn is instated, leading to Dark Reign, an understandably darker era for the Avengers. In taking secretive, proactive measures to defend humanity, the Illuminati incidentally bring about the darkest period of Bendis’ Avengers saga.

Humanity’s defenders, humanity’s doom?

That’s all for today. What do you think about New Avengers: the Illuminati? Was the Illuminati right in their actions? Are they just a group of jerks? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and feel free to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in tomorrow, when I dive into Bendis’ status quo-changing Secret Invasion!

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!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #26-39/Annual #2

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.

The new New 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.

Opposing viewpoints…

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.

Ninja fight!

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”.

Oof, indeed

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.

It’s a “banter-off”, folks

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.

Just a man and his crew…

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.

Banter, action, and magic

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.

Who do you trust?

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.

Looking back on simpler times…

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.

We back, baby!

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.

Continuing to assemble

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!

Bendis’ Avengers: World War Hulk

The Hulk always appealed to me when I was younger. He’s big, green, angry, and eager to fight anyone at any time. So when World War Hulk was released, I was ecstatic. Here was one of my favorite characters, smashing his way through the Marvel Universe. The whole idea was just “the Hulk vs. everybody”, a series of fights that I always wanted to see. This particular version of the Hulk was definitely my favorite. Writer Greg Pak’s Hulk was smart, mean, more powerful than ever, and he was always the first one to call people out on their flaws. Looking back on my admiration for this iteration of the character, it’s surprising that I didn’t read Pak’s preceding tale, Planet Hulk, until about two years ago. Regardless, World War Hulk has always been a favorite of mine. The action is phenomenal, containing some particularly brutal fight scenes, and John Romita Jr.’s artwork is perfect for the epic feel of the event. Everything about World War Hulk felt monumental to me as a kid, and the Hulk and his friends, the Warbound, were an exciting set of protagonists.

Guess who’s back?

Although not a Bendis-written event, World War Hulk largely takes place within the context of Bendis’ narrative of the Marvel Universe. At the time of World War Hulk, Civil War had just finished, leaving the superhero community divided. Captain America was dead, and the heroes more frequently fought each other than actual supervillains. The Avengers, for example, were split into two opposing teams. Luke Cage was in charge of the outlaw New Avengers, while those who registered with the government joined the Mighty Avengers. Both teams were adjusting to the status quo, including new lineups and even new costumes for some characters. Additionally, certain heroes committed some morally questionable actions before World War Hulk, leaving their status as heroes under considerable doubt. Reed Richards and Tony Stark behaved in a semi-villainous manner during Civil War, for example. Richards, Stark, Black Bolt, and Doctor Strange were also part of the Illuminati, a small cabal of heroes who met in secret to protect the world. The Illuminati’s methods were problematic, to say the least, unilaterally sending the Hulk into space to protect the world from his rampages. It is the actions of the Illuminati which leaves the Marvel heroes in a moral gray area at the time of World War Hulk.

Smashing the status quo

Indeed, the actions of the Illuminati come back to haunt them, as the Hulk returns from space in order to punish these heroes. During the events of Planet Hulk, the Hulk landed on Sakaar, an alien world where he was enslaved as a gladiator. The green goliath managed to fight his way to the top, overthrowing the corrupt Red King. The Hulk’s happiness as the king of Sakaar was short-lived, as a bomb from the Hulk’s ship blew up, destroying his kingdom. Blaming the Illuminati, the Hulk will now stop at nothing to achieve retribution. The Hulk and his new allies, the Warbound, tear through the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, and even the US military, in order to bring the Illuminati to justice. Throughout the narrative, Rick Jones, the Hulk’s old sidekick, follows the Hulk in an attempt to convince his friend to stop while he still can. Simultaneously, the Sentry, an old friend of the Hulk’s, must decide whether or not he can face the green goliath, for fear of unleashing his own immense power.

He’s always angry…

The Hulk himself is like a force of nature in this comic. After suffering so much loss and betrayal, the Hulk is angrier than ever, therefore making him stronger than ever before. No matter what is thrown the Hulk’s way, he manages to smash it with ease. Motivated by a desire to punish the Illuminati, the Hulk does everything he can to gain retribution. For example, when the Hulk captures all of the Illuminati, he places them all in Madison Square Garden, forcing them to experience the gladiator trials which he faced on Sakaar. The phrase “Never stop making them pay” becomes a motif of the story, emphasizing the Hulk’s relentless pursuit of justice. Yet the Hulk, despite his rather harsh exterior, is actually quite heroic in World War Hulk. Even when the Hulk forces the Illuminati to fight each other in the ring, he chooses to let them live, saying, “We came here for justice. Not murder”. Indeed, the Hulk never actually kills anyone, even going so far as to protect innocent civilians from falling debris during a fight with Doctor Strange. The Hulk also only seeks to punish the Illuminati, only fighting others who attack him. When the Sentry decides to attack the Hulk at the end of the story, the Hulk declares, “Stark! Richards! All of you! Never forget! Whatever happens next…is on your heads”. Despite the Hulk’s heroic heart, he still displays an anger and cruelty throughout World War Hulk. Much of this anger manifests itself from a place of pain. The Hulk lost his wife, Caiera, along with their unborn child, when Sakaar exploded. Throughout the narrative, the Hulk has flashbacks to the explosion, picturing Caiera in her last moments. This trauma compels the Hulk to act violently, enraged at those who took his wife away.

Sitting in judgement

While the Hulk acts out of anger, the Illuminati, by contrast, make calculated decisions. Despite the careful consideration behind them, it is these calculated decisions, such as sending the Hulk into space, which become huge mistakes. Each member of the Illuminati is a leader or a genius of some sort, but none of them could predict the emotional and physical consequences of their actions. The Illuminati is representative of the recent moral uncertainty embedded in the superhero community, such as the actions of the pro-registration side in Civil War. Following purely rational motives and methods, this group of geniuses failed to take into account the morality of their actions. The Hulk arrives to show the Illuminati the moral flaws in their recent actions by punishing them and their allies. Although these allies, such as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, are willing to stand by the members of the Illuminati, deep down, these men know that they are all guilty of their actions. It is worth noting that the Illuminati sent the Hulk into space without anyone else’s knowledge, acting alone. In the same manner, almost every member is taken down by the Hulk on their own, showing how these men’s actions have isolated themselves.

Sticking to his (repulsor) guns…

Although the Hulk doles out significant punishment to the Illuminati, he is constantly reminded of his true nature by Rick Jones. Rick appears to remind the Hulk that he always has been, and always will be, a hero. From the day Bruce Banner became the Hulk, saving Rick from a gamma bomb explosion, he has saved countless lives. Even as the Hulk, Bruce uses his anger and power to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. Rick prevents the Hulk from going too far, serving as a moral conscience. Indeed, Rick says much of what the Hulk himself will never admit. For example, in one scene, Rick tells the Hulk, “Don’t know why you’d be acting like Banner, unless…oh yeah…you are Banner”. Calling out the Hulk’s heroism and resemblance to his alter ego keeps him in check, reminding him of who he is underneath all of his anger. This reminder of the Hulk’s humanity is a bridge between his life before and after his time on Sakaar. Rick is the only friend who has stayed loyal to the Hulk throughout his time on Earth, which is why the Hulk keeps him around during World War Hulk. In the end, Miek attempts to kill Rick in order to push the Hulk over the edge, which nearly happens. When Rick is stabbed, the Hulk loses control, almost destroying the Earth.

Looking out for a friend…

Although Rick is the Hulk’s best friend, it is the Hulk’s Warbound, from Sakaar, who support his actions throughout World War Hulk. The Warbound are a diverse set of aliens who are all extremely loyal to the Hulk. There is a camaraderie to the Warbound which has been forged in battle, making them like a family to the Hulk. Moreover, the Warbound choose to fight alongside the Hulk, which no one has ever done before. Usually, people will fight against the Hulk. Yet just like the green goliath, each of the Warbound was seen as a monster on their home planet. It only makes sense, then, that the Warbound would be motivated to join the Hulk in his quest to bring the real monsters to justice. Of course, this does not make the Warbound a mindless set of drones for the Hulk. On the contrary, each member has his/her own unique personality traits and cultural values. Hiroim, for example, is a priest, saying a prayer for each enemy he defeats. Korg is quite merciful, saying, “We could make an end right here. Their whole planet knows what they did to us. They’re the monsters now”. Miek, on the other hand, is the most bloodthirsty of the bunch, ceaselessly demanding vengeance. When the Hulk reverts to Bruce Banner in the end, Miek is disappointed, crying, “Come back, Hulk!” Each of these distinct traits makes the Warbound believable characters.

Hulk and the gang

Throughout this tale of rage and vengeance, Pak frequently cuts back to the Sentry, the only one with the power to stop the Hulk. The Sentry serves as a nice contrast to the Hulk’s uninhibited rage and power. Bob Reynolds is constantly restraining himself, trying to keep his own power in check. In the context of Bendis’ New Avengers this aspect of the character never really interested me. Yet, juxtaposed against the Hulk, Pak makes it work. If the Sentry lets loose against the Hulk, he fears that he’ll become consumed by his own power. The Hulk and the Sentry act as two sides of the same coin: both are incredibly powerful, with the capacity to destroy the world. Additionally, this power makes them dangerous tools in the eyes of people like the Illuminati. These commonalities bond the two characters, as both the Hulk and the Sentry really just want peace and quiet. Yet the world around them will not allow this. What makes the ending so well done is the final confrontation between the Hulk and the Sentry. The power of both characters finally allows them to release their full potential, expending their energies and thus, keeping them both in check. The Sentry has enough power to revert the Hulk to Bruce Banner, and the Hulk has enough power to wear the Sentry down. Indeed, at the end, before collapsing, Reynolds says to Banner, “Bruce. Thanks”. This gratitude is indicative of the balance that the Sentry and the Hulk provide each other.

Getting in some light sparring…

World War Hulk has some excellent character moments, but overall, much of the event is composed of giant action scenes. This is not to say, however, that there are no underlying themes. Indeed, World War Hulk touches on some thought-provoking ideas in between smashing. Chief among these themes is the nature of monstrosity. Despite the violent attack on New York, the brutal assault of several heroes, and the generally monstrous appearance of the Hulk and his Warbound, the identity of the real monsters is always under question. Throughout the event, Pak shows several citizens who actually side with the Hulk, calling the Illuminati the real monsters. During a scene in Madison Square Garden, the Hulk gives a microphone to several individuals who have been harmed by the actions of the Illuminati. Each member is scrutinized for these actions, highlighting the sins of these supposed heroes. Despite labeling the Illuminati as “Liars. Traitors. And killers”, the Hulk himself does not identify under any specific label. For most of World War Hulk, the Hulk does not speak for himself. Instead, others interpret the Hulk’s actions verbally. Miek sees the Hulk as a figure of vengeance, Rick sees him as a hero, and General Ross sees him as a monster. Yet the Hulk lets his actions speak for themselves, ignoring the labels others give him. In the end, the Hulk says, “They can call you whatever they want. Savior. Destroyer. All that matters…is what you choose”. The Hulk knows who he is, choosing not to let anyone else’s labels define him. In fact, the Hulk knows himself so well that he knows when to stop. Much of World War Hulk showcases how far the Hulk is willing to let his anger take him. It isn’t until the last second, when the Hulk stops the Illuminati from killing each other, that he has achieved his purpose. The Hulk recognizes the limited extent to which anger can achieve justice, choosing to stop himself once he is finished. Even in the end, when the Hulk becomes so angered that he is about to destroy the world, he recognizes that he must be stopped. The Hulk calls out to Stark, “Do it. Before I break the world!” While all of these themes have some influence on the story, they are not touched upon too heavily. After all, the main focus of the story is “Hulk vs. the Marvel Universe”.

Who’s the monster here?

The plot of World War Hulk is competent enough, accomplishing what it sets out to do. Pak’s characterization is so well done that an intricate plotline is not really necessary. When the whole premise is the Hulk beating everyone up, why bother complicating things? Each issue is structured very well, featuring at least one major fight in each issue. There is also a lot of the Hulk’s history incorporated in the series. For example, the Hulk vs. the Thing is a classic comic trope that Pak plays on nicely. Pak also recounts moments in the Hulk’s history from General Ross’ perspective, and generally highlights the tense history between the Hulk and Ross. The friendship between Doctor Strange and the Hulk is given a nice moment, when Strange temporarily gets the Hulk to calm down. Rick Jones, himself, is a classic callback to the Hulk’s earliest days of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby issues of the character. Each aspect of the Hulk’s history is included, and given its own twist in the context of World War Hulk. There generally isn’t anything too complex or insightful about World War Hulk‘s plot, but the characterization is spot-on, the action sequences are epic in scope, and the whole thing is just a lot of fun.

Old rivalries, revisited

Overall, in the face of more politically-fueled events like Secret War or Civil War, World War Hulk is a welcome bit of fun. The whole story feels like a summer blockbuster, in the best way possible. Pak sets the Hulk up to do some smashing, and there is a serious amount in this event. There are certainly some interesting themes thrown around during World War Hulk, but there isn’t much of an in-depth exploration of these ideas. Of course, World War Hulk doesn’t pretend to be anything philosophical, so simply touching on certain themes is a pleasant surprise. I do wish that Pak gave the reader more of a general reaction from the Illuminati, regarding sending the Hulk into space. There is definitely room for repentance on the part of the Illuminati, and it would have been satisfying to see these heroes come to terms with their sins more. As it is, World War Hulk still explores a little about the status quo, showing how divided the superhero community has become. The Avengers are without Captain America, split into two distinct teams that are philosophically opposed to each other. Furthermore, the Hulk calls the heroes out for other morally compromised actions, such as creating a clone Thor in Civil War. Seeing the Hulk arrive in this complicated status quo to deliver a good old-fashioned smackdown is certainly satisfying.

He’s still angry…

World War Hulk might not have as many ramifications for Bendis’ Avengers as Civil War, but there are still going to be some consequences. Doctor Strange will certainly feel haunted by the events of World War Hulk, particularly for his use of forbidden spells to fight the Hulk. The use of this dark magic will come back to haunt Strange in Bendis’ New Avengers, leading him to relinquish his role as sorcerer supreme and leave the team. This begins a long arc of redemption for Strange, continuing for years to come. World War Hulk also gave readers their first look at a truly unhinged Sentry. This side of the character is going to be explored further as Bendis’ Avengers run continues. Specifically, when Norman Osborn mentors the Sentry, leading into Siege, the Sentry will become more and more unstable. With no Hulk to keep him in check, the Sentry will be unable to control his darker side. Finally, the Illuminati is a group which Bendis will refer back to several times in his run. This group plays a major role in setting up Secret Invasion, along with many other events, demonstrating the problematic nature of a secret society. Bendis may not have written World War Hulk, but it is still a fun event with a lasting impact on the Marvel Universe.

Smashing his way across the Marvel Universe

That’s all for this week. How did you like World War Hulk? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Join me again on Monday when I dive into Bendis’ post-Civil War New Avengers!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #21-25

When I initially saw that volume five of Bendis’ New Avengers was purely a Civil War tie-in, I wasn’t interested. At the time, event tie-ins felt pretty unnecessary. If I wanted to read about the event, wouldn’t I just read the main Civil War series? Additionally, isn’t a great series like New Avengers just being interrupted by this event? I enjoyed seeing the New Avengers team together, yet the tie-in issues for Civil War kept the team apart. I missed the fun team dynamic that the first four volumes boasted. When I finally got around to reading these tie-in issues, however, I remember enjoying them (to varying degrees). A few of these issues surprised me with the amount of great character moments that Bendis gave individual New Avengers. Much of this character work is missing in the main event, and Bendis fills in a lot of the blanks for Civil War.

Civil War: the Missing Chapters

Clearly, the main backdrop of these five issues is the line-wide crossover, Civil War. This event perpetuates a massive divide between the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, with the New Avengers being no exception. The superhuman registration act has been instated, leaving all Marvel heroes with a choice. Heroes are all forced to take a side between Iron Man’s pro-registration team and Captain America’s anti-registration movement. The split within the heroic community leaves the New Avengers fractured. It seems as if the team is in a state of transition during Civil War. The initial roster of New Avengers has had its time, but soon after Civil War, the team reforms as a new kind of group. For now, each of the New Avengers is isolated, being forced to choose between two sides. In addition to the whole Civil War setting, Luke Cage has also recently married Jessica Jones. Now that Cage, Jones, and their baby are officially a family, many issues arise around raising a child in the hazardous Marvel Universe. As Civil War escalates, protecting a family becomes more and more difficult.

Becoming a true believer…

These Civil War issues are a series of one-issue, character-focused stories, examining New Avengers who don’t have a solo series (unless they’re Captain America or Iron Man). Over the course of these stories, Bendis spotlights the role of each New Avenger in the context of Civil War. Besides Cap and Iron Man, all of these New Avengers struggle to find where they stand in this massive conflict. Luke Cage must consider his family, Spider-Woman juggles the war with her mission as a spy, and the Sentry tries to reconcile his power with the war. It is very important that all of these stories are told, not just for the sake of the characters. Rather, since Bendis did not write Civil War himself, it is useful to see the story in the context of his own work. Since the events of Civil War will indeed have massive repercussions on his overall Avengers saga, it feels necessary that Bendis puts his own spin the crossover. In terms of tone and character, Bendis’ New Avengers tie-ins manage to incorporate Civil War into his larger narrative.

The great divide

Speaking of characterization, Bendis provides a closer look at the leaders on both sides of Civil War‘s conflict. Specifically, Captain America is the first to receive his own New Avengers solo issue. While this might feel unnecessary, Bendis does get the chance to delve further into Cap’s psyche than Millar did during Civil War. Including internal monologues throughout the issue, Bendis incorporates much of what Cap is thinking and feeling about Civil War. Indeed, several bits of internal monologue delve deeper into the Captain’s confusion surrounding the whole conflict. To Steve Rogers, it feels like the world has gone crazy. This confusion has also left Rogers paranoid, isolating himself from others, even his partner, the Falcon. To Cap, it feels as if everyone is turning against him. Furthermore, there is much internal conflict to Rogers’ character, as he feels that he doesn’t belong in the present day environment anymore. All of the nuance to Cap’s character is filled in during his solo issue, as Millar’s main event seemed too focused on plot points and action than character. Bendis, on the other hand, makes the most of his look at the sentinel of liberty.

Secret Avengers, assemble!

On the other side of the conflict, Bendis focuses on Iron Man. The large benefit of Bendis’ writing here is how much more human Stark is portrayed than in the main Civil War comic. Peppering in different scenes of Iron Man throughout these issues, Bendis shows the reader just how much pressure is behind leading the registration movement. Stark’s motivations seem more fleshed out in the New Avengers issues. For example, scenes where Stark goes to convince others, such as Cage or the Sentry, to register with S.H.I.E.L.D., show Stark in a much more diplomatic light. At one point, Stark tells the Sentry, “You need to save the heroes of our world from hurting each other any more than they have to”. The practical, reasonable dialogue which Bendis gives Stark is much more nuanced than Millar’s Stark, who creates clone Thors and recruits supervillains for his cause. Still, there are moments of questionable action on Stark’s part. For example, when Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. abduct Spider-Woman out of nowhere and detain her in a helicarrier, or when Stark barges in on the Sentry’s bedroom. Moments such as these don’t do a lot to deter the fascistic image which Civil War built around Stark. While Bendis definitely tries to make Stark at least sound more reasonable, he doesn’t do much to change Stark’s dubious actions.

Way less punching than Civil War

Outside of the main two figures of the conflict, there are some particularly fascinating character close-ups throughout these issues. For the first time, I’m surprised to say, Bendis got me interested in the Sentry. The uncertainty around the Sentry’s place in Civil War raises some important questions about such a powerful character. If the Sentry can end the whole conflict, should he? What place does such a powerful being have on either side of this war? Overall, the Sentry ponders his overall place in the world, as he meditates on the moon. These questions reflect much of the concern around having a powerful character such as the Sentry on a team like the New Avengers. What is his place? It’s nice to get a glimpse into the Sentry’s head for once, asking the same questions as the reader. While Bendis does not necessarily provide any answers to these questions, at least the questions are addressed in the first place. Additionally, during the Sentry’s encounter with the Inhumans, we learn more about the peace which the hero craves. Spending time in the Inhumans’ care, the Sentry shows a softer, more relaxed side. The fact that the Sentry’s sense of peace is cut short by his recruitment into Civil War makes his longing for tranquility all the more tragic. Everyone is looking to exploit the Sentry’s power, when he simply wishes to live in peace. The Sentry may not be the most interesting character, but Bendis does manage to add a new angle to Bob Reynolds’ plight.

Having a little “me” time…

Civil War also serves to further complicate the ongoing character arc of Spider-Woman. Bendis does an excellent job interweaving Jessica Drew’s life as a secret agent with the larger registration plotline. Jessica is now more of a woman on the run than ever before. S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t trust her, HYDRA is trying to reclaim her, and Nick Fury is still missing. Jessica’s feelings of isolation are perpetuated by the registration act, which leaves her with virtually nowhere to run. It is comforting, then, that by the end of Jessica’s Civil War story, she can finally find a place with Captain America’s Secret Avengers. The personal trials which Jessica endures between both S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA provide a more complete background on why she ends up siding with Captain America. Bendis continues to flesh out Jessica as a character, giving her characteristics ranging from bravery to quivering fear, as a result of her pursuit by large organizations. Ultimately, Bendis succeeds in using Civil War as a vehicle to move Spider-Woman’s personal journey forward.

Like a regular Jane Bond…

Of course, the most well-written chapter in Bendis’ Civil War tie-in focuses on Luke Cage. It is this chapter of New Avengers in which Cage attains his central role in the title. The best part about Cage’s story is the simplicity behind his motives: all the man wants is to raise his daughter and live peacefully in his neighborhood. Cage has none of the uncharacteristic hostility towards the pro-registration forces that plagued the main Civil War title. Rather, Cage acts out of self-defense, choosing only to become involved in the conflict when S.H.I.E.L.D. comes knocking on his front door. There is something admirable about Cage standing by his principles, primarily to set the right example for his daughter. Cage wants to raise his kid right, and that means standing his ground against a law in which he doesn’t believe. When Cage ends up joining the anti-registration movement, it is a powerful moment. After building up Cage’s family, his own values, and the pathos behind the character, it feels good to see him take a stand. Bendis does an excellent job in using Civil War to propel Cage to the forefront of New Avengers, as the true heart of the series.

Family matters

The smart thing about making these issues solo stories is the way each of these heroes feels isolated. Captain America is seen sitting alone, painting, Luke Cage waits for S.H.I.E.L.D. to arrest him in his house, Spider-Woman is on the run from several organizations, the Sentry meditates on the moon, and Iron Man sits alone in Stark Tower. Each of these situations demonstrates how far Civil War has gone in dividing the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Dividing and isolating each of the New Avengers shows the reader much of the inner turmoil which plagues them individually. The choices of war leave each hero with much to consider. While Cap and Iron Man have obviously made up their minds, Cage, Spider-Woman, and the Sentry are left to balance their own personal issues against their roles in the war. Specifically, given each of their circumstances, where do they go? What should each hero do with their skills? Choices are developed and explored thoroughly throughout these issues. These choices lead the fractured team through a period of transition. Civil War has thrown New Avengers, its characters, and the team as a whole, into nebulous territory. Bendis uses the chaos of the situation to isolate each of the heroes and figure out where each individual journey will lead. Civil War is the ultimate vehicle for change, both for the New Avengers as a whole and for its individual members.

All by myself…

In terms of the individual issues, the quality of the stories is a mixed bag. The first issue, focusing on Captain America, certainly has its moments. Bendis takes a good opportunity to delve into Cap’s thought process concerning the war, which is absent in the main Civil War title. The issue also gives a nice look at the beginning of Cap’s recruitment drive for the Secret Avengers. Overall, however, the issue feels like something that could have been included in the main Captain America title, as it doesn’t focus on the New Avengers as a whole. The second issue is probably the best of the bunch. Bendis gives Luke Cage some great character moments, the relationship between Luke and Jessica is really sweet, and the artwork by Leinil Yu is fantastic. The ending, when the resistance shows up to save Luke, is also a great action set-piece. This story, overall, makes it clear why Luke Cage is the central focus of the New Avengers going forward. The Spider-Woman issue is another great character-focused story. The pace proceeds very quickly, as Jessica is constantly on the run from organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA, and Bendis finds a way to fit Spider-Woman’s character arc into the larger Civi War event. S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man come off as a little fascistic in this issue, however. I wish Bendis would have toned down the villainy of the registration movement during these issues. The Sentry issue is definitely the strangest one. While the initial introspection of the Sentry is well done, things get a little weird afterwards. The Sentry’s encounter with the Inhumans doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose, besides showing him a little more at peace, and the romance with Crystal is a fairly tacked on. The ending, however, when Iron Man recruits the Sentry, is a great character moment, as you can tell the Sentry doesn’t want to leave. The final issue, focusing on Iron Man, is probably the least character-focused. There is a great examination of how Stark’s image has changed through the war, especially by his employees. Maria Hill, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is also given some important character development, when she saves Stark from a disgruntled employee. Hill’s relationship with Stark is also nicely developed. Still, I do wish Bendis did more to explore Stark’s thought process and feelings behind Civil War. This issue is the only one in which the main character does not get an internal monologue, lacking the insight of the other stories. Jim Cheung’s artwork, however, remains beautiful.

Secret Avengers smackdown

Overall, I think Bendis does a lot with these Civil War tie-ins. The stories manage to fill in some blanks in terms of character development, particularly with Captain America. The main Civil War event largely jumped from plot point to plot point, so Bendis’ smaller issues are able to tap into some unexplored areas of the story. Most of the New Avengers are given well-written motives and explanations for their part in Civil War, and some quieter character moments as well. These issues also serve as a nice period of transition for the New Avengers. It’s not often in a team book like this one that individual characters can be explored one at a time. This opportunity allows Bendis to individually move each character forward in a compelling and believable way. The main flaw that I find in looking back at these issues lies in the two issues focused on Captain America and Iron Man. Since both of these heroes have their own titles, each of their respective issues in New Avengers could have been devoted to something more relevant to the team. For instance, Captain America’s issue could have focused on the Secret Avengers fighting criminals. Iron Man’s issue, on the other hand, could have followed the pro-registration heroes as they went on the job as registered superheroes. Stories of this nature would have filled in some more gaps from Millar’s main Civil War story.

Still a bit fascistic…

Going forward, Luke Cage’s tie-in story is going to be the basis for his role as the central protagonist of New Avengers. Many key elements of the series are established in Cage’s story, including the fugitive status of the New Avengers, standing by one’s principles, and the focus on Cage and Jones trying to raise their daughter. All of these elements will continue for the rest of the New Avengers series, and Cage is going to lead the New Avengers post-Civil War. As mentioned during several previous blog posts, Spider-Woman’s story is only going to become more complicated. Despite the sympathetic and tormented portrayal of Jessica Drew during Civil War, there is still going to be much more to her than meets the eye. Allegiances shift, more questions are asked, and the answers lead straight into Bendis’ Secret Invasion. Finally, the focus on the Sentry’s endless quest for inner peace is merely beginning during Civil War. Massive events such as Civil War and World War Hulk will constantly interrupt the Sentry’s longing for peace, and powerful people like Tony Stark and Norman Osborn will continue to use the Sentry as a tool. This frequent manipulation will not end well, for the Sentry or the rest of the Avengers. Civil War is a launchpad for the New Avengers as a whole, sending each character on a new trajectory in their respective journeys.

Mission statement of the series

That’s all for today. What do you think about tie-ins? How about the Civil War tie-ins? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Join me again tomorrow, when I look at a non-Bendis event, the world-breaking World War Hulk!

Bendis’ Avengers: Civil War

Civil War was probably the biggest Marvel Comics event at the time of its release. No other event was so widespread, reaching everyone from the Avengers to smaller titles like Heroes for Hire. I personally loved every page of Civil War. Seeing two sides of heroes fighting each other was like smashing two sets of action figures together and seeing who would win. This is the event which got me to love Captain America even more than I already did, as the book clearly favors the star-spangled Avenger. At the same time, Civil War left me with nothing but disdain for Iron Man, unaware of how out of character many of his actions were. Regardless of the clear character bias, I mainly remember loving Civil War for Spider-Man’s prominence. The web-head is my favorite comic book character, after all, so seeing him play such a pivotal role in the overall Marvel Universe was very exciting. Civil War was written by Mark Millar, so a lot of the characterization and tone doesn’t feel consistent with Bendis’ Avengers work. One thing that remains true about Civil War, however, is its place as a turning point for Bendis’ Avengers saga.

Last hero standing…

While Bendis did not write Civil War himself, his earlier work laid a lot of groundwork for the event. Going into Civil War, tensions have risen between Marvel superheroes and the general public. Since 2004’s Secret War, many questions were raised around the superheroes’ lack of accountability. Indeed, incidents such as the Latverian attack on New York have led to serious collateral damage for regular citizens, leaving many to wonder if superheroes should remain free agents. Another significant event which shaped Civil War was the formation of the New Avengers, particularly under the leadership of Captain America and Iron Man. As New Avengers progressed, the divergent leadership styles of both Avengers became more apparent. Captain America takes a more idealistic style, inspiring others and having faith in his teammates. Meanwhile, Iron Man is more pragmatic, negotiating with agencies such as S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to protect the Avengers’ greater interests. These clashing perspectives make themselves more apparent in Civil War. Finally, the role of the Avengers became much more central to the Marvel Universe leading into Civil War. Titles such as Avengers Disassembled, Young Avengers, House of M, and New Avengers have all re-affirmed the importance of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the broader Marvel Universe. This re-assertion of the team makes its way into Civil War, focusing on the division of the Avengers.

Picking up the pieces

The premise of Civil War begins with a tragically unfortunate incident for the superhero community. In Stamford, Connecticut, a reality TV series, starring the superhero team the New Warriors, stages a raid against a group of supervillains. During the raid, a fatal explosion kills hundreds, including a school of young children. After this tragic event, there is a public outcry against superheroes, calling for the registration of costumed heroes with S.H.I.E.L.D. Several prominent heroes, including Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Hank Pym, side with the registration movement. On the other side, Captain America leads a team which refuses to register, believing that registration violates their civil liberties. When lines are drawn and sides are taken, an all-out war results within the superhero community. Many casualties occur during several brutal battles between heroes.

Turning point

Leading the anti-registration movement, Captain America is one of two leading figures in Civil War. As a living symbol, Captain America stands for all that is good about the United States. When Steve Rogers disagrees with something like registration, many are given cause to reconsider the law. Moreover, many flock to Cap as a rallying point for an anti-registration force. A time-tested leader of the Avengers, Captain America has the means to build a strong resistance movement. Cap is also portrayed as very stubborn in his convictions. Throughout Civil War, Rogers refuses to compromise his beliefs even a little for the pro-registration side. When Iron Man tries to negotiate with Rogers, Cap tricks him, attacking Iron Man with a virus in his armor instead. The main motive behind Cap’s actions comes from an old-fashioned, idealistic sensibility. Captain America believes in the tradition of secret identities and autonomous action, without any attachment to large organizations like S.H.I.E.L.D. While the public seems to be shifting towards a new system of accountability for superheroes, Rogers still believes that heroes can be an independent force for good.

Some problems with authority…

On the other side of the coin is Iron Man, leading the call for registration. Tony Stark continues to be the practical, realistic leader of the Avengers. Stark knows the consequences for the superhero community if they fail to register. If the heroes go against the registration act, Stark believes that they will become outlaws and social pariahs. In siding with the registration act, Stark attempts to compromise in order to preserve a voice for superheroes. On a deeper level, however, Stark is also motivated by a sense of guilt. Early on in the story, Stark is confronted by a grieving mother of one of the Stamford victims, blaming him for this incident. Clearly moved by this confrontation, Stark begins to take public opinion into consideration. It is the pathos of the Stamford incident which moves Stark into action, attempting to set a better example for superheroes than the heroes who inspired the New Warriors. In his willingness to push for registration, however, Stark gradually loses his way. Throughout the story, Stark’s need to control the situation around him drives several of his supporters away. Stark makes several questionable decisions, veering into slightly villainous territory. Despite his best intentions, Iron Man descends into morally problematic areas.

Meet the super-cops…

Between these two sides lies Spider-Man, acting as a sort of stand-in for the reader. When Civil War begins, Spider-Man supports the registration act, since the idea seems right at the time. If superheroes are to continue, they may as well be held accountable to some higher authority. Later on, the pro-registration side begins to falter, making terrible mistakes and compromises during the war. The morally dubious nature of the pro-registration side makes the reader, and Spider-Man, reconsider registration. Spider-Man then switches sides, joining the anti-registration movement, just as most readers side with the anti-registration forces as the story progresses. Additionally, Spider-Man serves as a prime example of registration’s consequences. The moment where the web-slinger unmasks for the whole world emphasizes the meaning of registration. Once the public knows who you are, there is no going back: registration places a spotlight on superheroes and their secret identities. Once Spider-Man reconsiders his position, it is too late: everyone knows he is Peter Parker, endangering both his life and the lives of his loved ones. There is also a key visual shift for the wall-crawler throughout Civil War. Initially wearing a stark-designed costume, Spider-Man visually embodies the politically-affiliated pro-registration side. It is only once Spider-Man switches sides that he wears the classic red and blue outfit for which he is known. This change in attire symbolizes the old-fashioned, traditional heroism to which the idealistic anti-registration heroes cling tightly.

No going back

Throughout Civil War, it is the Fantastic Four who symbolize the strain of conflict on the superhero community. The heart of Civil War lies in the marriage between Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic, and Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman. The strain which the war places on this marriage is indicative of the severity of the divide between heroes in this story. As the superhero power couple of Marvel Comics, Reed and Sue should be a rock for the rest of the heroes. If these two are having marital trouble, then none of the heroes are safe from this conflict. Furthermore, it is the entire Fantastic Four who fall victim to Civil War‘s divide. At first, the whole team is united on the pro-registration side, as Marvel’s first family. Later on, however, things fall apart when Reed Richards creates a clone Thor which kills fellow hero Goliath. This death catalyzes a fracture in the family, as Sue and Johnny Storm join the resistance, and Ben Grimm moves to France. The Fantastic Four’s division throughout the story illustrates the gradually divisive nature of registration as Civil War progresses. Yet the ending of Civil War leaves readers with hope for the family. During the final battle, Ben arrives to protect civilians, and Reed takes a bullet for Sue. When the fighting is over, both Sue and Johnny are pardoned, and Sue returns home to reconcile with Reed. While the healing process for the Fantastic Four is only beginning by the end of Civil War, the reunion of the family leaves hope for the future. Moreover, this reunion of Marvel’s first family leaves hope for other heroes as well.

A family divided

Underneath the conflict of the story, Civil War boasts some thought-provoking themes. The main conflict itself is centered on the clashing values of idealism and pragmatism. Each of these values is embodied by a different leader of the Avengers. Captain America, standing for the anti-registration movement, represents an idealistic set of values. Fighting registration, Cap believes that heroes can still follow the old-fashioned model of heroism, with secret identities and an intrinsic set of morals to follow. Iron Man, as the head of the pro-registration side, acts out of more pragmatic beliefs. Stark recognizes the need to change with the times and follow the will of the American people, in order to move forward. At first, Iron Man’s pragmatic viewpoint appears to be appropriate, as registration still allows heroes to act, while re-gaining the public’s trust. Yet, over time, the mistakes and compromises which come from Stark’s pragmatism reveal the flaws in registration. Heroes have to hunt down other heroes, imprison their friends, and resort to unsavory means in order to maintain public trust. In this light, traditional heroism seems to be the pure, uncompromising position. A smaller theme, touched upon in the ending, is the senselessness of fighting. As Civil War progresses, the reader begins to wonder: how long can this war continue? When will the heroes actually return to the heroism for which they are fighting? By the end, when Captain America surrenders, he recognizes the senselessness of heroes fighting each other. Cap says, “We’re not fighting for the people anymore, Falcon…look at us. We’re just fighting”. This line is a poignant one, but I do wish that the idea had been mentioned before the ending of Civil War. The reader does see constant fighting between heroes throughout Civil War, but there is no commentary on its senselessness until the event is over. Another under-developed theme is the conflict between working-class and upper-class heroes. Registered heroes are individuals like Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym, upper-class people who can afford public identities and devoting their lives to S.H.I.E.L.D. On the other hand, heroes like Luke Cage, Daredevil, and the Falcon are less privileged, acting as heroes for their lower-class neighborhoods. These heroes see themselves as volunteers who also need to live their own lives, free from constant superheroics. Wolverine, arguing against registration, says, “Life ain’t so nice outside your ivory tower, bub”. I wish that Civil War explored this class conflict more, as it could have added a lot more substance to the story. As it stands, the most prevalent theme is the idealism vs. pragmatism debate.

Losing their way

The overall plot of Civil War begins reasonably enough. After the events of Stamford, it is only natural that heroes would begin talking about registration. The debate between the heroes in the Baxter Building, in particular, is well done. For the first few chapters, I can even understand the pro-registration side. Problems arise, however, during the first major battle between the heroes. As soon as Stark and Reed reveal a clone Thor who brutally murders Goliath, the pro-registration heroes become the villains of the story. Including a prison for unregistered heroes in the Negative Zone and recruiting super-villains for pro-registration forces also make this debate way too one-sided. Captain America and the anti-registration movement become clear-cut heroes by the midway point of the story. Furthermore, the conflict between Cap and Stark itself seems overly antagonistic. The two allies never come across as friends, always eager to fight each other or hurl insults at one another. Any character nuance can be found mainly in tie-in stories from other titles, as the main Civil War event jumps from major plot point to plot point. There is not much room for actual discussion in between fight scenes. The debate between heroes is quickly substituted for blockbuster action scenes and crowd-pleasing moments. It’s a coherent plot to be sure, but one that seems a little too action heavy for a political debate.

Seems a little harsh

Ultimately, Civil War veers more towards flash than substance. The main series is an excuse to get all of Marvel’s major heroes into a fight with each other. There are a lot of rich thematic concepts from registration, but none of these ideas are fully explored. Instead, the story opts for more heroes punching each other in the face. Indeed, the heroes don’t act like heroes for much of the story. Iron Man and Reed Richards seem like flat-out villains for the most part, committing questionable acts in the name of registration. Even Captain America, the clear good guy of the story, antagonizes the pro-registration movement a little too harshly. While the Secret Avengers are supposed to be fighting villains covertly, Civil War rarely shows this team acting for heroic purposes. Despite the clear bias of the debate and some character assassination, Civil War is still a pretty fun event. Mark Millar writes Civil War as a giant action blockbuster, with great moments for Captain America, Spider-Man, and a lot of other heroes. In between the action scenes, there are a few thought-provoking moments. While never fully fleshed out, it’s nice to know the ideas are there. Civil War, overall, is also a far-reaching event, exploring the Marvel Universe very nicely. The event features nearly all of the major players, including the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Dr. Strange, and even Uatu the Watcher. If nothing else, Civil War makes a huge impact on the Marvel landscape.

Okay, that is pretty cool

Going forward, Civil War will indeed define the new context for Bendis’ Avengers run. After the war, Iron Man is appointed the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D., continuing the shifting of power between major events. Stark redefines the superhero community, beginning the fifty state initiative. This initiative places a registered superhero team in each state of the US. New York’s team, the Mighty Avengers, will become the face of the superhuman registration act, and the next big Avengers title for Bendis. In this brave new world, the only unregistered heroes remaining are the New Avengers, under Luke Cage’s leadership. This team receives an entirely new lineup, continuing as the outlaw Avengers all the way through 2010’s Siege. The most crucial ramification of Civil War, however, is the removal of Captain America from Bendis’ Avengers saga. Shortly after surrendering to the authorities, Captain America is assassinated in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America title. The loss of Captain America is the beginning of a darker era for the Avengers, as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are left without their primary inspiration. Cap’s absence results in a downward spiral for the Avengers, only returning to their heroic roots upon his return during Siege. Until then, Civil War is the beginning of a new, darker era for superheroes.

What price victory?

That’s all for today. What did you think of Civil War? Is it the thought-provoking political commentary which it seemed? Is it really just an excuse for a superhero smackdown? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Be sure to check back in tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ New Avengers tie-in to Civil War!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #11-20

After reading the first two volumes of Bendis’ New Avengers, I couldn’t get enough. As a kid, there’s no better feeling than discovering more of something you love. I got that feeling from New Avengers volumes 3 and 4. Bendis’ Avengers had become my new favorite team, with all of the action, excitement, and fun dialogue. Up until this point, though, one thing had continually confused me about the New Avengers: who was the eighth member? I remember constantly seeing some strange ninja on the cover of New Avengers for several issues. Yet this mysterious ninja never actually appeared in the comics. This is the period in New Avengers which satisfied my curiosity, finally revealing the mysterious ninja Avenger. Plus, I got to see the New Avengers fight ninjas. How cool is that? Volume 4 of New Avengers, featuring a new villain, the Collective, was very strange to me at the time. The most that I remember about this story arc is the death of Alpha Flight (Canada’s premiere superhero team) and the growing tension between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. This tension largely served to set up the next big event, Civil War. Ultimately, however, New Avengers volume 3 and 4 were just exciting for continuing the adventures of this new team.

The new continues…

These latest tales of the New Avengers are very much situated in a post-House of M world. The mutant population has been decimated to a paltry number of 198, and the heroes who remember the Scarlet Witch’s altered reality continue to adjust to the real world. Simultaneously, tensions continue to rise between the New Avengers and the public, as suspicion grows around this new team’s clandestine operations. For example, the Sentry’s watchtower sits above Stark Tower, leaving the public curious, at the very least, as to what is going on in the heroic community. Compounding the public’s suspicion of the New Avengers is the strained relationship between the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Still under the command of director Maria Hill, S.H.I.E.L.D. maintains an antagonistic relationship with the New Avengers, building up tension for Civil War. It is this relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the public at large which informs volumes 3 and 4 of New Avengers.

Sorry, Canada…

New Avengers volume 3 follows the premise of the first ten issues, as the New Avengers pursue more escaped super-criminals from Ryker’s Island. This time, the super-criminal in question is Harada Yashida, the Silver Samurai. Not only must the New Avengers hunt down Yashida, they must also prevent him from reclaiming his position as the head of the Hand, an organized ninja crime syndicate. Leading into the New Avengers’ mission, Captain America sends Ronin, a mysterious new member, to retrieve relevant intel for the team. The New Avengers then arrive in Japan, teaming up with Ronin and setting out to shut down dealings between the Hand and HYDRA. New Avengers volume 4, on the other hand, deals with the fallout of House of M. Specifically, when the excess energy from millions of de-powered mutants is transferred into one man, the New Avengers have to stop this man’s rampage across North America.

Another fine mess…

Throughout these two story arcs, the team leaders, Captain America and Iron Man, struggle to stay on top of the situation. Specifically, when it comes to public relations and dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D., Bendis gives the reader the sense that trust of superheroes is breaking down. Under these circumstances, Cap and Iron Man grow frustrated that their best efforts to regain the public trust simply aren’t enough. Going public, for example, does not make the New Avengers heroes in the eyes of the media, and S.H.I.E.L.D. will only reluctantly call in the team for help. Both Cap and Iron Man adjust to these times of suspicion in their own ways. Captain America acts more covertly than before, recruiting secret operatives such as Ronin. This surreptitious behavior foreshadows Cap’s actions in Civil War, when he goes underground and forms the rebellious Secret Avengers. Iron Man, by contrast, becomes more pragmatic, openly communicating with S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to stave off their growing mistrust of superheroes. Opening up a line of communication between the Avengers and organizations such as S.H.I.E.L.D. begins Iron Man’s transformation into the face of the superhuman registration act later on. These diverging behaviors of the New Avengers’ leaders gradually begins the rift which will be formed during Civil War.

Negotiations are tense…

Spider-Woman receives the most focus out of all of the New Avengers during these two story arcs. In volume 3, Jessica Drew’s dealings with HYDRA come to a head. When the New Avengers confront the Hand, it is revealed that HYDRA is partnered with the Japanese organization, placing Jessica in a tight spot. Bendis does a great job building the tension between Jessica’s loyalty to HYDRA and her loyalties to the Avengers. Jessica even goes so far as to allow Madame Hydra to escape Avengers custody by opening the quinjet airlock, endangering Captain America’s life. Once Jessica’s ties to HYDRA become exposed, Bendis takes the opportunity to flesh out more of the character’s backstory. Prominently featuring such an obscure character in an Avengers comic is indicative of how well Bendis rounds out the team roster. During her background issue, Spider-Woman is developed into a sympathetic character, placed in a difficult position as a super-spy. Indeed, Bendis portrays Jessica as a sort of outsider of the group, feeling that she cannot share who she is with the rest of the Avengers.

Someone’s gonna get it…

In addition, Ronin, the mysterious new member of the New Avengers, is finally featured in Bendis’ run. Ronin’s presence adds an air of mystery to the title, as the reader is left unsure of this new member’s identity. Furthermore, Ronin’s role as a secret operative is a nice practical touch to the New Avengers. When dealing with international organizations like the Hand, it only seems necessary that the New Avengers would require international operatives to perform recon. As a more grounded team, the New Avengers would probably need a member with martial arts training and a knowledge of criminal organizations such as the Hand. While including Ronin is a great idea, the character beneath the mask, when revealed, is sort of a letdown. Maya Lopez, a former Daredevil ally, is not really developed in these pages. The reader has to have read Daredevil to understand the character. Otherwise, Ronin herself is essentially a plot device. Lopez is mainly in the story to serve as recon for the team. While this is a nice plot point, and adds some intrigue to the story, Ronin feels like she should have been explored further. Similarly, in volume 4, the Sentry makes a reappearance on the team. It makes sense that he is only used sparingly, considering the character’s power levels and mental state. Still, when the Sentry does appear, he only acts as the team powerhouse, throwing the Collective into the sun. The Sentry still doesn’t capture much of my interest, and I can’t wait until he moves to the Mighty Avengers title. The character is simply not grounded enough to be a New Avengers character.

A new kind of Avenger

The other, more grounded members of the New Avengers, are given some good material in these issues. Luke Cage, for example, gets a phenomenal scene at the beginning of the Collective storyline. Cage has the idea to go into rough neighborhoods, scaring off petty criminals so ordinary citizens can go about their days. Bendis writes a very inspirational speech from Cage to the media, which goes to show the grounding influence which Cage has on the team. It’s no surprise that Cage will soon become the leader of the New Avengers, as he truly comes into his own in these two volumes. Spider-Man, of course, gets plenty of fun quips and dialogue. Yet Bendis also shows off some of the character’s bad history with the press, such as when the Avengers decide to go public. The web-slinger’s hesitation to stand as an Avenger publicly reveals a lot about how the media has crucified him over the years. This makes it all the more satisfying when the Avengers decide to stand by Spider-Man, vouching for him with the Daily Bugle and standing with him when the team goes public. Even though the media continues to slander the New Avengers immediately afterwards, at least Spider-Man has people to stand with in solidarity. Wolverine is treated very practically by Bendis during these two storylines. During the first story arc, for example, Wolverine is absent, as he also has duties with the X-Men. Additionally, when the Avengers go public, Wolverine chooses not to appear, knowing what his reputation as a killer would do to the team’s image. This is a very pragmatic approach to publicity: the New Avengers have members who visually represent the team, but they also have more covert members who can still be effective. During the Collective storyline, Wolverine gets a couple of nice moments. For instance, Logan shows his more compassionate side when Ms. Marvel loses control of her powers and he calms her down. I do wish, however, that Bendis had shown more of Logan’s reaction to the deaths of Alpha Flight’s members. Alpha Flight is full of Wolverine’s friends, so it would make sense if Logan were featured more prominently when combating their killer. Yet Wolverine gets no more prominence in the story than any of the other New Avengers. Overall, I continued to enjoy the inclusion of these three New Avengers.

Taking it to the streets

During these ten issues, Bendis also begins to feature Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel, quite prominently. Including Danvers is the start of a well-written character arc, which will continue in Bendis’ Mighty Avengers. For example, Bendis includes a conversation between Danvers and Captain America, in which Danvers shares her newfound feelings of confidence from House of M. This conversation is a great example of a rare positive consequence of House of M, in which Danvers experienced a fulfilling life as the new Captain Marvel. Later on, during the Collective story arc, Danvers shows off some raw power to go with her newfound confidence, absorbing much of the Collective’s energy. The confidence and power displayed by Danvers are important precursor’s to Danvers’ leadership of the Mighty Avengers. Overall, including Danvers in New Avengers begins the trend of folding more classic Avengers into Bendis’ narrative. Even though Danvers is not officially on the Avengers anymore, she becomes a recurring character in the New Avengers, eventually joining the team. Other classic members will continue to join the New Avengers, including Hawkeye and Mockingbird, a trend begun by Ms. Marvel.

Fighting the power…

Throughout these ten issues of New Avengers, Bendis builds up an air of paranoia and secrecy within and around the team. Spider-Woman, for example, is a perpetual wild card, whose secrets come to a head in the third volume. Ronin is a shadowy, mysterious member whose identity is not even revealed until the end of the Hand storyline. S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly does not trust the New Avengers, going so far as to kidnap Spider-Man and forcibly extract information about House of M from his mind. To combat the air of suspicion around the team, the New Avengers attempt to more publicly be a force for good. Making the New Avengers go public, going into rough neighborhoods, and publicly combating the Collective all exemplify the traditional types of heroism which the New Avengers try to practice. Ultimately, despite the New Avengers’ best efforts, public mistrust prevails. Bendis uses the media slander and S.H.I.E.L.D. tensions to bring the New Avengers down to the level of Spider-Man in terms of public relations. Indeed, even after seemingly cutting a deal between J. Jonah Jameson and the wall-crawler, the Avengers are still slandered by the Daily Bugle immediately after going public. No matter how hard the New Avengers try to do the right thing, they cannot please everyone. This constant struggle with public trust and image makes the New Avengers a different kind of team, one that battles real life enemies like the press and the government.

Well, this is awkward…

As far as story arcs go, the story around the Hand is definitely the best of these issues. The battle with the Hand and HYDRA is a very fun, covert kind of operation for this new team. Including secret agents like Ronin, and excluding more powerful members like the Sentry continues the smaller scale feeling of the New Avengers. The whole fight between the New Avengers and the Hand is a blast to read, and shows the New Avengers as a fun, scrappy team. The next two issues delve deeper into Spider-Woman’s recent history, revealing a lot of Jessica’s secrets. Bendis clears the air around the character in time for the New Avengers to go public. The public reveal backfires, indicating the changing public perception of superheroes. The final arc acts as a kind of aftermath to House of M, dealing with the Collective. The battle with the Collective is more of a mindless smash-up with little for most of the members to contribute. However, Bendis also deals with the growing tension between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, which serves as a great build up for Civil War.

A little messy

For the most part, issues 11-20 of New Avengers continue a lot of what made the first ten issues so entertaining. The title remains grounded, specifically during the Hand storyline and the Spider-Woman issues. Additionally, there is a lot of great dialogue between characters, and even Captain America gets in on the quips. Plenty of fun action is to be had, and the artwork by David Finch, Frank Cho, and Mike Deodato is fantastic. There are still some issues in the series, particularly in the Collective story arc. Overall, the fallout of House of M could have been handled in a much more grounded way which is consistent with New Avengers‘ tone. For example, the New Avengers could have dealt with a social issue, such as the extinction-level status quo of mutants. The Collective, as a villain, left much to be desired, essentially being a big pile of energy. Despite the lackluster Collective story, there are still plenty of great aspects to all ten issues. One particular aspect which I enjoyed is the growing mistrust of the New Avengers. It feels like, beyond building up to Civil War, the title is heading towards the New Avengers in their prime. This is the New Avengers that I know and love: the outlaws, the rebels, and the misfits who continue to do the right thing. One last moment I loved was the New Avengers going public, receiving a bit of love from New York, if only briefly. The group shot in front of the crowd was a nice callback to the end of Avengers Disassembled.

Feel the love

Despite their smaller scale, these ten issues of New Avengers are going to have some important ramifications on Bendis’ overall run. Ronin, for example, is going to return in a big way after Civil War, helping to usher in a new era for the New Avengers. Introducing a secret agent in Japan plants the seeds for future New Avengers battles against the Hand, and Maya Lopez is going to become a more regular member of the team. The Ronin identity itself will play an important part of New Avengers, shifting to another Avenger for a while. Additionally, many of the New Avengers’ issues with S.H.I.E.L.D. are going to erupt during Civil War, a game-changer which will redefine the landscape of the Marvel Universe. The outcome of this superhero civil war will change the superhero community, redefining the New Avengers as a team. Furthermore, the whole roster of the New Avengers will receive its first major shakeup. Finally, although it seems as if Spider-Woman’s secrets have all been revealed, this is far from the case. Jessica Drew is more than what she appears, and there is another layer behind her backstory conveyed here. Spider-Woman’s secrets are going to have massive implications during Secret Invasion, in which the New Avengers play a significant role.

Last time we’ll see this group…

That’s all for today. What’re your thoughts on the New Avengers’ pre-Civil War exploits? Is Ronin as cool as I think? Is the Collective really a lame villain? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! That’s all for today! Come back tomorrow, when I look at Mark Millar’s game-changer: Civil War!

Bendis’ Avengers: House of M

As a kid, when I first heard about House of M, I was confused out of my mind. I thought to myself, “is this an X-Men event, or an Avengers event? What’s the ‘M’ in House of M stand for? Who is this ‘M’ guy?” There was no obvious title like Civil War or Secret Invasion that told me what kind of story this was. When I finally sat down to read the event, however, I found House of M to be a very fun event. An altered reality where all of Marvel’s heroes get to live out their hearts’ desires gave a unique perspective on these characters. For example, I got to see what Spider-Man’s ideal life would be, if not for the tragedy and sacrifice so often thrown his way. The most significant thing I remember about House of M is its ending: the decimation of the mutant population. This new, extinction status quo for the X-Men lasted for years after the event, informing all of the X-Men stories I would read for the foreseeable future.

An Avengers and X-Men event?

Despite House of M‘s significance towards the X-Men titles, the event is primarily Avengers-focused. House of M spends a great deal of time on the Scarlet Witch, after her mental breakdown in the pages of Avengers Disassembled. Even after forming the New Avengers and trying to rebuild their lives, the Avengers have yet to address the potential danger of Wanda’s mental state. Within the context of Bendis’ larger Avengers run, House of M continues Wanda Maximoff’s fall from grace. Additionally, House of M comes at a time when the New Avengers are still growing, developing connections between teammates such as Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Wolverine. Specifically, House of M comes at a time when many former Avengers are still skeptical about having a killer like Wolverine on the team. Despite the primary focus on the Avengers, House of M is also the event in which Bendis first connects the team to the larger Marvel Universe, including the X-Men. Considering that the Scarlet Witch is a mutant, not to mention Magneto’s daughter, the danger of Wanda’s destructive spiral poses a significant threat to human/mutant relations. Following the catastrophe of Avengers Disassembled, Bendis highlights the central threat of the Scarlet Witch to both Avengers and X-Men alike.

This certainly doesn’t look like a superhero tea party

Taking this threat into account, the story begins as the Avengers and the X-Men meet to decide Wanda Maximoff’s fate. The Scarlet Witch, at this point, has already killed several Avengers, and endangered the world with her reality altering powers. Since Wanda’s mental state continues to deteriorate rapidly, both the Avengers and the X-Men are running out of time and options with which to deal with her. Right as both teams arrive on Genosha to confront Wanda, she alters reality, wiping everyone’s memory of their real lives. In their new lives, the heroes get everything that they’ve ever wanted, in a world where mutants are now the dominant species on the planet. Wolverine, an X-Man and an Avenger, is the only one who remembers reality as it was. The Canadian mutant then ventures to restore the memories of the Avengers and the X-Men, in order to take down the Scarlet Witch and return the world to its original state.

New world order

The plot of House of M is straightforward enough so that Bendis can focus more on character work. In House of M, the reader gains more insight into Wanda Maximoff’s character than in Disassembled, when she first broke down. The first few pages show the reader a fantasy which the Scarlet Witch has constructed for herself, in which her children are alive, and Wanda is reunited with her family. Including this mere four pages goes quite far in establishing how deluded Wanda has become, and how much being an Avenger has cost her. At the same time, the opening discussion between the Avengers and the X-Men establishes Wanda’s importance to both teams. While the Scarlet Witch is like family to the Avengers, she is also one of their biggest threats. Simultaneously, while Wanda is a mutant, she is also a highly dangerous mutant who could set back human-mutant relations by decades. The pressure of the danger which Wanda poses to both the Avengers and the X-Men overwhelms her, turning the Scarlet Witch into a cornered animal. Under the strain of her previous crimes and the weight of the danger accompanying her powers, Wanda chooses to create a new reality. This new world is a fantasy, showing the painless joy that Wanda desires for herself and her loved ones. After writing a very rushed mental breakdown in Disassembled, Bendis finally gives a proper emotional backdrop for the Scarlet Witch’s character arc.

Sadly, true

House of M feels like a nice bridge between Bendis’ work on Disassembled and his more recent title, New Avengers. No character exemplifies this point more than Wolverine. While the classic Avenger the Scarlet Witch chooses to escape into a fantasy land, New Avenger Wolverine is never fooled by this altered reality for even one second. In getting everything he ever wanted, Wolverine received his lost memories from years of mental manipulation. Funnily enough, restoring all of Wolverine’s memories included memories of reality before it was altered. Bendis’ Wolverine draws a stark contrast to the Scarlet Witch. While Wanda has broken down and deluded herself, due to tragic life circumstances, Wolverine stays clear headed. Despite countless tragedies in his life, Wolverine continues to fight for reality as it was, rather than the world of his dreams. There is a pragmatic nature to Wolverine, which often includes killing when he believes there is no other way. This approach to heroism is off-putting to many of his fellow X-Men and Avengers. Yet it is this same pragmatism which allows Wolverine to see this new reality for its superficial nature. Wolverine’s pragmatism ultimately makes him the right hero to reassemble the Avengers and the X-Men. Bendis also uses Wolverine’s status as both an X-Man and an Avenger to exemplify the heroism of both teams. Although Wolverine is certainly the roughest around the edges, it is his gruff exterior which proves the impact of both teams on its members. Even though Wolverine isn’t a traditional hero, he recognizes the necessity and importance of those he has fought beside, in both the Avengers and the X-Men, to save reality. Bendis uses Wolverine as a model for accepting and making the best of reality, within both the Avengers and the X-Men.

A few adjustment issues…

Bendis also takes the opportunity to build upon character arcs built up back in Disassembled. Even after his death in Disassembled, Hawkeye has an important role in House of M. Resurrecting Hawkeye in this altered reality says much about Wanda Maximoff as a character. Wanda deeply regrets the actions she took during Disassembled, and in her perfect world, close friends such as Hawkeye would still be alive. Yet resurrecting Hawkeye ultimately backfires, traumatizing the avenging archer. When the heroes each recover their memories, Hawkeye is forced to remember his own death, suffering more than anyone. Not only does Hawkeye have to re-experience the trauma of dying, but he must also cope with the fact that, when reality is restored, he will no longer be a part of the world. While many heroes must remember the sacrifices and tragedies of their own lives, Hawkeye is forced to re-live his own death, and worse, his betrayal at the hands of the Scarlet Witch. Understandably, there is a great deal of anger from this betrayal. Bendis, more so than in Disassembled, excellently conveys the feelings of betrayal and resentment towards Wanda’s breakdown. It feels as if Bendis has slowed down and allowed for more character reaction to the Scarlet Witch’s betrayal, benefiting Disassembled retroactively. Hawkeye’s anger and trauma will also carry over into the next few years for his character arc. Out of House of M, Hawkeye gains more of an edge, later becoming Ronin and going down a darker path.

Clearly some unresolved issues…

I would be a fool, however, if I did not mention Spider-Man’s character arc in House of M. More than any other New Avenger, it feels as if Bendis has a profound understanding of Spider-Man. Underneath all of the quips and one-liners, Spider-Man is a regular man who suffers like anyone else. More than almost any other hero, Spider-Man has experienced a great deal of loss, from Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy. At the end of the day, the web-slinger wants to live a normal life. Seeing Spider-Man happy, with everyone he loves alive, is truly heartwarming. Bendis provides a lot of pathos to House of M, specifically when Spider-Man gets his memories back. There is a sense of denial yet understanding which makes the reader connect with Peter Parker. After living his perfect life, Peter can’t go back to a life of tragedy and suffering. This internal struggle to face reality is representative of all of the heroes in this story, making the reader feel the difficulty of the situation. Yet, in choosing to join the heroes and restore reality, Spider-Man reminds the reader of what heroism truly is. Unlike the Scarlet Witch, heroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine move forward, facing the sacrifices and tragedies of their lives. Indeed, including heroes such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Luke Cage in the group to restore reality illustrates Bendis’ affinity for his New Avengers team. They’re all grounded heroes who persevere in the face of everyday hardships.

Poor guy deserves this life

There is certainly a lot to be said about heroism in House of M. Sacrifice is probably the most important theme in House of M. In the Marvel Universe, being a hero entails much sacrifice. Heroes such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America, and many others forego normal lives for the sake of saving lives. This sacrifice is the very burden which the Scarlet Witch can no longer bear, relieving this weight from both herself and others. Creating a world of everyone’s greatest desires shows how much all of these heroes sacrifice in their lives. In the new world, Captain America gets to live a long, successful life as an army veteran and astronaut, Colossus gets to live back on his family farm in Russia, and Kitty Pryde gets to be a regular teacher. Yet Bendis also emphasizes the importance of facing and accepting reality. In choosing to return reality to the way it was, the heroes choose to accept all of the hardships and sacrifices of heroism. True heroism comes from making the most of what we have, rather than escaping into a superficial world of lies. Characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine, who have endured much tragedy, understand this, fighting for a world in which they have made the best out of their situations. The Scarlet Witch, on the other hand, cannot bear the weight of her own reality, spiraling into madness and taking others with her. In trying to create the perfect world, however, the Scarlet Witch reveals that there is no such thing. Indeed, a power imbalance exists in this new world, with humans as a minority in a mutant-dominated world. The underground heroes, fighting human oppression, indicate the continuing imbalance of power in the world. I wish that Bendis had explored this idea a little bit further. Greater exploration of the X-Men’s lives, and their reaction when their memories returned, would further develop the idea of a mutant-dominated reality. As it is, Bendis tends to focus more on the messages of sacrifice and tragedy than on the implications of this new power dynamic.

Ready to risk it all

The plotline of House of M is very well paced, considering the eight issues of space in which Bendis wrote the event. This space is a great opportunity to expand on the descent of the Scarlet Witch into madness. Disassembled, by contrast, was only four issues, rushing a lot of character motivation and action. House of M gets the opportunity to show more about Wanda’s thoughts and emotions, providing much more insight into her character. Additionally, the space which Bendis receives is perfect for showing the reader what each hero’s perfect life would be. Bendis slows down, taking the time to give the reader fragments from this new reality. This not only allows the reader significant character insight, it also provides a sufficient exploration of this new reality. Additionally, seeing how the world is not quite as perfect as it seems shows the reader why the Avengers and the X-Men are needed. Heroes must be willing to fight for what’s right, no matter what the cost. Bendis illustrates this quite well with the underground heroes, who essentially stand in for the Avengers and the X-Men. This group fights for social justice, much like the X-Men, while uniting to face common threats, like the Avengers. When the heroes’ memories are restored, they continue to fight for what’s right: reality itself. Despite their sacrifices, both the Avengers and the X-Men are needed to right the wrongs of the world, rather than live in complacency. While I enjoy what Bendis does explore with the space provided, I feel that much of the focus is on the Avengers side of the story rather than the X-Men. As stated earlier, there are many social implications of a mutant-majority world. Focusing on the reactions of X-Men such as Beast, Colossus, or Kitty Pryde when their memories were restored would have been great for the individual characters and the X-Men as a whole. What do the mutants think about going back to a world where they’re persecuted and discriminated against? How did the X-Men feel about living in a mutant utopia? Even in the final fight, there are very few X-Men on the heroes’ side, compared to Avengers. While Wolverine plays a significant role, he essentially acts for both teams. Cyclops and Emma Frost are the only other X-Men with key roles in the final battle, but even then, Bendis does not provide much about their thoughts on returning to the real world.

More of this, please

Overall, House of M is an enjoyable read, both in the context of Bendis’ world and as a stand-alone story. Bendis is given a great opportunity to change the landscape of the Marvel Universe for a while, simultaneously exploring the inner workings of many of its heroes. The eight issue length of the event is very helpful for Bendis’ character work, greatly expanding upon points made in Disassembled. Additionally, House of M progresses Bendis’ overall Avengers narrative quite well. Creating a world without Avengers shows exactly why the world needs the Avengers, establishing the centrality of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the Marvel Universe. Remarkable insight is provided into New Avengers characters such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and even Luke Cage to a lesser extent. Bendis’ character work also continues the downfall of the Scarlet Witch within the framework of his larger narrative. The Avengers’ connection to other teams such as the X-Men also further integrates them into the greater Marvel Universe. Still, the ending to House of M leaves the X-Men at a storytelling dead end, decimating the mutant population down to 198 mutants. Perhaps Bendis coordinated with the X-Men editorial at Marvel on this decision, but it feels odd that such a crippling event would be written by an Avengers writer. Especially considering how little attention the X-Men received compared to the Avengers, it’s odd that House of M would leave the X-Men in such a tight corner.

The X-Men just boarded the pain train…

As a consequence, House of M is going to result in years of suffering for the X-Men. Events such as Messiah Complex, Second Coming, and Avengers vs. X-Men all highlight how miserable and doomed the X-Men became after House of M. While I personally believe all of these events were well written, the status quo did grow tiresome. Additionally, after the bright future for mutants promised in titles such as New X-Men and Astonishing X-Men, this shift felt like a big step backwards. While the mutant population eventually recovered, it took years of storytelling to reverse the extinction status quo. House of M also continued the ongoing character arc for the Scarlet Witch that ran from Avengers Disassembled through Avengers vs. X-Men. After decimating the mutant population, Wanda is seen as more of a criminal than ever. Not only did she destroy the Avengers, but the Scarlet Witch now essentially committed genocide of the mutant race. Many fans were quite unhappy with what became of the Scarlet Witch’s character, and to this day, she still has not fully recovered. Finally, House of M established a growing tension between the Avengers and the X-Men which lasted until its culmination in Avengers vs. X-Men. While the ending to House of M is largely a victory for the Avengers, the X-Men were severely crippled. Yet the Avengers pay little attention to the suffering of the mutant community, only rarely making cameo appearances in X-Men comics. Considering that House of M was such an Avengers-heavy event, one would think that Bendis might address its consequences in his Avengers saga. Yet there is barely even a mention of the mutant decimation in titles such as New Avengers. Within the comics, this indifference to the mutant population will come back to haunt the Avengers during Avengers vs. X-Men, a sort of meta-commentary on the years of segregation between the two teams.

This universe ain’t big enough for two super-teams…

That’s all for today. What are your thoughts on House of M? How did you feel about the X-Men’s part in things? Let me know on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Tomorrow I return to Bendis’ New Avengers, covering issues 11-20!

Bendis’ Avengers: New Avengers #1-10

We’ve finally arrived at the heart of Bendis’ Avengers saga: the New Avengers. When I first read this series, I thought it was the coolest thing on the planet. Spider-Man and Wolverine, some of my favorite characters, were headlining the premiere Marvel superhero team! Classic Avengers such as Captain America and Iron Man gave this group a sense of legitimacy, reassuring my excitement that this was indeed the Avengers. My memory is filled with nostalgia for this star-powered lineup, not to mention the witty dialogue of the series. Particularly, as a fan of Spider-Man, I remember loving all of the fun lines Bendis wrote for the web-slinger. Most importantly, I remember the New Avengers being my version of the Avengers. In my mind, you couldn’t have an Avengers team without Spider-Man and Wolverine. The New Avengers were the main Avengers team at the time, representing what Earth’s Mightiest Heroes had become.

Dawning of a new age

After destroying the original Avengers in Disassembled and getting rid of Nick Fury in Secret War, Bendis had cleared the stage of the Marvel Universe. Finally, with the New Avengers, Bendis was ready to make his move, re-creating the Avengers from the ground up. At the time, there had been no active Avengers team since Disassembled (with the exception of the Young Avengers), so relaunching the title and re-starting the Avengers was a huge deal. Moreover, introducing non-traditional, big-name characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine to the Avengers proved controversial, challenging previous notions about who could and should be an Avenger. Luke Cage was also brought into the fold, finally given a central focus after the smaller, supporting role he played in the Pulse. Bendis’ New Avengers made all of these important moves in just one series.

Not who you’d expect

The formation of the New Avengers is very much a traditional Avengers-style origin. During a massive breakout at Ryker’s Island Penitentiary, several heroes arrive on the scene, under various circumstances, to combat the prison break. Bendis expertly crafts the origin of this team, showing all of the different reasons why each of the heroes are on the scene. After the prison breakout, veteran Avengers Captain America and Iron Man discuss the need for a new Avengers team. Seeing the breakout as a moment of fate, Captain America suggests assembling a new team from the group that responded to the prison riot. Indeed, Bendis suggests a specific need for a new group of Avengers, highlighted in the almost coordinated response of the heroes to such a massive prison break. Once assembled, the New Avengers are tasked with finding and re-capturing those who escaped Ryker’s Island. Over the course of their mission, the New Avengers encounter many supervillains, including Electro, Sauron, and the Wrecker. These smaller-scale villains are not traditional Avengers foes, indicating a shift from the cosmic-level threats of the classic Avengers to a more grounded, localized focus of the New Avengers.

A day unlike any other…

Headlining this new group of Avengers are classic members Captain America and Iron Man. These original members are well-positioned as experienced coaches for the new team. Both Cap and Iron Man have been Avengers for the longest time, making them the ideal choices to kick-start the New Avengers. Where Bendis really hits the mark is voicing the different perspectives of the two heroes. Cap is the more idealistic one of the two, believing that fate brought this new team together. Without Cap’s vision of a new Avengers team, the New Avengers would never have begun in the first place. On the other hand, Iron Man is more pragmatic, understanding that the team will need to change with the times. This includes dealing with Maria Hill, the new head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and enlisting members such as Wolverine, who are not as shy about killing when necessary. The views of both Cap and Iron Man complement each other nicely, balancing out the leadership of the team. Still, I personally cannot wait until the point in the series when Cap and Iron Man are off the team. Bendis writes these two competently, and gets the characters, but they’re certainly not the part of the team that makes the New Avengers appealing. Once Cap and Iron Man are gone, the team really gets down to the street-level, working-class heroics for which the New Avengers are known. Until then, it makes sense for these classic Avengers to get the new team started.

Say hello to a living legend

Speaking of street-level heroes, some of the best material of the New Avengers comes from new members Luke Cage and Spider-Man. To me, these two represent everything that the New Avengers are about: street-level heroes who wouldn’t normally be on an Avengers team. Cage and Spider-Man are just ordinary guys who want to make a difference, no matter how small. Bendis illustrates the unorthodox inclusion of Cage and Spider-Man through the characters’ hesitance towards joining the Avengers. Yet Bendis also makes it very clear that this will be a new kind of Avengers, one that needs the grounded focus which Cage and Spider-Man provide. Additionally, the banter between Cage and Spider-Man is genuinely funny, and will become a trademark of Bendis’ New Avengers run. Including both Cage and Spider-Man also demonstrates how diverse Bendis’ Avengers team is. While Spider-Man is obviously the biggest name at Marvel, Cage was not very well known before his time in New Avengers, balancing out all-star characters with more obscure ones.

A sticky situation…

Another more obscure character brought into the mix is Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman. By including such a little-known character on the team, Bendis gives himself a lot of room to explore Spider-Woman’s character. Since Spider-Woman did not have a series of her own, New Avengers became a great series to delve into her character and several other obscure characters later on. The genius of including Spider-Woman on the New Avengers is the sense of drama that her mysterious past brings to the team. From the beginning, her allegiance is left unclear, as the reader is unsure whether she works for S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA, the Avengers, or even a rogue Nick Fury. Spider-Woman’s ambiguity as a character, combined with her unexplored backstory, leaves much potential for further storytelling later in the series. It’s also fun to see the character reveal surprising new aspects about herself as the series progresses. For example, during a fight with the Wrecker, Spider-Woman unleashes her pheromone powers, dazing the villain so the rest of the team can take him down. This results in a hilariously awkward discussion with the rest of the team, once more showcasing Bendis’ talent for comedic dialogue. Some of the best comedic moments of Bendis’ New Avengers come from the team’s reaction to someone’s history or powerset.

Well, this is awkward…

Probably the most controversial and unlikely member of the New Avengers is Wolverine. It’s easy to see why the inclusion of Wolverine, the most popular X-Man, into Marvel’s other big team, would be unpopular with some fans. With his own solo title and prominent role in the X-Men, isn’t Wolverine overexposed as it is? I’ll admit, however, that I am a fan of Logan’s inclusion in New Avengers. While I don’t think that Wolverine would work in a traditional Avengers lineup, among the likes of Thor and the Vision, he is rather perfect for this particular group. Logan’s interactions with the other characters, particularly Cage, Spider-Man, and Spider-Woman, is a huge reason why he’s such a good fit for the New Avengers. Bendis really takes advantage of the chemistry that certain characters have with each other. Including Wolverine is also a good indication of how different this team of Avengers is. Logan is willing to go to darker places, a necessity for an Avengers team which is more grounded and street-level. Bendis also makes sure not to force Wolverine’s inclusion onto the team from the get-go. It is only during the New Avengers’ first mission, in the Savage Land, where they encounter Wolverine by chance, pursuing the same villain as the Avengers. Including Wolverine later on, through a chance encounter, makes for a more natural introduction of the X-Man onto the New Avengers.

The cutting edge of heroism…

Indeed, much like Wolverine, several other characters are gradually introduced onto the New Avengers. Out of the whole team, the one who receives the most build-up is Bob Reynolds, the Sentry. Initially introduced during the breakout at Ryker’s Island, the Sentry is probably the member of the team with the cleanest slate. Besides Paul Jenkins’ titular mini-series, there wasn’t much to the Sentry as a character before New Avengers. It isn’t until issue #7 that the character is truly brought into the fold, as Bendis explores the lost history and fractured psyche of the character. As such a powerful character with serious mental health issues, the Sentry is very reminiscent of the Scarlet Witch. In this way, the Sentry serves as a second chance for the Avengers to help a friend in need, spending an entire story arc reaching out to help Bob figure out who he is and how to combat the Void, the darker side of his mind. Bendis makes a smart move by including the Sentry. While the character is as powerful as a classic Avenger like Thor, he still struggles to keep his mental health under control. This check on the Sentry’s power prevents him from becoming a deus ex machina that can come out of nowhere and save the whole team. I admit, I find the Sentry to be the least interesting member of the New Avengers, but at least he is used sparingly.

Just take a xanax, Bob, it’ll be fine…

By building a smaller, core team of Avengers, Bendis manages to bring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes back to basics. Instead of the dozens of heroes which have populated the team before, the New Avengers are merely a group of seven. Additionally, the New Avengers assembled in a similar fashion to the original team. Several heroes, out of their own separate circumstances, came together to fight a battle that no one of them could fight on their own. The New Avengers also stumbled upon an additional member, Wolverine, similarly to how the original team discovered Captain America near the beginning of their career. Bendis even suggests this in his dialogue, as Captain America observes the similarities between the New Avengers and the old Avengers, and Iron Man states Wolverine’s similarity to Captain America. Despite going back to basics, Bendis also decides to shift the Avengers’ core focus. The New Avengers stay closer to the ground, recruiting street-level heroes such as Luke Cage and Spider-Man, and going after one escaped super-criminal at a time. The New Avengers address the failures of the original team, helping the Sentry after the old Avengers could not help the Scarlet Witch. Furthermore, recruiting more lethal members such as Wolverine provides pragmatic solutions to worst-case scenarios. While Bendis returns to the roots of the Avengers, he also branches off into new directions from the central concept.

Classic.

For the most part, the story arcs in these first ten issues are very well done. The first three issues, covering the New Avengers’ formation, are even more engaging than I remember. Bendis conveys the distinct circumstances for each character’s arrival at Ryker’s Island excellently, and the cohesion of the group is exciting to see. The fight during the breakout is a great sign of the kind of series Bendis is going for, including all of the big action and fun banter for which the series is known. Seeing Cap and Iron Man talk about the breakout, reflecting on the idea of the Avengers, is another much-needed character moment. These smaller moments were missing in Disassembled, and it’s nice to see the characters stop and reflect on what the Avengers means to them. The next three issues, during which the New Avengers come together and search for the breakout prisoners, continue to set the tone for the series. There is plenty of fun dialogue between the characters, and the team’s first real mission is full of great moments that show off their unique dynamic. The final story arc, focused on the Sentry, has its ups and downs. Focusing on the Sentry does a lot to establish the character and his mental problems, but it could have taken up less space. I would have rather focused on the New Avengers going after more breakout prisoners. For example, the side-plot of this storyline features the New Avengers fighting the Wrecker, an escaped supervillain. This one fight is everything that makes the New Avengers great. This team is scrappy, unpolished, yet ultimately effective. There’s lots of fun dialogue and great action, making for an entertaining mission all-around. While the Sentry does serve a purpose for this new team, I would have preferred that Bendis spent more time on the New Avengers as a whole, rather than one member.

Another day on the job…

Overall, I was surprised that I still enjoyed New Avengers just as much as I did when I was a kid. Bendis hooked me from the first few issues. This new team is established practically from scratch, keeping things simple, but at the same time changing the team dynamic and adding in a sense of fun. The lineup of characters is also expertly chosen. Including a diverse range of classic (Captain America and Iron Man), popular (Spider-Man and Wolverine), and lesser-known (Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, the Sentry) characters on the team makes for a diverse set of Avengers. I’m still not very fond of the Sentry as a character, but at least he’s not around all of the time. The New Avengers still hasn’t quite hit its stride yet, only happening when Captain America, Iron Man, and the Sentry are gone, leaving only the street-level heroes. At the same time, the first ten issues of this series show great promise, and a lot of the key elements of New Avengers are already in place. New Avengers is definitely the series Bendis wanted to write since Disassembled.

Just hanging out…

New Avengers is going to have some serious ramifications on the greater Marvel Universe. The Sentry, for example, is going to become a significant part of Bendis’ Avengers saga. Bob Reynolds constantly follows the shifting status quo, moving between different Avengers teams such as the New Avengers, the Mighty Avengers, and the Dark Avengers. It’s somewhat of a recurring trope that whoever has the Sentry on their side is in the position of power. This is going to take quite a toll on the Sentry’s mental state, with dangerous consequences. The New Avengers themselves are also going to undergo a lot of changes as the status quo shifts, from Civil War, to Secret Invasion, to Dark Reign, to Siege. Yet, through the span of Bendis’ run, the New Avengers stay grounded and heroic. Over time, the team becomes the scrappy, street-level Avengers who endure through the many changes of the Marvel landscape. Core members such as Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine stick around, representing this unique version of the Avengers. Ultimately, introducing the New Avengers changes the very idea of the Avengers. Particularly, by including nontraditional members such as Spider-Man and Wolverine, Bendis essentially opens the door for anyone to be an Avenger. This looser definition of the team is quite controversial, as some fans say that the “true” Avengers ended with Disassembled. Personally, I’m not against the inclusion of characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. If the Avengers are indeed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, don’t big name characters like Spider-Man fall under this category? Of course, this isn’t to say that characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine should be the main focus of the team. Yet they should at least be included among the ranks of the Avengers. The New Avengers is the type of team which warrants a diverse set of heroes: some classic, some popular, and some obscure. Bendis includes all of the above, creating a new type of Avengers for a new generation of readers.

Not your daddy’s Avengers…

That’s it for today. What do you think of New Avengers? Is it a real Avengers team, or did the real Avengers end with Disassembled? Be sure to share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Check back in on Monday, when I talk about Bendis’ big Avengers/X-Men event, House of M!