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!

Bendis’ Avengers: Young Avengers

Funnily enough, there are plenty of comics significant to Bendis’ Avengers which he didn’t even write. Case in point: Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s Young Avengers. I was never really invested in the series at the time, however. The whole concept seemed pretty lame, honestly. A group of teenage Avengers? Why wouldn’t I just read about the real Avengers instead of this knock-off group? That being said, certain characters did stand out to me. Kate Bishop’s Hawkeye, for example, seemed pretty cool, even when I was just a kid. Since Hawkeye was dead at the time, I figured that it made sense to bring in a new version of the character. I was also drawn in by Jim Cheung’s artwork, which is incredible no matter what he draws. Cheung is a serious talent, and the fact that he was able to commit to the interiors for most of Young Avengers is remarkable. Ultimately, however, I only ever saw the Young Avengers as a JV squad of the real team.

Avengers Jr.?

Young Avengers must be taken in full context, however. At a time after Avengers Disassembled and before New Avengers, Heinberg’s team filled a massive, Avengers-sized void. The Young Avengers, however briefly, carried the torch during a period of transition for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Young Avengers also introduces several key characters which makes appearances throughout Bendis’ Avengers run. Ignoring Young Avengers would be ignoring some important faces of Bendis’ run, featured in events such as Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. Several of Bendis’ comics also contextualize Young Avengers, from Avengers Disassembled to the Pulse, to New Avengers. If nothing else, Bendis shapes the landscape from which Young Avengers emerges.

Carrying the torch

Young Avengers is set up rather cleverly, establishing a new, mysterious young group of heroes from the beginning of the story. This new team arrives after Avengers Disassembled, apparently each apparently representing a member of the original Avengers. The Young Avengers include a Captain America, an Iron Man, a Thor, a Hulk, and a Giant-Woman. Slowly, over the course of the series, each member of the team is given a backstory, and the reason for the team’s formation is revealed. As it turns out, Iron Lad is a young version of Kang the Conqueror, one of the Avengers’ deadliest villains. The young Kang has arrived from the future to prevent himself from reaching his villainous future. With the original Avengers no more, Iron Lad assembles each member of the Young Avengers based on their relation to the original team. The clever thing about this is that Heinberg does not immediately state each member’s relationship to the Avengers. Rather, he gradually delves into each character’s backstory, slowly revealing their true ties to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Embracing their identities

One of the most surprising revelations of the series is the relationship of Patriot, the team’s Captain America, to Captain America himself. It would be easy for Heinberg to say that Patriot simply took the same super-soldier serum which Steve Rogers did. Instead, however, Heinberg eventually reveals that Patriot’s grandfather is Isaiah Bradley, another Captain America from World War II. This revelation subverts expectations, connecting Patriot to an overlooked African American superhero. While Patriot’s connection to an African American Captain America has strong cultural messages and familial ties, the pressure of this legacy also makes him a relatable character. Patriot is revealed to have no powers, risking his life as a normal human in order to make his grandfather proud. There is something quite admirable about the inspiration which Patriot takes from his grandfather. Even with no superpowers, he wants to go out and make a difference, leading the Young Avengers like Isaiah Bradley might have. Sometimes, however, Heinberg writes Patriot as a little too bitter and jaded. Moments when Patriot interacts with Captain America come off as a bit too stereotypically rebellious, growing repetitive very quickly. Still, the idea of the character is very well thought out.

There’s a twist

One hero with a more direct connection to the Avengers is Cassie Lang, aka Stature. As the daughter of Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man, Stature is directly tied to the original Avengers through childhood memories and experiences with her father. This connection makes the Avengers as a whole feel more like a family than before, adding a feeling of intimacy to the team. Despite her mom and stepfather’s disapproval, Stature expresses a desire to honor her father by following in his footsteps. There is a sweet sense of innocence to Stature’s intentions, as all she really wants is to be like her dad. The legacy which the Avengers leave behind, even when the team is finished, gives a great deal of significance to the Avengers as a concept. The Avengers are more than just heroes, they’re ordinary people with families and children who carry on their legacies.

Nice catch

Indeed, the Avengers do leave behind a legacy, in more ways than one. Specifically, the characters of Hulkling and Wiccan are more than they seem. Following in the footsteps of the Hulk and Thor, respectively, both Hulkling and Wiccan carry mantles for heroes with which they have no direct or indirect ties. Rather, these young heroes have been inspired by the heroism of their predecessors, choosing to honor these Avengers. Additionally, as Heinberg reveals more about Hulkling and Wiccan, their actual connection to the Avengers becomes apparent. Hulkling turns out to be the son of the kree warrior Captain Marvel and a skrull princess, a callback to the classic Kree-Skrull War in which the Avengers engaged. At the same time, Wiccan is the son of the Scarlet Witch, another classic Avenger, responsible for the original team’s disbanding. These blood-ties certainly make for interesting stories, and excellently tie Hulkling and Wiccan to the Avengers in unexpected ways. Rather than simply saying that Hulkling is the Hulk’s son or that Wiccan is Thor’s little brother, Heinberg throws a wrench in conventional expectations. The relationship between Hulkling and Wiccan also adds a lot of heart to the Young Avengers, showing the close personal ties between team members. Additionally, Heinberg is very progressive in writing about a gay relationship in a mainstream comic book. Normalizing such a relationship is a nice step forward in making comics a little more representative of the real world.

Watching out for each other

Sometimes, however, the connection to the Avengers can be a little too on the nose. The inclusion of Speed, a young boy with the powers of Quicksilver, who looks almost exactly like Wiccan, presents an obvious connection to the Avengers. Writing a pair of boys who look almost exactly alike, with the respective powers of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, knowing that the Scarlet Witch had a pair of twin boys, seems a little too straightforward. Nevertheless, Heinberg writes Speed with a great sense of fun. The young speedster is a juvenile delinquent with a sharp attitude, adding a facetious dynamic to the team. The fact that the Young Avengers meet Speed by breaking him out of jail says so much about the character. It’s easy to see why Speed was given his power-set, as super-speed fits his impatient, quick-witted attitude. Given all of these fun qualities, I can overlook the obvious connection between Wiccan and Speed. Furthermore, both of the twins’ connection to the Scarlet Witch will be quite important later on.

Rushing into things…

Heinberg really pulls a smart move by leaving one of the Young Avengers without any connection to the original Avengers at all. Kate Bishop, the new Hawkeye, stumbles upon the Young Avengers by chance, when they rescue her from a hostage situation. Through hard work and determination, Kate breaks free of her old life as a spoiled rich kid and becomes the new Hawkeye. Throughout the series, Kate demonstrates her formidable nature with a range of weapons and a sharp intelligence. Kate is also given a strong personality, being simultaneously witty, tough, and compassionate. Whenever Patriot is trying to order her around, Kate refuses to comply, choosing to do things her own way. In this sense, Kate is very similar to Clint Barton, the original Hawkeye, when he would stand up to Captain America. It is this similarity to Barton which makes Kate is such a great character. When Barton died in Disassembled, a new Hawkeye was needed, and Kate fit the role perfectly.

Earning her quiver

Of course, it is the Young Avenger who brings the team together, Iron Lad, who has the most complex backstory. There is a certain tragedy to Iron Lad’s inevitable future as Kang the Conqueror. During the first storyline, Iron Lad fights to change his destiny, to become a hero instead of a villain. Admittedly, the idea of fighting one’s destiny is a bit of a tired trope, and the reader can tell that eventually, Iron Lad will have to become Kang. Yet Heinberg still manages to surprise the reader along the way. While Iron Lad cannot entirely change his destiny, he can leave behind a new, better part of his legacy. Creating the Young Avengers creates a heroic part of Iron Lad’s life, giving a purpose to a new team of heroes. Additionally, creating this team allows Iron Lad to experience close relationships, such as his brief romance with Stature. Finally, Iron Lad realizes that in order to do the right thing, he must return to the future, heroically facing his fate. Yet he leaves behind one last token of his benevolence, programming his brain patterns into a new version of the Vision. Reviving the Vision not only keeps Iron Lad’s legacy alive, but it also revives an integral part of the Avengers, which had been missing since Disassembled.

Leaving a little something behind

It is the theme of legacy which permeates through the pages of Young Avengers. The team, as a whole, tries to live up to the famed heroism of the legendary Avengers. Much of this is done directly, such as Wiccan’s initial codename of “Asgardian”, or the rest of the Young Avengers modeling themselves after the original team. Each of the Young Avengers carries some connection, directly or indirectly, to the original team. Throughout the series, however, these Young Avengers break free from the shadow of the originals, choosing to be their own heroes. “Asgardian” goes by Wiccan, Patriot accepts that he doesn’t have powers, and Hulkling grows to understand his alien heritage. Indeed, while the series does emphasize the connection of each Young Avenger to the originals, Heinberg also highlights the formation of new identities. Iron Lad, for example, breaks free from the villainous shadow of Kang, becoming a hero and leaving behind a new legacy for himself. Furthermore, by bringing these unique individuals together, Heinberg emphasizes the importance of their relationship to each other. The smaller, more intimate Young Avengers are more of a family than the original Avengers. Patriot and Hawkeye bicker, Hulkling and Wiccan are a couple, and Wiccan and Speed are siblings. The familial aspects of the Young Avengers grounds them, bringing the Avengers back to basics. The Young Avengers are truly a team of underdogs who depend on each other to face the challenges they could not face alone.

Earth’s clumsiest heroes?

While the series is only twelve issues long, Young Avengers boasts some impressive story arcs. The first arc of the series deals with the formation of the team, and Iron Lad’s struggle with his villainous destiny. This initial storyline is a wonderful set-up for the team, introducing all of the major players and gradually revealing more about each of them as the story moves along. Heinberg definitely writes an Avengers-style origin, as the team comes together piece by piece, rather than as an organized unit. These first six issues tackle all of the major themes of the series, from family to legacy to the grounded, back to basics approach to the Avengers. The second, two-issue arc centered around Patriot flounders a little. Much of the focus is on Patriot and his attempts to gain superpowers, even using steroids to become a better hero. While this story does a nice job examining Patriot’s insecurities and flaws, it is pretty forgettable, noticeably missing Jim Cheung’s gorgeous artwork. Still, the final four issues are incredible, delving into Hulkling’s backstory. The reveal of Hulkling’s heritage is quite a surprise, and the epic battle between the Skrull and the Kree at the end, with the Young Avengers caught in the middle, is fantastic. Furthermore, seeing the Young Avengers band together to defend Hulkling shows an intense loyalty and bond between the team’s members. It also helps that there is an amazing team-up with the New Avengers during the final battle, which Jim Cheung renders magnificently.

What a disaster…looks cool, though

Overall, I found myself way more invested in Young Avengers than I expected. While this series is not officially part of Bendis’ Avengers saga, for me, it counts as an important chapter of this era. Heinberg writes the team with plenty of heart, illustrating their friendship, focusing on legacy, and connecting the team to family. Looking back, I wonder why the series did not receive a longer run. Giving Young Avengers more than twelve issues might have allowed more room to flesh out some overlooked characters, such as Stature or Hawkeye, who don’t receive full arcs like Patriot or Hulkling. I would have also liked to have read more stories that simply featured the team going on standard missions. There is a fun dynamic within the group, and more low-key adventures would highlight that a lot more. Almost all of the stories in this series were major events, so smaller ones would certainly allow time for the reader to catch his/her breath. Some parts of the series also seemed a bit repetitive, such as the older Avengers constantly trying to shut the Young Avengers down, but I suppose this was necessary to make this group more of the underdogs. Ultimately, however, the characters are all quite likeable and down to earth, with a lot of fun character interactions.

Some assembly required

One main reason why I wish the Young Avengers had a longer run is their marginalized role later on. The team goes on to appear in Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege, all important chapters in Bendis’ Avengers saga. Yet during these events, the Young Avengers feel reduced to glorified cameos. There is no real significance of the Young Avengers’ presence, instead serving to pad up the main cast of the story. It’s also confusing as to why the Young Avengers were left out of House of M, an event centered around Wiccan and Speed’s mother, the Scarlet Witch. I find this strange, considering the importance which the Young Avengers play in the event Young Avengers: the Children’s Crusade, during which they find the Scarlet Witch and recover her memories after House of M. The impact of finding the Scarlet Witch, the woman responsible for the end of the Avengers and the decimation of the mutant population, should raise the Young Avengers’ prominence. Yet the only member of the team to break out from the title has been Kate Bishop. As Hawkeye, Bishop goes on to become a breakout star in Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and Kelly Thompson’s All-New Hawkeye. All of the other members seem to fade off into obscurity. While Young Avengers is a remarkable series with an important place in Bendis’ era of Avengers, it certainly deserves a more lasting impact on the Marvel Universe.

On to new adventures?

That’s all for today. What do you think of the Young Avengers? Should they have a larger influence on the Marvel Universe, or are they a bunch of junior Avengers? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and share this blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Be sure to join me tomorrow, when I finally look at Bendis’ breakout series, New Avengers!

Bendis’ Avengers: Secret War

Brian Michael Bendis’ Secret War caught my attention from the first time I read it as a ten year-old kid. Everything about this event screamed “cool” to me. All of the biggest heroes came together for one giant event, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, and Captain America. To me, this was the ultimate superhero battle against a large group of villains. I remember Gabriele Dell’Otto’s artwork quite fondly as well. The character designs were sleek and stylized, striking the perfect balance between edgy and heroic. I’d never seen artwork quite like Dell’Otto’s, which visually hooked me into the story. Of course, all of the political commentary in Secret War was completely lost on me as a kid. Yet I loved the darker, espionage-based approach of this storyline. Re-reading Secret War for the first time in years, there’s certainly a lot to love.

The gang’s all here

Much like Bendis’ earlier work on Avengers Disassembled, Secret War acts to tear down the old status quo. In this case, Secret War clears the stage for a new era of S.H.I.E.L.D., one which no longer tolerates the unilateral action taken by superheroes. The actions of Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a band of heroes result in a greater focus on accountability in the Marvel Universe. Focusing more on the political consequences of superheroics, Bendis uses Secret War to establish a long-running conflict between the American government and the superhero community. This conflict will extend to later story arcs, such as Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege. Grounding superheroes in real-world politics plays very well to Bendis’ strengths, combining the down-to-earth storytelling of the Pulse with the over-the-top action of Avengers Disassembled. The combination of grounded issues with high stakes action will become some of the strongest points of Bendis’ Avengers run. Additionally, Secret War is the first time that Bendis gets to write all of the big name characters which he enjoys writing, such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. Bendis’ character interactions in this story are very entertaining, another strength which he will later bring to titles such as New Avengers.

All-out mayhem

Indeed, the premise of Secret War plays well to both Bendis’ grounded plotlines and dynamic characterization. During Secret War, Nick Fury assembles a covert team of superheroes to assault Latveria, a country formerly ruled by Doctor Doom. Latveria’s current ruler, Lucia von Bardas, is complicit in funding US supervillains with dangerous weaponry. While Fury knows that he must stop von Bardas, the president of the US does not authorize an attack on Latveria, making Fury’s assault an illegal operation. Despite horifically destroying Latveria’s palace and seemingly killing von Bardas, Fury believes he acted for the greater good. One year later, however, Fury’s actions come back to haunt him and New York’s superheroes. Von Bardas is revealed to have survived the assault, attacking New York alongside a large group of supervillains. To compound this dire situation, Fury previously mind-wiped the events of the assault from the heroes who helped him. Even though the heroes stand together to defend New York, none of them even remember why they are under attack in the first place. All of the heroes suffer physically and mentally, such as Luke Cage, who is placed in a coma by von Bardas. Throughout the chaos, only Fury understands what is happening, acknowledging his responsibility for these events.

This doesn’t seem legal…

Bendis writes Fury as a man who is willing to get his hands dirty. As director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury shoulders a heavy burden, acting for the safety and security of the whole world. Much of what Fury does, including his covert assault on Latveria, is done so that no one else has to. The weight of responsibility is routinely highlighted by Bendis throughout his Avengers saga, as anyone in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. is burdened by his/her duties. Fury’s sense of responsibility leads him to make several mistakes, such as unilaterally assaulting foreign soil and windwiping the heroes involved in this operation. While he believes that he is acting to protect others, Fury’s actions have significant consequences, which Bendis demonstrates well during the story. Yet Fury accepts the responsibility and the consequences of his actions, knowing that he must do what he does so that the heroes’ hands can remain clean. At the end of the day, Fury believes in superheroes, knowing that they can be the champions of morality that he can never be.

Heavy is the head that wears the eye-patch

Heroes such as Captain America embody the pure morality that Fury cannot afford to practice. Bendis depicts Captain America in the stalwart, heroic manner for which the sentinel of liberty is known. Captain America initially agrees to help Fury invade Latveria because he believes that von Bardas is a threat to the world, and because he is loyal to Fury as a friend. Yet when Fury crosses the moral threshold, destroying the Latverian palace and mind-wiping the heroes, Captain America is outraged. The uncompromising morality inherent in characters such as Captain America contrasts Bendis’ morally gray take on Nick Fury. When Fury commits morally compromised actions, heroes such as Captain America are free to be the unwavering champions of freedom that the public adores. Indeed, during the big battle of New York at the end, Captain America acts as the face of the heroic community, leading them in battle and keeping the heroes on the right moral track. Bendis champions traditional heroism through Captain America, despite the morally questionable actions of characters such as Fury.

Ready for action

Fury’s questionable actions throughout Secret War take many forms, including his recruitment of teenager Daisy Johnson. A mysterious new superhuman, Johnson has the power to create seismic disruptions, going by the codename Quake. During both the assault on Latveria and the battle in New York, Quake plays a pivotal role, using her powers to turn the tide in the heroes’ favor. Bendis seems to enjoy writing a new character like Quake, giving her a snarky wit and a mysterious aura which throws off the heroes throughout the story. Quake is the only character in Secret War who remains loyal to Fury throughout, following orders like a good soldier. Despite a few key characteristics, Quake is not fully developed yet. In fact, there is a bit of a slow character progression for Quake throughout Bendis’ run. Secret War may be her first appearance, but Quake receives a lot more attention later on, especially when she and Fury form their own covert team, the Secret Warriors. For now, Quake merely seems a bit like a plot device with an attitude.

Convenient power-set…

Some of Bendis’ best characterization manifests in his street level heroes: Spider-Man and Daredevil. The most fascinating part of their roles in Secret War is how out of their depth Spider-Man and Daredevil truly are. In the face of a major international catastrophe, street level heroes such as these would normally be quite out of place. Yet Bendis does an excellent job addressing their awkward position this major event. During the initial covert meeting to raid Latveria, Spider-Man is constantly wondering why he is even there, and the battle of New York nearly overwhelms Spider-Man and Daredevil. Spider-Man, specifically, acts as a great “everyman” for the heroes. Bendis’ inner monologue for all characters is fantastic, but Spider-Man especially provides a great voice for the relatable, down-to-earth kind of hero. Both Spider-Man and Daredevil are clearly favorites of Bendis, as he gives them a lot of great interactions and focus during the scenes in New York. The witty banter and grounded characterization of both characters seems like an indication of things to come, such as Bendis’ New Avengers series.

Out on the town…

The last major hero included in Secret War is Wolverine, who Bendis still seems to be getting a feel for at this point. To his credit, Bendis does understand that Wolverine is the one hero who is willing to comply with Fury’s nastier methods. Indeed, in the assault on Latveria, Wolverine is the hero who advocates the most for simply killing von Bardas and being done with the whole affair. Wolverine’s willingness to kill is a character trait which will be important later on, specifically in Bendis’ New Avengers run. Still, there is some mis-characterization of the X-Man on Bendis’ part. For example, on the plane to Latveria, Wolverine is shown getting drunk and flirting with the flight attendant. This serves as a light, comedic moment, but one that is particularly out of character for the stoic, silent Canadian. Additionally, in the end, when Wolverine finds out he has been mind-wiped, he goes berserk and attacks Fury. After years of getting his rage under control, it seems hard to believe that Wolverine would suddenly snap after finding he has been mind-controlled for the billionth time. I also would have liked to have seen more of Wolverine with the other heroes in New York, considering he doesn’t really appear until right after the big battle. Overall, however, including Wolverine is a good precursor to the diverse cast of Bendis’ Avengers saga.

Pretty quick to the kill, huh Logan?

Secret War introduces several important themes which will be explored throughout Bendis’ Avengers run. The invasion of Latveria, for instance, demonstrates the many physical and political consequences of unilateral action. By taking matters into his own hands, Fury brought the wrath of a foreign power into the US. Furthermore, Fury’s actions led to significant political consequences, losing his place as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The consequences which Fury and the heroes face for their actions highlight the importance of responsibility and accountability in Bendis’ Marvel Universe. Fury, by mind-wiping the heroes and accepting sole responsibility for the assault on Latveria, keeps political heat away from the heroes. Yet the consequences of the assault are still felt by everyone, as Fury is no longer the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., meaning that he can no longer protect the heroes from the pressures of the government. Overall, Bendis begins his long-running question of what heroism means in the 21st century. In times when potential threats can be preemptively stopped, should they? Should the punishment come before or after the crime? Should unilateral action be taken, and do the ends justify the means? All of these questions recur throughout Bendis’ Avengers saga. In this case, Bendis seems to advocate for a more defensive stance, illustrating the consequences of overreaching and taking unilateral action. The true heroic moments of the story come during the battle of New York, when classic heroes such as the Fantastic Four arrive to help the others defend their home. The assault on Latveria, on the other hand, is shown as an ill-advised, overly-ambitious, morally compromised battle. There is a line, Bendis argues, that must not be crossed. Heroes should not be judge, jury, and executioner of every potential threat. Rather, heroes should only act to stop existing, known threats.

Well this looks bad…

Re-reading Secret War, the plot is quite strong. Bendis gives a nuanced look at the political concerns and consequences with which large peacekeeping organizations such as S.H.I.E.L.D. have to deal. There are a lot of similarities between the assault on Latveria and the 2003 Iraq War, lending a sense of realism to the story. Bendis also uses a lot of fun storytelling devices to tell the tale. For example, the story is quite non-linear, gradually telling the story of the assault on Latveria during flashbacks, while the main plot takes place during the present day. Interspersing flashbacks throughout the story gives Secret War an air of mystery and intrigue. Additionally, the reader is allowed to discover the truth behind the assault alongside the mind-wiped heroes, putting the reader in the characters’ shoes. There is also plenty of internal monologue from characters, getting into their heads a lot more than in Bendis’ previous work, such as Avengers Disassembled. While both Secret War and Disassembled clear the board of major players, Secret War was given a much more thoughtful execution. With Secret War, Bendis found the right mix of the grounded realism from the Pulse and the blockbuster action of Avengers Disassembled. Once all of the characterization is established and the mystery of the plot is revealed, Secret War is free to become an all-out brawl in New York.

Some shady flashbacks…

Overall, Secret War is the first time that Bendis found his voice in the larger Marvel Universe. After wiping the slate clean in Avengers Disassembled, Bendis was free to tell stories with the characters he wanted in the way he wanted. Spider-Man and Wolverine were free to join Captain America and Daredevil in a high stakes battle in the middle of New York. Secret War is also an excellent exploration of the consequences which heroes and leaders such as Nick Fury face for their actions. Bendis’ Marvel is not a world in which anyone can just march up to a castle and knock things down without some kind of retaliation. Accountability is the foundation of Secret War, as Fury and the heroes have to answer for their actions. The one major point which bothered me was the X-Men’s sudden appearance at the end, when the battle in New York was already over. Allegedly, the X-Men had been under attack at the Xavier Institute during the fight, but none of this was actually shown. It would have been nice to see Wolverine and the X-Men more, either fighting at the school or alongside the other heroes in New York. As it is, the X-Men felt left out of the story, and kind of tacked on to the ending. I’ll concede that there is only so much room for story in a big event like this, so maybe there just wasn’t space to include the X-Men.

Quite the colorful cast

Secret War was only the beginning of a long-running domino effect in Bendis’ Avengers saga. S.H.I.E.L.D. was the organization to suffer the largest consequences, since, for the first time, Nick Fury was no longer in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. Maria Hill, a new character, was given the title of director, taking the organization in a whole new direction. S.H.I.E.L.D. was no longer friendly towards superheroes, creating a new set of problems down the line, specifically during Bendis’ New Avengers run. Hill’s appointment as director began a long-running series of regime changes, as the climate of the Marvel Universe changed drastically each time a new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. was appointed. As for Nick Fury, his disappearance at the end of Secret War is only the beginning of a larger story for his character. Both Fury and his agent, Quake, play a major role later on, forming the covert Secret Warriors. This team will be quite important during events such as Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege. For now, however, Fury is off the board, leaving the heroes unprotected from political scrutiny. The larger question of accountability raised in Secret War continues, especially with a new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Heroes who act of their own accord, with no system of accountability, will become a larger issue, reaching its breaking point during Civil War. Bendis’ Secret War is only the first in a long line of incidents questioning the system of accountability around superheroes. With Nick Fury no longer around to defend them, the heroes of the Marvel Universe became vulnerable to further political scrutiny.

Oh the humanity!

That’s all for today. What did you think of Secret War? Is it as cool as I say, or am I just imagining things? Share your thoughts on Twitter, @book_column, and share this blog with your friends! Be sure to join me tomorrow, when I talk about the non-Bendis comic, Young Avengers!

Bendis’ Avengers: The Pulse

I admit, during the time of its release, the Pulse completely flew under my radar. I barely heard anything about the series, other than that it had something to do with the Daily Bugle. If I was going to read about the Daily Bugle, I thought, why not just go read a Spider-Man comic? The strongest impression that the Pulse left on me was its gorgeous cover art by artist Mike Mayhew. Images of Spider-Man swinging off of the front page of a newspaper, reading the Daily Bugle from a lamppost, and fighting the Green Goblin are all burned into my brain. Otherwise, I have to say, I greatly overlooked this short-lived series. The Pulse didn’t have the flash and brightly clad superheroes which attracted me to Bendis’ Avengers comics. Yet this title still holds an important, underappreciated place in the early days of Bendis’ Avengers saga.

Coming at you in color!

The biggest contribution which the Pulse brings to the greater context of Bendis’ Avengers narrative is its protagonist, Jessica Jones. Bendis created Jones in an earlier title of his, Alias. Starting with the Pulse, he gave Jones a strong role in Bendis’ overall Avengers run. In the future, Jones plays a major role within titles such as Young Avengers and especially Bendis’ New Avengers. Additionally, the Pulse itself ties in to several major mini-series, such as Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Secret War, House of M, and New Avengers. Bendis uses the Pulse to supplement all of these blockbuster comic books, providing further insight which the main events did not have the space to explore. The Pulse is also just a great reminder of Bendis’ strengths. Amidst the earth-shattering battles of Avengers Disassembled and Secret War, Bendis shines in his more street-level, character-focused stories. The Pulse harkens back to his early days of Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil, acting as a connective tissue between these works and his emerging run on Avengers.

Looking at things through fresh eyes…

Indeed, the premise of the Pulse addresses a grounded perspective of Bendis’ larger events. The Daily Bugle’s publisher, J. Jonah Jameson, hires Jessica Jones to work with reporters Kat Farrell and Ben Urich on reporting major events, such as Secret War or House of M. Jones is on the team to provide her personal insight on these events, as an ex-superhero herself. This premise certainly plays to Bendis’ strengths as a writer, making for a grounded, character-driven look at superheroics. Smaller, overlooked corners of the Marvel Universe are examined, from the Night Nurse’s clinic for wounded superheroes to lower-tier superheroes like D-Man. Viewing these street-level aspects of the universe from a journalistic standpoint makes them feel more emotionally grounded and realistic, to Bendis’ credit. Simultaneously, Jones struggles to live a normal life, experiencing the stressful trials of pregnancy alongside her boyfriend, Luke Cage. The relationship between Jones and Cage serves as the heart of the Pulse, providing a great deal of pathos. Jones and Cage go from struggling partners to newly engaged parents throughout the series.

Handling chaos from the ground

Jones herself is characterized incredibly well. Bendis writes Jones as a smart-mouthed, tough-as-nails ex-superhero who has experienced her fair share of trauma. For once, however, Jones has something to lose: her new life with Cage and their incoming baby. Bendis uses this fear to the story’s advantage, building tension around Jones’ pursuit of danger while trying to protect her newfound happiness. Jones is the perfect protagonist for lending human insight to major events in the superhero community. As an ex-superhero, Jones has lived in both the “normal” world and the colorful heroic world, balancing the grounded with the fantastical. As the series progresses, the stories also become more focused on Jones as a character, as she develops from a scared former superhero into a proud, fearless mother. This development is quite well-written, yet it also pulls the series away from its central purpose. Near the end, most of the focus is on Jones, Cage, and their baby, rather than the big events that Jones was meant to cover. Still, Bendis writes Jones’ character arc quite well, understandably sacrificing the original premise of the series.

Classic Jess

Speaking of the original premise, Jones is given a great supporting team, including Ben Urich, a veteran reporter. Urich is another good example of the Pulse as connective tissue between Bendis’ earlier work and his Avengers saga. Featured prominently in Bendis’ Daredevil run, Urich is an experienced reporter who has seen quite a bit in the superheroic community. Urich embraces his connections with street level heroes such as Spider-Man and Daredevil, coming to them for help with stories. It is Urich’s support for heroes which makes him a nice contrast to Jonah Jameson’s anti-vigilante attitude, showing a diverse set of perspectives within the journalistic community. Urich’s contrast with Jameson also makes him a friendly face for Jones, serving as a friendly mentor and journalistic expert when covering news stories. Bendis excels when it comes to grounded, everyday journalists such as Urich, reminding readers of his fantastic work on Daredevil.

Ah, sweet vindication…

On the other side of Jones’ supporting Daily Bugle cast is Kat Farrell, albeit in a more minor role. Bendis writes Farrell as an anti-vigilante reporter, who feels that heroes get too much attention. While Farrell despises superheroes, she is still shown as a ruthless, ambitious reporter. Farrell exemplifies the qualities of a young, go-getting reporter in the big city, and her snarky attitude bounces off of Jones’ smart-mouthed wit quite nicely. Writing Farrell into the Pulse, Bendis rounds out the Daily Bugle cast with a less than approving stance on superheroes. Balancing out the overall perspective of the Daily Bugle makes for a more well-rounded view of big events such as Secret War or House of M. For example, during the House of M event, when reality is altered and Hawkeye is resurrected, Farrell is the reporter who encounters the avenging archer. Even though she does not particularly like superheroes, Farrell objectively inquires about Hawkeye’s thoughts on his nightmarish death and resurrection. This one issue places a nice spotlight on Farrell, which she does not often receive. Given a longer run on the series, Bendis definitely could have written more for Farrell, as she does not often get as much attention as Urich or Jones.

Always the skeptic…

Last but certainly not least is the father of Jones’ baby, Luke Cage. Knowing what a large role Cage is going to play in Bendis’ Avengers saga, it’s funny to see him in a supporting role. Yet the Pulse sets up a lot for Cage’s character. Cage becomes a true family man in this series, doing whatever it takes to protect Jones and their baby. In one scene, after Norman Osborn attacks Jones, Cage walks up to Osborn’s limo and lifts it into the air, screaming, “you do not mess with Luke Cage’s family!” It’ not much of a wonder that Cage will soon become the central figure of Bendis’ Avengers run, as Bendis clearly loves writing for the character. Cage is grounded, relatable, and full of potential to be a modern day Avenger. For example, while Jones is retired from crime-fighting, Cage is still in the game, tackling street-level crime in his neighborhood. Often, Bendis writes scenes of Cage going around the neighborhood warding off drug dealers, yelling “What’s my name?!” The endearing characterization of both Cage and Jones, and their whole family dynamic with the baby, is the strongest part of the Pulse.

You tell ‘im, Cage

While the Pulse is quite short-lived as a series, its story arcs serve a unique purpose within the larger frame of the Marvel Universe. The first story arc, exposing Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin, is a fantastic use of the series’ central premise. Jones tackles a sinister, dangerous corner of the Marvel Universe, yet still manages to come out on top, with the aid of Spider-Man and Cage. Even though a big name superhero like Spider-Man comes in to help save the day, it is the grounded characters of Jones and Cage who do most of the work, setting up the format of the series very well. The next arc, covering the consequences of the Secret War event, is where this series really works as an event supplement. This arc deals with a lot of unanswered questions and concerns from the mini-series. For example, in Secret War, Cage is caught in an explosion and sent into a coma. Since the main event did not have space to deal with the ramifications of Cage’s situation, the Pulse gives readers additional material. Jones’ reaction to Cage’s condition, her panic when he goes missing, and her investigation into the events of Secret War fill in a lot of blanks from the event. Arcs like this one make me think that a series like the Pulse would have been beneficial as a supplement for Avengers Disassembled. Exploring the human emotions and consequences of such an earth-shattering event would have made a big difference for Bendis’ short-lived first event.

Dang, Cage, even Spidey’s shocked

Indeed, Bendis continues his dive into the human emotions behind earth-shaking events such as House of M. During this single issue story, Hawkeye’s perspective and personal reactions to his death, resurrection, and betrayal at the hands of the Scarlet Witch are all given a very intimate examination. A big event such as House of M juggles so many characters, making it difficult to focus on one character’s emotional journey. Bendis uses the Pulse to do what he cannot do in a big event, fleshing out character emotions. Despite the Pulse‘s initial success, the final arc tends to lose its way, focusing its last few issues on Jones’ delivery of her baby. While this story is an important emotional point for the characters, it feels as if the main premise of the series is sidelined. Specifically, Ben Urich is given a subplot of going down to the sewers and interviewing homeless superhero D-Man. While Bendis uses this as a fascinating look at an often-ignored character, it feels tangential to the new focus of the series: Jessica’s baby. I suppose it makes sense, then, that Jones quits the Daily Bugle by the end of the arc, leaving the original premise behind. Bendis concludes the series with a final issue focusing on Jones and Cage’s first meeting. This issue is quite heartfelt and character-driven, reminding the reader of the true heart of the series. Concluding the Pulse with an engagement between Jones and Cage carries the two characters over into Bendis’ New Avengers run, where their relationship is a central feature. It’s a shame that the Pulse was so short-lived. By the end, however, it became apparent that Bendis became more interested in Jones and Cage than the titular “Pulse” feature of the Daily Bugle.

By the end, this was what we got…

Overall, Bendis’ run on the Pulse succeeds where some of his bigger “event” comics fail. In fact, the Pulse recovers a lot of lost character moments from these big events, adding new layers to Bendis’ larger stories. Simultaneously, the Pulse is the first time where Bendis seems to be writing characters which he enjoys writing, such as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Both characters receive excellent characterization and fun moments, making for a very engaging read. The biggest issues I had with the Pulse were its length, since the series is only fourteen issues, and the lack of focus near the end. Clearly, Bendis wanted to write more for Jones and Cage than he did a tie-in for Secret War or House of M, which shows in the last few issues. I admit, while the tie-ins are great supplements to the large events, it does take away from the independence of the series, relying heavily on understanding the plot of another series. Still, it’s nice to get another perspective on a big event, especially from a smaller-scale title. Ultimately, while not the most earth-shattering series that Bendis ever wrote, the Pulse is a nice, grounded, character-focused read.

Getting the full story…

Going forward, the Pulse does have a few ramifications on Bendis’ larger narrative. First and foremost, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage play probably the biggest roles in Bendis’ Avengers saga. Specifically, during Bendis’ New Avengers run, Cage and Jones’ relationship is the heart of the series. The characters go on to get married in New Avengers, and throughout the constantly shifting status quo, experience some wild ups and downs. Through all of Bendis’ New Avengers, Cage and Jones are the feature of the story. Additionally, Norman Osborn, after being exposed as the Green Goblin by Jones and Cage, returns in a major way. Not only does his exposure play a major role in the beginning of Mark Millar’s Marvel Knights Spider-Man, but his vendetta against Jones and Cage returns during Bendis’ Avengers saga. The sinister, manipulative, and unhinged manner in which Bendis writes Osborn is just a warm-up for the character’s unexpected role down the line. Finally, the Pulse is full of the witty dialogue, human connections, and smaller focus which become a central part of his New Avengers run. In fact, these aspects are going to be some of the best parts of his overall Avengers saga. Grounding events and focusing on character is something at which Bendis thrives, much more so than larger than life events such as Avengers Disassembled. Combining the high stakes action of big events with witty dialogue and grounded characters from the Pulse is going to be where Bendis hits his stride.

Luke Cage, celebrity and soon-to-be Avenger

That’s all for today. What’d you think of the Pulse? How does it compare to the rest of Bendis’ work? Feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter @book_column, and be sure to share this blog with your friends! Come back tomorrow for my coverage of Bendis’ next big event, Secret War!

Bendis’ Avengers: Avengers Disassembled

When I first got into comics, there was one major writer on the Avengers at the time: Brian Michael Bendis. Over the course of eight years, Bendis crafted several epic tales that redefined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, from Avengers Disassembled, to Secret War, to House of M, many other stories. Even when Bendis did not personally write an event, such as Civil War or Fear Itself, he took care to shape the shifting status quo around these earth-shattering episodes in regular titles such as New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, and several others. All of the work which Bendis put into the Avengers franchise not only redefined the team, but redefined their place in the overarching landscape of the Marvel Universe. Over the past month, I’ve gone back and re-read Bendis’ Avengers saga. Despite my nostalgia for these stories, I’ve tried to analyze Bendis’ Avengers tales under their own merit and their overall place in Bendis’ larger narrative. Every day, I’ll be looking at another of Bendis’ stories, starting from Avengers Disassembled and finishing with Avengers vs. X-Men. So, without further ado, let’s dive in!

The end of an era?

I remember loving Avengers Disassembled as a kid. When I first read this story, Marvel was currently publishing Bendis’ New Avengers title, featuring popular characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine. Reading this title, I always wondered, whatever happened to the old Avengers? Disassembled answered my question in spades. The whole event seemed huge, at a time when big events in comics only happened once every few years. It was awe-inspiring for me to see the Avengers’ last stand against unbeatable odds, not to mention witnessing the gathering of every Avenger in history. As a nine year-old kid, seeing big names such as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four on the same team with classic Avengers such as Captain America was like a dream. Most importantly, seeing such a full lineup of heroes together gave me a glimpse into the full history of the Avengers, a history of which I was only just starting to learn. I became inspired to go back and read classic Avengers comics from the 1960s and ’70s, just to get a full appreciation for the team. Ironically enough, however, the whole point of Disassembled was to use the Avengers’ history to destroy and rebuild the team.

Assemble indeed…

In the greater context of Bendis’ Avengers saga, Avengers Disassembled is a sort of prologue, setting the stage for everything to come. Bendis needed to tear down the old status quo in order to build up a new chapter in Marvel history. Disassembled sets the foundation for stories such as New Avengers, House of M, and eventually even Avengers vs. X-Men. Additionally, after Avengers Disassembled, the Avengers as a team would be forever changed. The classic lineup of characters were replaced with newer ones, the fundamentals of the team were re-established, and the Avengers’ place in the Marvel Universe became much more central than before. Individual characters such as the Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and even more obscure characters such as Wonder Man began long character arcs which continued throughout Bendis’ Avengers run, despite much fan controversy around their depiction. Bendis’ collaboration with artist David Finch also begins here, shifting the tone of the Avengers in a more grounded direction. Despite the bombastic, epic feel of Avengers Disassembled, the artwork also succeeds in conveying earnest human emotion and gritty action sequences. The whole event is filled with ugly moments of brutality, in the best possible way. Even considering the artwork and Disassembled’s place in Bendis’ narrative, as a stand-alone story, the tale has plenty of room for improvement.

Kicking things off with a bang

The basic premise of Disassembled arrives when the team falls under attack by a mysterious enemy. This mastermind pits the Avengers against all of the ghosts of their past, including Ultron, a zombified teammate, the Kree Empire, and even Tony Stark’s alcoholism. The Avengers are hit with all of these threats nearly simultaneously, overwhelming the team. It seems that Bendis tears down a decades-old team such as the Avengers with the weight of their own continuity. Yet Bendis also celebrates this continuity, uniting past and present Avengers in a final battle against the team’s demise. Even sixteen years later, it’s inspiring to see how many heroes have dedicated themselves to the Avengers over the years. Showcasing the sheer number of Avengers during its history, Bendis highlights the positive legacy of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Throughout the tragedy that is Avengers Disassembled, several iconic aspects of the Avengers are destroyed. Avengers Mansion is blown up in the first few pages, the team loses their UN security clearances, and there are even a few heartbreaking character deaths. It’s the emotional exploration of these tragic events where Bendis tends to fall short. Specifically, Disassembled could spend a lot more time focusing on the impact which its event has on individual Avengers.

Earth’s Mightiest Nightmares

More than any other character, Captain America embodies the spirit of the Avengers. As the leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Captain America is a rallying point for the whole team. When Captain America appears on the scene during Disassembled, he is a commanding presence, working to get the job done and inspiring others to do so. There is never a moment in the story when Captain America stops fighting to stop the chaos around them. Even so, he is still just as overwhelmed as the rest of the team. Captain America is caught completely off-guard against an out-of-control She-Hulk, a defective Vision, and a random Kree invasion. Bendis does an excellent job showing how out of his element Captain America is. Still, it would have been even more effective if Bendis had included some insight into Captain America’s personal thoughts. What do these devastating events mean to Captain America, the face of the Avengers? How does the Avengers’ darkest hour feel for someone who’s dedicated his whole life to the team? Bendis does not provide much insight into these ideas, which would have added a lot of personal touch to the story.

In spite of everything, Cap stands his ground

The second biggest perspective which Bendis gives the reader is that of longtime Avenger Hawkeye. Even more than Captain America, Bendis gives Hawkeye a clear voice in the face of catastrophe. The avenging archer acts as the grounded voice of reason for the team, offering up a sobering perspective as to why they are under attack. Hawkeye speaks his mind, criticizing the team by saying, “The way we live– we sort of had a day like this coming”. Commentary such as this lends a lot to Hawkeye’s characterization and the nature of the Avengers as a team. Hawkeye is the group’s voice of reason in a time when the Avengers have lost sight of how or why they could fall victim to their own past. The archer also has several strong relationships with his teammates, such as some fun banter with Ant-Man at the beginning of the story, and the sense of loyalty he shows towards Captain America throughout the tale, constantly looking to his mentor for guidance. It is the endearing qualities of Hawkeye which make his death all the more heart-breaking, heroically sacrificing himself to destroy a Kree battleship. This sacrifice feels like the emotional climax of Disassembled, highlighting the tragedy behind the story. If Bendis had devoted as much time to the other characters as he did to Hawkeye, he could have crafted a more impactful and personal story.

What a way to go

For example, Iron Man shows remarkable potential for character exploration in the beginning of Disassembled. Addressing a UN assembly, Tony Stark is suddenly overcome with a feeling of intoxication, sending him into a drunken rage. Stark’s outburst ruins his own image, while simultaneously losing the Avengers’ UN security clearance. The heartbreaking moment arrives when Stark, in tears, quietly confides in the Scarlet Witch, “I didn’t have anything to drink”. Manipulating the Avengers through Stark’s personal struggle with alcoholism is an excellent way to focus on the group as individuals. Stark feels guilt and shame from this reminder of his inner demons, and is confronted by distrust and disdain from the UN and teammates such as Hank Pym. Additionally, this personal attack impacts the whole team, as Stark loses UN security clearance and public confidence. Conceptually, these effects on the team are all quite important, but the emotional resonance is lost within the story. After a confrontation with his teammates, Stark storms off, only returning near the final battle to assist the Avengers. Stark’s absence could have been explored in much greater detail. For example, Bendis could have shown where Stark went, what he did while he was gone, and why he chose to return to the Avengers. Illustrating the emotional struggle of Tony Stark is a missed opportunity, one which would have added additional impact to the Avengers’ tragic demise.

Getting a little personal there, Tony

The root of the Avengers’ failure comes from their own teammate, the Scarlet Witch. At the end of the story, Wanda Maximoff is revealed to be the manipulator behind all of the Avengers’ recent misfortunes. Wanda’s sudden betrayal of the team emphasizes just how far the Avengers have fallen, failing to see the mental breakdown of one of their own members. Bendis almost seems to be saying that the Avengers have become too big for their own good, losing sight of personal relationships and more grounded issues. Of couse, Wanda’s sudden nervous breakdown does seem a bit sudden within the overall context of the Avengers’ history. To Bendis’ credit, he does use past continuity such as the loss of Wanda’s children to justify her descent. Still, there is not much of a build-up felt towards her sudden burst of madness. Rather, Wanda feels more like a plot device to destroy the Avengers while making their destruction a tragic failure on their part. Within the context of the story, Wanda’s betrayal works, serving as a painful lesson for the team. Additionally, Bendis does not really feature Wanda prominently until her reveal at the end of the story. Perhaps this is intentional, showing how the team has lost track of its own members. If the Avengers kept a closer eye on each other, perhaps the Scarlet Witch could have gotten help sooner. Even so, more build up would have further developed Wanda’s mental breakdown and betrayal. Perhaps if Bendis had a longer run on the Avengers before Disassembled, Wanda’s fall from grace would have felt more natural.

Okay, in hindsight, not the most stable individual

The final two characters who deserve mention are Hank Pym, aka Yellowjacket, and his ex-wife, Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp. Bendis uses the strained relationship between these two Avengers to once again highlight the turbulent history of the team. The brief time spent with the couple serves as a touching and heartfelt reminder of their personal history, all the way back to the original tales of Ant-Man and the Wasp. For example, when Janet is in a coma, Hank sits by her side, quietly pleading for her to wake up as he muses on their rocky past. Bendis’ use of Hank and Janet in this story perpetuates the idea that the Avengers need to come back down to Earth. More attention and care must be paid to the Avengers’ personal relationships in order to save the team from themselves. Once again, however, moments like the hospital scene are few and far between, hidden between moments of explosions and titanic action set-pieces to physically destroy the team. Overall, there is a little too much attention paid to physical attacks on the team, as opposed to the personal impact on the individual team members.

More character work isn’t a tall order…

Although character moments tend to be sidelined, Disassembled still offers some interesting thematic elements. Bendis embraces an “out with the old, in with the new” approach to the Avengers. While much of Avengers history is celebrated, from the return of old villains to classic teammates, Bendis seems to be in a hurry to dispense with it all. Since the event only takes place over the span of four issues, everything happens quite fast, from the mansion being destroyed, to the death of several team members, and ultimately the Avengers disbanding. Bendis does set up the dissolution of the “old” Avengers quite nicely. At the beginning of Disassembled, the team receives a message from classic Avenger the Vision. Like a harbinger of doom, Vision says, “You are no longer in control of anything that we, as a group, held dear. Or what we, as individuals, held as important. Our time is over”. This ominous message sets the tone for Bendis’ tale, wiping the slate clean as soon as possible. Despite the speed of the event, Disassembled also makes a point about the consequences of past failures. Failing Wanda Maximoff, themselves, and the team as a whole, the Avengers suffer throughout Bendis’ story. Given more space to write Disassembled, Bendis could have focused more on individual failures, focusing more on characters such as Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and even Captain America. Perhaps doubling the story to eight issues would have given Bendis more space to explore characters. Bringing this theme of failure into a more individual focus would solidify its impact more. Despite the doomed nature of Disassembled, Bendis still writes the Avengers as heroic until the end, assembling one last time. Despite all of the death and chaos around them, Avengers from all of history gather together to protect their team.

Out with the old…

Ultimately, however, the overall plotline still feels quite rushed. I can understand how condensing the events of Disassembled makes the readers feel as overwhelmed as the Avengers, but a lot of good character moments are sacrificed in favor of sheer chaos. More room to tell this story would have allowed Bendis to delve deeper into different characters’ thoughts and emotions. It feels as if Bendis didn’t want to waste time clearing the stage for his future plans. Despite its condensed nature, Disassembled also doesn’t really feel as devastating as it should. Many times, readers are simply told and not shown how important the events transpiring are, with lines such as “Why is this happening? I feel like I’ve gone insane” and “I don’t even know what’s happening”. While lines such as these are meant to convey the confusion around the events in the story, I can’t help but feel that the Avengers have been through worse. After reading tales such as Under Siege, where the mansion is taken over by the Masters of Evil and several members are beaten near to death, or the Kang Dynasty, where Kang the Conqueror takes over the planet and murders thousands, Disassembled hardly feels like the worst day in Avengers history. Of couse, after decades of history, it’s hard to write an event that ends the whole team. The story seems to end the team out of necessity for future stories. Finally, while it is amazing to witness every Avenger ever fight alongside each other, the cast gets to feel a little too crowded. As mentioned earlier, important character moments from classic Avengers such as Captain America are put on the backburner in favor of epic action scenes. Maybe the crowded nature of the team serves to emphasize Bendis’ point, that the Avengers have gotten too big for their own good. A smaller lineup with less baggage could focus more in-depth on individual characters.

This would’ve been a Tuesday for the X-Men…

The ending of Disassembled is also a bit unsatisfactory at times. Once again, the reveal of the Scarlet Witch as the main antagonist comes a bit out of left field. More importantly, Wanda’s betrayal is not given much time for exploration. Specifically, characters such as Captain America or other Avengers are not given a chance to directly interact with or confront Wanda for her actions. When such a key member of the team betrays the Avengers, it seems like a discussion is warranted between teammates. Instead, Bendis brings in Doctor Strange, also out of the blue, to come sweep up the Avengers’ problems. Strange feels like a deus ex machina to wave away an enemy which the Avengers cannot face themselves. Perhaps Bendis’ point of failure is conveyed through the Avengers’ uselessness, showing just how severely the team has failed. Not only did the team fail to notice the breakdown of their own member, but they could not stop her themselves. Still, Strange’s intervention has little build-up, and feels anticlimactic to the story. The most satisfying part of the conclusion comes during the Avengers Finale one-shot. During the finale, Bendis finally gets the chance to slow down and show the characters reflecting on everything they just experienced. That said, by the time the characters get to share their feelings around the team’s demise, Disassembled is nearly finished. Bendis still manages to squeeze out one last bit of appreciation for the Avengers’ history, as its members share their favorite moments with each other. This highlight reel of Avengers history gives the reader a great feeling of nostalgia and loss for the “classic” Avengers, a team which is now lost to both heroes and readers. The finale issue is the character-driven story which was missing during the main event, finally making the reader feel something for the Avengers.

Ah, the good ol’ days…

When all is said and done in Avengers Disassembled, this is merely the beginning for Bendis’ saga. As mentioned previously, Bendis needed to tear down the “old” Avengers in order to build everything back up again. Removing the classic Avengers from the board left a void to be filled by the New Avengers, probably my favorite lineup of Avengers. This team is filled with grounded storylines and great character moments, both of which I felt were lacking in Disassembled. Once Bendis is able to write about characters he really wants to write, such as Luke Cage and Spider-Man, he really shines with great moments. Additionally, this is the beginning of a long character arc for the Scarlet Witch. No longer is Wanda Maximoff the beloved Avenger of old, instead becoming the black sheep of the family. Events such as House of M compound this issue, continuing her journey of shame and remorse in Young Avengers and Avengers vs. X-Men. Finally, the character deaths of Disassembled leave quite an impact on the Avengers as a team and as individuals. While the Avengers undergo several changes, from adjectives such as New to Mighty to Dark, the classic Avengers of old disappear. Additionally, characters such as Hawkeye would eventually return during Bendis’ era, undergoing intense character journeys. Hawkeye’s tenure as Ronin, for example, provided a great exploration of his darker mindset at the time. Overall, while all of the characters who were killed were eventually resurrected, and the Avengers would eventually reform, Disassembled is a nice way to clean the slate for a new era of the Avengers. This era would redefine what the Avengers was, and the team’s overall place in the Marvel Universe.

Alright, alright, now get out, we gotta cover the New Avengers

That’s all for today. Check back in tomorrow, when I look at Bendis’ overlooked series, The Pulse! Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow the column on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! Be sure to share your thoughts as well! What did you think of Avengers Disassembled? What are your overall thoughts about Bendis’ Avengers run? All ideas are welcome!

Legacy Heroes: The Flash

The Flash has more of a legacy than almost any other superhero. Being the fastest man alive is an honor passed down between generations, from Jay Garrick of the 1940s to Barry Allen of the 1950s and ’60s. Each generation of comic book readers is able to connect with its own unique iteration of the scarlet speedster. Within the comics, each Flash inherits a connection to the speedforce, a mysterious force which binds speedsters together. This connection through the speedforce gives a sense of tradition to the Flash mantle, creating a significance for the title. Furthermore, connecting the different Flashes through the speedforce is critical in developing a Flash family. This family unit broadens the title of the Flash beyond merely one hero. Over the years, creating a new Flash for each generation has generated a larger Flash family, reflecting the generational differences within real life families.

The family that runs together…

The first major addition to the Flash family came in 1956, when Barry Allen was created. Barry ushered in the Silver Age of comic books, starting a new generation of heroes that carried on the legacy of 1940s “Golden Age” heroes such as Jay Garrick, the original Flash. With Barry Allen came a new costume, new secret identity, and a slew of new adventures to the Flash mythos. Barry, a product of the 1950s and ’60s, is a very straight-laced type of hero. During the day, Barry is a CSI who believes in a very by-the-book form of justice, fighting for the rights of all people. As a CSI, Barry also incorporates much of his own intelligence into crime-fighting. Barry is a keen detective and scientist, using these skills to solve crimes and devise unique solutions for his villains. During the wackier times of the Silver Age, Barry also found creative ways to use his speed, such as vibrating through walls or creating speed-induced images of himself. While all of these aspects made Barry a fun, exciting new Flash for the Silver Age, he is very much a product of his time. In this sense, Barry does not have much of a personality. Barry, during modern times, can be seen as quite boring, being too perfect to be interesting.

Rushing onto the Silver Age scene

Keeping things interesting, however, was the next Flash, Wally West. Wally added a lot to the Flash legacy, considering his own history. Wally was originally introduced as Kid Flash, Barry Allen’s sidekick. Creating Kid Flash in itself is important to the Flash family, allowing for multiple speedsters to coexist. From there, new possibilities open up when Kid Flash inherits his mentor’s mantle. Making Wally the new Flash perpetuates the Flash legacy between generations, passing the torch to a new kind of Flash. Wally is a worthy inheritor to the Flash mantle, considering his experience as Kid Flash and connection to his predecessor. Developing Wally into the Flash gives the reader a sense of character development and continuity between the different Flashes. Indeed, Barry and Wally are two entirely different Flashes, for different generations. Wally is written with more relatable characteristics than Barry. Quite often, Wally feels the weight of the world on his shoulders, trying his hardest to be everywhere at once. Wally constantly deals with his doubts and struggles to live up to the Flash legacy. Additionally, Wally can be impulsive at times, yet he learns from his mistakes and becomes a better hero for it. All of these traits make Wally the Flash for a modern audience, in an age of more human heroes.

Now that’s character development

Part of what makes the transition from Barry to Wally so compelling is the relationship between the two Flashes. As the Flash and Kid Flash, respectively, Barry and Wally share a hero/sidekick relationship. Barry taught Wally everything that he knew, giving him the necessary experience to grow into a hero. More importantly, as the husband of Wally’s aunt, Iris West, Barry is seen as “Uncle Barry”. Wally looks up to Barry, not just as the Flash, but as a member of his own family. The idolization of his uncle makes Wally quite relatable as a character. Many people take inspiration from family members, and “Uncle Barry” grounds the Flash legacy as a family tradition. The familial ties between the different Flashes creates an intimate connection between each generation, making for a more emotionally resonant legacy.

Family ties…

It was not until 1985, during DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, that Wally needed to fill his uncle’s shoes. During the massive event, Barry vanished, sacrificing himself to stop the Anti-Monitor from destroying the multi-verse. Consequently, Barry Allen became a martyr in the DC Universe: the shining example of heroism to which no one could measure up. Still, someone needed to fill the void left in the Flash’s absence. At the time, Wally had retired from his role as Kid Flash to focus on his college education. Yet, with Barry gone, Wally knew someone had to carry on in his uncle’s memory. For a while, Wally struggled to inherit the role of the Flash. Wally felt that he had to try to honor his uncle, but he lived in constant fear that he might one day overshadow Barry and tarnish his memory. Eventually, Wally came to terms with his own fears, surpassing Barry and achieving his potential as the Flash. Surpassing Barry, Wally exemplifies the progress that comes in each new generation, as sons come to grow past their fathers.

The struggles of legacy

Wally’s adventures also developed far past Barry’s Silver Age tales of heroism. During his time as the Flash, Barry dealt with more traditional costumed villains than Wally. The main villains introduced during Barry’s tenure were the Rogues: costumed supervillains such as Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Heatwave, the Trickster, and several others. While all of these villains proved to be considerable challenges for the Flash, they were all fairly harmless. The Rogues were merely out to rob a bank or ransom the city for millions of dollars. Wally, on the other hand, experienced much larger threats. Many new concepts were introduced during Wally’s tenure, such as the speedforce, Flashes from the future and different dimensions, and new powers from the speedforce. Out of these big ideas came larger threats, such as Savitar, Abra Kadabra, Zoom, and the Combine organization. From evil speedsters, to magical threats, to terrorist organizations, Wally’s villains were a massive step-up from Barry’s costumed Rogues.

And all this was just Mark Waid’s run on the character…

The supporting cast in Wally’s life is also much stronger than Barry’s. Linda Park, Wally’s wife, is a perfect match for the scarlet speedster. While Wally is impulsive, Linda thinks things through. Linda can be uptight, while Wally carries a sense of fun with him. As an investigative reporter, Linda also works with Wally as a partner in solving crimes and uncovering the truth behind stories. Iris West, on the other hand, works more as a memory than as a character. When Barry was the Flash, Iris was constantly portrayed as Barry’s girlfriend and nothing more. The largest role which Iris had in Barry’s tales were little jokes about how he was always running late for their dates. From Wally’s perspective, however, “Aunt Iris” is another great role model. Iris, like Barry, is a pure, idealized family member who inspires Wally to be the man he is today. It is the combination of Iris’ spirit and Barry’s heroism which makes Wally into such a strong character. Furthermore, while Barry is highly idealized in the heroic community, Wally plays a more active role in heroic circles. While Barry helped found the Justice League, Wally was a founder of the Teen Titans as Kid Flash and a member of the Justice League as the Flash. Wally’s progression from Teen Titan to member of the JLA not only shows considerable character development, but it also demonstrates Wally’s broad connection to the DC Universe. Wally is good friends with big heroes such as Superman and Green Lantern, while maintaining close bonds with others such as Nightwing and Cyborg. Passing the torch from Barry to Wally created a Flash that is far more integrated in the larger DC Universe.

Lifelong friends

Unfortunately, Wally’s tenure as the Flash did not last forever. While Wally had a lengthy run as the only Flash, from 1985-2009, eventually, Barry Allen returned. During Final Crisis and the subsequent storyline Flash: Rebirth, Barry Allen was reintroduced to the DC Universe, following a near-twenty five year absence. This resurrection felt rather unnecessary for many reasons. First of all, Barry had been depicted as a martyr for decades, a fallen hero who stood as an example of true heroism. Reintroducing Barry reduces the significance of his sacrifice and takes away his value to the greater universe. Second, Barry did not have much of a personality when he was alive, so returning the character to life leaves little room for any character development. There were simply no new stories that needed to be told about the character. Third, Wally had already become the Flash of this new generation. New villains were fought, new powers discovered, Wally formed a family of speedsters such as Impulse and Max Mercury, and he had even been cemented as the Flash in the Justice League cartoon. Bringing Barry back into the picture was redundant, as now there were two Flashes when Wally had proven himself as the one and only Flash. Nevertheless, DC continued to push for Barry’s return, even making Barry the sole Flash after the Flashpoint storyline. In Wally’s absence, Barry was given many of Wally’s traits, including his sense of humor, certain villains, and a new power set. Making Barry the sole Flash once more regressed the Flash legacy by decades, removing the idea of a Flash family. Once more, the Flash had become about a sole hero.

Running back in time…

The Flash is a family title, one that should be passed on to a new hero for each generation. In this vein, Wally should be reinstated as the only Flash. Over the years, Wally proved himself as the Flash, becoming a hero for a new generation. Additionally, Wally’s ascension as the Flash is great development for his character, as the little nephew of the Flash who eventually became the Flash. Barry, on the other hand, is the Flash of a bygone era. Barry has very little personality and very little to explore in terms of character development. If Barry were to stay dead, he would serve more of a purpose, as a shining example for the Flash family. Barry’s memory has more of an impact on others than his actual time as the Flash. DC should move on from Barry Allen in order to continue the Flash legacy, just like when Barry replaced Jay Garrick in 1956. Each generation should have a Flash which fits the time period, and Wally is the Flash for today. As time goes on, perhaps someone will succeed Wally, becoming the Flash for a new generation. Yet the Flash legacy can only continue if DC returns the title of the Flash from Barry Allen back to Wally West.

Fastest family alive

Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, be sure to follow the column on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! That’s all for this week. Be back next time for another entry in the Comic Book Column!

Legacy Heroes: Green Lantern

The title of Green Lantern is attached to several specific traits. A Green Lantern uses willpower to confront and overcome fear, literally shining his/her light through the darkness. This core value of willpower illustrates the true heroism of any Green Lantern. Additionally, Green Lanterns show a wonderful sense of imagination. The all-powerful Green Lantern ring allows its wearer to create bright, glowing constructs of any size or shape, only limited by his/her imagination. Such a wide range of possibilities manifests in some awe-inspiring visuals in Green Lantern comics. Most importantly, the title of Green Lantern is part of a time-honored tradition. Each Green Lantern is a member of the intergalactic force known as the Green Lantern Corps. The corps leaves plenty of room for a variety of Green Lanterns. Over the years, several Green Lanterns have emerged to define specific generations.

In brightest day, in blackest night…

The first human member of the Green Lantern Corps was Hal Jordan, introduced in 1959. Jordan, a product of the Cold War era, is a traditional American hero even outside of the Green Lantern uniform. In his civilian life, Jordan is a test pilot for Ferris Air, and a former fighter pilot, with dashing good looks to boot. It is Jordan’s fearless attitude and indomitable will which allowed him to be chosen as the Green Lantern of sector 2814. Like many heroes of his era, Jordan possesses several classically heroic qualities, including bravery and charisma, but his personality leaves much to be desired. There is a nostalgic appeal to Jordan, due to his origin in the “silver age” of comics, yet most of Jordan’s appealing have been retroactively introduced to the character. During Jordan’s original adventures in the ’50s and ’60s, the test pilot had little personality outside of bravery and heroism. Furthermore, Jordan’s traditional selection as Green Lantern makes him more of a “chosen one” rather than someone who has worked to become a hero. The traditional values attached to Jordan worked well in the 1960s, but as time moves on, readers, require more nuanced Green Lanterns.

A classic hero

In 1994, comic book readers were introduced to Kyle Rayner, a new kind of Green Lantern. Many aspects of Rayner’s character were formed around a relatable, human superhero archetype. Rayner is very reminiscent of Peter Parker, struggling to balance his regular life of work and romance with his duties as a Green Lantern. Additionally, Rayner constantly cracks jokes and makes sarcastic remarks, adding a quick wit and snarky attitude to his personality. Rayner was also chosen at random, rather than being traditionally chosen based on willpower and fearlessness. When the Green Lantern Corps was destroyed, Rayner became the last Green Lantern, working hard to earn his title and live up to the tradition. This random selection makes Rayner much more relatable to readers, as he earned his place as a Green Lantern rather than simply being a chosen one. Rayner is also an artist by occupation, making a for a creative use of the Green Lantern ring. Rayner’s passion and imagination make him a perfect Green Lantern.

The modern day lantern

Of course, the circumstances which led Rayner to replace Jordan were controversial, to say the least. During the Emerald Twilight storyline, Jordan snapped after his hometown of Coast City was destroyed. This mental breakdown led to Jordan’s transformation into the villain known as Parallax. Jordan then slaughtered much of the Green Lantern Corps and the Guardians of the universe, nearly ending the Green Lantern tradition. However, one last guardian survived, passing the last Green Lantern ring on to Kyle Rayner. As the last Green Lantern, Rayner had to carry the legacy of the Green Lantern Corps with no training, experience, or guidance from anyone else. While time allowed Rayner to develop into a formidable Green Lantern, his initial replacement of Jordan did not sit well with readers. First of all, a completely new character came in to replace the Green Lantern of several decades. Secondly, Jordan’s character had been tainted, turning him from a gallant hero into a psychotic monster. While new blood was injected into the Green Lantern mythos, the legacy of a hero was shattered.

A tarnished legacy

Additionally, while Kyle Rayner is certainly a more relatable Green Lantern, his exploits are not quite as memorable. Specifically, Rayner’s selection of villains is unremarkable. Most of these adversaries are one-off villains, including robots, aliens, and science experiments gone wrong. The two most memorable storylines during Rayner’s tenure were his introduction storyline and when he teamed up with Hal Jordan from the past. What makes these two stories so interesting is how Rayner faces the Green Lantern legacy in both of them. If Rayner is to continue the tradition of Green Lantern, he should face traditional Green Lantern threats. For example, Hal Jordan fought several colorful foes, such as Sinestro, Black Hand, Hector Hammond, and many others. New takes on old enemies such as these would be perfect for Rayner to battle. Furthermore, when Hal Jordan returned years later, many new storylines and ideas were introduced which revitalized the Green Lantern mythos. For example, Jordan learned about the emotional spectrum, fought the manhunters, and even brought back the Green Lantern Corps. Rayner may have the more interesting personality, but Jordan experiences the more exciting adventures.

Okay, the Sinestro Corps War is pretty memorable

There is also a large difference in how Jordan and Rayner use their Green Lantern rings. As a product of the silver age, Jordan tends to create simpler constructs. Jordan’s creations include boxing gloves, giant elephants, vacuum cleaners, and other basic ideas. Rayner, on the other hand, takes full advantage of his artistic mind when creating ring constructs. Going into battle with an imaginative, artistic mindset, Rayner creates suits of armor, laser guns, giant mech robots, and many other creative constructs. The difference in the use of their rings highlights a generational gap between the two Green Lanterns. As comic books advanced as an artform, so too did the creativity behind Green Lantern constructs. This creativity is perfectly captured in Rayner’s artistic occupation, and his use of the Green Lantern ring. Rayner’s creative mind takes full advantage of the powers inherent in the Green Lantern ring.

What a nerd

Both Jordan and Rayner also have important connections with the larger DC Universe. Green Lanterns have a historic relationship with both Flashes and Green Arrows, originating with Hal Jordan, Barry Allen (the Flash), and Oliver Queen (Green Arrow). The buddy cop dynamic of Jordan and Allen, along with the clashing ideologies of Jordan and Queen, adds much to Jordan’s broader connection to the superhero community. Rayner continues this connection between Green Lantern and other heroes. As a more contemporary Green Lantern, Rayner is friends with modern versions of the Flash (Wally West) and Green Arrow (Connor Hawke). New dynamics are formed in this new generation, as Rayner and West share a friendly rivalry, while Hawke is the naive straight-man to Rayner’s wilder personality. Allowing titles to be passed on to new characters creates new dynamics within a new generation of heroes. Additionally, both Green Lanterns have been members of the Justice League. While Jordan was a founding member of the League, however, Rayner had to earn his way onto the team. Rayner first joined the Titans, a group of younger heroes, proving his mettle during his time on this team. Seeing Rayner work his way up from the Titans to the Justice League is very rewarding, showing true character development.

Next generation

Ultimately, years of Rayner’s character development seemed to be all for naught. Although he enjoyed a lengthy tenure from 1994-2004, Rayner’s time was up as soon as Hal Jordan returned during Green Lantern: Rebirth. During the time of Jordan’s return, Green Lantern comics simply were not selling. Rayner was a great Green Lantern, with the right personality for a new generation, but the stories did not live up to the character. Jordan’s return ushered in a revival for Green Lantern comics, beginning writer Geoff Johns’ nine year epic run on the character. The Green Lantern Corps returned, new ideas such as the emotional spectrum were introduced, and the Green Lantern stories themselves were very exciting. Additionally, Jordan was redeemed of the crimes committed during Emerald Twilight. Still, Rayner seemed to be sidelined in favor of the nostalgia for Hal Jordan. The acclaimed Green Lantern Corps title by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason featured Rayner prominently, but Jordan ultimately returned to the role of central Green Lantern.

Green Lanterns re-charged

Since the character’s inception, Kyle Rayner has been a much more appropriate Green Lantern for modern times. Rayner is more developed, relatable, and imaginative than Hal Jordan ever was. Yet Jordan, ever since his return in 2004, has had much better material in which he is featured. Storylines written by creators such as Johns have better villains, concepts, and supporting characters than storylines featuring Kyle Rayner. Rayner has a strong personality, which belongs in exciting storylines which feature characters like Jordan. Hal Jordan should be remembered fondly, as a great Green Lantern of the silver age. Yet Kyle Rayner should be the Green Lantern of the modern day. Combining Rayner’s winning personality with better story material would make for the ultimate Green Lantern experience. Ultimately, if Rayner could be written into stories with stronger ideas and more memorable villains, he could be seen as the greatest Green Lantern.

Pass it on, already!

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow the column on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! Check back in next week for another legacy post!

Legacy Heroes: Spider-Man

Spider-Man holds a broader appeal than almost any other superhero. The primary attraction to the web-slinger comes from his relatability. Spider-Man is the everyman: as Stan Lee used to say, “the superhero who could be you”. Readers, viewers, and consumers of all Spider-Man content can connect with the wall-crawler’s human struggles and personality traits. No matter who is under the mask, Spider-Man must face challenges both in and out of costume. Despite obstacles ranging from overdue bills to giant lizards, Spider-Man endures, making him all the more inspiring to fans. This connection to Spider-Man endures throughout fans’ lifetimes, from early childhood through adulthood. Spider-Man is representative of the common man, not just through his personal struggles, but through his changes over time. In order for Spider-Man to change, there must be a new Spider-Man that can connect with a younger generation as well.

Spider-Men of two generations

The first and most popular web-slinger around, Peter Parker, embodies everything great about Spider-Man. Peter’s origin establishes very early on that he isn’t perfect. When Peter first gets his powers, he selfishly tries to cash in on them, becoming an entertainer rather than instantly becoming a superhero. This impulsive act not only makes Peter a more realistic teenager, it also teaches him about the consequences of his actions (or lack thereof). Peter’s Uncle Ben is famously murdered by a burglar that he chose not to stop, teaching Peter that with great power, there must also come great responsibility. The burden of responsibility is a relatable one, as Peter is constantly torn between his own personal problems and his duties as Spider-Man. In both his civilian identity and his superhero guise, Peter struggles to get by, being branded a menace as Spider-Man while simultaneously fighting to make ends meet as Peter Parker. While Peter’s everyday hassles are quite relatable, his perseverance makes him truly inspiring. Peter is a science nerd who uses his own intelligence in tandem with his spider powers to find a way to succeed. Combining Peter’s skills and talents with his iron clad will creates an example for people of all ages, teaching them to never give up.

Great responsibility

Peter Parker may be a great example for kids, but he himself has not been a teenager since the 1960s. Nowadays, the teenage Spider-Man is Miles Morales, a young man from Brooklyn. Miles brings a fresh new perspective to the Spider-Man role. Being half African American and half Hispanic, Miles adds a lot more cultural relevance to the 21st century landscape of comic books. Yet Miles is a lot more than just “black Spider-Man”. Rather, Miles is very much a fanboy at heart, eager to live up to the legacy of his heroes, such as Peter Parker. Readers can easily relate to Miles’ adoration of heroes such as Captain America or Iron Man, making him one of the fans. Miles also provides a more modern high school experience, following 21st century trends. At one point, Miles and his friends ditch school to visit a hip-hop exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This excursion is not only a fun story, it demonstrates the relevance of Miles’ experience to current high school kids. Additionally, Miles may not be the nerd that Peter was, but he still undergoes relatable struggles as a teenager. Attending Brooklyn Visions Academy, Miles feels a lot of the academic pressure that comes with being a teenager, trying to balance school with crimefighting.

Truly a Spidey for today

The circumstances behind Miles’ creation are very elaborate for mainstream audiences. For a long time, Marvel was publishing two lines of comics: the main universe, and the “Ultimate Marvel” line. In 2011, the Ultimate version of Peter Parker was killed off, leaving a void in the Ultimate universe. Shortly afterwards, Miles Morales emerged as the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Miles’ creation garnered much attention, as the creation of a black Spider-Man was unprecedented. Most of the response was quite positive, since, finally, Spider-Man could truly represent a demographic outside of white kids from Queens. Furthermore, Peter and Miles were able to coexist, as Peter was still the Spider-Man of the main universe, while Miles was the Ultimate universe’s Spider-Man. The two characters crossed over several times, including 2012’s Spider-Men and 2014’s Spider-Verse event. Eventually, during the 2015 event Secret Wars, Marvel eliminated the multiverse, including the Ultimate universe, leaving only the main Marvel Universe standing. Miles was so popular, however, that Marvel decided to bring the new web-slinger into the main universe, sharing the title of Spider-Man with Peter Parker.

First night out

Since sharing the same universe, Peter and Miles have formed a strong relationship. Peter acts as a sort of mentor for Miles, without necessarily being his boss. Miles receives fun pieces of advice from Peter, including, “Don’t let anyone clone you. Seriously. And only date one girl at a time”. The mentor/apprentice relationship adds much to both Spider-Men as characters. Peter is allowed to grow into a more mature hero, who can share his past experiences with others. At the same time, Miles benefits by becoming part of a rich tradition of Spider-Men. One story, specifically, shows Miles going back in time and witnessing the struggles of Peter’s high school years. Understanding the hardships which Peter has endured gives Miles a greater perspective on how heavy the burden of Spider-Man is. More importantly, the shared struggles of both heroes reminds the web-slingers that they are not alone in the world. One of the most poignant scenes between Peter and Miles is when Peter thanks Miles for, “You know…keeping it going”. Peter is secure that the legacy of Spider-Man will live on, and Miles is relieved that he has the original Spider-Man’s blessing. Additionally, Peter and Miles simply have some genuinely funny exchanges, like when Peter is jealous of Miles’ venom blast powers. Little moments of banter between the two Spider-Men accentuate the fun and relatable traits of both characters.

Friendly advice

Much of the difference between Peter and Miles emerges in the villains which they face. Peter, since his first adventures, typically takes on colorful supervillains, such as Doctor Octopus, Mysterio, Sandman, Electro, and others. These villains are traditionally science-based, playing to Peter’s strengths as a nerd. Furthermore, Peter’s villains are traditional costumed crooks, representing the old-fashioned era in which Peter was created. Miles, on the other hand, tends to deal with more grounded, socially relevant villains. For example, one of the latest storylines in Miles’ comics had him tackle a human trafficking organization, led by street-level thugs like Tombstone. The more grounded nature of Miles’ villains lend a lot to his modern day relevance as a teenager, as he fights social issues that were not often discussed during Peter’s teenage years. Overall, there is some overlap between the two Spider-Men, as they have both fought all kinds of villains. Miles, however, more typically deals with smaller scale threats than Peter currently does, illustrating Peter’s progression as he grows older. This is not to say that the issues Miles faces are not important. In fact, some of the threats Miles encounters are more important than any maniacal supervillain. Rather, both Spider-Men simply face threats on different scales.

Colorful foes of Spider-Man

The supporting casts of both Spider-Men are quite similar as well. Peter Parker has amassed a large set of friends over the years, including Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, and several others. Miles also surrounds himself with friends such as Ganke Lee, Judge, and his girlfriend Barbara. A large difference between Miles and Peter is how early they developed their friendships. While Peter did not have a steady group of friends until college, Miles has a good number of friends in high school, demonstrating his people skills quite well. Additionally, Miles has an easier time getting along with other heroes, joining the young superhero group known as the Champions. Peter, on the other hand, was frequently tangled up in a series of misunderstandings and conflicts with other heroes when he was a teenager. It is only once Peter grew older that he began to team up more regularly with other heroes, joining the Avengers as well. The contrast in both wall-crawlers’ people skills is important for both Miles and Peter as characters. Miles is the more relatable modern teenager, moving past the cliched trope of nerdy loner. At the same time, Peter has grown up, showing a progression from isolated hero to a mature, integrated member of the superhuman community.

Miles and his amazing friends

The biggest difference between Peter and Miles, however, is their connections to their respective families. Peter was raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, only one of whom survived past his origin story, making family a marginal aspect of his life. Miles, however, is raised by his parents, both of whom know his secret identity. Additionally, Miles’ Uncle Aaron, aka former supervillain the Prowler, is a large influence on his life. In knowing Miles’ secret identity, Miles’ family takes a much larger, more active role in his life. The supportive, comforting role of family makes Miles more relatable than Peter in some respects. Miles moves past the repetitive trope of an orphaned superhero, instead representing the regular kid who has a family to support him in times of need. Many people can take inspiration from Miles’ family, and how they lean on each other.

Family matters

Currently, both Spider-Men are active in the Marvel Universe. After the release of the highly acclaimed film, Into the Spider-Verse, Miles is enjoying a peak of popularity. Miles’ current series, written by the excellent Saladin Ahmed, continues his high school journey. Miles fights street level crime, his family continues stronger than ever, and he is a part of a community of legacy heroes, including characters such as Kamala Khan aka Ms. Marvel. Peter, however, seems to be stuck in the same character cycle which he’s been undergoing for years now: he’s dating Mary Jane, he’s got a weird roommate in Manhattan, and he’s still going to graduate school. Ever since Marvel undid Peter’s marriage to MJ in 2007, it feels as if he hasn’t changed at all. Now, when there are two Spider-Men in the Marvel Universe, the similarity in age makes Peter and Miles too similar to justify their coexistence. What truly separates Peter from Miles? How can Marvel justify having two Spider-Men? Ultimately, the answer lies in character progression.

They’ve been saying that for years…

Both Peter and Miles are fantastic characters that deserve to be Spider-Man. Yet when both characters exist in the same universe, something must be done to highlight their differences. Additionally, Peter Parker has not changed as a character for quite some time now. Having two Spider-Men in the Marvel Universe is a great opportunity to progress Peter more. Miles can be the modern teenage Spider-Man with whom younger audiences can relate. Simultaneously, Peter should be allowed to become the mature, more adult Spider-Man. Peter Parker should be able to get married, have kids, and get a job, making him an experienced mentor for heroes like Miles. Maturing Peter advances his own character arc, while further distinguishing him from Miles. Coexistence between two Spider-Men is a fantastic way to show that anyone can be Spider-Man: he’s the hero that could be you. More importantly, Spider-Men of different age groups and experience levels demonstrate Spider-Man’s enduring relatability, regardless of age. Miles should be the modern teenage Spider-Man, allowing Peter to mature into the adult Spider-Man who has grown with experience.

Spider-Men of the future

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow the column @book_column on Twitter, and share with your friends! Come back next week for another entry on legacy superheroes!

Legacy Heroes: Batman

Batman is an icon to anyone who knows the character. For the past eighty years, the Dark Knight’s presentation as a hero has shifted, from campy crusader to noir detective. Despite all of the various interpretations of the caped crusader, the fundamental idea stands: someone who harnesses the darkness around him into something good. Batman symbolizes becoming the best version of yourself, despite the trauma and hardships of life. Most importantly, Batman harnesses the darkness to provide a light for others, creating a brighter tomorrow. The question must be asked, then: if Bruce Wayne is not the one wearing the cape and cowl, who can carry on the mantle of Batman? Who can bring light to those in the darkness? Grant Morrison, legendary Batman writer, answered this question during his seven-year epic on the title.

The Batman Legacy

Bruce Wayne seems as if he were destined to be the only Batman. After the murder of his parents, Wayne grew up as a tortured soul, crying out for justice which he never received. Indeed, when Morrison discussed the central idea of his Batman saga, he said, “I chose to build my story around the basic trauma, the murder of his parents that lies at the heart of Batman’s genesis”. Making such a traumatic event the centerpiece of Morrison’s storyline indicates its necessity to the character of Batman. Furthermore, Wayne uses his childhood trauma as a driving force which pushes him to his physical and mental limit as a crime-fighter. Speaking about the character of Bruce Wayne, Morrison says, “This was a man who had tamed and mastered his demons and turned personal tragedy into a relentless humanitarian crusade”. The relentless commitment to preventing any further tragedy is a core component of the Batman character, generating from Wayne’s personal history. Wayne becomes a true force for good, evolving into an inspiration to others as well. Morrison agrees, describing Wayne as “a true superhero at the height of his powers and the peak of his abilities, surrounded by a network of friends and associates, all of whom had been inspired by his lead”. Wayne’s intense dedication, resulting from a desire for justice, makes him the perfect embodiment of the Batman ideal. Yet when Wayne is no longer around, it is those whom he has inspired that must uphold the Batman legacy.

Ready for anything

The first to be inspired by Batman’s example was the original Robin, Dick Grayson. Raised as a circus acrobat, Grayson experienced a much brighter childhood than Wayne. Even after his parents were murdered, Grayson kept a light-hearted, fun-loving attitude. Morrison sees many of the good qualities in Grayson, saying, “I kind of always saw him as the quintessential superhero–you know, he’s the first-ever sidekick and he’s grown up. He’s pretty relaxed. He’s handled the traumas in a way that maybe Batman even hadn’t done it”. Grayson owes much of his well-adjusted nature to Wayne, who adopted him, in addition to making him the first Robin. By helping Grayson find justice for his parents, Wayne made sure to protect him from the same demons with which Wayne struggled. From there, Grayson grew up to become his own hero, Nightwing, joining teams such as the Teen Titans and making many friends along the way. The close social connections upon which Grayson relies define him as a character. Whether he is a member of the Teen Titans, an older brother to other Robins, or just a friendly ear for those around him, Grayson maintains a social nature about him. Many of Grayson’s endearing qualities indicate how different he is from Wayne. Instead of using the darkness to create light, Grayson thrives on the light, acting to brighten everything around him. When Grayson became Batman, he embodied a totally different type of caped crusader. Morrison clarifies, saying, “I like this idea of having this more relaxed, light-hearted Batman who’s very acrobatic. He’s very physical in a very different way”. The personal and physical differences which Grayson bring to the table make for an interesting experiment in the Batman title. Gone are the darkness and the trauma behind the character, replaced by a lighter tone of crime-fighter. Of course, only extreme circumstances could warrant Grayson stepping into his mentor’s shoes.

Father and son

After a series of complicated comic book shenanigans in Morrison’s DC crossover, Final Crisis, Batman was presumed dead, leaving a void in Gotham City. Someone had to take up the Dark Knight’s mantle, lest his legacy fall into the hands of someone like Jason Todd, aka the Red Hood. Todd was the second Robin, informed more by pain than altruism. In order to protect the legacy of his mentor, Grayson finally chose to become Batman. The role was not an easy one to inherit, however. Grayson was initially quite uncomfortable in the cowl, as he and Wayne were such different people. Wayne was a planner, while Grayson improvised. Wayne thrived on darkness, while Grayson fought in the light of day. Yet it is this clash of qualities which made Grayson such a fascinating take on the role of Batman. Grayson joked around, he was friendly with others, and ultimately stayed true to his own personality. As a natural performer, Grayson made the role of Batman his own. Additionally, Grayson took in Wayne’s own son, Damian, as the new Robin. The new dynamic duo helped Grayson develop as Batman, as Morrison notes, “He was never really in the Batman role; he was always pretending. But by giving him his own, definite Robin, I think it actually elevated Grayson into being a real Batman”. While Bruce Wayne was away, it was time for Grayson to bring his own unique perspective to the cape and cowl.

Trouble getting into the role…

With this unique Batman came some unique new adversaries as well. One major foe who emerged during Grayson’s tenure is Professor Pyg. A deranged scientist turned supervillain, Pyg kidnapped several victims, turning them into mind-controlled puppets for his amusement. Villains such as this hearkened back to Grayson’s days as the original Robin, with all of the ridiculous gimmicks and homicidal tendencies of classic Batman foes. Grayson also contended with Jason Todd once more, along with Todd’s own sidekick, Scarlet. Todd and Scarlet acted as foils for Grayson and Damian, challenging their claim to the legacy of Batman. The rivalry between Grayson and Todd emphasizes the multi-faceted legacy of Batman, as one Robin followed in his mentor’s footsteps, while the other rebelled into a killer. Morrison made sure to include recurring villains throughout his run, including Dr. Hurt, who fought both Wayne and Grayson. A vicious killer obsessed with the Waynes, Dr. Hurt represents the fears and insecurities which Wayne has about his family. Grayson, in continuing the fight against Dr. Hurt, picks up where his mentor left off. Grayson not only protects the legacy of Batman, but of Bruce Wayne as well.

Deadly rivals

The largest contrast between Wayne and Grayson, however, came in their dynamic with Robin, the boy wonder. When Grayson was Robin, he acted as the light to Batman’s darkness. Robin’s bright, colorful personality complemented the brooding, mysterious persona of Batman. When Grayson became Batman, however, the roles reversed. Damian Wayne, the new Robin, had none of the light-hearted attitude of previous Robins. Raised by the League of Assassins, Damian was very much his father’s son in attitude and intensity. With Damian in the role of Robin, Grayson became the lighter Batman to Damian’s violent, edgy version of Robin. Morrison was very excited about this shift, saying, “I think the relationship between Dick Grayson and Damian was just so fresh and so new and it still felt like Batman but it really opened up a lot of doors for characterization that hadn’t been there before”. Indeed, Grayson became the big brother that Damian never had, guiding him onto a kinder, gentler path. Furthermore, supporting characters such as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon became more involved than before. Grayson’s natural connection with others lends itself well to a partnership with Gordon and the Gotham Police. Alfred continued guiding Grayson on his path as Batman, just as he helped Grayson as Robin and Nightwing. While Wayne always maintained relationships with both Gordon and Alfred, he was always more closed off, reluctant to ask for help. Grayson, on the other hand, is a refreshing “people-person” as Batman.

The new dynamic duo

Overall, Grayson’s tenure as Batman was quite brief, from August 2009 to August 2011. Yet his time in the cape and cowl did not seem like it was meant to last. Bruce Wayne returned to life in 2010, during the Return of Bruce Wayne storyline. Afterwards, Wayne went around the world to start Batman Incorporated, an international army of Batmen. While Wayne was away, Grayson remained the Batman of Gotham, allowing two Batmen to coexist for a time. While it was fun to see both Wayne and Grayson as Batman, this status quo merely felt like a small story arc in Morrison’s overarching storyline. Batman Incorporated certainly was not going to last forever, and eventually, Wayne would return to Gotham. With Wayne alive and in Gotham, Grayson could return to the role of Nightwing. Indeed, in September of 2011, when DC launched its New 52 initiative, both Wayne and Grayson returned to their respective roles of Batman and Nightwing. Bruce and Damian Wayne even became a father-son dynamic duo in the Batman and Robin title. New storytelling possibilities emerged in pairing up Bruce and Damian Wayne, as Morrison says, “It’s really Damian relating to his father for the first time in a big way and the two of them trying to find some kind of common ground, which they don’t really have”. While Grayson had a fun tenure as Batman, it was time for another paradigm shift.

Side by side in Batman Inc.

Ultimately, Morrison opened up the doors for plenty of new stories by making Dick Grayson Batman. Yet this could only be a temporary change. Dick Grayson’s time as the Dark Knight was only a part of the massive epic which Morrison told about Batman. It was fun seeing a different kind of Batman: light-hearted, funny, and emotionally well-adjusted. The new dynamic between Batman and Robin also brought lots of fun to the table as well. These paradigm shifts, however, directly contrasted the essential elements of Batman: creating light out of darkness, the intense drive to do good, and Bruce Wayne’s brilliant mind. Bruce Wayne is the only one who can embody these elements, becoming the quintessential Batman. Like Morrison said, “What son could ever hope to replace a father like Batman, who never dies?” Similarly, Grayson has already become Nightwing, his own superhero. Forever casting Grayson as Batman would only keep him in his mentor’s shadow. Nightwing exemplifies how Grayson is his own man, with his own methods of crime-fighting. Dick Grayson’s identity as Nightwing makes him more than just a former Robin, it makes him his own hero. While it is fun to see Grayson play the role of Batman, only Bruce Wayne is Batman.

Batman and Son

That’s all for this week. Thank’s for reading! If you like this blog, feel free to follow on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! Check back next week for another legacy post!

Legacy Heroes: Captain America

Captain America is a symbol. The star-spangled Avenger stands for classic American ideals: hope, truth, justice, and other romanticized values. These values stem from the character’s origins in World War II, representing a nostalgia for simpler times. Within the Marvel Universe, Captain America embodies a higher standard of heroism. Every hero in the world of Marvel strives to measure up to Steve Rogers’ legacy. Yet behind all of the idealism and heroics, the title of Captain America is a burden. The battle for freedom never ends, and the Captain must always stand as an example for American ideals. When Steve Rogers is no longer able to carry the weight of this burden, who is there to take up the mantle? Writer Ed Brubaker answered this question in 2008, when Cap’s former sidekick, Bucky Barnes, took up his mentor’s shield.

Carrying the shield

From the character’s first appearance, Steve Rogers captured the essence of Captain America. Rogers was just a skinny young man living in the great depression, uplifted by an opportunity to serve his country in World War II. More importantly, Rogers was transformed into a peak physical specimen, embodying both physical and idealistic virtues. Frozen in time at the end of the war, Rogers was recovered in the modern age, as a man out of his own time period. Brubaker depicts the haunted nature of Rogers’ psyche by frequently flashing back to the horrors of war. Citing Stan Lee’s original work on Captain America, Brubaker says, “I loved the way Steve Rogers just looked haunted and tragic all the time whenever he wasn’t in action”. Indeed, Rogers carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. The battle has never truly ended for the sentinel of liberty, from his World War II experiences to his modern day battles as a man out of time. Despite the character’s tragedy, Rogers remains a steadfast hero. As Captain America, Rogers is the longtime leader of the Avengers, an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and a shining beacon of hope to all those around him. All of these qualities, plus Rogers’ own appealing sense of idealism, make him nearly impossible to replace.

Who wouldn’t follow this man?

If anyone could replace Rogers, it would be his old sidekick, James “Bucky” Barnes. Bucky served alongside the Captain in World War II, acting as the Robin to Rogers’ Batman. However, Brubaker wrote Bucky as much more than the typical teen sidekick. Bucky acted as a lethal operative within the US Army, often going to dark places that Rogers wouldn’t. Brubaker clearly loved writing Bucky, giving him quite a snarky attitude and relatable sense of humor. Bucky is often portrayed with a chip on his shoulder, constantly trying to prove his worth in the army. Long thought dead at the end of the war, Bucky was resurrected in the beginning of Brubaker’s run. It was revealed that, for decades, Bucky was kept alive by the Soviet Union and brainwashed into an assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Bucky’s transformation illustrates a perversion of the American ideals, warping a beloved teen icon into a mindless assassin. Only through Rogers’ efforts was Bucky’s memory restored, starting him on the path to redemption.

Sidekick with an attitude

Bucky’s salvation at the hands of Rogers demonstrates a brotherly bond between the two soldiers. Throughout the Winter Soldier storyline, Rogers constantly fights to get through to his former sidekick. Several flashbacks emphasize the tragic bond between Barnes and Rogers. Many scenes, such as when Barnes and Rogers attend a movie, portray Bucky as the light to Rogers’ heavy, duty-bound attitude. Barnes’ sense of humor plays off of Rogers’ intensity, lightening Rogers’ burden. On the other hand, Rogers’ role as an older brother shapes Barnes, inspiring him to live up to the example of Captain America. Brubaker’s flashbacks to World War II also reveal the shared trauma of Rogers and Bucky. Several scenes flash back to Bucky being tortured in front of Rogers’ eyes, highlighting Rogers’ feelings of guilt and responsibility for his friend. Furthermore, Rogers shoulders the guilt that he couldn’t save Bucky from being turned into the Winter Soldier to begin with. Recovering Barnes’ memories, Rogers is able to save his surrogate brother. Moreover, Rogers sets Barnes on the path to becoming the new Captain America.

Brothers at odds…

Brubaker set the stage for a new sentinel of liberty in 2007, during the famous “Death of Captain America” storyline. Major villains the Red Skull and Aleksander Lukin plotted the assassination of Steve Rogers, leaving a star-spangled hole in the superhero community. Brubaker personally commented on the fascinating story possibilities brought about through Rogers’ demise, saying, “We don’t often spend enough time on ramifications in mainstream comics, so here was a place to build a whole storyline around them”. Indeed, the loss of Captain America greatly demoralized not only the superhero community, but the American public as well. A symbol of the nation was struck down, leaving many to wonder if the ideals for which he stood were also dead and buried. Yet Bucky Barnes knew something had to be done about Rogers’ assassins. Realizing that he had to carry on in the Captain’s honor, Barnes set out to stop the Red Skull and Lukin once and for all. Funnily enough, Brubaker did not originally intend for Bucky to become the new Captain America. Yet passing down the mantle to Barnes gave Brubaker a sense of storytelling clarity, saying, “The ultimate destination was always the same, I just wasn’t entirely sure how I’d get there until Bucky became the new Cap, which wasn’t part of the original plan, either”. Passing the mantle of Captain down to Barnes not only opened up further story possibilities, but it also filled the void which Rogers left behind. While Barnes did not wish to hold the title of Captain America, someone needed to carry on Rogers’ ideals. During a time of political turmoil, plotted by the Red Skull, someone had to carry the shield, and Bucky was not about to let anyone else take it. The burden of being Captain America shows itself here, as the never ending battle carries on with or without Steve Rogers. While Captain America is not a title that one wishes to carry, it is a necessary example to uphold American idealism.

First night out

Both Rogers and Barnes carried the mantle of Captain America as a burden. Yet the manner in which each character carried this title varies quite a bit. Brubaker depicts Rogers as more of a model soldier, with a strong moral compass. People easily follow Rogers, such as his fellow Avengers, as he is a natural leader. The super soldier serum merely enhanced all of the upright qualities about Rogers, even during times of adversity. Barnes, on the other hand, is much more impulsive and flawed than Rogers. Several times throughout Brubaker’s run, Barnes knowingly runs into traps, throwing caution to the wind. Bucky’s attitude is reflective of his time in World War II, as the rash young sidekick of Captain America. Furthermore, Barnes has a much darker past than Rogers. While Rogers carries the tragedy of being a man out of time, Barnes has to live with the atrocities he committed as the Winter Soldier. It is the dark past, combined with Bucky’s character flaws, which make him connect well with readers. Wearing the flag and the shield allow Bucky to grow and atone for past sins. Rogers has been the upstanding ideal, so Barnes is given the opportunity to strive towards Rogers’ example. Additionally, Bucky’s practical use of firearms and snarky remarks physically illustrate his unique characteristics. While Rogers possesses the super soldier serum, Barnes has to make do with his own unique skill set, making the title of Captain America his own.

Doing his own thing

Despite their differences in style, both Rogers and Barnes tackled many of the same villains. Both versions of Captain America encountered villains from World War II coming back to haunt them. For example, Baron Zemo, the Red Skull, Aleksander Lukin, and even a Captain America clone appeared throughout Brubaker’s run. These villains demonstrate Brubaker’s love for the Captain America lore, as he comments, “I also really liked the WW2 stories that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did in Tales of Suspense, before the book became Captain America”. The main difference between Rogers and Barnes’ villains, however, is that Bucky dealt more with the sins of his own past. Many of the villains encountered during Bucky’s tenure were people whom he had wronged as the Winter Soldier, adding more depth to Barnes’ redemption arc. Bucky has to confront the ghosts of his past in order to earn the title of Captain America, a struggle which makes him that much more compelling. Rogers, on the other hand, constantly deals with political threats to freedom and democracy, such as Aleksander Lukin’s assault on New York. Bucky often dealt with similar threats, but Brubaker frames these challenges as a way to live up to Rogers’ example. Rogers’ idealism and perseverance always won through, and now Bucky has to carry these ideals to give the American people hope, such as saving presidential candidates from assassination plots.

Out of the past…

Bucky’s supporting cast also differs greatly from Rogers’. Where Rogers had Sharon Carter of S.H.I.E.L.D. by his side, Barnes’ main love interest is Natalia Romanova, aka the Black Widow. Personally, I am much more in favor of Barnes and the Widow as a couple. Natalia and Bucky share a history, carrying on a secret relationship when he was the Winter Soldier and she was training to be an assassin for the KGB. Their shared trauma at the hands of the Soviets gives them a bond which carries on into Bucky’s time as Captain America. Natalia is a partner for Bucky, supporting him and often saving him from himself. Rogers and Carter, however, are much less compelling as a couple. As an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Carter is often at odds with Rogers, torn between her orders and her love for Steve. Rogers and Carter are also often a very on again/off again relationship, which can grow tiresome to see. There isn’t a lot which Carter has in common with Rogers, other than the fact that he dated her great aunt (gross!) Ultimately, Bucky and Natalia are a far more compelling couple.

Adorable

Both Rogers and Barnes share one ally in common: the Falcon. Sam Wilson acts as a nice constant between the two Captains. With Rogers, the Falcon is a trustworthy and loyal partner in crimefighting. Wilson always has Rogers’ back, and is there when he is needed. With Bucky, Wilson serves as more of a mentor. Much time between Wilson and Barnes is devoted to the Falcon providing guidance on how best to carry the shield. This new dynamic is a fun change of pace, as the reader gets to see the Falcon share his perspective with the new Captain. As Brubaker said in an interview, ““One of the things I’d dug about the Cap series when I was a kid was all the people around him. He’s an interesting character partly because of how everyone else looks at him”. Another common role that both Captains play is in the Avengers. Yet the team dynamic within the Avengers is different for both Captains. Rogers served with the “classic” Avengers, such as Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, and many others. Additionally, Rogers always served as the leader and the heart of the team. Bucky, on the other hand, is a member of the “new” Avengers. This team is more of a ragtag group of heroes, consisting of characters such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Ronin, and others. In this street level version of the Avengers, Bucky is “one of the guys” rather than the leader that Rogers was. Barnes is constantly exchanging banter with his teammates, confronting them about the mistreatment of his apartment, and getting used to this new generation of heroes. The interactions which Barnes has with heroes such as Luke Cage and Ronin establish him as the new Captain America, with unique new character relationships.

Getting used to the team

Ultimately, Barnes could have had a much longer tenure as Captain America. While 2008-2011 seems like a long time to hold the title, much of this time was focused on Barnes finding his footing as the new Captain. It would have been nice to see Bucky as a confident, fully-formed Captain America, becoming a leader within the superhero community. As the original teen sidekick and one of the first heroes of the Marvel Universe, becoming a leader would be a nice bit of character development for Bucky. For example, shortly after Rogers’ death, Bucky fights alongside the Young Avengers as the Winter Soldier. What makes this scenario appealing is witnessing Bucky’s reaction to a new generation of heroes. Giving Barnes more of a chance to be a part of this new generation, as Captain America, would be a character defining moment. Bucky’s short tenure as Captain America is only compounded by Rogers’ return from the dead in 2009, shortly into Barnes’ time as the sentinel of liberty. Bringing back Rogers so soon casts a shadow over Barnes, as readers are left wondering when Steve will return to his former mantle. Less time is focused on Bucky living up to Steve’s legacy when Steve is alive and well. Of course, some good character development did come from Steve’s return. For a time, Bucky got to keep the mantle of Captain America, while Steve became the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. This new status quo gave Bucky more room to develop as a hero, while Steve saved the world in a different manner than before. Furthermore, the burden of Captain America was lifted from Steve, allowing him to rest, while someone new took on the mantle. Yet this change didn’t last. As soon as the Captain America movie was released in 2011, Steve Rogers conveniently reclaimed his role in the comics, and Bucky returned to the title of the Winter Soldier.

Giving the boy his blessing

At the end of the day, Brubaker should have been given more time with Bucky as Captain America. From the beginning of his run, it was quite apparent that Brubaker had a great time writing Bucky. The Winter Soldier storyline began Brubaker’s run, turning Barnes into a compelling character and an integral part of Brubaker’s time on the title. Additionally, several flashback scenes and storylines highlighted much of the love which Brubaker had for Bucky’s personality and personal history. Indeed, when discussing Captain America, Brubaker said, “I loved that mix of espionage and superheroics he got across”. Bucky is a clear example of this mix, offering a history as a teenage sidekick and a dark past as a Soviet assassin. As soon as Rogers was forced back into the role of Captain America, the quality of Brubaker’s run dropped significantly. Storylines became much less developed and characters were not nearly as compelling. In fact, a second writer, Cullen Bunn, had to be brought on to co-write Brubaker’s final storyline. It became apparent that Brubaker’s heart wasn’t in the title with Steve shoe-horned back into the lead. Overall, passing the mantle of Captain America to Bucky feels right, like a passing of the torch. Bucky is qualified, as Captain America’s former sidekick and a highly trained assassin. The role serves to redeem Bucky and develop him alongside a new generation of heroes. Most importantly, passing the title of Captain to Bucky gives Steve Rogers a much needed rest from his burden. Captain America can still inspire based on Rogers’ example, but passing the torch means giving someone else a chance to live up to Rogers’ ideals. Who better to carry on the legacy of Captain America than his former sidekick?

A star-spangled legacy

That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading! Be sure to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends! See you next week for another installment in the new legacy series of the Comic Book Column!