Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Avengers Vol. 1-10

Bendis, Brian Michael. New Avengers. Vol. 1-10. New York: Marvel Publishing, 2007-2009.

After the House of M, the Avengers disbanded, leaving New York and all of America without a premiere superhero defensive force. The X-Men were limited in number after the decimation, there were several B-Level hero groups (New Warriors, the Runaways, the Young Avengers, etc.), but the heavy hitters (save the Fantastic Four) were split and dealing with their own concerns. After a breakout at Rykers Island, Captain America convinced Iron Man to reform the New Avengers: Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Spider Woman, Wolverine and the Sentry. Daredevil was at the event that catalyzed the group, but due to personal issues in his own life had to turn down Captain America's offer. The group remained intact until the Civil War split the Avengers down the middle and pro-registration heroes signed up for the Mighty Avengers. Dr. Strange, the Immortal Iron Fist and Ronin (at first Echo, then later a returned-from-the-dead Hawkeye) joined Spider-Man (now in back in the black uniform), Spider Woman, Wolverine and Luke Cage to continue fighting crime and the Registration Act while Iron Man recruited Ms. Marvel, Black Widow (Natalia Romanova, if you know your Black Widows), Ares: God of War, Wonderman and Avenger original the Wasp to join Sentry as the government controlled Mighty Avengers. Captain America was killed between the Civil War and the formation of the Mighty Avengers while awaiting trial for his crimes during the Civil War (more on that in a later post). The two Avenger groups fought each other for some time until a Skrull Invasion made this already convoluted plot that much more confusing (again, more on that).

Bendis has his hands in all of it (including the Secret War which started all of this, both Avenger Groups, the Initiative, and the Secret Invasion, Dark Avengers and eventually it is rumored the reformation of big three in the Avengers: Thor, Captain America and Iron Man). The Bendis Avengers, both groups, are interesting. The group was initially formed to fight evil. It was hailed as "the Earth's Mightiest Heroes" banding together to fight Gods and streets thugs alike. Over the course of history, everyone (let me stress this...EVERYONE) has been an Avenger, including several reformed villains (Quicksilver, Hawkeye, even Wonderman was once the construct of the Baron Zemo and the Master's of Evil), and the history became muddled and cluttered. The formation of the West Coast Avengers, legal and governmental issues, financing troubles and the minutiae of continuity forced Marvel to shut down the Avengers. No longer the symbol they should be, Thor and Iron Man parted ways and the world, for a brief time, was without a superhero super team.

With Bendis at the helm, the Avengers returned to their original mission: fight evil. After the break out of Rykers Island, the Avengers had a list of 42 super bad guys released back into the real world, so the Avengers main concern was, in fact, a tangible list of evils to correct. It seemed like a black-and-white, good-vs.-evil world for a time.

Then, after the New Warriors killed six hundred people in a Connecticut suburb of New York, Bendis raised the question: what is evil? As the adage goes, the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and Speedball had the best intention when he attacked Nitro, which led to the death of 600 people, including an entire school of children. Was Speedball evil, then? The question split the Earth's Mightiest Heroes down the middle. Thus, Bendis had the heroes fighting each other in the name of good-and-evil (all the while a gang of villains was forming and previous Green Goblin Norman Osbourn took control of the Thunderbolts, a group of reformed villains turned heroes). The line between good and evil was blurred.

After the Skrull War, Osbourn took control of the Avengers and filled previously held symbols with villains acting as heroes (i.e. Bullseye played the part of Hawkeye; Moonstone played the part of Ms. Marvel; and so on). The line between good and evil continues to blur.

This is a revolutionary rewriting of superhero legends not seen since Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. It is clear in the current climate that what makes a good person good is not just the actions he or she takes, but the intentions, the delivery, and the surroundings. Norman Osbourne, by all rights, is one of the worst villains of all time, but now wears two symbols of heroism. Spiderman, back in the iconic red and blue uniform, fights against the public forces of good. Iron Man is on the run, once the figurehead of all things good.

It remains to be seen what will float to the top after all is said and done. If interested in hero mythology, check out the New Avengers line.

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