With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Billy Tan, Chris Bachalo, Stuart Immonen
Issues: New Avengers (2005) #48-60
The New Avengers (2005-2010) was really Brian Michael Bendis’ baby. Bendis has been the primary architect of Marvel’s overarching universe and event-ridden stories throughout the era I’m reading and well beyond. For that reason New Avengers could be considered the flagship Marvel series, involving one of the better team matchups and solid writing. These final three volumes before the big Siege event of 2010 represent one of the better Dark Reign stories – as it should since Bendis also penned Dark Avengers.
Volume 10, “Power” (#48-50) represents the short epilogue and transition out of Secret Invasion. It picks up immediately after the final battle and focuses on the dangling plot thread of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ baby daughter being taken by the skrull-Jarvis. There’s a brief man hunt that’s displayed as a fun montage. Finally Luke Cage goes to the one man with all the power to find someone – Norman Osborn, currently reigning top cop of HAMMER.
Osborn quickly tracks down the skrull hideout, Luke gets the baby, and Bullseye murders the skrull with a sniper rifle. Instead of agreeing to join up with Osborn’s Dark Avengers team, Luke Cage beats the shit out of Venom and Bullseye, then escapes. It’s a surprising and badass moment, and Bendis would continue to do a lot of cool things that really shows off Luke Cage’s character and personality.
Billy Tan does the art throughout Volumes 10-11, but Marvel uses a few other artists to fill out special scenes like backstories. I love Tan’s use of bold colors and giant, page-filling characters. The action looks great and the comic probably has more giant double-page spreads than anything else I’ve read. And they’re not all action! Bendis loves to use extended dialogue scenes with lots of panels on a full two-page spread, and it works really well thanks to the snappy, witty dialogue. Bendis excels at these team-up books with multiple characters playing off each other, and I found myself laughing out loud almost as much as a Deadpool comic.
“The Search for the Sorcerer Supreme” (#51-55) places Dr. Strange in center stage in the next Volume. Strange had been a powerful member of the New Avengers following their Civil War rebellion, but had used too much power to save them all at the end of Volume 7’s tussle with The Hood and his street-level villain gang.
Dr. Strange had been absent throughout Secret Invasion, and now makes a dramatic return as he reveals he’s been searching for his replacement as the new Sorcerer Supreme. All the Strange scenes are done by a different artist, and while it’s a neat effect to illustrate the backstory, it was difficult to tell how these messy action scenes played out. Basically Strange meets Wiccan (from the Young Avengers) and they’re attacked by The Hood – whom we know is being possessed by Dormammu.
The Volume is one big self-contained adventure as Strange and the team travel to New Orleans as they follow the Eye of Agomotto’s signal. The Hood fully hulks out into Dormammu and it takes the combined might of the New Avengers, Hellstorm, and Brother Voodoo to stop him. Brother Voodoo is bequeathed with the Eye, and Dr. Strange offers to train him.
It can be fun to see a C-list hero elevated if it’s done well – like what Bendis does with Spider-Woman throughout these volumes, despite her previous dismantling as the Queen skrull in Secret Invasion. I also totally dig grizzled, mustachioed Dr. Strange as a paranoid mentor.
Volume 12 brings our heroes back to current events. In “Power Loss” (#56-60), Osborn got his hands on the power dampener that the team tried to use in Volume 10. Actually, Osborn doesn’t get it at first, one of The Hood’s lackeys does, and he uses it to incapacitate the New Avengers, then the Dark Avengers.
Osborn is forced to cut a deal, while a string of awesome action scenes finally plays out between our two heavy-hitting teams. Lots of fun moments, though Stuart Immonen’s bland style isn’t nearly as strong and bold as Tan’s. Bucky shoots Ares in the face, Ms. Marvel knocks Iron Patriot out of the air, and Mockingbird (newly resurrected from Secret Invasion) saves everyone by single-handily beating Chemistro and grabbing the getaway jet.
“Power Loss” has a lot of awesome pay-off battles and moments, and our team only barely escapes with their lives. Unfortunately the power dampener has a terrible effect on Luke Cage, giving him a severe heart problem. Having terrible things constantly happen to the super hero family of Cage and Jones gets a little tiresome, but it is effectively dramatic for the whole team.
Cage surrenders himself to Osborn to get the medical attention he needs, and the rest of the team concocts a successful rescue mission involving a feint attack on Camp Hammond. The whole thing ends with a hidden bomb in Luke Cage’s chest, but the Avengers get the last laugh and the bomb blows up Osborn’s home.
Bendis is in top form here with New Avengers, and Volume 12 is easily the best Dark Reign-centric story I’ve read (I know I just said that with Ms. Marvel but hey). The team roster stays consistent and their banter and power-sets compliment each other wonderfully. Integrating the real Spider-Woman and Hawkeye’s wife Mockingbird was a nice boost to diversity and adding some much needed woman power into the mix. Bendis also doesn’t ignore Jessica Jones and gives her some important dramatic moments. I was a bit confused that the series never acknowledges Ms. Marvel’s brief “death” in her own series.
The only thing I wasn’t totally on board with was the continual use of The Hood as a major villain, and the lame way in which he’s defeated, and then quickly gets a different powerset out of the blue from Loki. Stop trying to make The Hood cool, Bendis! You’ve already got the Dark Avengers and a unified group of street-thugs at your disposal. The New Avengers has been the most consistent and best Avengers title since its inception in 2005, and these three Volumes continue that trend.