Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Dark Avengers, Vol. 1

Norman Osborn leads his own team of ex-villain Avengers as part of his Dark Reign takeover of Marvel.

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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!

marvelWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Issues: Dark Avengers #1-6

 

“My name is Norman Osborn, and I approve these Dark Avengers.”

The time period around 2009, Dark Reign, was Marvel’s not so subtle attempt at The Empire Strikes Back – a dark middle chapter where the villains seemingly win and the good guys go into hiding.

The political and social waves hit a crescendo during the skrull Secret Invasion. As then Director of SHIELD, Tony Stark was blamed for much of the disaster, while Norman Osborn and his team of Thunderbolts saved the day in the end. Thanks to some savvy manipulations, the former Green Goblin is given Stark’s job, dissolves SHIELD and creates HAMMER (“We’ll come up with what it stands for later”).

As part of his newly expanded role, Osborn creates his own Avengers squad. He has the keys to Avengers tower and brings in most of his Thunderbolts and a few new faces to create a villainous squad masquerading as heroes – which is exactly what the Thunderbolts were minus the literal donning of hero costumes. (Interestingly the Thunderbolts series would continue with a different team full of D-listers).

Most of the original Mighty Avengers squad get the hell out of dodge, with the exception of the easily manipulated, mentally disabled Sentry and aggressive God of War Ares. They’re joined by former Thunderbolts Venom (with drugs that allow him to look like black-suited Spider-Man), Bullseye (wearing Hawkeye’s costume), and Moonstone (dressed as Ms. Marvel’s Binary costume). Osborn brings in Daken (dressed as his father, Wolverine) and Noh-Var (Marvel Boy, pretending to me Captain Marvel). Finally Osborn himself suits up in one of Iron Man’s armors, calling himself Iron Patriot.

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Whew, confused yet? That’s quite the roster, and pretty awful when it comes to diversity. Like Thunderbolts this is a team of not-quite reformed villains. The in-fighting and drama is high in every issue, though with so many members it’s often a montage of one-liners and quick scenes.

The first Volume highlights one major story arc in the first four issues. Dr. Doom returns to Latveria only to be attacked by a pissed off Morgana Le Fay. The two engage in a heated magical battle that leaves Doom disabled, and the Dark Avengers are flown in to help him.

Mike Deodato’s artwork is absolutely breathtaking. I’m pretty sure he’s my favorite Marvel artist of everything I’ve seen thus far. The colors are deep and vibrant, characters look amazing while avoiding the glossy look (cough Greg Land cough) and action sequences are just incredible. Deodato loves the two-page spreads – even with scenes that are little more than extended dialogue sequences. Scenes are given dynamic poses and interesting panel construction that make everything that much more exciting to read. It’s a visual feast in every issue, and Deodato’s art absolutely elevates the otherwise so-so storytelling.

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Eventually Osborn works with Doom to defeat Morgana. The whole story boils down to one big action sequence with Morgana’s magic demons, and because the art is so great it’s fun as hell.

Afterward the Dark Avengers are given a whole issue to lick their wounds and explore the team’s volatile dynamic – Venom is fed victims of each battle, Bullseye is still a barely hinged psychopath, Moonstone has her own agenda, and Noh-Var has disappeared. The most interesting is Osborn’s interaction with the Sentry. He goes full on psychotherapist and uses his own very real inner demon to help Sentry cope with his. It actually paints Osborn in a favorable, sympathetic light, even though he’s using the Sentry as a powerful weapon.

Osborn soon has need for his ultimate weapon when a random Atlantean terrorist cell attacks. Namor is brought in as a brief but delicious cameo as someone that doesn’t take any of Osborn’s shit. Instead of seguing into another action-packed battle with the team, they send Sentry to basically kill them all.

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Osborn only barely holds the team together and his grasp is constantly paper thin. I enjoy the way Bendis writes Osborn and focuses on his political savvy when it comes to public relations, like in a scene where the real Hawkeye denounces Osborn publicly on air, and Osborn is forced to make a statement. His interaction as babysitter and general for the team remains enjoyable throughout the volume, and ends with his own inner demon – the Green Goblin, calling to him.

Dark Avengers is a neat idea, though this first volume mostly plays it safe and retreads much of the same road walked by Thunderbolts (who’s Ultimate Collection was also drawn by Deodato). As the Dark Avengers their profiles are much higher, but the implication that they’re pretending to be the heroes they’re not is sadly not fully explored. I definitely hope Bendis gives these cool concepts a chance to grow. As it is this first volume is still a fun romp, made extra awesome with Deodato’s fantastic art.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 4-5

Thanks to 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!

new avengers #16 coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Steve McNiven (#16), Mike Deodato (#17-20), Howard Chaykin (#21), Leinil Francis Yu (#22), Olivier Coipel (#23), Adi Granov (#24), Jim Cheung (#25)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #16-25

If you were looking for a series heavily mired in ongoing Marvel continuity and events, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend anything before New Avengers. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has been instrumental in ushering in the age of events that has dominated Marvel comics for the last decade, and New Avengers was his main ongoing series that picked up after “Avengers Disassembled,” leading through the events of Civil War and Dark Reign and culminating in Siege.

The first three story arcs (see Final Thoughts – New Avengers, Vol. 1-3) set up the reason for the new team and gave them some room to stretch and grow. The next two arcs – Volume Four’s “The Collective” and Volume Five’s “New Avengers Disassembled,” are very reflective of the state of the Marvel universe, and would be incredibly confusing for anyone that wasn’t also keeping up with other trades and series.

Thankfully I’ve been diving into Marvel comics whole-heartedly. “The Collective” finally answers the question that was posed at the end of House of M – If so many mutants lost their powers, where did all that power go? Turns out they were all absorbed by a quiet mutant living in Alaska. Michael Pointer had no idea he was a mutant – his power was to absorb other powers (Like Rogue I suppose) and he had never lived near any other mutants.

The resulting influx of millions of mutant powers makes him an energy being of god-like power, and he destroys his poor hometown and everyone in it in a sudden rampage. Alpha Flight is called in to stop him as he travels through Canada to America, and he promptly wipes them out (Which begets a new team called Omega Flight at the end of Civil War). The Avengers are called in to deal with them, as well as some guest stars like Ms. Marvel. Most of the story is spent simply keeping him at bay (mainly using Sentry’s equally god-like powers) while they figure out just who the hell he is, and the mystery and reveal is quite cool.

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The combined mutant powers eventually leave Pointer’s body and enter’s Magneto, now powerless and writing his memoirs in the ruins of Genosha. I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve enjoyed Magneto’s older post-war attitude, so it’s fitting that he fights the possession every step of the way. It all ties back into Xorn, which is the overly confusing and frankly terrible plot web that tangled up the X-Men just before the era I returned to in Marvel continuity (circa 2004).

Thankfully it’s handled much better here – Magneto/Xorn raises the dead bodies of mutants while our New Avengers battle them in an epic climax. Agent Daisy Johnson (whom is apparently Skye in the Agents of SHIELD TV show) is brought in by SHIELD to cause a localized quake in Magneto’s mind, ripping Xorn from his body. Sentry then hurls the energy ball into the sun. Does this effectively destroy the last vestiges of all those lost mutant powers? Either way it was a fun, action-packed story and neat way to tie into a dangling thread from House of M.

new avengers #23On the other hand the “New Avengers Disassembled” story arc is nothing more than a series of single issue tie-ins that attempts to shed some background light on some of the team members during the events of Civil War. Each issue is drawn by different artists with very different art styles, so it’s a bit jarring to read them one after the other. The five issues serve as one-offs for Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Sentry and Iron Man. Luke Cage and Spider-Woman were the best; Cage and Iron Man have a deliciously tense discussion over the Superhuman Registration Act (Luke Cage would go on to join Captain America’s resistance team), while Spider-Woman’s personal arc with Hydra fits nicely for a one-off adventure where they try to openly recruit her – and her answer involves driving a speedboat away from an explosion.

The Civil War stories are a good example of when an event completely stalls another series. While the event itself is fantastic, New Avengers definitely suffered and was hamstrung into doing side stories with little to no actual plot development. In my perusal of more than half the Civil War tie-ins, it was definitely one of the worst.

However, I do look forward to the new world order that’s created after that massive event as Tony Stark creates his own officially government sanctioned Avengers team in Mighty Avengers, while New Avengers continues on as an underground resistance still fighting the good fight.