The Brian Michael Bendis era is over. The guiding hand of the Avengers franchise at Marvel Comics has essentially relinquished control of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with the advent of Marvel NOW!. Bendis may have one last devastating word for the team with his “Age of Ultron,” but for the moment, other hands on are the Avengers. Here’s a quick look at recent doings in the Marvel NOW! era, after the jump.
The adjective-less Avengers title restarted at #1 in the Marvel NOW! era has Jonathan Hickman in charge of writing, and for the moment, Jerome Opena and Adam Kubert in a currently revolving artist slot.
Much has been made of Hickman’s proposed eighteen-member roster, and his new additions – Hyperion, Smasher, Manifold, Sunspot, Cannonball, and Captain Universe. I admit, I have liked what he has been doing with these characters, but let’s be clear, there are already too many Avengers – we don’t need new ones. There are literally dozens of characters who already have membership cards with sparkling untapped potential already ahead of these folks in line. Remember, there are no bad characters, only bad writers. Plus, if we’re graduating sidekicks into the team, why not someone from the Young Avengers, the Initiative, or the Academy? Why two of the New Mutants? Didn’t we have enough X-Men in the Bendis era?
The first arc, which ended deus ex machina with Captain Universe, and began rehashing the plot of Giant Size X-Men #1, had its highlights character-wise, and villain-wise, but little else. The next three issues are spotlight/origin stories for Hyperion, Smasher, and Captain Universe, respectively, rather than Avengers tales. Granted, knowing Hickman, we are looking at slow long-term set-up, so all we can do is wait and see.
In the pre-Marvel NOW!, I loved this book, whether it was Warren Ellis rocking the words or Rick Remender. While it did only at times have a real Avengers feel, the stories were always action-packed and intriguing. The choose-your-team, hit squad concept is an old one, but a functional one. I thought the lengthy “Descendants” storyline was one that would have been a massive and memorable epic had it been in the regular title (but then again, do the Avengers really have a ‘regular’ title any more?).
Rebooted for Marvel NOW!, Secret Avengers has Nick Spencer writing. I loved his gritty realistic super-spies over at DC when he was doing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and that style is well suited here. He presents us with a very Suicide Squad, very movie-inspired teaming of Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the new Nick Fury. I really dig it. This isn’t Remender’s team or take, but I’m really digging it.
Speaking of writer Rick Remender, Uncanny Avengers is also his baby, the bastard step-child of last summer’s big AvX crossover event. This team, born of both the Avengers and the X-Men, has united officially to inspire a world to accept mutants and humans as equals and fulfill the late Charles Xavier’s dream, and finds a more dire purpose in a foe that strikes fear in both teams, and the world – the Red Skull with Xavier’s powers.
With fabulous art by John Cassaday, and shock after shock in this quick-paced and exciting series, I am almost ashamed to say I expected very little from this series. The characters gel well, and there is little boundary as to whether this is an Avengers team or an X-Men team, this is a team, period, and the threat they face gets more and more dangerous. Need more incentive to read Uncanny Avengers? Spoilers up, true believers… Onslaught’s back, and this time, he’s the Red Skull.
Like Uncanny, this title was also a huge surprise. There was a time when I would have said that no one could write these characters except for Allan Heinberg, but no offense to Allan, but I would be wrong. The Marvel NOW! version of the team by Kieron Gillen is brilliant. This series, only two issues in so far, not only brings the charm of the Heinberg characters but introduces us to new members like Miss America and Lil’ Loki. Characterization is key here, and a pleasure to read. For a sneak peek at issue #3, check out Biff Bam Pop!’s special preview here.
Speaking of young Avengers, Avengers Arena by Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker (no relation), is only peripherally an Avengers title in my estimation, but it includes characters from the much missed Avengers Initiative. In what at first seemed like a Hunger Games rift, sixteen young heroes were kidnapped by Arcade, taken to Murderworld, and forced into gladiatorial games to the death. In fact, early publicity promised at least one death per issue. Surprisingly though, if you read it, the book has a lot of heart and character, despite all the death.
This series mercifully did not start over at #1 with Marvel NOW!. I understand the logic of comics and renumbering and its relation to gaining new readers, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. This Brian Michael Bendis series began as an anti-continuity companion to the 2012 Marvel’s The Avengers movie, featuring the line-up from the film. With issue #8, it became part of Marvel NOW! and the writing reins were turned over to Kelly Sue DeConnick, and she added Spider-Woman, and the new Captain Marvel to the cast. Kelly Sue is doing a fabulous job making the latter heroine a superstar in her own title, which is also highly recommended.
Ms. DeConnick writes a fun Avengers team, fun to read, and I am sure, fun to write. She is not bogged down in continuity, does characterization right, writes great dialogue, and delivers great almost Silver Age action with a Modern Age sensibility. Indeed, Kelly Sue DeConnick is one of the best things to happen to the Avengers in a long time. I love her Banner/Stark feud!
And we come full circle again to Jonathan Hickman, as he heads up the new Marvel NOW! version of the New Avengers. But that is a misnomer, while the title may in fact be New Avengers, this series is about the Bendis-created Illuminati, as opposed to any formal grouping of the Avengers – although they are and presumably will be front and center. The first issue presents the best Black Panther I have seen in decades, so I was hooked right away. The art of Steve Epting is another huge selling point.
Future issues will be centering on the Infinity Gems and Gauntlet, as well as multiple parallel universes encroaching on the primary Marvel Universe. The storyline already has links to Hickman’s adjective-less Avengers, and no doubt will connect in some way to his upcoming mini-series Infinity rumored to be Marvel’s version of a Crisis on Infinite Earths. Look for at least the New Universe, and possibly the Ultimate Universe, to be part of this.
Big things are coming for the Avengers, just wait and see.