Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis

Artist:  John Romita Jr

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

Previously:  After an amazing power play for control of the criminal empire of the Marvel universe, Parker Robbins/The Hood, was depowered and imprisoned by the Avengers.  Longtime Hulk nemesis, General Thunderbolt Ross, was irradiated and transformed into the Red Hulk.  No one knows who he really is or what he plans to do next.  Former Avenger, Wonder Man, has taken a surprisingly anti-Avengers stance and has gone so far as to attack them.

“Arbitrary Heroes”

While I’m usually a huge fan of Brian Michael Bendis  (Powers, House of M, Secret Invasion), so much felt completely arbitrary about this issue.  It’s hard to judge an arc by one issue, and in some ways quite unfair, each issue has to be self-contained in many ways for a satisfying reading experience.  Too much felt like this was an “in between” issue, strictly a function of setting up the next story arc.

One thing that Bendis does extremely well is capture the bickering spirit of the Avengers.  After all, this is a collection of individuals and loners who don’t always play nice together.  The chemistry isn’t that of family, like say the Fantastic Four, or those united by threat of persecution, like say the X-Men, but the best and or most popular characters tossed together, like say the Justice League.  This constant thread of their “antisocial tendencies” is the heart of what makes the Avengers so compelling.  They’ve always had a bit of a soap opera nature to them as we watch the interplay of the characters.

That said, some of the characters are a little … off.  The recent characterization of Wonder Man seems abrupt.  It feels as if we’ve missed a lot with the character and we’re dropping in the middle of his character arc that has gone unseen.  Then there’s the addition of the Red Hulk, which doesn’t seem to add much to either his character or the team.  So we’re left in wait and see mode to see if these additions will pay off.

John Romita Jr’s art wasn’t doing it for me.  I lay this at the feet of inker Klaus Janson, whose work has notoriously not appealed to me.  Romita’s art needs a lighter touch and Janson seems to blot everything he touches.

“If we do not fight, who will?”

The Avengers have always functions in a manner analogous to the church.  For example, take the Red Hulk.  All we know is that he is longtime Hulk nemesis, Thunderbolt Ross, and he’s taken a taciturn and surly turn.  No one knows what to do with this character and he’s certainly tough to love, as it were.  Yet this is the team that has a history of opening its arms to villains looking to rehabilitate themselves, from Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to the Swordsman to Sandman.  The group takes a chance when someone wants to turn their lives around.

Also, the team, as a community, has to regularly take a step back and re-examine their mission or, more specifically, how they go about living it out.  It’s not bad for a community to step back and reassess itself. After all, the mission for the church was set out by Christ to go forth and make disciples. How each church body does it is up to them. There’s mission drift and there’s a change in focus or a re-prioritization. Not all change is bad and sometimes communities need to accept that’s what they are now and strike a new vision.

The Avengers has a cool roster and most of the time, there’s simply not enough space to devote to the rotating cast much less watching them relate to one another.  This being the first arc of the series, the issue felt like a trailer for coming attractions with little intrinsic pay off for this issue.  So we’re left waiting for the pay off and hoping that all of the arbitrary changes and subplots eventually come together.   But for the cost of the issue, we want more than “here’s what’s coming up.”