Ultimate Avengers 3 #4

Writer:  Mark Millar

Artist:  Steve Dillon

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  The Avengers have met their match:  a horde of vampires looking to recruit super heroes into their ranks.  Led by the mysterious man in an iron suit, Anthony, the vamp army has just enlisted the newly turned Nerd Hulk and Kid Daredevil.  After the first battle between the Avengers and vampires goes south, Blade descends on the Triskelion to take out the vampires’ biggest asset, the recently infected Captain America.  It doesn’t go so well.

“There’s a world beneath your world, Mr Stark, and you can build all the cities and towers you like.  It ain’t gonna go away.” –Blade

Sometimes the Ultimate universe comes off as if Marvel has given license to do a “What If …?” universe.  A place where history and continuity have little meaning or long lasting consequences, almost like a disposable universe.  Where writers can be as over the top with beloved characters and it doesn’t matter because these stories take place over here and aren’t part of the “canon” anyway, so just sit back and enjoy them.

That said, now throw in the second wave of horror tropes riding a wave of resurgent popularity.  First zombies running amuck in the Marvel universe, now vampires.  Add to the mix Mark Millar’s patented over-the-top sensibilities and snappy one liners, and you have Ultimate Avengers 3.  Mark Millar’s Ultimate Avengers still carry the spirit of The Authority, moving at a cinematic scope yet filled with plenty of Millar being Millar:  mocking the Twilight phenomena (which, cranky as I sound, believe me, this sequence alone is worth the price of admission); Blade as a smartass not a taciturn vambot, shooting folks to get them to shut up for a minute; and the Hulk vs Anthony.

“We don’t bow to any made up God.  Defer to any man-made law.  We just submit to our most basic values and follow even our darkest desires.” –Anthony

Like the vampires in 30 Days of Night, these vampires seem to roam about at will, eat from a buffet line of non-powered humanity, and basically give into their gluttony and excess. Their lives are reduced to wild, wanton wastes of wants and needs, being driven solely by desires, much like children without any parental supervision.  In a lot of ways, they are like us, striving to live life on our terms, for our maximum happiness, not realizing how selfish this is. This points to our secret desires to set ourselves up as our own gods, determiners of our fate, and not realizing that we’re the problem.

We all have desires. Desires are good in and of themselves; it’s when they stray from their intended purpose that things go awry. Desires are also potential areas of temptation and sin. The desire to enjoy things can lead to evil desires that express themselves in physical activity (“lust of the flesh”); the desire to obtain things can lead to a covetous heart (“lust of the eyes”); and the desire to do things can lead to focusing our lives around such activity (“pride of life”).

But the purpose of desires is to lead us to right relationships, with God, with each other and to live in harmony with creation. We have to be met where we are, broken and lost, in order to move where we need to be.

The bullet point review of Ultimates 3 is … it is what it is.  Seriously.  Mark Millar scripting the Avengers will give you a romp that doesn’t always makes sense, have the characters acting in ways that often seem incongruent to how we’ve come to know them, but service the story/mood/joke, and in general be a good time.  It is what it is, so you will either love it or loathe it, your mileage may vary.

The New Avengers #6 – A Review

Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis

Artist:  Stuart Immonen

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  A series of demonic possessions of the most powerful mystical figures in the Marvel universe has given way to a full-scale dimensional invasion.  The invasion comes to a head when the Avengers discover that the once-great former Sorcerer Supreme, Agamotto, needs his enchanted eye back to protect him from the other members of the mystical Vishanti.  Current Sorcerer Supreme, Dr Voodoo, declares a contest with Agamotto to decide who would retain the eye.  The Avengers decide to send a mystically powered up Wolverine as their challenger.  Meanwhile, Daniel Drumm, Voodoo’s brother’s spirit, is wandering lost inside Agamotto’s light dimension.

One of the best thing about Brian Michael Bendis’ work is how he takes second and third tier Marvel heroes and builds them up.  He fleshes out their characters and makes them real and interesting so that you don’t care that the pre-eminent super hero team in the Marvel universe is made up of the big guns (Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc) and also-rans because it doesn’t feel like that.

“We combined all our knowledge to give you all that we have.” –Dr Voodoo

As the first arc of the New Avengers wraps up, the chemistry of the team is still coming together.  There are a lot of character voices to juggle and it’s hard not to feel like they all sound like Brian Michael Bendis talking heads.  All of the action flows through Wolverine as he faces down Agamotto (who uses images from Wolverine’s past against him).  If there’s a constant nit to Bendis’ run on the Avengers it revolves around whether or not he lets the iconic nature of characters he’s using do the heavy lifting of the story he’s trying to tell as well as the characterization.  For example, Wolverine gets to be “Wolverine” rather than be explored as a character.

Stuart Immonen’s art is amazing.  The fight scenes felt like movie posters filled with a dynamism that propelled the story line even more so than the actual scripting.  It was the equivalent of a popcorn movie spectacle.

“This is a battle of spiritual integrity.” –Agamatto

We often end up fighting our spiritual battles both alone and with the support of community.  We have our struggles, our battles, our weaknesses, our (inner) demons and our culture teaches us that ultimately we are alone in fighting those fights.  Yet, we don’t have to be.  There is strength in numbers and unity.  A community of like minded folks can support and join in your battles with you.  Wholeness can be found in continuing your battles, despite the occasional setbacks, as that community speak wholeness, life, hope, faith and love into each other’s lives.  Darkness may win some battles, but light wins the war. Justice is real, if sometimes slow in coming. Love, true love, forgives, heals, and triumphs. And humanity can find redemption.

It only seems like Brian Michael Bendis is writing the whole Marvel universe. The climactic death scene didn’t quite work for me.  For one, the action was muddled, but more importantly, as a reader I felt short-changed.  I felt cheated out of a character who still needed to be explored.  Still, he has to be commended for turning the Avengers into a top selling book.  Plus, I love the oral history of the Avengers supplement.

Avengers #7 – A Review

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.”

Dark Avengers – A Review

Written by Brian Bendis
Illustrated by Mike Deodato

Published by Marvel Comics

Mighty, New, Initiative, and now Dark, apparently the Avengers are franchising like they have the words Law & Order or C.S.I. in their name. However, Dark Avengers is not your father’s Avengers. This team consists of Captain Marvel, former Kree warrior; Sentry, a powerful “Superman” with severe mental issues; Ms. Marvel, the villainess known as Moonstone; Ares, god of war; Wolverine, Daken, the “real” Wolverine’s unstable son; Hawkeye, the Daredevil arch-nemesis, Bullseye; Spider-Man, everyone’s favorite villain, Venom; and is led by Iron Patriot, Norman Osborn, yeah, the former Green Goblin. This team is more Thunderbolts than Avengers.

“You will go out there and you will defend this world. You will keep it safe from those who would have it otherwise.”

The espionage group, S.H.I.E.L.D., once led by Nick Fury, has given way to H.A.M.M.E.R. and Norman Osborn’s vision. Finding targets and striking is the spirit of H.A.M.M.E.R., in order to make people feel safe (which makes as much sense as the idea of the Avengers involving avenging, even though they were more in line with the idea of the Defenders, except, well, that that team sucked).

As a division of H.A.M.M.E.R., the Dark Avengers are “a hardcore team” which is “what the world wants right now” (apparently in droves as the first four issues have sold out and gone back to press repeatedly). This is the kind of team that would swoop in and rip off an enemy’s head.

“Today, you—and me—we’re going to decide to live life to the fullest.” –Norman

Dark Avengers
wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if it didn’t revolve around fascinating characters in search of redemption. Even (or especially) villains can find redemption, if they truly want it. God works through people to put wrongs right, to fulfill his mission to reconcile creation back to him. And when I think about “villains” doing the right thing, I’m reminded of the following is a quote from C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle,” from the chapter “Further up and Further in.”:

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

“When you deny yourself your humanity. You create something else. You create a …” –Norman “… void.” –Sentry

Sentry, though not strictly a villain, is a perfect example. He fears his dark side, what he calls The Void. “The void is in me” he often says. We all have voids in us, deficits or a shadow self. We all struggle against an inner darkness which we fear may overtake us. We can’t live from a place of fear. We can’t be afraid to love out of fear. All we can do is love without taking one another for granted, pray for one another’s continued safety, and be there for one another when the bad times come. And they will come, no matter how much we may want to protect people from them.

Brian Michael Bendis knows how to weave old characters and new, continuing to build epic stories that will be long-remembered. And he’s made the (Dark) Avengers relevant and popular again, taking their place as the (off) center of the Marvel Universe. Dark Avengers has a countdown quality to it, like we’re simply waiting for this bad idea to collapse on itself and we’re making popcorn so that we can enjoy the implosion from the front row. It’s the coolest thing to come out of Dark Reign (though, I’m quite tired of storylines which wrap through the entire universe and having to buy a bunch of books in order to stay abreast of things).