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).

Secret Invasion – A Review

“Who do you trust?”

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Leinil Yu
Published by: Marvel Comics

“And out of nothingness will you outstretch your hand and take in that which needs you. Only then will the doors to the heavens open for you and your brothers.” –The Book of Worlds

The problem with “summer blockbuster” comic books is that, well, they’re comic books. Event comics have to live up to being events which typically means the first issues are about the big reveals rather than the story. Secret Invasion is no different, except for the issue of scale. As event comics go, Secret Invasion is huge. Three years in the making—with clues and hints strewn from various titles from Secret War to the first story arc of the New Avengers to Civil War to Illuminati—Secret Invasion is big, its repercussions felt for years (hopefully in more ways that just a bunch of lame spinoff titles). The hype for the event has been off the scales. And it’s all the brainchild of Brian Michael Bendis.

The story is simple and familiar. Shape-shifting Skrulls (an alien race introduced early in the history of Marvel Comics, so they are longtime foes) have infiltrated Earth. They have secretly kidnapped a number of important figures in the governments and superhuman community and replaced them. The superhero community has been distracted by a number of stressful events (Civil War and House of M to name just a couple), thus the secret invasion. When anyone can be a Skrull, including the teammate you’ve fought alongside for so long, the question rightly becomes “Who do you trust?”

Big event demand big payoffs. If the criticism of House of M was its slow pace (since event comics can’t spend too much time rooted in characterization apparently), Secret Invasion is its polar opposite. One can’t quite escape the feel of this being little more than a storyline within the New Avengers, as the series revolves around them with a few other characters, like the Fantastic Four, making guest appearances (only fitting considering that the Skrulls first appeared back in the Fantastic Four #2 in 1962 and the pivotal Kree-Skrull War depicted in Avengers #89-97 back in 1971-1972).

The back-history of the Skrulls is part of the fun of the book. Longtime fans appreciate the shoutouts strewn throughout the book, like the “classic” Marvel heroes of the Jim Shooter era emerging to battle the current Marvel heroes of the Quesada era. The bit of metafictional play at work here acts as its own commentary on the more innocent days (when Iron Man was called “Shellhead” and Luke Cage shouted what ALL black people must have used as profanity—you know, when he was written by folks who’d never actually met a black person—“Sweet Christmas!”). I’m just not sold on Leinil Yu’s artwork. Maybe the ink work was off in the faces, but most of the guys look like forlorn old men in close up.

“If, in the name of their God or money or both, they believe something to be theirs, they just take it.” –The Skrulls

Secret Invasion is the story of the colonizer run amuck. An aspect of colonialism is its conquest mentality that works by making other cultures less than theirs, debasing one while exalting the colonizer’s. Think of how the western imperialist colonizers viewed Africa as an untamed land with ungodly people, that there was nothing good in this dark and scary continent–other than its resources–and that its people were entirely under the power of the devil. Or how the United States was a revolutionary country in that it threw off the shackles of its own colonial masters.

“And when all is said and done, they write the history books themselves and they make sure they come out the heroes.” –The Skrulls

Without the ability of one cultural story to communicate with another, their interactions become a history of miscues and misunderstandings, then paranoid pre-emptive strikes, followed by the blame game of who hit who first (which justifies the other hitting back). The colonizing mentality then becomes one of cultures moving to eradicate other stories. When stories are reduced to law or dogma (cryptic references in the Book of Worlds), their vitality is drained. When people no longer tell or listen to others’ stories, they become locked in their provincial mindset, cultural ghettos of their own making. In fact, when people become so removed from another’s story, they become compelled to destroy those (other’s) stories for they suggest other ways of living. Their stories become a threat.

“We have travelled across the universe to save you from yourselves. You have so much potential, but you’re on the brink of complete disaster. You are at constant war and living in disease you cannot cure … what most disturbs us is that you are fully aware of your situation and actions … and though you’ve evolved to a place to do something about it, you do nothing.” –The Skrulls

Lastly, Secret Invasion has the same spiritual implications of other Invasion of the Body Snatcher type stories. The fear of evil, of death, of monsters, be they inhuman or entirely too human. We have this sense that things aren’t as they should be, that people aren’t who we think them to be. The people we know and love being … different. Looking the same on the surface but being strangers underneath. This disrupts our fabric of trust. And in a fight, especially among the spandex set, you have to be able to trust the one next to you. Without it, community—the band of brothers—is destroyed.

The monsters, the extra-terrestrial biological entities, represent the unseen power that we suspect lurk around us, are a part of our everyday lives even if we don’t realize it. Metaphorically, they capture the reality of us struggling against our own flesh (our inherent weakness as human beings) as well as powers beyond us. We forget who we really are, what we were created to be, and are left as lost, bewildered, and stumbling through this life as those infected by the alien presence.

“I know something about having voices in your head. Voices pulling you in different directions. And I also know something –this might sound strange, and it is—but I know something about not being sure if youre really pink or green. And I can tell you this … only one person can decide who you are inside and out. And that is you.” –Norman Osborne

Similar to summer event movies, fans can keep complaining about event burnout all they want, but if they keep buying the events in droves, don’t look for the corporate machines to change their strategies anytime soon. All we can hope for is that the story justifies the event (World War Hulk, I’m looking at your massive letdown) or that the world changing nature of the event has time to fully coalesce and be felt by the characters before the next title expansive storyline hits (X-Men, this is why I quit collecting your family of books). For all of the tie-ins, one-shots, and spinoff books, Secret Invasion is a great story that can be enjoyed strictly within the core book. And enjoy it I have.

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