It's no secret that we here at Fanholes are all of us quite critical of one Brian Michael Bendis and his work in the medium of comical booklets. I think it's fair to say that he is a competent and talented writer, but Marvel tends to miscast him, especially when it comes to team books. I feel like Bendis' strengths lie in comics with a much smaller cast, or which focus on a single protagonist, like Daredevil or Ultimate Spider-Man.
The Fanholes and myself are particularly harsh on Bendis' substantial run on Avengers. While I think his run was extremely healthy for the franchise and no doubt contributed to lighting the fuse for the explosive popularity the Avengers enjoy today, the stories themselves are...well...pretty weak overall.
His characterization, plotting, and grasp of continuity have always seemed below-par to me and while Mr. Bendis is usually lauded for his “realistic” dialogue...I just don't often see it in this work. My fellow Fanhole Derek is often fond of describing scenes where more than three characters talk to each other as “everyone having the same neurotic Bendis-voice”. Obviously, this isn't ALWAYS the case, but it certainly is noticeable a not-inconsiderable amount of the time and after you've read enough Bendis...the “same-y” dialogue patterns are almost impossible to ignore.
Still, Bendis does have good days for me, and that's what I'm writing about here. I thought I'd switch the flip for once and write about what is probably my personal favorite Bendis Avengers tale...that being New Avengers Annual # 1 (Vol. 1).
I'll start off by saying that the art by Olivier Coipel is strong as always. While not a personal favorite artist of mine, I'm always glad to see his stuff. He handles everything pretty well, especially action sequences, and this issue allowed him to showcase some lighter touches as well.
Now, as for the story, I will go page-by-page, making points as I see them and summarizing when I think it is necessary to elaborate. Here we go!
*We start off with a dangling plot point from Bendis' first New Avengers arc- Yelena Belova, the second Black Widow. She was nearly burned to death at the end of that story by an inexplicably fire-breathing Sauron. She's been taken in by Hydra and offered a means of revenge on the Avengers, who she unfortunately blames for her injuries.
This uh...doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you think about it, considering Sauron is the one who hurt and disfigured her. It's not like it was unprovoked either- Yelena was the one who sniped Sauron in the head, causing him to go berserk and burn her in the first place.
|I guess she graduated from the Eddie Brock School of My-Toe-Was-Stubbed-So-I-Hate-You-Forever.|
Yelena Belova is a certain type of character that Bendis seems to like utilizing. A relatively-new entry in the Marvel universe that probably would have faded into obscurity had he not done something with them. Echo, Sentry, and the Hood all belong to this club as well. I appreciate the sentiment, but I feel like Bendis usually goes in a different direction with these newer characters than perhaps what the original creators intended.
Annny-way, she's given the powers of the Super-Adaptoid, an android created by A.I.M. that can copy the abilities of anyone it fights. The original Super-Adaptoid was just an artificial construct powered by a sliver of a Cosmic Cube, but here its abilities are bestowed upon a human. A neat concept, although Bendis would rehash it years later with Norman Osborn, where it just came off as a tad silly.
|This is a thing that happened.|
Enough about Grape Goblin Hulk, I'm trying to be positive here! Whatever her mixed-up motivations are, Yelena Belova serves as a decent bad guy with a believable power level to challenge the team for this issue, and that's what's important.
*We have a lovely scene of the New Avengers and their supporting cast members chilling in Stark Tower together. This was really the first time I felt like this team was starting to feel like a “family” or whatever gloopy description you'd want to use. For once, it didn't seem weird to see Aunt May, Wolverine, and Luke Cage in the same room together. Ms. Marvel is also there, and I was wondering if Bendis was going to add her to the team full-time. Spider-Woman was the only other regular female presence at the time, and I wasn't a huge fan of her to begin with. Plus, I like Carol Danvers in general, and the presence of another classic Avenger was very welcome.
*Speaking of Spider-Woman, while I've never really warmed to her as a character, this issue contains possibly one of the only times I could relate to her.
|She's just being prudent. The baby might puke being that close to her garish costume.|
Heh, yeah...I kinda have that reaction to babies too. Of course, we now know that this Jessica Drew was a Skrull, but I guess you can count it as a Spider-Woman moment considering how deeply those Skrulls “became” the people they replaced.
*Jessica Jones consents to marry Luke Cage in this issue. I've never read Alias or really ever been a big fan of Luke Cage in general, but it's nice that Bendis can get his pet characters together. They're still married as of this writing, which is also nice...but we all know how Marvel eventually treats marriages, don't we?
*Down at the entrance to Stark Tower, Tony Stark, Cap, and the Sentry have a little meet-and-greet with the mayor of New York to ease some of his misgivings about the Avengers having a headquarters in the city. The action kicks off on the very next page, which is pretty impressive for Bendis. “Yelenadaptoid” attacks them and in a great visual, those still on the thirty-sixth floor of Avengers Tower see the Sentry limply fly up past their windows.
|Comics 101: If the Superman equivalent is down, you KNOW it's serious!|
The others leap into action, and it is a little thing, but I'm glad Ms. Marvel is the one to call out “Avengers Assemble!”, because the rest of those guys are still posers and haven't earned that right yet!
Okay, okay, maybe I'm being harsh, but still...it was something I took note of.
*Another great visual- I noted before how Olivier Coipel is good at action sequences...well, the chase sequence that occurs when Captain America tries to escape Belova in a car with the mayor in tow is pretty nicely laid out. I particularly love the panel of Yelena running along the side of a building after copying Spider-Woman.
|Probably safer than driving in New York City.|
*Bendis has an unfortunate tendency to write Spider-Man like a goofball, or basically just like his inexperienced Ultimate-self instead of his more savvy and confident 616-self. But he really seems to avoid that in this issue and has Spider-Man be the one to figure out how to defeat “Belovadaptoid”.
On top of that, Spider-Man really busts his ass saving his teammates this issue. He's just damned useful and effective throughout the entire story.
|Everybody gets one. Except if you have boobs.|
Peter Parker's humor is also pretty spot-on in this issue and doesn't rely too heavily on him being self-deprecating, which I feel like Bendis does tend to do sometimes.
|Butts don't hit back.|
*Based on Peter's suggestions, Tony busts out the “Iron Legion” to confuse Yelena's Adaptoid powers. Not the first time he's done this, but it's always cool to see. I'd imagine Iron Man 3's climactic battle drew some inspiration from this particular scene.
|Tony's holding Pepper Potts in reserve in case this fails.|
*The Sentry delivers the finishing touches to Yelena by summoning his dark half, the Void, which overwhelms and subdues her for good. Considering all Sentry did in this issue was have his powers copied and get tossed around, it was nice that he managed to contribute to the victory. Plus, he turned his weakness into an advantage for once.
I do appreciate the fact that Bendis had every member of the team get their licks in during this battle.
*So after Yelena has been subdued, Hydra hits a kill-switch and she explodes. Of course, exploding is usually a minor inconvenience for a comic book character, and Yelena would show up alive again eventually. Most currently, she was part of A.I.M.'s new ruling council in the second volume of Secret Avengers, with her Adaptoid powers intact. Of course, as is the case with many characters with a large power set, she seems no longer able to take on a full team of superheroes anymore.
Ah well...she can go cry with Count Nefaria, Graviton, and Exodus.
|Okay, maybe not Exodus.|
I don't have strong feelings about Yelena Belova as a character one way or the other, but at least she was a nice disposable villain for this Annual.
*Iron Man showcases an intense distrust of Spider-Woman, and wonders if she has anything to do with the shape-changing enemy that just attacked them. You're on the right track, Tony! You're just tying her to the wrong set of enemies.
*Luke Cage and Jessica Jones finally tie the knot at the end of the issue, with Stan Lee presiding over the ceremony (of course). I remember that when I first read this issue, I thought something was seriously off about this wedding. That being that Luke Cage's best friend and bro-in-arms, Danny Rand AKA Iron Fist, seemed to be nowhere in evidence! I've joked on the podcast that Bendis probably didn't even know who Iron Fist WAS at that point, but logically I know that can't possibly be true.
Re-reading it now, I can only assume this dude here next to Carol Danvers is supposed to be Danny, but there's no mention of him in the actual text of the comic.
|Forget Danny Rand, why's Foggy Nelson so down?|
Just for fun, I thought I'd provide a little update to the people in this photo in light of current continuity-
|In the current day version of this picture, Peter Parker's face is all blurry and unidentifiable.|
So that about wraps it up. This Annual was right on the edge of Civil War kicking off, so this incarnation of the team would never really be together like this again. It is a shame, because when I read this the first time, I thought Bendis was finally going to get a handle on the balance of this team and how to write a team book in general. This is definitely my favorite Avengers tale with his name attached, and I thought I should give him some props for it.
Unfortunately, virtually none of his other Avengers stuff really left me with the same sense of satisfaction, but that would be another whole series of articles. And even I wouldn't torture myself so.