March 23, 2009

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Mighty Avengers Volume 1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Frank Cho
Marvel

I read New Avengers in single issue form from the start to the end of the Secret Invasion arc. I like Bendis as a rule and his character interplay is always fun.

So why didn't I grab Mighty Avengers, too, in the post-Civil War era?

Because for me, these are some of the least interesting Avengers to be placed together since the Bob Harris era. I hate the Sentry, I hate the idea of an evil God being part of an Avengers team, I don't much care for Wonder Man, Ms. Marvel is stuck being a tool going all the way back to the Busiek years, and Black Widow, the Wasp, and Iron Man just aren't all that interesting to me. (I liked Iron Man until Civil War, when they turned Tony into a dick.)

So I figured I could trade wait this one, and honestly, kinda forgot about it. Since I had some space in my library holds, I figured I'd see what was up.

The results aren't bad, but that's mostly because of Bendis' clever decision to give every character an internal monologue, commenting--frequently negatively--on the events around them. So Sharon gets to complain inwardly at Tony's passive-aggressive approach to leading the new team while Ares decides whose pants he's going to try to get in, all in the middle of a rather drawn out battle against yet another Ultron.

In other words, this is Bendis trying to write an old-school Avengers yarn, but it's just not in his nature to do so--and twists the story accordingly. So while building up this big fight and teamwork and saving the world and stuff, there's also an inherent dysfunction because the whole thing feels manufactured. (And given we've seen Tony Stark manufacture fights before, I wonder if the implication was intentional.)

Anyone coming from New Avengers would be used to seeing that team working well together, naturally, without needing to be hand-held. I can't speak for Bendis's plans, but the whole point of this seems to be that no matter how hard Tony tries, he's not going to be able to replicate what the old Avengers (or even the old New Avengers) were able to do--save the day as a matter of course instead of a matter of protocol. The natural formation of Avengers, which Tony praised back in the New Avengers days, just isn't happening here, and the results are nearly disastrous.

At least, I hope that's what Bendis was going for, because if he really was just trying to do a superheroic story ala the old days, it fails pretty badly. The heroes are selfish and angry and seemingly more interested in themselves than in helping people (call it the anti-Spidey approach). While there's always been character doubt--that's the Marvel Way--the idea that Janet Van Dyne, Original Avenger, would question why she's on the team seems far-fetched if it's not to show how badly Tony's misjudged the team. Or that people who have worked together so long would suddenly, placed on a team together, inwardly snipe at each other. The hidden thoughts are funny, but if they aren't meant to prove a point--this team is no Avengers--then they really serve to ruin the story rather than bolster it.

There are several nice touches--Hank trying--and failing--to get past his Wasp issues (well, maybe it's Hank, who knows due to Secret Invasion), the idea that Black Widow rises to the occasion even if it doesn't quite do the trick, and Tony's reactions to what happens to him are all classic Bendis. He's really got an ear for patter, even if the people involved are not patter-prone.

Frank Cho's art is pin-up worthy on just about every page. (This is both good and bad, as it leads to having the female characters posing when they should be fighting.) Honestly, it's a bit exploitative in sections, a problem in comics I wrestle with constantly. But if I have to choose between good but mildly exploitative versus "has this person seen an anatomy book?" I'll go for the former.

Mighty Avengers is a very Bendis-y book. If you like that (I do) you'll like this. If you don't, steer clear, you'll feel better.