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Subj: Bendis is the 2nd most prolific Avengers writer. Discuss.
Posted: Sun Nov 01, 2009 at 09:11:53 am EST (Viewed 16 times)
Reply Subj: New Avengers 5 Year Retrospective: Why New Avengers is Not Old Avengers
Posted: Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 04:51:31 pm EDT (Viewed 235 times)
If he isn't already, within months, Bendis will be the 2nd most prolific Avengers writer after Roy Thomas, so by this point, any claims that what he's doing "isn't the Avengers" are pretty invalid. At the absolute least, it's as much "the Avengers" as the 1989-1991 time when the team was just some random collection of heroes, only it's around a 200% better read.
The "Old Avengers" has been through a number of incarnations, starting off as a team-up of Marvel's solo heroes, in big fighty-time action against villains who would, more often than not, have the motivation of picking fights with the Avengers because they're there. In retrospect, looking at how any number of those threats would not exist without the Avengers existing in the first place, and how many other countries would put together their own equivalents of the team, there's a not-really-addressed superhuman arms race going on, that we really should get a Silver Age-set sequel to The Marvels Project to properly explore.
But in the second half of the Stan Lee era, the book shifted focus onto characters who, for the most part, didn't have a solo title of their own, and evolving into a pre-Claremontian superhero soap opera, with the "formula" for the series, and the core cast all being laid down for the most part over this time, and the long Roy Thomas run that followed.
As the years rolled on, new characters came and went, (bizarrely, the really awful ones, like Wonder Man and Tigra, stuck around longer than most), and we'd get periodic attempts to shake things up, from Shooter's second run on the book in the early 1980s basically admitting the book has been stagnant for years and writing out most of the cast and divorcing Yellowjacket and Wasp, to the launch of the West Coast team dividing the "core" cast, to the end of the 1980s, when another by-then stagnant Avengers lineup was torn apart, only to be replaced by a short-lived and rightfully unpopular team in #300, while Byrne took over first the West Coast title, and set about shaking everything up (and inflicting plenty of long-term damage on a number of the core cast along the way), then took over regular Avengers. By this point, most of the "core" Avengers cast were already in the West Coast series, and Avengers spend several years as just a random collection of superhumans, fighting random menaces, with the "soap opera" aspect of the book damn-near dead in the water.
By the early 1990s, we had the Harras/Epting Avengers as a full-on post-Claremontian super-soap-opera, sadly dismissed by too many people because of Epting embracing the visual trappings of the era, or for it's focus on "lower-tier" characters, but also because Avengers readers who only read Avengers seemed to display a dislike of long-running plots that developed over months and years, and meanwhile, we had Avengers West Coast as a competant, readable trad Avengers book, until it got cancelled and replaced with Force Works, which again, was actually rather good, but people who wanted a trad Avengers book dismissed it as some kind of early-Image-style series which it never really was. And here was a time when the books could actually say they were about something, namely about whether it was right to keep trying to be an old-school no-killing hero in a darker world where the enemies were more murderous than ever before, and if the Avengers should evolve to suit the times, or even if they should become something else entirely, as Stark planned.
And from there, despite the Avengers climbing up the sales charts in the last year of vol.1, the pendulum swung back with two successive relaunches that went back to the old school, with the Heroes Reborn relaunch taking things waaaaaay back to the earliest days of the franchise, with the Avengers as a big super-team that keeps getting attacked by villains because they're there. And it was outside "normal continuity", and Rob Liefeld was involved, so trad Avengers fans hated it before it even started. Although the actual product did end up being the worst of the four HR books, but weirdly included a number of elements that got recycled for the Ultimates, like the Avengers being a government-controlled supergroup based on an artificial island off Manhattan, and the team going public with the return of Captain America, but also having had some kind of secret black-ops squad.
Following that, we got the Heroes Return relaunch, which went back to the "old-school" that old-school readers actually wanted, a pre-Claremontian super-soap-opera that, rather than just pretending the last decade never happened, went out of it's way to kill and destroy anything it could from that era. The series wasn't "about" anything beyond "these are the Avengers, they have a proud history of tradition, and they always win because they never give up", and the core cast sank right back into stagnancy, with their soap-opera becoming an increasingly-incestuous "who's sleeping with who this week?". For some reason, this is a lot of people's favourite Avengers era, and from my perspective of hating this era with a passion you can only dream of, I really can't understand why people would prefer the re-hash over anything worth doing from the era being done the first time back in the 1970s, back when at least it was still OK for Pym to be Yellowjacket and be with Wasp, and at least Scarlet Witch was fully-clothed and not being Wonder Man's beard.
Writer turnover didn't really shake the series out of stagnancy while the book was still about the same cast doing the same old stuff, so along came Bendis, and regardless of how much people complain about him sacrificing hints or build-up of the Witch's madness in exchange for a shock-surprise, the book really needed the shake-up it gave, and needed the then-current lineup to be broken down and torn apart so that there HAD to be a new lineup to thoroughly break out of the stagnancy. That Disassembled had no villain behind the scenes, causing Wanda's madness, and waiting to step out of the shadows when the Avengers were beaten, that there was no bad guy to be punched, just one of the team's own gone insane, was just so "against the formula", that a lot of people still can't wrap their minds around it, nor the notion of the Avengers not "winning", even when there was no win to be had. And if the "deaths" of 11 of the team in Onslaught had led to the remnants of the group disbanding, is it that unfeasable that the deaths of 3 of the group, 2 of whom were longtime core members of the Avengers, at the hands of another longtime Avenger gone insane, could lead to the others just having had enough and letting the team come to an end?
And from there, we have a new team arise, Captain America convincing Iron Man that it's fate. And yes, it's a team made up of big name characters who'll draw sales, and Bendis' pet-characters, and yes, there are those who can't/won't accept that the franchise literally had to lose a number of the old core cast in order to succeed again.
There is a question of if the Avengers franchise as a whole is succeeding, or if it's just Bendis' name, and the sales-appeal of beloved fan-favourite characters like Wolverine and Norman Osborn being added to the franchise, since New Avengers and Dark Avengers may be two of Marvel's top books, but the PymVengers, (offering a far more trad old-school style book), and Avengers: The Initiative, aren't.
Now sure, Bendis has made mistakes, from the New Avengers team getting saved by guest-stars too often in their pre-Civil War era (yes, it was absolutely necessary for the point of Disassembled for the team to need someone else to come save them, but once we had a new team, there was no need for them to go getting saved by Quake-Girl or freaking Frost), and he seemingly caved in to fan-whining and brought Clint Barton back after barely six months of deadness, and Marvel still don't seem to realise what New Avengers #26 did to the character. Also, Doctor Strange never really clicked on the team, being repeatedly used as a means of forcing an end to super-brawls with Team Hood, and little more (also, him finally choosing a side after Civil War ended made him look like an idiot). Also, it's not all Bendis, but the Avengers franchise in general, but the Scarlet Witch did have fans, and repeatedly baiting them with the propect of her return, only to keep leaving her even more broken, or it actually being Loki in disguise, isn't really a good idea.
But most of this can be forgiven simply due to the fact that the franchise is moving forward, and capable of pulling out genuine surprises, (if Spider-Woman was only there because she was a Bendis Nostalgia Project, who honestly saw her being a Skrull traitor?), it's more entertaining than it's been in years, and it's actually about something, from the New Avengers attempts to figure out what the new team should be, and Steve Rogers' idealism vs Tony Stark's pragmatism, to Civil War dividing the team, and the entire Marvel Universe, with Team Cap and the post-war New Avengers becoming dinosaurs raging impotently against the tide of history, torn apart by Skrulls-among-us paranoia, and becoming reduced to criminal fugitives too busy hiding from the authorities to matter or make a difference, while Team Tony accept they can't fight the inevitable, and just try to take control of it instead, only to be demonised by failures, allowing Norman Osborn to rise to power and grand awesomeness to ensue.
If you hate that sort of thing, the drawn-out and interconnected plots are a valid gripe, but I'm all about that stuff, and little of it seems to be lasting more than a year or so (and the Superhuman Registration Act doesn't count, it's not "a drawn-out plot", it's the status quo now), so we're not really hitting Claremontian excesses. The only real worry is that with Dark Reign being brought down by a Stark/Rogers/Thor reunion, how much of a reset-button hitting regression are we in for?
Anyways, this was a super-huge long post, so I'll stop there, but on the whole, the Avengers are better off with Bendis than they were before him, and his take on the books is as valid as anyone elses. Anyone wishing for a second dose of "the franchise changed because Immortus was manipulating us, let's never speak of it again" as I keep seeing online, should be given a super-wedgie for supporting dirty, dirty, lazy regressionist hackwork.
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