One of the first things I did after getting a subscription to the Marvel site in November was to thoroughly entrench myself in the world of New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. The digital subscription offers up the entire 64 issue series that ran from 2004 to 2010 without any gaps. In a very short time, I read the first 32 issues then forced myself to take a break and see what else the Marvel universe had to offer. Recently, while trying to recover from a bad spell of “Winter blues” (seriously, fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest constantly resemble the road to Mordor) I sat down and read the entire second half of the series in about two days, which means I’ve now read the entire original run of New Avengers.
New Avengers began in the wake of Avengers Disassembled, the event that led up to House of M. Basically, the classic Avengers team split up due to a tragedy in their ranks when the Avengers mansion was blown up and, a few issues later, Hawkeye died (but he had one of the briefest deaths in memory). The series ended in 2010 with the climax of the event Siege, then promptly restarted at issue 1 just a month later (don’t ask me why). In the time in between, the series played a large role in most of the major Marvel events, largely because the writer of New Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis, is one of the company’s fabled “architects,” an elite and select group of people who have a hand in guiding the Marvel universe from a distance, kind of like the Illuminati.
In the beginning, the team had the coolest lineup you could hope for: Wolverine, Capt. America, Iron-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage and more. Then, with the advent of the Civil War, the uber-powerful team was taken apart in favor of a scrappier, stealthier group of individuals, eventually incorporating Echo (a deaf ninja) and Ronin (Hawkeye back from the dead) into their covert coterie. Tony Stark left due to the group’s disdain for the Superhero Registration Act, then he went on to create The Mighty Avengers.
I’ll admit, the series had its ups and downs, but I’ll also that I’m judging the series largely against itself–it’s lowest moments were still better than so many of the superhero comics out there. One definite strongpoint of the series was the artwork. I attended a signing in Portland where Bendis gave a short lecture to the crowd beforehand. One thing he mentioned that stuck out to me was that he wrote the kind of comics he would want to read, and enlisted the artists he liked to that end.
Somehow, Marvel managed to scour the Earth to bring in some of the finest artists in mainstream comics to work on the series. For many of the pencillers involved in New Avengers, English isn’t their first language. When the series began, it was drawn by David Finch, an artist who’s built up a rabid fanbase over the years. David Finch’s work is characterized by its grittiness and attention to detail, although personally, I’m more of a fan of art that incorporates a cartoony element into the mix, which is why I greatly enjoyed the issues Frank Cho provided. Billy Tan, Chris Bacchalo, Mike Deodato and David Mack also provided some pretty stellar art, but I’ll have to say that Lenil Yu’s pencils stood out above all the rest. Lenil Yu is an artist whose style is so unique you can easily identify it as his. I like the way he juxtaposes weirdly distorted character designs against incredibly detailed backgrounds. His cityscapes are a sight to see.
The low points of the series aren’t hugely disappointing but they did detract from what would have otherwise been an amazing 6 year run. One problem was that first New Avengers provided the setup to Secret Invasion, and those issues were awesome, but during the event itself (also written by Brian Michael Bendis) the New Avengers series faltered. Instead of telling a linear story as it had been doing all along, the New Avengers series was used to fill in the gaps of the larger epic, making each entry seem fractured (however, if you want to know exactly how the Skrull Queen infilitrated their ranks or how the invading army made it past Earth’s scanners, you have to read New Avengers). The only other noteworthy problem for me was that much of the second half of the series was devoted to making Parker Robbins, aka The Hood, a new major villain to watch for.
The Hood is a relatively new villain (considering how most well-known villains have been around for decades). After he debuted, not much was done with him as a character until Bendis integrated him into New Avengers. The Hood then strikes up a deal with Doctor Strange’s nemesis Dorammu, granting him superpowers, then gathers up some supervillian cronies to become a thorn in the New Avengers’ sides, but not much else. I was never terribly thrilled by Parker Robbins, and I still don’t get what his deal is, or why he wants to be so evil. I can’t take him seriously as a villain, and he and his cohorts have come to resemble the Apple Dumpling Gang whenever they show up.
The highlights of the 64 issue series include: two trips to the Savage Land, a ninja battle spanning several issues, some cool hocus pocus courtesy of Doctor Strange, cameos from Miss Marvel and a Voodoo sorceror, and a pretty sweet battle on a prison island. New Avengers though isn’t just a long hurly burly of epic action. It’s also big on dialogue. Within these pages, you’ll read some of the best dialogue in superhero comics. An added bonus: Spider-Man is used primarily for comic relief. In his own series, it seems like his wisecracks are kept to a minimum, but here, he’s always joking around, and there’s a lot of fun banter between him and Wolverine.
If you have $10 bucks to spare each month, I’d recommend subscribing to the Marvel site. If you do that, you can read all of the 64 issues mentioned here plus thousands of other comics. If you’re not into digital books, you can always check the bins at your local comic book shop. I don’t know if I’d recommend buying the entire series, but you should definitely check out the issues drawn by Lenil Yu that lead up to Secret Invasion as well as the early issues by David Finch that start off the whole thing. Now I’m going to start reading the new New Avengers.
If you’re looking for a novel to read, why not check out my work? I’ve self published two books this past year, both of which have lately gained popularity. One is titled The Madness of Art: Short Stories and the other is A Rapturous Occasion. They are available in paperback and as ebooks on Amazon.com.
If you enjoyed this article on New Avengers, you should check out my brief guide to superhero team books.