Comics: Avengers Assemble!

This new ongoing Marvel title Avengers Assemble has a lot working against it. It’s written by Brian Michael Bendis, who’s stretching himself just a bit thin across 18¬†Avengers titles. It’s drawn by Mark Bagley, who even fans of YUltimate Spider-Man suspect of being a hack (the Don Heck of the 21st century, as it were). And worst of all, the book’s very conception – the assembled Avengers in question just happen to be the exact same line-up as the one featured in the squintillion-earning new Joss Whedon movie – shrieks of corporate-mandated cash-milking.

The first factor is hit or miss: no matter how much he writes, Bendis can still turn out some very interesting comics (and after all, nobody faulted Stan Lee for writing six comics a month). The second factor is, it turns out, ill-informed: whether it’s a new and more understanding inker or just a team-book bolt of inspiration, Avengers Assemble is by far the best artwork Bagley has ever done – it’s better than the artwork on any other Marvel team-book at the moment.

It’s the third factor that’s hard to shake. In the current Marvel universe, there are roughly 10 different Avengers teams (Mighty Avengers, Young Avengers, Secret Avengers, New Avengers, Dark Avengers, Creamy Center Avengers, etc.) and well over 50 team-members, including a Red Hulk but not including the familiar Bruce Banner you-wouldn’t-like-me-when-I’m-angry Green Hulk of the popular TV show, two wretched movies, and all the best parts of new “Avengers” movie. On the business level, there’s little doubt that some corporate suit simply ordered Marvel’s editorial team to start producing a monthly comic mirroring the movie’s line-up. Which would be fine and happens all the time, except that somebody – my guess is Bendis himself – decided to make this movie-Avengers title a part of the current Marvel Universe continuity (rather than its own self-contained universe, like the comics versions of, say, the old WB Superman and Batman cartoons). Which is great for fans who want yet another Bendis Avengers to follow, but not so great for basic believability. Why would these six heroes – the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow – try to do anything without immediately calling in the help of their 50 teammates?

Still, if you can overlook that fairly sizeable problem, these issues are genuinely enjoyable. This first story-arc involves a new, more powerful Zodiac team of super-villains being sponsored by none other than Thanos, the mad death-obsessed titan who makes the world’s most enigmatic cameo appearance at the end of the Avengers movie. There’s breakneck pacing, snappy dialogue, and more of a sense of involvement than Bendis brings to the other 30 titles he’s writing. And as we all discovered while watching the movie, any team roster that features both Thor and the Hulk is going to be inherently interesting (it’s very odd that Stan Lee didn’t spot this potential fifty years ago when he created the Avengers – although the Hulk was an original member, Lee writes him out of the book almost immediately). And while it’s true that no long-term Avengers fan is going to prefer the ne’tw glowering leotard-and-sunglasses Hawkeye to the old purple-suited carnival showman, it’s always wonderful to see the Black Widow put right up front with the other Marvel heroes (she’s never had a run onThe Avengers that I didn’t enjoy).

I doubt this series will last – even Bendis isn’t clever enough to keep coming up with reasons why these six would go it alone every issue – but I’m unexpectedly enjoying it while it does.

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