If you hated seeing Bendis take on “Avengers” proper -- that is to say a Cap/Thor/Iron Man led team with characters who have traditionally been a part of it -- after writing “New Avengers” for years, then you’re going to love this volume. That’s because it’ll give you lots of new reasons to use in any argument that it was a mistake for him to do so in the first place. Hell, I liked the first volume of the series he did where Kang broke time and not only gave John Romita Jr. the license to draw some truly insane action sequences, but also had a cleverly calculated anticlimax that showed us how having Iron Man beg an enemy for mercy could actually work. Everything after that has been... not exactly bad but decidedly uneven. This volume, however, is just terrible and it all hinges on the writer’s use of Wonder Man.
Now, I honestly haven’t cared too much about the character over the years save for a well-written miniseries from Peter David that featured some astoundingly terrible art from Andrew Currie. Bendis, on the other hand, had plans for him that he established in his first “Avengers” volume where Wonder Man refused the offer to join the new team, citing the fact that they’ve caused far more damage than good over the years. That he went on to attack them at a critical point in the volume was meant to underscore his commitment to that idea. He returns in this volume with a team made up of unstable heroes of dubious moral standards to put a stop to the Avengers once and for all.
The first step in Wonder Man’s plan is to take out the New Avengers, which his team does with alarming efficiency. Then an attack on Avengers Tower is staged to get the whole team’s attention while he and his team stage a press conference espousing the evils of the team to the news media. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Wonder Man is subsequently contained and his team defeated, and the issue ends a two-page spread of the news media running with the claims from his press conference.
So the opening story ends with the villain’s claims not being proved wrong by the good guys, but by the team locking him up right in public with no explanation for his or their actions. If I was in the audience there, I’d start having severe doubts about the integrity of the superpowered individuals who were meant to be protecting us all. This whole thing might’ve worked if Bendis was setting up a new storyline about addressing these issues, except that he didn’t and it’s established in a conversation with Beast that Wonder Man is doing all this because he’s crazy. It just doesn’t feel very well thought out at all. The whole thing is executed in a way that proves Wonder Man was right more than anything else.
How does Bendis deal with all of this in the rest of the issues from this volume? By ignoring the issues with the public’s trust and having Wonder Man show up at Avengers tower and effectively go, “Whooops! My bad,” to Captain America.
No. Really. That’s exactly what happens, and then the Red Hulk shows up to beat the crap out of him because of what just happened in the previous story. It’s utterly mystifying as to how a writer of Bendis’ caliber managed to completely mis-handle a storyline such as this. Given the clout he has at Marvel, I find it doubtful that the book was yanked away from him against his wishes. More likely is that he felt the need to put all the toys back in the box, such as it was, for the next writer -- Jonathan Hickman -- on the title. Of course, this could actually be how he planned for this story to play out. If it was, then he left the title at just the right time.
The fact that he wanted to “put all the toys back in the box” is the most likely choice in my book because of the way the second story here plays out. After receiving an old-school Avengers signal from somewhere in Central Park, the team actually finds out that it’s coming from the Microverse. Since it’s time to get small, Hank Pym joins Cap, Iron Man and Thor to journey to this place and take on the might of Lord Gouzar and to rescue an old friend thought dead. Given that the person they’re rescuing was previously killed off by Bendis, the whole experience reads kind of like his offering of an olive branch to those readers he’s angered over the years.
A better way to make peace would’ve been to write a good story. Though it’s not as bad as the one that preceded it, this Microverse tale is straightforward “superheroes in a strange sci-fi land” stuff. The crew beats up lots of bad guys, saves a good friend, and comes together at the end to give the main villain the kicking he so deserves. Oh, and if you thought that Wonder Man’s appearance at the beginning of this story heralded an effort by the writer to rehabilitate/redeem the character for his past actions, then you thought right. The actual mechanics on this part are as perfunctory and predictable as you’d expect.
Is there anything here that works? Well, Bendis’ writing still has its trademark snap, and it leads to amusing parts like Red Hulk blowing away a fan (literally), Wolverine going to the bathroom for nine hours, and that bit at the end which leads directly to Hickman’s “Avengers.” (A take on the concept that I did like. More on it at a later date.) I also got a kick out of the list of the “Five Worst Avengers Crimes” from Wonder Man in the beginning as three of them could either be directly traced back to Bendis or his significant involvement, and another has been co-opted by him. There’s also a nice afterword by the writer talking about how he got the job of writing the Avengers and where he’s headed from here. Still, there’s not enough to balance the overall terribleness of the story.
The art is also very much a mixed bag as well. Gabriele Dell’otto does the opening Wonder Man story and gets some very striking images out of it. Dell’otto renders the scenes of superhero carnage as well as the conversational bits, and even if it’s all a bit over the top the art feels appropriate to the story. Aside from the “jam sequence” at the end, Brandon Peterson, Mike Mayhew and Terry Dodson split duties on the Microverse story. Of the three, Peterson comes off the best as he makes the world look suitably alien with his linework coming off as impressively solid. Mayhew’s work looks almost painterly, but it lacks the astounding photorealism of his previous collaboration with Bendis and feels rushed by comparison. The same goes for the normally very capable Dodson whose work always has a detailed liveliness to his characters that’s not quite here in his pages.
Even though you may feel compelled to pick up this last volume in Bendis’ “Avengers” run, don’t. If you liked the writer’s take on the “adjectiveless” version of the team, then this volume will only sully your memories of his work with them. Of course, if you never liked it and feel the need to continue wallowing in your hatred of Bendis’ work on the title, then this volume will allow you to do just that. All I can hope now is that the final volume of “New Avengers” provides a more fitting capstone to the man’s contributions to the franchise.