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Pulp Culture
'New Avengers' writer Bendis sweeps away the old

December 9, 2004
By Franklin Harris

What on Earth has become of the world's mightiest heroes?

Writer Brian Michael Bendis carves a path of destruction through recent issues of ''The Avengers.''
Courtesy Art
Writer Brian Michael Bendis carves a path of destruction through recent issues of ''The Avengers.''
In the "Avengers Disassembled" story running through "Avengers" issues 500 through 503, superstar comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Finch carve a path of destruction that leaves the 40-year-old Marvel Comics super team in a shambles.

In issue No. 500, over the span of a few pages, Bendis kills off third-string Avengers Jack of Hearts and Ant Man. Then, he kills The Vision, a longtime team member and a fan favorite.

But the worst is still to come. In issue No. 502, he kills Hawkeye, another popular member of the team, and reveals that the villain behind it all is the Scarlet Witch, another longtime Avenger, who in a fit of madness takes out her personal frustrations on everyone around her.

It's a dark day for the Avengers. Although he has proven himself on books like "Powers" and "Daredevil," Bendis has no idea how to approach the Avengers, so he doesn't. In effect, they are supporting characters in their own book.

Throughout the chaos that befalls them, the Avengers are completely baffled and ineffectual. As their friends die around them and their headquarters is reduced to rubble, all they can do is stand around and bicker until Dr. Strange (not an Avenger) shows up and saves the day.

And that is that. The Avengers disband.

For Bendis and Finch, it's on to "The New Avengers." This is the book Bendis wanted to write from the outset, but he had to get that pesky original "Avengers" series out of the way first.

The new team is an unlikely assortment of characters. They have nothing in common except that they're Bendis' favorites. He shoehorns them into the same team, whether they belong together or not: Daredevil, Luke Cage (a.k.a. Power Man), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Wolverine and the Sentry. The only holdovers from the original team are Captain America and Iron Man.

The plot for "New Avengers" No. 1 can be summed up in a single sentence: The supervillain Electro breaks a lot of other supervillains out of prison.

OK. There is a bit more to it. Electro is working for a shadowy figure who wants to take advantage of the Avengers' absence. Also, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Spider-Woman all happen to be visiting the prison during the jailbreak. And Captain America and Spider-Man just happen to be in the neighborhood and drop by to see what's up.

Lest I forget, the Sentry is also at the prison — as an inmate. Since we last saw him, which was during his gimmicky self-titled mini-series of 2000, the Sentry has killed his wife. Or so we're told.

So, here is this diverse assortment of characters, thrown together by fate, which is to become the new incarnation of Marvel's premier super team.

To be fair, "New Avengers" No. 1 is a vast improvement on "Avengers Disassembled," but almost anything would be. Still, you can't escape the feeling that "New Avengers" is as much about marketing as it is storytelling. Especially when Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada admits as much.

" 'The New Avengers' is set up to attract new comic-book readers by featuring several of our characters who been successfully adapted to the big screen," Quesada said recently in an interview.

If that is Marvel's plan, it looks like a dud. Despite the success of the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" movies, there is no evidence that superhero movies drive people to superhero comics. In the long run, superhero movies may hurt comic-book sales by ending comics' decades long near monopoly on the superhero genre. It used to be that if you wanted superheroes, you had to turn to comic books. Now, however, you can go to the nearest multiplex or video store.

If that is the case, you can expect "New Avengers" to start looking a lot like the old "Avengers" as soon as Bendis moves on.

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