Last Saturday was International Read Comics in Public Day and I went out and about with my Avengers: Kang trade paperback, one of many I bought at San Diego Comic-Con. Alas, no pictures to prove it! Incidentally, Women Read Comics in Public has a couple of shots of Sarah Coldheart and her friends, once again putting Singapore on the geek map. So kudos to you, ladies!
Reading Avengers: Kang, which included stories by comic book legends Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Roger Stern, made me realise there was a vast difference in the kind of Avengers from ages past, and those we see today. When I think of my favourite Avengers stories, there are three main attributes that define them: Teamwork, Leadership, Relationship. One of the hallmarks of the Avengers was that they’re meant to fight the biggest and baddest supervillains that no other team can handle. Without these three deciding factors, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” would be nothing more than a misnomer.
There are currently three teams of Avengers in “The Heroic Age”, and each of them has attempted to established a plot worthy of the name. The team simply known as “The Avengers” has been tasked by Kang (of all people) to save the timestream, New Avengers face up against the mystical prowess of the Ancient One while the Secret Avengers resolve a nasty situation that takes them to Mars. As a pitch, these are all fantastic stories and undoubtedly the kind of plots that you want teams utilising the “Avengers” name to handle.
Unfortunately, the execution leaves much to be desired.
Suffering the most has been the main Avengers title, with neither writer Bendis nor artist John Romita, Jr. really showing any passion for the storyline. The lack of teamwork has been the biggest bugbear for me, with heroes like Spider-Man, Wolverine and even Captain America feeling inadequate in the midst of Iron Man and Thor. Bendis throws enemies like Kang, a frenzied Wonder Man and Apocalypse and his Horsemen at them, and half of the time, Spider-Man is just scrambling to get out of the way, while “Bucky-Cap” (thanks for nothing Maria Hill) just fades into the background. When I read #3, it was almost as if Bendis realised how pathetic he was making these characters, and had Spidey save Tony Stark in dramatic fashion, while Bucky-Cap fires a shot at one of the Horsemen, rescuing Wolverine in the process. Such actions seem forced, and honestly, the team just isn’t quite coming together the way I thought it would. Ultimately, I blame Bendis for suddenly not being able to create the sense of epic that normally characterises the best Avengers stories. He has no excuse, especially since New Avengers has been getting it right for years.
As I said in an earlier post, New Avengers is clearly a book that Bendis loves to write, and this ‘rebooted’ title feels very much like it should, with two glaring omissions – Hawkeye and Mockingbird. These two, despite (or perhaps as a result of) starring in their own title, get little to no screen time in Luke Cage’s team. That being said, it could simply be too early to tell, as the New Avengers roster is pretty sizable, so it’s understandable that some team members take a backseat. That being said, Bendis just doesn’t have Ed Brubaker’s skill when it comes to playing around with large teams.
Perhaps the only title that truly lives up to the Avengers name in my opinion has been Brubaker’s Secret Avengers. Though at least one reviewer has criticised it for having “no concept”, the only secret is that these guys are the REAL Avengers. They’re not some government platoon led by a “handler”, they’re a true-blue superhero team. Despite being thrown together in a flash, they have a semblance of teamwork, taking down hordes of baddies in no small fashion. This is only possible through a keen, unmistakable leadership, which Commander Steve Rogers brings, having led Avengers teams forever. Most of all, though, there is a clear relationship between the members – Ant-Man, War Machine and Valkyrie share a tenuous respect for each other, while Beast and Black Widow are old Avengers buddies. My only concern is where Moon Knight comes in, for in this arc, he had yet to truly establish his presence.
Avengers, then and now… who will rise up to defend the name? My money’s on Steve Rogers’ Secret Avengers, may they lose the “Secret” name soon and take on the mantle of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”.