X-POSITION: Phoenix, Upstarts & More Tear Up Bowers & Sims' "X-Men '92"
You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, but I promise the metaphor is apt: People like piñatas. They are bright, colorful, cartoonish and, best of all, when you get a group together and beat it with a stick, candy comes out for everyone to enjoy. Imagine if no one hit a piñata, that they just gave the birthday boy or girl this big papier-mâché candy container. The construction is sometimes pretty cool and I’ve seen some piñata that are shaped like Wall-E or festive (and gruesome) zombie piñatas that one might want to keep, but that’s a waste of good candy and a good time. No matter how delicate its construction or elaborate its presentation, piñatas were made to be broken and enjoyed in its component parts.
See where this is going? Check the title. Yeah, I want to disassemble The New Avengers. Just whack on that book like a blindfolded elementary schooler until all the candy falls out. Because it is withholding candy from us. One of Marvel’s most popular books, not to mention a cornerstone in this New Era of comics that came from Avengers Disassembled and Civil War. It was the first book of the new regime and has lasted consistently since, all helmed under Brian Michael Bendis. Because of this, New Avengers specifically has had a major effect on Marvel comics and how our heroes are presented to us. His Avengers are now the across-the-board norm, and to disband these new heroes would be like disbanding as old an institution as the Fantastic Fo- … Oh, yeah. To hell with them, them. Let’s crack that papier-mâché creature in half!
WARNING: I’ll be talking about the last few issues of New Avengers, and talking about them rather disparagingly. So be warned, someone may indeed be shot, but I’d say it’s safe to venture forth.
It’s weird to think of the “new” Avengers as an “old” institution, but they really have been the main stage in all of the major Marvel events since their debut in 2005. Their purpose was simple: that Captain America, after the rather violent death of his old institution, decided to form his own new Avengers team based on super-criminal issues cropping up in New York City and on the world stage. “His ‘full champion license’ status with the government gives him the authority to assemble any team he requires for any given mission,” says Marvel.com, and this is pretty much the reason they’ve stuck to. When Captain America was shot and taken out of the picture, Luke Cage and Bendis both demanded they were all still Avengers because “Captain America said they were.” On one man’s authority this new team founded, and on one man’s dedication it would remain and this is why the current New team hasn’t seemed to gel in the past ten issues.
The New Avengers returned from “Siege” with a brand-new No. 1 issue and an approach that had been tried before. Their roster is a little larger than the Adjectiveless Avengers (depends on if you count Squirrel Girl as a reservist New), their members a little less rolling in regular cash, and the Charlie to their Angels is Victoria Hand, a former evil secretary. Their sort of under-the-table mission is to fight crime and injustice however they see fit. No charters, or some vague idea of Captain America watching them from afar, like an overseas parent mailing some checks. Luke Cage is the de facto man in charge because the idea of the New Avengers, a bunch of street-level heroes taking the fight to the criminal element, is something ingrained into his moral fiber.
It seems the rest of the team is mostly there to grab a quick lunch or a large breakfast.
Honestly, they seem bored. The Thing has barely acted above a declaration of Clobbering Time and an admonishment on how to destroy Doombots. Spider-Man incessantly whines about the mundanities of working with them, Doctor Strange seems sort of guilted into crashing at their place. And Wolverine likes pancakes. The idea of them all working together is one man’s lofty goal and another’s desperate paycheck.
And that paycheck is a more hotly debated issue in the series than the Doombot that crashes into Luke and Jessica’s dinner date (yeah, they do take in meals a lot in this book). Luke Cage in The New Avengers #7 has a good reason for wanting to do this on their own, to be cut free of government regulation and work as a real, live team of vigilante heroes. But at the same time, he’s broke and can’t afford not to have a liaison to help him coordinate this team in the name of global enforcement. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t Luke Cage getting a paycheck for running the Thunderbolts’ rehabilitation? Isn’t Spider-Man now working for a major think tank and earning income? Isn’t Ms. Marvel a former CEO and has worked in the “mundane” industries before? Danny Rand, billionaire? Why would a money conversation last for more than a page with these heroes?
After all, a lot of them are on other books. Wolverine’s dual status as both an Avenger and … an Avenger is not in question, but Spider-Man and The Thing totally have places to be. Iron Fist has a Power Man to train in another miniseries. In fact, the whole idea of an underground unit of Avengers seems entirely out of place when the main characters are supremely prominent in other books. Please see again, Mr. Ben Grimm: He’s got so much stuff going on in the new Future Foundation that moonlighting with the New Avengers is slumming it, to be honest. Spider-Man can certainly be everywhere at once if the writers have a great story, but the best story he’s got right now is in his own book! I would much rather read about his adventures in science and every day life than him kvetching about being a masked hero in a team with rather loose secret identities.
It weakens Spider-Man as a hero if he’s in a group that’s just not as competent as his solo work. These last issues of The New Avengers are watching the team scope out a underground H.A.M.M.E.R. installation, and involve Mockingbird going in undercover and Doctor Strange investigating in astral projection. Both seem to cover similar territory. We also learn that Iron Fist doesn’t have a driver’s license, a cute touch to a guy you don’t really think of as a roadster, but when an essential part of your plan involves driving trucks away, it looks like you really didn’t think things through. Like they’re not prepared for this mission. When Doctor Voodoo (Papa Legba guide his soul) was in a huge battle with the forces of magic that could unmake our plane of existence, only Wolverine was sent in to do battle while the rest of the team sat in a meditation circle. When it was over, there was just sort of a massive shrugging of shoulders and, in the next issue, they ate breakfast.
I see it as a level of incompetence these characters should not have. There are too many redundancies between them, better books to read them in and, then as a kicker, the last two big storylines in the book don’t really involve the Avengers at all. Right now, half of our book is dedicated to the untold history of Nick Fury’s Avengers Initiative. The story before that one was a personal set of decisions made by Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Before that it was all about the Sorcerer Supreme and forces the New Avengers just were not equipped to handle.
They’re not going to change a thing, however. The rants and railings of one lone comics blogger won’t change the world; it’d be just as foolish for me to think I could as it would be to needlessly put a highly trained scientist SHIELD agent where she could get shot in the ensuing chaos. The New Avengers book sells, hands down, no questions asked. Bendis has made Luke Cage a household name, and his scripting of an Avengers title is going to be consistently sold, month after month. At this point, even the word “Avengers” doesn’t mean the same any more. It’s an adjective, like “Dark” or “New.” It’s a way for Marvel to call attention to a book rather than explain what the book is about or who it contains. When you have three other Avengers books, the words starts to lose some meaning, so I don’t think the House of Ideas is all that concerned about the standard of content. An Avengers book needs to focus on popular heroes, a greater plot at large and have lots of peril and personal moments. They do not need to have bylaws or a specific purpose, they don’t need a chairperson and a hierarchy of leadership; a guy with a grand idea works just fine. Bendis has cemented this Avengers standard into the landscape after disassembling the old and, while papier-mâché, it does make a lovely piñata.
But what if we cracked into that sucker? What if we disassembled the New Avengers into their component parts? How much candy could we really get? Well, for one, half of the team would live on in other titles where they might get more screen time or get working on personal projects. Since the book has revolved around Luke Cage and his family, why not cut down on the regulars and make a new title for their unique superhero slice-of-life tale? Call it Alias, let ‘em swear and get mature because growing up and having a family leads to a lot of adult situations (no, not just sex). I think there’s just one or two ongoing MAX title right now (PunisherMax, DeadpoolMax, right? Correct me if I’m wrong), so why not bring Jessica Jones home and get back into the idea of what having an alias means to having a family?
This would leave Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird and Doctor Strange without a regular home, which is sad, but fixable. We would just have to embrace the miniseries a little more and package them more to look like ongoing titles. Black Widow has a series of minis that solved themselves within three to six issues and yet each mini and a piece to the overall arc of her character. This could and almost has been done with Mockingbird and her off and on with Hawkeye. Every once in a while, when a good story comes down the wire, you could promote a miniseries that keeps a consistent name, just different bylines. Not only could you produce these at your own pace, but readers would know there are Mockingbird comics coming out, just not on a set schedule. Make issue lateness work for you! And at the end of the day, you have a trade so it’s a win-win. The three above have not been able to hold a consistent audience, but readers still remain curious about their comings and goings. Why not give them some off and on minis that could keep readers current but remove the element of reading it full time.
The New Avengers are a great piñata, excellently constructed with all your favorite characters, but we shouldn’t keep it that way. We gotta crack that puppy open and feast on all the minis and new titles and familiar old series that we could have in its violent dissection.