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Top Ten Brian Michael Bendis Avengers Contributions

A column article, Top Ten by: Jamil Scalese

For some, it's the end of an important era, and for others the long-awaited loosening of the deathgrip placed on one of the world's most favorite titles. Brian Michael Bendis is leaving the Avengers in 2012. The longtime writer is looking to tie together his eight-year run and lead the team into the Avengers vs. X-Men event and a huge summer blockbuster. After the smash hit Ultimate Spider-Man in 2001, the Bendis-takeover of Marvel ushered a new era of comics -- and a new opportunity for fans to naysay every micro-decision in the fictional universe. The general fan’s displeasure in talky, watered-down Avengers stories is real and palpable, and while sales on the title remain consistently respectable, they really should be great.

As we exit the seventh year of the most prolific stint for a writer in the iconic franchise’s history it should be about time we look back on the controversial tenure. There can be no doubt that with near carte blanche in more than one of the company’s core titles the writer decisions have had ripples of influences for nearly a decade. In a review of the entirety of his Avengers run (so far) here is a breakdown of Brian Michael Bendis’ most important, most egregious broad strokes in the pages of Avengers titles since 2004.


 

10. Luke & Jessica

Or, "Welcome to the Avengers,  Squirrel Girl.  Hope you survive the experience!"

Red Hulk, Protector, Sentry, Quake, Iron Fist... no, this isn't a list of TKO's by Squirrel Girl, rather a rundown of other newcomers I considered for best "out of nowhere" inclusion to Avengers lore. I'm kind of a Squirrel Girl nut, I love the space between serious and absurd she occupies and I totally believe her power level to rival Thor's. I'm prepared to argue that power over rodents is a legit threat.

Doreen Green's role in New Avengers Vol. 2 is of nanny to baby Danielle, daughter of Power Man and Woman, a.k.a Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. Although their relationship began in previous Bendis scripted series like Alias and Pulse, Luke and Jess married in New Avengers Annual #1, and their young family has been the crux of drama for a handful of issues and storylines ever since.

Growing up I never really understood the appeal of Luke Cage (although I never read the story where he travels to Latveria to collect $200 from Dr. Doom), but under Bendis he's been molded into a model Avenger and concerned family man. This Cage as seeped over into Jeff Parker's Thunderbolts, playing one of the best roles of his career as mentor and disciplinarian (and currently, bounty hunter) to the group of reformed rouges.

In a trend which has not escaped the attention of readers, Jones represents perhaps one of the purest examples of Bendis keeping "pet" characters around. One of his first original creations for Marvel, Jessica Jones, is a superhero side-character who has receive a clout of page time due to her closeness to Cage and the heart of the writer. Whether a favorite character or not, her role has elevated her from some chick to some chick with a baby.

Squirrel Girl, on the other hand, is a joy multiplied by how many pages she appears on.  Her shining moment under Bendis might come in the New Avengers #15 where she kicks ass Wolverine's in a sparring match. It's also implied in the series that she and Logan have had a romantic relationship at some point the past. I totally bet Squirrel Girl had Wolvie dressing up like the gimp from Pulp Fiction.


 

9. Supreme Sorcerers

Or, "How Magic Will Be Forever Ruined In the Marvel Universe"

If I'm not mistaken, before New Avengers Stephen Strange was never a member of the team. Since his inclusion in the early part of that run, he's been a remarkably steady presence, and in fact has seen more exposure there than anywhere else in the entire '00s. Marvel struggled to find a place for it's Master of the Mystic Arts who hasn't had his own steady title since the mid-'90s. For a long awhile, and particularly when I first entered the comics scene, the powers that be regulated Strange to occasional guest appearances and the rare limited series.

While Bendis hasn’t exactly resurrected the character, he's kept him relevant in an important era of comics. The biggest Doctor Strange related move in New Avengers is the relinquishing of his title as Sorcerer Supreme. After a series of costly decisions the mystic mojo forces eventually stripped Stephen the title and this lead to a brief search for his replacement. Eventually Brother Voodoo, a minor, but interesting figure, stepped up for duty.

The Sorcerer Supreme story eventually spearheaded in New Avengers Vol. 2 where Agamotto, yes of the Eye of Agamotto, tries to claim back his mythical weapon on the count of feeling Strange is a bit of a failure. The battle for the Eye ends with Iron Fist getting a snazzy, new costume and the unexpected sacrifice of Brother Voodoo. Currently the Marvel Universe holds no Sorcerer Supreme.  I nominate Jennifer Kale, fuck what Strange says.


 

8. It’s All Good In The Hood

Or, "Okay, Brian, we get it. The kid with the magic guns is cool."

A generally forgotten Brian K. Vaughn creation, Parker Robbins always had a morsel of potential. Using his magical demon-powered cloak the young Hood resurfaced in the pages of New Avengers (circa #33) and soon he began popping up across our favorite superhero comics. In a short time Hood become one the most nefarious threats to the entire hero community with his construction of a criminal empire that actually held a backbone. Basically, he put out the message: "If you're tired of getting your ass beat because your power set is sadly singular -- join my team."

Bendis gave Robbins some dimension with an odd sense of honor, respectable vision and a close relationship with Madame Masque. He also tinkered with the mystical background of the Hood and tied his origin into Dormammu to give him a firmer foundation and richer pool to draw story from. A similar character in the pages now is Osborn, who held the spotlight in Dark Reign and has seized the attention of the Avengers in both main titles.

So far, Hood has been the most consistent antagonist of the entire work. Last seen in the second arc of the Avengers Vol. 3, he managed to paw up three Infinity Gems before getting blasted in the grill by Red Hulk and thrown in jail by Iron Man. As he has done with a respectable amount of heroes, Bendis took the interesting but underdeveloped villain and elevated him to legit status. Some feel the character is inconsistent, and a bit hollow, but his ruthlessly relentless drive for power -- including utilizing artifacts like the Norn Stones and Infinity Gauntlet -- justifies him as a creditable player in future Marvel endeavors.


 

7. The Dark Reflections

Or, "The Year Bendis Killed Heroes"

A staple of comic heroics is having a twisted mirror-image arch villain. While the Avengers have always had groups like the Masters of Evil and the original Squadron Supreme, a true shadowy double never really existed before Dark Reign. Although, the Dark Avengers are a little heavy-handed conceptually, Norman Osborn's group of imposter heroes is memorable enough to make the list. The move made sense for Osborn who was fresh off a job as the leader of the Thunderbolts, a team who pulled a similar move over a decade earlier.

A grotesque evolution of the Mighty lineup, this is one of my favorite rosters even if one could make the reasonable argument that Dark Avengers aren't really Avengers at all. Want some long shots for access to fly the Quinjet? Try Venom, Bullseye, Moonstone and Daken. The core faux-Avengers offered some neat interaction, though honestly the untapped potential of having those personalities together is a bit lost. Rather, the Dark Avengers is important because of the ripples influencing in the multiple tie-ins, some of which weren't terrible during Dark Reign. (The Hood by Jeff Parker, Ares by Kieron Gillen and Young Avengers by Paul Cornell come to mind.) 

For a small period it felt like the world had been flipped upside-down and of course Dark Reign served as precursor to Siege and the fall of Asgard which undoubtedly played a factor in Fear Itself, the redemption of Loki in the fantastic Journey Into Mystery and Namor aligning himself with the X-Men. It even had a hand in creating the Young Masters who have played a large part in Joe Casey's scrumptiously offbeat Vengeance. Not to give credit for Bendis doing Casey's work, just saying the inspiration started somewhere. Bendis is currently revisiting the idea in Norman Osborn's ongoing H.A.M.M.E.R movement, a new batch of Dark Avengers and Wonder Man's obscurity-infused Revengers.


 

6. Ultron the Spaceknight

Or, "OMFG Ultron has tits!"

I'll admit it: this might be a little preemptive. With the Brian Michael Bendis/Brian Hitch "Ultron War" debuting sometime before the end of his run it can't be said how well it will go. The story in Point One was pretty chaotic and not very informative on finer details of the story. Still, this isn't on the list for Bendis will do with Ultron, but for what he has already done.

First showing up as the apparent initial cause for the murder of several teammates early in the Bendis-era, a female version of Ultron later appeared in Mighty Avengers.  With the help of a Skrull-Pym and a miniature Ares, this version of the man-hating robot shutdown and subsequently appeared in the Annihilation crossover. Bendis planted the seeds of Ultron War here, as the villain consistently stayed one step ahead of the brainiacs, particularly Stark whose armor he used to form his top-heavy comeback in Mighty.

The concept matured in the first story arc post-Heroic Age renumbering. In a somewhat involved time-travel plot the Avengers venture to where Kang has gathered a superpowered army from around space and time to defeat a version of Ultron who has conquered the world. An old, grizzled Tony Stark, along with an out-of-the-blue return of the Maestro, warns his younger self that Ultron will come, and he will destroy everything. When Young Stark is handed a bomb he hasn't invented yet he is told that when it comes time an important decision will need to be made. In the very good Avengers #12.1 the team comes across a Spaceknight robot and quickly discovers it's carrying a dormant Ultron program (presuming hitching a ride back from Annihilation). In one of the coolest moments in the Bends-era Thor lays down a hammer strike to the chest of Ultron... for him to merely reply he's not ready for this encounter and disappear.

Mjolnir to the damn chest! And he just leaves! "Ultron War" looks promising.


 

5. Mighty Ridiculous 

Or, "The Dilution of a Franchise"

A relatively small sliver of the bigger Bendis pie, the Mighty Avengers represented the Pro-Registration version of the team post-Civil War. In an interesting bureaucratic move, Tony Stark, then director of S.H.I.E.L.D., built the team with Carol Danvers and dubbed it the Avengers, essentially stripping the fugitive New Avengers of their title and authority. There was a feeling amongst the team that everyone hated them because the jerk Tony Stark was their figurehead. This pocket-era also represents the 30 seconds that Marvel tried to promote Ms. Marvel.

The roster is a bit of dream, and as the opening issue plainly lets you know this is an entirely handpicked group of heroes. Iron Man, Marvel, Sentry, Ares, Black Widow, Wonder Man and Skrull imposter Hank Pym did not last for long, but the brief run is an eccentric and intense ride for the generally straightforward writer.  The trend most apparent is the abundance of thought-bubbles and subsequent reveal of the weird thoughts characters are having in mid-conversation. It's almost like Bendis wasn't satisfied with just having the characters blab everything out loud and wanted to go a level deeper. When the series crept into the Secret Invasion tie-ins this book served as damn interesting read with the imposters Pym and Spider-Woman creeping under the noses of team. Time traveling adventures with Doom, Iron Man and Sentry and a symbiote invasion that turned everyone into Venom (and also played a role in the origin of Red Hulk and tied into last issues of Cable and Deadpool) were other notable adventure that went against the very colloquial tone of the remainder of Bendis’ work.

Favorite moment of the series? Dr. Doom not holding back on his scorn and calling Ms. Marvel a fat whore. I specifically remember reading this and wondering if Victor had a crush on her or something cause he is absolutely ruthless, to the point where Ms. Marvel has to ask Wonder Man if she really is fat.


 

4. Tony's Council of Winners

Or, "The Secret Retconners"

There is certain exclusivity to being a member of the Avengers. Having residence in Avengers Mansion kind of means you're at the top your game. Yet, the Avengers are more of a tool than a governing body, a role S.H.I.E.L.D typically plays. Bendis took the idea of a high-committee of super heroes and ran with it in the not-subtlety named Illuminati.

An Iron Man-led group of figureheads representing different corners of the Marvel Universe, the Illuminati provided sway in a series of momentous events since the Kree-Skrull War. Their decisions were the influence behind World War Hulk and the precursor Planet Hulk, and currently the group collectively holds the Infinity Gems after claiming them back from the villainous Hood. Although being outted by the superhero community the group of Stark, Captain America, Xavier, Namor and Strange continues to operate as a behind-the-scenes self-governing authority for the superpowered community.

The creation of the Illuminati required some rough surgery by Bendis and greater Marvel heads to slip the group into greater Marvel lore, cutting and pasting them in putting them in stories as far back as 1972. Obviously, any time something like New Avengers: Illuminati comes out it's going to catch the ire of fans, especially when it's not written to jive with the jagged edges of continuity. However, the Illuminati deserve recognition as an extremely important thread in Marvel history, even if they are more retroactive than the Sentry and Blue Marvel combined. The raw power of all those huge personalities sitting at the same table is daunting; the natural tension is ripe and potential for conflict abundant. A group like the Illuminati is bound to crop again. I'd imagine Xavier and Namor might have something to say to the others about Avengers vs. X-Men.


 

3. Jessica Drew, I choose you!

Or "Did anybody ask for this?"

Although the revival started in the pages of Alias, Spider-Woman has seen waves of exposure under Bendis, far more than any other B-lister. Sometimes it feels like she's on every other cover of both ongoing titles. Bringing this old-school character from near obscurity to enough popularity to warrant a recent motion comic is contributed singularly to one man's unreasonable reverence for Jessica Drew. 

In the whole "if you were there you're in" initiation of New Avengers #1 Drew reluctantly joined the team under the request of Captain America. Although consistently hesitant and doubtful of her membership she’s remained a roster mainstay of the past five years. She serves a nice foil to the testosterone-laden lineups and is a key figure in Secret Invasion. Recently, Jessica Drew serves with the main Avengers team and has begun an openly flirtatious relationship with teammate Hawkeye.

Wherever the future takes Spider-Woman is unknown, but the fact that she is an even a viable character in the modern era is due to Brian Michael Bendis. Might not be a major move to some, but with Marvel’s lack of viable female solo heroes, it doesn’t hurt.


 

2. The Big Five

Or, The Marketing Gimmick That Never Went Away

It would be hard to argue that Pete and Logan aren't Marvel's flagship characters. So it's almost weird to that at a time their absence from the Avengers became so entrenched it kind of a given that they would never join (particularly in the case of Spider-Man). However, with the open of the New Avengers Vol. 1 the ground was set for some big changes. Brian Michael Bendis built the Avengers in a whole new image, and that image included two of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet.

Including Spider-Man and Wolverine seemed gimmicky then, and turned me off from New Avengers initially, but in retrospect, it probably makes sense for all of the prime faces to have a role in the bigger battles. If Wolvie truly is the best at what he does, shouldn't he roll with the other various "best?"

Recently trimmed from the main squad and regulated only to Cage's team, both characters look to have very interesting futures as Avengers. Spidey just kicked off the extremely fun Avenging Spider-Man, and there is no doubt that Wolverine will play a huge part in the upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men in the spring. For awhile the most popular club in school excluded the most popular kids and although it still worked it works better now.


 

1. Avengers Disassembled

Or, "Yeah, so after She-Hulk ripped in Vision in half I never read comics again"

The crossover that changed them all. "Avengers Disassembled" will most likely go down as a major turning point in the way the industry does business, an actual “where were you moment” in our lives. The deconstructions of several Marvel heroes, principally the big three of Cap, Iron Man and Thor, knocked the status quo off kilter and created buzz around the franchise it was long lacking. It also helped create a blueprint used by both Marvel and DC on how to approach the crossover concept for the better part of the last ten years.

"Disassembled" is one of my favorite Avengers stories of all time. It shocked me out of the mentality that our heroes would be fine in the end and actually had the balls to kill of some fan favorites. And it was all so sudden. Everything went to shit in like 30 seconds and both the reader and team had no idea what the next chapter would entail.

It came in the form of New Avengers Vol. 1, the longest running stint of any of Bendis' books. This mother of all events also begot House of M (which changed the history of X-Men forever and spawned a series of mini-events like Second Coming), and Civil War (which started a cyclical trend of event series and tie-in titles). Repercussions of "Avengers Disassembled" still influence a range of series today, a direct key example: the soon-concluding Young Avengers: Children Crusade. The upcoming Avengers vs. X-Men appears to be an extremely appropriate direction considering the shared history and divergent paths of the two most popular team franchises since the huge, cataclysmic events of 2004.

"Avengers Disassembled" launched the unexpected career of Bendis as a superstar writer. Unfortunately, without judgment on whether it’s fair, his popularity has faded since then. Still, his contribution to Marvel is been significant, if not impressive, and in the end his ideas have touched nearly every corner of the fictional universe. What his legacy holds in the last leg of the race will go a long way in improving his long-term perception.  Now bring on more Squirrel Girl!

 


 

 

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Follow him on Twitter @jamilscalese.

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