The Heroic Age didn't last that long, did it? That was the premise that began this series, with Steve Rogers giving Luke Cage and his family Avengers Mansion in order to run an a ground force of Bendis-approved street fighting Avengers, his own way, after the losses of Dark Reign.
Maybe a climate of fear is all it takes to undermine that gesture of affirmation and hope. For most of its run this has been the light comedy antidote to the cosmic (and overwrought) main title, but it seems like world-shaking events crossing over from other titles wasn't really enough for Bendis. He must have really missed his Dark Avengers. I can't say I really blame him: except for a tendency to behead witches, that was a pretty entertaining and kinky little title, and if nothing else it set up the pretense of Moonstone pretending to be Carol Danvers for much too long, which was a pretty brilliant idea that benefited the Ms. Marvel title greatly while it lasted.
Bendis used the recent #16.1 to give the New Avengers one of their worst days ever (though one of our best, as it was illustrated by Neal Adams who seemed to have been slavering for a chance at Green Goblin all these years), as the prison transfer of Osborn went completely awry due to his many hidden allies and their terrorist militia plots. How does that even happen? How do Osborn and his cronies give the New Avengers the finger on such an epic scale?
Well, part of it is just as it was in Dark Reign: long-range planning. When Norman isn't completely around the bend, he's a tactical genius; he's also, for a madman, surprisingly good at making friends. This time he has H.A.M.M.E.R. (which thrived in his imprisonment), A.I.M. (who is … ahem, headless without M.O.D.O.K. currently), and the same strategy that made Dark Avengers such a threat: gathering together a group of miscreants with grudges, and a shared Machiavellian moral schema. Hey, it worked so well the first time, only imploding under the weight of Ares' death and Osborn top-loading too many of his flawed powerhouses at each other. The survivors beat feet while the getting was good then, but this crew looks less opportunistic and more committed for the long term already. And unlike the gang of thugs Wonder Man collected for the recent grim and pointless annual, they're a pretty smart group who are already encouraging Norman to think before he acts.
Why he needs to keep recreating images of his own worst enemies is a glaring question mark, but this time he's got a Hulk (there's so many to pick from these days!), a Spider-Man (ditto), yet another fake Kree warrior (I like the classic costume better than the leather miniskirt for Dr. Wentworth already), another archery nightmare for Clint, and (sure, I guess it's finally time) an actually evil Scarlet Witch/psychiatrist (hey, both crazy, right?). I'm not quite sure who's playing Wolverine (not even bothering with a costume change, but hey, they did steal his DNA last issue) or when we'll see the other clone in the wings.
It's a fair question, but didn't the Dark Avengers make more sense when the main team were outlaws in hiding, so there was a void to fill? The heroes are back now (nothing Bendis can do about that, thank you Marvel movie business!), so everyone will know these are fakes right off, right? Is it just Osborn's goal to sow as much disinformation as possible? Bendis builds in enough vaguely political complaints (from career complainers) to give us that Tea Party frisson, but that social misery isn't really at the core of this story.
After all, Norman did spend last issue just screwing with the team by remote control, for fun. So it seems, this time, it's personal.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.