And so ends another of the great runs in comics, as unpredictable and engaging as it began, almost five years ago…
Hard to believe that Bendis & Maleev have been at this for so long, harder still to imagine this title under the creative direction of anyone else. In comics, hell in anything, it’s truly a rare thing for a piece of work to match, and in very isolated cases, even surpass the creative level established at its inception. Simply the natural order of things, so when confronted by that most unlikely of situations, something that starts good, and somehow manages to stay the way, it deserves whatever additional praise we can muster.
I’ve heard it said that once you cross that threshold between fan and creator, some of the mystique is removed from the whole process, ultimately taking some of the “fun” out of it. Perhaps proof that I haven’t received nearly enough exposure, I’m finding the opposite true, my admittedly brief time behind the curtain leaving me with a deeper and more intense appreciation for anything that emerges from the other side, superior to the titles it shares shelf space with. Making good shit isn’t nearly as easy as it looks, there’s the very obvious of course, assembling the right creative team that’ll complement, yet strengthen each other, but there’s also the intangibles at play, those invisible little things that can ultimately make a project a success on both creative and financial levels. Because we have all read many a book, that can only lay claim to one of those distinctions, for whatever reason.
So, you’ll have to allow me this piece, essentially amounting to a lengthy fan letter, sparked by the work Brian Michael Bendis delivered to shops this past Wednesday. Naturally, we have the end of a brilliant tenure on Daredevil garnering much of the attention, but two of his other series, The Pulse and New Avengers, also reached important milestones this week. Let’s get it goin’ with a final issue that clearly exemplified everything that made this collaboration between Bendis and Maleev one for the books. Massive spoilers ahead, consider yourself warned…
Even at the end, the central conflict remains the same as it was in the beginning, the very real and devastating consequences of a superhero’s secret identity exposed by the media. Now, we’ve all read stories like this before, the dramatic reveal usually undone with little to no effort, in a realm where time travel, shape shifters, and lifelike robots, are literally a phone call away. We’ve seen magic spells erase the knowledge of a hero’s identity, on a worldwide scale, in the time it takes to get the page turned. And with things like that built into the structure of any relevant “superhero” universe, it resigns the idea of “outing” a hero to little more than a cute gimmick. One used to give the writer license to attack a character where he’s most vulnerable, right before someone snaps their fingers and puts everything back in its proper place.
Despite the obvious tension and drama it facilitates, it’s really just a gag, and as with any gag, eventually you’re going to reach the point where things are so irrevocably damaged, that they have to return to normal. Because permanent change is the enemy for most company owned properties, though fans are gonna tell you different, what they actually want from most of their comics is strongly implied motion. And that’s cool, because it reinforces the qualities that attracted us to the material in the first place, but when you break it down, what you have is a storytelling model where no one ever stays dead, and nothing ever really changes. At least, of course…until it does.
For the last few years, Bendis and Maleev have examined the outing of Matt Murdock from every conceivable angle, ultimately arriving at a conclusion that was right there from the start. There was really only one possible way for this story to end, even though it leaves Matt Murdock in the worst situation imaginable, having lost and/or compromised everything he valued, or was supposed to stand for. And that’s what qualifies the run as an undeniable success, because while Bendis covered all the bases, even showing the larger societal effects of revealing a favored neighborhood son as a local pulp hero, the spotlight stayed directly on Matt Murdock.
His character was so well handled on every level, that oftentimes just watching him instinctively react to his slowly crumbling life, was enough to carry things forward. Through it all, he’s surrounded by friends willing to share his burden, from his ace Foggy Nelson, to Marvel mainstays like Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Black Widow, all more than willing to put everything on the line for him, even if they don’t necessarily agree with every move he makes. And despite his intentions, Murdock’s fluid sense of morality often caused more problems that it solved.
No doubt, the situation he’s been forced into isn’t entirely his fault, but as Luke Cage was the first to point out way back when, lying about it, and defending his position with a million dollar lawsuit couldn’t be seen by anyone as a “heroic” move. But you understand his reasons, and there will always be something compelling about a character like Matt, who is completely uncompromising and unrelenting. He just refuses to stop fighting, no matter the adversary before him, and you’ve come to believe that if anyone can take on the Kingpin, Bullseye, and the Feds, and come out on top, it’s this dude. Finally though, after more than 50 issues, no amount of legal maneuvering, no amount of running, and no amount of help from his friends, can save him from seeing the inside of a jail cell. In the end, he’ll be left with nowhere to hide, and his friends will suffer the most for his mistakes, and his arrogance.
There’s a scene in this final issue that really operates as an effective metaphor for the entire run, with Matt fleeing prosecution for a happy ending he might not even deserve. Along the way, he does everything we’ve watched him do for years, fight like an absolute madman, using his friends to shield him from the inevitable, always finding that one escape route that only his heightened radar can detect. Maybe even now, there’s something Matt sees that’ll ultimately set him free, but at this point, things have finally caught up to him, and he’s locked in a box with his greatest enemies. And incoming scribe Ed Brubaker is painted into an incredible corner. Luckily, he’s cool enough with Bendis to takeover from this point, allowing the accomplished writer to end his memorable run in the exact spot he preferred. It’s just not one Matt prefers, but like I said…maybe he sees something we don’t.
I’m really looking forward to Marvel finishing up the hardcover run of this series, because soon as they do, I’ll be giving the entire thing another read through, once again experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly of Matt Murdock. Congrats to Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev on telling a remarkable story, and accomplishing what any decent storyteller wants…to leave a character in a far different place than the one they found him in.
Okay, lemme get something out of the way, before we talk anymore about this latest issue of New Avengers.
Before the recent, and some would say, misguided roster shake-up, I had no love for the Avengers, in their previous form. Don’t know what it is, but the concept never really spoke to me, and probably, somewhere back in 1992, my father tried to tell me how “cool” The Avengers were, and in my limited wisdom, I refused to believe him. Don’t get it twisted, there are a couple Avengers things on my shelf, but that owes more to the presence of certain creators, than strong feelings about the characters. Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s Avengers Forever will always have a place on the shelf, because it was so incredibly well executed, but I fault the creators, and not really the characters for that, even though you probably couldn’t do that story with any other group of characters. I understand that, but…I don’t know, I’m just not feelin’ em, you know? So, there we are, I’m not feelin’ the Avengers.
When cats were losing their minds over Disassembled, and it’s very sudden decimation of the little Avengers universe, it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I mean, the story was disappointing I thought, but seeing Hawkeye blow himself into tiny purple bits wasn’t the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen in a comic. Not even close. However, I understand how this would appear to someone quite fond of the whole “classic” Avengers thing, with all those dudes swept away to make room for guys like Spider-Man, Luke Cage, The Sentry, and Ronin, who hell, ain’t even a guy turns out. But I get it, ya’ll suspicious about this whole “New” thing, and apparently Bendis gets it too, because this issue introduces the team to the adoring public, and makes very obvious overtures to all concerned, that this isn’t just disregarding all that’s come before. That any and all willing Avengers have a place on the squad, if they want it. Hardly Bendis’ fault none of them want to be involved, right? But seriously, between you and me…I’m feelin’ the New Avengers.
And it’s not just because Luke Cage is there, shut up. That’s a very minor, minor upside of course, but man, even Captain America is kinda cool in this, and I almost never like that dude. In this context, I understand why everyone else approaches him with that sense of well-deserved reverence, like any second he’s gonna drop some knowledge, and you need to be there when he does. Cap’s the heart, and Tony Stark is the brains, offering much more to the group than fancy jets, and his reliable butler. Sentry is the most dangerous man on the planet, because he’s got the power of a million exploding suns, along with a healthy case of schizophrenia. Spider-Woman is a triple agent, working the Avengers, HYDRA, and SHIELD all at the same time. Luke Cage is one bad mother. Wolverine doesn’t even know why he’s there, and neither does anyone else. Spidey is the secret weapon, because he doesn’t think he actually belongs there, though his history and experience prove otherwise.
Now there, doesn’t that sound like a team you wanna read about on the monthly? Oh, don’t be like J. Jonah Jameson, because in a couple years things will turn, and you’ll have all your classic dudes back with their magic hammers and cosmic powers. In the meantime though, I’m gonna keep reading my Avengers book in relative peace, because this beautifully illustrated 2-parter indicates things are turning the corner, and the stories and the villains are about to get a lot bigger. We’ve been told these guys truly deserve a chance to play with the big goys, seen a little evidence to suggest it, but from this point on, I’m expecting Bendis to prove it.
Roll with the New, ladies and gentlemen…roll with the New…
Have from the very moment she was introduced.
That Alias Omnibus thing coming out in March? I’m all over that, and handing off my Alias trades to a friend, so then he can love her too. I mean, how could you not, when this woman takes a quick break from giving birth to cuss J. Jonah Jameson out, and tell him where to shove his stupid newspaper, and his Nazi moustache. That’s good shit, right there, and I refuse to even hear otherwise.
Is your Omnibus pre-ordered yet? I know a place that has it for a really great price…
Okay, think that’s more than enough Bendis love for one week, even for me. Everybody go find some good comics to read, and we’ll reconvene right here in two weeks. Taking my scheduled skip week with pride, as this one makes three straight articles in a row. Don’t know where I got the energy honestly, just turned 26 last week, I’m hardly a young man anymore…