Bendis, Brian Michael
About the Author:
Brian Michael Bendis was born in Cleveland, USA, and began working in comics on creator-owned titles in the 1990s. He has also written for film and television, including as a writer-producer for MTV's animed Spider-Man series.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.6 out of 5
(Art by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer)
In the aftermath of 'Siege', which saw the fall of Asgard, the Avengers have reassembled. However, some divisions remain between the leading members Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Thor. These three are forced to put their differences aside when they are cast out into the Nine Realms to confront Hela, the Goddess of Death.
This book could easily be called 'Avengers Bromance' as it's all about rebuilding the bonds of friendship between Steve, Tony and Thor. Marvel spent most of the early 2000s tearing the Avengers apart ('Disassembled', 'House of M', 'Civil War' etcetera) but with the movies of the MCU heading towards the first Avengers film it was imperative to return to the original core characters as friends and allies. This book then serves a very functional purpose and is perhaps a bit too transparent in being driven by brand recognition rather than story imperatives.
That said, there is something deeply satisfying to a longtime Avengers fan in seeing these particular three separated off to fight as comrades in arms once more. And as a fan of Norse mythology, it was nice for them to be confronting elements from that as the Nine Realms begin to fold in upon themselves following the fall of Asgard. For me the highlight was seeing Steve battling a group of elves from whom he takes a set of blue scalemail armour and a shield. There's even a brilliant panel where Davis has shadows and light fall on Steve in just the right way so that, for a moment, he is Captain America again (probably worth pointing out to the uninitiated that Steve wasn't Cap at this point - Bucky was, if I rememeber right).
3 out of 5
Civil War II
(Art by David Marquez, Sean Izaakse, Andrea Sorrentino, Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung and John Dell)
When an Inhuman appears with the ability to see the future, he helps the superhero community to proactively defeat an interdimensional threat. Some heroes, led by Captain Marvel, see him as the perfect way to avert disaster before it can happen but other, led by Iron Man, see the risks in attempting to punish crimes before they've been committed. The deaths of two leading Avengers inevitably propel the two sides into open conflict.
This book gets a lot of flak from comics fans but I'll say straight off that I don't think it's deserving of all the hate it gets. There is a great deal wrong with it, don't get me wrong, but it's not awful. If nothing else, the artwork is so gorgeous that after finishing the book I thumbed back through the pages just to take the images in again.
Hero versus hero stories have a tendency to be as narratively justified as a small child banging their two favourite action figures together, so I'm always dubious about them. However, it has been done right in the past. In the original 'Civil War' (which I liked, but I know a lot of people didn't) by Mark Millar, the pretext of the conflict was rooted in the real world dilemma of civil liberty versus national security in post-9/11 America and in 'Avengers vs X-Men' (reviewed here) we actually saw a sliding scale which saw both sides of the conflict alternately hold the moral high ground. Here, however, there is too clear a right and wrong to justify these life-long friends smacking the crap out of each other. In fact, the prologue has She-Hulk clearly laying out how wrong it is to convict anyone of a crime they haven't yet committed (a standpoint she inexplicably totally ignores later to side with Captain Marvel). There's no justifiable moral counterpoint to that and therefore, despite their efforts to make us feel sorry for her, Carol Danvers is clearly the bad guy here. That means that anyone who's a fan of Captain Marvel or any of the other heroes who, equally inexplicably, choose her side will feel like their characters are being betrayed. In fact, the only characters who are done any justice here are Steve Rogers and Miles Morales.
So, without any real poignancy to the core dispute, what we're left with is a mash-up of 'Civil War' and 'Minority Report' that is just about enjoyable on the purely childish level of seeing things like a teenager with spider powers fighting a gun-toting talking raccoon.
3 out of 5
Dark Avengers: Molecule Man
(Art by Mike Deodato)
Book 2. The Dark Avengers are a team, led by former Green Goblin Norman Osborn, with dark pasts who have adopted the mantles of the Avengers whom they used to do battle against. Here they confront the Molecule Man, a foe so powerful he can literally tear them to pieces with a thought.
This is the first Dark Avengers story I've read and I have to say that, to my initial surprise, I really enjoyed this shadowy take on the classic Avengers. I also liked which former villains take on the roles of which Avenger; Bullseye makes a brilliant alternate Hawkeye for example and Osborn himself, a brilliant industrialist, makes a good shadowy reflection of Tony Stark. This book definitely got me interested in this team and I'll be sure to pick up more of their adventures at some point.
Molecule Man is an old-school Fantastic Four villain and, as such, his power levels are way beyond anything this team has come up against before, even if he is a somewhat obscure antagonist. I really liked the fact that the 'good' guys were making no headway until Victoria Hand (memorably played by Saffron Burrows in the Agents of SHIELD TV series), who has no powers, confronts Molecule Man in an attempt to talk him down. The fact that her fear of him is palpable as she nevertheless stands up to him makes for a very compelling character moment for her.
Ultimately there's not much depth to this book beyond the set-up of the characters involved, but as I say, it did engage my interest far more than I expected for such a short-lived incarnation of the Avengers.
3 out of 5
House Of M
(Art by Oliver Coipel, Tim Townsend. Rick Magyar, Scott Hanna and John Dell)
One of Marvel's periodic big event stories. Wanda Maximoff, AKA the Scarlet Witch, is losing her mind and control of her mutant power; the ability to alter reality. Whilst the X-Men and the Avengers meet to decide her fate, Wanda and her family undertake desperate measures. In a flash she uses her power to completely change reality, creating a new world in which each of the heroes featured has been gifted with an ideal life. However, the world order has been turned on its head, with humans being a minority oppressed by mutants and the planet being ruled by the House of Magnus (Magneto, Quicksilver, Polaris and the Scarlet Witch herself).
I loved this alternate reality for the wealth of 'what if?' scenarios it features. As it turns out, two people remember the world as it was; Wolverine and a girl who can unlock the truth in the minds of others. Slowly the heroes are awakened from their new lives with mixed results. Spiderman was always my favourite Marvel character and I liked the way in which he is emotionally torn apart when his new life, in which he's married to Gwen Stacy and both Uncle Ben and Aunt May are alive, is shown to be a lie. Perhaps the best story element here is the way in which the heroes are so devastated by the changes wrought that they make revenge against Magneto and Wanda their priority rather than justice.
My favourite single scene of the book is a great bit where Wolverine, awaking to find himself the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D and the lover of Mystique, jumps off of the Hellicarrier a couple of thousand feet above New York.
Bendis saves the biggest upheaval for last, though. When Wanda uses her power to return the world largely to the way it was, she makes a dramatic change which leaves mutantkind reeling from it's worst disaster ever. This is a brilliant event story and is made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the entire core story is told here, allowing the tie-ins to tell parallel stories rather than having to read half a dozen books to get to that core story.
5 out of 5
New Avengers: Civil War
(Art by Howard Chaykin, Leinil Yu, Livier Coipel, Mark Morales, Pasqual Ferry, Jim Cheung and Livesay)
A tie-in to 'Civil War' by Mark Millar, in which the Superhuman Refgistration Act splits the Marvel Universe down the middle, with violent results. Here we are presented with five stories telling of how various members of the New Avengers deal with the events of the Civil War.
The first features the leader of the rebel heroes, Captain America, as he becomes a fugitive and begins gathering other heroes to his banner, beginning with Falcon. The second is by far the most poignant as Luke Cage refuses to sign the Registration and points out it's fascist nature. He is forced to send his wife and child into hiding and then is attacked in his own home by SHIELD agents. Next, Spider Woman, pursued by SHIELD is driven into the arms of Hydra, who offer to make her their leader. The fourth story focuses on Sentry, as he wrestles with the knowledge that his power could win the Civil War for whichever side he chooses. Finally, we are presented with a story in which one of Tony Stark's friends brings down the mighty Iron Man out of disgust at how the technology he helped build is being used.
Overall, this is nice little collection of vignettes from across both sides of the Civil War.
4 out of 5
(Art by Gabriele Dell'Otto)
Nick Fury and SHIELD trace supervillain tech in the US to the government of Latveria but the US government refuses to address the implied terrorist threat. Fury then undertakes his own unsanctioned mission to overthrow Latveria's leaders, roping in Captain America, Wolverine, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Man and Black Widow to help. A year later, the heroes have had their memories of the mission erased but soon face the consequences of Fury's actions.
This book is very much a product of its time both in its very on-the-nose approach to the US foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 and in the way that in the 2000s Marvel was systematically tearing down its long-term institutions (see 'Avengers: Disassembled', 'Civil War' etcetera). These real-world influences on the book are so surface-deep that its sometimes hard to read the book without rolling your eyes at the contrivance.
However, if you can get past those elements then this is actually a really enjoyable graphic novel. The obvious 'war on terror' allegory aside, this book does explore some genuinely interesting murky moral waters. The threat of the supervillain terrorist is very real and Fury absolutely believes that stopping them is the right thing to do, and yet he comes out of this feeling like the villain. Not least because of his decision to wipe the heroes' memories so that they won't try to hold him to account. What really surprised me is just how much of Fury's underhanded behaviour Captain America is okay with. I'm not used to seeing that character putting being a soldier above what is morally right.
Dell'Otto's fully-painted artwork is also absolutely worth a mention as it is glorious. Aside from Spider-Man's weirdly squinty look, every page is real feast for the eyes.
Finally, fans of the 'Agents of SHIELD' TV series might want to check this book out for the first ever appearance of Daisy 'Skye/Quake' Johnson...
4 out of 5
The New Avengers: Breakout
(Art by David Finch, Danny Miki and Mark Morales)
The first book of the New Avengers series. Six months after the Avengers disbanded, a mass breakout of supervillains at the Raft leads a small and unorthodox team of heroes to attempt to contain the escapees. With this impromptu team-up, including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Luke Cage and Spider-Woman, Captain America sees the potential for a new team of Avengers. As he attempts to convince the team to Assemble permanently, they undertake the task of hunting down those responsible for the mass breakout.
It feel a bit cheap and plays into the criticisms that comics always return to the status quo, to have a new team of Avengers come together so soon after the team was so dramatically broken up in the first place. It feels like, despite what its own press would have us believe, 'Avengers: Disassembled' was little more than a bump in the road for the team, which absolutely lessens the impact of that story.
However, Bendis quickly won me over here with the specific team of Avengers he decides to put together. Captain America and Iron Man are, of course, the core of the group but rather than taking the most powerful heroes of the Marvel Universe, we're instead given a team of Avengers who are, to some extent, misfits. Spider-Man is a habitual loner, Luke Cage is a street-level hero-for-hire, Spider-Woman is a Hydra-turned-SHIELD agent and Wolverine is part of a different super-team altogether. It is specifically this unlikely and somewhat ill-fitting line-up that makes the New Avengers interesting and I enjoyed that both Steve and Tony recognise that a different type of team is needed for a different age (post 'Disassembled' and 'Secret War').
So, whilst the set-up feels a little contrived, I'm a sucker for a team of misfits and having them go toe-to-toe with villains as diverse as Sauron, Electro, Mister Hyde and Purple Man really got me onboard.
4 out of 5
The New Avengers: Powerloss
(Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger)
Book 12. A group of supervillains develop a device which cancels out superpowers and decide to use it to broker a deal with former villain turned leader of the officially-sanctioned Avengers, Norman Osborn. However, the rogue Avengers come between the two parties whilst trying to continue to fight the good fight and soon one of their number is captured by Obsorn and suffering from a life-threatening condition. Their teammates then have to call in additional help in order to stage a dramatic rescue.
Pretty much since 'Civil War' (by Mark Millar), I've loved the idea of a team of renegade Avengers who refuse to bow to governmental pressures in order to keep doing what they feel is the right thing. More than that, the type of heroes who make up this team have always interested me; mostly being the smaller-scale characters like Spider-Man and Luke Cage, who don't fight for the big national/global/galactic picture but instead try to right each wrong as they encounter them. Realistically, they're hugely outmatched by Osborn, the Dark Avengers and HAMMER but they still refuse to give up.
On the run and with one of their number captured, this book highlights just how determined this team of Avengers is, not to mention their dedication to each other, even if they don't always see eye to eye. As a result I found this book a really enjoyable read, made all the better by the triumphant moment when the metaphorical cavalry arrives to help in the rescue attempt.
4 out of 5
The New Avengers: Revolution
(Art by Alex Maleev and Leinil Yu)
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the Avengers have been split into two separate teams; the Government-sanctioned Mighty Avengers and the fugitive New Avengers. This book focuses on the latter, an interesting new mix of Avengers, including Ronin, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and Iron Fist.
This book cleverly plays with time in an almost 'Pulp Fiction' sort of way, which I found very interesting to read (but which must've been a nightmare in the original comic books). Basically the story is split between two timeframes, a day apart. In the earlier of the two the New Avengers follow up the rumoured possibility that Captain America is not actually dead, only to run headlong into Iron Man and the Mighty Avengers. The later of the two timeframes has the New Avengers travelling to Japan to rescue one of their own who has fallen afoul of Elektra and the Hand (ninjas, lots of ninjas!).
I really enjoyed this book, primarily because I'm glad to see some heroes still fighting the good fight despite losing the Civil War, but also because this new team of Avengers is one of the most interesting and unconventional there's ever been, particularly the inclusion of Doctor Strange, the most powerful magic-user on Earth. I will say that something about Bendis' writing of Spider-Man just didn't seem to ring true, but you can't have everything.
Also of note here is a sort of 'House of M' epilogue in which Clint Barton (AKA Hawkeye) tracks down Wanda Maximoff (AKA the Scarlet Witch) in search of closure.
4 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man - Chameleons
(Art by David Lafuente and Takeshi Miyazawa)
Book 2. Spider-Man, Iceman and the Human Torch are all living under the same roof and together have to tackle a young man trying to come to terms with developing superpowers, the backlash against their friend Kitty Pryde's status as a mutant and a pair of shapeshifting siblings.
I found this book notably more enjoyable than the last one, in large part due to the new elements from 'The World According to Peter Parker' having had a bit of time to bed in with me. So now having all the teen heroes together doesn't feel so contrived and I've gotten a bit more used to Lafuente's too-young-looking version of Peter Parker (in fact, one of the Chameleons calls this out in quite a self-aware meta moment, saying that Peter looks more like he's thirteen). This is not to say that I particular approve of these elements, just that they're not as jarring here as I found them the first time.
We get three main story beats here and the first two in particular are very interesting. The first sees the Ultimate Universe version of Rick Jones awaking with cosmic power and then having Peter, Johnny and Bobby try to help him adjust. It's pretty engaging too because each of them have had very different experiences of gaining their powers and being accepted (or not) afterwards. The second story is the true emotional core of this book as we see Kitty persecuted at school for being a mutant. The X-Men have always been about challenging prejudice and it's good to see them tackle it here, although I felt Kitty's ultimate (no pun intended) reaction being pretty unfair to her as a character. The third story has Peter being replaced by a shapeshifting duplicate who infiltrates his life to learn his secrets. It's the least engaging of the plotlines but we at least get to see a bit of genuine drama unfold amid the Gwen/MJ love triangle as a result of the Chameleon's meddling.
4 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man - The World According To Peter Parker
(Art by David Lafuente)
A relaunch of the Ultimate Spider-Man line, set six months after New York was devastated in 'Ultimatum'. Spider-Man has become a people's hero but Peter Parker's life remains complicated and gets worse when Iceman and the Human Torch turn up on his doorstep seeking refuge.
Bendis has long-since proved that he can write Spider-Man well and that's still the case here. However, too much of this relaunch feels geared towards drawing in a tween audience, with little regard for more established readers (I've been enjoying Spidey adventures since the 1980s). What this means is that suddenly we have all these teenage heroes suddenly and literally under one roof in a way that feels horribly contrived.
Lafuente's artwork doesn't help matters either, with his style making Peter look too young. Sure this is him at sixteen, rather than the older Peter Parker I'm used to, but the artwork makes him look more like twelve than sixteen and he's tiny in comparison with just about every other character, which feels very weird. On the other hand we have MJ (poor MJ, sidelined in favour of Gwen Stacy again), who is drawn like she's actually in her 20s. None of this is helped by the abundance of low-slung waistlines and the fact that just about every girl at Peter's highschool now has a pierced eyebrow.
So whilst there's some definite potential here, the YA approach to storytelling and art style spoiled it for me.
3 out of 5
(Art by Butch Guice)
Beginning in the 1940s and running through to the present day, this book reveals that all of the events and characters of the Ultimate Universe, be it the X-Men, the Ultimates, the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, are all secretly linked together. As the secrets of the past are revealed, a new potential threat emerges as all across the world mysterious alien objects come to life; objects calling themselves the Watchers.
I liked the way that Bendis finds a way to stitch the disparate elements of the Ultimate Universe together, creating a through-line to all of the major players of that version of Earth. I also liked Guice's artwork. Unfortunately, that's about all I liked about this book.
As much as I enjoyed the linking threads, it can't be avoided that they are terribly contrived. On top of that is the fact that this book leans into the mean-spirited nature of so much of the Ultimate line. Here's it's most obvious in the fact that mutants are revealed to be a human genetic experiment which gets out of hand. Now, Marvel's mutants have always been a very thinly veiled metaphor for race relations in America, so to have mutants literally treated as a disease epidemic is very uncomfortable.
The worst thing about this book, for me, was the way that the Watchers storyline is steadily built up across the course of the book and then leads precisely nowhere. It's clear that this story is just a lead-in to something else and as a result you finish the book feeling pretty short-changed.
2 out of 5
Collaborations & Anthologies:
Avengers vs X-Men (here)
Civil War: Marvel Universe (here)
Civil War: The Road To Civil War (here)
House Of M: World Of M Featuring Wolverine (here)
Jean Grey: X-Men Origins - Jean Grey/Here Comes Yesterday (here)
Nick Fury: Seven Against The Nazis/Nick Fury: Agent Of Nothing (here)
Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection Book 1 (here)