Albert Einstein supposedly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Norman Osborn is insane. Brian Michael Bendis might be too.
Let’s start with the most important thing to keep in mind when reading this review: I didn’t particularly like Marvel’s 2008 – 2009 Dark Reign crossover event all that much. The foundation behind it – that Norman Osborn was made head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Renamed H.A.M.M.E.R. to sound all badassed during the event) – meant that reading a Marvel comic during that time required a suspension of disbelief that would make Hercules say, “Ah, fuck it.”
Yes, I know Osborn killed that invading Skrull Queen in Secret Invasion. He also killed Gwen Stacy. In cold blood. In the middle of New York City. On camera. Making Osborn the Top Cop was roughly akin to setting Bernie Madoff up as Secretary of the Treasury, or hiring Ted Bundy as the Headmaster of The Finishing School for Aspiring Victoria’s Secret Models.
The biggest thing Osborn did during Dark Reign was create his own “official” version of The Avengers, packed with supervillains dressed as their superhero counterparts. With Daken as Wolverine, Venom as Spider-Man, Bullseye as Hawkeye, et cetera, et cetera. Which is a brilliant and interesting concept… for say, a two or three issue story arc. As a fiendish plot by some master criminal to fool street cops. “I know… while we are robbing the New York Bank of New York, we will dress in the costumes of our enemies! That will make the police mistrust and harass The Avengers, and we will have our revenge! Mwu-hah-hah-ha!”
Instead, the Dark Avengers went on for almost a year and a half, all based on a concept that also only worked if you never stopped and thought about it for even a second: “Hi, Mr. President? Meet Bullseye. Hired assassin. Done years and years in prison. Once had a brain tumor back that made him hallucinate and kill strangers. Also killed Karen Page in cold blood. In a church. And there’s garage surveillance footage of him stabbing Elektra to death floating around on the Internet. Can we get this man a badge and a security clearance? And while you’re working on that, I’d like you to meet Venom…”
I know, we’re about 400 words into this review of New Avengers #18 and I haven’t really said anything about the actual book yet. Well, in this issue, Osborne, recently escaped from prison, teams up with Hydra and A.I.M. in a plot to destroy the superhero community. And what’s the first thing he does? Put together a new team of Dark Avengers. Which didn’t work the first time. When he had government backing, public support, and supervillains that anybody had ever heard of to at least make it kinda interesting to readers (Seriously: Barney Barton? Protip, Bendis: when you need to spend an entire page of dialogue explaining who a character is and why he is fearsome even though his name sounds like Muttley choking on a chicken bone? Maybe you want to pick a different guy).
Literally one-third of Osborn’s Dark Avengers are characters that were introduced in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Emma Rios’s Osborn mini-series from a few months back, which means that by nature this version of the Dark Avengers carries one-third of any gravitas the first did, and further it cheapens the Osborne series in my eyes by making it seem like a trojan horse to introduce a new dark Spider-Man and Scarlet Witch for Bendis to play with while costing me about 20 bucks… and considering that Osborn has an obsession with Spider-Man and then creates his own pet one with six hands? And then almost immediately afterwards Osborn is so horned up he needs to get himself some sex? Eeeewww.
Okay, I want to take a step back from the negative complaining about this and focus on what’s positive here, in this individual issue, regardless of what came before… as difficult as that is. This is, after all, a Bendis book. Which means that the dialogue is sparkling and interesting. Yeah, it takes a full page of dialogue to explain to us who Barney Barton is and why we should give a fuck, but what dialogue:
And this is his brother. What did he do to get himself locked up?
Seems he doesn’t like his brother.
I don’t like my brother, but —
Seems he has special Hawkeye powers, too.
What does that mean?
What am I, Google?
If you need to have exposition, that’s the way to do it: engaging and entertaining. Of course, picking a villain who non-Hawkeye fetishists have ever heard of would also have worked, but what’re you gonna do? It’s Bendis. I initially thought it was stupid when he put Power Man on The Avengers and I was wrong then, maybe this’ll work out, too.
As always, one of the best things about New Avengers is the Mike Deodato art. Deodato draws extremely finely detailed pencils and inks; even at only 20 pages, I have no idea how this guy gets a book with art this obviously labor-intensive out on a monthly basis. His figures and facial expressions are exquisite – the decision was made somewhere along the line to make Osborn look like Tommy Lee Jones, and Deodato might as well have shot Jones full of PCP, taken a picture of the tweak and pasted it into the comic. And his action sequences… well, there aren’t any action sequences in this book. But when Bendis, the master of writing for the trade, gets around to writing one in three or four issues, past experience with Deodato’s art tells me they’ll be spectacular.
I will try to end on an optimistic note here: New Avengers has, historically, been one of the most consistently good Marvel books you can buy on a monthly basis. This is a creative team that has done wonders, repeatedly and recently. However, we are moving into a plotline that feels – no, is – a retread of one we went through just a year or so ago, that for me just plain old didn’t work. And this time we’re doing it with a bunch of second-stringers and new characters that I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on if they were on fire.
I was relieved when Dark Reign and the original Dark Avengers was finally over. However, I trust Bendis and Deodato, so even though I feel trepidation, I will continue to buy this book. Because this time, maybe things will be different.
Oh shit – I’m insane.