With Brian Michael Bendis’ heralded move from Marvel to DC, there is bound to be a resurgence of interest in his creative works. With perfect timing, Bendis’ complete Dark Avengers series has been released as a new trade paperback, just in time to not only remind readers of the strong work he did at Marvel, but also giving an oddly prescient take on political thought post-crisis and how good publicity can overshadow the worst villany.
Led by Norman Osborn, the new Avengers were cobbled together in the wake of the Secret Invasion event where Earth was invaded by the shape-shifting Skrulls who infiltrated every aspect of superherodom, causing public opinion to sway hard against former leaders like Tony Stark. Osborn, the reformed Green Goblin, brought together a team of barely controlled villains and dressed them as the former Avengers squad, refusing to allow the public to know who they really were behind the masks. Certainly, had people known that Bullseye was masquerading as Hawkeye, Moonstone as Ms. Marvel and Venom as Spider-Man, opinion may have swiftly changed. Half of Osborn’s job seemed to be keeping the team not only together as a single unit without killing each other, but also keeping their identities secret. The other half of the job was a bit more complicated. His other major concern was Bob.
Sentry is an outlier in the Marvel Universe. As his own wife, Lindy, says, Bob is Superman. His powers seem infinite and barely understood by anyone. His first outing as part of the new Avengers is in battle with Morgan Le Fay, coming from her own time to the present to destroy Victor von Doom. Part of Osborn’s secret cabal of evildoers, Doctor Doom is saved when Sentry simply tears Morgan’s head clean off her shoulders. Then he explodes. Things go straight downhill from there.
The interplay between the characters is the shining point in the story, the mechanics of which revolve around personal interplay (and intercourse), and the question as to what each of them is truly doing there in the first place. Ares, God of War, fights because battle is where he belongs, despite the fact that his own son has begun fighting for Nick Fury’s resistance movement. Venom and Sentry are both reliant on Osborn for the medication that keeps them in human form and powered, respectively. Bullseye just wants to kill people. Each has their own motivations, their own reasoning for not only joining Osborn’s fake Avengers, but also for how they act while wearing someone else’s mask.
The book is, without a doubt, beautiful. The art by Mike Deodato is beyond what many comics were doing at the time, including other issues attached the Dark Avengers. The expressiveness in the characters’ bodies and the gorgeous backgrounds would have made this a must buy even without the solid storytelling. Deodato reaches levels of character portrayal that made me have to remind myself that Alex Ross wasn’t doing the pencil work. I truly am in awe of the art throughout.
In the end, I think Dark Avengers is an absolute must for the collector’s shelf. In an era where authoritarian comments are made on seemingly a daily basis, having a reminder in fiction of where Machiavelli’s machinations can take a free people is a not-so-gentle reminder that masks can be worn by anyone.
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