Happy Easter, Stratosphans!
So how pumped are you for Endgame? I’m simultaneously really excited and nervous and happy and sad that the MCU as we know it is wrapping up. It’s been a heck of a ride, and how it moves forward is anybody’s guess at this point.
I’ll be honest: I’m typing this article out weeks ahead of the movie release. I’m still actively avoiding additional trailers and spoilery clickbait articles at this point so that when I do see the movie, I’ll be able to enjoy it. Still, I don’t need spoilers to know that big changes are ahead for the MCU and the Avengers franchise in general after this one. The sands of time take their toll, and so do escalating movie star salaries. Robert Downey Junior was no spring chicken when he started off the Avengers franchise over 11 years ago with Iron Man, and he can’t keep bouncing around for these cgi fight scenes forever. Not everyone has Paul Rudd’s secrets of eternal youth.
So for this week, I wanted to look back at a time in the comics when they blew up the status quo of the Avengers and came out the other side with a stronger product. No, I’m not talking about the Busiek run, which came about after the failed Heroes Reborn experiment, which in itself was an attempt to reboot the Avengers after the failed Crossing story that turned Iron Man into a teenager, etc. That Busiek run is great, but it doesn’t make my podcast pal nearly as infuriated as the book I want to discuss: Brian Bendis and David Finch’s New Avengers!
To preface this book, Brian Bendis took the reigns of the classic Avengers title with just enough time to celebrate a 500th issue, turn Wanda crazy, blow up Vision, and kill Hawkeye on his way out the door. In real life, Bendis was clearing the table to rebuild the premiere Marvel team with Marvel’s biggest characters in order to match what DC was doing with the Justice League at the time. To match Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter, Bendis pulled out Marvel’s biggest guns: Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-man,..and then a bunch of other guys! Luke Cage, Spider Woman, the Sentry don’t have the name recognition, but they were all great characters in their own right. Daredevil was even intended to join the team, initially as Ronin and then as himself, but that idea got kiboshed to reveal Ronin as…Echo? Ok, the idea of a big 7 fell to pieces pretty quickly, but the team vibe was really entertaining and became the centerpiece of the Marvel Universe in the years to come. Civil War, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, and Siege events grew out of the title, and even derailed it a bit, if I’m being honest. Still, a lot of pieces for those events were put into place in the New Avengers series, and that’s an area where Brian Bendis excels. I know Bendis didn’t actually write the actual events for civil war Civil War and Siege, but if Secret Invasion was anywhere near as good as the build-up, we’d still be talking about it today.
Still, the series was the centerpiece of Marvel during a very exciting time, and volume 1: Breakout is where it begins! The Avengers had been disbanded when Electro takes the job from a mysterious benefactor to break out a number of super villains from the raft. It’s one of the many times that Marvel has tried to elevate Electro from B-level status to main event, and the power he displays definitely should elevate him to a top tier. But he’s Electro, a Spider-man bad guy, so that never actually happens. He’s always pushed back down the card, so to speak. Even in his finest hour, Electro’s luck is never that good. Sure, the Avengers are disbanded, the FF and X-Men are distracted or out of the country, but the exact moment he chooses to break all of these villains out of the raft, Spider-Woman, Daredevil, and Luke Cage are all on board in addition to traditional security. Captain America isn’t too far behind, only to be joined by a chopper-hitching Spider-man and Iron Man, too, eventually. Even the Sentry joins the side of the angels in the big kerfuffle. He had previously been an inmate self-committed to the raft but ends up a hero keeping villains where they belong.
Electro is successful in helping forty-some villains to escape.
Only half of the sea of bad guys ultimately made it out. At least 45 were kept behind, however, by the gathered group of do-gooders. Electro then is taken out by Luke Cage in a less than ceremonious manner. It is hilarious!
Seeing this a sign, Cap sets off to recruit everyone involved to reform a newer, low-key Avengers squad, perhaps not powerful enough to handle Loki like the original crew, but good enough in a pinch. DD says no because Bendis was too busy screwing his life up in Daredevil’s own book, the Sentry is put on hold until the next trade paperback, and everyone else is flattered that Cap likes them so they say yes. After the raft affair, they head to the Savage Land to track down Karl Lykos, a.k.a. Sauron. It’s there they meet up with Wolverine and some other mutates who were actually the cause of all the chaos in the first place. The new crew crashes their ship, gets stripped of their belongings, and attacked by the bad Black Widow before SHIELD gets involved to end things. Then it turns out there are reasons SHIELD can’t be trusted, there’s still over 40 baddies floating about, and voila, a New Avengers team is born!
The basic philosophy behind the revamped team is that Cap believes they were brought together by fate, just like the original Avengers. As long as there are innocents to be avenged or bad guys to be stopped, there will always be a need for an Avengers. I also liked that this book was much more grounded than traditional Avengers fare. With members like Spidey, Luke Cage, and Wolverine instead of more powered up heroes like Thor or Vision, the Avengers were much more relatable in my eyes.
And even though actor ages and contracts might be gaining at an unfortunate pace, the monetary gain from each Avengers movie is something Disney execs can’t help but love. Therefore, I can see something similar playing out in the movie-verse as well where a new team needs to come together, even if Cap isn’t around to see it. I hope Cap makes it out of Endgame, but I’m not holding my breath. Heck, the New Avengers series took place during Brubaker’s epic Death of Captain America storyline, and Bucky-Cap found himself a comfortable spot on the team. So there’s a precedent, is what I’m saying.
Maybe we’re looking at a Sebastian Stan-led team moving forward. Maybe the MCU uses the Avengers franchise as their opportunity to blend in their recently acquired Fox franchises, illuminati-style. This book handled the question of “but Wolverine’s an X-man, he won’t join” by saying basically, who cares? Whoever’s on hand has just as good of a shot at being on the team as anybody else.
One thing the movieverse has excelled at has been respecting the comic book source material, but not being a slave to it. Maybe they go a New Avengers route and smash together franchises as necessary. Maybe they do the Illuminati thing? Perhaps we see a blend of different versions of all of the above as the next Avengers franchise with Wolverine, Mr. Fantastic, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Iron Man, and Starlord holding infinity gems. All of those characters have held them in the comics at some point or another. Maybe all of the infinity stuff is wiped out and the universe starts again some other way. Maybe the Avengers just keeps chugging along with their already established characters and we don’t see FF or X-men characters for a few years. That would be ok, too.
The point is, Marvel has had franchise-shattering events in the past in their comic-verse, and everything turned out fine. We got a few years of entertaining stories, and even fan favorites like Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Vision found their way back into the mix eventually. They even did a bit of re-casting on Hawkeye and turned him into a loveable loser during Matt Fraction’s excellent run. As long as they make for exciting stories, and they have thus far, I think everything will be fine. The Avengers, whoever the end up being, are in good hands, and I’m happy to sit back and enjoy what comes next.
Ooh, by the way:
New Avengers Vol. 1 Final Grade: A. It’s a solid start to a bold new era.
Until next time!