Thursday, June 13, 2013
Review # 12: "Fear Itself: Avengers and Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis Volume 3"
After stumbling a tad with his first two volumes of "Avengers," Brian Michael Bendis gets back on track by - it seems to me - completely ditching the idea that this is a new book for new readers. There's a lot more continuity with what had happened in "New Avengers" and the previous cross-line events, and it gives these two volumes a lot more strength.
It starts with Bendis offering a unique format on the team's side-stories during "Fear Itself" which collects issues from both of his ongoing volumes. Told in part by a bunch of talking heads in a documentary (including some "archived footage" of the recently-killed Wasp,) this is a collection of "coming-of-age" (or "coming-of-Avenger") stories. They are all told very well using the format. For my money, the best of the bunch focus on Red Hulk, Spider-Woman, Mockingbird and - the strangest hero/nanny of all - Squirrel Girl.
The big problem "Fear Itself" had as an event comic is nothing that happened in the main story felt like it had any impact. There were two "big" deaths that were turned into resurrections almost immediately in other lines. What happens in these books is smaller and more subtle - as small and subtle as a giant tower being knocked over by Red Hulk and a possessed Thing can be - but it sheds new light on the characters' insecurities - again, a major strength of Bendis'.
So, "Fear Itself" ends, volume 3 begins and Steve Rogers once again bears the flag and holds the shield as Captain America. As he reclaims top spot on the team, we get something there hadn't been in a while: a full roster shake-up. Not too much changes: Red Hulk and Spider-Woman are still on the team, along with Iron Man, but we get the return - almost nonchalantly - of one of my favourite Avengers: the original Vision. Killed off by his wife the Scarlet Witch six years earlier, Tony Stark practically drops him off with a casual "yeah, I rebuilt him." Having Vision around ups the team's badass factor 100-fold, what with his ability to alter his density and reach into people's chests to stop their hearts. And just as the team walks in front of the mansion to announce the new lineup, who shows up but the recently deposed head of both the Dark Avengers AND S.H.I.E.L.D.-replacement "H.A.M.M.E.R." himself, Mr. Norman Osborn?
Now this part of Bendis' run was initially panned on an issue-to-issue basis for moving very slowly. But collected as a slow-burn trade where Osborn gradually reveals his plan and his secret new power-set, this is damn fine work on the level of BMB's "Dark Avengers" run. He and the scraps left from H.A.M.M.E.R. have teamed up with Madame Hydra (who also happens to be Spider-Woman's mom) and her merry band, giving a large swath of agents the same powers as the original Avengers, leading to a hell of a great fight involving a faux Giant Man, The Vision and the Quinjet that instantly has the android back in freaking business.
While some people might be confused or disappointed that Osborn isn't the Green Goblin in this, let me put it this way: he is so much better as an evil, businesslike megalomaniac who believes his own bulls*** that it's scary. Dollars to donuts, he may be the best character Bendis has ever handled. As the Goblin, especially around the time when Gwen Stacy died, he was already an excellent schemer. With his s*** together, he's on another level and the best villain to appear in Bendis' run with the big team.
Here's the thing, though: I would not recommend Volume 3 as standalone. You'd be well ahead if you read "Secret Invasion" and "Siege" first. But, hey, those are pretty good in my mind, and are worth it to appreciate the glory that is Norman. Surprisingly, though, I think the "Fear Itself" tie-in stands well on its own legs.
But I'll stick to what I said in the last review: Bendis' original run on "New Avengers" is better.
Ratings: 7/10 ("Fear Itself: Avengers"), 7.5/10 (Volume 3)