Monday, January 20, 2014

The Reassembling Of The Avengers

The above scene, from the four-part Avengers story, "Chaos," serves to boil down the events of the crisis which led to this point--better known as the 2004 "Avengers Disassembled" series, written by Brian Bendis, with art by David Finch (pencils) and Danny Miki (inks). It's a little daunting to, er, "disassemble" this ambitious story and make sense of it, as so many have weighed in on both the story and its writer, and with good cause. "Chaos," a word borrowed from another manifestation of the Scarlet Witch's probability-altering power, certainly describes not only this crisis which the Avengers have been thrust into but also the upheaval which the book itself would generate on the sales rack. Over a period of four months, "Avengers Disassembled" would wind its way through no less than seven other titles--and at the end, the Avengers title itself was to be scrapped, and the concept rebooted. It all seemed so--well, go ahead and fill in the blank. I could list a half-dozen descriptive words to finish that sentence off the top of my head, and none of them would sound far-fetched.

That's not to suggest that "Chaos" is bad or disappointing--on the contrary, it's an extremely entertaining and gripping story which takes the team well out of its comfort zone and shows us what they're made of, while no doubt giving new meaning to the term "crisis situation." Say what you will about Brian Bendis, and many have--I know I have--but whatever marching orders he was given from editors Tom Brevoort and Joe Quesada (and lord knows who else), Bendis' writing, in this story at least, makes for compelling reading, and he turns in everything asked of him, while perhaps tossing in a few of his own grenades as well. If that sounds like a caveat, it probably is. No one wants to shoot the messenger here; but there's no evidence to suggest otherwise that Bendis didn't have a firm hand in shaping this story's plot--or, for that matter, the plotting or direction of New Avengers (which picks up where this story leaves off), Civil War, Secret Invasion, or any number of other books which helped to shape the future direction and tone of the Avengers. To extend the Latin, caveat emptor.

While reading through the "Avengers Disassembled" issues, it's practically impossible not to get a sense of déjà vu from 1991, when the X-Men were essentially rebooted after the spinoff from the book's main title was launched--adopting a decidedly more proactive and militaristic perspective after the Marauders, in another cross-title series of issues, had given us a bloodbath of casualties and left us with a group of hard-edged mutants who began questioning their scruples a lot less:

In the case of the Avengers, it was a similar type of "scorched Earth" writing which made it possible to literally blow this team apart and start the book from scratch, while almost completely severing ties with the plot and character constraints which had long tied writers' hands. It's reasonable to assume a more long-term goal: that what worked for the Avengers would, in turn, presumably filter down to Marvel's other books, which had characters who at one time or another were Avengers themselves. Consequently, if the Avengers themselves are torn apart and rebuilt without the "Marvel that was" having any sort of influence, the rest of the Marvel books could conceivably fall in line.

"Chaos," for better or worse, seems to be the culmination of the initiative to break with Marvel's past in order to build a commercially viable future for new readers, with books based on gritty realism rather than pure adventurism. And with the dead Jack Hart's appearance at Avengers Mansion, the first bomb that will "disassemble" the Avengers as we knew them is detonated.

The first of many, this attack wastes no time in drawing blood, with Scott Lang being confirmed as the team's first casualty of the day. Everyone is understandably confused; but, before things can be sorted out, we're taken to another scene at the United Nations, where Yellowjacket and the Scarlet Witch are part of a panel headed by Iron Man, who is addressing the Assembly. But, in mid-sentence, Tony Stark focuses his words on the Latverian delegate, and with an uncharacteristic lack of restraint:

The mystery deepens when Stark later confesses to Wanda that, although he appeared and felt drunk on the dais, he was still very much on the wagon.

Back at the mansion, questions continue to be asked, with SHIELD now present and securing the grounds as well as tending to the injured. Captain America and the Falcon have also arrived--and, in a nice scene where Bendis demonstrates a flair for writing not only the Avengers but the military, even in the middle of a crisis Cap keeps a cool head and looks after his own:

Just then, the team spots one of their aircraft approaching, with the Vision at the controls. And as if enough hasn't happened, this story kicks it up a notch when the jet rams into and totals nearly the rest of the mansion:

It would turn out to be the last we see of the Vision for quite awhile. Unfortunately, his parting words add to the day's mystery, while his actions further add to its dangers:

With the modules the Vision has launched forming into five replicas of Ultron, "Chaos" is definitely an apt title for this story as the Avengers take point and attempt to deal with multiple copies of one of their deadliest enemies. But with SHIELD on the scene, their military presence can't simply be overlooked, and Bendis again gives them some good moments:

As far as Finch's artwork, this issue is a work of art in every sense. There are many instances where Bendis steps back and lets the art tell this story, and the end result is spectacular. A good example of that is when She-Hulk becomes noticeably more agitated and aggressive in her dealings with this almost constant barrage of enemies (and with Ultron in particular)--until, in another inexplicable development of the day, she becomes as savage and raging as her famous cousin, demanding answers of the Vision's fallen form and completely going over the edge in her frustration:

And now the Avengers find themselves assaulted by a new enemy--one of their own, whose rampage against the team prompts a SHIELD soldier to raise the situation's alert level as well as to recommend calling in a Hulkbuster crew. Neither of which are likely to save the Wasp or Captain America from the She-Hulk:

There's little doubt that, with the end of Part One, "Chaos" has given us most of the elements of a good comic book story, at least as far as an action-centered story is concerned. But, given that this will be the last story featured in the Avengers title, a lot is riding on how it will all come together, once (if!) things calm down and the details to all of this bedlam begin to emerge. Bendis has demonstrated that he can maintain a story as well as the team's dynamic at a breakneck pace (with more than a little assistance from Finch); it remains to be seen if he can bring this story to fruition and justify the "epic" nature of its press, while giving the Avengers a tale which would hopefully rank as a classic. In Part Two, we'll learn that at least one reader thinks that "Avengers Disassembled" has fallen far short of the mark, as the team struggles to put the pieces of this maddening puzzle together.

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