Monday, August 5, 2019

Darkness Falls On The Dark Avengers

While it may (and arguably should) have been difficult to appreciate the super-team known as the Dark Avengers, particularly considering the backgrounds of some of its less reputable members, it's surprising how their series turned out to be a welcome arrival in the fallout of the drawn-out Secret Invasion storyline, as well as fairly interesting reading in its own right. Fabricated... that is, created by Norman Osborn, who stepped into the limelight as the government's point man for national security following his actions in the climax of the Skrull invasion, the Dark Avengers serve as the public face of Osborn's efforts to win the public's trust as its visible (if not accessible) heroes--while H.A.M.M.E.R. (did we ever find out what its letters stand for?), replacing S.H.I.E.L.D. as the government's "peacekeeping task force" and comprised of former S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and A.I.M. agents (!), is essentially Osborn's personal army at his beck and call.

At first glance, the Dark Avengers lineup may have held some familiar faces for you:

But where the press had in the past enjoyed a fair measure of disclosure as to the names and backgrounds of the active duty Avengers, Osborn has ordered his team not to engage with the press in any way, at any time--a necessary step for him to take, considering the wool he's pulled over the public's eyes as far as the costumes and names we're presented with on stage which would normally inspire trust. Meet your new Avengers (their true identities revealed in parentheses):

  • Wolverine (Daken, Logan's disturbed son)
  • Hawkeye (Bullseye, the assassin)
  • Ms. Marvel (Dr. Karla Sofen, alias Moonstone)
  • Spider-Man (the sadistic Venom)
  • Captain Marvel (Noh-Varr, former Kree warrior, a/k/a Marvel Boy)
  • Ares (the Olympian God of War)
  • The Sentry (the "Golden Guardian of Good")
  • Iron Patriot (Norman Osborn)

Noh-Varr and the Sentry are the odd men out here, being the only members who are in the dark as to Osborn's duplicitous nature and goals--while Ares sees his association with the group as part of Osborn's vision to pursue an aggressive posture of enforcement, while being given a free hand to engage with their enemies without quarter.

Scripted by Brian Bendis, you could expect to see his typical style of characters' dialog being cut off in mid-sentence, as well as no small amount of asides; but as far as putting all the pieces in place for the series' first issue, Bendis does quite a good job of whetting the reader's appetite as far as the concept of these "dark Avengers" being a viable one. Appropriately, those pieces are arranged behind closed doors, where Osborn shows an unsurprising yet remarkable ability to assert his management style and see his wishes executed. For example, as far as selecting his right hand and second-in-command, his new position and influence assured him of his pick of any number of qualified, seasoned individuals--yet it's Victoria Hand, a former SHIELD accountant, who gets the nod.

And while Carol Danvers' skillset would have proven invaluable to Osborn's new team, Osborn's confrontation with her amounts to a minor bump in the road that can be remedied easily enough.

Venom--a/k/a Mac Gargan, formerly the villain known as the Scorpion--has had dealings before with Osborn, as both a member of the Thunderbolts as well as the leader of Osborn's Sinister Twelve. Gargan's persona appears to be dominated by the alien symbiote that has merged with him--but that just won't do for what Osborn has in mind for him as an Avenger. (Though even Osborn won't risk meeting with Venom until the creature has been... fed.)

By comparison, the recruitment of Daken seems almost tame, with Osborn only needing to appeal to the boy's baser instincts.

Yet Osborn takes a different approach with Noh-Varr, though no less manipulative.

It's of course taken no arm-twisting to bring Bullseye and Ares on board, while we've seen here and elsewhere that Sofen generally chooses her paths depending on which way the wind is blowing. As for the Sentry, readers of his past exploits can probably draw the conclusion that Osborn has thrown him a lifeline as far as dealing with his psychological problems and keeping "the Void" in check.

And so with great fanfare--and likely the only accommodation the press will be given concerning their bona fides--the new team of Avengers is unveiled, their acceptance depending largely on the "makeover" aspect of those on stage who remind the public of well-known heroes of the past.*

*I can't imagine that Wolverine is a known quantity to those in the crowd or watching the event on television, though I suppose that's one reason why I'd never make a good publicist.

As we know, things didn't end well for the Dark Avengers and especially for Osborn, their fortunes collapsing (along with their series) following the siege of Asgard where both Aries and the Sentry lost their lives and Osborn is arrested for committing treason (to say nothing of his duel nature of the Green Goblin rising to the fore--maybe the government and the public won't be so dismissive of it this time around). The only team members who manage to avoid being swept up in all the warrants flying around are Daken, who escapes a military dragnet, and Noh-Varr, who had become disillusioned with Osborn some time ago and fought off an attempt by the Sentry to reclaim him.

In the aftermath of the fall of the Dark Avengers, H.A.M.M.E.R., and Osborn, certain developments come about following Steve Rogers' new appointment:

While Victoria Hand, who followed Osborn's orders to the letter until the end and fully expected to go down with the ship, gets an unexpected reprieve from Rogers of all people, who instead of throwing the book at her throws her a curve.

As for Osborn, he discovers that even in solitary confinement, he rates a cellmate.


Big Murr said...

H.A.M.M.E.R.? I always thought it a direct reference to the old joke: "Why are you hitting yourself with a hammer?" "Because it feels so good when I stop."

That's pretty much how I felt when this run of misery ended. The Sentry, the worst mistake ever made in Marvel, was gone. Captain America in charge. Heroes mending fences and being friends again. The ensuing "Heroic Age" was brief, but it was a sparkling breath of clean air while it lasted.

Comicsfan said...

Murray, I must say I rather enjoyed the Sentry's 2000 Marvel Knights series from Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee--very unconventional and intriguing. Frankly, I wasn't expecting the character to return in a more mainstream capacity, which was admittedly a little disappointing to see; though by the end of "Dark Reign," it felt like his time had likely run its course.

Big Murr said...

What I gleaned from the Sentry's origin/explanation (and what I blurrily remember now), the concept simply got up my nose. It boils down to "he didn't earn his spurs". Didn't pay his dues.

So, Sentry appears and disappears in modern history. When he's around, everyone knows his name. When he vanishes into some cosmic looking glass, everyone has complete amnesia of his existence. If I've got it wrong, please correct me.

1) When he appears, he's suddenly every superhero's buddy. "Good old Bob! Sure, Cap's okay, but what a swell guy Bob is!"

Now if he was only some quirky "Cheshire Cat" now-you-see-him, now-you-don't dude, I could probably take the concept on board.


2) We're supposed to accept that every stupendous adventure where (insert your favourite heroes) went to the mat, giving their all, being the best they could be to save the world–didn't happen. Those selfless moments of wonder were actually accomplished by "Superman" doing the heavy lifting. All the best, bravest moments where heroes made history are rewritten every time Bob appears. (eg. The Fantastic Four were plucky helper monkeys for Sentry in his defeat of Silver Surfer and Galactus)

There's been lots of retcons and rewrites that have irked me in the last decade or two, but this particular one truly raises the old blood pressure

Anonymous said...

Norman Osbourne is Tommy Lee Jones!
I've also seen him drawn as James Caan, which I think was even better. He had that little sinister smirk Caan has.
Hey, I'm a movie guy. I ain't ashamed to admit it.


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