They’re Mighty, they’re New, they’re Young, they’re Dark, they have their own Initiative and, if you want to get technical, they even have their own Marvel Adventures. The Avengers are in high demand in the MU and not as Earth’s defenders but as something even more important to one and all. Back in the day, the Avengers had a huge rotating roster, now they have their own specialized teams to tell specialized stories. Think of them less as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and more like… Earth’s Mightiest Plot Device.
And really, what’s wrong with that? Pick up a Marvel book at the start of the alphabet and you can get an incredible snapshot of the entire Universe in your own favorite flavor! Want to know what’s going on with the cool kids? Read New Avengers and get headliners and raucous rebels. Want to know what villainy is afoot? Go for an issue of Dark Avengers and watch the current status quo come alive in various shades of sinister. I’m looking for a book about the foundations of a team and focused character development, so I read Mighty Avengers and find myself satisfied. But are you, dear reader? Are we really getting what we paid for? After all, that’s what the cover is there for: to judge the book. So are these Avengers stories or something more?
Before you frown sternly at your computer monitor, let it be said that each book has a taste of the others in its particular line. After all, two of them are being written by the same guy; you find yourself with a much more compelling story if you’ve been stalwart enough to follow both of Bendis’s Avenger titles. Ever since Avengers: Disassembled, the man’s been driving a crazy train through the premiere team of heroes and reshaping them towards something new: the continuity book. To understand why Janet Van Dyne had to … well, whatever it is she did at the end of Secret Invasion (explode? get sent away by Thor’s hammer? turn into purple energy?), you had to have read Mighty Avengers #15 at least to see the flashback on how Skrull-Pym passed on to her a ‘stronger’ form of Pym particles that she would eventually take and cause her downfall. The seeds of the Invasion itself were sewn in the first pages of Bendis’s New Avengers and the best view of Civil War came in its aftermath with Avengers: The Initiative.
Even outside the hand of Bendis (Bendis: Hands of Fate!), the Avengers have styled themselves to tell a particular form of story rather than showcase an Adventurer’s Club. Avengers: the Initiative has shown us a variety of new heroes, something we normally just got out of a batch of freshmen mutants every generation or so, plus the book has served as the best backstage peek at several events that have driven by. They had a very solid World War Hulk tie-in as well as giving us a very organized and exciting front in Secret Invasion. If the Adjective ‘Young’ wasn’t already in use, it might very well fit the Initiative team as these are primarily new heroes trained by older ones to serve our country when the next crazy event story crops up. Then again, the Young Avengers are entirely different view of the young hero than what you get in Avengers: the Initiative. Reluctant trainees as part of a government sanctioned program as opposed to inspired teens taking on the mantles of respected heroes.
Mighty Avengers, since Dan Slott took over the helm, is the Classic Coke of the Avengers soda line. Founding characters, high adventure missions facing classic foes (and no one’s head gets ripped off!), the signature of the book so far seems to be bringing back a sense of trust and teamwork to sidelined heroes reesablishing themselves. The Avengers started out as established heroes uniting under a common banner. Slott’s Mighty Avengers have similar earmarks, but have been tooled to run concurrently with the rest of the Avengers line. Rather masterfully done, I think this just might be the book that your average fan would think of when wanting an ‘Avengers’ story and it seems to be the little black duck of the Avengers line.
So why are New, Young, Dark and the Initiative running the Avengers headline? Do they need to be Avengers books or has modern storytelling moved past that? Could Marvel really find a way to brand this better? Just a Dark Reign book that isn’t a mini-series, but more of a prequel book to whatever next big thing Bendis has up his sleeve. This would probably work best as bi-weekly title, probably at a higher price, but it would solidify New and Dark Avengers into the long-spanning tale we all know they’re going to turn out to be. Avengers: the Initiative could take the Avengers out of their name too, maybe just run with The Initiative since Nick Fury’s agents can be sold as the Secret Warriors. Perhaps it’s out of fear that the stories wouldn’t stand on their own that the Avengers label is given, propping them up from being lost amongst the rest of the books.
Anyway you look at it, the Avengers have become less a title starring heroes facing unsurmountable odds and more a way to designate stories that take place in the overarching goals of a united storyline. The Avengers are banner titles, the security of the team symbol getting it in the reader’s hands while long term followers have a hefty list to see the multi-faceted diamond that is the Marvel Universe.