Avengers #34

After 8 years as the property's head writer, "Avengers" #34 sees Brian Bendis finally end his stewardship of the Avengers with the conclusion to "End Times," a four-part story that has resolutely failed to recapture the enthusiasm and transformative spirit that "Disassembled" (for all its technical failings) exemplified all those years ago.

The bulk of the issue involves the Avengers attempting to rescue Janet Van Dyne from the Microverse, and hinges on their inability to defeat Lord Gouzar -- a tyrant who has them out-manned and out-gunned. It's not much of a spoiler to say that they do succeed in defeating him (it is the last issue, after all) and much of the issue's content is devoted to the climactic fight scene.

However, it's the coda where the real heart of the issue lies. A party thrown in honor of a returning character ties up Bendis' "Avengers" run quite definitively, but also hands the baton to Jonathan Hickman. It's not hard to find Bendis' words coming out of Tony Stark's mouth when he makes his final suggestion that the team should "go bigger," as much a challenge to the writer's successor as anything else.

But looking back on the final issue of the original "New Avengers," which provided a satisfying thematic and narrative conclusion to the series' run, there simply isn't that much pathos in "Avengers" #34, the conclusion of a much shorter and less successful incarnation of the title. Under Bendis, "Avengers" was convoluted and fractured in its storytelling. This issue encompasses those problems. Multiple artists are called in for a "jam," but the story ends up seeming even more patchy and inconsistent as a result.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the moments where Bendis' talent actually shines are dialogue-related. Quippy conversations, knowing winks at the reader, a believable flow to speech: all present and correct. The problem is that they only punctuate the action scenes, which are as workmanlike and unspectacular as Bendis has ever written them. The artists all put in a good show, but they're rarely asked to draw anything that truly stands out.

As a result, it's tough not to feel as though Bendis' tenure on the franchise reached its natural conclusion some time ago, and that "Avengers" is representative of a weak attempt to carry on against better judgement. The strong showing of "All New X-Men" #1 certainly shows that he's got better in him.

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