More than anything else, the new status quo Brian Michael Bendis instituted at the end of “Secret Invasion” is certainly interesting. The bad guys are in charge now, so it stands to reason that they’d need a bad guy version of Marvel’s biggest superhero team.
The premiere issue of “Dark Avengers” is little more than a recruitment story, and most of its joys come from the suspense of who Norman Osborn is planning to fill the roster with. If you’ve already spoiled yourself, there’s not much more than some snappy dialogue to keep you interested. But those with a modicum of self-control will find plenty to enjoy. Osborn, it’s revealed at the close of the issue, is completely co-opting the “identities” of the Avengers, picking his own Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, and even an Amazing Spider-Man. It’s a novel conceit and is another way in which Bendis is keeping this whole “Dark Reign” thing compelling. Watching Osborn rebuild giant swaths of the Marvel Universe to fit his own designs is a whole lot of fun, and the cavalier nature with which he treats the lynchpins of what has come before is just far-reaching enough to feel genuine.
His evil is not cartoony enough to feel non-threatening. It makes just enough sense to make you feel genuinely concerned for the good guys. Along with Ares and The Sentry, Osborn picks Marvel Boy, Moonstone, Son Of Wolverine, Bullseye, and Venom to fill out his roster. He himself leads the team as The Iron Avenger, a cross between (naturally) Iron Man and Captain America. There’s a pulpy logic to instituting a team that will travel the globe to help supervillains out of a jam, as in this issue’s set up of a Doctor Doom battle with Morgana LeFay. We don’t see much of the team’s interactions yet, but there’s certainly promise. There’s straight down the middle bad guys, grey area guys, and even some duty bound good guys. I definitely look forward to seeing where all this is headed.
Mike Deodato picks up where he left off on his “Thunderbolts” run. He’s a perfect fit for this kind of book. The gritty, lost Kubert brother, he has no problem conveying the menace behind the team’s origins. And yes, Norman still looks just like Tommy Lee Jones, but he makes it work.
Bendis is putting together a lot of the pieces in the new Marvel Universe, along with the help of other people in other books like “Thunderbolts” and the other Avengerses. What could easily have devolved into a kind of pat, mirror imaging of the Marvel Universe, an “Acts Of Vengeance” writ large, is evolving into quite an interesting new world order. No one’s being ferried off to slave camps, heroes aren’t being executed in the streets. Norman Osborn is simply getting the world he wants. And there are enough wrinkles and notes of subtlety to that world to keep things interesting.
One does get a strong sense that the main reason for the “Dark Avengers” to exist is for the inevitable huge fight with their counterparts. But it doesn’t feel tacky just yet. There’s enough character to the proceedings to ensure that you’re in no hurry to get there. And, eventually, when that last page cliffhanger does arrive and the “real” Avengers are looking down at these copycats, you’ll be that much more engaged.