Ever see a sequel to a really great movie that's basically the same as the first, but just on a bigger scale? Instead of saving the city from doom, the hero now saves the country or the world? It's really not any different and, while pleasant, it's nowhere near as good as the first one. Most of the lines are the same, the characters haven't really changed, and it's missing the magic that made the first so wonderful. That's what "Dark Avengers" is beginning to feel like.
The original is, of course, Warren Ellis' "Thunderbolts" where he dealt with the same characters on a small scale. Norman Osborn ran a small group mostly sequestered in the mountains that hunted down unregistered heroes, often coping with PR and mental health concerns along the way. Now, Norman Osborn runs H.A.M.M.E.R. and leads the Avengers, which is made up of many of the former Thunderbolts, again often coping with PR and mental health concerns. The situation is slightly altered in some superficial ways, the scale is a bit bigger, but not much else has changed.
That isn't to say that "Dark Avengers" isn't a good read, but since this is an Osborn-heavy issue, those who have read Ellis' "Thunderbolts" will, no doubt, get that dejÃ vu feeling in many parts. Osborn struggling to maintain control, Osborn snapping at those who don't do what he says, Osborn manipulating people to do his bidding... all well and good, but not much new there. The problem seems to be walking that fine line between writing the character consistently and adding new elements to him, and simply retreading the past -- and Bendis leans a bit too heavily to the latter in this issue.
There is one stand-out moment involving Osborn and that is his interaction with the Sentry. In that pairing, Bendis has found a new way into Osborn and his relationship with another who, like him, is mentally disturbed. The connection between the two is well done and that Bendis takes things in a slightly unexpected direction here when Osborn needs the Sentry to respond to the Atlantean terrorist attack shows that he has a clear direction in mind.
What doesn't help the feeling of 'been there, done that' is that Mike Deodato also handled the art on "Thunderbolts." That's about the only negative thing you can say about Deodato's work here, which continues to be dark and moody with a bit of melodrama thrown in. He is clearly enjoying himself with these characters that allow for over-the-top reactions to the smallest things. The pages focusing on the Sentry are very strong as he uses some interesting, unconventional layouts mixed with some basic ones.
"Dark Avengers" is an enjoyable read, I want to emphasize, but this issue, more than any before it, comes off as a retread of what Warren Ellis did with Norman Osborn in "Thunderbolts." Bendis provides enough hints that he won't stay in this place too much longer with the crossover with "Uncanny X-Men" in the next two issues, written by Matt Fraction, and, then, "Dark Reign: The List" in September, that's a safe bet.
(Norman Osborn versus Namor in CBR's preview!)