It's hard to believe that Norman Osborn was once the biggest hero in the United States. Granted, he himself wasn't actually a hero and manipulating things, as Norman is often famed for, but publicly he was a big deal. It all came about because he got the final blow on the Skrull Queen during Secret Invasion. This enamored the public to him, as they saw him as their savior. Capitalizing on the negative press that allowing the invasion to happen gave Tony Stark, Osborn seized control of S.H.I.E.L.D. by manipulating circumstances to position him as the next candidate for the director role. Tricking the world into thinking he reformed through his work with the Thunderbolts, Osborn was able to impose his will on America. The Avengers were disbanded and he replaced them with his own version of the team, the Dark Avengers.
The Dark Avengers were far more sinister than their original counterparts. They were willing to cross lines the Avengers proper were not and they were corrupt to their core. Manipulation, infighting and betrayals paved the team's tenure, as you'd expect with a team full of villains masquerading as heroes. There are those who stood against them though, with rebels from all over the Marvel Universe seeking to tear down the former Green Goblin and his Dark Avengers. Heroes like Hawkeye, Deadpool and even Fantomex of X-Force tried their hands at crippling Osborn's regime. Whether fending off the X-Men, Fantastic Four or even the Agents of Atlas, Norman kept his tight grip on the United States, thanks to his Dark Avengers. CBR looks back on his Dark Reign in an effort to show you how this villainous reflection of Earth's Mightiest Heroes outshone their heroic counterparts.
20 LED BY NORMAN OSBORN
Through his work on the Thunderbolts, Osborn proved himself capable of leading a super team. His re-purposed Iron Man armor not only gave him an impressive arsenal to lead with, but it allowed him to project a certain image. As the Iron Patriot, Norman appeared to stand for the protection of the nation.
Osborn brought his genius-level intellect and knack for manipulation to the forefront when leading his Dark Avengers. Norman's sadistic streak mixed with his ambition was always going to be volatile. Though erratic, having a team of Avengers behind him proved just how dangerous he was as a leader.
19 INSPIRE FEAR
One of the primary tactics of Osborn's Dark Avengers was giving off vulgar displays of power. These were meant to make illegally operating superheroes and members of the public scared of the team. They did this by employing more brutal methods and showing zero tolerance to superheroes who were not on Osborn's payroll.
Using their powers in outlandish and intimidating ways, the Dark Avengers showed no real concern for the odd bit of collateral damage. Mac Gargan used his symbiote to make himself larger and more grotesque and Ares used ordinance way above what missions required. The sinister heroes sent very definite and surprsing messages with their actions.
18 UNRESTRICTED BY S.H.I.E.L.D.
While Tony Stark was still in charge, he had to operate within the confines of S.H.I.E.L.D. processes and had an obligation to the greater good. Under Osborn's Dark Reign, things were vastly different. The Dark Avengers weren't held back by guarded information or a lack of jurisdiction, because Norman did away with S.H.I.E.L.D.
After folding the organization, Osborn replaced it with H.A.M.M.E.R. which was a far more aggressive, blunt instrument of his will. Where S.H.I.E.L.D. operated on espionage and finesse, H.A.M.M.E.R. was far more thuggish and oppressive. Used as a means to an end, the new organization helped enforce Osborn's regime, allowing the Dark Avengers to operate as they wished.
17 ABLE TO OPERATE WITH OTHER HEROES' IDENTITIES
When Osborn sought to replace the Avengers with his own, he didn't just mean replace the team in role alone. No, Norman wanted a team that took on the aliases and identities of former Avengers. This was a masterstroke, as it helped the public acclimate to the Dark Avengers faster.
In addition to acclimation, any sinister acts committed by the Dark Avengers would reflect poorly on the actual heroes. Several of the replaced heroes took this to heart, including Clint Barton. The former Hawkeye, now operating as Ronin, sought to undermine the Dark Avengers and expose Osborn to clear his name.
16 CONTROL OF THE SENTRY
Though Bob Reynolds was not a villain in the same sense as his Dark Avengers allies, he was manipulated into joining regardless. Osborn managed to convince Bob that he could help him control the horrific power that lurked within him. An entity known as The Void, a scary and powerful being, lives inside the Sentry and he has to work hard to keep it under control.
Though from Bob's point of view, Norman was trying to help him, this was not the case. Norman considered both Bob and The Void useful. Osborn thought of Sentry as his secret weapon and The Void was just another, deadlier level to his new servant. Unfortunately for Norman, he learned the hard way that you cannot control The Void.
15 BACKED UP BY DARK X-MEN
When Osborn formed his Dark Avengers to replace the actual Avengers, the value he saw in it was returned in abundance. So much so, that he thought he'd replace the X-Men too. Recruiting Daken, Mimic, Namor, Omega, Cloak and Dagger, Norman had a second team to call on his whim. The team was surprisingly effective, showed in their ability to defeat Nate Grey.
Osborn even recruited Mystique to pose as Charles Xavier, endorsing the team publicly. The Dark X-Men and the Dark Avengers assisted one another, with Daken even sharing membership on both teams eventually. However, egos and tensions flared, brewing a rivalry between the two new teams.
14 BACKED UP BY LOKI
The Avengers have enjoyed the support of Thor for years, being a staple member, so it only makes sense that his sinister brother would be in support of the dark reflection of the team. A member of the Cabal alongside Osborn, Loki helped consolidate power and solidify Norman's reign.
As always, Loki had his own motives, and they involved seizing the throne of Asgard. Asgard had been stranded on earth at the time, so operating alongside Norman was necessary to get him what he wanted. He assisted the Dark Avengers during their siege on Asgard, though he lost his life when Sentry lost control of The Void.
13 CONSISTENT USE OF VENOM SYMBIOTE
In order to replace Spider-Man, Norman Osborn sought to use the Venom symbiote to give the impression that Parker had returned to his black suit. He needed someone he could manipulate, so he chose the former Scorpion and sociopath Mac Gargan to wield the Venom symbiote. The former Sinister Six alumni used it to scary effect over the course of Dark Reign.
Brutal and sadistic, Mac was unabashed in his use of Venom's powers, often letting his rage overtake him. Where in cases like Agent Venom, only temporary exposure to the alien was granted, the Venom symbiote was attached to Mac Gargan and seemingly left to its own devices. This had a lasting psychological effect on the villain, even after relinquishing the entity.
12 THEIR HAWKEYE IS LETHAL
We know that the Dark Avengers were willing to do things the regular Avengers were not willing to. One of the main differences was that the Dark Avengers were no strangers to employing lethal methods. Frankly, with Bullseye posing as your Hawkeye, a body count is inevitable. The longtime foe of Daredevil relished his opportunity to dole out some government-sanctioned mayhem.
With his increased durability thanks to his adamantium-plated bones, Bullseye was an altogether scarier, more durable Hawkeye. He acted as Osborn's marksman and personal assistant in all things deadly. If Osborn was tired of someone and wanted them gone permanently, Bullseye would send them into that long goodnight.
11 SUBJUGATION OF UTOPIA AND ASGARD
Before everything fell apart in the Siege event, Norman Osborn enjoyed a dominance over the US and some of the most powerful communities that existed within it. First, he brought the stranded Asgard under his heel with the help of the Cabal. Then, his manipulation of public opinion towards mutants and the creation of his own Dark X-Men allowed him to oppress mutants further.
The Dark Avengers acted as his enforcers, ensuring no one defied Osborn or H.A.M.M.E.R. This all came apart, however, when the X-Men finally defeated the Dark Avengers on Utopia and the Siege event ended in the destruction of Asgard, after the release of The Void.
10 DEFEATED CAPTAIN MARVEL
A lot of the Avengers from before Osborn's Dark Reign refused to cooperate with the new status quo following Secret Invasion. One of those former Avengers was Captain Marvel, aka Carol Danvers. She was still operating as Ms. Marvel at the time and refused to join Norman's regime.
The Dark Avengers re-purposed some Kree technology to find a way to overload Carol's powers, seemingly defeating her entirely. Moonstone of the Dark Avengers took her Ms. Marvel alias and costume after that, posing as the fallen hero. Carol would resurface later as a member of the New Avengers, in opposition of Osborn.
9 OVERTOOK S.W.O.R.D.
Abigail Brand of S.W.O.R.D. has always been a dependable ally for Earth's Mightiest Heroes. During Secret Invasion she helped rescue Reed Richards and facilitated his return to Earth. However, while she was seeing to a very sensitive mission, Norman and his Dark Avengers hatched a scheme to re-purpose S.W.O.R.D.
They ousted Brand from her position and replaced her with the sinister and altogether more xenophobic Henry Peter Gyrich. He used the organization's information to try to capitalize on the Earth's swelled fear of aliens after the Skrull invasion. He tried to have every alien living on, or traveling to Earth at the time deported, including Beta Ray Bill, Karolina Dean, Marvel Boy, and Adam X.
8 USED THE HOOD TO CONTROL CRIMINAL UNDERWORLD
The Hood rallied New York's criminal underbelly to assist in driving off the Skrulls in the final conflict of the Skrull invasion. Like many villains who took part, he was suddenly seen as somewhat of an anti-hero. Using this momentum, he consolidated his newfound influence over the criminal underworld to operate as he pleased under Osborn's regime.
Osborn and his Dark Avengers were happy to let The Hood do as he wished, as long as it didn't affect their business. With the eyes of the world looking the other way, fixed on the Dark Avengers, The Hood set about on a quest to become Earth's new Sorcerer Supreme. With many of Earth's heroes replaced, why not Doctor Strange, too?
7 THEY HAD AN ARMY TRAINED BY ARES
As you'd expect, Ares loves war and everything to do with it. A unique case, much like Sentry, Ares isn't particularly evil. He's shown the ability to work alongside various Avengers rosters, not just the Dark Avengers. However, he goes where the conflict is and there was plenty alongside Norman.
As H.A.M.M.E.R. was to be a more forceful shield, Norman needed them trained well enough to reliably get their hands dirty. Who better to train legions of enforcer thugs than the God of War himself? Ares took delight in fanning the flames of war and adding a whole new army to the equation.
6 USURPED THE YOUNG AVENGERS WITH THE YOUNG MASTERS
The Young Avengers had been having a rough time since Civil War. Some had been captured, there had been disagreements and then they found themselves the last ones left holding off a Skrull invasion in New York. Until Nick Fury rescued them, they were in bad shape, with Vision being almost destroyed entirely.
Their plight brought them all back together, but just as they thought things would return to normal, they found themselves under the Dark Reign. Like other super-teams that have been replaced, they too had been usurped. Osborn had seemingly commissioned the Young Masters, a team of what appeared to be young versions of the Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes.
5 DAKEN DEFEATED THE PUNISHER
The Punisher was a real pain for Norman during his reign over the United States. Having things run by villains was obviously going to be something Frank Castle pushed back on. It got to the point where Osborn sent Daken, the newest addition to his Dark Avengers, to deal with Castle permanently.
Though Frank put up a formidable fight, the unrelenting durability of Daken won out. He took apart the vigilante entirely, kicking the numerous parts of Frank away in triumph. All the various parts of Frank's body were recovered, however, and he would return thereafter as something far more monstrous...
4 NORMAN OSBORN DUPLICATED SUPERPOWERS
Though his first team of Dark Avengers were defeated and disbanded after Siege, Norman didn't stop there. He came back with a second incarnation of the team some years later. No longer having the same resources he once had, he had to improvise. Using his ties to A.I.M. Norman had their Supreme, Monica Rappaccini perform a procedure on him to allow him to lead from the front.
It isn't clear to the Avengers that Osborn has changed until they attack the villain. They find him to be nigh unstoppable, duplicating their powers and using them against the heroes. It turns out Monica had given him the abilities of a Super-Adaptoid. It took two teams of Avengers, focusing their combined powers, to stop Osborn.
3 THEY DEFEATED MOLECULE MAN
Molecule Man is an incredibly powerful being. Just as his name suggests, his powers deal in molecules and the manipulation thereof. Theoretically, he could break down aspects of the universe on a whim. Osborn and his Dark Avengers found themselves face to face with Molecule Man and were easily defeated.
However, Victoria Hand tried to appeal to Molecule Man, trying to stop him as he tortured Osborn. This bought The Void within Sentry enough time to reform and destroy the powerful entity. The extent of The Void's power was shown to be on the same level as Molecule Man, solidifying Osborn's claim that Bob Reynolds was his secret weapon.
2 SUCCESSFUL MANIPULATION OF PUBLIC OPINION
Norman and his Dark Avengers were masters of manipulating public opinion and perception. Osborn appreciated the value and importance of controlling the narrative of a situation. The versatility of how the Dark Avengers operated was quite impressive. They were able to get the public to fear them, forcing them to obey yet in instances they also garnered sympathy.
One example being during an incident in Miami where the Dark Avengers arrived, acting as heroes. Luke Cage's Avengers arrived shortly after, engaging the team of villains. However, as Luke's Avengers arrived late and attacked people who had just saved them, the civilians turned on them.
1 THEY CAPTURED CAPTAIN AMERICA
When Norman Osborn formed the second incarnation of the Dark Avengers, Cap was one of his primary targets. The new team was comprised of Skaar, Victoria Hand, Trickshot, Ai Apaec, Toxic Doxie, Gorgon, Superia, and Ragnarok. The new Dark Avengers succeeded in capturing Captain America, though things quickly went south.
Victoria Hand, the longtime assistant to Osborn, turned out to be a double agent for Cap. She duped Norman and revealed where Steve Rogers was being held captive. An even bigger headache for Norman, Skaar also revealed himself to be a double agent, assisting the heroes who turned up to rescue the Star-Spangled Avenger.