A number of years ago, the greatest disaster in Avengers history occurred. The team fell apart and many members were killed, including one of the second guard ever of Avengers – Hawkeye. To many, this signaled the end of the team, especially with the cancellation of the title. But the concept of the Avengers would never die and a new team rose from the ashes, containing characters you would never expect to be Avengers. This was all due to one main: Avengers architect Brian Michael Bendis.
Love him or hate him, if you know the annals of Marvel Comics you have definitely heard the name. Bendis was the man who was writing several books at once, and keeping them going strong. When the Avengers was at a turning point in sales (partly due to the ever-changing creative teams placed on the book, in my opinion), Bendis took charge and shook it up so much that everyone seemed to take notice. Alongside books such as Ultimate Spider-Man, in which he gave a new take on everyone’s favorite wall-crawler and even went so far as to kill him off, Bendis also gave birth to a new team of Avengers. We had mainstays such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, but also had unlikely options of Luke Cage, Wolverine, Spider-Man and original Spider-Woman Jessica Drew.
Over a number of series, events, and relaunches, the team changed. Several times, and over several different books. From Avengers to New Avengers to Avengers: The Initiative to Mighty Avengers, Bendis had taken a concept that was low in sales and turned it into a franchise that began to grab people’s attention again – and before the movies happened. He caused a lot of joy in some, and conflict in others. What kind of conflict? Let me give you my own story.
I’m a long-time Avengers fan. And I mean long-time – I have every issue since #300 from the first series of the Avengers. This includes every issue since #300, the Finale issue, New Avengers (all series), the relaunch of Avengers (several times – including the Heroes Reborn story arc… don’t get me started on that concept), Avengers: The Initiative, Mighty Avengers… You get the drift. And although I was not always a fan of what he was doing with this franchise, Bendis did keep me interested to see what could come next. When stories disappointed me, I knew there was another around the corner, but what kept me going was simply this: I loved the Avengers. And I loved that a single writer kept character continuity going strong (more or less), which I believe is very important for a long-time reader.
For the last 3-ish years, Bendis has been steadily writing 2 key Avengers titles: Avengers and New Avengers. We’ve seen new members whom we never would have associated with the title before now, and we’ve seen some old friends come back. For those who read ComicBooked.com regularly, you know of my affinity for Hawkeye, one of my favorite all-time Avengers. So you can imagine how much I liked Mr. Bendis when he killed off Hawkeye in the Disassembled story arc. However, Bendis then went and did the unkthinkable again (well, for a hero with absolutely no powers): he brought Hawkeye back. Yes, it took throwing the entire Marvel Universe into an uproar to do it, with a little story arc called House of M, but Bendis did it. For that reason alone, I could almost forgive every other story he did that I did not enjoy.
But he didn’t stop there. In the pages of Secret Invasion, he brought bough Barbara “Mockingbird” Morse, Hawkeye’s wife, who died in the pages of Avengers West Coast many moons before the Avengers franchise was even offered to Bendis. But was this the Bobbi of old? Yes, and no. It depends how far back you go. This was Bobbi during the early run of West Coast Avengers, but after their big time travel adventure which brought Moon Knight and Firebird into the ranks of the Avengers (for long-time readers you will know the conflicting event I am referring to between Hawk and Mock). This was a key point for Hawkeye, and his reaction to the return of his long-dead wife was exactly what I would expect. For bringing back this character who was a founder of the West Coast Avengers, and as one of the last people I ever would have expected Marvel to bring back from the archives, I thank him.
But the one thing I think I admire Bendis the most for is this: he broke the long-time mold. My observation of Marvel for a long period of time was that the goal was to create an encapsulated story over a handful of issues that could then be collected into a trade. Although I have not asked anyone at Marvel this, to me it appeared to be a way to get the entire run of a title into the hands of readers who did not want to collect every issue, or perhaps came late to the game. Sometimes it meant the same villain in 4 titles over a multi-issue story arc, which really decoupled some titles from others and almost disassociated the enter Marvel Universe. Although we can see these elements in existence throughout Bendis’ run, what I think he did to break that perception mold was something that I recall from the old Claremont Uncanny X-Men days: he set in motion events from early on throughout his tenure on this and other projects. In retrospect, if you look back at what he did, we can see elements of what to expect for Secret Invasion from as early on as Avengers Disassembled.
Did Bendis hide those in the series for others to find at a later time knowing full well what he wanted to do? Did he do it with or without the knowledge of the editorial staff at Marvel? To be honest, I don’t want to know. The fact that he was able to pull it off – and to such a great extent – speaks volumes to me. As I said earlier, you may not like everything he writes – I sure didn’t – but he’s not one for maintaining status quo. He shifts things around. Sometimes majorly (House of M, Secret Invasion), and sometimes in a minor way (that eventually turns out to be major in the grand scheme of things).
As I write this, the first 2 issues of All-New X-Men have been published and in the hands of readers and I am loving it. OK, it involves time travel which can negate a number of other events in the long run, but with the amount that he thinks forward I have no doubt that the franchise is in good hands. And, with his upcoming Uncanny X-Men title coming along as well as his Guardians of the Galaxy book, I’m looking forward to seeing how Brian Michael Bendis can continue to enhance the Marvel universe and move it forward one story at a time… Or 4 stories at a time in the case of this writer.