The New Avengers has always been a title where some more… unique Avengers stories take place. Basically, it’s not your old-school Avengers. Sure, there are some old-timers on the team, but with the word “New” in the title you know it’s not the old. And this story, “End Times”, within the New Avengers takes it to a whole new level.
When you think Avengers, you think of the mainstays: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor. Well, none of them are in this title. In the aftermath of Avengers vs. X-Men, the New Avengers team is falling apart with Luke Cage, the leader of the team, opting to leave with his family. But things never go as planned, and as his New Avengers swan song, Brian Michael Bendis wraps up a number of open plots that have lingered for a while in the pages of New Avengers #31-34.
This is definitely an Avengers team that is a little out of the norm. Luke Cage and his wife Jessica Jones, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), The Thing, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Doctor Strange, Mockingbird, Daredevil and Victoria Hand (and sometimes nanny to Luke’s daughter, Squirrel Girl). There’s much more mysticism on this team than any other in Avengers memory; so much so that this team is more like the Defenders to me than Avengers.
This story wraps up the legacy of Brother Voodoo who had taken over as the Master of the Mystic Arts from Doctor Strange but ultimately died while wielding that tiel. We have a number of other mystics showing up throughout the title… showing up dead, that is. This includes Daimon Hellstrom, the so-called Son of Satan, long-time ally of Strange in the Defenders, and ex-husband of Patsy “Hellcat” Walker, another Avenger. There’s also the death of Jennifer Kale, another strong mystic within the Marvel universe (but who is poorly written almost every time she is shown). It appears that the deaths of these 2 mystics are because of Victoria Hand, liaison for the team. However, surprisingly, Ms. Hand falls unconscious when attempting to be questions about the impact by a multi-agency federal team and is carried back into the house by Captain Marvel who looks a little… off.
It appears that there is a spirit invading the bodies of the Avengers and those near to them. Not only was it making Victoria Hand murder other mystics, but it appears to be causing suspicion on the Avengers for controlling other individuals, including one federal agent who commits suicide in front of the entire team and shouts that it’s all the Avengers’ fault before committing the act. While the suicide goes on, and SHIELD agent Maria Hill attempts to intervene, Doctor Strange is working with Hand to discover who was controlling her via a visit to the astral plane. He discovers it is Daniel Drumm, long-deceased brother to Doctor Voodoo and the spirit who occasionally helped his brother through the mystic bond they shared. Upon discovering this, Drumm causes the death of Victoria Hand and it appears to all that Doctor Strange is responsible. He runs, first to his own sanctum, and then proceeds to the house of Hellstrom only to discover both Daimon’s body as well as a SHIELD contingent ready to arrest him.
The confrontation between Strange and Hill in Louisiana is long and drawn out, with Strange trying to explain who Drumm is and what he’s capable of. He accuses Hill of being possessed by Drumm, but Hill denies she is and is adamant she cannot be taken over. Strange doubts her and believes she is still the possessed, when one of the other SHIELD agents takes out his weapon and shoots Hill in the head. Drumm promptly leaves his body to return to New York, where Maria Hill is confronting the other Avengers. Yes, the Hill that was just shot was a Life Model Decoy (LMD). The real Hill knew something was screwy and so sent the LMD in her place while she attended to the team as a whole. The problem, though, was that in order to square things away SHIELD called in Captain America et al to bring about a balance to what was going on between the New Avengers and SHIELD. But what happens when you have a spirit who can take over any body it wants and nearby bodies of The Thing, Thor, Red Hulk, and Wolverine? Yup, you guessed it. And there wasn’t a fan big enough to throw it all in. To end the stalemate, Strange challenges Drumm to a mystical battle to the death.
The battle begins, both on the physical as well as the mystical level. Drumm uses the bodies of every Avenger present to attack Strange, hoping to cause him enough distress and pain over a number of individual battles to wear him down. Cage returns amidst all the battles and carnage, only to be possessed himself by Drumm. Strange finally smartens up and realizes that the other sorcerers killed routinely crossed the line between good and bad magic, whereas Strange never had. For the first time, Strange harnesses that dark magic to save Cage and exorcises Drumm from his body. The spirit of the Ancient One, Strange’s teacher, and Hellstrom appear, recognizing Strange’s use of the dark magic to save his friends and not for his own selfish use. As a result, he is once again restored as the Sorcerer Supreme. Cage still leaves, and everyone goes on their merry way. Thus endeth the Bendis run on New Avengers.
Although I enjoyed the story itself, the entire saga left me short. I mean, really short. Each issue had a different artist with a different style. Although that might not normally have bothered me, this was the final arc in an epic story as told by the same writer. Issue #34 even had multiple artists taking on individual parts of the battles of Strange vs. the Avengers, with some of the characters not even looking… right. (I’m looking at you whomever did the Thing as well as the way-too-cartoony style of Captain America who had a costume change from the opening few pages to here.) The main part of the final issue, though, was penciled by Mike Deodato who has always been one of my favorite Avengers artists. I hope we’ll see him again in future pages of The Avengers.
All in all, this was a nice wrap up to the other side of the Avengers – the more mystical, the more spiritual side, if you will. Yes, one can say that with a God on the team you can’t get much more spiritual than that, but really you can. And this title proved that over several volumes and a great number of issues. Thank you for this title, Mr. Bendis, and the new take on the Avengers we saw occur here. I didn’t always agree with what you did, but I do appreciate it.