Saturday, May 26, 2012

Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis vol. 2 (comics)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: John Romita Jr., Brian Hitch
Collects: Avengers (vol 4) #7-12, 12.1

After a fun romp full of time traveling hijinks, Bendis looks to keep up the pressure by upping the stakes. The Infinity Gauntlet is back on the board; meanwhile, for the first time in forever, a Hulk joins the team. The threat is big, but does the story deliver?

This is the book where the Illuminati - that secret cabal of Marvel heroes that gathered to figure out big problems in secret - is outed to the rest of the superhero world. They'd disbanded a while back, but they are forced to reform when it becomes apparent that the Infinity Gems are being snatched from their hiding places. Since they were the ones that hid them, it falls to them to figure out what the hell happened.

Apparently, Black Bolt decided to be an utter moron and leave his behind unguarded when he and his city left Earth, so the Hood has it. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers - now taking the position as the head of security or whatever the role is - throws a tantrum because no one told him about a secret group of heroes that had disbanded before he came into power anyway. So Tony Stark is threatened with expulsion from the Avengers because I guess it was Steves time of the month.

Obviously, the stakes are high - reality itself is on the line here - but the book feels like it's more concerned with drama. This is really about the Illuminati members having to explain themselves to other people and the simmering tension between Iron Man and Captain America over long standing issues. Steve comes off like a whiny ass here and it's not a look that fits him; that A doesn't stand for "Whiner". At least it should have waited until AFTER the gems were recovered. To top it all off, he comes across as a major hypocrite in the end.

So, it's mostly drama with some fights mixed in; and while I've got little issue with some good drama, it probably shouldn't have been front and center. We're talking a gauntlet that can give complete control over reality itself, which is a huge honking macguffin. Yet the story feels like it's more about the B plot of in-fighting and outing the disbanded group for their "crimes". That shouldn't happen.

Not to mention that - as you can tell by my sarcasm - Steve blows the whole thing out of proportion. Yeah, sure, the Illuminati have proven themselves useless in the past, but we know that, not Steve. Besides which, it's not like they picked terrible parking spots for the gems; they're stuffed in alternate dimensions, separate pocket universes, so far under the sea that almost nothing could survive the pressure and so on. Had Black Bolt not succumbed to incompetence, the whole thing might not have even been an issue.

As for the fight for the gems, it's fairly decent, but it doesn't feel on par with what you would expect from a story involving a group of gems that could end reality. Mostly it's a fight to keep hold of the gems off a coast somewhere, while the Watcher needs to show up to explain why The Hood doesn't just wish the heroes out of existence. It could have used more punch; if anything, Bendis should have used someone other than one of his pet characters - The Hood - for this one, because he's far from menacing and doesn't give much reason for us to care.

The point one issue we get here is probably one of the first to actually present a starting point for something rather than throwing out just another chapter of a given book. I suppose you could look at it as a prologue to "Age of Ultron", a miniseries slated to be the final Bendis Avengers story that was teased in the previous volume. It's quick, fairly interesting - we see a Spaceknight for the first time in forever, but it isn't Rom - and puts Ultron back into play for the future. Unfortunately, there's no telling when Age of Ultron will actually hit - I believe it's been over a year out and still no sign of it - so it's just kind of there.

Unfortunately, that can be seen as a proper way to describe this volume on the whole; it's very readable, but ultimately just kind of there.

The Score: 6.5 out of 10

This was a step down from volume one. The fun and the believable threat from the first volume is missing, to be replaced with excess drama. Not good; after all, an appearance by the Infinity Gems should feel like an event. I'm still in for more - it was still okay, if unremarkable - but I hope this was just a bump in the road.

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