Wednesday, 18 April 2012

On Avengers Versus X-Men #0: How Brian Michael Bendis Never Disappoints


When it comes to his Avengers scripts of recent years, Brian Michael Bendis never disappoints. His work is always terrible. It's that very lack of quality which has made me such a fanatical follower of his work on the various Avengers titles. Where else can the reader enjoy the certainty of such imperial levels of authorial indolence when it comes to characterisation and plotting, which other books can ever match the idle mix of wilful first-draft/last-draft sloppiness paired with a lordly contempt for common sense? Bendis's Avengers books are so utterly, inexcusably wretched that they're an absolute joy to experience. No matter how hard the reader works to imagine the depth of incompetence that'll mark the next issue, no-one can ever anticipate the endlessly dull-minded ways in which Bendis manages to cheat his readers while undermining what's left of his reputation with everyone beyond the Rump. Those who accuse him of writing only for the least discriminating of fan-zealots have quite missed the fact that his Avengers work now appeals to a highly-selective niche which only a tiny fraction of writers have ever conquered. As such, we few readers who actively seek out those rare comics which consistently disappoint even the very lowest of our expectations salute the man who sold himself to us as the David Mamet of comics, but who's since been outed by the evidence of his own work on the Avengers as the super-book's very own Michael Bay.

            
A prime example of exquisitely boneheaded Bendisness can be found in the recently-released, and reassuring awful, Avengers Vs X-Men #0, a comic which has at least helped to prove how Rob Liefeld's recent work for DC isn't actually the nadir of modern-era super-books at all  In AvX #0, Bendis presents us with a scene in which the Scarlet Witch embarks on an ill-advised social visit to Avengers Mansion in the company of Ms Marvel and Spider-Woman. Wanda's reluctant to do any such thing, and understandably so, but Carol throws a sisterly arm around her and declares;

"Everyone's been worried about you. Just come back and say hello and get your hugs and let everyone know you're okay."

          
Of course, the trip to the Mansion goes particularly badly for the Scarlet Witch. Not only is she denied entry to Avengers HQ by her ex-husband The Vision, but she's also cruelly and publicly berated by him, and then effectively ordered off of the premises. A plot-furthering example of character-driven conflict, you might assume, but it's actually nothing more than the cheapest, the most stupid, of logic-less melodrama. For one thing, the audience has previously been given no reason to believe that the newly-reborn Vision feels any such way about his once-wife. (He expressed no such sentiments in his solo appearance just last month in Avengers 24.1, for example, though that was written by BMB too.) As such, the Vision's pronouncement of perpetual, irreversible exile upon Wanda erupts without the slightest foreshadowing, It's a common enough trick in Bendis's Avengers tales, to sidestep narrative logic in favour of great extravagant strokes of ham in order to capture the reader's attention. Here, Bendis decides that the Vision, the most kindly, the most sympathetic, the most purposefully human of Marvel's characters despite his android origins and appearance, shall suddenly become a vengeful, nasty bully. What can possibly be the reason for the Vision turning on the woman he once loved so in this particular fashion? It can't be the trauma of the temporary death which Wanda subjected him to, because Bendis has given us not the slightest evidence of anything but a certain degree of angst and frustration afflicting the synthezoid since his return to life. (He's been dead before, and utterly deconstructed in Byrne's regrettable West Coast Avengers run, so he's not even facing an entirely unfamiliar experience here.) Yes, we might expect that being transformed into a robot killing machine, after the way of superhero tales, might profoundly upset even an Avenger who's somewhat used to such things, but what Bendis is showing us in AvX #0 is a complete transformation in the Vision's personality, and there's been no sign of any such thing until this point.

       
That in itself might not have pushed AvX #0 all the way to the breaking point of its logic, but Bendis's story also relies, as we'll see, upon two other entirely unexplained, unforeshadowed and profoundly nonsensical conceits. Firstly, he expects us to believe that a number of the Avengers would be capable of holding Wanda personally responsible for the acts she committed in and after Avengers Disassembled, and, secondly, he expects us to accept that none of Earth's Mightiest Heroes will stand up for the Scarlet Witch while the Vision berates and then exiles her. In that, Bendis takes the Avengers and once again reduces them to either idiots, bigots or faithless friends, an act of careless revisionism which leaves the reader struggling to think well of any of the "heroes" on show.

       
For whatever the Avengers have decided was the cause of Wanda's first murderous and then reality-warping behaviour, the fact is that Wanda had obviously suffered a catastrophic breakdown of her ability to control her own actions. Whether it's seen to be the result of an unfortunate disorder or the consequence of the influence of Dr Doom, or even, according to She-Hulk, the paternal malignancy of Magneto, Wanda herself is blameless. She didn't decide on a whim to kill, she wasn't undergoing a brief moment of self-willed weakness. People don't just suddenly shrug, surrender to self-indulgence and decide to wipe out both their family and their closest friends, and you'd think that that would be a given for the smart, well-educated, supposedly compassionate members of the Avengers. That the Vision and his comrades suffered terribly because of the madness of how Wanda behaved is beyond doubt. Yet nobody who's at all rational, empathetic and well-informed would blame Wanda for the acts which she committed when she wasn't fully in control of her own mind. As such, she's every bit as much a victim as the rest of the Avengers are, and perhaps even more, since she has to bear the memories of what's been done as well as being constantly exposed to the ill-judgements and distrust of others.

     
It would have been an excellent moment, you might think, to emphasise the realities of psychological disorder and criminal responsibility in a pop-culture form, but of course, nothing of the sort occurs. For as Bendis showed in his treatment of the Sentry,  he's little if any interest in the social ethics of psychological disorder, and here he's at his callous worst again. A strange business from beginning to end, of course, since if Wanda was in any way personally responsible for her own actions, then the Avengers would be both bound by honour and law to ensure that she's dealt with in a humane manner which also ensures that society's protected from her too. Yet she's seemingly free to run around half-naked firing off hex bolts and doing exactly as she wants, which surely indicates that the Avengers now consider her sane. Either the Avengers should be striving to constrain and help her, because she's mad and desperately needs their help, or they should be doing all they can to help her adapt again to everyday life, because she's sane and she desperately needs their help. Yet the Avengers choose to seem to consider her both sane and blameworthy, and to regard their obligations as being confined to ignoring her.

But where would the drama be in having the Avengers behave in a rational and kindly fashion, when Wanda can be treated so very cruelly, can be abandoned by her friends and left to fend so cod-tragically for herself? Where's the pathos, where the easiest of plotting short-cuts, to be found in having plots make sense and characterisation count for anything other than convenience?

Cheap, stupid drama with a considerable degree of ethical cold-heartedness directed against the blamelessly disordered: Bendis does not disappoint those hoping to find third and fourth rate work in the pages of the Avengers.

       
Of course, Bendis has a serious problem with his plot for AvX #0, because he's presenting supposedly sympathetic and smart-minded characters behaving in an ignorant and despicable fashion. The solution which he settled upon appears to have been to simply ignore logic and good conscience entirely, while loading up the the strip with flat wisecracks, reader-distracting asides and, on the part of the Vision, dialogue which only sounds deeply revealing and sensible until the actual sense of it is considered. And so, Bendis has the Vision declare that he "cannot forgive" his ex-wife for using his "body as a weapon against my friends and my home". It sounds like a reasonable, if hardly rational, motivation until the reader considers what it is that Bendis is actually having the Vision say. At first glance, the Vision appears to be stating that he considers Wanda to be at fault for the terrible things which happened to him and his fellow Avengers, but of course, Bendis can't have the android saying any such thing, because the reader would simply wonder why the Witch was being blamed for something that clearly wasn't her fault. So Bendis has to complicate the issue and obfuscate the fact that  the Vision's unfairly berating Wanda. And so, the Witch's sin becomes clumsily twisted until it becomes that of her choosing to use the Vision's body to harm his team-mates.This clearly makes no sense at all. Why is it that the Vision cannot forgive Wanda for the highly specific matter using his frame "as a weapon against my friends and my home"? If he regards her as being responsible for the ill events, then it doesn't matter how Wanda used him to attack and kill her comrades. 

        
And yet, as we've said, that would be a ludicrous charge, so Bendis has to throw in the misdirection of the overpowering and mis-use of the Vision's body. "That I cannot forgive." declares the Scarlet Witch's ex-husband, a remarkably poorly reasoned argument which the rest of the Avengers - including two super-geniuses - simply swallow whole. Who could possibly line up behind the Vision, or at the very least shamefully avoid challenging him, when he's declaring that Wanda's unforgiveable sin is not hurting the Avengers, but using the Vision to do so while, as the android himself says, she was at her "lowest". What does the maddened Wanda's seizure of her husband's body have to do with her culpability, why is it such an important and unforgivable issue when all else goes unmentioned, and why is it that none of the Avengers notice how stupid this argument is? At the very least, they might have noted that the folks who were hurt and murdered during Wanda's attack were also her "friends" too, that the Mansion was her "home" as well.Yet Bendis gives the android some very specific words and phrases to speak which ought to have inspired the other Avengers to speak out, and it's particularly noticeable that he has the Vision declare twice in separate word balloons that Wanda "chose" to do what she did. So, can it be true that the Vision believes that Wanda was capable of controlling herself during and after the Disassembled period, even as he also says that she "may have endured" the manipulations of others? Is he saying that she did have free will, and yet she possibly didn't? Is it that she is responsible, and yet only to a degree? Because she can't be both blameworthy and potentially blameless if the Vision is going to say the things that he does. Why, given the astonishingly weakness of the Vision's argument, do none of the Avengers suggest that no-one in their right mind commits the acts which Wanda did? Could it be because that would mean that Bendis's story would then trundle peacefully off into a scene of the Vision being quietened down in a darkened room while Wanda is offered a cup of tea?

 
It's another example of Bendis delivering highfalutin phrases which just don't stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It would be lovely to think that Bendis is outing the Vision as a man who's an overpowering phobia about the control of his own body. That would be an interesting spin on the character, given how his man-made frame has been mocked, reviled and even repeatedly torn to pieces before. Such would be a fascinating business, to present the android as a man who's so profoundly neurotic about the association between his artificial substance and his free will that he just can't bear the thought of losing control over his own actions. Yet of course, Bendis doesn't seem to be saying anything of the sort, for if he was, it would be the Vision and not Wanda who was being portrayed as the blameworthy party in this scene. Instead, it appears that Bendis is saying nothing more meaningful than that the plot needs the Vision to hurt Wanda at this point, and so that's what he has the Vision do. The android's behaviour makes no sense, his very words are piffle strained through psycho-babble, while everything that Bendis has him say and do violates the character's entire life-history without any explanation being offered for the while sorry affair. But given that character means little if nothing at all to Bendis in these Avengers tales, and accepting that all that counts is soap-operatic effect, then why shouldn't the Vision behave so despicably? What does anything matter beyond the latest reader-shocking twist of the arc?

     
Yet it's not just the Vision who's bent deliberately and ridiculously out of shape in the scene. Bendis has the Vision coldly spit at Wanda while the whole business is being watched by six other Avengers; Ms Marvel, Spider-Woman, the Beast, Thor, Wolverine and Iron Man. None of them - not one - speaks for Wanda or attempts to reason with her persecutor with any conviction at all. Carol Danvers, who cajoled Wanda into visiting the Mansion with the promise that "Everyone will be very happy to see you" doesn't even step forward to stand beside her friend and lend a shadow of support until after it's all over, when she finally offers a token "Wow! Could you be any more of a --?". (Are we really supposed to believe that Ms Marvel would respond so cravenly? After all, and despite her token resistance, she simply does what the Vision commands and flies Wanda away, a contemptible business. Still, it is the women who do what they're told here, and the blokes who make the decisions about who gets to do what with whom.) Indeed, all of these apparently noble, if understandably compromised Avengers stand back while the clearly irrational, and genuinely irrational, Vision takes control of all of their affairs. Who is and who isn't welcome at the Mansion surely isn't a matter for the Vision alone, and yet here everyone chooses to wash their hands of any responsibility while allowing the emotionally fragile and entirely innocent Wanda to suffer. Even if they are all in support for the Vision's stance, and Ms Marvel for one clearly shouldn't be, you might think that they'd be exceptionally wary of upsetting a woman who once rewrote reality in order to try to reduce her own anxieties. Old abilities have a habit of returning in the super-people universes, after all, and common sense if not kindness would dictate something other than allowing her to be sent to Coventry in such a cold-blooded fashion.

    
But no, it appears that the likes of the Beast - the compassionate, empathetic Henry McCoy - and Thor - who once welcomed the Swordsman back into the fold despite the latter's habit of trying to murder the Avengers - are unable to even suggest that a touch of politeness, compassion and group decision-making might help. "His call." declares Wolverine as Wanda leaves, which begs the question "why?". Why is the Vision to be granted such power, such freedom from moral responsibility and even sense? That he's suffered terribly is beyond doubt, but then Wanda herself has been twisted and broken by outside influences and psychological troubles herself, and all of the Avengers must surely know - if I may be forgiven repeating the key issue here - that we do not regard those who've lost their free will as the authors of their own terrible misfortune, no matter what they've done. Yet apparently the Vision is the injured party here, as if he was a patriarchal husband cuckolded by his irresponsible wife, and so whatever the Vision wants must happen. It's shameful stuff, and whether Bendis's intention is to show the Avengers as a shower of cretins and bigots, that's what he's achieved. How is it that not one of them spoke and fought for her with any conviction and spirit, how can it be that not a single Avenger sought to lend her any substantial comfort at all? 

          
There are two other wonderfully pathetic moments in Bendis's script for these few pages, and it ought to be said that we're only discussing five sides here. The first is the sight of the Vision weeping after he's driven Wanda away, a closing panel which seems to demand that we see him as a kind of brave martyr to his own suffering rather than either a brusque bully or a resurrected and yet traumatised, and therefore also blameless, android. It's typical of BMB's work on the series, in that what counts in his scripts is not who the characters are or what their motivations might be, but the sentimental and sensationalist impact of their behaviour upon the reader. Finally, there's another one of the supposed master of dialogue's impossibly clunky, stupid lines, in which Tony Stark concedes to Wolverine that the Vision quite rightly possesses the right to treat Wanda pretty much however he wants, before whimpering: "I just - - always liked them together." One of the most brilliant men in the Marvel Universe, who is himself a survivor of a savage addiction which caused to do some profoundly terrible things, isn't, it seems, concerned with either Wanda's well-being or that of her ex-husband. Indeed, he's not even capable of wondering about the rights of the Avengers themselves, for it's surely not up to the Vision to assume the ad-hoc power to pass judgement on any other member of the team. But instead of anything which might reflect either his personality or common sense, Tony just simpers that he liked the Witch and the Vision together, as if that had anything to do with anything at all. Again, if that really is the most important, the most pertinent and caring thing that Stark can say at that moment, then he's as much of a miserable excuse for a human being as his fellow Avengers in the scene are.

         
But then, every single character in this five page sequence except for the Scarlet Witch herself is entirely repugnant. Earth Mightiest Heroes? Earth's most conspicuously bigoted and gutless ignoramuses might be a more appropriate tag-line for the series. When even Carol Danvers doesn't have the guts to stand up properly for her friend, the reader's capacity to feel the slightest admiration or even liking for these straw women and men entirely dissipates. Even in the unlikely event that Bendis has set all of this unpleasantness up in order to later reveal how emotionally blighted and psychologically ill-informed these Avengers are, the truth is that none of them beyond perhaps - perhaps - the Vision should be feeling and behaving as they are in that scene. But then, that's not the Avengers, that's a bunch of hard-hearted, self-interested, keep-your-head-down know-nothings, and I hope the Phoenix does for them, I really do.

When it comes to his Avengers scripts of recent years, Brian Michael Bendis never disappoints. His work is always terrible. I look forward to his How-To-Write-Comics book next year, secure in the knowledge that it'll explain the principles of graphic storytelling for the super-team comic-book as helpfully as Grant Morrison's Supergods illuminated quantum physics.

       
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50 comments:

  1. Just two immediate responses. The first is that it is fascinating that the Vision is accorded the right to do whatever he feels like when he has lost control of himself and made to hurt his friends, but Wanda is not when she loses control of herself and is made to hurt her friends. Women, whatcha gonna do?

    The second is that I agree that almost the whole thing reeks of pathos, but I think Bendis achieves full bathos with the image of the Vision turned away from his friends, a single tear running down his cheek, pulled right from the pages of an as-told-to-Stan Lee romance comic.

    The only thing that would have made it better for me, would've been if all the male Avengers were turned away from each other, silent suffering, each with a single tear on his cheek. But then that would've been some kind of self-awareness.

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    1. Hello Carol:- I was using the above to work through my thoughts about this particular scene in AvX#0, and I was keenly aware that I was really producing notes which in an ideal world would be whittled down substantially. Reading your comment, I wish I could've just written your words.

      You're right, it would've all been improved with a big weepy-super-men hug. The the logic of that sequence took it so close to the every-boy-being-tearful scene you imagine that I can't seperate one from the other now.

      It's remarkable how those few pages manage to combine incompetence, sexism and insensitivity re; psychological distress. BMB can do so much in so few pages when it comes to Avengers.

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    2. Hi, again, Colin--

      It seems we are doomed to be trapped forever in a feedback loop of mutual admiration. In writing my coment, I wished I could have been as thorough in delineating my thoughts as you always are.

      But right now, I only have one more thing to note in response to this:

      "It's remarkable how those few pages manage to combine incompetence, sexism and insensitivity re; psychological distress. BMB can do so much in so few pages when it comes to Avengers."

      There is a kind of awe-inspiring perfection in the thoroughly bad.

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    3. Hello Carol:- As always, you're an egg of egg. I actually fear that it's that thoroughness - for want of a word which sounds less immodest - which probably sinks the blog for most folks. What goes up here is really my attempt to work through my impressions, which means that these are really the notes which ought to then be boiled down to pithy summaries. That's one of the reasons - and only one - why I admire and enjoy your writing. You nail your points and your points are always worth reading. I tend to be all around the houses, but then, that's what I'm doing in the first place.

      I've been trying to think of a better tag-line for the above piece than "awe-inspiring perfection in the thoroughly bad", but I can't. You've done it again :)

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  2. Burn! Damn.

    The Awesomed by Comics podcast had some similar things to say about it- namely, that everybody's acting out of character and Bendis seems to be intent on using every single storyline he's already done at least.

    I really don't know much, but my impression of recent Avengers history is that Wanda has been narratively mistreated for quite a while now. I haven't hardly read anything she's been in, early or late (I think she was even absent from the House Of M crossovers I read recently).

    It's too bad, she seems like a potentially interesting character.

    I don't really know hardly anything about the Vision, but is he anything like Data? Because Data wouldn't act like that, no siree.

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    1. Hello Historyman;- BMB does appear to exist in a world where he can write whatever he wants without anyone at Marvel ever suggesting to him that he might care to - shall we say - tighten up his standards. The argument that his books sell appears to carry all before it, although there's surely grounds to suggest that a BMB script which was actually properly worked over might sell even more copies. Just a thought, of course ..

      Wanda and the Vision were some of the most fantastic characters in comics when I was a lad, young whipper-snapper. I have no desire to see the characters returned to how they were at that time, but I would appreciate their not being so stupidly mangled that nothing about their backstory, and therefore their current misadventures, makes sense.

      If characters and continuity mean nothing at all, then why read serial fiction at all? Of course, continuity taken to an extreme is a very bad idea at all. We know that. But the absence of continuity is a problem that's equally destructive to the sub-genre's success.

      The Vision had so much in common with Data that at times it's hard not to believe that some at least of the STTNG writers enjoyed the Avengers as kids. Of course, it's all Pinocchio anyway. The difference would be that Data was always a little boy at heart whereas the Vision was a brooding grown-up. At his height, from his introduction in the Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema to the end of Englehart's run on the same book, he was probably the most compelling character in the MU. That potential has been mostly frittered away ...

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  3. Hi Colin, I quite liked this one so we can't be friends - you chose to disagree with me. Goodbye forever!

    Ach, kidding, obviously. How could I not love the man behind 'piffle strained through psycho-babble'?

    Am I getting soft in my old age? I didn't think this was a bad piece, for Bendis. Maybe it's because he's set the expectations bar so very, very low that whenever anything isn't profoundly awful I'm forgiving. Maybe it's because I know the worst period in Avengers history (yup, worse than the Crossing) will end soon. Maybe I was eating especially good Chinese when I read the comic.

    When doesn't Bendis have a crowd of Avengers standing around watching one or two hog the 'drama', then close with a crap quip? When does anyone conform to decades of established character. It's all pretty poor, but at least Wanda and Vision are back in the ambit of the Avengers, and that means they'll be back together before too long. I know, I resorted to 'at least', but after all this time we know Marvel's editors aren't going to insist a Bendis story makes sense if you think about it for longer than the time it takes to read.

    Actually, I'm OK with Vision's horrible treatment of Scarlet Witch, as he has form - didn't he become inhuman when John Byrne turned him white? He'll get back to normal. And referencing 'Even an android can cry' tells us Bendis has at least read - or heard of - a classic Avengers tale.

    As I say, it'll be over soon. And I'll likely hate just as many Bendis stories as you before then.

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    1. Hello Martin:- You're right, how could two bloggers be friends when they disagree about a comic book. I regret the fact that our friends and families are even at this moment being moved in safe accomodation. Goodbye forever until we meet upon the field of battle!

      I love the idea of reviewing BMB relative to BMB's usual standards on the Avengers. I know that you were being playful there, of course, but the very idea does leave Bendis with the chance to deliver one terrible book after another and still earn a good review or two. I totally agree with you that --- the very idea seems absurd but it's true ---- that BMB's era is worse than the Crossing, and the Crossing was just terrible. Still, at least the Crossing was over and done in a fraction of the time he's been on the franchise, and although it was a profoundly pathetic business, it didn't come complete with that terrible I'm-Mamet-Me tone and those endless mirthless wisecracks.

      I think that you're right that we'll probably end up with Viz and Wanda back together again. There is a sense that BMB's putting back all the pieces on the board for the end of hiws time on the book. Which is nice.

      The Vision has form with the Scarlet Witch? Wash your mouth out with soap and more soap, Mr M. Actually, that Byrne WCA run was the first time that I felt like giving up entirely on the funny-costume books. It was such a miscalculation, on a par with the we-made-it-up-over-the-weekend Hal-kills-The-Guardians car-crash.. Am I imagining a Byrne quote which referred to the Vision as no more than a toaster? No doubt I am. That would leave BMB's characterisation as being endlessly superior to JB's. And that is a mind-melting prospect ....

      " ... it'll be over soon." I hope so, Martin, I really do, although looking at the Architects, and Young Architects, who well might take over the franchise, I have little enthusiasm for the title's future. Still, fingers crossed. Waid took over Dardevil, so anything's possible, even if unlikely.

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  4. I remember that toaster comment too, if not the specifics. It's everywhere online - though maybe the Kilg%re is up to something ...

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    1. Hello Martin:- Ah, yes, the internet. I have heard of that. And the Wikiquotes sight has a splendid set of quotes by Byrne, so misguided, a few wise, and some which were a very bad idea indeed. The toaster quote is there too; Byrne really did miss the fundamental point of the Vision, didn't he?

      The poor Kil%gore. They'd have conquered the hearts of creators and readers if not for that unpronuncable "%" ...

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    2. Ah, the "toaster" business! I first came across that in a Byrne interview in...it couldn't have been the Journal? Anyway it was an interview in which Byrne came off a tad sexist, homophobic, the whole laundry list...unwelcome information for a young fan. But imagine my surprise when the stuff from that interview started to make its way into his work, just as if the things he'd said in the interview constituted a reactionary manifesto! To joke that the Vision's basically a toaster so Wanda must be a crazy bitch is one thing, but to simply plug all that directly into the stories...! To a young weirdo who identified strongly with the Vision, it was horrifying.

      Bet he hates Mr. Spock, too! That filthy alien un-person...

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    3. Hello plok:- Really? Does Mr Byrne really not think Spock is an admirable, enjoyable character? I find that almost impossible to understand. Surely Spock is one of the most wonderful characters ever? Ah, well, horses for courses, each to their own, and so on.

      But he's wrong!!!!! :)

      I really must track down that interview. I have a memory of reading it and deciding never to bother with JB's work again. And, whether by chance or design, I never did enjoy his work after the first WCA. His work just ceased to matter to me. In retrospect, the only stuff he ever did that I loved was the X-Men material with Austin, although I did find much to enjoy in his Action Comics run.

      You see? Call the Vision a toaster and I'll re-write my own tastes accordingly.

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  5. The Vision's "tears of a robot" are almost certainly a reference to his first storyline. Here's a writeup and here's the famous "...even an android can...cry!" panel. Perhaps the Roy Thomas-est comic ever written.

    Wanda being held at fault and nobody standing up for her suggests two things:

    --Bendis absorbed the screenwriter-guide's saw of "FICTION=CONFLICT!" and cranks up CONFLICT! to the max at all times without thought to logic. Perhaps he believes that the drama of the scene overwhelms the need for logic. That can work; Spielberg films are famous for leaps in logic and incoherence that their dramatic power obscure. Many great comics of the past had logical gaps as big as all creation. Then again, those flaws and logic holes aren't in character motivation, the one area of fiction where it has to make sense at all times or you lose the audience. Whoops.

    --There's a strong hostility in many quarters to the idea of a mentally ill person not being responsible for their actions. Losing a villain and replacing it with yet another victim galls them and reeks of injustice. What about personal responsibility, after all? And so forth. If you wish to intoxicate yourself with righteous fury and pure moral outrage, a pleasure many folks cannot refuse, you have to jettison ideas of partial responsibility, context, history, and mental illness, and instead cleve to notions of "Thou Chosest Evil for Thou Art Depraved, and Thus Do I Smite Thee, Evil One." The "good versus evil" narrative is so much more satisfying and easy than the "tragedy" narrative, isn't it? Alas.

    What I would absolutely love is a "commentary" by Bendis explaining his choices, with a second person pointing out the problems and asking why he made those particular choices. How conscious were these choices? Did he know he was doing this and choose to do it anyway? Or is he unaware? Is this just id on the page? Man, I'd love to know.

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    1. Hello Harvey;- I've no doubt that those tears were a homage of sorts, though a misguided one. The first trickle of tears existed to show that the Vision was a human being, of course, but what do the latest batch stand for? Has he become so human that he's no entirely irrational and self-pitying to the point of entitlement/

      We do keep tripping over the movie dogma that the thing which would most hurt a character is in itself a worthwhile aspect of every story. Yet as you say, if that pain isn't grounded in anything except for a desire to fulfil that dogma, to pump out angst for its own sake, then what results is the kind of rubbish which Bendis constantly peddles in the Aevngers. The action makes no sense at all, but BMB doesn't seem to care, because he regards that nastiness and those tears as good things in themselves. Whoops :)

      I find it hard to come to terms with the belief that folks should be judged by their actions rather than their state of mind. It's such a Dark Age way of thinking about the world that it can't be debated with. That's especially so when the folks who are so wed to the idea that the disordered choose to be so clearly know nothing of criminal psychology. It's Twain quote about not arguing with stupid people. But it is distressing to see the attitude popping up time and time in super-books. It's not what's needed.

      A commentary by Bendis would be something I'd pay good money for. I really would. I love to know what he was thinking, and how long he spends writing and revising, and so on. It'd be fascinating to know what standards he holds himself too, because he's obviously a bright man who thinks a great deal about his work. It's just that I can't grasp what the Bendis Code is where the meaning of his Avengers work is.

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  6. Hmmm, well, you have to say one thing about Bendis … he’s consistent.

    After all, isn’t this the culmination of what he started with “Avengers Disassembled”? And wasn’t everyone pretty much blatantly OOC at that point? From Strange saying there is no such thing as Chaos Magic to the Avengers just walking away, it’s classic “everyone talks with the same voice” Bendis work.

    It’s funny, I’d gotten away from most comics by the time “Disassembled” came out, and I picked up one of the “New Avengers” books when I had heard that Spider-Woman from the 1970’s was back, so I was unaware of the baggage, and hadn’t really read any of Bendis’ work before. Well, loyalty to Jessica Drew could only carry me so far before I dropped the books.

    Aside from the other major Bendis criticisms, that everyone speaks with the same voice, and that Bendis himself really doesn’t seem suited to anything above a “street-level” superpowers book, there were ways to make this work.

    I could almost accept Carol’s mute acceptance, since this is the same group that let her run off with Marcus to Limbo to be assaulted. Maybe she halfway expected it? I know, I am making excuses here, though. Of course, my idea would require Bendis (and the rest of Marvel) to acknowledge books from a long time ago, and it would imply some character depth – hahahahaha!

    I don’t really know what to make of “Avengers versus X-Men” aside from it being a cash-grab. That I’ve heard it referred to as ‘Civil War with the X-Men’ doesn’t help, either. It’s like they are cannibalizing their earlier ideas, and this idea in particular not even being that old yet!

    That Vision speaks for all the Avengers is an interesting point, and add to that the idea that all the women are being told what to do, and going off quietly, and it really reads badly. The problem is, do you think Marvel or Bendis are even aware of the concerns, or do you think they are aware of them and either feel the concerns are misplaced or outright wrong?

    I want MY Marvel back (which, I am sure, differs from your Marvel, or Bendis’ Marvel). *snaps fingers* I think part of the problem is, most of these comics just aren’t FUN anymore, inside or outside the books. From Stan’s ‘Mighty Merry Marvel Bullpen’ to goofy one-offs like ‘Kitty’s Fairy-Tale’ in the Uncanny X-Men back in the old Claremont days, it’s all monstrously serious punch-ups that fall apart at the slightest examination. I remember a New Mutants Annual where Warlock and the Impossible Man are fighting, trying to one-up each other, and Warlock finally wins by … changing color, something Impy can’t do.

    Sorry for the sidetrack. Loss of humor isn’t nearly the only issue Bendis and Marvel has, but it’s back to the 90’s cycle of lurching from event to event, with no new status quo for the new event to even shake anymore! Even if this leads to (as some are rumbling online) the Phoenix returning to earth and undoing the ‘no more mutants’ edict from “House of M,” what does that really mean? Will this cause real rifts between characters over what they feel is a betrayal of trust? Will it even matter?

    Thanks for posting and making me think.

    Take it and run,

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    1. Hello Earl;- I do find myself baffled by Bendis's attitude towards his work on the Avengers. Of course, Bendis can choose to write whatever he wants, and there's no doubt at all that he's rebuilt the Avengers as Marvel's number one franchise. So he can write what he wants. Yet the comics exclude a huge number of folks because of the way in which he chooses to ignore any aspect of the book's past he's disinterested in. Of course few folks want a return to the days where continuity was everything. But when there's no continuity at all, and when character is smply nothing else except for what BMB decides at this particular moment, then a great deal of the appeal of the book collapses for everyone who wants to read about something other than spectacle and sentimentality. That's obviously what BMB and Marvel think is most important here, and what's shocking is they think it's so important that everything else can be thrown overboard. But why care about a long-running franchise if it has no solid foundation at all, if it actually doesn't even make sense in its own terms? Obviously BMB doesn't care, and I think that comes across as contempt where a great many of the Avenger's potential audience is concerned.

      There's a great deal that I would associate with the various "Marvels" which I'd like to see return. A greater focus on fun, a more obvious measure of narrative and intellectual ambition, far more variety, and so on. I think it's telling that Whedon is currently saying that his model for the Avengers is the Warlock/Thanos crossover annuals from the late 70s. Those are smart, sharp, fun comics. There's been nothing to equal them in the Avengers books for a very long; memory suggests the Perez/Busiek books were at times up there, but I'd have to re-read them.

      It's astonishing how the post-Quesada Marvel has become everything which Quesada and Jemas set out to overthrow, isn't it? Of course, the process began when Jemas left, and for all the daft aspects of his work - such as the FF debacle - Marvel became a far more conservative and dull place with his leaving.

      But Marvel would just see all of this as UnFans whining. There's nothing wrong at the once-House Of Ideas, or so we're constantly being told. It must be all the folks who aren't buying the books who are in the wrong then ...

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  7. Colin, I agree with your assessment here. Bendis is truly peerless, but I think he's just taking a page of his (soon-to-be-published) book on writing multi-comic crossovers. He'll depict a scene/situation that makes no sense whatsoever (given what the reader has experienced thus far) and then revisit that scene in a future crossover title and insert new content to further explain and complete the scene. (He gives us the 'what happened', but the 'why did it happen' will come later.) I imagine that Bendis will, in a future issue, reveal that Vision was really trying to 'protect' Wanda by turning her away from the Avengers lifestyle in fear that she will again suffer the same fates as before. I loathe this excuse for writing, but Bendis does favor it heavily. Bendis is most guilty of moving characters to satisfy plot points than vice-versa. Not trying to excuse it, just offering a different POV, but it still reads like a mess on every level.

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    1. The problem with the dramatic technique of retroactively supplying motivation is explained at length by FILM CRIT HULK in his fine piece about the movie John Carter, which used the same technique.

      I'd bet good hard money that you're right, that somehow this will later be "explained" or even retconned to be the Vision making a Noble Sacrifice of Love rather than being a petulant dick. Whether that sacrifice will make sense or not, well, I wouldn't bet money on that part.

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    2. Hello there;- I can understand why BMB might think this approach is a valid one, and of course, any approach is valid if an artist wants to adopt it. I could certainly believe that Bendis might in the future revisit this scene and, as he has before, ask us to consider it in another light. The problem, of course, is when the first presentation of events doesn't make sense in itself; the trick only works when the audience can buy into what they're shown in the first place so that they can be surprised at the return view. If we were to be shown this sequence again at a future date, I'd simply push the whole thing to one side. It's such a stupid, cruel and unethical business that I've no interest in it being reinterpretated. As you say, it's "a mess n every level".

      Your suspicion about how the Vision's behaviour might be presented in the future sounds fantastically convincing. I wonder, were all the male Avengers in on the plot too? There may be entire careers to be built in the future on reworking BMB's work, in addition to the career which BMB himself can look forward to as he shows what was really going on in his old stories ;)

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    3. Hello Harvey;- FILM CRIT HULK is a place you've recommended to me befre, and I appreciate you having done so. It's always worth a visit.

      As I was saying above, the problem with the scene if it's reframed to feature the Vision as a noble lover is that everyone else is such a dick in it. It'd take a fantastically complex piece of revisionism to explain why they were so sexist/cowardly etc. Mind you, if somebody could pull that off without resorting to MIND CONTROL, I'd be impressed ...

      It's funny how "sense" is now looked down upon by a great many comics writers, who clearly feel that any criticism on any such a level is nit-picking, and destructive-minded nit-picking at that. It's become the all-purpose dismissal; readers are expected to swallow whatever they're given, and any negative response seems to be seen as a sign of destructive fannish behaviour. I'd've thought swallowing this baloney with a that's-great-can-I-have-some-more-sir was the fannish response, but I suppose that I'm a nit-picker from fan-hell ...

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  8. (A clarification: John Carter's flaw was introducing motivation concurrent with the action, which is not nearly as bad as introducing it long after the fact, as Bendis might very well do again.)

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  9. Brian Wiggett19 April 2012 22:40

    Ok, I'm willing to give Bendis a pass here, at least temporarily. Why? Well, I've liked his work in the past, and, as you say, he seems intelligent. And I think he really likes the characters he writes, even if he puts them through terrible situations, and dialogue that ranges the spectrum from Brown to Beige.

    I also think that it's so clearly unfair to the Scarlet Witch to be treated this way, especially since she was led there against her will, that some later explanation about the Avengers' actions must be coming. Now, I'm not ready to guarantee that this explanation will be satisfying, or even logical. But on the other hand, I think its certainly possible that this review is the reaction Bendis was going for - outrage, on behalf of Wanda. Bendis is connected enough to the comic community to know of his perception on the internet. It wouldn't surprise me to see him using this to his advantage, in attempting to subvert the expectations by the end of his run with these characters.

    I'd disagree somewhat with the notion that this issue has to be completely satisfying on its own, however. Unlike other monthlies, this issue is clearly one part of a longer story, as it is #1 of a limited series. While it may have faults, I think it's somewhat unfair to completely judge the issue before having the rest of the story. It's similar to David Simon's frustrations to single episodes of The Wire being reviewed before the series had finished the whole story. Or like criticizing the first chapter of Flowers for Algernon for poor spelling and punctuation. (Not that I'm equating Avengers Vs X-men to either of those works. Clearly those pale to what Bendis has in store for us!) (Joking! Just kidding!)

    Anyway, I realize I'm setting myself up for a huge fall, especially since overall I have agreed with many of your takedowns of recent comics. And I also recognize that it's a longshot to be pinning your hopes of a decently realized story on a project mainly created to increase both hype and revenue. And if this scene is not somehow accounted for in a more logical way later in this series, you will be absolutely vindicated, and I will have even more bile than you for Bendis.

    But part of me thinks Bendis has us right where he wants us...

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    1. Hello Brian:- Fair enough, we disagree both about the content of the story and about the need for an individual comic to function - to a degree, of course - in its own right. I'm absolutely happy to admit to having been unconvincing in my points, for the only alternative is to REPEAT WHAT I'VE SAID IN BLOCK CAPITALS, which is, I believe, the sign of a cad who can't accept losing.

      Where I might just disagree is not that this issue might make sense in the future, but that it doesn't make sense now even in its own terms. The Vision's dialogue is nonsensical; it simply doesn't make sense. And that's true for the Avenger's behaviour. I can understand - as in the Wire - a scene making sense in one episode and then being reinterpreted later in another. That's cool. But this scene doesn't make sense in the first place, which is another thing entirely.

      I hope that didn't give the impression of really being typed in block capitals :) My best to you.

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    2. Brian Wiggett20 April 2012 21:45

      No sense of capitalization on this end, nor any concerns if you had - I mean, I disagreed with your thesis, so I wouldn't expect (or hope) that you would soften the tone of your frustration with Bendis' version of the Avengers.

      I also know I'm taking long odds here, backing the horse of Bendis in this race to make sense of his Avengers oeuvre. It may well come to pass that the final issue of his run makes no more sense than the issue you've just critiqued. And I didn't address your comments about how illogical the Vision's actions and words are within the context of this single issue, because I don't have much to add or disagree with in what you've stated there.

      But damn, if Bendis really doesn't make some sense out of this beginning, or out of other lost threads, then I'll be surprised, and you should reset your blogging phasers on this topic from "stun" to "kill". And I'll complete my transition to buying up the current Image offerings and finally giving up on Marvel. (I'm already buying more Image than Marvel as it is each month, so why keep swimming upstream? Especially when I seem to be downstream from Marvel Waste Management?)(I now feel as though I've taken a stand while slowing sinking in quicksand. But I chose my fate - we'll see if I've become completely submerged in a few issues' time.)

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    3. Hello Brian:- I'm glad those block capitals weren't there. Hurrah!

      I would be fascinated if BMB did manage to turn the nonsense of this issue into something that's compelling and smart and, well, sensible. It would be a real achievement, and I'll have no hesitation in raising my hat to him if and when it happens.

      It's odd how many folks I chat to both here and elsewhere are talking about moving further and further away from buying the books of the Big Two. I realise this isn't a representative sample, but I doubt it's a trend that's devoid of all meaning. DC and Marvel seem keen to charge ahead with their separate schemes of how to hold an audience, but they seem to be shedding a great many folks who would be quite happy to invest their money in a super-book or two. An odd business ....

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  10. You know, I used to love the Avengers back in the day. That day alas, is long gone. And while they have been portrayed as idiots before, as Earl pointed out, with that little kerfuffle with Ms. Marvel and Marcus, they at least had the decency to come to realize that they had been insensitive jerks and try to make up for it.

    MIND CONTROL PEOPLE! Each and every single one of these characters has been mind controlled and done terrible terrible things that they were sorry for later. But Wanda can't be forgiven?

    Besides, it was really all Janet's fault, she started the whole mess.

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    1. Hello Dally:- I too loved used to adore the Avengers, and as Martin and my comments will indicate, I even stuck with all that rot about Teen-Tony in The Crossing. But if I wasn't following BMB to read how bad the work is, I'd not be reading it at all.

      And so, it's MIND-CONTROL! And since you mention Janet and her despicable ways - are we talking that paragon of sense Chuck Austen here? - perhaps she's influencing everything through her little wasp antennae from wherever she ended up at the end of Secret Invasion. Or has that plot been used up and moved on from?

      My vote for people who can't be forgiven goes to Cap, who straight after returning from the "dead" headed off to Asgard and had an affair with a blonde there. As far as I know, it's never been mentioned again, but what a cad ...

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  11. My understanding of Bendis was transformed recently when I was asked to explain the Vision's recent return, and I realized I couldn't. I mean, the broad strokes were there -- rebuilt by Tony Stark, skirmish with Osborn -- but the details were missing.

    I went back and reread those AVENGERS issues and discovered that I had actually somehow missed an issue. Not that it mattered! The Vision spent most of his time asking stupid questions and attending press conferences.

    And I realized: I hadn't noticed. And I didn't really care.

    Bendis hasn't changed. Bendis still knows how to work the small beats, and there's usually at least one or two clever lines in every issue*. Taken as a single unit, this comic is fine! It's possible to imagine a series where the Vision's behavior makes sense. It may not be the series you and I have been reading, but this issue could fit into that series quite nicely.

    Or hell, maybe we're reading it! Maybe we've just misunderstood Bendis's intentions. An aggressive reader could imagine this to be a nihilistic super-WATCHMEN, a blistering assault on the very notion of superheroics. You think they're heroes, Bendis says, but they're not. They'll invite you over and then just stand there and let your robot ex-husband yell at you. They'll promise to help you if you're mentally ill, but then they'll let you hang out with Norman Osborn and let your wife get murdered and throw you into the sun. And when somebody like Wonder Man shows up and points out that they are terrible people using their power in terrible ways, they'll cheerfully beat him up and throw him in prison. Because this is what happens when you give New Yorkers superpowers: they turn into super New Yorkers. Scary, isn't it?

    This probably isn't how we're supposed to read it. But we live in the Sucker Punch age: the author is dead, and so is the interpretation; all that remains is the spectacle.

    What I find hilarious is that, on the rare occasions when they are questioned about their work, Marvel and DC writers tend to offer two defenses. The first is that continuity is bad, and we shouldn't worry about the fact that Spider-Man used to be a loner, or that his sold his marriage to the Devil, or that the Vision and the Scarlet Witch used to be married and had weird demon babies but then DIDN'T have weird demon babies and now they're back but teenagers and not demons, or that Batman and Superman used to be friends. I am sympathetic to this argument, although I occasionally quibble with its application.

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    1. Hello Jacob:- There's no doubt that the Vision's return has been handled in an inept way. A brief "oh-I've-been-remaking-him" from Tony and then he's back, yet as a background character until 24.1, an embarrassing story in which the Vision, who knows all about how deadly Magneto is from Avengers 111, basically asked to be murdered by his old father-in-law. What's going on? I have no idea.

      Yet as you say, Bendis doesn't seem to consider that it's possible for his work to be anything other than brilliant. Which is rather splendid, actually; I rather folks who get on with what they want, and I'm certainly not suggesting that what gets said here ought to be of the slightest concern to him. Yet I wonder whether it actually would be of some use to the man to accept that other people can on occasion have a point, because his scripting is so poor that it's hard to make any kind of objective case for it. Not all criticism is bad, and yet whenever disagreement with his work is mentioned, he mentions that business about folks not getting what he's saying. Well, there's alot of those folks. Perhaps some measure of concern might help sell a few more comics?

      Or perhaps Marvel are selling enough, so who cares?

      I have often wondered if Bendis isn't actually portraying his Avengers as a bunch of fundamentally unpleasant people. Whether he would be doing this as satire or simply as one of his attempts to redefine what character is in the comic-book is beyond me. But his Cap, for example, is SO unpleasant and incompetent that it's hard to see how he could be being written as a heroic lead. Perhaps the upcoming book will tell us.

      All that's left is spectacle? That's the other option, isn't it? Classic hyper-reality. How depressing it would be if its a belief in that rather than incompetence. At least BMB could be trying to make sense ...

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  12. continued... (sorry)

    The second defense, amusingly, is that continuity is good.

    Just keep reading! All will become clear. This was used back in the early days of AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED and SECRET INVASION, when it seemed like everybody was acting weird and out of character for no reason. Well, surprise! There ARE reasons: the Scarlet Witch is crazy, and also Skrulls! Did this raise other questions? Good! Just keep reading!

    And so, we keep reading. Some people, like me, have gotten a little sloppy in our reading. Bendis books are great for that: as a single unit, they are mostly coherent and have reasonable punching/crying ratios, so you put them down and forget about them until the next one comes along.

    But the truth is, at the end of the day, if you read long enough, you realize that there's just not a lot going on here. There is no agenda, no theme, no philosophy at play: Bendis doesn't have a larger point to make about power, or duty, or heroism; he's not even making an argument about how bitches be wack, or robots be unforgiving, or anything at all. He's just moving the pieces.

    And give credit where credit's due: he's very good at that.

    My review of his great AVENGERS run, in these final days?

    Eh. They're okay.

    They're just comics.

    -----
    * “I just – always liked them together,” is a perfect example, especially since it manages to be kind of clever and completely inappropriate for the character at the same time. Back in the early days of NEW AVENGERS when Captain America goes to recruit Spider-Man, Spider-Man says he's not good with teams, and views himself as a loner.

    Captain America responds, “Yeah? How's that working out for you?” Which is another line that is clever, but the sort of snarky and clever remark you'd expect to come from a snarky and clever comic book writer, rather than a man who believes in America so much he runs around dressed like a flag.

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    1. Hello Jacob:- No problems, and to continue; I think you're point about the double-think about continuity is a fine one. One the hand, continuity has proven to be a problem in the past, so the excuse has been taken to bin it. On the other, writers choose that certain types of continuity, certain examples of the practice, ARE actually important, meaning that the continuity which the audience might appreciate is ignored while the Big Two - in different ways - can use continuity in whatever way best suits them. I'm not sure that there's any mass fictional medium which can cope with the idea that its history matters not at all at one moment and then matters a great deal the next. And so, in AvX, we're supposed to care about the Avengers and the X-Men fighting each other, presumably because the history of each team, and then the whole story is based on ignoring the history of the Phoenix force pretty much entirely. So, what matters, what counts? Whatever serves the convenience of the writers and editors it seems, which is not the way to appeal to readers. Try and do that for a soap opera like East Enders on a consistent basis and see how that goes down.

      But it's is, as you say, "just comics". It doesn't matter, except that it's a shame to see the sub-genre going down the pan. Luckily there's so much that's excellent in today's market that it doesn't really matter than Marvel and DC are - half a dozen books aside - pumping out such pap. But it is a shame.

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  13. Hello Colin,

    Above Harvey Jerkwater suggested a commentary from Bendis to explain his choices and I too would love to see such a thing, although I suspect if Bendis was being honest he wouldn’t have much to say besides “it was convenient for where we wanted the story to go”, “I wanted to push the angst buttons” or perhaps just a casual shrug. When I've seen how he has responded to criticisms of his work it's clear that he doesn't want to address the issues, he simply dismisses it with "they don't understand what I'm doing". It's eerily reminiscent of the Brown era New Labour's attitude of "it's not our policies or ideas that are at fault, it's just that dissenting people don't understand how good our policies and ideas are" and shows a similar level of contempt.

    An alternative way to think about it is to wonder whether there’s something almost Baudrillardian (if that’s even a word) about much of BMB’s Marvel work. I’m starting to see his Avengers comics as being simulacrums of the superhero story, with all of the ‘surfaces’ like angsty melodrama, mid-combat quips (and even full-blown conversations), superficially impressive costumed posturing, conflict (both emotional and physical) for it’s own sake, yet without such ‘depths’ as proper character motivation, world-internal-logic, consistency of (or even a genuine distinction between) personalities, and character development. Perhaps that’s crediting Bendis with too much, but this is a man who is apparently very familiar with the theory of storytelling so it’s possible that he realised that his readers don’t need the ‘depths’ so long as the image which tells them what they’re supposed to feel is there.

    The Vision’s tears in AvX #1 could be a perfect example of BMB’s hypothetical post-structural awareness. He knows that the image signifies the history of the character (you and others referred to the famous “even an android can cry” panel above) and relies on what is signified by the image to provoke the desired emotional response from the reader without having to create those feelings from the plot of his own story.

    Just a theory I suppose. The alternative is that he just doesn’t give a damn.

    Regarding the whole ‘Avengers Vs X-Men’ event I was predicting a train-wreck as soon as I saw the names involved. Five writers, each with very different styles and priorities, all working together with four or five rotating artists is a recipe for mediocrity. Either nobody at Marvel has heard the expression “too many cooks spoil the broth” or they’ve taken the ‘market a book by the creator names attached’ strategy to its logical extreme. Even so I was surprised by the complete absence of quality in the previews of AvX #0 and AvX #1 when I read them. The sense of disappointment over AvX amongst even the most Rump-ish of commentators I've read and communicated has surprised me though - Marvel might well be losing more readers than they gain with this 'event'.

    I’m now only two ongoing comics away from a complete withdrawal from Marvel and I don’t see myself going back without a *major* change in their general approach to making comics. It’s sad but it frees up more of my budget for Image, Dark Horse, Vertigo, and indie comics.

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  14. Hello Earl:- I think your suspicions about the hypothetical commentary are probably true. And I find myself wondering about a life as a comics fan in which the 80s and 90s were spent feeling as if I didn't care enough about continuity, while more recent years have been marked by a feeling that I must be caring too much. And yet my beliefs about how much continuity is appropriate haven't changed a whit. Today's books are too often willfully contemptuous of what's gone before, while a great many of those in the past suffered from the opposite condition. What a shame that the industry has gone from one extreme to another.

    To liken Brown to BMB is not a leap of reason that I could've achieved myself, but I think you're right to point out how similar the responses of people in power often are to the possibility that they're wrong. Certainly I'm weary of comics shedding more and more readers while declaring that the product has never been finer. Even if only considered on a commercial basis, that logic seems somewhat iffy.

    Yours is the second reference to Baudrillard tonight, and I have to say that it's a comparison I've been thinking about too. I just wish I knew whether BMB was subscribing to a theory of spectacle of substance here. Ultimately, the only thing that's interesting about his Avengers is the fact that he writes the rot that he does in its pages. Whyever would he do what he does? To pursue for spectacle for its own sake would be a disdainful business, and BMB's own fictional preferences tend to be - as far as we know - for work which is rigorous and smart. So would he be likely to opt for churning out the hyper-real? It's a mystery.

    As you say, another alternative is that he doesn't a damn, which, although the evidence does support, still seems a hard hypothesis to buy into. My own money's on him existing in what Neil Tennant called the "Imperial phase", when success permits an artist to live in a bubble where criticism can't reach.

    Of course, it might also be that the books are brilliant, well-worked and exceptionally moving. In which case, the question is, why are we all missing the truth of his brilliance?

    I'm as shocked as you about the lack of quality in the AvX books. I do suspect that the industry now exists - with some notable exceptions - in a bubble where nothing touches it at all. There's enough rewards, prestige, signings, conventions, enabling fans and so on to keep everyone feeling great near the top of the tree, so why worry too much about falling sales, poor reviews and so on. And I know that sounds angry fan-boyish, but my interest is far more about the psychology of the process than any expression of entitlement-driven rage. How is it that AvX is so terrible? With so much riding on it, how could these gifted professionals churn out so much pap? It's not everyone who's done so, of course, but much of the product is incredibly thin.

    Of course, the amount of fine product elsewhere makes the super-book more and more unimportant. But I retain my love of the super-hero universes, and I'm fascinated even to watch them stumble ...

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  15. I challenge.

    Go back and look at his pre-Imperial work; his Ultimate Spider-Man, Spawn, Goldfish, Jinx, Torso, Fire. See if you can find any greater meaning, anything deeper than “what if Spider-Man was young again” or “what if The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was a film noir?” See if you can find any theme that hasn't been carried over from previous works, like cargo cult art. Because I tell you: I've looked. And I can't find it. I just see a whole lot of clever, and not much else.

    There is no “there” there.

    Alan Moore once said that he felt his most disappointing work was The Killing Joke. Why? Because ultimately it's not about anything except Batman and the Joker. You can sort of see Moore reaching for something bigger with the idea of the “one bad day,” but it ultimately just doesn't stick.

    I don't think Bendis would understand this frustration at all.

    And so I challenge thee, sir! Tell me where Bendis went bad! Find the place where the rot got in, or confront this horror: that he has always been this way, and we just haven't noticed the flatness of affect until now.

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    1. Hello Jacob:- Well, I'm certainly with you on The Killing Joke. I thought it was a dreadful comic created by remarkably fine craftsmen. From the shooting of Batgirl to the sentimental ending, I was staggered by how poor it was. And remained staggered by how fondly it's still regarded. (Odd how Moore often struggled with Batman. I was never convinced by his portrayal of the character.)

      Now, I will have to take your challenge seriously and avoid making any kneejerk response. I think your point is a good one; has BMB been a creature of spectacle rather than substance since day 1? The answer is that I don't think so; Powers and the early Alias were/are good books, and I can respect Daredevil and USM even if I can't quite warm to them. But you're suggesting a new way of looking at the whole career rather than just the Avengers work. So I'll keep your challenge in mind when I return, if things go to plan, to Powers for a piece for elsewhere in the near future.

      To use a phrase which has itself jumped the shark, when did BMB jump the shark? Indeed, has he? I've yet to read the last few creator-owned projects as collected runs. When it comes the mainstream Marvel books, I'd say he was never achieving much of substance in the first place, beyond the not-inconsiderable virtues of actually selling books to the Rump, which can seem like an easy task, but which proves to be impossible for most creators.

      So, yours is the hypothesis I'll be paying attention to. Always good to start the morning with a question which I don't know the answer to!!! :)

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  16. Ah Colin - your poison pen tastes so wonderfully bitter on the screen.

    AvX as a coda to Diassembled serves a purpose, namely it wraps up Bendis' run on the Avengers books. However, my understanding was that the crossover itself will have multiple creative teams involved, with Bendis being but one of them. So this may well be a misplaced swansong for the writer.

    That said there is no avoiding the conclusion that Disassembled had at its heart a contest between the characters and a host of deus ex-y opponents (alien armadas that vanish into thin air, Ulton bots, team-members going insane) - which was all revealed to have been caused by a mentally ill Scarlet Witch. The story concludes with the stunned survivors left in the wreckage of their one-time home. No doubt readers also felt stunned by this latest deconstruction of a comic book. Still Avengers needed its own 'Anatomy Lesson' and New Avengers was on the horizon. Surely this would all be resolved?

    But it never was. Yes Scarlet Witch has reappeared, but more as a reminder of the destruction her uncontrollable powers caused. Other writers have tried to place the events of this story in context (Heinberg etc. - and Slott has made some pithy jokes at its expense too) but Bendis never has.

    My concern with AvX - as outlined here (http://podcasts.comicbooked.com/cb1-rise-of-the-phoenix/) note: I no longer work for Comic Booked - is that whatever resolution this story with Scarlet Witch could have had, it is not going to be achieved in this series either, because she is now solely defined as a 'reality warping' deus ex threat - and the crossover is already concerning itself with yet another deus ex The Phoenix.

    It's ironic because Bendis' work is notable for his focus on street-level heroes, supposedly as a reaction to the cosmic Avengers stories. Yet his run on the book is now book-ended by perhaps the most absurd cosmic/mystical contrivances.

    By the by, I saw Bendis himself when he stopped by a stand I was working at at Melbourne's Supanova. I said 'Hullo Brian'. He gave a wee jump in shock at being recognized. Well I found it funny.

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    1. Hello Emmet:- I'd not thought of my being in possession of a poison pen before. Now it's time for the hair shirt and sincere contrition, or it is as soon as BMB adopts the same method of apologising for THE HORROR THAT IS HIS WORK ON THE AVENGERS.

      I like the idea of Avengers Dissassembled as a kind of Anatomy Lesson in function of not form. I always thought AD was a technically incompetent piece of work from all concerned, but I chalked that down to BMB finding his feet. Sadly, his work has never really seemed to develop on the Avengers Books. And your point about the fact that the series has effectively failed to engage with the Scarlet Witch plot is a good one, to say the least. If I had to bet, I'd suspect that AvX will in some way close with Wanda and the Phoenix force matched one against the other; it could even be - big long shot here - that the long rumoured tidy-up/reboot of the Marvel Universe could be achieved through that. But then, what rumours aren't long-running in comics?

      Should I ever run across a comics professional I recognise, I shall do my best to whisper "hello". It must be a disconcerting business, actually, to be hailed by strangers, even well-meaning and cvil chaps such as your good self. By which I mean, YOU BULLY!!!

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  17. Oh I wouldn't say I was a bully....I may have induced a hint of Prisoner-style paranoia given that he wasn't expecting to be recognized outside a queue of autograph hounds.

    'Be seeing you Brian!'

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    1. Hello Emmet:- I have no doubt you weren't anything of a bully at all. I just felt that I ought to respond to the playful charges of poison pen pieces with an invented charge. If "bully" won't stick, I'm going to invent something else ... like ... er ... litterer, or late-riser. I am willing to make these entirely unfounded accusations, oh, yes, I am ...

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  18. nice idea.. thanks for sharing.

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  19. Hello Colin,

    I've almost nothing to add to any of this, and no intention of going anywhere near A vs. X, but what else is the internet for except making points about comics you haven't read but making observations on them based on someone else's analysis as if it were conducted on your behalf?

    “You chose to overpower me and use my body as a weapon against my friends and my home.”

    I just feel that this line could be taken and superimposed over any Bendis work and it would fit. I’m not sure how much of this is just me but it feels like a lot of effort is being put into embellishing whatever’s meant to be going on here. Its there even in the good stuff, this attempt to give this free flowing dialogue of his a little extra charge. In the good stuff (I’m going by Powers and early Ultimate Spider-Man here and even then…) it’s fine and you can ignore it if the story works for you, but for stuff like this…

    Like, it isn’t enough for the Vision that his friends were attacked by him via his ex-wife? His –home- was attacked, damn it! And beyond how awkward that sentence sounds out loud it just makes the Vision seem all the more shallow. Beyond the semantics of the mansion having already being blaster to kingdom come before his turn came up…what, was there a CD collection he was particularly fond of in there? Did he have his room just the way he liked it? Is he ranking his home, which is a superhero HQ and as such has been rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt, above his friends?

    And of course he’s not being shallow (although everything you describe about this scene sounds very shallow and I don’t doubt it is)…but that’s the sort of interpretation that would bend but not break what’s there. In a good Bendis story this sort of thing would be an unfortunate case of the writer trying maybe a bit too hard. In the bad stuff neither the writer or the character come out looking good.

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    1. Hello Simon:- There's a line which I've seen bloggers elsewhere use: I read 'em so you don't have to. I suppose that's my job too! I'm also here to offer observations for those with better things to do than generate them about rubbish such as AvX. And it IS rubbish. That's really the be all and end of my observations here.

      I'm with you on Powers. I'm writing about it for elsewhere next week actually. I do hope I still like and admre when I take it down from the shelf. I find thinking "At least I enjoyed Powers" makes me feel that I've got something good to say when faced with BMB's more recent work. I read AvG #2 this week. My gawd, but it's rank. The vision stuff, as you quite rightly describe, is nothing but piffle. I wonder how it is that talented writers ended up churning out this rubbish? I want to speak well of the work, to identify some aspect of craft, but it's just ... awful.

      Ach, I'll have a go at Powers tonight before crashing out. I need to feel positive about BMB's achievements, I don't like thinking that poorly about anyone's work.

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  20. I think what annoys me the most about that tough-talking "his call" "I know" business is that it is such tough talk, you know? It's not just that it shows that Wolverine and Iron Man can between them make the decision that upholds the Vision's right to...well, to act as out of character as he wants...but it's also that Wolverine challenges Iron Man, about something he doesn't really know a damn thing about (he's a New Avenger after all, not a Disassembled one), and that Iron Man responds by one-upping him. That doesn't just look like two sexists colluding, it looks like two sexists in a dick-measuring contest...and worse, one that's supposed to convince the reader that they're both right! Which is a shortcut I think you could fairly call odious as well as lazy.

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    1. Hello plok;- Oh, indeed! At what point does the Vision have the right to determine what happens to Wanda? Ir really is as if they're all MCPs and even an ex-husband must be deferred to.

      Great line about that "dick-measuring contest". It's as if BMB just free-associates dialogue without anything other than a vague plan of what it is that he wants to say, and then can't be bothered to substantially edit what he's written. So the scene flies away from sense, just as if, yes, he was making it up as he goes alone without substantially editing it afterwards.

      Of course, if that work WAS edited .... Oh, dear ....

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  21. On Bendis "going bad", though, I don't think he ever went bad, I just think he never had, perhaps was never interested in, a mastery of craft that went beyond what came easily to him anyway. I love Alias, but Alias is not an un-spotty work, and it's certainly not reeking of originality. The "Cap's identity" plot is lifted from someone else, the Purple Man's fourth-wall-breaking is similarly lifted, and the first one only half-works while the second one doesn't work at all...not that there isn't playfulness in Bendis' earlier work which is damn hard to see now (he substituted himself for the Watcher in "What If Jessica Jones Had Joined The Avengers"!), but that's just it: it's all play, and it crashes when it tries to compel sobriety instead of surprising us with it. The awful "stand-up" bookends in Powers fail because they abandon irreverent cheekiness, abandon the brio of the incomplete skill-set...we say it all the the time, that Bendis is only good at some things, and that's because (I think) he always was. Good Bendis? Bad Bendis?

    All just Bendis!

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    1. Hello plok:- I'm really interested about this whole question of when and if BMB jumped the shark. I'm determined to find the time to go back to Powers and read it through again, for example, because I always enjoyed the series, even if I found it typically slack and rambling in places. I did sit down with Alias the other day for an hour and I have to say that the comic got progressively weaker as the issues rolled on. I'm rather scared of allowing my current bafflement re: his Avengers work get in the way of a fair judgment, so I'm well aware that I need to go back and look at his past work on a case by case basis. Powers, next stop; I hope to find that it's actually better than I recall ...

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  22. I should be sure to say that all the things I liked Bendis for in the first place, are things I still like -- I never went to him for anything more than his incomplete skill-set, since I enjoyed what he did with it! I liked the anarchic feel of it all. But as much as you might enjoy Sid Vicious singing "My Way", you don't necessarily want to hear him sing "A Day In The Life" too, right? I like anarchic, ironic play, but it can't do everything...nor should we expect it to be able to.

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    1. Hello plok:- I think that's a very effective way of putting it. BMB doing BMB is fine. BMB doing everything, including huge crossovers and various events, is indeed poor sad ol'Sid having a swing not just at A Day In The Life, but every other "classic" track, from Take The A Train to, of course, the Laughing Gnome ...

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  23. I've just had the dubious pleasure of reading this chapter today in the AvX trade that I took out from the library. Everyone apart from poor downtrodden Scarlet Witch is so hateful in it that you wonder what possible dramatic payoff would be worth ruining the moral credibility of almost every principal character in your book. Maybe it's satire? The last panel of Vision shedding his single manly tear has a certain comic appeal, like something you would see in a Mexican telenovela.

    Also, having now read through the whole AvX event something in particular stood out for me: the treatment of Stephen Strange. Or rather, the lack of it; through most of the book you have to squint a bit to see where he is, as he is practically a background character with few lines. When he does appear he is nothing but hired muscle in Cap's merry band of paramilitary soldiers. This struck me like a terrible waste of a character, as I feel the Sorcerer Supreme should stand apart from all the internecine squabbles of the super folk. It would feel more befitting of him if he hadn't appeared at all and had his place taken by a suitably generic super combatant, and we could then assume he had his hands occupied with more important, or perhaps trying to solve the problem in his own idiosyncratic and ineffable manner.

    As things stood all he did was look pretty by emitting blue light bubbles from his hands, and at one point having his ass handed to him by a teenage mutant girl. What a climb down from the high point of the Ditko years, which you so wonderfully documented in a series of articles on Q (if that is indeed the correct magazine).

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    1. Hello Juan:- My apologies for responding a touch late to this. With this blog being on a long sabbatical, I only return to its in-box on a weekly basis.

      I fear that I'm similarly perplexed with the central AvX series. There are some truly good issues to be found in some of the tie-ins; Kieron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men stories contain some remarkable issues, and I always enjoy Jason Aaron's solo scripts. But the central issues not only lacked sense, but dramatic power. I too sometimes wonder whether such pap is intended to carry satirical power, but sadly that can't be so. After all, the even-more-inept Age Of Ultron issues follow the same pattern; it's not satire then, but a vision of what BMB and Marvel regard as quality.

      I certainly agree with you about the use of Strange. The way in which he's been shown in the Avengers AND the Defenders hasn't been to my taste at all. I certainly can't see the point of having him as a second ranker taking orders from Captain America. It's such an odd interpretation of the character, and seems to me to miss everything that makes Strange such a unique and compelling character.

      Thank you for the kind words about the Strange pieces which Sequart were kind to post. It's very much appreciated :)

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