Wednesday, 7 November 2012

On "The Avengers: End Times"

It was easy enough to care about Brian Michael Bendis' first shots at the Avengers, although those emotions weren't necessarily positive ones. Opting for hysteria while leaving clarity, logic and character behind, one after another Avenger was killed off or corrupted in a Fortean-level hailstorm of sturm und hype. The ever-inward looking market adored it, of course, because it pandered to the habituated fan-lad's insistence that Really Big'n'Shocking Things Happen. (After all, what can be Bigger and More Shocking than one predictably gruesome death and one gratuitous transformation after another?) That all that arm-waving, foot-stomping and shrieking might have been accompanied by a well-told story which actually made sense obviously passed all concerned by. Never mind the quality, feel the flabbergasting blood'n'angst, although the Avengers did, it can't be denied, quickly rise to stand as the best-selling franchise in what's left of the superbook industry. All of a sudden, it seems, the Avengers mattered to its audience. Who could say whether a character was going to be in any way recognisable in next month's episode, let alone still alive?

Now Bendis is on the last lap of his long tenure on the Avengers books. Once his work furiously insisted that nothing would ever be the same again. Now he's giving every impression of lethargically restoring a great measure of yesterday's status quo before moving on to pastures new. And so, Bendis has suddenly taken to wheeling out an improbably penitent Wonder Man to declare that he's sorry for having become an entirely implausible super-villain. In flies Simon Williams, out comes a few awkward apologies on his part, and then he's off again. Yet since Wonder Man's brutal assault on his fellow Avengers never made any sense in the first place, his attempts to re-establish himself with his former allies are similarly unconvincing. It's a process not helped by Bendis habit of opting for tell rather than show. Here, he offers up a Williams who's been utterly transformed off-page, with what little that passes as an explanation being delivered in a typically static duologue with Rogers. Wonder Man, it seems, doesn't know why he became so despicable and violent, let alone his subsequent swing towards remorse and conciliation. It may be because he isn't "technically human", or because he's had a "nervous breakdown", or because he's the creation of the Scarlet Witch, or because of some combination of all three factors. It could even be something else entirely. Who can say? This woefully ill-defined take on Wonder Man is nothing but a conflict-generating cypher, and given that his sole function here seems to be to tease the reader about his role in the coming climax of Bendis's run, it's impossible to predict what he'll do next, or care. Will he redeem himself? Will he sacrifice himself? Will he be returned to pretty much the state that he was in when Bendis took over the Avengers, as just about everyone else in the cast has been? For those who can believe that there actually is a character called "Wonder Man" in these stories, rather than a series of often-contradictory plot-conceits, there may be some fun to be had in wondering what comes next. For everyone else, it's a quite futile business.  If a character can be anything that Bendis decides, then what does its next appearance count for?

The perennially fannish pleasures to be found in trying to second-guess a creator is made all the more difficult by the fact that Bendis' plots often make as little sense as his character-work does. When Wonder Man appears before Captain America in The Avengers #31, for example, neither character mentions that he's an escaped prisoner who was locked up for leading a vicious assault on the Avengers. You might imagine an attack which nearly claimed the life of Doctor Strange would remain a pressing concern, but obviously not. Steve Rogers, it seems, may be President Obama's head of national security, but that job description clearly doesn't involve remembering that dangerous, and perhaps disordered, criminals ought to be securely detained. In short, Cap's a key member of the state dedicated to fulfilling his responsibilities when it suits Bendis, and when it doesn't, well, who cares? It's no different when Wonder Man appears in the next issue before an entire team of Avengers. None of them bothers to touch upon his status as an outlaw, or even the fact that he's a clearly disturbed former friend. There's not even a single reference to Williams' recently-concluded battle with the Red Hulk, wherein he'd apparently throttled the gamma ray-charged Thaddeus E Ross into unconsciousness. In fact, you'd never know that Simon Williams had done anything more heinous than bad-mouth his colleagues in local bars or jump before one of them in the queue for the bathroom. "You haven't been the most "pleasant" person in the world lately." says Henry Pym to his ex-colleague, who recently beat a team of Avengers almost to death while levelling the Mansion as part of a mouth-frothing campaign to force them out of public life. That the Avengers then simply watch the Ionic Man flying away from their cold-shouldering without offering either help or hindrance makes as much sense as anything else on the page. To Bendis, scenes appear to work in isolation one from the other, while characters have no internal reality beyond the short-term demands of individual incidents. Whatever charges up a specific moment on the page with the immediate effect that Bendis wants is fine by him, logic or no logic, emotional sense or not.

How is it that Bendis' audience doesn't just manage to accept his cursory storytelling and careless characterisation, but actually adores it? Why is it that so many fans buy wholeheartedly into these stories which so regularly make little sense at all on even the most obvious level? It seems that part of that explanation has to lie in a happy collusion between the creativity of reader and scripter. Bendis' Avengers tales only work as a series of entertaining-in-themselves, golly-gee-wow moments which often bear little sensible connection one to the other. Obviously, his audience either doesn't care or doesn't notice that this is so. For them, Bendis provides the stimuli and the audience either ignores the lack of coherence or creates it for themselves. How else can we make sense of the appeal of the scenes which show the return of the Wasp after her entirely anti-climatic death at the end of Secret Invasion? Though the reader's clearly expected to be delighted at Janet Van Dyne's reappearance, it's hard to grasp how that can be. After all, Bendis has only presented us with yet another of  his often-interchangeable super-heroines. There's little on the page to differentiate Van Dyne from the likes of Spider-Woman or even Jessica Jones. (Ask a reader to read Van Dyne's dialogue from #31 and 32 and it's doubtful that too many of them would immediately deduce that it represents the Wasp.) Similarly, the danger she's shown enmeshed in is so generic and unremarkable that it's hard to believe that she's been in any danger at all. As such, it seems that Bendis believes that the very fact of Janet Van Dyne's reappearance is of considerable emotional importance, and that the simple business of representing her is in itself a highly charged and satisfying business. His job, it appears, is to deliver up someone that's called "The Wasp" who might just pass as so. Long-dedicated readers can then bring their own feelings to the mix, and take some delight in the fact that yet another of the characters who were sentenced to a comics-death can now be considered comfortingly restored to the MU.

In that, these stories once again reflect the superhero genre's longstanding preference for change that's melodramatically intense and yet ultimately entirely reversible. So inevitable was the Wasp's return as Bendis prepared to sign off that the form it takes is practically irrelevant. What matters is that all the expected conventions of a plucky hero's survival against the odds are present so that the all-important air of jeopardy and importance is transmitted. All that matters - for the moment at least - is that the adrenalin-pumping snare of the character's "death" has finally been followed up by the comfort of the Ancien Regime's restoration. The Wasp has been absent for years and now she's back! Hurrah! Wonder Man has been a super-villain, but now he wants to be a good friend to the people he's been a terrible menace to. Hurrah! And since the simple fact of those reversals is what counts, there's been no effort made to wrap everything up in anything much of a story. A generic dilemma, a generic villain, a generic plot. Why try to stimulate the reader's thoughts and emotions when they'll do that for themselves simply from seeing Janet Van Dyne again? It's a simple Pavlovian business. Combine the presence of the long-absent superheroine with the sentimentally predisposed fan, and the illusion of meaning is created. It's comics reduced to rumpishly kneejerk reflexes, and in that, it's as complacent a creative effort as can be imagined short of filling up every page with cheesecake and body-horror.

Yet it may well be that this is all one final feint, and that the last issue in Bendis' run will result in the newly-found Wasp or the suddenly-apologetic Wonder Man being sacrificed as part of a fan-throwing double-bluff. But even then, the set-up's been so cursory and the storytelling so uninteresting that, once again, the effect will have to be generated almost solely from the reader's own understanding and emotions.

Bendis' work on The Avengers has long since ceased to be anything other than a peculiar form of gameplaying with a happily complicit readership. The story's not the thing at all. What counts is the endless procession of one eye-catching set-piece after another. To his fans, Bendis' Avengers work has been a consistently fascinating business, and they should know. After all, it's the way in which they themselves have helped make sense of his persistently slipshod work which has so contributed to its massive popularity. As he winds down his farewell tour and continues to reverse a great many of the changes he himself initiated, more and more of his time on the Avengers appears to have been a profoundly heartless and lackadaisical business. And yet, the majority opinion would be that it's all been a considerable rush, and it's hard to believe that his tens of thousands of readers won't happily follow him over to his new reign on the X-Men. There is, after all, more than one way to captivate an audience, and careless, sensationalist storytelling is clearly no barrier at all to a highly satisfied readership. It's a disturbing thought, but quite the opposite may well be true.



  1. "How is it that Bendis' audience doesn't just manage to accept his cursory storytelling and careless characterisation, but actually adores it?"

    1. Bendis is one of the best writers in mainstream comics.

    Bendis characters have spark. They have personality. Often the same personality, but that still puts them leagues ahead of the rest of the bland parade; even now, with Bendis growing somewhat sloppy in his dotage.

    If you want to know why the Justice League turned into snarky assholes and why big-panel decompression continues to this day, who else deserves the credit? Like Miller before him, Bendis is now being aped, sometimes poorly. I submit we should track ages not by gold or silver, but by influence: the Stan Lee Age, the Alan Moore Age, and so on. The name of our current era, I think, should be obvious.

    All hail Bendis.

    2. The world is bigger than mainstream comics.

    Bendis is not a perfect writer. I forgive him. I find him entertaining, in the same way I find summer blockbusters entertaining. He's good at writing scene-by-scene, and when you're reading monthly, it's easy to forgive the bumps along the way; either the hypomnesia kicks in and you assume something that doesn't make sense is related to something you don't remember, or the storytelling gambling instinct kicks in and you assume it will pay off later.

    Which it did, once! Remember? The Secret Invasion? And that mystery man in the shadows, talking to Electro! That had a payoff too!

    But the one thing never pays off, the thing that bothers me about him, the thing that haunts me, is what I've mentioned here before:

    Bendis does not write theme. Nothing connects. Nothing, ultimately, ever matters.

    The single time Bendis has actually made me mad was when he referenced Breaking Bad in an interview talking about his work on the Avengers, a comparison I found profoundly aesthetically offensive. When I look at Breaking Bad, I see a meditation on the nature of Walter White. Everything revolves around him -- EVERYTHING. The show has its tangents and digressions, but they all come back to Walt, and his need for control, and how easy it is to travel to hell one "reasonable" decision at a time.

    This is not the case with the Avengers. Disassembled does not matter to Secret Invasion, except insofar as it moves the pieces in the right direction. Nor does Secret Invasion matter to Civil War or Civil War to Siege. The She-Hulk's loss of control cannot be connected to the Scarlet Witch's cannot be connected to the Sentry's. There is no thesis, no argument made.

    As I've said before: there is no there there. Bendis defies interpretation and criticism because there is ONLY signifier; nothing signified. As a lit crit nerd, little else inspires the awe and terror when I gaze into the Bendis cycle and see the emptiness inside, rolling on forever.

    1. Hello j:- It’s good to hear from you again. I hope you’re well.

      Thanks for such a thoughtful and personal response. It’s exactly what a blogger most benefits by. What I’ll try to do is not (1) repeat my points ad nauseam, or (2) disagree at any length with your own personal taste. I had my say in the above - :) – and, quite frankly, I find yours more interesting.

      I was thinking of Bendis’ influence just yesterday as I was writing this. And the closest points of comparison I could come up with were Stan Lee, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, in that each cast a massive shadow where style and content were concerned. You’re quite right to say that Bendis has done the same. And just like the others in that list, it’s often the very worst of his work which has become second-nature to several micro-generations of creators.

      I don’t think there’s any argument that he’s been the most influential post-Image storyteller in the super-book. And I certainly don’t think that he can be blamed for that!

      As for the comparison with summer-blockbuster movies, that was also a thought which crossed my mind. And my problem isn’t with popcorn fun. There’s a great deal of it that I’ve loved. My problem is with work which needs another few hours on it so that it makes sense. I don’t think that there are “bumps along the way”; I think the way is largely composed of bumps. Now, that of course depends upon taste. My point – as you’ll know – isn’t intended to carry the weight of the Scared Objective Judgment! But I look at the work and I just see carelessness. Work by Bendis that was polished – that received that considered final draft – would be well worth the reading. As such, my problem isn’t with his style – unless we regard carelessness as style – and far more with his bash-it-out philosophy. (I have too much respect for the man to believe that these Avengers issues were in part the product of a serious of exacting revisions.)

      And it’s at that point that we arrive at the same point, passing each other as we head off in different directions perhaps, but the same point all the same. I certainly struggle believe that Bendis cares to control the themes in much of his work at all. (There are, of course, places where his work seems more thematically considered and consistent– Daredevil, for example, is stronger there than, for example, Moon Knight, where he just didn’t seem to grasp what the cumulative effect of his choices was saying.) I will, however, readily admit that I have HUGE gaps in my BMB reading, and it may be that a more attentive reader could assure me, for example, that Captain America has been deliberately positioned to express a loathing for a particularly gung ho ideal of American power. But from the cheap seats, it just seems that effect is what counts with BMBs scripts. It reads as if it’s all very first thought-best thought.

      “…the emptiness inside, rolling on forever”

      There IS a form of terror in that. It may actually be a description of my own feelings – reached in many ways through different paths – about his work. I find it impossible to believe that Bendis isn’t slumming. He doesn’t care about substance beyond the broadest of strokes. Some may see that as a laudable lack of pretension. But I like my pop culture to appear effortless while reflecting a huge degree of craft and deliberation. Bendis, by contrast, appears to be a basher.

  2. The thing that's always puzzled me about the assertion that Bendis "made people care about Avengers again" is that they neglect to mention that the last person on the book was the dreadful Chuck Austen.

    Just. . .wasn't as if he had a huge bar to hurdle, is what I guess I'm saying.

    1. Hello Kazekage:- You're right. Bendis has done an admirable job in commercial terms - not in any way meant as a sniffy statement - but he wasn't exactly following on from a well-loved, or often even readable, predecessor.

      Yet now you mention CA, the distance between his work and BMB's really doesn't seem so great from the perspective of 2012. If I didn't believe in CA's characters and struggled with his plots, the same is true today. I'd not thought of that ...

  3. Again a bad choice in creative terms, made to achieve corporative goals(bring back Wasp's fans and probably clear the path to a Wasp appearance in the next Avengers movies, since they can't bring ant man, dr strange, falcon and black panther without introducing a new female character). Jung says (echoing Sophocles' Oedipus) that only one's death determines its life meaning. This over used game of bringing every character who's dead back to life not only is the biggest cliche in the Big Two but also demolishes the very concept of heroism : if the hero is actually risking nothing, since even death may be eventually reversed, what is the point of the whole thing? If nothing is at stake (like some writers may think) heroism is nothing more than a masturbatory business to the super folk. Which could be a point to be (re)made (though nowadays it could be labeled as a cliche too), except that most writers doesn't seem to actually try to criticize heroism.

    1. Hello Thomaz:- I'd not thought of the Avengers II. I saw the process as part of BMB's stated intent to put as many of the apparently-damaged toys back into the box. As such, Wonder Man and the Wasp are loose ends. Now, it may be that Bendis is playing against that expectation, and perhaps Simon W will turn out to murder Janet Van Dyne in what's advertised as the "shocking conclusion" to his run. But even if that happens, you could hardly say that such a shock had been well set-up.

      Mind you, there may be a shock coming which has been so well established that I'm too dumb to grasp it. And if there is, I'll throw my hat in the air as a mea culpa.

      I couldn't agree with you more about the trope of reversible comicbook death. Time and time again, comics have defined a particular character through their death and then ruined everything by the manner in which the resurrection is pulled off. There may yet be something at stake in the Wasp's return. She may yet have to sacrifice herself - or indeed be sacrificed - but at the moment, her "death" counts for less than zero. It actually cheapened her character and made the question of how she'd return seem entirely uninteresting. The manipulation was so poorly done that the trick seemed alienating rather than compelling.

      Of course, I'm happy for those few returns-from-the-death which work. Given the stupidity of so many of the "deaths" - I mean, Nightcrawler? - there needs to be a willingness to try to reverse ignorant decisions.

      An understanding of heroism? A willingness to discuss it? I've been re-reading a great many Uncanny X-Men and Journey Into Mystery issues this past few weeks, and they're all deeply concerned with the issue. Yet often, as you say, when I put them down and look them down, there seems to be an absence of an awareness that "heroism" is a debate rather than a fan-pleasing label. A shame. The best superbooks are nearly always in some way a debate about what constitutes the right thing.

    2. Hy Colin,

      Oh, I'm not an anti-Resurrection Nazi. Resurrection may work, indeed in Myths as in comics. And I'm particularly fond of Nightcrawler, actually, so, I'd love to see him back.
      I wasn't talking only about the movies, but the whole Now! mayhem... This need to leave everything back to point 0. Of course Gillen succeed doing it very well, perhaps because he already knew he would eliminate Kid Loki sometime ('though he should not , in this specific case, have written so weel these stories with Kid Loki, making his loss less painful for us readers =~(
      I'm not a fan of Bendis work, but i now he has his moments. Plus, I think he actually believes his work. So, looking at the big picture, and seeing what happened in Iron Man, AvsX etc I would file this rush to unmake things under the top-to-bottom-made decisions.
      The problem is not only about turning back to the status quo, of course. Gillen* and Waid have both been dealing with the this struggle between change and 'continuism' in a brilliant way in JiM and Daredevil. The rush and almost evident external obligation (since the internal structure of the story doesn't give us means to understand why everything is changing so abruptly at the same time) to unmake things is the real problem...

    3. Hello Thomaz:- I bet there are Anti-Resurrection Nazis out, with a no-tolerance platform for any comicbook rebirths! I'm glad to know that you too would buy into a well-told return of Nightcrawler tale.

      The problem isn't the constant return to zero, of course, as you quite rightly say, but the way that it's done. KG got it right with JIM, as is shown by the way it moved you. If it hurts rather bores or inspires contempt, it's been done the right way.

      You might like to pop back for the last one of the AvX:Consequences series. It's very much not a case of everything returning to a few years ago.

      We may even surprised by the last Avengers issue. KG may not only do something radical, but pull it off in a way that makes sense. It has been trailed as a "controversial" issue, after all.

  4. So I guess you're not gonna read All-New X-Men then?

    1. Hello JonnyBoy:- Try to keep me away from the first issues! He's an important and influential man is Basher Bendis, and he's shown that he's capable of turning out fine, considered work in the past. So, I'm certainly curious about the path he's going to take the X-Franchise in, and I'm not of the mind to believe that all he's ever going in the MU is fannish tosh.

      But if by "read All-New X-Men" you mean "do you expect to be following the books into the 3rd issues", I fear I don't. It'd be nice to be surprised, mind you.

  5. So let's make sure I've got this right. Bendis' Avengers was a low point in the quality of story telling, every change made has been or is in the process of being changed back and in a few short months it will be as if Bendis never entered the mansion. There's not even an illusion of the illusion of change anymore is there.

    1. Hello Peter:- I think there certainly has been change; multiple teams of Avengers, the developments in the lives such as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, the solidifying of a distinct strata of super-people ...

      But there is very much a sense that a great many of the toys are being polished up a touch and putback. Which is all understandable. The problem is less that the reboot button is being - partially - hit and more that BMB doesn't seem to be able to make the inevitable business of reversing many of his changes feel worthwhile.

      Which is by coincidence what I'll be chin-stroking about next, and yes, Journey Into Mystery will inevitably get a thumbs up there ....

  6. I don't know how many times I've expressed frustration over Bendis' Avengers books over here, but thank you, Colin, for making me feel less alone in terms of failing to see just what the appeal is. I can understand that after Chuck Austen, people were ready for tales to astonish, but how could Disassembled have impressed people? It had the sound, it had the fury, but where was the internal sense? That sequence is where Bendis debuted the 'heroes standing around doing nothing' trope featured in Wonder Man's most recent appearances.

    Every now and then my sad optimism gets the better or me and I give a Bendis Avengers book another chance; occasionally I do enjoy them, as with an Iron Fist story around the recent coming of the old Phoenix girl. Usually though, I'm back to wondering where the heck the editors who understand story are, and whether it really is the case that Marvel's higher-ups couldn't care less about sense and craft and the like, so long as the comics are selling.

    But out came the optimism again, when I heard the other week that Jan is back …

    Could there have (cue Chandler Bing tones) been a flatter return for one of Marvel's oldest heroines? No cover tease, no big emotions - just a cursory snog for the boys, as if she'd gotten lost down the shops for the afternoon.

    As for the Wonder Man business, Al and Paul on this week's House to Astonish 4th birthday podcast made a great point about Bendis's big story ideas - that Marvel seems to think that raising ideas in ads (eg Secret Invasion's 'He Loves you' and the idea of Skrulls living among us) is the same as actually telling the story.

    And yet there I'll be, checking out All-New X-Men, having enjoyed the preview.

    Then again, Bendis is writing that, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ultimate Spider-Man and, it's hinted, a new Uncanny X-Men … I can't see a uniform high quality emerging, on previous form. If he'd just spread the projects out, do just two books monthly for awhile - but I expect at least some of these will be published more than 12 times a year.

    Yup, it's infuriating - how good could a less-prolific, better edited (is he even edited?), Brian Bendis be?

    1. Hello Martin:- The BMB situation remains a puzzling one. Is he spread too thin, or does he just not care? The idea of his guide to writing comics being published next year raises some truly perplexing images; will he recommend that plotting is unimportant where anything but the broadest brushstrokes are concerned, that sense is irrelevant, that consistent and sensible characterisation is a distraction? Because the Bendis that we know in terms of his MU and UU work post-2004 is a careless, careless writer. I have no doubt that he knows a massive amount about scripting. I could list a dozen fine stories he's written. But he's produced year after year of pap, and there was no reason for that. The problems with his comics - which you quite rightly refer to - are simply the product of a lack of editing. Whether by him or someone else, the comics could've and should've been tightened up. In short, the virtues of his work could have been accentuated rather than undermined by his paying far more attention to the craft.

      But then, he's not alone. Many of the most successful writers in the super-book don''t seem to care too much for craft anymore. Johns, Bendis, Millar ...

      There's a great many folks who say that all that craft stuff doesn't matter, and some of their arguments - not J's above, I must say - strike me as displaying a contempt for the very idea of the popcorn comic. I don't share that contempt. I think a widescreen, shoot-up-up, fundamentally pre-masticated comic can be a thing of wonder :) But I see no contradiction between a comic that's fun and a comic that's been well-wrought. Or to put it another way, there's a world of difference between The Empire Strikes Back and any of the prequels. To say that the BMB MU/UU books can be fun while also being commercially appealling is one thing. But they could be well-crafted books which appealled to a great many more folks too.

      I wish I'd expressed myself about the return of Jan with the pith and humour that you did. It was indeed as if she'd been down the shops and misplaced her credit card. Maybe she had to take three different buses to get back home, but that's about the level of challenge that was transmitted. It's cheap, rushed stuff.

      I can't recall reading a BMB super-book that wasn't slack, self-indulgent and at the very least improbable. (The plan adopted by the Spider-Men and the Ultimates to trap Mysterio was so lazy-headed as to defy believe. They just hung around at the other end of a portal until he turned up, and luckily he did? Yes, that makes sense, and it's convincing too.) As you say, how good could his work be if he simply gave it more of the old-fashioned elbow grease?

      But it sells very well indeed. Where's the incentive to do anything else?

      It's odd. I read relatively little by him. I'm resigned to the quality of his work. But he is important, he is very influential, and it's impossible to keep up with the superbook industry without dropping back every three or four months to see what he - and his equivilant on the other side Mr Johns - might be up to. But it's always the same.

      But, hey, here comes the X-Men, and the time-travel twist does sound interesting ....

  7. Hi Colin,

    I was enjoying your column (as I always do when Bendis is the subject) when I read the terrible news, the Wasp has returned. Fantastic. The way you describe her return and Wonder Man's 'return to the fold' it sounds just like the return of the Vision, plonked in the comic and declared 'something happened and I'm back, now move on...' Absolutely no effort in any sense. I'm impressed at the fact Bendis can turn out stuff that's less than half-arsed.

    You mention 'exciting' moments for the 'rump' but I have to say I'm baffled, I haven't been able to find these moments at all. If anything, in my opinion, Bendis had great concepts that are completely fumbled through a complete lack og imagination and effort. A great example is the Illuminati. A great idea dropped repeatedly by Bendis until I lost all interest.

    Which then brings me to another complaint. Bendis is bad at characterisation. The moment Reed Richards, Dr Doom, Dr Strange or
    similar non-real world characters appear in his books, I immediately groan. More bizarre character moments coupled with unlikely dialogue. Yay.

    Personally, I'm completely baffled as to his popularity. His Avenger's are whiny jerks that live in a high tech mansion/skyscraper, yet are always moaning about how they're screwed THIS week/month.

    Although... I imagine that style is probably more suited to the X-men ;) Not my beloved Guardians though! Nooooooo!

    1. Hello Ejaz:- Does this mean you don't always enjoy TooBusy when Bendis isn't the subject? From now on, EVERY post with be a BMB critique.

      I meant to mention the entirely perfunctory return of the Vision, though I did discuss it a month or so ago. Yes, the return of Janet Van Dyne is every bit as carelessly done as that was. Or at least, nearly so. At least she gets to run around abit, whereas the Vision was simply reintroduced as a science project that Stark was bashing out in his garage.

      I fear I can't disagree with your other criticisms. The Illuminati were a great idea poorly executed, for example.

      And now, of course, he's about to take control of your beloved Guardians. He doesn't tend to go in for brief stays on big books either. That means it may be somewhere around 2018 or 19 before you get your book back. Oh, dear.

      Or, of course, we could get the BMB of the early issues of Alias and Ultimate Spider-Man. If he produces the equal, I'll not complain :)

  8. I cannot bear Bendis, and the past eight years have seen him ruin the Avengers. His Powers work was well-received but once Joe Quesada gave him the keys to the Avengers kingdom and gave him free reign everythings gone to pot.
    We've had Secret Avengers, New Avengers, Diet Coke Ave...oh, I mightve made that one up but by the time I finish writing this Bendis might well have churned that one out. He has diluted, yes diluted the franchise with his endless character quipping. Every character speaks in the most insufferably inane dialogue during their group exchanges...its like all those 80s American sitcoms come to fitful superhero life. Its like he wants us all in on his private little joke and he misses the point that we just dont get it or want it.
    But its his destruction/deconstruction of the Avengers I dislike. Iron Man became a vacuous quipping construct after his right-wing mauling assasination attempt by Millar in Civil War. Cap. America went from bland bombshell to a stick-up-the-ass anal retentive rent-a-soldier-for-a-rousing-quote that would make Mitt Romney resemble a 60s beatnik. Wanda he totally destroyed as a sacrificial sop to 'No More Mutants' and threw in Jack[off] Hearts and Scott Lang for good effect. Even my lovely Miss Van Dyne was cast out into Limbo weirdness as her flighty but eminently sensible voice wouldve raised concerns that the group was TOO fractured, too easy ot turn in on itself at the whim of another easy quip masqerading as good writing. Strong characters such as the Black Panther and Hank Pym were summarily ignored, turned traitor [in Pym's case with the Skrull this wasnt too bad, it was a fairly good twist] or used wrongly. Those like T'Challa and the Beast were bystanders to Iron Man's and Cap's pissing contest and used only when the writer needed them i.e. never.
    Only Thor appeared to escape the clutches of the scripts, and even then he would pop in and out to throw a lightining bolt like something from a Fleisher Bugs Bunny cartoon and then dissapear again. For someone who considered ''these lowly but brave humans...friends'' he sure spent more time sitting on the fence than on that Rainbow Bridge the Asgardians have. We had stupid villains like the Hood easily playing the bad guys game which just screamed 'filler' and a Secret Invasion which was so secret it was allowed to play out willy-nilly against a bi-partisan Spider-Woman mini-arc that took up nearly two years of screen time.
    We had highly popular second-string Avengers we all loved [Vision, Wasp etc] jettisoned for major-league superstars like Wolverine and Spidey...two characters who imo should NEVER be in the team. Yes, Wolvie's an X-Man but he and Spidey are loners by trade, outsiders by defintion and their inclusion reminded me of those footballers who turn out for the England team instead of their own homegrown team - glory-hunters.
    We had the slight politically-correct touch of a token female [Spider-Woman, again another loner wedged in] and a token black hero [Luke Cage], more 'stunt-casting' in the form of the FFs Thing [who was never allowed to do much except stand in the background], more loners in the unnecessary form of Iron Fist and Daredevil, a standard 'nagging wife' in the unwanted form of Jessica Jones and of course the most absurd plot ever...Norman Osborn being accepted/forgiven by the public and allowed to run the Dark Avengers whilst simutaenously rubbishing the true Avengers rep. This all smacks of fantasies of teenage-led fan-fiction, if kids were able to write for Marvel.
    I will be glad when Bendis leaves, I really will!

    1. Hello Karl:- There is a terrific difference between the likes of Powers and Alias and the heap'o'Avengers that's been churned out for the past not-so-few years. And I fear that I can't disagree with the reasons which you give for feeling so negatively about them. Indeed, the problem is that I could easily reel off my own objections. (Why was Cap shown having an affair in Avengers Prime when he'd just been reunited with Sharon Carter, and why wasn't it a really big deal in subsequent issues? And so on, and so on ...)

      I think the reason for Wolverine and Spidey in the Avengers is straight-forward, although like you I've no time for this particular explanation; they make a great deal of money, and it's money that counts. Now, there's actually a good reason for Wolverine to be associated with the Avengers in the wake of AvX: Consequences, although the fact that Cap doesn't care about having a man who's so often behaved as a mass-murdering psychopath on his team IS rather baffling.

      As I read on, Karl, I just can't disagree with what you're saying. Everything you've said, I agree with.

      Oh, well. There's now going to be a few dozen Avengers book which are BMB-less for the audience to pick up on. I wonder what will happen to the franchise's sales? That will be interesting.

  9. Leslie Fontenelle8 November 2012 at 21:26

    That last image with the Assemblers charging boldly into the park is haunting me for some reason. Where is Spider-Man swinging from, what is that web attached to? A bird? A plane? Superman? The weirdest thing is that otherwise it's a lavishly rendered image, people took some time with it, but that still managed to let that surreal detail slip by, like a figurative typo. I know this is hardly the first time a hero is shown swinging from ropes attached to nothing, artists do that stupid bit, Batman and Daredevil have certainly their share of such moments. But seeing that image after this article, I was struck by how well it illustrates the concept (mentioned in the article) of superhero stories designed to strike specific pavlovian chords in the readers' emotions, regardless of making any sense. The answer is, of course, that Spider-Man is swinging because it looks cooler than jogging heroically through a park. Wonder Man became a "villain" in a rather perfunctory way because it provided someone for the cool "former ally turns against us for ideological reasons" story that the author wanted to tell (the way it was done the "former ally" could've been several other former Avengers really, I guess Quicksilver and Moondragon were busy that week - but I suppose Moondragon is dead, and surely one can't come back from death). And now Wonder Man is being brought back "into the fold" also in a rather perfunctory way for the same reason Wasp was brought back in such an anticlimactic manner: to leave the toybox with all the pieces in place for its next caretaker (he even removed his pet character Luke Cage from the picture, though that was done much more organically because that was one of the characters Bendis was actually interested in, unlike Wonder Man). Because Bendis is a professional, dammit; he's not out to ruin the company's IPs. If we can't respect that, we just don't get how corporate comics works.

    1. Hello Leslie:- I was trying to keep the number of criticisms of this issue down for this post. There was so much that I could've mentioned, and I thought I'd try to keep some kind of focus. Yet I do wish I'd discussed the panel you mention with the charging Avengers. It's so stupid in SO many ways. You've mentioned most of them. But there's also the fundamental problem of why the Avengers have been told to charge into the park but not told why. It would have only have taken a few words, and it would have ensured that they weren't anxious and hyped up to the degree that appears to be on the cards. In this daft shot, BMB and MM reduce the Avengers - as has happened so many times in Bendis' run - to a gaggle of obediant if wisecracking adolescents. They run here, they run there, they quip and they quip, but they behave in an absolutely brainless way. Pah.

      And of course, you nail that essential quality of "cool" as far as the fan-bloke defines it. The superhero isn't being presented here as part of a story. Instead, they're being presented in a way that thrills the readership. And pretty much everything in BMB's run works on that level. These aren't stories so much as often-disconnected sequences of "co-ol" moments flung down in order to fascinate an entirely captive audience. As you say, Wonder Man is back because he allows BMB to tell the alienated-former-comrade tale without actually creating a story that makes sense. He just makes sure that the broad outlines of a familiar plot are there, fills up the panels with whatever seems like fun, and leaves it up to the audience to go with the hints that he's passing off as a tale.

      And if that sounds somewhat snarky, I do apologise. It's been a long day, and I can't think of anything good to say about his work on the franchise beyond "it sold". And that's obviously good. The industry relies upon the audience shelling out. But I suspect that there'd be more money coming in if a greater effort had been made with the craft of it all.

      For if we believe anything else, then we're buying into the belief that craft doesn't matter, and that what works is the whims and habits - carelessly applied - of a particular creator. We'd also have to believe that the same creator couldn't sell more books if they'd just produce work which appeals to more than the hardcore fan-bloke. Whatever BMB has achieved with his Avengers-scripter hat on, he could've achieved far more if he'd taken a greater measure of the care with his craft.

  10. Well-written, as always. Here's my problem, and I apologize if it's been mentioned previously (I tend to comment before reading all of the other comments)....we're supposed to believe that Tony Stark, Hank Pym, Reed Richards and all of the other Big Brains of the Marvel Universe never took five seconds to scan Central Park where Jan "died" and are only JUST NOW deciding to do so because of a message in a bottle from the Microverse? And that, given what we know about the Microverse (and the fact that Jan met the Micronauts and knows Bug personally, so she could always contact HIM at least without any licensing issues)she could have easily found a spaceship or way to contact Earth in about two seconds...this is a woman who led the Avengers, remember? Apparently Bendis doesn't bother reading any stories he hasn't written, and sometimes not even that.

    1. Hello Hysan:- Being that I've not been following the thousand and one Avengers books, and given that I've rarely been reading those featuring Henry Pym, I wasn't able to comment upon the problem that you raised. But once again it does seem, as you argue, like another arbitrary example of careless plotting. I'd agree entirely with you on the question of what we might expect to have happened in the area at which Jan "died". And it would've only taken a moment to explain why "x" hadn't happened and "y" did. Now, I've not got the issue at hand, and there may be something floating around which makes the whole business plausible, but I can't recall it. The problem is, it all comes across as having been made up on the spot and framed according to sentimentality and sensationalism. And at its heart, I think that means that the market gets shoddy goods. The undeniable strengths of BMB's work gets absolutely mixed in with all the carelessness.

      I look forward to the book on writing comics and getting the chance to understand his approach. And I mean no snark by that. Since that lack of attention to certain aspects of his craft is so consistent, we have to assume that it's deliberate. It would be thoroughly interesting to understand why he doesn't care for the issues which have been raised above in post and comments. I've been swayed by writers explaining their approaches before. I'd hope to be given the POV which allows me to "get" and enjoy these BMB Avengers books.

    2. It would've taken maybe two panels to explain "Oh, we checked before but the (made up science) wasn't (made-up tech)...and now it is." There wasn't even a true sense of urgency...just a lot of hand-waving and Jan making out with the male Avengers (which begs the question...what if Wanda or Carol Danvers had shown up?).

    3. Hello Hysan:- Absolutely. It would've taken just a few panels. Yet that's exactly what BMB so rarely does.

      If Wanda or Carol had turned up? Maternal hugs all around.

      But what if the Red Hulk and D-Man had been on the rescue squad?

  11. Great post, as usual. I haven't read Bendis Avengers since Secret Invasion (so I guess you're right some of the things you say). Do you think he'll do a good work in All New X-Men?


    1. Hello Arion:- Thank you :) I would hope that the All New X-Men is splendid stuff. It's hard to hold out much hope, given how poor his work has been in 2012 - with Moon Knight as the nadir - and noting how many comics he's contracted to write in the coming year.

      But who knows? I'll be relieved and happy to throw my hat in air with happiness if BMB's work shifts from 'bashing' to 'brilliant', I really will be.