New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books; explaining, reviewing, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium.
The stage has been set in Bendis’ prologue to his massive Avengers era, as the old guard was torn down in Disassembled. Now, the start of something new. Spider-Man. Wolverine. Luke Cage. Spider-Woman. The Sentry. This is the Avengers as you’ve never seen them before (unless you’ve read an Avengers comic in the last decade, in which case this is the new norm).
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Brian Bendis
Art by: David Finch
Collects: New Avengers #1-6
WHAT’S THE STORY?
So, as mentioned last time, after destroying the Avengers in Avengers: Disassembled, Bendis set about remaking them with more current characters. The first title to spin out of the Avengers’ destruction was New Avengers, the new book featuring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but with a different vibe, telling a different type of stories.
Instead of classic mainstays like Vision or Scarlet Witch, you had more popular characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine. Alongside them were more street-level heroes such as Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and for a brief time, Daredevil. Over next few years after New Avengers debut, characters like Cage and Spider-Woman really had their profiles heightened, and the entire face of the Marvel Universe shifted to focus on characters that Bendis generally liked.
It also set the stage for an array of events shepherded by Bendis, that would also help shape the face of Marvel. New Avengers and other comics of the time led to Civil War, which spawned a new era of New Avengers, where the characters were now fugitives, while a government-sponsored team debuted in Mighty Avengers.
The two teams would often be at odds with one another, on top of their usual adventures.
This rivalry culminated in Secret Invasion, which revealed the Skrulls had used their shapeshifting powers to invade Earth at some previous point in time and had been systematically weakening the heroes in preparation to take over the planet for themselves.
The fallout from this pushed Marvel into the era of Dark Reign, where Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) and the Thunderbolts (a team of supervillains forced to work for the government – think Marvel’s Suicide Squad), were put in charge, creating a third Avengers team book, Dark Avengers, which followed the former Thunderbolts as they took on more heroic guises. This culminated in Siege, where Norman Osborn and his assembled super-villains led an attack on Asgard (now based on Earth, as seen in Thor: Reborn), spurring the various fugitive superheroes to take him down.
The end of Dark Reign saw a sort-of return to the status quo, as, while New and Dark Avengers titles continued, they were no longer the main focus, as the classic Avengers title returned, now with the bigger names as part of the central roster.
Yet another Avengers title was thrown into the mix, as with Steve Rogers now in a Nick Fury-esque role, he created a spy team of Secret Avengers.
Bendis’ era would finally end at the end of that Avengers volume, as he and other writers penned Avengers vs X-Men, at the end of which Bendis handed the reigns of the Avengers franchise over to Jonathan Hickman (all of which, we’ve covered before, from Avengers World and Everything Dies through to Secret Wars).
We’ll get to all that and beyond in the coming weeks, but first, the inciting incident.
Real Name: Carl Lucas
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972)
Gang member Carl Lucas was entrenched in a life of crime from an early age, but after realising how his choices were affecting his family, he decided to turn over a new leaf and go legit. But after his old criminal friend Stryker accused him of stealing his girlfriend, Lucas was arrested for drugs Stryker had planted on him.
While incarcerated, Lucas was signed up to a variant of the super-soldier program. However, the experiment was tampered with by a racist guard who hoped to off Lucas, amping up the power levels and inadvertently granting him superhuman strength and invulnerability.
Escaping captivity, Lucas returned to Harlem, where he decided to use his powers as a ‘hero for hire’. Now going by the name Luke Cage, he began partnering with his new best friend, the mystical martial arts expert Iron Fist. But eventually, the two would forgo their business, becoming fully-fledged heroes, joining the Avengers and Defenders, while Luke found love in similarly disgruntled hero Jessica Jones, with whom he had a daughter Danielle. Now a legitimate and respected hero, Luke Cage polices the streets while doing his best to provide for his family.
WHAT’S THE PLOT?
The super-villain Electro is hired to break someone out of the high-tech prison known as the Raft. Now, almost one-hundred super-powered criminals are attempting to escape the island, and it’s up to Captain America, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman and the Sentry to stop them.
Will these heroes unite to reform the Avengers, and can they track down Electro’s intended target? Meanwhile, there’s someone else in pursuit of this mysterious criminal, the X-Man known as Wolverine!
New Avengers is a comic that came out around the time I started getting into comics (when I was a tween), and as such, for better or for worse, the Bendis era of the Avengers is the era that I’m most familiar with. However, as things trundled along, I began to grow cynical towards Bendis’ writing.
There are things about it that you’ll notice pop up a lot if you’ve read a lot of his stuff. And I have read (and am still reading, due to him now penning Superman) a lot of his stuff, again, for better or for worse.
But on top of what has been dubbed ‘Bendis Speak’- the way the characters act and sound a weird mix of grandiose, bantery and indistinguishable on a whole new level, I think it’s fair to say that towards the end of his run, Bendis was mostly just spinning his wheels. The quality of what comes later (from my memory) isn’t a good indicator of what you’re likely to get from Bendis writing Avengers how he wants to write it.
Because this earlier stuff? It’s really great.
The beauty of Bendis on New Avengers is that not only is he modernising Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but in the early years, he manages to balance big threats with very street-level attitudes. He’s far better at writing your Spider-Men and Luke Cages than he is, say, Thor.
He gets what makes the characters work, and thus they, unlike a lot of his characters later down the line, have a unique voice. They banter, they feel real, to a degree.
The character dynamics are just so much fun, and although the group selection is no doubt in part down to who would make this series more of a financial success (Spider-Man and Wolverine), the way the characters interact just feels right, and the presence of people like Captain America, Iron Man and the lesser-known Sentry make this feel like a proper Avengers team, albeit a different one. The varying power levels and experiences make each of them feel like they deserve to be there, and together, they just have that wonderful spark that makes for a great team.
This new take on the Avengers is helped immensely by David Finch’s art. While I don’t think it fits the tone of the previous Avengers series, now that the group are more of a nitty-gritty bunch, and considering the majority of the story takes place in a prison, I think his somewhat murky style works especially well.
While the current Avengers run (at the time of writing) features characters who are similarly well known today (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, a Hulk, Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Ghost Rider), this New Avengers team has the perfect blend of familiar characters and those who have the potential to become new favourites.
Prior to this run, I didn’t know a whole lot about Luke Cage, but in reading Bendis’ development of the character over the years, he grew to be one of my favourites.
For that reason, and many more, I give New Avengers: Breakout a…
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