On a fateful day "unlike any other," a group of heroes came together to face the villains no hero could face alone. Thus, the Avengers, the Marvel Universe's premier super team, were born. What happens, though, when the villains follow in the Avengers' footsteps? Earth's Mightiest Heroes are about to find out.
Recently, the villainous Norman Osborn was freed from prison and once again offered leadership of H.A.M.M.E.R., the organization he controlled during his Dark Reign over the Marvel Universe. Much to Osborn's delight, the organization had changed since his incarceration, transforming from the U.S. Government's top espionage agency into one of the premier mega crime organizations in the Marvel U. Its ranks have swelled to include agents fanatically loyal to Osborn as well as members of other criminal conspiracies like A.I.M., HYDRA and the Hand.
With all of these resources at his disposal, Osborn is ready to get back to the business of running the world and punishing those who have wronged him. There's just one problem -- in order to accomplish his goals, he'll have to neutralize the cast of "The Avengers." CBR News spoke with writer Brian Michael Bendis about his plans for the series in the coming year.
The Avengers aren't yet aware of how big a threat Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. have become, but in "Avengers" #19, the team made a strategic decision that should help them in the long term when they assembled a new, larger roster. The team's ranks now include: Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, the Vision, Spider-Woman, the Red Hulk, the Protector and two new members: Storm of the X-Men and the super powered S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daisy Johnson, codenamed Quake.
"It's a big line-up. Assembling that is always the hardest thing. It's like, 'I could have the Vision back! But if I do, someone has to go,'" Bendis told CBR News. "You always want to make sure that every member of your cast has something to do or a story to tell. If you watch 'The West Wing,' even Aaron Sorkin, one of my heroes, has characters that he completely loses interest in and pretty much abandons. You can't do that with 'The Avengers.' If you commit to putting somebody in the series, then they have to have a story to tell.
"I got very excited about the Red Hulk when we were talking about characters for the new line-up. I also got very excited about getting the Vision back," Bendis continued. "I'm a huge fan of the Vision. We were also angling towards the Black Panther. We were kind of putting the modern version of the Roy Thomas' Avengers back together, because if you put both the Vision and the Black Panther on the team, you're getting close to Roy Thomas territory, at least in my mind. That would be nice place to go for a book called ' The Avengers.' As we got closer, though, it just didn't seem like what was going on in Black Panther's book matched what needed to go on in our book."
The Black Panther may not have been a suitable ingredient for Bendis' Avengers recipe, but the Wakandian royalty's wife was. "In a discussion unrelated to the one Tom Brevoort and I were having, someone suggested that we put Storm on the Avengers. I can't remember who -- it was someone like Axel Alonso or Nick Lowe. I said, 'That would be great! Can I have her? I didn't even know she was up for grabs,'" Bendis remarked. "We immediately thought of the scene in issue #19 with the Black Panther where he goes, 'I can't do it, but you know who would be great? My wife!' That was too great to pass up. We've got her joining because she can't even believe she got asked. I was just going with the feeling I had when I was offered her. Then we immediately go into things like a Storm-Red Hulk team up. It's like, 'All right. I've never seen that before. Let's do it."
Upon accepting the call to join the ranks of the Avenger, Storm is now able to lay claim to having been a member of all three major Marvel Universe teams: The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. She joins her former X-Men teammate Wolverine as one of the few characters to have achieved that honor.
"Storm had now achieved the Marvel version of the EGOT," Bendis said. "And Wolverine is still EGOTing, but he's now doing it only as a member of the New Avengers. Having him and Spider-Man on both the Avengers and New Avengers was one of the things I had to give up. It was fun just driving people nuts on the internet with having them on both teams. That joke is over, though. They truly belong on the New Avengers, both because of their own personalities and what's going on in their books and their relationships with Marvel Universe. It's not always going to make sense for Wolverine, in particular, to be on the 'authorized' Avengers team if he's doing what he's doing in the other books."
Storm is providing just one of the diverse points of view in the new Avengers line-up. In the coming months, readers will see stories from her point of view as well as the rest of her teammates. "In almost every issue of both this book and 'New Avengers,' the point of view is going to shift dramatically. Hopefully, because there's so much going on and there's so many different characters, you'll get a nice, well-rounded perspective of the cat and mouse game as it continues," Bendis explained. "Osborn is making some bold moves, some of which haven't even been revealed yet. These bold moves will affect everything in his path, so every issue, I choose the best point of view to unveil the next stages of Osborn's plot. Daisy is doing her investigation, Cap is kind of the king wearing the heavy crown and the other Avengers each have their own unique point of view on this, like the Protector, who has a history with Norman. As we get closer and closer to the finale, hopefully you will have seen the story from the most interesting points of view possible."
The general public's point of view will also be important in upcoming issues of "Avengers." Unfortunately for the team, their vantage point will be informed by experiences that make them very easy to be manipulated and turned against the Avengers.
"What I'm going to be examining in both 'Avengers' and 'New Avengers' is that, a lot of times, these heroes are looking at the world very myopically. They're going from one big adventure to the next. There was no real room to breathe between events like 'Siege' and 'Fear Itself,' and they're leaving a lot of collateral damage in their wake," Bendis explained. "Even though they have great intentions and have done good, that collateral damage that's been done to other people can really add up. The country could just be sick of them without [the Avengers] even realizing that's been building, because they're so busy running around they don't have time to check the internet or the media. Then, when they do, it's not fun.
"So there are protesters outside their door. The media is turning on Captain America because, for all his good intentions and his massive popularity for what he believes in, Cap has become 'The Man.' He's become that by every definition, and once you do, people begin to criticize you and will blame you for their ill fortunes," Bendis continued. "Any president that has run for office, regardless of their political affiliation, has run on the good will of a portion of the country. Then, once that person is in office, the very same people that put him there immediately start blaming him for everything that's wrong. That's the role that Captain America has taken, and now he's going to pay the price for it. Each Avenger is going to deal with this phenomenon in a different way, and we'll be examining that."
At the end of "Avengers" #19 Norman Osborn stepped forth from the shadows to fan the fires of the general public's discontent by confronting the Avengers during their press conference announcing the team's new line-up. Issue #20 picks up moments after Osborn steps forward.
"Osborn is literally on their front lawn, yelling at them. Captain America thinks they're looking for someone in hiding, but Norman is not hiding. He's right there and he's bringing the fight to their front door, which is not putting Cap in the best place. Cap likes to go invade a country. He doesn't like it when people invade his," Bendis explained. "So Norman shows up in a suit and says, 'Here's a list of things you've done wrong. Who's going to hold you accountable? Then the media is right there and he's going to take what already is a soured media persona and push it even further He's hitting Captain America in the hardest place he can hit him, which is in his belief system. When the country is mad at him, we've seen Steve will react in bold moves."
In Steve Rogers, Bendis has a character that represents patriotism and idealism. In Norman Osborn, the writer has a media-savvy antagonist who will wage war on Cap's ideals by creating an atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust. Unfortunately for Captain America, Osborn also has some secret abilities that will help him in this battle.
"We've not revealed what Norman has done to put himself in a position of power. He isn't going to be the Iron Patriot anymore. We made a joke about him looking for armor, but instead, with the help of A.I.M. and the Hand, Norman has altered himself dramatically to become a leader of power unlike we've ever seen from him," Bendis stated. "Slowly, over the next couple of issues, you will get hints of what he can do. You will see him wielding a power that you've never seen him wield before. Then, we will show you exactly what it is. Sadly, this is probably going to be spoiled before you see it in the book because the next few covers of 'Avengers' will reveal exactly what his power is. They're amazing covers, but I'm not going to speak to those though until people have read the issues."
As if having acquired mysterious new powers wasn't enough, Osborn can now call on the might of the premier mega crime organization in the Marvel Universe. "H.A.M.M.E.R. is the ultimate fallout of everything that has been going on in the Marvel Universe over the last 10 years. It's a collection of ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agents; Norman Osborn enthusiasts who came together when Norman's time in prison made him into a cult figure. They've drawn the attention of HYDRA, the Hand, and A.I.M. All of these groups have had similar goals and struggles against the super-powered community, so they decide if they all team-up under the mantle of Norman's leadership, they win. It's just simple math. They were a threat on their own. Now that we have these four angles of the Marvel Universe's anti-authority organizations coming together, that's it. They are the authority."
Perpetrators of the activities H.A.M.M.E.R. is undertaking are not known for being the most reliable or trustworthy of people, however. While some of Osborn's followers will hang on his every word, others will only follow him so long as it serves their own best interest.
"Norman finds himself with an army larger than he ever imagined, but he's got a group of generals who are ready to stab him in the back. He can't do this without them, though. So the set up is very Shakespearean. Everyone has their own agenda, and everyone has got issues and back story that are very easy to tap into," Bendis explained. "What you're going to get -- and I'm really excited about this -- in the 'Avengers' book itself, we're going to be dealing with that aspect. HYDRA and the Hand and A.I.M. each coming at the Avengers, now teamed-up [under Osborn's leadership]. They each come with a pretty strong toy box of ways to deal with the Avengers. In 'New Avengers,' that same story is specifically oriented around Norman putting together his new team of Dark Avengers to punish the Avengers for what they've done to him. So 'New Avengers' is a revenge book and 'Avengers' is a political offensive. It's almost like a revolution book for Norman. These stories are going on at the same time and affecting each other."
When it comes to illustrating Bendis' ambitious tale, Daniel Acuña and Renato Guedes are the artists tasked with translating the writer's political intrigue and action to the comics page. "I'm a huge fan of Daniel. I love getting artwork from him every day, but he's not a monthly artist and the book is going to be shipping more than monthly. So what I've done is focused his issues specifically to his strengths and to certain elements of the story," Bendis stated. "Then, Renato is coming in and helping us over the next few months. You can see his first cover in the new 'Previews.' That's a good sense of who he is and where he's coming from. He did some 'Superman' and he did some 'Wolverine' with Jason Aaron. He's really wonderful -- he's perfect for a book like 'The Avengers.'"
In the coming months, the stories in "The Avengers" will continue to compliment what Bendis is doing in "New Avengers" as the team's war with Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. escalates. "You can read the books independently and you'll be fine, but if you read them together, you're going to get yourself a humdinger of a plot," Bendis remarked. "HYDRA, the Hand, A.I.M., Madame HYDRA and Gorgon all have agendas. They're looking to set Norman up for failure so they can take this new, massive organization over. He's surrounded by enemies everywhere he goes.
"And the ideals of the Avengers are going to be pushed to the limits,"Bendis continued. "Steve Rogers is going to be held accountable for everything that has gone on over the last couple of years. That's going to force the government to deal with Steve. Norman has a history of going on television and riling people up by pointing fingers and accusing."
The Avengers' conflict with Norman Osborn won't be the only reason why next year will be a big one for the series and the team. "There's a lot going on in 2012 with the Avengers. We've got the movie, and there are some announcements coming," Bendis said. "I can reveal that there is an 'Avengers' #24.1 coming by me and Brandon Peterson. It's the first time we've ever worked together, and I'm pretty excited about that. Much like the 'New Avengers' point one issue I did with Neil Adams, it's going to unveil where the book is headed for the summer."
And not only will 2012 will be a particularly big year for Marvel's top-billed super team, it will also mark Bendis' last year working on the Avengers titles. The writer began crafting the adventures of Earth's Mightiest Heroes in 2004, and after eight years, he's finally ready to bring his run to an end.
"I'm going to wrap up 'Avengers' and 'New Avengers.' At the same time the first storyline of 'Avengers Assemble' will be done," Bendis told CBR. "It's a good time to move on to other things. Before I go, though, I'm ending things big. I'm in countdown mode. You know when you're watching a show like 'Breaking Bad,' and every episode feels like the second to last episode? That's where I'm at. I've been on the Avengers longer than anybody in the history of the book. When you take everything into account, I've written over 200 issues. I'm very, very proud of that, and what we have coming up this summer gives me the opportunity to go out on a high note. I know enough about showbiz to know that's a great time to go."