It’s hard not to interpret this opening arc of “Avengers” as Brian Michael Bendis responding to the criticisms that he’s a weak plotter or that his stories are padded with pages of endless dialogue. These charges have dogged Bendis for his entire tenure on the Avengers franchise, but this opening arc, continued in “Avengers” #4, is pure balls-to-the-wall craziness. Bendis keeps throwing things at the reader, piling time paradox upon time paradox, and giving John Romita the chance to draw everything from Devil Dinosaur being blown up by Martians to a brawl between Catholic and Protestant Irish people in the streets of Manhattan while Galactus attempts to feed. This might be the most fun a comic that Bendis has ever written.
One half of the team is sent to the future to investigate Kang’s claim that they are needed to stop all time from collapsing in upon itself and the other in the present to deal with, well, what appears to be all of time collapsing in upon itself; Things happen at such a rate that even the heroes can’t keep up. The present gets the majority of the issue with the future bookending things and, in the present, the madcap pacing plays to Bendis’ strengths as Killraven, convinced that his arrival in this time is a ruse by the Martians, becomes unhinged and begins to have a nervous breakdown, while the Avengers don’t seem too far behind. New obstacles and threats keep popping up and they have no idea what to do. Even Thor, who single-handedly takes on the Martians, finds himself left agog when he pauses and notices just how insane things have gotten. In a glorious two-page spread by John Romita Jr., Thor has a shocked look on his face as he hovers above Manhattan, seeing dinosaurs, spaceships, old propeller planes, blimps, and Galactus preparing to feed. How can his might stop all of this?
In the future, the other group of Avengers comes off just as lost since they have no idea how much or how little to trust Kang. Obviously he isn’t to be trusted and there will be a catch to his call for help, but what? They can only stand by helplessly, debating what to do, while watching Ultron lead an army of robots against an army of superheroes. The scale of this story is on a level beyond the Avengers and that’s communicated in nearly every panel of this comic. It’s still unclear exactly what the problem is entirely. Bendis keeps us and the heroes in the dark. Putting the readers on the same level as the heroes is a good way to increase both the tension and how much readers can relate and empathize with the heroes.
As the craziness increases, Romita is tasked with the unenviable job of drawing it all. Together with Klaus Janson and Dean White, Romita produces chaotic scenes that stop you dead so you can pour over the pages, picking out all of the details. These pages are packed with two stunning two-page spreads, one in the future and one in the present, to act as large scale summations of what’s going in each timeframe. The battle against Ultron’s forces is sketchy in places with the robots forming and reforming themselves in all shapes and sizes against the heroes, many of whom wear classic costumes. The spread of Thor over Manhattan is much more relaxed with the things that shouldn’t be there either filling the sky or popping out amongst the buildings.
While Romita is great at drawing heroes being heroic, here he needs to portray them as frantic, confused, and over their heads. Rarely do they ever look controlled and confident as they run from location to location, unsure what exactly they should be doing with the gradually unhinged Killraven screaming insanities next to them. Romita’s art communicates just how large and overwhelming the situation is, and its impact upon the characters.
“Avengers” #4 manages to up the ante after three issues of action. Bendis and Romita are going all out in this arc to create a larger than life time travel story for the Avengers and, so far, they’re knocking it out of the park. And, if the final scene is any indication, issue five should be another winner.