Brian Bendis’ recent announcement that he is to leave the Avengers franchise can’t have come soon enough for some fans, while for others his unparalleled success is justification enough for his extended run. As it is, I fall between two stalls, loving the earlier “New Avengers” work, but gradually losing patience as the years passed. Storylines like this are exactly what put me off the series.
Aside from the influx of new villains (who are largely so obscure that they might as well be new characters, somewhat undermining the appeal of using them) there’s nothing in the “Dark Avengers” idea that makes it any different to the last time Osborn pulled the scam. Perhaps it’s an allusion to the idea that a crazy person repeats the same actions expecting different results, but it feels more as though Bendis just liked the idea and wants to do it again. Amusing for him, perhaps, but so far not for us. The return of Osborn has shades of the previous “New Avengers” volume, which gave far too much page time to Bendis’ pet adversary, The Hood.
Further blurring the line between story and writer is opening scene, in which Daredevil arrives to wonder why, after inviting him to join the team, the New Avengers didn’t take him along on their current mission. Good question. It's one that possibly should have been addressed in the previous issue, in which he didn’t even appear. His presence feels like a mistake being rectified rather than a plot being advanced, even though it leads to a typically cute scene with Squirrel Girl.
Of course, it’s a frequent criticism of Bendis’ Avengers titles that characters are brought onto the team then given nothing to do, so at least we can praise the use of Victoria Hand, who has been given a substantial role in the plot following her left-field assignment at the start of the series. Sadly, it’s not a very exciting role. Either she’s a double-agent, and it’s predictable, or she’s not, and her actions and attitude don’t make sense. There’s potential in the character, but the reality is that she’s not being handled in a way that makes me excited.
As usual, the issue’s high points aren’t in the plotting, but in the dialogue and art. The use of Mike Deodato on pencils provides an enjoyable visual consistency with the original “Dark Avengers” stories, but there are elements that let it down. While his figure work is dramatic and intense, he has developed an odd tendency to omit background details (and occasionally entire backgrounds) which leaves the art looking incomplete. The coloring also grates against his style, attempting to turn his moody visuals into something more vivid. It’s not a mess by any stretch, but it’s not quite working either.
With convoluted plotting, off-center personalities and too many characters for its own good, “New Avengers” seems to weaken with each issue. Bendis certainly has his fans. Sometimes, I’m one of them. But compare this with the likes of “Ultimate Spider-Man” and it’s hard to disagree that Bendis is capable of far, far better.