"Dark Avengers" exists as an after-the-fact companion to Warren Ellis's run on "Thunderbolts." This series is in a kind of dialogue with that one, carrying the same basic premise (evil guys acting as government-sponsored good guys), the same artist (Mike Deodato, thick shadows and all), and the same Norman Osborn (played, as usual, by the face of Tommy Lee Jones, which is exceptionally distracting).
What "Dark Avengers" lacks is the kind of simmering unease that permeated Ellis's "Thunderbolts." That book festered, reveling in its own corruption. This one is no less violent, but it's less twisted -- no sword hilts made from the skin of a beloved sister -- and less inwardly directed. Even when the Thunderbolts went out into the world on a mission, Ellis gave us a sense of claustrophobia, a sense that these characters were trapped with one another -- trapped within themselves -- as painful as it might be for them.
What Brian Michael Bendis gives us is a prime-time version of that concept. The Dark Avengers approach their newfound role with a sadistic glee. The inner turmoil and corruption is still there -- these characters are not well -- but as of issue #2 it's mostly beneath the surface, manifesting itself (if at all) as petty bickering and impoliteness.
These characters are still on their best behavior with eachother, what with Norman Osborn's new international prominence and the glare of the public spotlight.
Their best behavior is still pretty damn vicious, though.
And though Bendis may enjoy writing these characters, he doesn't seem to like any of them, which frees him up to put them into motion more rapidly. He doesn't linger with the excessive banter or the decompressed character moments here. He just sets up the dogfight, pulls off the leash, and says "go!" And they do, indeed, go. All the way to Latveria, where the team is called in to provide back up for a downtrodden Doctor Doom.
This is a dark comic, as promised, with the unleashed fury of the Sentry -- who finally gets a chance to do more than just fly off into space to sulk -- and the toothy grin of Venom. Plus: Norman Osborn piloting an Iron Man suit and calling himself the "Iron Patriot." That can't be good for humanity.
It all adds up to a comic that's very different than anything Bendis has done with the Avengers before. It seems like a difficult series to sustain for very long, especially since the characters are defiantly unrepentant, but it makes for a welcome break from the trying-ever-so-hard-to-do-the-right-thing tilt of the other Avengers books. These characters do the wrong thing, repeatedly, without even trying.
Other than the Tommy Lee Jones caricature, Deodato's art looks great here. It seems more detailed than I've seen it in recent years, and he evokes the right kind of tension in both the chatty drawing room scenes and in the expansive battle sequences. And he gives us a textured splash page featuring the Sentry that comes as quite a shock, not just because of its content, but because of its visual impact.
"Dark Avengers" #2 may lack the perversity of the Ellis-era "Thunderbolts," but its still a deranged look at the Marvel Universe, and that makes for a fun, if very dark, romp.