Monday, January 18, 2010

Breaking News: Marvel Cancels New Avengers

Since Marvel turned Avengers over to Brian Michael Bendis back in 2004, his darker re-invention of the franchise, New Avengers (which also was helped out, of course, by the presence of both Spider-man and Wolverine, the company's most popular characters), has been the industry's top selling title, staying in the top ten year after year while spawning a number of spinoffs including Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers and Avengers: the Initiative. So what's Marvel's next plan for leveraging the Avengers name?


According to multiple reports (such as this one from IGN), Marvel has decided to end not just New Avengers, but all four Avengers titles, with the final issues of each comic coming at the end of the current Siege crossover event.

The question on many people's lips is, of course, why? And the answer seems to be that this was the plan all along (though it's pretty hard to tell with Marvel, who have made a habit of changing horses in mid stream and then papering over the decision). As EIC Joe Quesada notes in an essay that ran in the first issue of Siege, the current Marvel Universe as we know it is very different than the classic interpretation, a change in status quo that comes directly from the influence of Bendis and his Disassembled storyline. Now it seems (as I have been suggesting for awhile) that Captain America: Rebirth and Siege mark the end of a broad arc of plotlines that have rearranged the MU beginning most noticeably with Civil War and continuing through Secret Invasion.

Those stories, of course, resulted first in heroes turning on each other and developing a pseudo-police state to regulate superhuman activity; and then in that framework being co-opted by supervillains such as Norman Osborn in the wake of Secret Invasion. With that in mind, the return of Steve Rogers and the beginning of Siege (which itself returns Thor to the MU proper rather than the sideline he has been sitting on since his series debuted three years ago) suggest a natural endgame: that of the real heroes uniting once more to restore balance to the MU and regain their place as the nation's protectors rather than as self-destructive pariahs.

In other words, a return to the heroic status quo of the classic Marvel Universe. Marvel has strengthened this speculation by announcing The Heroic Age, an event that will follow Siege later this year and which has been teased with an image of the Big Three Avengers (Cap, Iron Man and Thor) standing together. This all suggests one thing: that the Big Three will be re-uniting and re-forming the Avengers.

And that, of course, would seem to be at odds with the underground, street level action that Bendis has been so successfully writing over the past half decade. The return of heroes would seem to mark a thematic end point for New Avengers, Dark Avengers (whose existence is intimately tied in with Siege to begin with) and Avengers: the Initiative, all of which exist mainly to deal with the ramifications of Civil War and the subsequent crossover events that followed.

In addition, though sales still remain strong on all Avengers-themed books, there has been a sense of over saturation recently, with not only four ongoing series but a number of tie ins and one shots as well. Canceling the titles, then, helps preserve the Avengers cache before it is burned out and allows Marvel to better promote and push what I think will be the inevitable climax for The Heroic Age: the relaunching of the original Avengers title with the Big Three at the center.

This also will come in time for the series to tie in nicely with the 2012 Avengers movie. That is just an added benefit, however; for long time Avengers fans like myself, the idea that we may finally be seeing the end of the Bendisvengers and the return of the "real" team, written (presumably) as protagonists we can identify with rather than a bunch of villains fighting each other, is a reason to rejoice. It's enough for me even to say that should this take place, the Bendis era can be seen in retrospect as an interesting and successful experiment. The stated goal all along was to establish the Avengers as the center of the Marvel Universe; and though I haven't been a fan of the way they have gone about it, mainly because of my dislike of the resulting stories, it has to be said that they have succeeded beyond a shadow of a doubt in that aim.

Just being able to write the words "Bendis" and "in retrospect" together is worth a small cheer, of course, but there's no guarantee that Bendis will actually be leaving the title. Indeed, in some ways it seems hard to imagine given the sales success he has had. However, a clean break would seem to make sense from a story perspective; and for Bendis, having accomplished what he set out to, with a full and complete story arc behind him, it's possisble he himself may want to move on to other challenges. For those reasons, I think it's likely that Bendis will end up leaving the Avengers franchise when (or, technically, if) it reboots with The Heroic Age. Who will take over, of course, is yet to be announced (like many fans, I am praying for Ed Brubaker). But, that's okay.

For now, this news is announcement enough.

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Finally!!! So does this mean that we are finally free of Norman Osborn appearing in every frigging book?

Bring on The Heroic Age!