Adventures in Bendisshitting #2: Avengers Disassembled
NOTE: I know I said next installment was House of M, but I forgot that chronologically Avengers Disassembled comes first in the greater tapestry of Bendis suckage. So next time will be House of M. Promise
You kids may not know this, but the Avengers were not always the crown jewel of the Marvel Universe. They used to be downright B-list. While Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s run was critically acclaimed, well regarded, it lacked the “it” factor that prompted a flurry of discussion and speculation. As evidence of how far the series had fallen after Busiek and Perez decamped and before Bendis took over, Chuck Austen was writing it. You don’t give Chuck Austen books you care about. In came Bendis. The bald one would go on to “revolutionize” the Avengers concept by adding Spider-Man and Wolverine to the lineup. Sure, technically Mark Millar came up with the idea and Millar’s Ultimates run reinvigorated interest in the set of characters associated with the Avengers, but on the other hand, Bendis sure did shove Spider-Woman down people’s throats. But before any of that could happen, he needed to tear down the old. Disassembled is as artful as a Law & Order character departure and about as well written. Hell, if Hawkeye had exited the book by asking Cap “is this because I’m a lesbian?”–better comic. (Of course, if that happened, readers would be wondering why Greg Rucka was writing under Bendis’ name.) Avengers Disassembled is poorly paced, full of characters saying and doing stupid shit, and it sacrifices characterization for plot expediency. In other words: a Bendis comic.
Hank Pym: “Oh but when SHE does it it’s okay???”
The story begins, as most do, with the Avengers discussing which villains they’d like to fuck. This is the down to earth characterization Bendis brings to the table: Hawkeye admitting he wants to bone Madame Hydra. This may surprise you, but Bendis was hailed for his realistic dialogue during his rise to prominence. It’s realistic only if you believe people are imbeciles who spew torrents of sewage out of their mouths. Then yeah, Bendis writes realistic dialogue. The other line of praise is that he writes distinctive dialogue, which is also false. Most of his characters sound alike. This isn’t a problem in and of itself; most characters sound similar unless you go the Claremont route and give half the cast offensive “accents”. But with the exception of his “urban” characters, Bendis can do basically two voices: neurotic Jewish person and David Mamet character with a head injury. The separation between the two is thin and blurry. It’s the reason I’m afraid to reread his Daredevil run; I might not like what I see. But that’s neither here nor there. Before the conversation can end of its own volition, a priority alert goes off: it’s Jack of Hearts, recently killed during Geoff Johns’ run. The Avengers run out to see what’s up with him, he explodes, Ant-Man is killed. The artist goes so far as to depict a tiny skeletal hand, which I appreciated.
Bendis saw the Seinfeld about George’s girlfriend saying “happy, pappy?” and felt attacked.
That’s not all. A Quinjet comes flying in and the Vision pukes up some silver balls containing Ultrons. In my Secret War review I brought up the post-9/11 environment that comic existed in and Disassembled is no different. One can’t help but think of that day when a Quinjet slams into Avengers Mansion. I’m not sure how much of this is pop culture reflecting that grim cataclysm and how much is a fixation on Bendis’ part, though I think one could argue that Bendis event comics are oriented around disproportionate responses to trauma-inducing events. Anyway, She-Hulk loses it and rips Vision in half. There was a prior scene in which Tony Stark, then-Secretary of Defense for the Bush administration, threatens to murder the Latverian ambassador at the UN. He’s accused of being drunk, because drinking and homicide go hand in hand. Also hand in hand with being drunk, apparently: calling people “rat fink”. And “pally”. Bendis has never had a Duff in his life. Let me tell you, if alcohol made you talk like a James Cagney character, I never would’ve stopped.
Literal transcript of John Bolton’s comments about Iran. Bendis packs each issue with deft political allegory.
The Avengers are in disarray, all the while two lower faces are talking to each other about whether or not to kill them. “And what would that prove? It has no meaning that way. You’re so stupid.” Wasp is in hospital, Captain Britain (the female one Chuck Austen created) is in hospital, She-Hulk is in SHIELD custody, meaning all the female characters are conveniently comatose. The second issue doesn’t move the plot along so much as it centers a long discussion between Avengers (only the fellas!) that is so inane and pointless it may make Avengers #501 the single worst issue of the story arc. Hawkeye puts forth the argument the Avengers deserved it, citing the work of Ward Churchill and indicting individual team members as stewards of the radical rapacious capitalism that has destabilized the Third World. No, not really, it’s some other garbage, but wouldn’t it be cool if Clint Barton called Captain America “a little Eichmann”? Yellowjacket accuses Iron Man of being drunk, he denies, Hawkeye goes into a dumb tangent about his drunk father and admits Tony is “kind of wobbly now. I thought it was from all the drama [multiple teammates dying, several others injured…you know, DRAMA], but–” and the accused takes off. Bendis gives all the dumbest asshole lines to Hawkeye and it’s actually clever foreshadowing for when he is stupidly killed off in the next issue. That’s good writing: make the readers hate somebody to the extent that reaction to his death is muted. “Good riddance, dipshit!”
Another subtle political allusion that transcends time and space: here She-Hulk is mimicking the “whywhywhywhy” Biden video.
Ah, but is #501 the worst when #502 opens with all the reserve Avengers assembled in front of the mansion’s gates, with Nick Fury and Reed Richards arguing over whether or not they should be there? Fury contends it’s a “live crime scene” and “any one of you could be emitting toxins or radiations” that would disrupt field readings. Classic Bendis: offer a patina of realism that never comes to anything. The story will never hinge on field readings. This discussion is moot because not only is it interrupted with news that the UN was dropping the Avengers like they were accused of abusing Evan Rachel Wood but also another attack, this time by Kree ships. It’s at this point I realized the reserve Avengers splash pages were so David Finch could draw Spider-Man and sell some pencils. None of these characters play a significant role in the issue or the next one. They’re background fodder, no more. I don’t consider Spider-Man doing valet jokes essential to the narrative. The cover to #502 depicts Wasp, Yellowjacket, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch and claims one of them will die. Well, Wasp is in hospital, Yellowjacket is at her side and Scarlet Witch has been conspicuously absent for almost the entire story. So yeah, Hawkeye dies and you won’t believe how stupid it is.
Oh, so Marvel won’t let Fury or Wolverine smoke but don’t worry about children emulating Hawkeye’s suicide bombing?
For one thing, he calls the Kree “ya l’il pishers” and “blue !@#$%”, establishing Bendis dialogue can reach new depths all the time. Hawkeye’s quiver catches fire and rather than take it off, which a non-idiot would do, he grabs a Kree soldier and flies them both into a ship while screaming “NOT LIKE THIS!”. The implication is he doesn’t want to die from his backpack being on fire, he wants his death to mean something, like if he 9/11s into a Kree ship. It doesn’t stop the attack; the Kree teleport away on their own irrespective of Hawkeye’s dumbass sacrifice. If Bendis wanted an anticlimactic, moronic exit for a classic character he couldn’t have done it better. The assembled heroes check out the downed ship and realize it’s not made of paper. OR metal. Well, those are the two common spaceship construction materials, paper and metal. Dr. Strange’s appearance renders the mystery moot and the reader remembers the story is titled “Chaos” and Scarlet Witch, who has been absent for multiple issues now, uses chaos magic. Do you GET IT yet, you fucking idiot? Avengers Disassembled does a poor job disproving comics are for dumb babies.
Gonna hop on Twitter and cancel Spider-Man’s robophobic ass
Don’t worry, we’re in the home stretch. Only two more issues to go, and one of them is an epilogue jam issue that I’m only covering out of a sense of completism. Immediately the issue places blame on a woman’s breakdown: another woman! See, Wasp and Scarlet Witch are poolside in a flashback, and Wasp casually drops that she had a pregnancy scare from her dalliances with Hawkeye (a plot point emerging from the ever loathsome Chuck Austen run, naturally). She mentions Wanda tried having two kids, confusing her, because Wanda doesn’t remember her children. Wasp makes an excuse about needing to piss and having too much to drink and leaves. See, no, this is clever, because it’s an allusion to original sin. Just like with original sin, the sin here is committed by a woman and is responsible for the downfall of the Avengers. Bendis packs his writing with meaning. There’s a reason Joe Quesada tried to call him “Marvel’s Joyce” before the marketing department intervened.
It’s impossible to discern what the worst part of this panel is. Try it. You can’t do it!
Dr. Strange shows up in his astral form to explain that chaos magic doesn’t exist and Wanda is dangerously unhinged from reality. He knows this and yet he has to ask around for what happened to her children. So much of the issue is Dr. Strange manufacturing consent for “Scarlet Witch is evil now” while members of the assembled crowd go “no! She wouldn’t!”. Keep in mind previous comics resolved the Wanda and her kids saga, to the point that she remembers what happened to them, but why let continuity ruin a story that derives its emotional heft from that same continuity? Research is for squares. There’s like six pages of Strange going through laborious motions to explain the premise of the story, yet he (Strange and Bendis) never succeeds at demonstrating Scarlet Witch is an actual character with agency. The doctor has the pretty fucked up line “she played mommy to make herself feel like someone she thinks is normal” (emphasis Bendis). Anyway, the big fight between the Avengers and the constructs created by Scarlet Witch is really an excuse for David Finch to go hog wild because it doesn’t matter narratively. Wanda is instead defeated by a battle of gibberish words with Dr. Strange. It takes a skilled writer to get me to invest in magic battles, and Bendis is not up to the task. I don’t know what the stakes are or if there are any stakes. At best I can glean that the Sorceror Supreme outwords the crazy lady. He is the master of saying nonsense in a weird different font, after all.
There Scarlet Witch goes, uttering her famous catchphrase.
My favorite part of Avengers Disassembled comes in the final pages. Strange has rendered Wanda comatose; she’s alive but nobody’s home. Before there can be a discussion of what to do with this braindead mass murderer, Magneto swoops in and asks for his then-daughter. (As of now Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are not Magneto’s children as a result of an editorial move to disassociate them because of film rights issues. Of course, now they’re all under the Disney roof so we’ll see how long it takes for that retcon to itself be retconned. Boy, aren’t comics fucking STUPID?) Rather than say something like “no, you’re a supervillain, fuck off”, the Avengers give in pretty much because it’s been a long day. Keep in mind, this isn’t dad coming to the party after Wanda got too drunk, threw up on someone’s bed and gave Black Knight a handjob in full view of everyone. Magneto has no rehabilitation skills; at best his positives are he’s angry and can fuck up VCR settings with the wave of a hand.
I feel like once you let the terrorist take the woman you relinquish the right to ask questions about it.
Yet off he absconds with his wayward daughter, not before muttering that Xavier was right, suggesting there’s some broader awareness of these events in the universe. So Xavier saw Ant-Man was dead and thought “the lady crazy about babies is to blame!”. Why the fuck didn’t he help out? See, that’s why you don’t bring them up. Also, if you’re wondering why Nick Fury is in this comic when he went underground at the end of the last series I covered, well, the answer is that was massively delayed, this came out in the interim and there’s no real way to square the two so just shut the hell up. The comic ends with a reprint of pages from an early Avengers comic to create a contrast between the innocent days of the Silver Age to the fucked up early 2000s when it was Iraq War this and letting Michael Rapaport having a sitcom that. It’s a cheap way at achieving gravitas, creating this dichotomy that the Silver Age was for stupid babies but now comics are for MEN and women who will be accused of not actually liking comics so often you wonder why they bother. DC did the a lot of the same thing around this time, most notably Identity Crisis, and it was irritating there too.
“Dashing”? I don’t care for that kind of editorializing from my newspaper. I will be the judge of who and who is not dashing!!
Since I like to waste my time I thought I’d cover Avengers Finale for this article despite it technically not being part of “Chaos”. You know it’s “good” when Yellowjacket and Wasp are visiting the grounds of the destroyed Avengers Mansion and Wasp asks “what are you thinking, Dr. Pym?” “I don’t want to say” he responds as they share knowing looks. The way this plays out and due to a lack of a better explanation, I’m forced to assume Pym is broaching the prospect of fucking at the ruins of the mansion, suggesting he’s like a character in David Cronenberg’s Crash and can only get hard at tragedies. Zoom in on Amazing Spider-Man #122 and he’s jerking off in the background of the Gwen Stacy crime scene. Mutant Massacre? More like Hank Pym Massacring His Meat. Look, as a Hank Pym fan, if this takes heat off the domestic abuse angle I’m okay with it. The remaining major Avengers have gathered to pay tribute to their fallen and to think about happier times. Iron Man loudly proclaims the upside to multiple comrades dead and another a lobotimized mass murderer is his secret identity is back. “Most people believe that Tony Stark and Iron Man are now two completely different people.” Bitch, you were wearing Iron Man armor at the fucking United Nations!
“The last time I articulated what I was thinking everyone got really mad at us!”
If current events have taught us anything, 10% of the nation believes Tony Stark is a reptilian child trafficker, to say nothing of the Iron Man issue. I guess if a billionaire former Secretary of Defense promises he’s no longer wearing the armored costume he lied about not wearing for 40 years we’re to take him at his word. Tony goes on a spiel about not being able to fund the team anymore and the static reaction shot of the Avengers is golden. Member by member everyone gives a reason for why they can’t be an Avenger anymore, from Captain Britain fucking off to TERF Island and not even staying for the rest of the remembrance to the Pyms also going there for Hank’s fellowship at Oxford. The final segment of the issue consists of double splash pages, many from Bendis buds such as Michael Oeming and David Mack. It’s framed around “your favorite memory as an Avenger” but eventually becomes “Steve McNiven wanted to draw a guy wailing on Ultron so that’s yours, Falcon”. Finally, I cackle as the assembled toast to their fallen, which balloons to all of them, as in Gilgamesh and Thunderstrike get namechecks. Gilgamesh!
Avengers Disassembled Bendis must be pissed Avengers Finale Bendis is poking so many holes in the event. Either that or we have the first case of a fictional character literally being smarter than its writer.
The final spread says it all for me. The Avengers leave the guts of the mansion for outdoors and are met with a crowd of people with signs affirming their love for the team and it’s all very 9/11-y. There are multiple “Never Forgets” in the crowd. “Always Our Heroes”…isn’t this just smuggling in sentiment for first responders after a terrorist attack and using it to prop up weird people in spandex? I’m not saying you can’t mingle the real world with the fictional, but you have to be more thoughtful than Bendis is. What Disassembled amounts to is this: 9/11 happened to the Avengers and now they have all sorts of sympathy. I’m pretty sure the public doesn’t know Scarlet Witch is responsible, which means Bendis fumbled an awesome opportunity for the MU public to eventually figure out Avengers 9/11 was, in fact, an inside job. J. Jonah Jameson narrating Loose Quiver is something I never knew I needed until now.
See, they’re evil cause they’re gingers.
Of course it’d be negligent on my part if I didn’t discuss the art. While this may be Adventures in Bendisshitting, the artwork is a necessary complement to his writing. David Finch is an artist whose work adorns comics that I enjoy in spite of him, not because of him. He’s fine, all right? But he definitely distinguishes himself as a Wildstorm/Top Cow kind of guy and Bendis’ dialogue heavy work does not mesh with that style. Imagine an Aaron Sorkin script directed by the Beyond the Black Rainbow guy and you have an idea of the tonal clash the two create. (Actually now I want to see Panos Cosmatos try his best at salvaging one of the many unfilmed Studio 60 scripts Sorkin no doubt has lying around.) That said, the best moments of the series are undoubtedly the ones Finch is responsible. There’s a lovely double page spread in which the Avengers fight apparitions of their greatest foes. So Ms. Marvel fights Rogue, Spider-Man fights clones of himself, Jocasta fights Ultron…and then Stingray fights Tigra. What? They’re the only Avengers to fight each other. That interests me. I want to know why they’re opposing. Is it as simple as cats hate water? There are a slew of Avengers Disassembled tie-in comics, most of them lousy. I think Avengers Disassembled: Stingray vs. Tigra would be a welcome miniseries that traces the origin of their enmity. Be better than the rest of this shit.
Master of the written word, Brian Michael Bendis
As a shakeup of the Avengers franchise, Dissassembled is undoubtedly a success. It puts the characters in a position that allows for New Avengers to occur. That doesn’t make a good story, however, or a necessary one. Any number of reasons could be found for the breakdown of the traditional team apparatus and it wouldn’t require killing off multiple characters for shock value and turning another into a delusional baby crazy psychotic. Roster shakeups have happened before with less. Bendis illustrates no understanding of characters, which can be considered nitpicking, but it also can’t be that hard to find a scribe who doesn’t write characters with decades of history as though they grew up in lead paint households. I could also go into the gender politics in this comic a little more, but this article is running long; suffice it to say they’re not on. None of [gestures] is on. New Avengers is a marginally better series but it still leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth the stupid route taken to get there. Again, “Captain America and Iron Man start a new team that’s in a tower instead of a mansion” is not a radical paradigm shift.
My favorite sign: either Hawkeye Forever or the one that’s just Wonder Man’s logo. Imagine the kind of loser you’d have to be to be repping Wonder Man.
Final thing: Someone left a comment on the Secret War review, suggesting I only complain about Bendis because I have no talent and accused me of being a Rob Liefeld fan. Well, sir, I may have no talent, but I am no Liefeld fan. Moreover, I’ll always have one thing in abundance that Brian Michael Bendis lacks: hair. Take that, you bald asshole!