Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man directed by Mark Webb

At this point, we needed another film adaptation of the Spider-Man story about as much as we needed a movie that showed the secret stripper origin of Channing Tatum. Alas, this summer we somehow ended up with both.

The story is this: Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield, whose seems to think that he was actually rebooting Sleeper, since his entire performance here is a tribute to early 70’s Woody Allen)  is a really good-looking white kid from a middle class family who happens to be the second best science student at a high school that actually has science in its name. And so he gets crowned president of the school, and spends the rest of the film being carryed around on the backs of his fellow pupils. Oh wait, no. He actually gets picked on by the other kids, which is a little like Noam Chomsky being teased at an Occupy Wall Street Rally for being a little too far to the left .

That joke was originally a sports metaphor, but then I realized that no one would believe that I knew anything about LeBron James. Which is true.

But I digress. Parker lives with Martin Sheen and Sally Field, who have been taking care of him ever since his family abandoned him for a plot device to be named later. He happens to find some formulas (forumulae? Forumulets?) left by his dad, which leads him to look up his famous scientist father on Google for the first time ever. Or was it Bing? Or Yelp. Maybe ChristianMingle. One of those. So he tracks down his father’s science buddy, gets bitten by a irradiated spider, and then proceeds to gain spider powers. There’s also a talking lizard, and a love interest that’s actually somewhat believable, and Uncle Ben dies. Or was it Uncle Ben dies ? Damn spoiler buttons.

Anyways, here’s what I liked:

The relationship between Peter Parker & Gwen Stacey.  I put this first, as it’s the best part of the movie, and the strongest case Sony (and Webb) have for convincing me that this project needed to exist. Emma Stone & Andrew Garfield have a sexual charisma that is not only rare for this type of film, but is actually so palpable that one finds himself hoping that Sony realizes these two should have been remaking 9 1/2 Weeks instead. In every scene they’re in, they look like they can’t wait for the camera to turn off so that they can screw like bunnies.

Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, 5 minutes before making Peter Parker a man in the Midtown High bathrooms.

Secondly…Umm…I just realized that was the only thing I really liked about the movie.

It’s not that there is anything “wrong” about this piece. It’s fine, really. But if you are going to “reboot” a franchise in which the last film only hit theatres 5 years ago, you better have a pretty great reason for doing so. Sony has about 750,000,000 great reasons for doing so, but none of them matter very much to me. And it’s not as if I have fond memories of Sam Raimi’s bombastic trilogy either. There was plenty of fromage in all 3 instalments (though slightly less in the second, to be sure), with the last one being one of the worst superhero films ever made. There’s less that’s “wrong” here, and I think a strong case could be argued that the tighter dialogue, and stronger cast, definitely made this a slightly more accessible offering than Raimi’s films.

But there’s nothing here that screams out “I NEEDED TO BE MADE” here, and nothing that wouldn’t have fit in (with some tweaking, to be sure) as the fourth film in an existing franchise. It’s a slightly fresher take on the origin, but not so fresh as to convince me that Webb’s vision is so different from Raimi’s (As Nolan’s on Batman was from Burton’s, for example) that this film needed to be made.

That really doesn’t matter though. What matters is this: Does this movie stand on its own two legs as a credible adventure movie? The answer is sure. Barely, but sure. As stated, the characters have a depth to them that allows me to forgive the inexcusably bad CG (Seriously. How Sony can justify CG this terrible in 2012 is beyond me. I know Webb is a character guy first, but there’s really no excuse for the poor rendering, and choppy action sequences).

And the nice tweaks to the Uncle Ben sub-plot (The only absolutely indispensable part of any Spider-Man origin), as well as the very strong motivations for Peter post spider-bite, make up for the hackneyed “LET”S DESTROY EVERYONE JUST CAUSE ARGH!!” motivations of the villain. Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, and Martin Sheen are the bedrock of a solid cast, and a decent script and some nice direction from Webb made this a fairly well-rounded summer action movie. It’s just not one you need to see. The action scenes don’t have much action in them, and there’s never any real sense of danger to any of the cast, even for the ones that actually die. In fact, it’s only when this action movie stops pretending to be an action movie, that it works on any level at all.

P.S. Peter Parker should not be cool. Ever.

Rating: B-

The Great Comic Book Cull Part 58: Marvel Comics – Spider-Woman!

A quick house-keeping thing to announce first: I’m changing the name of my culling project, as it’s fairly obvious by now that I’m not going to finish the project in 2011, or even in 2012 at this rate. Maybe I should change it to the Great Comic Book Cull of the First Half Of The Twenty-First Century.

Spider-Woman

Yep, hard to see why they keep her around.

Yes, there’s a Spider-Woman. Why? Take a seat, and I’ll tell you her story.

Turns out that Peter Parker had a cousin that was born on his home-planet but was sent to Earth on a dffe…no, wait, that’s somebody else.

Ok. I’ve got it now. So the police commissioner that works hand in hand with Spider-Man has a plucky young daughter who decides to emulat…Nope, that’s still not it.

Ok, I think I’ve got this in the bag. Peter Parker’s cousin was shot and near death when Parker decided to give her a transfus….Still not it?

You mean that she’s not connected to Peter Parker at all? There’s a character with the same name as this guy running around and there’s no connection whatsoever? Oh Marvel. Is there anything that your particular brand of crass opportunism can’t do?

This character has always been a weird one for Marvel, in that she is relatively unused compared to other Marvel characters from the same era. She was created in the late 1970’s essentially to maintain a copyright, and her first original series was a weird little horror/spy/superhero title that didn’t last long. And so she essentially disappeared for the next few decades. She would pop up once in a while, usually in the sack with Wolverine, but she was basically MIA for 20 years.

Until Brian Michael Bendis came along. After becoming Marvel’s top writer, it didn’t take for him to start digging up all of his old favourite characters from when he was a kid, and so voila, we now have Spider-Woman back! Since Bendis took an interest, we’ve seen numerous major stories and series with Jessica Drew as the lead. Unfortunately, it turns out that she may have been better served by letting her stay under the rock she was living under, as other than having one of the hottest costume in superhero history, there doesn’t seem to be too much depth to the character.

Spider-Woman – Origin

This was Bendis’ first attempt at rebuilding the origin of Jessica Drew, and it’s actually a pretty good one. Bendis uses the secret spy-underbelly of the Marvel U as his backdrop here, and weaves a competent tale of weird science, espionage, and super-heroics. It’s basically Bendis’ take on the Island of Dr. Moreau, but instead of a bear/dog/ox hybrid, we get a hot chick in spandex. Plus, it’s got the only mainstream superhero work done to date by the Luna Brothers, and they show here why they’ve become two of the preeminent adventure storytellers in comics right now. Solid read.

KEEP

Spider-Woman – Agent Of S.W.O.R.D.

So Marvel does the first mini. It’s well-received, and so they announce that they’re going to do a follow-up right afterwards. Only one problem: The Spider-Woman that we knew and loved, wasn’t actually Spider-Woman. It was an alien shape-shifter who was secretly leading an alien invasion of earth! DUN DUN DUUUUNNNNN!

And so this long-awaited series by the creative team behind one of the greatest Daredevil runs of all time was put on hiatus for a few years. And by the time it finally came out, no one cared, least of all the creative team. The problem with achieving greatness is that you’re expected to be able to repeat it, and the much-lauded team of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev just couldn’t duplicate either the commercial or the critical acclaim they had achieved before.

And so the series ended after only a handful of issues. It gets unjustly criticized in my book though. This isn’t a bad comic, it’s just that it’s “just” a well-executed  little spy/crime tale, and we had been told to expect epic brilliance from this particular team, on this particular concept. Maleev’s artwork is truly stunning here. Despite his lack of interest in the project, I don’t believe his pencils have ever looked better, before or since.

KEEP

Next up: Squadron Supreme!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 57: Marvel Comics – Spider-Man Part 3!

Spider-Man – Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Vol. 1 & 2

Yes, I’m a straight male in my 30s. And yes I have lots of comics with punching, and kicking and shooting. And boobies. And I also have these: Some of the best romance comics you’ll ever read in your life.

This is the story of a young high-school student named Mary Jane Watson. She’s pretty, she’s smart, and she has a crush on a guy who dresses up as a human spider. It’s a slightly alternate take on the early days of Spider-Man, and specifically aimed at the teen girl audience. So why do I own these? And love them? Because genre doesn’t matter to me. I love good stories with interesting characters, and these have both in spades. These are well-crafted relationship comics, expertly done by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa. The familiar backdrop of Peter Parker’s tumultuous high school love life is the setting here, and as such it takes some minor familiarity with the Spider-Man legend. What do you need to know? That Peter Parker is Spider-Man. That’s it, but you do need to know it in advance as the series itself never actually states it. Again, this is a story about Mary Jane. Spider-Man is just one of the characters in her life. Two, actually, as he and Peter Parker are very much treated as separate entities, although we know they’re not.

I know, this is an unconventional choice for a superhero comic. But it’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s got some great character beats.

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Spider-Man & Human Torch – I’m With Stupid

This is one of the first things that Dan Slott ever did for Marvel Comics, and it’s a big part of the reason why he’s currently the Shepherd of all-things Spidey. Why? Because it’s fun. So much fun. If your Spidey is the Marvel Team-Up Spidey of the late 1970s and 1980s, this book is for you. It’s the story of two friends, Spidey, and the Human Torch. Now, they may not always know that they’re friends, and sometimes they don’t act like it, but they are. Best friends in fact. And so Slott puts them through hijinks after hijinks, and what we get is just a good, all-ages superhero story, the likes of which are few and far between these days.

KEEP

YAY! No more Spider-Man!

What’s next?

Spider-Woman. Boo.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 56: Marvel Comics – Spider-Man Part 2!

Spider-Man: The JMS years

Because his run ended in scandal and controversy, it’s tempting to dismiss all of J. Michael Straczynskis long tenure on Spider-Man as disposable. Far from it. In fact, it’s JMS’ run that got me back reading Spider-Man after years and years away from the book. People forget that before JMS, Spider-Man was a floundering stunt book full of clones, death, and sadness, and featured every dumb gimmick Marvel could think of to bolster sales. JMS went back to basics on the character, but also attempted to add some depth to his origin. Peter Parker as avatar of a long dead Spider-God might not have taken off with the masses the way Marvel hoped, but they’ve had worse ideas over the years, and the concept garnered some great stories. And some terrible ones.

Amazing Spider-Man – Coming Home, Revelations, Until The Stars Turn Cold, The Life & Death of Spiders, Unintended Consequences, Happy Birthday, The Book Of Ezekiel

This run started off with a huge bang. JMS introduces Morlun, a new addition to Spidey’s rogues gallery, and one that was perfect as a starting point for what the writer was trying to accomplish in his run. JMS is known as a fairly talky writer, and to his credit he counteracted that by putting together one of the great Spider-Man battles as his first order of business. And not only is there plenty of action, but there’s also plenty of attention being paid to characterization. No, it’s not the same Peter Parker stumbling through personal problem after personal problem that we know and love. This Parker is starting to get his shit together. And we love him for it. After Morlun, comes the big reveal: Aunt May finds out that Peter is Spider-Man. And so we get several years of poignant character moments between those two icons that we’d never been privy to before, simply because of one simple change to the status quo.Also? Funny. Really funny. JMS’ Spidey isn’t quite as quippy as previous incarnations have been, but the laughs are subtle, and frequent. Oh, and John Romita Jr turns in some of the greatest art he’s ever done. And this is a guy who turns in great art the way you turn in your parking pass at work. It’s a regular occurrence. In short, the first 7 trades of this run are pretty much magic.

Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Past, Skin Deep, New Avengers, Spider-Man – One More Day, The Other, Back In Black

And then one day the magic died. I’m not sure whether or not it was John Romita leaving the book, the heavy-handed interference from Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, or something else that caused the not-so-gradual decline of this book, but decline it did. It was obvious by this point that JMS’ heart wasn’t in the comic anymore, and Sins Past was just the first of many terrible creative decisions. Mistake number one: Introducing two new villains as the long-lost love children of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osbourne. Stacy is a much-loved character in the Marvel canon, so much so that her 1973 death is considered the official end of the Silver Age of comics. To retcon her into a needy whore with daddy issues enraged fans and critics alike. And worst of all, it wasn’t a good story. And that was just beginning of two years worth of terrible decisions: Peter joins The Avengers. Peter tells the world his secret identity. Peter makes a deal with Satan to nullify his marriage with the love of his life in order to save the life of a woman near death anyways. Nah, that last one would never happen. Oh, wait. It did? Crap. As I said, it’s obvious from the quality of this dreck that JMS was under the gun here, and that he was essentially under orders for a lot of this. And since he’s written some fine comics since then he can be forgiven. But the end of this run was where a lot of long-time Spidey fans jumped off the book, and judging from recent sales numbers, they never came back.

CULL

Spider-Man – Tangled Web Vol. 1-4

This was a series that ran concurrently with a lot of JMS’ run, and man is it ever missed. Basically the premise of this is that it’s an anthology series, featuring stories both short and long, that fit neatly into the Spider-Man mythos, but don’t always star Spider-Man. And to top it off, if features plenty of indie and top creators that aren’t always known for their take on superheroes.And so you get fantastic, quirky little Spider-Man stories by people like Duncan Fegredo, Garth Ennis, Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso, Paul Pope, Peter Milligan, Brian Azzarello, Sean Phillips, Darwyn Cooke, Kaare Andrews, and Ted McKeever. Now, this book isn’t for those who need continuity and punch-ups to pervade every page of their comics. But if you love short, stand-alone superhero stories by unconventional creators, you’re not going to get much better than this.

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Spider-Man: Blue by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb

This was from a brief moment a decade ago where the pairing of Loeb and Sale could do no wrong. Every publisher wanted them to work their magic on character after character. It’s popular now to trash Jeph Loeb for every thing he’s written in the last 5 years. But his work with Sale still stands up. For the most part. This is a small story about Peter Parker reminiscing about the first love of his life, Gwen Stacy. And so there is plenty of over-the-top schmaltz, but it’s good schmaltz, and quite frankly it’s the stuff than Loeb writes the best. But as pretty much everything that Loeb and Sale did together, it’s Tim Sale that isn’t just the real star, he’s the whole damn thing. I don’t think I could name 5 mainstream artists that are operating at the level that Sale is at, and this is a great example of his finest work. As a Spider-Man story, I can’t say that it’s particularly engaging. But as an example of one of the best writer-artist partnerships of the last 20 years, it’s pretty much essential.

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Spider-Man – Kraven’s Last Hunt

This is the greatest Spider-Man story ever told. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. And for once, I agree with conventional wisdom. This story, originally done in the late 1980’s, stars Kraven, a Spider-Man villain who never really fulfilled his promise as a bad guy. Although he always had a great look, he was a fairly one-note character. That is, until J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck got ahold of him. This is really his story, and it’s the story of a dying man. Nothing is wrong with him per se, but he’s at the end of his life, and he knows it. And so he wants to do one last thing: Destroy Spider-Man. Not kill, though that’s part of it. Destroy. And for Kraven, destroying your greatest enemy means becoming him. And he does.

This, my fine friends, is one of the great ones. One of the true, epic superhero stories that give you faith in a genre famous for telling truly epic stories. And it stands up so well. Even though it’s 25 years old by now, it would still kick the ass of 99% of the superhero comics out right now in terms of emotional impact, and in terms of pure entertainment.

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Spider-Man: Fever 

Ok, here’s what you do. Grab a Spider-Man comic. Any one, really. Ok, start reading. Now, smoke a carton of cigarettes. I’ll wait. Done? Ok, now here’s a thermos full of whiskey, beer, and coffee, and I’m going to need you drink that in one shot. Oh, and I’m going to need to inject your eyeballs with heroin and speed.

Now you know what reading Brendan McCarthy’s Fever is like. It’s a trippy mindfuck to end all trippy mindfucks, and it’s more about paying tribute to 1960’s Steve Ditko Doctor Strange comics than it is about telling a solid superhero story. If you love batshit crazy indie comics (and I do), then this book is for you. And only for you.

KEEP

Next up: Spider-Man and his little buddies!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 55: Marvel Comics – Spider-Man Part 1!

The greatest superhero of all time.

It’s taken me a while to get back to my culling project, mostly because I’m sick to death of my culling project. The problem is that I read so far ahead of what I was writing about, that I actually lost interest in it by the time I had to write about it. Plus, me not so interested in superhero comics anymore, and it’s still going to be a while before we get to the indie and creator owned stuff that I really enjoy. Still, I’d like to finish what I started, and so I give to you this:

Spider-Man is the greatest superhero of all time.

Yep, I said it. No take backsies. I’d fight anybody (well, not ANYBODY. If you’re a UFC fighter, or a professional soldier I just don’t think that would be very fair. Or if you ever took a self-defence course. Or watched a lot of martial arts movies. Or if you own a baseball bat) who says differently. Why, you ask? It’s not because of the suit, though the design and look of Spider-Man is a huge part of the character’s success. And it’s not because of the powers, though again, awesome.

It’s because of his origin. It’s the greatest in comics. Better than Superman (illegal immigrant becomes neo-messiah), better than Green Lantern (thrill-seeking diva is given magic jewlery by alien Chamber Of Commerce), and yes, I dare say it’s even better than Batman (spoiled rich kid sees his parents killed, becomes spoiled rich adult who also is absolutely crazy). Batman’s may be the most tragic, but Spider-Man’s is better. Why? Because it’s his fault. When people think of Spider-Man’s origin they usually think of the spider biting him after class, but me? I think of Uncle Ben.

After Peter Parker figures out he has godlike spider powers, he does what any of us would do: He robs a bank and bangs hookers. No actually, he becomes a professional wrestler. He wears a mask while he does so because Aunt May was hoping that he would grow up to rob banks and bang hookers, and he’s embarrassed that he didn’t live up to her expectations. One day, a thief makes his way into the arena that Parker is working at, and although Parker has plenty of opportunity to stop the villain, he lets him go. And so of course in the middle of a city full of 9 million people, the bad guy just happens to stumble into Peter’s Uncle Ben immediately afterward, and kills him dead.

It’s Parker’s own fault. That’s the whole crux of this guy. He was given a great gift, he didn’t use it properly, and he paid the ultimate price. It’s so simple, and yet it’s almost never used in superhero comics anymore. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he has the perfect motivation for doing what he does, and without motivation, you just have a guy who likes to dress in fetish gear and likes to get punched in the face.

That’s why he’s stuck around so long. More than any other hero, he truly understands what a responsibility he has, and as such, is probably the only true hero in a universe full of pretenders.

Spider-Man: Essential Spider-Man 1-6

I’ve mentioned numerous times throughout this project that I’ve gotten rid of most of my Marvel Essentials, and although the actual quality of the comics these are reprinting are unmistakable, the quality of the reprints themselves just doesn’t do these comics justice. These collect the run of Amazing Spider-Man from the early 1960’s to the early 1970’s, and are as close to the Holy Grail as you’re going to get in superhero comics: Stan Lee. Steve Ditko. John Buscema. Roy Thomas. The first appearance of Spider-Man. Flash Thompson. The Kingpin. The Green Goblin. The Death of Uncle Ben. Glory Grant. J. Jonah Jameson. The death of Gwen Stacy. And so on.

When it comes to the Silver Age of superhero comics, it doesn’t get better than this. And yet, I’m getting rid of them. The Essential line are basically cheap, black and white reprints of classic comics, and while they are eminently affordable, you do get what you pay for, and sadly reading these digitally and in colour on my iPad is a more fulfilling experience than these black and white cheapies.

CULL

Spider-Man: Greatest Villains

This was a collection of some of the greatest stories involving some Spider-Man’s greatest villains (Green Goblin, Mysterio, Sandman, Venom, etc). Like the Essential line, the quality of the stories themselves are not in doubt, but the quality of the presentation sadly is. LIke many Marvel trades from the late 90’s, the glue on has deteriorated to the point that it’s unreadable, and therefore not worth owning.

CULL

Spider-Man & Black Cat - The Evil That Men Do

This was from the brief period in the late 90’s/early 2000’s in which Kevin Smith was considered to be a good comic book writer. Thankfully, that time seems to be over now, and it’s rare that any of the major comic book companies will let Smith near their characters. But the comics from this period are still around, and this one might be one of the worst. Smith reimagines long time Spider-Man supporting character Black Cat as a bisexual vamp whose previously unmentioned rape was a big motivator for her beating up bad guys. It’s turgid, over-the-top, and barely readable. In short, it’s Kevin Smith. Terry Dodgson’s art is fun, and as one would expect, his Black Cat is about as sexy as is legally allowed in comic books. But it’s not enough to save this turkey.

CULL

Next up: More Spider-Man!

 

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 33: More Avengers

Avengers West Coat – Vision Quest

I’m really not sure how it’s possible that I only have one West Coast Avengers trade, as I loved this book in the late ’80s when it originally came out.This trade focuses on John Byrne’s run on the book. There are lots of interesting stuff here: The first appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, the foreshadowing of Scarlet Witch’s eventual meltdown, and a complete retcon of the origin of the Vision. Plus John Byrne’s pencils were great on this run. I’m definitely looking for more trades from this era ASAP.

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Avengers – Red Zone

It didn’t take Marvel long to try to scoop DC’s Geoff Johns up for one of their books, but for some reason the pairing never seemed to click. His run got a LOT of online heat from fans, and proved to be controversial. Nothing like what was to come when Brian Michael Bendis took over the book, but at this point, Marvel still hadn’t quite cottoned to the fact that if they wanted the Avengers to become a top-tier book, they were going to need to do some serious changing. So while Johns run is edgier than previous writer’s attempts to reboot the Avengers, it still comes across as slightly forced. That being said, I did enjoy this far more than I thought I would. The “big reveal” of the arc’s villain still comes across as quite hackneyed, and not well-thought out at all, but it’s still quite a good read. Some good character moments between Black Panther and Iron Man as well. There are a few other trades from Johns’ run that I may track down now.

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New Avengers – Breakout, The Sentry, Secrets & Lies, The Collective, Civil War, Revolution, The Trust, Secret Invasion Books 1 & 2, Power, Search For The Sorcerer supreme, Powerloss, Siege, New Avengers

So it’s 2004, and Marvel finally realizes that the Avengers are done. Not the concept, but the team as it currently stood. The book had been running on fumes for quite a while, and even bringing in superstar writer Geoff Johns to revive the teams fortunes hadn’t grown any traction with fans. The book was is in the doldrums. Enter Brian Michael Bendis. By this point, Bendis had garnered some serious goodwill among Marvel fans for his runs on Daredevil, Alias, and Ultimate Spider-Man. But he had never really tackled anything with quite as big a potential scope as the Avengers. Could he pull it off? Could he make the Avengers relevant again?

From a commercial standpoint, the answer was unequivocably yes. Not only did he make the Avengers relevant again, Marvel essentially rebuilt the entire framework of the Marvel Universe around the work Bendis did on New Avengers. It became Marvel’s flagship book, usurping Spider-Man and X-Men as the top draws at the company. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the title’s success had a large part to do with Marvel realizing that an Avengers movie could work.

From a quality standpoint, the answer is a little more complicated. It’s Brian Bendis. Which means the book went from becoming a light-hearted adventure-of-the-week book to a dark, conspiracy-laden, dialogue-heavy, noir thriller. Whether you liked it had a lot to do with how much you liked Brian Bendis’ writing. I for one loved it, and still do. In fact, my appreciation of what he’s done for the book has only increased upon revisiting the work.

The first thing Bendis realized is that if he was to make this work, if he was to completely revitalize the very concept of the Avengers, he was going to have to make some tough choices. And so he threw out the baby with the bath water. In fact, he didn’t just throw out the baby, he drowned it at the bottom of the tub. He damaged Avengers Mansion, killed fan-favourite character Hawkeye (and didn’t just kill him, but gave him one of the most ignoble deaths a well-known character has ever gotten, and dismantled the team.

Enter New Avengers. The premise here was to organically grow a “street-level” team of some of Marvel’s top characters, as well as some of Bendis’ favourites. And so perennial C listers Luke Cage and Spider-Woman joined team stalwarts Iron Man and Captain America. In addition, he also brought triple A listers Wolverine and Spider-Man into the fold to garner the favour of casual fans. He also threw the Sentry into the mix, just to provide some tension. This doesn’t sound so crazy now, but at the time all of these changes were considered blasphemy, and the changes Bendis brought to the Avengers were probably the most radical since the mid-’60’s. He also provided an opportunity for more casual fans to experience the adventures of their favourites  without having to actually follow what was happening in their own books. Even though I love the team, I’m the first one to admit that not only was this not your daddy’s Avengers, it really wasn’t the Avengers at all. The team didn’t have any type of government mandate, almost never went on patrol, and really just stumbled from adventure to adventure. And for me, that was ok. And still is.

Those looking for holes to poke won’t have to look far however. While there is some long-term plotting here (the buildup to Secret Invasion, the slow recreation of Luke Cage becoming one of Marvel’s top-tier heroes), and some ideas took almost 4 years to pay off, it does seem as if Bendis viewed what was happening in the rest of the Marvel Universe as somewhat of an inconvenience. The Civil War storyline in particular seemed to take Bendis by surprise, though he deftly brought it into his master plan relatively painlessly. I’ll also never fully believe Bendis’ claims that he had the entire arc of Spider-Woman’s character planned out in advance, as the events of Secret Invasion seemed to fly in the face of reason. And while I happen to enjoy Bendis’ Mametian maelstroms of dialogue, they’re not for everyone, and one of the major criticisms of the book was (and still is) that it’s heavy on exposition, low on action. I think that was a legitimate comment at one point, but Bendis seems to have captured a solid middle ground now, blending character development with action much better than he did at the start of his run. Another critique that is often made of the book is the art. Although David Finch garnered few complaints when he started the book, he handed the reigns over to darker, more stylized artists like Lenil Yu and Alex Maleev, whose work seems to have antagonized long-time fans. Again, this happens to be a matter of taste. I happen to think Alex Maleev is one of comics unheralded geniuses, but those looking for a more traditional, detailed look weren’t happy.

For the most part, Bendis’ New Avengers has been a wholly entertaining thrill ride of a superhero comic book. Though not for everybody, I think it’s really set the bar a little higher for what is possible  (and also necessary in order to capture a modern audience) with team superhero books in the 21st century.

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Next up: Wow. More Avengers. Whee.