Once upon a time, writer Brian Michael Bendis tore the Avengers apart. AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED stands as one of the most tragic Avengers stories ever written. It also remains one of the best Avengers stories. It paved the way for what came next. Not too long after breaking them down, Bendis found himself building the Avengers right back up. Enter Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS.

You know the deal: on a day unlike any other, a group of heroes came together to face a threat no single hero could face, yada, yada, yada. New threats needed a new team of Avengers to face them. This time around, though, things were going to be very different.

From the onset, it was clear Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS stood to redefine the familiar. He didn’t just introduce new players into the Avengers fold. He completely changed the way the world viewed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They went from being just that to feeling more like real people. They weren’t just a team, they were a family, with a bond stronger than perhaps even the original Avengers.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve got Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS on the mind, it’s because AVENGERS: ENDGAME is right around the corner. I figure what better time to take a look at some great Avengers stories than right now? So, in honor of the upcoming film, let’s take a look at Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS, a series that redefined Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

Cover to NEW AVENGERS #1. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

A Brief History of Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS

I’ll only be covering Bendis’ first volume of NEW AVENGERS in this retrospective piece. So, that’s NEW AVENGERS (2005) #1-64, the three annuals, and NEW AVENGERS FINALE.

Bendis’ run on with the Avengers technically started AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED. The Scarlet Witch had a tremendous mental breakdown, which cascaded into a world of trouble for the Avengers. After suffering severe losses and immense heartbreak, such as the death of Hawkeye, the team was forced to split.

Jump ahead a few months later, both in real-time and comic book time, and a massive breakout at the Raft super-prison brings a whole new team of Avengers together. This team initially included familiar faces like Captain America and Iron Man and introduced new ones like Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, and Wolverine. This roster would only continue to shift and grow throughout Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS.

From NEW AVENGERS #2. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The Raft breakout was only the beginning for the New Avengers. Shortly after that, the team found themselves dealing with rogue SHIELD agents in the Savage Land, reigniting the Sentry’s memories, fighting ninjas in Japan, and combating the fallout from the HOUSE OF M event.

When CIVIL WAR came around, things changed dramatically. The team found themselves divided. On the other side of the conflict, the team reformed with Cage, Spidey, Echo (Maya Lopez), Iron Fist, Ronin (Clint Barton), and Doctor Strange. Then there was some complicated business with the Skrulls, which of course led to SECRET INVASION.

The “Dark Reign” era changed everything all over again. Not only were the New Avengers still on the run, but now Norman Osborn was in charge. But, as we all could expect, the villain eventually fell from grace during the SIEGE event. Before long, the New Avengers found themselves victorious.

Tying the Marvel Universe Together

Since we’re on the topic of story, this seems like a good time to dive into my first reason why Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS is so damn good.

During his time writing NEW AVENGERS, (and, subsequently, MIGHTY AVENGERS and DARK AVENGERS), Bendis essentially controlled the storytelling course of the Marvel Universe. He wrote pretty much every major event book of the 2000s, minus CIVIL WAR and WORLD WAR HULK. Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS acted as a focal point for the Marvel Universe, which granted the writer incredible leverage in how he built up to and constructed his events and regular series.

For every event book Bendis wrote, you could track the progression towards said event in NEW AVENGERS. For example, the first inkling readers got of the Skrull invasion came from NEW AVENGERS #31, when Echo killed Elektra. Except, it wasn’t Elektra. It was a Skrull posing as her. From thereon, the New Avengers had no idea who to trust. They pegged Tony Stark as a Skrull for the longest time, actually.

From NEW AVENGERS #31. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

This kind of unity between parallel plotlines became crucial to Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS, and it worked extraordinarily well. The story always managed to flow smoothly, despite Bendis having to juggle so much. And before this kind of storytelling became commonplace in the series, the story never had problems transitioning from one story beat to the next, even in the face of massive shakeups. That kind of cool-headed control of the story should be commended.

How Bendis Reinvented Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

But Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS couldn’t get by with just a strong connection to the larger Marvel Universe. Most importantly, this series needed to feel fresh, start to finish. Luckily, it did. I’ve always felt that before Bendis, Avengers books acted as a means to see all the heroes fighting stuff together, but they never grew as characters. Bendis changed all of that.

The new roster alone helped shake things up. Luke Cage made it clear from the start that he’d want a voice in the New Avengers. And he certainly did; following CIVIL WAR, he practically led the team. Throwing a mysterious character like Spider-Woman into the mix added a layer of mystique and intrigue to the Avengers that had never really been present in the past. Seeing Spider-Man progress through this series is undeniably enjoyable. Joining the Avengers changes Peter, mostly for the better. He grows as a team player in a very organic way, which, as a die-hard Spidey fan, I love watching.

With a new roster came new goals. The New Avengers still did their typical world-saving stuff, of course. But following CIVIL WAR, they started doing more street-level crime fighting, which felt consistently refreshing. Whether they were tackling large or small tasks, everything felt new.

Even at its darkest, Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS will make you feel good. It’s a feel-good story. It dares to take you into unfamiliar territory, while at the same time also having a vaguely familiar feeling to it. The heroes come together to take on immeasurable threats—that hasn’t changed. Now, you’ve got the added benefit of all your favorite heroes growing as characters, too. Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS was so much more than a simple rehashing of what fans were used to.

It’s the Little Things That Matter

Action is the cornerstone of an Avengers title, and Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS has plenty of it. It’s fun and exciting throughout. But if explosive action comes as the main course, then all the downtime moments are the bread and butter.

This series shines brightest when the team is just sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying some downtime. This is where the characters really come across as real people. One of my favorite moments from Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS comes when the team isn’t out fighting the Hood, but rather when they’re deliberating who’ll be the new team leader post SECRET INVASION.

From NEW AVENGERS #51. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Another great moment comes in at NEW AVENGERS #50. Following the announcement of Norman Osborn’s new Avengers team, the proper New Avengers all stand around a TV screen (appropriately) complaining about how they’ve been copied. It’s an absolutely hilarious scene and not something we’d seen much in the past. Moments like these are littered throughout Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS, and each one feels wholesome and unique.

From NEW AVENGERS #50. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

While Bendis does an excellent job depicting the team doing smaller activities throughout the core series, his Annual issues take this a step further. NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #1 is perhaps the best example of this. This issue focuses primarily on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’ marriage. Bendis was smart to focus more strongly on the wedding than the superhero thrills here; it showed he truly cared about these characters, and how he wanted to evolve and further develop them as genuine people.

Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS Weren’t Just a Team, They Were a Family

Those calmer, more heartfelt moments do more than just introduce some levity into the series. These are also the moments we see the strongest connections between the team members. Moments like Cap and Iron Man talking together for the first time in months, planning to get the team back together, get you pumped for what’s to come. It’s moments like Spider-Man revealing his identity to the team all over again that establish a legitimate, familial trust in the group.

I was surprised by how resilient the group remained following CIVIL WAR. With Iron Man and Captain America out of the picture, it felt weird for a while to call this group the Avengers. But, like Luke Cage says in NEW AVENGERS #28, they are the Avengers. With or without the big players, this was the team Steve Rogers believed in. This was a team anyone could believe in. They had a genuine connection, and despite all the crap they had to put up with, they remained that way until the very end.

Now, this isn’t at all to say the original Avengers weren’t a family before. If they weren’t, their departure wouldn’t feel so tragic at the end of AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED. I find Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS have a stronger connection, though, despite their short time together. In fact, it really says something that Bendis was able to inject this much heart into NEW AVENGERS in such a short time. I was deeply saddened to see the story conclude with the NEW AVENGERS FINALE issue.

Humanizing the Heroes

The team and their connections wouldn’t exist without the team members themselves. And boy, does Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS have some amazing players. This isn’t just a new team of Avengers for a new age; it feels like a more realistic team.

Characters stand at the forefront of any good story. Bendis takes full advantage of all his characters, further developing familiar faces, or completely revamping old heroes from the ground up. Spider-Woman, in particular, undergoes tons of development throughout the series. Of course, Jessica Drew turns out to be the Skrull queen halfway through, but even after that, when the character is properly reintroduced, she undergoes a very dramatic arc.

From NEW AVENGERS #14. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Clint Barton is a wild card in Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS. He joins the team out of nowhere as Ronin and surprisingly goes through a very grounded arc. The former Hawkeye grows from being just another hero in the mix to standing firmly as the team’s leader. I’d say it’s especially weird since Clint had to come back to life to even have this arc, but I’ll allow it.

Luke Cage probably has my favorite arc. Aside from Spidey and Wolverine, Luke is one of the only heroes who’s on the team start to finish. From the get-go, Luke has a voice on the New Avengers. That quickly grows, though, following CIVIL WAR, when he takes on a pseudo-leadership role. Even when he’s not exactly leading the team, he’s still one of the most compelling characters. This mostly comes from his connection with Jessica Jones and his daughter. He’s one of the toughest members of the team, and also one of the most genuine.

Finding Strength in the Flaws

However, like any titan of storytelling, Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS isn’t without its faults. There aren’t too many, but in fairness, I’ve got to point out even the slightest errors.

The biggest fault, for me, is the typical strike against Bendis: there can be too much dialogue when less would be just fine. Bendis has a knack for writing great dialogue. However, that sometimes comes at the price of sitting through page after page where text bubbles take up more page space than the actual art. There are definitely more than a few moments where less dialogue would be better.

This problem is fairly easy to overlook, however. Much of Bendis’ dialogue is used to great effect, even when it seems a little grandiose. The text always either progresses the story, fleshes out the characters, or includes playful banter in the lighter scenes.

Other than that, though, Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS is mostly scot-free of any major issues. You may find some story arcs less interesting than others, but even in its slower, less enticing moments, there’s a lot to enjoy. In that way, the series is a great jumping on point for new readers. There’s always something to enjoy, even when the series is at its weakest.

From NEW AVENGERS FINALE. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS Laid the Foundation for What Came Next

Brian Michael Bendis had the colossal task of spearheading a new age for the Avengers. He also firmly planted himself behind the wheel to guide the Marvel Universe through the mid-to-late 2000s. That’s a lot for one writer to take on all by himself. Luckily, Bendis proved himself the right man for the job.

Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS, to this day, stands as one of the most heartfelt, unique, and wholesome runs in the series’ long history. Between its impactful character development, heart-pounding action, and strong, overarching sense of unity, there’s so much to enjoy in this series and then some. Even at its lowest, NEW AVENGERS will surely find new ways to pull you back in and hold your interest.

Following the first volume of Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS, the writer started a new volume of the series, along with a regular AVENGERS series. These were part of Marvel’s “Heroic Age.” Though I found enjoyment in the second volume of NEW AVENGERS, the first will always stand as the superior series and hold a more special place in my heart.

But, all together, Bendis laid a brilliant foundation for the future of the Avengers. Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS exponentially raised the bar on what the Avengers, and what Avengers stories could be. Truly, his was the finest, most wholesome run on Avengers.

If you haven’t already, you should totally go read Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS. You’ll be thankful you did.

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