Whether you love them or hate them, Events and Crossovers are mainstays of the comics medium. Every year a big name creator is given the task of uniting characters from various franchises and telling a compelling story, and they achieve this with varying degrees of success.
A good event does wonders for the industry; the big plot-points can make the national news, so new readers are driven into stores. Worthwhile tie-in stories can grow the readership of an overlooked series and the aftermath can create interesting story opportunities for other titles. These are the benefits of telling stories within a shared universe.
Unfortunately the knife cuts both ways, and a poor event can do more harm than good. Readers become fatigued with prolonged and uninteresting stories, series that were previously enjoyed get derailed for months at a time so people jump off the book, and the aftermath can make the main series feel like a means to an end.
Some events stand the test of time and hold up to multiple re-reads even though they’re no longer relevant, others are just something to be suffered through. This feature will focus on a specific event, discussing the build-up, tie-in stories, and aftermath to determine whether the series holds-up, or falls flat.
For the first edition of Enduring Events we’re going to look at a storyline that caused a big shift at Marvel nearly ten years ago, and set things in motion that would only be resolved many years later in Avengers vs X-Men.
For the vast majority of Avengers history the team wasn’t comprised of A list characters. Captain America, Iron Man and Thor have always been the big-three, but even they weren’t that popular by the time the new millennium rolled around. Fortunately several movies and notable runs by top writers and artists will do wonders for a characters profile.
Back in 2004 the team was comprised of people like Jack of Hearts, a new Captain Britain, and the Scott Lang version of Ant Man, and the book was nothing like the flagship franchise it is today. At one of Marvel’s creative retreats Brian Bendis and Mark Millar decided to stir the pot, spouting off about how the Avengers should be comprised of the most popular characters from the Marvel U.
Like any suggestions of change, the idea was met with both support and resistance, but Bendis was given the green light to revamp the book. He did this in four issues of Avengers and an epilogue. Whilst it wasn’t an event book in the traditional sense, it did have a major impact on the line and and several characters were given tie-in stories.
The Avengers are at the mansion, having a nice chat around the dinner table, then what started out quite well turns into the worst day of their lives as they are suddenly assaulted on multiple fronts by a variety of assailants:
- Zombie Jack of Hearts returns to the Mansion and promptly explodes
- Vision crash-lands and releases an Ultron-Army
- She-Hulk loses her temper and rips Vision in half
- A Kree armada decides to attack the planet (Well… New York City)
As the Avengers battle for their lives Tony Stark is at the United Nations, apparently drunk out of his gourd and in the middle of a rant, during which he threatens to execute the Ambassador to Latveria.
It turns out these seemingly random events were orchestrated by a mentally-unstable Scarlet Witch, who is revealed to have been driven mad by the loss of her magically constructed twin sons some years prior. She was losing her grip on reality every time she used her powers to alter it. The best powers are as much of a curse as a blessing, and this clever addition gave a fairly uncomplicated character a tragic twist, as by the end of the story she’s destroyed her home and killed a handful her team-mates, including her husband.
The main story is drawn by David Finch, and is one of the finest examples of his work (which has been fairly inconsistent in recent years). Bendis puts the team through the ringer, as things get worse from issue to issue on an exponential downwards curve. This was met with mixed feelings at the time, some people had been reading and enjoying the Avengers as they were, so at the time readers were left feeling that someone had come along and broken all of their toys.
When read objectively its obvious that Bendis had a lot of affection for most of these characters, giving them some defining moments and treating them with the respect they deserve, even as he murdered them. A number of one-time Avengers even show up to offer their help to the team in their hour of need.
Several books had related story-arcs, most notably the Avengers Trinity, but Fantastic Four and Spider-Man both had plot-lines under the Disassembled banner as well.
Captain America had some prologue issues that involved the Scarlet Witch and Falcon, then a few aftermath where he reunites with Diamondback. Neither are essential to the understanding of the main story, nor are they particularly enjoyable in their own right.
Iron Man had a particularly forgettable storyline involving his role as Secretary of Defence, and the challenges he faced in influencing any real governmental change. What could have been an interesting look at Tony’s moral dilemma around the use of his technology is glossed over in this superficial and disappointing arc.
Thor arguably has the most interesting journey, as Asgard faces Ragnarok and basically gets wiped from existence. Familiar characters appear in the story but it really doesn’t service the main Disassembled plot other than to explain Thor’s absence from it.
The Fantastic Four have to pick up the slack the Avengers leave, with the battle at the mansion serving as a backdrop, and Spider-Man ties in by name only, as he kisses a weirdo and mutates into a Spider, but by the end of it is given some new powers including organic webbing.
The final issue of Avengers was an extra-long prologue where the team come together in the wake of the battle and relive their favourite moments from the last forty years of their history. Several writers come along to draw splash pages that create something like an Avengers Greatest Hits album, as each character recounts some of the most significant milestones of the book. This is where Bendis’ love of the team is thrown into stark relief, and it serves as a fitting end to this volume of the book.
The main thing to spin-out of Disassembled was New Avengers by Brian Bendis; A group of heroes come together by chance or destiny during a mass-outbreak at Rykers Island. Captain America sees this as a sign and assembles a new team of big-name characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine, as well as some up-and-comers like Spider-Woman and Luke Cage. The beginnings of this series can be found in Bendis’ Secret War mini, which involved many of the same team members and is reference at the beginning of New Avengers.
This quickly became Marvel’s flagship book, the first of many Avengers books to launch in this period and leading the way for the major events of the next 10 years. But it’s influence doesn’t end there, as Disassembled marks a turning point for the Marvel Universe in general.
Ed Brubaker begins his run on Captain America in the wake of Disassembled, but the remaining big-two don’t really get their own time to shine until a few years later when Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction get their hands on the character, and Thor is reborn at the hands of JMS and Oliver Coipel.
Another significant run that began around this time was Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, which would crossover with New Avengers a year later for a very significant Event that will be discussed in the next Enduring Events: House of M
Avengers Disassembled undoubtedly upset a lot of people at the time of its release, but it’s difficult to argue with what it achieved. When looked at objectively it’s actually very well-written and drawn, with a strong (albeit simple) storyline. The relatively short length worked in it’s favour as readers become fatigued when events get decompressed, but the quality of the associated tie-ins really dragged it down. Overall a bit of a mixed bag, but when considered on it’s own it’s still definitely a success.
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