Mick vs The Marvel Universe – 05 – The widening gyre

This time I finally get to the actual meat of the Avengers Disassembled event. However I made the mistake of writing this up while I was reading them so its rather wordy and as editing is a dirty word I make no apologies for what comes next (I did at least correct mis-spellings, I’m not an animal). I also realised I’d been setting up my image galleries incorrectly. So if you were wondering “Hey why are these images so small and nothing happens when I click on them” wonder no more and click to your hearts content.

We start with the Avengers chatting (Bendis style of course) over breakfast. Suddenly Jack of Hearts (the only relevant thing you need to know about him is that his power is energy based) shows up in the driveway looking like a zombie. This isn’t surprising as he’s supposed to be dead. Ant-Man (Scott Lang) goes out to try and talk to him. Jack murmurs “Sorry” and then explodes. Taking the entire Avengers mansion with him. But somehow not managing to kill anyone inside, no, not even Hawkeye.

Meanwhile Iron Man is giving a speech at the UN. For some reason he chokes up and starts sweating. Then he starts having a go at the Latverian ambassador calling him garbage and what not. Which feels, well, pretty weird. Stark gets more agitated talking about blowing Latveria of the map. Hank Pym tries to talk him down as does T’Challa. Which irritates him and he starts charging the repulsors to kill the ambassador, when he suddenly sees some sparkles and walks of stage. Not forgetting to take a dig at Hank Pym about being a wife beater. Which will become a recurring them, Hank Pym getting mocked for beating his wife not Stark walking of stages. The sparkles sure look like the usual special effect from Scarlet Witches power but no-one says anything.

Next we have Tony in tears talking to Wanda saying he feels like he’s drunk. As Wanda remonstrates him he insists he hasn’t drunk anything. He falls to his knees as the alert about the mansion comes in. Back the the mansions SHIELD are trying to clean things up while Cap and the Falcon arrive. Jarvis is explaining things to Cap, about how Scott Lang is dead (no shit), when they see a Quinjet come flying in. Only its going very fast, directly at them and Cap sees Vision behind the wheel (stick? throttle?) and looks shocked (for some unexplained reason, which my spidey sense suggests has to do with continuity). Vision uses what I’d describe as a fairly unorthodox landing technique.

But any landing you can walk away from, eh? Which Vision does spouting some useful exposition that he’s not in control of his body, that the Avengers failed as a group and will be punished. Then he melts a bit and starts spitting out lots of metal balls. Like the worlds worst dressed gacha machine. Almost inevitably the balls turn into Ultron bots and a good old superhero battle ensues. There’s the usual banter, wondering what’s going on and so forth, for some reason they felt the need to give the Visions backstory to one another, despite all of them knowing it. Totally didn’t feel contrived. She-Hulk is getting more and more pissed off as it goes and finally at the end grabs Visions corpse and well, does this.

Cap keeps antagonising her and she knocks out Wasp who was trying to calm her down before punching cap out and then trying to dome him with a SHIELD APC. The last page is two shadowy faces talking about how it isn’t over and arguing over killing them all, the dominant shadow face says that wouldn’t prove anything and there’s more, “much more” coming.

I’ll just say that I love David Finch’s art. He’s definitely one of my favourite superhero comics artists. That may seem like a weird qualifier but what can you do? Obviously the inker and colourist are great as well. I presume they’re a team as I don’t think I’ve seen Finch’s artwork without them.

I’ll also try and say this only once. Brian Michael Bendis writes entertaining stories. He’s good at it. What he is terrible at is writing characters that feel like they’re distinct. I won’t even complain that he completely ignores continuity. Lot’s of writers do that (e.g. Grant Morrison on New X-Men). I think it’s better when a writer combines continuity with a fresh approach (e.g. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s “Cosmic Marvel” run) but that’s more personal preference. I do however think if you’re going to ignore continuity the pay-off should be worth it. With Bendis I rarely feel it is. Wait I got distracted.

All of Bendis’ characters sound the same. It’s the same way you can tell something’s been written by Joss Whedon. But worse, much worse. Here’s a page from Powers and one from Avengers, can you spot the difference?

It probably shouldn’t irritate me so much. I don’t even know if its a problem per se or just a stylistic choice. But while it worked really well in Powers it always felt “off” in his mainline Marvel comics.

Overall this was a solid entertaining to read, even if it felt very forced. A random guy showing up to explode is the comic equivalent of the man coming through the door with a gun. Which I suppose given the full context of the Chandler quote makes sense:

“This was inevitable because the demand was for constant action and if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.” (Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”)

It’s obviously hard to say anything more about it at the moment. The majority of this was spectacle so there wasn’t really much room for characterisation or anything else. I did feel the did Wasp, who was team leader at this point if I recall correctly, a dis-service. She spent a lot of “on-screen” time panicking, prevaricating or getting punched out. She was also singularly useless in the fight against the Ultron bots. Along with the fact they highlighted that her ex-husband beat her it just felt noticeably odd.

We start with a video call where Tony is fired as US Secretary of Defence as he’s flying over to the mansion. Where She-Hulk (who took out Wasp and Captain Britain last issue) plants an APC on top of Cap before going on to tussle with Hawk-Eye and others. I do like that as the fight goes on and she gets angrier she gets bulkier and bulkier. Anyway after a few pages Iron Man knocks her down/out and rescue cap from beneath the truck. Falcon comes over carrying a badly wounded Wasp. Giant Man, in his very very giant form shows up and helps Falcon take her to the hospital. We cut to the hospital where Cap gets his shoulder popped back in and we find out the (bad) state the rest are in.

Pym is in tears beside Janet giving a soliloquy about how he’s surprised he cares about her this much and how his life didn’t turn out the way he wanted and all he’ll be remembered for is Ultron (he’s wrong its for beating his wife). It’d maybe be touching if it wasn’t so self indulgent. Meanwhile the rest of the Avengers (Iron Man, Cap, Falcon and Hawkeye) have realised they’re under attack. So we know they’re at least as smart as a fifth grader. They’re trying to figure out what’s going on while Hawkeye points out they sort of had it come by focusing on the short term and Falcon takes a dig at them about being surprised every time a Hulk on the team flips out. Pym comes out steaming about Tony being drunk. Tony try’s to explain it was part of the attack. Hawkeye and Pym dont believe he didn’t drink and taking it well Iron Man fucks off.

The rest get an alert from the mansion and head back to find nearly everyone who was an Avenger there, even old Night Thrasher. Most confusingly Falcon is also there looking at them judgementally, despite the fact he was standing right beside them at the hospital when they decide to head here.

There sure was a lot of talking this issue. Entertaining dialogue. But very Bendis-y dialogue. I can’t help myself. Anyhow it was grand. Nothing amazing and nothing terrible. The general plot development felt like it was a forced cleaning of the decks. Getting rid of characters that weren’t well liked (e.g. the female Captain Britain – though I thought she was cool) and the Avengers so they could “start over”. It was pretty clearly the editorial intent to soft reboot the main non-mutant Marvel universe like Morrison had done with the X-Men.

That last shot reminded me of how much I like Namor. I don’t know why. There’s no particularly great storyline where he features and he wears speedos most of the time. But I just like him. It’d be cool to see him in the films (which I don’t watch). Though he better shout Imperius Rex if he does show up.

This issue starts with the super click baity title as seen above. I couldn’t actually remember which one died so it felt fresh enough. Anyhow the issue starts with the ex-Avengers offering help and Fury ordering them to piss off as it’s his crime scene. They’re talking about Scott’s death when they get news that the UN has kicked them out because of Stark’s antics and concerns about the stability of super hero groups. Hawkeye is pissed off at getting side swiped by bureaucrats without so much as phone call. Cap’s trying to calm him down and Fury is trying to get them to go when a mysterious alien ship appears. Only it turns out that little ship was not alone.

At this point I am realising that the reader I use for CBZ files is not well suited to double page spreads. Which are rare enough in manga and webtoons which were previously what I used this reader for. But I converted all my American comics to it as well while organising them. Might reassociate CBZ with my CBR reader. Meanwhile in New York they’re fighting with the alien ships. Which a few pages before were unidentified but now everyone knows are Kree for some reason. Comic book magic I guess. Anyway the fight is mostly an excuse to give everyone who was ever an Avenger their own small panel. They eventually grab a Kree solider and interrogate him.

He says the Supreme Intelligence foretold this day, the end of the Avengers and they’d pay for betraying the kree. Further exposition is cut off by a fuck load of Kree teleporting down, after all the guys who cant fly need something to do. Fury points out its really weird. They had air superiority and vastly advanced tech, there was no reason to do a ground assault. Hawkeye comes out with a million arrows and starts shooting people in a manner which looks decidedly non non-lethal.

While jumping around he gets hit by a laser in the back and his quivers go on fire. Apparently the beam sent him insane as he goes fucking bonkers. Screaming “Not like this…” he grabs a Kree soldier and uses his hidden jetpack (don’t ask) to fly into the engines of the Kree mothership shouting “Like this!” as it, that unlucky solider and he explodes.….well that was a thing that happened. The rest of the Kree fuck off. Cap picks up Clint’s bow while someone (don’t recognise him) examines the remains of the Kree ship and is confused because the material its made of is weird. At this point Dr Strange shows up and condescendingly says he thought they’d figure it out by now, that “the magics are being abused”. Why he thought this is unclear. After all basically no one there knows anything about magic while he’s the Sorcerer Supreme. It’s almost impressive how often Strange is written as a condescending dick. Not all the Constantine stuff was gold but at least he felt like a person who could exist. Anyway in some confusing visual storytelling it looks like Strange said something to them which made Cap exclaim “Oh no”.

The last issue starts with a flashback where Janet was worried about a pregnancy scare and talking to Wanda about it. She finishes up the conversation saying super-heroes shouldn’t have kids. She then makes a crack about Wanda thinking she could have two which confuses Wanda. Janet then panics and excuses herself while Wanda takes off her shades and looks weird. It’s not clear how long ago this flashback was meant to be. Though it seems pretty clear now that Scarlet Witch was the one abusing magics and is behind it all. Which confuses me as I thought her power was mutant luck manipulation. Did it get changed to magic or was it magic and got changed to the mutant thing? Its hard to keep thing straights especially with mutant characters and the old evolving powers thing.

Regarding the kids I have a faint memory of Wanda and Vision having kids and then a scene of her wondering how that was possible and looking in an empty crib to realise the children were a shard hallucination or tulpa or some shit. I cant really remember it. Thinking about it though it may turn out it was this story I was thinking off. Well I’ll find out soon.

Back in comicville Strange is pumping out the old exposition including a short self introduction, it seems clear now he didn’t say anything last issue Cap just realised what was going on. Strange continues leading them to the obvious conclusion though his word choice is suspect, “molesting the magics”, really? Another flashback with Wanda questioning Agatha Harkness over why people think she once had two children and where they are. Agatha looks shook while Wanda is shouting and in tears. Pretty sure now the half remembered story I mentioned is in fact this one. Back to the present, while we were in the past everyone seems to have realised it was Wanda and are arguing if its possible.

Some suggest what happened to her children drove her to it. Which confuses Strange who says he delivered them. Beast (in his terrible looking post-Morrison form) explains that she conjured/willed them into being. Turns out Agatha Harkness (Wanda’s master) figured out what they were and erased them. Which begs the question why the fuck would she do that? Strange goes on a rant about how her powers weren’t earned and how he wanted her as a student. Warbird points out Wanda’s powers got upgraded when she found some power source and Strange is all “NANI!?” There’s more arguing over whether Wanda did or not. Tony shows up and says it couldn’t be her, Strange counters with maybe she isn’t conscious that she’s doing it and drops the bombshell that “Chaos magic” doesn’t exist.

Strange then gives a “History of the Scarlet Witch” and again the word choices are pretty weird and by weird I mean oddly misogynistic. He describes Wand having a “sordid past”, he talks about “the delicate mindset of woman”, “playing mommy” and so on.

It was pretty off-putting. It also didn’t feel like something Strange would say. Which brings us back to Bendis’s writing. Every character sounds the same, even though some of them are vastly different. I came across a blog article which talked about this very well. After his stirring story The Avengers are coming around on the idea and ask Strange to help them find her. Strange says he can but they should prepare themselves because things are going to get weird. He was not wrong.

Unsurprisingly Wanda refuses Cap’s help. Warbirds shouts some shit and a big fight ensues. When does it fucking not? Strange shows up and is all “Daddy says behave little girl!” Some very nice art though. I actually used that image (well the top part) as my desktop background for ages.

Strange apparently wiped her mind. Inside the house Fury finds the rotting remains of Agatha Harkness. Magneto shows up and takes Wanda, not in your standard fisticuffs manner at least. The Avengers console one another and it ends with everyone fucking off in different directions. Well the actual last pages seem to be reprint of when the Scarlet Witch joined the Avengers.

I find it hard to express how much I disliked this issue. It smacked of “Ha we’re so clever we’ll make this retcon part of the story!” But it fell incredibly flat. We’ll leave aside that there was no real dialogue in this. It was basically all exposition or shouting. The basic premise of “All along Wanda’s power’s haven been a) magical and b) she uses a magic that doesn’t exist” is pretty damn stupid. She’s shown her magic powers and mentioned chaos magic in front of several luminaries from the “mystic” side of the Marvel universe (including Strange himself!) and nobody found it weird. Even worse was making the crux of the story be about a “woman” (her gender was mentioned specifically numerous times) who coudln’t handle big boy magic like the men and who went insane because of her dream (like all women of course) of having kids. I don’t think you can make that plot work. You can take some of the elements and do something good. But this ham handed mess wasn’t it.

Even from an in character perspective it doesn’t make any fucking sense. If her powers changed reality then her children were as real as anything else that existed because definitionally they were real. So Agatha Harkness killed her children and then manipulated her memory. She was basically the cause of all this. Look you can do a big overarching plot with a solid reveal. This wasn’t it. You can do a sneaky retcon with an in-universe justification (The Sentry mini-series is an excellent example). But this was a lazy and transparent retcon which took all the agency away from a character and ruined her for no pay off. I don’t even particularly like Wanda as character and I hated this. At least it explained why Hawkeye killed himself for no reason I guess.

Overall the first issue was by far the best and even then it was only solid. These basically felt like the comic equivalent of a Michael Bay movie with all the depth and quality that entails. What a waste of some excellent artwork. The funny thing is that I’m pretty sure the retcons in this issue get retconned later with regards to Wanda’s power causing her complete mental and emotional deterioration.

In theory next in the reading order is Excalibur #8 but it is so incredibly bad (an another example of how over-rated Claremont is) that I can’t bring myself to read it. The only relevant bit is that Magneto takes Wanda back to the ruins of Genosha. So that leaves a few more issues which deal with the fallout, get back to the only comic in this I genuinely enjoyed (Thor) and the end of the Avengers.

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