At the end of Siege, Marvel cancelled all of the Avengers titles and launched 4 new ongoing Avengers titles, putting the Avengers into the spotlight as Marvel’s premier superhero team. Leading the pack were the Avengers and the New Avengers titles, both with Brian Michael Bendis at the helm.
The story starts with a group of young superheroes (a team originally featured in the animated film Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow) confronting and killing a defeated Kang. It then shifts to a montage of scenes depicting the reactions of different heroes as Steve Rogers presented his offer to them. He finally assembles the main team in Avengers Tower: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America (Bucky), Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hawkeye (Clint Barton) and Spider-Woman. He explains his reasons for assembling them and introduces him to their liaison – Maria Hill, former head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Suddenly, Kang makes an appearance and Thor attacks him. Eventually, Kang explains his visit – he wants to warn them about their children in the future, claiming that their descendants would come to destroy the universe. Kang then leaves and returns to the future, where he reports to the Maestro (the future version of the Hulk).
Worried about Kang’s warning, the Avengers decide to verify his claims. They approached the Kree known as Noh-Varr (now calling himself the Protector) and asked him to build a device that will allow them to take a glimpse of the future. He agrees, and soon the Avengers found themselves looking at an image of the future that Kang was talking about. The images dissipate, and Noh-Varr declares that something is wrong with the timestream. Not wanting to take chances, the Avengers decide to act, but Wonder Man attacks them and destroys Noh-Varr’s device. During the battle, Wonder Man disappears, and the Avengers ask Noh-Varr to build a time travel device. However, before he is able to complete his work, the damage to the timestream makes itself evident – a time displaced Apocalypse and his horsemen appear right at the Avengers doorstep. A short battle occurs, and Iron Man realizes what’s happening. Maria Hill divides the team into two and assigns Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America and Noh-Varr to find a way to fix the timestream while she, Thor, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Hawkeye stay behind and deal with other timestream disturbances.
Iron Man’s group succeeds at finding their destination in time and are confronted by the true mind behind Kang’s initial warning – an older Tony Stark, who explains what happened to the timestream. Kang, a man obsessed with winning conflict, had decided to do battle with Ultron at his peak. In his attempts to defeat Ultron, Kang travels in time several times, amassing several armies of heroes and villains alike, resulting in damage to the timestream. The older Tony then advises the present Tony – if he wants to fix the timestream, he needs to travel to when Ultron and Kang do battle. The older Stark then notices Noh-varr. Noting that he does not recognize the young hero, the older Stark concludes that he is the key to fixing the timestream, and implores Noh-varr to do his best just before the ruptures in the timestream displace everyone. The Avengers find themselves back in time, right when the time-displaced Apocalypse appeared in Avengers tower. Events proceed as they happened before, but with Stark aware of what happened previously, the Avengers travel just before Kang faces off against Ultron.
Stark pleads with Ultron to let Kang win to preserve the timestream, and as expected, the robot agrees. When Kang appeared with his forces, Ultron threw the battle and lost, leaving Kang with an easy victory. The timestream displacements stop, and the Avengers convene with the older Stark and the other heroes before finally heading back into the present.
Since this arc just finished a few months ago, we haven’t really seen its impact yet, but here are the events that could tie into future storylines:
- The older Stark’s timeline of key events. There were several events that have yet to occur, including the Ultron War, “Schism”, and others. This may be an indicator of what’s going to happen to the Marvel Universe in the future.
- Killraven (who?) remained in the present even after the timestream was broken.
- Kang’s murder at the hands of the “Next” Avengers at the start and end of the arc.
Ever since Bendis started writing the Avengers/New Avengers, the most frequent criticism that I’ve heard of his writing is that he doesn’t write about major threats. The Avengers are considered as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, and during Bendis’ run he’s had the Avengers deal with the Hand, the Raft escapees, the Hood, and others that most really don’t consider as major threats. So it’s no surprise to me that this first storyline for the main Avengers title would involve this scope. He tried to bring in Kang and Ultron, place not only Earth but the entire existence in jeopardy. Personally, I’d say he could’ve done better.
Reading the story twice (once each month as the issues get released; a re-read right after all issues are out), I can’t help but pick out the flaws. The first is the resolution of the storyline – all of time is messed up, and how do the Avengers save the world? By TALKING to Ultron. That’s it. They manage to convince Ultron to lose his battle with Kang, which in turn stops Kang from time-traveling too much. No offense to the guy, but lacking endings has almost become a signature of Bendis. Another complaint that I have is Bendis’ script. The snappy dialogue worked for the New Avengers, but it doesn’t read well here. Time is falling apart and the Avengers are exchanging banter. Everyone’s a wise guy, and this ruins the “epic-ness” of the story for me.
Yet another complaint is his cliffhangers – they leave you wanting to read the next issue which is exactly what cliffhangers are for, but once you have the next issue, you can’t help but say “That was it?”. At the end of the first issue, it’s revealed that Kang is doing the Maestro’s (future Hulk) bidding. We then learn that it’s really not the Maestro, but future Tony Stark that’s behind it all, and the Maestro ends up being a non-factor for the rest of the storyline. Apocalypse and his horsemen turn out to be plot devices to get the Avengers into a battle, Killraven riding a red dinosaur amounted to nothing (the dinosaur is immediately killed a panel or two after his apperance), whatever future Tony did to present Tony didn’t end up to be as bad as it was portrayed, and as menacing as Ultron was at the end of the fifth issue, all the Avengers did is have a peaceful conversation with it.
As for the art, Romita Jr.’s style really doesn’t do it for me anymore. The man can draw action sequences, that’s for sure, but for me it seems dated. I liked his art a lot back in the old days, but his style and color separations really don’t mix. Honestly, I’d prefer someone like Stuart Immonen (who did a kick-ass job in the New Avengers) or even Jim Cheung doing the art.
My favorite moments: Thor vs a time-displaced Galactus, and future Tony’s revelation of things that may come to pass.
My least liked moments: Everyone being a wise-ass while discussing the timestream problem, and the kids of Avengers next murdering Kang at the beginning and the end of the story.
Despite my complaints, I wouldn’t say that this was a poor arc. I don’t regret getting these issues at all, not unlike Shadowland. It’s just that the Avengers brand is high-profile right now, and with that comes high expectations. Right now, I’d rate the first issues somewhere between mediocre and slightly above average.