Retro Reviews: Marvel Comics’ The Avengers Vol. 3 #500-503 By Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch & Others! Avengers Disassembled!

Avengers #500-503; Avengers: Finale (Sept. ‘04-Jan. ‘05)

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Pencilled by David Finch (#500-503, Finale), Olivier Coipel (#503), Alex Maleev (Finale), Steve Epting (Finale), Lee Weeks (Finale), Michael Gaydos (Finale), Eric Powell (Finale), Darick Robertson (Finale), Mike Mayhew (Finale), David Mack (Finale), Gary Frank (Finale), Michael Avon Oeming (Finale), Jim Cheung (Finale), Steve McNiven (Finale), and George Perez (Finale)

Inked by Danny Miki (#500-503, Finale), Mark Morales (Finale), Mike Perkins (Finale)
Spoilers (from ten to eleven years ago)

When writing for these retro-review columns, especially on long-running series, I’ve been focusing on eras, usually defined by the contributions of a single writer, or sometimes a writer/artist team that worked together for a good long time.  These five comics are just the beginning of the Brian Michael Bendis era of Avengers comics, which lasted almost ten years, and an almost uncountable number of relaunches and sister series (New Avengers led to Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, and probably some other stuff I don’t even remember).

I’m not about to go down that long road in these columns, for at least another ten years, because they are too recent to really be considered ‘retro’, and because there are other comics that I want to read right now.

I did feel like reading the Disassembled arc was important though, as it brought closure to things, and set up the Marvel Universe for the next ten years.

Bendis inherited the line-up left by Geoff Johns and Chuck Austen, but didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, as he quickly brought in almost all of the Avengers, and then continued to rip them apart.  Let’s take a look at who was in this storyline:

  • Wasp (Janet Van Dyne)
  • Hawkeye (Clint Barton; killed #502)
  • Ant-Man (Scott Lang; killed #500)
  • Captain Britain (Kelsey Leigh)
  • She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters)
  • Jack of Hearts (Jack Hart; returns from the dead and explodes #500)
  • Iron Man (Tony Stark)
  • Yellowjacket (Hank Pym)
  • Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)
  • Captain America (Steve Rogers)
  • Falcon (Sam Wilson)
  • Vision (ripped apart #500)
  • Almost all of the rest of the Avengers appeared starting at the end of #501, but only the following received speaking roles:
    • Black Panther
    • Mr. Fantastic
    • Warbird (back in her Ms. Marvel costume)
    • Spider-Man
    • Daredevil
    • Quasar
    • Hercules
    • Photon
    • Wonder Man
    • The Thing
    • Jocasta
    • Beast
    • Black Widow (I think – hard to tell who she is)
    • Firestar
    • Hellcat
  • Quicksilver (made a short appearance in Finale)
  • Edwin Jarvis

Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:

  • It was pretty clear that Bendis was going to tear things up when he came on the Avengers, but reading his first issue again, it’s still a bit of a surprise.  
  • We open with a typical Bendis-ism – Wasp, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Captain Britain are having a meal together, and talking about Hawkeye’s choice of woman he wishes he could have – Viper/Madame Hydra.  She-Hulk arrives and they are interrupted by the news that there is an intruder outside the Mansion.
  • Jack of Hearts has returned.  Ant-Man goes to check on him, and Jack explodes, killing himself and Ant-Man, and wrecking most of the Mansion.
  • At the UN, Iron Man is addressing the General Assembly, in his role as Avenger and America’s Secretary of Defence.  He goes off on the Latverian Ambassador, saying that the UN should wipe the whole country off the map.  He also goes very Brooklyn in his mannerisms, which is weird.
  • After he’s taken backstage, he tells Scarlet Witch that he feels like he’s drunk, even though he hasn’t had anything to drink.
  • Captain America and Falcon arrive at the Mansion, and are helping to coordinate the first responders, when the Vision crashes a Quinjet into what’s left of the structure.
  • Vision apologizes for his actions, and then spits up five silver balls that turn into silent Ultrons, who the team fight and defeat quickly.
  • A very angry She-Hulk rips the Vision apart, and then picks up a military vehicle, which she is about to use to crush Captain America.
  • We see two women talking in the dark about how they are going to continue to wreck the team.
  • Iron Man, rushing to the Mansion, is told by the President’s Chief of Staff that he should resign his position as Secretary of Defense in light of what happened at the UN.
  • She-Hulk keeps raging, smashing Captain Britain, but Iron Man puts her down with one punch. We learn that Cap is okay, but that Jan is knocked out and still at her Wasp size.  A giant Yellowjacket arrives and carries her to the hospital.
  • Later, at the hospital, we see Cap get his arm put back in its socket, and learn that Captain Britain and the Wasp are in critical condition, and that Jen is in SHIELD custody.
  • Hank has a chat with the unconscious Jan, basically complaining that she was a bad wife and ex-wife, negating some of the stuff that Johns had the couple work out in his run.
  • The Avengers that are still standing (minus Pym at first) convene and try to figure out what is going on.  Hawkeye thinks it’s all just a bad day, while Sam thinks that the Ultron attack was triggered by the use of the Avenger’s Code White.  Tony is about to tell them about what happened at the UN, when Hank shows up yelling at Tony about his behaviour there.
  • Tony maintains there is a difference between being drunk and feeling drunk, and when Hawkeye doesn’t support him, he flies off in a huff.  The Avengers receive an alert from the Mansion, and they all fly there, except for Hank, who stays at the hospital.
  • When they arrive, they see all the other Avengers (and some heroes that weren’t ever Avengers) gathered outside the gates.
  • Nick Fury tells the gathered heroes to leave, since their presence could be contaminating a crime scene.  While they are still standing around, they learn from Fury’s high-tech flip phone that the Avengers have lost their status with the United Nations, and Hawkeye gets all angry.
  • A massive alien vessel appears in the sky above the team, although the SHIELD Helicarrier cannot see it on its sensors.  We learn that these aliens are Kree, and they begin indiscriminately attacking the people on the ground.  The Avengers of course fight back.
  • Captain America captures a Kree who claims that this is all revenge for years of the Avengers betraying the Kree race.
  • A bunch of ground troops appear, and Hawkeye leads the charge against them.  His quiver catches fire, and instead of just taking it off, he grabs a Kree with a jetpack and flies himself into their capital ship.  When his quiver explodes, so does the ship, leaving Hawkeye dead, and apparently, the Internet broken in two (or so Bendis once claimed).
  • The rest of the Kree teleport and fly away, and the heroes assemble around the downed main vessel.  Someone in civilian clothes who I can’t recognize finds that the ship is made of something other than metal.
  • Doctor Strange arrives to tell the team that “magics are being abused” and Cap figures out what’s been going on.
  • In a flashback, we see that one day while lounging by the pool, Jan, who just had a pregnancy scare, makes a joke about Wanda’s kids, but she doesn’t know what Jan is talking about.  Jan pretends to be drunk to get out of the awkward conversation.  Bendis.
  • In the present, Doctor Strange takes a very pedagogical approach to getting the assembled team realize that Wanda is behind all of their current problems.  He also talks about how she never earned her mastery of mystic arts, and how there is no such thing as ‘chaos magic’.  
  • In another flashback, Wanda visits Agatha Harkness, demanding to know what happened to her children.
  • Doctor Strange never knew what happened to Wanda’s kids, and weirdly always thought they were real.  Also strange is the choice of the Beast to deliver a lot of this exposition, since he hasn’t been with the team in decades, and seeing as how Wonder Man, who was in a relationship with Wanda, is just part of the crowd.
  • We see Wanda in a nice house with her boys, Vision, and Harkness, having dinner.  When Captain America arrives, the boys become very defensive.  The Red Skull appears and blasts Cap out of the house.
  • Ms. Marvel attacks Wanda, and is beaten up by Rogue.  A variety of Avengers villains and personal enemies attack the assembled team, while Doctor Strange takes on Wanda himself, knocking her out.
  • Inside the house, Nick Fury finds the dessicated corpse of Harkness.
  • Magneto arrives and takes Wanda away from the heroes.  The heroes leave.
  • The last issue of the title ends with a reprint from Avengers #16, by Lee and Kirby.
  • One week later in publishing, three months later in story continuity, comes the Finale issue, wherein Bendis and a whole bunch of artists wrap up the long-running Avengers paradigm, clearing the decks for the New Avengers, which came out the following week.
  • Jan and Hank arrive at the ruined Avengers Mansion, and meet with the following team members: Captain America, Iron Man, Beast, Wonder Man, Falcon, Warbird/Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Captain Britain, and Jarvis.  They are there for a bit of a reunion.
  • Jennifer feels badly about her part in the Avenger’s destruction, but the rest of the team works to console her.  Tony explains that he can’t fund the team anymore, nor can he afford to rebuild the Mansion again.  Carol can’t forgive Wanda for what she’s done.
  • Quicksilver arrives to let the team know that Charles Xavier is working with Wanda, and he attempts to apologize to everyone, but speeds off, upset.
  • Jennifer, still feeling bad, quits the team.  Hank and Jan announce that they are going to Europe together.  Sam announces that he is going to perhaps retires as Falcon.  Kelsey thanks the team and heads back to England.
  • Everyone still in the room reminisces about their favourite Avengers moments, providing the chance for a lot of different artists to draw beautiful two-page spreads.
  • Cap starts a toast for lost Avengers, then the team heads outside, where a crowd of their fans have gathered.
  • I won’t lie; Bendis knows how to hit those emotional notes sometimes.

This story went by pretty quickly, and looking at it now, away from the hype around the New Avengers relaunch, and the self-promotion that Bendis brought to this story, with his promise of breaking the Internet in two, it mostly stands up well.  The story moves quickly, at least when Dr. Strange isn’t talking, and is brutal in its desire to rip things apart in a hurry.  The Finale story works as a nice epilogue, although it too often feels like an excuse to have Bendis’s friends draw scenes they would never otherwise be given the chance to draw.

Artwise, I found these comics to be weak.  I’ve not been the biggest fan of David Finch’s work, and I really think he was a bad choice for a story so full of different characters.  There are numerous places where I’m not sure who is speaking, or who a character whose costume isn’t visible is.  Some pages are terrific, but others look like they were very rushed.

This story, and the transition it forced on the team, is interesting to look at now, when the Avengers franchise is once again undergoing a huge paradigmatic shift.  Where Bendis took the concept of the Avengers as an establishment team, and turned them into a loose association of street-level heroes, I don’t really know what the current thinking is, as we get multiple Avengers teams, who may or may not be communicating with one another, in various relaunched titles.

As much as Bendis had issues with continuity in his run, there was the feeling that we were enjoying a singular vision.  Reading this story again, you could see how he used a pretty improbable plot line to sweep the chess board clean, but you can’t deny that it led to some good comics.

This pretty much concludes my long look at the Avengers (although I am thinking of doing a column on Avengers Forever soon, as I remember loving that book).  If you’d like to look back at everything I’ve written about the team so far, here are some handy links:

Next, I want to take a look at one of the foundational Vertigo titles that launched out of a three-part miniseries by another writer, featuring an old oddball superhero.  Any guesses?

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