Brian Michael Bendis had a storied run on New Avengers, but like any long run there are great successes and…some misfires. This Complete Collection Vol. 7 contains both as it spans multiple arcs and ends in the conclusion of his saga.
The funny thing about this review is that I’m speaking to a very limited audience. If you’ve collected the first six Bendis collections, you’re most likely going to buy this regardless of reviews. If you haven’t purchased a New Avengers collection yet, this seventh collection has to knock your socks off to come into Bendis’s saga this late. So here are a few hundred words to try to sway those caught in the middle.
This collection contains 440 pages of Bendis’s closing work on New Avengers, covering issues #16.1 and #17-#34. This huge span of work bridges multiple story arcs and even a crossover event. While Bendis’s writing is consistent, we get a look at several different artists such as Neal Adams, Mike Deodato Jr, Michael Gaydos, Michael Avon Oeming, and Carlos Pacheco. The New Avengers lineup contains a diverse group of hard hitters as well as some who allow for some light-hearted moments, and in these seventeen issues they face a pretty daunting lineup of some A-list villains.
Bendis has organized a team of Defenders, X-Men, and solo artists that, despite their diverse origins, play well off of one another within a team dynamic. Bendis does a great job developing characters and balancing the panel-time shared with every member so even though Cage is leading the team, it would never be considered “Luke Cage and friends” (similarly, Bendis is able to write Wolverine into a supporting role without making it the Logan show like other writers are so tempted to do). For every stoic Luke Cage or Doctor Strange monologue, there’s a Spider-Man or Iron Fist wisecrack that maintains the comic’s overall equilibrium.
These story arcs feature high stakes threats and big name villains that align themselves with Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers, along with a Phoenix Force influenced X-Men squad and smaller, but significant Dr. Strange villain threat to end the collection. With obstacles this daunting, it’s easier to become invested in the story line and Bendis really knows how to hook you with the first few issues of every arc.
While we see a few different artists featured throughout the collection, Mike Deodato is the primary artist, and if you’re familiar with his work then you’ll be thankful he illustrates the majority of the issues, especially once given the harsh contrast with other visuals later in the collection. It helps when Deodato is backed with some great inkers, but it’s hard to miss how expressive his faces are and the fluidity of his action sequences. The guy is talented and there are multiple splashes that you should take a couple minutes to appreciate (my personal favorite is the introduction of Ai Apaec. It’s poster-worthy).
I had mentioned Bendis’s ability to rope the reader in with story arcs that provide so much potential, but unfortunately, in my opinion, each one of these arcs is unable to close. The re-assembly of the Dark Avengers shows promise and delivers some really good moments in the first half, but despite starting with a bang the arc begins its plot descent and ultimately culminates in the span of a single issue. The threat of the Dark Avengers dissipates, but is never clearly resolved before the series transitions to yet another Mutant vs. Avenger story arc. The true main character of this initial arc is Norman Osborn and his redemption story of organizing a second coming of the Dark Avengers, but the culminating issue doesn’t even feature him. The last we see of Osborn is the penultimate issue of the arc prior to the collapse of his plan.
This second major arc dedicates a lot of pages and even entire issues to backstory — it’s a bit too much. In attempts to build the momentum to the Phoenix Force event, Bendis dedicates several issues to building the Force’s history and relationship to K’un Lun. Unfortunately by the time we finally fast forward to the present, we’re already burnt out on the story line. Also, as a side note, I hate it when major, but obscure historical figures are shown to have a presence in superheroic affairs. The inclusion of Da Vinci being brought to K’un Lun for research rubbed me the wrong way.
But the main issue with the collection has nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with the collection format itself: crossover events. Sometimes a “complete collection” is more frustrating than having several smaller TPBs, especially in the case of crossover events. The X-Men vs. Avengers storyline is ultimately ruined because we only get snippets of the storyline from the New Avengers perspective with only a paragraph of recap provided in between issues. That’s not to say these crossover issues are poor in any way — in fact, these particular issues are some of the best in the collection and are entertaining enough to be solid standalone issues. However, just the presence of a crossover event within the collection really messes with the flow of storytelling.
Is It Good?
Brian Michael Bendis is a very talented writer and there are certainly more than a handful of highlights collected here. Unfortunately, between the falter in art late into the last arc and only half of the story within the AvX event, the collection feels disjointed.