Assembled: How the “New Avengers” by Brian Michael Bendis gave us Marvel’s “The Avengers”
Gavin Gronenthal ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
If you may recall, there was a little movie that premiered last summer called The Avengers. Everyone has seen it, everyone knows about it, and, frankly, it’s hard to imagine a cinematic world without Joss Whedon’s juggernaut film. Grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, the film skyrocketed to international fame. Marvel used its brilliant marketing strategy to slowly build the team from the ground up, starting with the wildly successful Iron Man and eventually reaching the final goal of assembling the Avengers. But that goal couldn’t be reached without the efforts of one particular author: Brian Michael Bendis.
Bendis ended up writing the Avengers books for 8 years. He had previously—and very successfully—revamped Spider-Man in Marvel’s “Ultimate” line, which placed old heroes in more modern situations without messing with the mainstream continuity. However, Bendis was placed on the Avengers comic shorty after authors Geoff Johns and Chuck Austen left the book, and was given a team that he decided wasn’t right for the job. So what did he do? He destroyed Avengers Mansion, killed many longtime members (including Hawkeye, but he came back—comics!) and ended the book after 504 issues. Controversial? Definitely. But necessary? This writer would argue yes.
The Avengers were Marvel’s answer to DC’s Justice League, combining together “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” to fight the forces of evil. Unfortunately, no matter how well written the stories were, The Avengers never really held as much gravitas as their rivals, and even fell flat in comparison to Marvel’s own books such as The X-Men and Spider-Man. Sure, the Avengers had their own fan base, and were even the centerpiece of some of their very own crossover events, such as the Secret Wars in the 70’s. But none of the characters had ever held the same effect as everyone’s favorite web-slinger, or the motley crew of mutant heroes. In fact, before his 2008 movie, Iron Man was hardly even recognized outside of comic fans, let alone Thor or Hawkeye.
All of that changed after Bendis ripped apart the team: he replaced the original team with the New Avengers. Featuring art by David Finch, The New Avengers consisted many new and old members, such as Captain America and Iron Man, Luke Cage (the first black superhero to have his own book), Spider-Woman (a pet character of Bendis’s) and, most importantly, Spider-Man and Wolverine. This was easily the biggest decision Bendis made when creating his new team, as everyone and their mother knew that those two characters were Marvel’s hottest commodities. This also led, however, to even more controversy, on both a corporate and a commercial level. Marvel had long speculated that putting a character in multiple books at a time would affect the sales of their original book, which is the core reason why Spider-Man had never joined any superhero team what so ever. Meanwhile, most longtime Avengers fans cried folly, calling his decision blasphemy and simply a trick to get sales.
But even if our die-hard Avengers fans were right, and this was a ploy to finally sell the issue more, you can’t argue that it worked. The Avengers were often a place to put C and D list heroes (like Starfox, or Moondragon, or Dr. Druid; you get the point.). But with the inclusion of the most profitable heroes at the time (Spider-Man had just had his second record breaking blockbuster, and Wolverine was headlining the third X-Men movie), The Avengers quickly rose to the top of the ranks. People wanted to read stories that featured their favorite heroes teaming up, and then learned to love the heroes they didn’t know along the way. They no longer had to play second fiddle to the more popular X-Men at the time: in fact, they became more popular than the X-Men were at the time, and still are. Marvel had attempted to reinvent the Avengers before, but ithad never succeeded even close to the level of Bendis.
And that success brought about a rebirth of quality and sales. The average yearly sales of Avengers comics doubled from around 73,000 to 150,000 in less than two years, and that can all be leant to Bendis’s idea to make the Avengers “New.”
From it’s creation in late December, 2004, The New Avengers were consistently in the top five comic books of each month for the next four years, and revitalized at least four or six more Avengers books afterwards. It also led to successful rebirths of some of the solo series of the individual members, such as Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, and Captain America by Ed Brukbaker and Steve Epting.
The key here, though, is that without the New Avengers, the Avengers movie simply doesn’t go into production. The New Avengers book was so successful that The Avengers was finally viewed as a hot commodity, and therefore the movie could get off the ground, and in addition led to the successful release of Iron Man in 2008. Marvel saw the chance to push The Avengers as their big book, and started putting them as the headliners of all their crossovers and pushing their book as the next big thing in comics. And for all intents and purposes, it really was.
So next time you question whether or not Bendis deserves any praise he gets (there are many who think he doesn’t), just remember that without his strives for a “New Avengers,” we would never get to see the Avengers Assemble on the big screen. And while the lineup may look more like the Avengers of old, Bendis’s made sure his book had the more popular Spider-Man and Wolverine. And because of this decision, the cast of colorful characters in the film went from C to A listers in the comics, and later in the movies as well. Although he has since moved on from the Avengers and set his sights on the X-Men (who are actually in need of a comics revival themselves), Brian Michael Bendis undoubtedly made that movie possible. And with a sequel on the way and no end in sight, perhaps the stories he wrote will officially make it to the big screen too.