It’s hard to believe now but in the not-so-distant past, the Avengers was an also-ran property at Marvel. From the early 1980s through the problematic 1990s, then into the early part of the 2000s, the main property and books at Marvel were centered around the X-Men and all of its related titles. After all, X-Men number one sold 8 million copies at one point!
How Brian Michael Bendis Created the Marvel Cinematic Universe
So the Avengers as also-ran was the world in which Brian Michael Bendis took on the Avengers title. After the Scarlet Witch went on a reign of destruction, the Avengers disbanded and laid dormant. Then in 2004, the New Avengers title launched, pulling together heroes to take down a prison break at a supervillain prison.
And the New Avengers series is very, very good.
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Bendis is, without a doubt, one of the best comic writers of this era. It is almost taken for granted how good some of his comics are. Recently, here at the site, several of the writers got the Marvel Unlimited app for the first time and, without fail, we eventually have the “Oh yeah. You should definitely read New Avengers.” If you never have, the run that started in the fall of 2004 is worth checking out.
And, I would propose, much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is owed to the New Avengers series. With Fox owning the rights to the X-men universe, Marvel was in the earliest formation of their cinematic universe at the time that these books were beginning to come to life.
Iron Man wasn’t released in theaters until 2008, which, with the closing scene of Nick Fury arriving, sets in motion everything that we now take for granted. If in 2004 you could have bet large sums on money about whether or not there would be a Marvel Universe with at least 2 movies released every year, you’d have certainly bet against even the idea of it, much less the reality that movies with people in colorful costumes and superpowers would make billions of dollars.
So why is Bendis’ New Avengers run so important to the movies?
- He understood the idea of how to put a team together. New Avengers gets some grief because it basically gave Bendis carte blanche to put any character that he wanted on the team. Wolverine and Spider-Man became Avengers for the first time. Luke Cage is on the team. The mysterious Spider-Woman is there as well as Iron Man and Captain America. Over the course of the first collections, there is a real team chemistry that they have used well in the movies.
- Bendis’ has a great sense of the Avengers and their purpose. Part of why the Avengers had lost their way before this run is that they had lost their compelling sense of who they are and what they are as a team. The first gathering is a fantastic sense of why the Avengers as both a team and ideal are needed. You can almost hear the same words in the first Avengers movie and in Fury’s sense of why they need to exist.
- The right mix of characters being on the team. Even with the ability to draft anyone he wanted, Bendis made a mixture of interesting characters. It had old school Avengers plus new characters, some who worked (Ronin) and some who didn’t (oh, Sentry). Throughout the run, there is a solid and consistent mixture of characters and storylines and history. They have done that similarly well in the movies. Captain America: Civil War could be a mess with as many heroes and plots as it has, yet, the movies, like Bendis’ run, balances all the parts amazingly well.
- It elevated the Avengers past the X-Men. It probably isn’t fair to say is true of the general audience, but among comic book people, Avengers had become THE book and when they started the work of building together the team in the movie universe, the fan people were definitely behind it and helping to build the buzz.
- Side note: so, this isn’t deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe but needs to be said nonetheless: there would be no Luke Cage, or Jessica Jones. Both of those characters were in Bendis’ hands before the New Avengers, going back to his adult Alias series about Jessica Jones. But he took a character in Luke Cage that could be a really unfortunate product of the era in which he was produced and made him into a great, well rounded character with a perspective that still isn’t seen in the comics. If they can hold to that version of the character for the Netflix series, it could wind up being the best thing in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, if you wanted to find a comic that is close to the things you love about the current Avengers and their movie universe, you should definitely check out the New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. And be thankful.