With Civil War, Secret Invasion and their “Dark Reign” tags, Marvel took some chances that few other companies – and by ‘few other companies’ I of course mean their only notable competition in the realm of coherent universe superheroics, DC – were willing to: large-scale events that seriously altered the status quo of characters major and minor, of the setting as a whole. While DC is willing to go as dark as need be and will in fact straight up murder (fictional) children to prove it, Marvel’s change felt more organic, perhaps because it sprung from actual storylines that had follow-through. Despite all that, however, it was an experiment that could only last so long, perhaps because there’s only so grim you can go before you turn into a parody of yourself, and Marvel had passed that point on more than one occasion.
Enter “The Heroic Age,” a line of books about a brighter, more hopeful Marvel Universe. In the aftermath of Siege, Osborn has been thrown out of power, the Super Human Registration Act has been banished in a magical hand-wave, and the heroes are all playing nice with one another again. Steve Rogers, now returned, has been placed at the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and so he relaunches the franchise that made his name: the Avengers.
The Heroic Age: The Avengers #1 is meant to be a jumping on point for new readers, a relaunch of the “Avengers” brand that signifies the brighter Marvel Universe, and as such, it largely works. It features a little too much of Bendis’ trademark witty dialogue, consisting as it does of only a single page of action, which might turn some new readers off. It also introduces some nice twists to the proceedings, however, as the newly formed Avengers get their first mission: renegade time terrorist Kang the Conqueror arrives in modern day New York City, at Avengers HQ, with some devastating information. It seems that many of the modern Avengers will one day have children, and those children will conquer the world and run roughshod over its defenseless population. Only the Avengers can stop them.
It’s a clever premise with a last-page twist that makes it work a little better. No matter how bright the Heroic Age claims to be, there’s a lot of baggage left over from the previous arcs, and Bendis wisely refuses to sweep it under the rug. There were betrayals of trust, and many of those are represented here. The Heroic Age: The Avengers #1 is not a terribly exciting start to a new era of Avengers comics, but it is a well-meaning one. Only time will tell what this era will be known for, but this opening issue makes at least one suggestion: admitting and handling the dramatic fallout of a decade of ‘grim and gritty’. There is potential here, but not much of it is realized on the pages themselves. Here’s hoping the title, like the Universe itself, has a brighter tomorrow.
- Cal Cleary