New Avengers #45 and Bendis’s master plan.

Posted by Sigrid.

Last week I listened to Brian Michael Bendis’s recent conversation with John Siuntres on the WordBalloon podcast. Yeah, all four parts of it. (I’m not sure I remember all of it, but I listened.) Something Bendis said struck me. He asserted that Secret Invasion is the culmination of a plan he’s had in mind since he started on Avengers.

I thought about that for a minute. This meant that all through “Avengers: Disassembled” — through House of M, through Civil War — through all of it, not only were the Skrull agents in place in the world of the Marvel U, they were in place in Bendis’s head as he wrote. Wow. Really? Really, Bendis? If that’s the case, first of all, count me impressed. And second . . . I wanted to re-read the stories and see what held together.

I didn’t get very far before this week’s new comics releases. I finished “Disassembled” and read through House of M. And then I read New Avengers #45. And it was just about perfect.

I love “Disassembled,” and I love House of M. I admit both stories are flawed, but I love them. In “Disassembled” Wanda Maximoff (The Scarlet Witch) used her chaos powers to destroy the Avengers as a team, killing some of them in the process. (How much of the world was affected by Wanda’s magic in “Disassembled?” How much time went by? Dr. Strange as deus ex machina is a boring solution to the problem. Why did Wanda let Vision stay dead?) In House of M Wanda used her powers — via the unconsenting use of Charles Xavier’s telepathy — to create a fantasy world in which everyone gets what they want. (How did Wanda juggle competing fantasies in the House of M ‘verse? Did none of the X-Men want Jean Grey alive, not one of them? Wanda is a plot device, not a character, twice. I could go on.) But the flaws have never been deal-breakers for me. I still love the scope of the stories. Both stories are tales of living with the bad things you’ve done. Stories of making the best call you could make at the time, and hoping it would all work out, and then turning your back on the consequences. The Avengers and X-Men both have a habit of seeing their team members brutally traumatized and then moving on as if nothing happened.

Now, clearly, editorial and story needs are in play here. Almost no one wants to read the story of one person’s long struggle out of PTSD and trauma, back to a minimally functional life. (Or maybe more people want to read that than Marvel thinks — look at the word-of-mouth acclaim garnered by Bendis’s Alias.) Superhero comics are about super-powered people doing impossible things, fending off cataclysmic threats, stopping implacable foes. After one adventure or mission comes the next, and the next. No time in between to stop and get therapy, stop and get control — stop and have a family.

However, some of these more personal stories are the ones the fans remember. Tony Stark’s battle with alcoholism. Wanda Maximoff’s wedding to the Vision. Ororo Monroe’s trek across Africa — her lonely visionquest, her fight against the poachers and the Struckers. (Andrea and Andreas, now appearing in Thunderbolts.) Scott Summers on a shrimp boat, running from the X-Men and fighting a squid — oh, wait, only Caroline and I remember that.

And of course we have Wanda’s pregnancy and children, and their disregarded fate. This plot unfolded in West Coast Avengers, so I’m certain not everyone remembers it. Wanda had two children, though her husband was an android and unable to contribute to conception. It was ultimately revealed that Wanda had stolen demonic essence and willed two children into existence. The Avengers, allies, and enemies eventually took Wanda’s children from her and removed her memories of the event. Or so they thought.

Wanda, through Bendis’s storytelling, eventually got to draw the attention of the Avengers to her pain in “Disassembled.” And once she’d made them suffer for destroying her family and happiness, they had to figure out what to do with her. Yet it is not Wanda that thought to create the House of M universe — it was Pietro. And if there ever was a character more disregarded by the X-Men and Avengers than Wanda, it’s her brother.

Disregarded consequences. They seem to be at the core of Bendis’s Avengers stories. Here, now, in Secret Invasion we have another round of abandoned events coming back to haunt Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. (I can’t claim to understand the full Skrull plot. I have read all the Avengers’ titles, I read Illuminati, I’m following along — I simply don’t know how things are going to end.) The Skrulls have been planning this takeover of Earth for a long time. Long enough for the Queen, Veranke, to have been completely integrated into the Avengers as Jessica Drew. And, as Jessica Drew, Veranke participated in the House of M reality.

Secret Invasion is not done. I don’t know what the full reveals will be. But this issue of New Avengers filled my heart with glee. This is the sort of issue that respects the reader, respects the canon. It shows that not only is Bendis paying attention, he knows that the reader is paying attention, too. It matters to me that — since Jessica Drew was really Veranke — it matters to me how she took it all. How the Skrulls dealt with Pietro’s fantasy brought to reality by his sister. How the Skrulls handled the subsequent loss of mutants.

It matters to me that someone remembers that the Avengers do not move cleanly through the world. They destroy even as they save. It matters to me that the Skrulls are not merely props in an Avengers’ tale — that they are people with their own narrative. I hope that Veranke and the other Skrulls get a decent ending to their story — or at least a decent next step. After all, I hope that Wanda’s story isn’t done. I heard on WordBalloon that another writer has a Wanda story in the works, and I can’t wait.

I loved the art in New Avengers #45 — the clean lines and colors. I loved the use of direct quotations from House of M. I loved the inclusion of Annihilation. I love how this title grounds the Skrull invasion in the last three years of canon. I love how Veranke is finally becoming, for me, a fully fleshed-out character.

I look forward to seeing the culmination of Bendis’s master plan.

  • Your post makes me very excited. I am in the same boat as you, tho i add in to the mix my adoration of Jessica Drew, and my feverish hope that she is alive.
    I started re-reading the story a while ago, when i heard that Bendis had planned from Disassembled, and a blogger (name has escaped at the moment!) had postulated that the skrull-replacements had blue eyes (my boss and i flipped madly through books checking eye colour (there is major Wolvie inconsistency people!))
    I havent read 45 yet, but I saw the preview panes that involved Veranke, and it made me love her character as well.
    I have been thoroughly enthralled with the Bendis-driven events, and really thank him for creating my now voracious appetite for comics :) (tho i take it back if Jessica Drew isnt found! And no Queen Veranke as Spider-Woman: Agent of SWORD either :P)

  • sigrid

    My friend Cavorter postulated that Bendis is re-working all of John Byrne’s pet plotlines in some coherent manner. I can’t really speak to that, I’m not familiar enough with Byrne’s work outside of the X-Men. But whatever Bendis is doing, I’m willing to ride along.

  • Caroline

    I really like your analysis here. I’m still trying to get a handle on why Bendis’ Avengers stuff *doesn’t* speak to me, when I like so much else that he’s written. I mean, most of those story-logic critiques of ‘House of M’ that you listed are mine, but that’s not enough because there are plenty of things I like that don’t make a helluva a lot of sense.

    You mentioned that you feel about ‘New Avengers’ the way I feel about this latest issue of ‘X-men: Legacy,’ and that’s probably true. And it’s probably because I feel about ‘X-men: Deadly Genesis’ pretty close to the way you feel about Disassembled and House of M. Yeah, the (editorially imposed) 3rd Summers Brother story aspect of the story is crap, but the emotional beats, and what they say about Xavier and Scott’s relationship relationship really strike a chord with me. It’s a retcon, but one that feels fundamentally true to the characters. And I love seeing that addressed, with Emma in the equation, in ‘Legacy’ — even though I wish the story would have pulled back and showed us more of Emma and Scott that wasn’t filtered through Xavier.

    And that’s totally taking this in my own direction, but the ‘disregarded consequences’ thing definitely resonates wtih Xavier as a character.

  • I’ve been thinking about the Byrne link since last night and I think my memory about who wrote what is not working properly. For example I was of the mistaken impression that it was Byrne who did the Skrull swap with Alicia Masters, but it turns out that was DeFalco. There’s a few more like that so I’m going to take back that assertion at this point.

  • Anonymous

    @Caorline I should re-read Deadly Genesis just to see if I can work around the asinine premise.

  • Caroline

    @Anonymous — I’ll freely admit there are bad plot elements to DG, but there are character beats, with Xavier and Cyclops and Alex particularly, that work really well. And I love the backup stories to bits.

  • Margot

    I’ve got to agree with this. I have serious issues with a lot of what Bendis writes – and you pointed them out. But I’ve actually been really enjoying all of Secret Invasion, especially the ‘this is how we got here’ parts. It’s doing such a good job of turning the Skrulls into fully realized characters – showing how they’ve gotten where they are, how various events affected them. And that just makes me enjoy it more, because as much as I like giant invasion storylines (and I do, most of the time) it has always been the little character moments that grabs me. And this issue of New Avengers did an amazing job of tying that in.

  • Thanks for the info!