In Do You Remember The First Time? we take a nostalgic trip back in time to discuss a seminal purchase that introduced us to a character, title, creator, or even a hobby.
During April, we're looking at our first Avengers comics.
James R: Somewhat surprisingly, I had remained immune to the charms of Earth's Mightiest Heroes for many years. Why? Well, as a boy I'd been swept up by Secret Wars, and as far as I was concerned, that was the apex of the Marvel team book. It wasn't just the House of Ideas though - I'd also never quite been won over by the JLA either. I just preferred solo books - or a team-up at best. Team books always seemed so unwieldily, and given that my selection of comics was extremely limited due to tight Randall family finances as a boy, I'd always go with the safe option. When I got back into comics at university, Marvel was in a pretty fallow period, and there didn't seem to be anything cool going on with the Avengers. I suppose my first issue featuring the Avengers was really The Ultimates #1, but if we're going for Avengers proper, then my first issue was issue #500 - the debut issue of Brian Michael Bendis on the book.
Bendis arrived on the book at arguably the apex of his credibility - with Powers going great guns, and his work on Ultimate Spider-Man winning over a whole new generation of fans, he was a perfect choice to give the Avengers a shot in the arm. Next to the runaway success of Mark Millar's The Ultimates, Avengers' sales were flagging, and Bendis' first action was to turn the book on its head. I can recall the hype beforehand saying that this was the start of a new era for the Avengers, and that Bendis wanted to give Marvel's super team their 'worst day ever'. I had to take a look, and for what it's worth, it certainly worked - I stayed with Avengers up until Civil War, and then picked it up again with the commencement of Jonathan Hickman's majestic run.
When we decided to put these articles together, I was intrigued to see how well the book stood up. I think I probably last read it sometime around 2006, and it's sat in my longbox ever since. Leafing through the pages again, it's remarkable in that it now seems like the best and worst of Bendis in a single issue. In terms of strengths, he really does go for the jugular straight away - laying waste to the Avengers mansion (and offing poor old Scott Lang) in the first few pages, it never lets up. There's some great moments too - She-Hulk hulking out to Bruce Banner levels and Cap chastising a member of the military for not being respectful enough to Jarvis both show that Bendis had a good grasp on the dynamics required on such a big team book. David Finch does some nice work too, but looking back on it, I'm not too sure that Danny Miki's inks were the best fit. As for the negatives, it does have some grating Bendis moments - the uniform dialogue (everyone speaks in the same way) and the incongruous pithy exchanges still don't sit right with me. One thing that is absent is the decompressed storytelling that would become Bendis' trademark - whole issues featuring little in the way of plot or character, but a tonne of back-and-forth dialogue.
To this day, I remain in an uneasy relationship with the Avengers. I think Marvel handle their premier super team a lot better than DC do with the JLA (which I tried as a monthly at the start of the New 52, then dropped after 13 issues) and there are chapters among the Hickman run which are brilliant. But I'm still largely nonplussed by big team books. Like every good fanboy, I've been thrilled by their movie incarnation, but in re-reading Avengers #500, I'm reminded that my time with the Avengers is definitely a fast food experience rather than a substantial meal.