If you haven’t noticed by now, there’s one particular type of Avengers story that is particularly popular: the assembling. This is true of all team books to an extent, but in many ways it is quite unique to The Avengers, at least in the Marvel Universe. X-Men usually come and go one at a time (rather than en masse). The Fantastic Four has a fairly consistent membership. The Defenders whom schtick is that they don’t have a membership. Only The Avengers, seemingly, have these great epistemic shifts in power in such a way that, every dozen issues or so, an entire issue needs to be dedicated just to sitting down and picking out new members.
This time there’s a twist though: this time we’re getting the opening assemblage of the Dark Avengers: a group of criminals banded together by the new director of SHIELD, Norman Osborne. Yes, that Norman Osborne. Something about that still, even after all this time and the storyline’s conclusion, still sends shivers down my spine and goosebumps over my flesh.
So a lot of this assembling revolves around the team coming together either through dirty deals, blackmail, extortion, or flat-out deceit. That’s really the big difference here, and it’s in this that we see the real genius behind what scribe Brian Micheal Bendis has done. He’s made a hero replacement story without replacing the heroes.
“Hero Replacement” stories have existed in comics for a very long time, and they usually serve several functions: many of them media and publicity related, but one they serve from a storytelling perspective is to remind readers of what a hero is by showing them what the hero is not. They did it a lot in the 90s: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Flash… and too many more to name. All these were replaced and, subsequently, returned to their originals with renewed freshness. But there is always a backlash from the fan community towards the replacement… Bendis avoids that by placing the “replacements” in their own title. So we have the replacement heroes here, providing us with dark reflections of each character the criminals are masquerading as so that we can be reminded of what the Avengers are through their negative example, but we also have the normal Avengers over in Mighty Avengers and New Avengers.
I’m not trying to pander here, that really is a stroke of genius. Like having your cake and eating it too.