It would seem there are two types of superhero enthusiasts in the world: those who look at a bad guy team made up of strange brainiacs, a giant super-intelligent head in a floating chair and a guy with super-powered apes and think "what a bunch of stupid pathetic losers, let's laugh at them." Then there are those who look at that same team and go "creations like this are exactly why comic books are awesome." It seems the author of Avengers 12.1 is the former, and I'm the latter, which is why I've had to accept that Brian Michael Bendis is just not for me.
It wasn't always this way. I enjoyed his work on Daredevil. I was a big fan of what he did with Ultimate Spider-Man back before Jeph Loeb's The Ultimates 3 somehow managed to completely torpedo my interest in that entire alternate universe in one issue – "twincest" is not a plot hook that will ever keep me around (take heed, Game of Thrones) – and all the current hype about The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man has not been enough to overcome this distaste. I've liked what I've read of Powers, and I have my fingers crossed for the potential coolness of his 1959 Nazi-hunting squad as presented in the pages of New Avengers. The problem is that even though he's now the longest-running creator in Avengers history, I still have to cross my fingers and hope that I'll enjoy his work.
It's important to note that I'm not one of the rabid internet fanboys he loves to mock, with the obnoxiously melodramatic cries of "you raped my childhood" in response to how drastically and immediately he changed the face of the Avengers once he climbed aboard with Disassembled, but a while ago I felt I was in danger of becoming something close to that. As I've said previously, I liked the concept behind that arc, but I thought the execution was haphazard and snidely dismissive of Kurt Busiek's meticulous work with the Scarlet Witch. That led to House of M, another potentially good idea that felt completely empty by the end of it. That, combined with how much I loathed Civil War, made me start to eschew all of Marvel's event books, and as Dark Reign wore on and on and I found myself getting angry at comic books instead of enjoying them, I had to stop and take stock of things.
Was I one of those reactionary fans who seemed to get way too hung up on the minutiae? Am I just unable to cope with the Marvel philosophy of "never letting continuity get in the way of a good story?" Was Bendis right in dismissing all the criticism with that vaguely condescending "change is good" mantra – or did it only seem condescending because I felt it was directed at people like me? Was I spending too much time kvetching with like-minded folks, thus forming a commiseration spiral that exaggerated our problems with the direction of his books to the point of severe distortion? Why was I reading stuff that just elicited bile?
So I just stopped cold. I took a break from comics – all comics – for a few months, to try and reorder my relationship with things and get over myself. "The good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems," as Billy Joel said. No sense continuing to pine for a long-gone status quo when there are some good ideas floating under this umbrella if I could just put my self-righteous indignance aside to appreciate them. And since Jeff Parker was able to help me do a complete 180 on a character I hated as much as the Red Hulk at the time, maybe I need to give these other folks another chance.
When I came back, I picked up some of Bendis' Avengers titles, ready to roll with the changes like REO Speedwagon and get back into the shiny and new stuff. Sure, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange and Iron Fist doesn't really feel very Avengery, but these 1959 guys are cool. Sure, I don't know when the Hood changed from a morally-ambiguous low-rent guy to a megalomaniacal cosmic threat, but I'm sure I missed something in between. But Avengers 12.1 came along today and brought back that bile, because it crapped where I eat.
Last year, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker did some amazing work with their Fall of the Hulks storyline, which not only made me do that aforementioned 180 on "Rulk," but also built one of the craziest bad guy teams of all time in the Intelligencia and crafted them into a legitimately scary threat. They captured most of the world's eight smartest men and completely neutralized them, and their machinations have mentally crippled Dr. Doom to this day. They nearly conquered the world, and they had a giant head in a floating chair and a guy with super-apes. I absolutely loved these guys. It was everything awesome about comics, and since the status quo of the Hulk is now drastically different than it's ever been before and I'm loving it completely, the mantra should be amended to "change is good when the changes are good." It proved I wasn't one of those sticks-in-the-mud that just couldn't deal with something different.
Love him or not, Bendis does have a reputation for not playing well with other people's toys, whether it be detonating Wanda Maximoff or murdering Alpha Flight off-panel. Pounding round characters into square plot holes, as I like to say all the time to sound like a clever know-it-all type. In 12.1, he undermines Parker and Pak's work by turning the Intelligencia into a complete joke. I suppose you can make the argument that, without the Leader and with a new, untested version of MODOK, the Intelligencia as led by the Wizard was going to be a shell of its former self, but it certainly undercuts the major threat Parker was building with that new MODOK Superior in the pages of Red Hulk. Here, they're just cast as idiots poking and prodding a mysteriously inert spaceknight that had crashed on Earth, while also creeps who've captured Spider-Woman and inexplicably stripped her naked. I have no comment on the infamous BMB fetish for Jessica Drew, and I shan't implicate the bondage as a component of that, either.
Our tenuous writer/reader relationship was not strengthened by chumping out my favorite supervillain team of all time, even though the emergence of the real threat – the return of Ultron – would normally have made me as pleased as punch, as he's another one of my favorite baddies. The spaceknight vessel that contained Ultron would seem to indicate that Bendis is pulling him from the end of Annihilation: Conquest, so it will be interesting to see if there's any reference to the fact that Ultron already returned from that in the pages of Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers, which has been referenced with Jocasta in a recent issue of Avengers Academy. It stands to reason there can be more than one Ultron, of course, so let's not get too nitpicky about this, kids. Ultron is back, and Tony Stark is in a fetal position, scared out of his tin drawers at the thought of what the killer death robot is going to do because apparently being a futurist means you're actually clairvoyant… but we're not going to get any more on that story until Fear Itself runs its course.
One of Bendis' strengths is his penchant for witty banter, which he squeezes in here by having Steve Rogers interrogating Agent Brand about who the hell she is (how many months has Steve been running things and he's never heard of S.W.O.R.D.? That's a little – no, that's nitpicking again, he was just setting up a World of Warcraft joke and that's fine). This is a Point One issue, so the objective is to make the Avengers look awesome, and it seems the characters I'm entirely too precious about had to step up and be the duly designated punching bags. It felt somewhat cheap, but it's understandable.
It's just not enjoyable. To me, at least. I found myself hurling profanities at the pages as I realized they were being punked out, which I think just means I'm going to have to stop reading this book on general principle. I just don't think I'm going to enjoy how he writes the characters I like best, and I don't want to sit around being angry about comics. Your mileage may vary, and probably does, considering these are the most popular titles going.
Some folks look at weird fruit and just say 'ha ha, that fruit is weird.' I'll be gravitating towards the other folks who pick that fruit and make awesome sauce out of it.