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I’m not afraid of the dark!

Brian Hibbs

DARK AVENGERS #1: So this is my theory, and it may be wrong.

Marvel has been very good, maybe especially amazingly good about judging the zeitgeist when it comes to their recent big events. CIVIL WAR and SECRET INVASION were both pretty prefect distillations of the nation’s feelings at the time of their initial publication, and that’s why they resonated so well with the comics audience, and sold so well. That’s what pop comics are supposed to do, of course: reflect ourselves back at us so we can know ourselves better. One can argue this is a tradition that goes back to the start of Marvel, as well: what else are most of the original Marvel characters but perfect pictures of America’s fears of the Bomb, the commies, the generational changes between “the 50s” and “the 60s”?

So my theory is this: Marvel (and Bendis, one presumes) really really thought that Obama was going to lose the presidency. Maybe this is from liberal self-loathing; maybe it was just playing the odds — hell, even here in liberal pinko San Francisco, there’s very few of my peers who thought the black guy REALLY had a chance.

Storylines are planned months ahead of time, of course. And once you start something down a certain path, it really is hard to change that path in a group-planning environment.

Because I’m not sure how to otherwise really explain DARK AVENGERS #1 coming out the day after the inauguration of our 44th president. Tonally, it’s completely wrong. Here’s a man who, in his first week, has strengthened the Freedom of Information Act; is doing his initial interviews with “the Muslim world” trying to show them that America is not their enemy; is shutting down Gitmo.

And in DARK AVENGERS #1 a loathsome and insane enemy takes over super-heroic security of the country, installing twisted parodies of some of our favorite heroes as though they were the real thing, and is ruling based on fear and blackmail and psychosis.

Well, fair enough that I have a few conservative friends who might argue that IS the undercurrent of America ’09, but I think they’re fair from the majority opinion this time around.

I don’t want this to become a big political debate or anything, but the dissonance between watching our President speak, and the workings of America in the Marvel universe is pretty breathtaking — it’s like going to the opera and finding out tonight’s selection is the Sex Pistol’s greatest hits!

So, yeah, I think they were betting on McCain winning this thing. Could be wrong, but that’s my theory and I am sticking with it for the moment.

Putting THAT aside, how was the comic itself?

Actually, surprisingly GOOD.

There was some fine storytelling going on here — everything you might possibly need to know is right there within the pages of the comic itself, and it unfolded organically, as well as with a reasonable amount of suspense. There was a density of storytelling that I haven’t gotten from a Bendis comic in some time — this is a “crowded” book, with lots going on, and a lot of insight into the individual pieces.

This is one of Marvel’s new $3.99 monthlies, but if it keeps this density, that might even be a reasonable price to pay.

The art is lovely and moody, the script is strong, what’s not to like?

My one concern is two-fold (hm, does that even make sense?) — this book’s premise is a bit too much like that of THUNDERBOLTS (and TBOLTS changes it’s premise a little bit, kinda, to match to that), but because of the high profile nature of the title and the characters, I really really don’t see how you can get a lot more than a year out of the premise.

At least TBOLTS had places to run after it’s big surprising reveal — those were, largely, minor characters, who were wide open to change, and there were a number of themes of heroism and redemption that could be explored because of that, in several different directions.

DA really doesn’t have that option, as I can see it — not only CAN’T characters like Venom or Bullseye change or be redeemed or become heroic, the audience would really hate them for doing so.

In some ways, DA’s premise reminds me (a SMIDGE) of that of THE SHIELD: bad bad people in charge of your security, and they’re going to do bad bad things along the way to enrich themselves as well. The problems that I see is that, unlike Vic Mackey, Norman and his psychos are at the top of the food chain, and there’s nothing, no chain of command, no leaders above them to reign them in, or hold them back. At best, you’ve got public opinion, but that’s a weak chain for storytelling. What makes something like THE SHIELD so compelling was “How the fuck do the bad guys get away with this, get out of eating the shit sandwich they made… hell, make someone else eat that sandwich?” BUt that’s because they were under CONSTANT scrutiny and political forces arrayed against them.

Plus, I really liked Vic Mackey in a way, and his honor, however twisted, that put his family’s life as his main goal (even if he fucked it up constantly by being, y’know, corrupt and evil)

Not so with Norman, not so with the rest of the cast — I don’t feel an “in” there, the character to root for, or a path that things can go that won’t end up by issue #12 having to be in the same place as the conclusion of THE SHIELD. The Dark Avengers don’t seem to have anything to strive AGAINST.

So yeah, flawed premise, hard to see how it can last, completely wrong for the moment in history… and yet I thought it was GOOD, nonetheless. So figure, eh?

What did YOU think?


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