Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of the Year: A Dark and Shining Moment

Posted by on January 20th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

I don’t often get a chance to praise much about superhero comics (except something written by Alan Moore — or Grant Morrision or Gail Simone or Paul Grist …), let alone anything about bloated, shambling pan-title crossovers. But in the long, long shadows of hold-over sagas from DC and Marvel begun in 2009, let me do so now, however circumscribed that praise eventually turns out to be.

In the past year, three massive “crossover events” from those two companies were established on genuinely intriguing premises. Each, particularly at their outsets, had real moments of honestly-come-by frisson. Two gained additional power from sad resonances of real-world parallels. All have since succumbed to vitiating commercial routines, have fallen back on tired genre practice and come to broadly pander to the least common reader denominator. But regardless of how they grew up, their baby pictures are worth showing around.

Lord knows my esteem for Brian Michael Bendis knows all bounds, but I love him for the way he framed the idea underlying his Dark Avengers. This was (still is?) a team of bad guys and power tools that, through their good fortune and their villainous subterfuge, claimed the name and mantle of the group of Marvel heroes, assuming their stature and supplanting them in the public eye. Usurpation complete, they extended the topsy-turvy logic to make their former foes, the good guys, into outlaws, into threats to our safety, to our beliefs, to truth, justice and the American way.

At the time, it was easy to read this as a spandex translation of the modus operandi of the W. Bush administration. You remember: it’s the one that starts out in a crisis with self-serving assertions of empowered guardianship that eventually spins forth the fateful corollary that the enemies of the people are, for all practical purposes, whoever they said they are (for newcomers, that would be Saddam at the head of the line). Also following as an unnatural consequence was the designation of enemies for anyone whose opinions differed from those of the guardians.

As if to make such references all the more explicit, Bendis couches the debut of his new supergroup, “Your Avengers,” in the most pro forma of political pronouncements. After declaiming his new group would “battle against anyone who would threaten our way of life,” the once-and-current Green Goblin, the uber-nemesis of Spider-Man, ends a speech and the inaugural issue of Dark Avengers with “My name is Norman Osborn and I approve these Avengers.”

That was then. Since, Marvel — as is its wont — has taken this intriguing concept, this “darkening” of gleaming heroic familiars, and frog-spawned dozens of new monthly comics, spreading the besmirchment into many already ongoing company titles. This pretty much guaranteed that the original idea would be creatively diluted beyond coherence and patience, making it impossible to follow in development.

But for one brief shining moment …!

Next: Extended shiny moments.

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