Avengers: Disassembled (Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch)
Avengers: Disassembled is one of those events that really does change the status quo and shake things up to the point that they can not easily go back to the way things once were. Disassembled is also one of those events that splits the fan base down the middle. On one side, the old guard fighting against the sweeping changes to the Avengers franchise that it introduced. The other, newer readers more open to change due to their lack of knowledge and an eagerness to lap up anything with their favourite characters in it.
I first read Avengers: Disassembled many years after it was originally released. I got on board with the Avengers with New Avengers and House of M so this was all stuff that had happend before my time. Looking at it today I feel as though I went about reading it the right way. I waited until I knew a lot more about the Avengers outside of New Avengers and the Bendis era before reading it. That is because this serves as the end point for the old style Avengers, its classic format and team dynamic. Like any event it is chock full of characters but unlike other Marvel events that cover their whole universe of characters this is focused squarely on the Avengers. Who they are, what they stand for and most importantly what they fail to do.
The worst day in Avengers history opens with an huge explosion and does not let up until the gripping conclusion. Tearing down everything you know about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes wether you like it or not!
The common misconception with Disassembled is that it is some sort of attack on the traditional way of Marvel publishing Avengers stories. That it is a big F-YOU to older, long time readers and that it’s only purpose is to set up Bendis’ New Avengers that kicked-off soon after this event brought about the end of the 500 issue + volume of Avengers adventures. So while it does work as the setup for New Avengers because being written by the same writer will do that to a franchise. It is not an attack on the old way of doing things. If anything it is a love letter.
During the length of the story the Avengers are put through a gauntlet of their most well known enemies and obstacles. You have the Kree, Ultron, classic characters coming back for both good and ill and more. It is a who’s who of the team’s roster as everyone chips in to help. Then at the heart of the book the one person controlling everything, all the death, destruction and breaking down of the Avengers is one of their own, the Scarlet Witch. The reasons for her breakdown are pulled from old and at the time current stories focusing on her turbulent history and in particular her want for a family. It takes these stories that had been tied off neatly after they had finished and weaves them into something very compelling. The Scarlet Witch had breakdown but nobody noticed and now they are paying for it. It looks at the Avengers as a franchise as a whole and draws out a reasonably dark story from its more…well lets just say…murky and clichéd past. I wouldn’t say it is an attack at all. Just an action packed look back before we move forward. It also helps that what followed was a decade of brilliant Avengers stories full of twists and turns. It also helps that there are a few great beats of comedy inserted into this otherwise deathly serious tale.
The “ruining” of the Scarlet Witch is at the heart of the book and it is something that has pretty much taken a decade to go full circle to her coming back, being sane and a member of one of the many Avengers teams out there once again. Even then people still look at her weirdly and make references to this story because it is such a defining one for her character along side House of M. It took a middling character and turned her into a mythic figure in the Marvel Universe. It plays with her history in a grim way and at the end you feel for her because the people around her have failed to realise something was wrong and help her. It is something we have all encountered at some point in our lives and just because it happens on a huge superhero filled scale does not make it any less impactful.
The other key part of Avengers: Disassembled are the deaths. Lots and lots of deaths.
Members of the team both minor and major fall during the story and while at this point most of them are back and fighting fit in one way or another people still get angry over these deaths. Mainly because they happen because the Scarlet Witch is unknowingly manipulating things from the shadows. None of them happens for some great purpose. She Hulk’s worst fear is realised and she is forced to behave like the Hulk. As a result the Vision dies. Hawkeye sacrifices himself thinking that he is helping halt an alien invasion that turns out to be illusionary afterwards. The deaths have no rhyme or real reason to them. They are empty and sudden. No real build up, no fighting it out over several issues before biting the dust. Just quick and sudden death. They have a lot of impact and while I can understand due to how the story plays out that they do sell the characters short but even reading it now they have a rawness to them. They happened at a time when death in comics and in particular the Marvel Universe was still a semi-permanent concept. These aren’t done to sell a bajillion copies of an issue featuring a character’s death. They are done to serve the story, to make a comment on what being a superhero means and that even the mighty can fall for the most arbitrary reasons.
The Ultimate Graphic Novel Collection version of the story also contains the Avengers: Finale one-shot that serves as an epilogue to the event and the Avengers as a series at this point. Something that I hadn’t read before and something I am glad I have had a chance to read now. It is an affectionate look back at the team and what makes them special. Remembering the fallen while giving you a run of beautiful art from some of Marvel’s finest. Indulgent and self-serving? Yes. A great emotional read? Yes! And while I have spent most of this review looking at the story, its events and the written part of the book you cannot help but look on in amazement at David Finch’s art. Full of weight and expression. It makes the book what it is and takes it from being a multi-part story to epic classic.
Disassembled is a great book despite the bad rap it gets from others. If you are interested in seeing how the old made way for the new and how Bendis kicked off his vision of the Avengers that propelled the franchise to its current heights of popularity. It is well worth checking out.
Avengers: Disassembled is made up of Avengers issues #500 to #503 and Avengers Finale from the 2004 to 2005 crossover. It is available in trade via Amazon and the Marvel Ultimate Graphic Novel Collection.