In 2004, Marvel gave the Avengers to writer Brian Michael Bendis, who immediately disbanded the team, in a line-rebooting story called “Disassembled.” The Scarlet Witch went crazy; Jack of Hearts, Ant-Man (Scott Lang) and Hawkeye were killed; Tony Stark appeared to have fallen off the wagon again in front of the United Nations; and the Avengers realized they needed a little bit of a break (except Lionheart, who was all, “but I just bloody got here!”).
From the ashes of the Avengers rose the New Avengers, a Bendis-helmed team that mixed classic heavy-hitters such as Captain America and Iron Man with street-level heroes such as Spider-Man and Luke Cage. There also rose a story called Secret War (singular), a Bendis-penned mini in which the aforementioned heroes went on a classified mission for Original-Recipe Nick Fury into Latveria that resulted in Fury going underground and the appointment of a new SHIELD director, Maria Hill, who was decidedly anti-hero.
The next big event, 2005’s House of M, was the first of the post-“Disassembled” era and was mainly told in its own book, written by Bendis and drawn by Olivier Coipel. House of M dealt directly with the fallout from Disassembled, specifically the Scarlet Witch’s out-of-control powers. Wanda warps reality and creates an alternate world in which her father Magneto’s dream of mutant dominance comes to fore. Through a young girl named Layla Miller (a future star of Peter David’s second run on X-Factor), the X-Men and Avengers come to realize they are trapped in a world they never made, and confront Magneto and the royal family. Reality is restored, except for the part where Wanda whispers “No More Mutants,” and all but 198 of the world’s homo superior lose their powers.
Meanwhile, tensions between SHIELD and the tights-and-capes set kept climbing, coming to a boiling point in a massive explosion in Stamford, Connecticut, that was a direct result of the New Warriors hunting supervillains for a reality show. This led to the creation in Congress of the Superhuman Registration Act and caped crusaders of all stripes taking sides and battling each other in a superhero Civil War, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven. On one side was Team Iron Man, which favored registration and the regulation of powers, and on the other side was Team Captain America, which favored freedom and the right to privacy. Civil War is notable for a few things, namely Spider-Man unmasking on national television, the death of Goliath (Bill Foster) at the hands of a robot clone of Thor, Tony Stark becoming director of SHIELD and, most importantly, the death of Steve Rogers. Don’t worry, he got better.
As if Civil War hadn’t done enough to prove superheroes have trust issues, the New Avengers had stumbled upon Elektra’s body morphed into that of a Skrull, a green, shape-shifting, craggy-jawed race of aliens. This led to months of “how do I know you’re not a Skrull?” stories that culminated in 2008’s Secret Invasion, an event series by Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu. A number of people are revealed to be Skrulls, including Hank Pym, Dum Dum Dugan and the Avengers’ butler Jarvis. Chief among the secret Skrulls though, is Spider-Woman, who is revealed to be the Skrull queen, and who also had been playing double agent for both SHIELD and Hydra. The queen is killed by, of all people, Norman Osborn, who at the time was running a government-sponsored Thunderbolts team. This leads to Osborn disbanding SHIELD and running its replacement agency, HAMMER. As a result, all heroes – not just the anti-registration ones – are now public enemy No. 1.
Osborn’s Dark Reign culminated in Siege, a 2010 event series by Bendis and Coipel that plays off recent events in Thor. The Odinson was reborn and in turn revived all his friends and Asgard itself, which was now floating a few feet off the ground in rural Broxton, Oklahoma. Loki convinces Osborn to make a play for Asgard, which, naturally, leads to Osborn’s downfall, as participation in Marvel events is mandatory for all heroes, from Spider-Man right down to Howard the Duck. Osborn falls, the government apologizes for treating superheroes like dirt for the past few years, Steve Rogers is appointed commander of all goodie-goodies and the Ewoks sing “Celebrate the Love.” Oh, and there’s a super-gross double-page spread of the Sentry ripping a dude in half.
In the next crossover, 2011’s Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immomen, Odin’s brother, the Norse god of fear, takes on Earth’s mightiest. Eight hammers carrying the power of the former generals of Cul, the fear god, fall to Earth to be wielded by Sin, Juggernaut, the Hulk, Titania, Attuma, Grey Gargoyle, The Thing and the Absorbing Man. In response, Tony Stark and Odin forge new weapons to be wielded by Spider-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, Red She-Hulk and Dr. Strange. If there’s ever a crossover where death meant squat, it’s this one, as Bucky Barnes, the Thing and Thor were all shown to die but quickly got better. That said, it is in Fear Itself that Steve Rogers returns to being Captain America after leaving the role to Barnes, and Colossus becomes the Juggernaut.
The Bendis age of Avenger-dom ends with 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, which is fitting, considering after the crossover he jumped over to the X books. The main series was co-written by Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman and co-penciled by Coipel, John Romita Jr. and Adam Kubert. The event is incited by the Phoenix Force, which was coming to Earth, supposedly to possess the X-Men’s ward, Hope. The Avengers want the X-Men to fork her over, Cyclops says no and eventually we get Civil War 2: Mutant Boogaloo. When the Phoenix Force finally does come to Earth, instead of going after Hope, it splits and possesses Cyclops and his four capos: Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor. Fighting continues, Namor levels Wakanda, Cyclops kills Professor Xavier, Hope gets a training montage in Iron Fist’s home of K’un-Lun, Cyclops goes Dark Phoenix and, finally, Hope and Scarlet Witch’s powers combine to repel the Phoenix Force and, BONUS, reverse the effects of M-Day, giving all the mutants their powers back. As additional fallout, Matt writes a piece about how Cyclops was right.
Next week, we wrap this series with a look at the crossovers of the Marvel NOW era and a bonus look at some of the stories we previously missed.
Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.