Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Maybe It Just Hurts To Be Me; Wolverine and Chronic Pain

An interesting reinterpretation of Wolverine's mutant healing factor occured in Jason Aaron and Ron Garney's story " Get Mystique ", where one of his strategies involved faking his death with a car bomb-- which, thanks to his regenerative abilities, allowed him to make it even more convincing by blowing himself up along with the car. Logan's inner monologue explained that people assume that he doesn't feel pain because he can recover from these massive injuries, whereas in fact the reverse is true-- not only does he feel pain, but the trauma sticks with him psychologically. With everything Logan's endured in his hundred-some years of life, the worst of which being the Weapon X procedure that forcibly bonded metal to his bones and claws ( something which gives him continual heavy metal poisoning, but does not debilitate him thanks to the healing factor ), the pain he feels is as chronic as it is severe, and he has had to accept that nothing will remove the pervasive discomfort.
This is an interesting wrinkle because it makes Wolverine a chronic pain sufferer, and he's far from the type of personality that most in Western culture would associate with chronic pain. At his most simplistic, Wolverine is a superhero who collects every adolescent male power fantasy cliche'. When he's not out chopping up bad guys with his claws, he's smoking cigars, drinking beer, tooling around with motorcycles, and bedding women with his ( literal ) animal magnetism. He endures a lot of suffering from being stabbed/shot/poisoned/blown up/steamrolled/etc ( writers get more and more inventive with what to throw at him for this reason ), but he always heals from it and comes back swinging, a superhuman metaphor for the all-American notion of " playing through the pain ". These are not the acts of a victim bedridden by physical and psychological suffering; Logan can't even be seen as an abuser of pain-relieving drugs, since his healing factor nullifies the effects of all poisons ( including the kind that are socially desirable, like alcohol and nicotine; he must just like the taste of beer, for some reason. ).

If Wolverine is in constant discomfort, it doesn't manifest as a handicap, unless being grouchy and temperamental is a disability. But the hyper-masculine activities that Logan engages in on a regular basis aren't necessarily evidence that he can overcome incomprehensible trauma; it's also been suggested that his adventuring is a compulsion to avoid being alone with his thoughts and feelings. Another great Wolverine story by Aaron started out by spoofing Logan's massive overexposure in Marvel comics by showing how tiring it is for him to fit all his adventures and team-ups with other heroes into a given week, but took a serious tone when Logan finally explained why he puts himself through so much stress-- he doesn't want to be alone with himself and his past. The past Logan refers to is the sins he's commit in his many years prior to being a superhero, but the same logic could be applied to the way he feels about his trauma. It's not something he wants to acknowledge, let alone confront.

Yet many Wolverine stories end up forcing Wolverine acknowledge his inner turmoil, even if he doesn't " overcome " it. The prevalence of Japan in Wolverine's backstory is more than an excuse for Logan to fight ninjas or angst over his dead princess fiance'-- to him, it's a place of peace and contemplation, where he can reach clarity through meditation. Logan doesn't specify a religion, and has even been portrayed as an atheist when it comes to the Judeo-Christian God, but he has a strong ( if also abstract ) sense of spirituality. In his quiet moments, Logan looks to ( admittedly not too specified ) Eastern religion, suspending judgment and finding emotional clarity. Logan can never overcome all of his trauma, but he does find ways to cope with it so he can function as a human being, instead of an injured beast.

Which, ultimately, is why Logan is one of the most heroic figures in the Marvel Universe. That he uses lethal force obscures this for many ( not me, but the whole should heroes kill debate is for another post ), but based on what he's endured, choosing to be a superhero carries much more weight. Logan has lived over a century and endured more pain, suffering, loss, and guilt than any other human or mutant. His healing factor ensures that he cannot age or die, but it also means that suicide is not an option for removing his constant trauma. To cope with his pain, he would have every excuse to be a complete hermit living in the woods, or even a heartless mercenary like his arch-nemesis Sabretooth. But he has chosen to protect innocents and fight evil, even though it means acquiring more pain and suffering.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ruby's World Comic Update

Click Here

More comics up, this time with more emphasis on the " widescreen " school of storytelling. I've always liked that kind of letterbox layout in comics, as it appears under the hands of artists like Frank Quitely and John Cassaday and Bryan Hitch. Any feedback, especially pertaining to how this works, would be appreciated.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Iron Man and the Nature of Power

From a post on the Iron Man Message Board, in response to the removal of Tony Stark's innate bio-abilities

If Iron Man retained the Extremis nanotech capabilities, but kept fighting super-villains, he'd trounce them easily. Not only would the already troubled dramatic tension of franchise superhero comics be further reduced, but Tony would almost come across as a bully for only fighting weaker enemies. Fiction favors the underdog-- another reason Tony is hard to write, because he's a rich genius who built his empire on military-industrial blood money.

This is why once Tony became Extremis enhanced, he stopped fighting villains ( except for cases like the Inevitable, which was meant to prove that he couldn't be bothered with costumed thugs anymore ) and went to bigger challenges; instead of just saving the world, he was trying to fix it. The Project ARGONAUT team of remote-controlled Iron Men was a precursor to this mentality, but the Director of SHIELD role was even more ambitious-- he'd gone from making Iron Man security for Stark International to security for the world. Which made the threats he faced even greater-- Ezekiel Stane being the harbinger of the new era, someone who spread super-terror on a level that not even Tony's awareness could match.

Of course, Tony DID match Zeke, but only by destroying his company and killing several of Zeke's cohorts. Which really unsettled Tony-- that story ended with him realizing that in order to fight that kind of brutality, he'd have to become more brutal himself. It's not about him being a human who uses the best of his species' abilities to compete with gods and monsters, but about a human who excises his species' innate capacity for good to compete. Note how this is the way many of Marvel's great villains started; Doom, Magneto, the Ghost, and others had good intentions, but they perverted themselves to the point where they couldn't even act decent any longer.

The problem with power is that even if you try to amass it for good reasons, somebody else is going to amass more of it in response, and then it becomes a vicious cycle. With Tony, this is mixed in with his self-loathing ablism-- wether he admits it or not, he wants the progressively increased strength of the Iron Man to compensate for his own failings. It's no coincidence that his greatest invention is a human prosthesis, that enhances his capabilities but hides his humanity. With the Iron Man, and especially with the Extremis enhancile that eradicated the barrier between man and armor, Tony used technological power to eliminate weakness, as opposed to accepting it. And hence, greater power leads to greater opposition.

Now, Tony Stark's failures have given us Norman Osborn's empire-- a man who has basically become a homunculus of Tony's sins. The system of SHIELD directors went from Nick Fury, who had to make hard decisions but whose sympathies ultimately lay with his constituents ( especially his troops ), to Tony, who made even more controversial decisions in the name of an ambiguous " better tomorrow ", to Norman, who does horrible things simply to serve his own ego. The Marvel power struggle in which Tony was so instrumental created an environment where a madman could become America's greatest hero through clever PR. Which left Tony a disgraced fugitive, feeling responsible.

This makes Tony's self-destruction in the current storyline an attempt to find a different solution, since gaining power had failed him and endangered others. Tony's new plan inverted his previous methods in an almost religious fashion-- stripping himself of all abilities until he's completely helpless. Not only because he didn't want his nanotech-enhanced brain falling into Norman's clutches, but because he wanted to break the cycle. On an ideological level, it worked very well-- his televised conflict with Norman had him severely handicapped, unable to speak in complete sentences, unable to operate any Iron Man except for the crude Afghanistan prototype, and barely aware of what was going on. By contrast, Norman appeared to the world as the complete monster the heroes and the audience know him to be, and without the Green Goblin persona to deflect his cruelty. When Norman beat the impaired Tony half to death, his power lost much of its meaning-- viscerally, there's no way for him to spin that kind of sheer cruelty.

I expect that once Tony's mind is put back together, he'll go back to being a man in a suit, without all the nanotech enhancements. He won't be as powerful as he used to be, though he won't be intellectually impaired either. But as a symbol, he'll be closer to what he wanted to be-- a man who uses his machines to oppose those who would kill and oppress others, instead of a man who uses machines to make more powerful machines for intangible benefits.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Avengers Five Years New Retrospective: Marvel's Wardrobe Malfunction

If there's one moment that I think defines Bendis' New Avengers for better or worse, it's the very first scene of the first issue, where a shadowy figure offers Max Dillion ( a.k.a. the villain Electro ) a job, and tells him that it's up to him how he wants to dress for it; costume or no costume. Dillon puts on his lightning mask, gives us an evil grin, and says " costume ".

This, in microcosm, set the stage for the way Marvel would be doing the next few years of stories, and the way they continue to write. Keep in mind that New Avengers came at a period when Marvel, under the direction of controversial ( and at that point, recently absent ) president Bill Jemas, had rebelled against their roots. Their biggest hit was the Ultimate Universe, which reinvented the characters from scratch in a more realistic and subdued context, dramatically simplifying or removing the costumes ( except Spidey ), largely avoiding stories about magic and gods and grounding everything in either the Super-Soldier Formula or the mutant gene. Many of their franchises had been made over to reject superhero genre tropes; the Grant Morrison X-Men most notoriously, having ditched costumes altogether and explicitly denying their superhero identities. But we also had the Bruce Jones Hulk, who simply wandered the countryside in a conspiracy theory variant of the old TV show; Captain America in the Marvel Knights imprint, spending more of his time fighting Islamic fundamentalists than costumed criminals; even Bendis' Daredevil, which used quite a bit of the old continuity, made the distinction between Matt Murdoch as superhero and Matt Murdoch as pulp vigilante. Marvel was not really publishing non-superhero material, but they weren't comfortable with their old characters.

Whatever your opinion is on this rebellion against Marvel history, it was not obvious in the Avengers of the time, and one has to admit that they suffered for it. The Avengers remained the traditional superhero team living in a posh mansion and fighting costumed criminals. The team had writers who kept them in that status quo, most notably Kurt Busiek, but also Geoff Johns and Chuck Austen. In the meantime, Marvel was also publishing the Ultimates, which gave us a strikingly warped version of the characters. And the market seemed to prefer the latter; Tony Stark as a repentant do-gooder in form-fitting metal tights wasn't as dynamic as Tony Stark as a decadent neo-liberal in a humanoid mech. Regardless of individual tastes, Ultimate-style comics were where the discussion was; to try and ignore it was folly.

So thus we get to what Bendis did, which wasn't to deny the superhero genre's trappings-- but not to embrace them, either. The way Bendis writes the Marvel characters, being a superhero or a supervillain is a statement; you wear a costume as a conscious choice about what identity you're projecting. Electro is a villain who does not need a costume; when he's powered up, he's spewing electric sparks everywhere, so wearing a green leotard with a yellow lightning mask is redundant as well as ridiculous. By putting on the costume, he's putting himself out there-- in that issue, he arrives at the metahuman prison called the Raft, breaks all the convicts out, and stands before them in his costume, dramatically telling them that they owe him. The costume isn't just a fact of the business for Max Dillon, it's an emblem of why he's in this business-- to look, feel, and act powerful. Even though they use their power to help instead of hurt, superheroes have the same motivation.

And this goes not just for costumes, but superhero genre trappings in general. Since New Avengers, Marvel's publishing landscape has swung back towards comics' historical excesses. Shared universe crossover has increased, with New Avengers and Mighty/Dark Avengers being the center and every other comic following their lead. Stories aren't written as much like done-in-one movies in trade paperback form, with long, subplot-filled sagas like the Death of Captain America back in vogue. And history is once more a motivator for contemporary stories, from Bucky coming back from the dead and eventually taking on his mentor's patriotic identity, to Spidey's dead ex Gwen Stacy having been impregnated with Norman Osborn's gobliny children ( the former being a good example, the latter being one of significantly lesser quality ). But they're doing this largely with the awareness that they're working with a very specific genre, and trying to expand or subvert it. I've talked about Bendis' Avengers being very conscious of their image, but even solo books, like Matt Fraction's sci-fi-driven Iron Man or Ed Brubaker's political thriller-inspired Captain America, have made the superhero heritage of their books more deliberate in the new era.

One could say that this mixture of old and new leads to greater work; one could also say that it's a faulty compromise that gets away from what makes superheroes work. But it's the way Marvel's been for years, and Bendis' New Avengers has led the charge.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New Avengers Five Years New Retrospective: My Bottom 10

When I started chronicling the ten things I liked best about Bendis' Avengers, I knew that in fairness, I would have to write a list of things that I thought were mistakes. Earlier I compared Bendis' Avengers to Chris Claremont' old X-Men, and the biggest strength of both is also their biggest weakness; they produce a massive output of writing and take a lot of chances. Not all of these risks will pan out, otherwise there won't be risks. But even though Claremont did many ill-conceived things like a year of stories following the wanderings of the individual members of a disbanded X-Men, he also made the team the It superhero team comic for many years. I feel that Bendis is very similar in the way he approaches the Avengers.

That said, here are the ten things about the Bendis Avengers that bombed, again in no particular order...

10.) The return of the 70's and 80's looks. Since Marvel writers are basically doing professional fan fiction, they're definitely going to bring in the trappings of their favorite eras. In Bendis' case, this is sometimes good, and has resuscitated characters like Luke Cage, Jessica Drew ( at least, the one we THOUGHT was Jessica Drew ), Mockingbird, Namor, Brother Voodoo, and even characters handled by collaborating writers like Ms. Marvel. The downside is that most of them have returned in their nostalgic looks-- looks which were better left in the Bronze Age. Simple looks involving skintight fabric and bright colors in solid patterns worked back then, but the era of hyper-rendering superhero artists has called for more intricate designs, and the era of identity-politics-conscious writers makes the notion of wearing a costume a special statement and not a default wardrobe. . Ms. Marvel, an Air Force woman and outspoken feminist, wouldn't be prancing around in a swimsuit and hooker boots. Namor, the king of Atlantis, should have better fashion sense than a black wetsuit with a disco-style open chest. And there is little to nothing that says " Spider " about Spider-Woman's costume, a rather bland red number. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Luke Cage isn't wearing the tiara and puffy yellow jacket again...

9.) Jessica Drew's return. I praised the revelation that the Spider-Woman who joined the team earlier was really the Skrull Queen in disguise. I'm not going to praise the return of the original, who has been Lost in Space all this time and is now moping about being usurped by an alien empress. I wasn't terribly fond of the issues of her solo comic which I read, but she's just a waste of whiny space in New Avengers.

8.) Ronin. Bendis and Joe Quesada designed a great superhero ninja look that to this date hasn't found an appropriate character. If Ronin were Daredevil as was originally planned, it would be a great fit. But the changes ended up making the character Maya Lopez with padded masculine muscles, and then proceeded to drop that plot for almost a year. When Ronin returned, it was worn by an even less appropriate character-- Clint Barton, formerly Hawkeye. It's bad enough that a Japanese-style ninja costume be taken by a non-Japanese character ( and seriously, we need more Asian and Asian American heroes and heroines besides stereotypes like Sunfire.. Secret Identities shows us how much potential there is in that identity space ), but at least Matt Murdoch and Maya Lopez have prior background in Japanese culture and ninjutsu. This is a completely different skill set from a backwoods American carny who trained in archery and hand-to-hand-combat, who now is apparently a master of the katana. I buy that about as well as I buy Chris Farley as a ninja, but at least that was meant to be funny.

7.) Secret Invasion-era New and Mighty Avengers issues. I loved the main Secret Invasion series, but it rendered the Avengers books themselves as repositories for tie-in material. Some of this was good work that illuminated the seeds planted for the Skrulls' Invasion. Most of it was, as befits most tie-ins to crossovers, filler material that didn't advance anything dramatically and just served to keep the titles going. I'm glad that for Captain America's book, they're focusing exclusively on the Reborn even until it finishes ( even if it's still looking to replace the improved Cap with the old model...but more on that in another post ).

6.) House of M. I've already mentioned how this crossover kneecapped the X-Books, but it just wasn't good as a story in and of itself. it starts promising enough, with the Avengers and X-Men teaming up to take care of the Scarlet Witch situation ( one way or another, creating an interesting ethical dillema )....but then we go into Wanda's Bizarro world, and the next six issues have the heroes puttering around the alternative universe like fools, gradually regaining their original memories only to completely fail to put the world back. In the end, Wanda causes the problem and Wanda fixes it; everyone else is just peripheral. For the first mega-crossover in years, it was a tremendous letdown.

5.) Dr. Strange. Similar scenario, where the heroes do nothing but hand-wring until the climactic moment where they fail. To this date, Dr. Strange failed to detect Wanda's madness, failed to cure it once it became epidemic, chickened out of the Civil War, and used dark magic to fight the Hulk only to get smacked down himself. As far as Sorcerer Supremes go, he went from being the New York Yankees of magic to the New York Mets. Thankfully, Brother Voodoo has taken his place so he may retire with dignity.

4.) The reasoning presented behind Wolverine's Avengers membership. I actually like having Logan on the Avengers-- he's a cosmopolitan character who can work in a lot of settings, and on a team book the writers are less likely to wallow in his nonsensical spider web of a backstory. But Tony Stark brought him onto the team because he's " able to get to a place where we can't "-- i.e., killing the bad guys. This is really wrong for two reasons; one, because heroes should consider lethal force the last resort, not the pre-emptive one. And two, because neither Tony or Captain America needs to get their new Canadian friend to do their dirty work. Cap had to kill plenty of Nazis in The Deuce, and Tony's origin involved him burning his way out of the POW camp in Vietnam/now Afghanistan/eventually Iran. Neither man likes doing it, but they aren't chicken about it either.

3.) The Hood's return. Because this character isn't the Hood. The Hood we know and love, the one created for the MAX imprint by Brian K. Vaughan and Kyle Hotz, was a realistically dysfunctional young man with a deeply messy personal life, who lucked into magic powers as a means to make something of his life. He was a unique and deep character....the one who appeared in New Avengers is just a Kingpin substitute, with dialogue far more melodramatic than a nineteen-year-old petty crook who never finished school would have. It would have been much better to get a new character, as opposed to taking one who doesn't fit the role at all and diluting him.

2.) The Sentry. Yes, we know he's Superman as a schizophrenic agoraphobe, and I admit that's a really compelling hook...or, at least, WAS a really compelling hook. But in practice he's just been a hindrance, a deus ex machina who occasionally doesn't come into play because he's huddled in a fetal position due to a psychotic episode. His own wife said " find a way to power him down, or kill him before he kills us all ". Now if only someone would GET AROUND TO DOING THAT, that would be a good sentiment.

And the number one worst thing to happen in New Avengers ( which actually IS the worst thing... )

1.) Clint Barton's return. Had Hawkeye stayed dead in Avengers Disassembled, it would have been a satisfying heroic sacrifice. Since he's come back from the dead--twice consecutively-- he's just been a morally defective wanker. He slept with an amnesiac Scarlet Witch, didn't tell her who he really was, then ditched her the next morning-- given her mental situation, an act that could/should get him convicted for rape. He returned in the Ronin costume simply because it was there, and hasn't stopped wearing it despite having no background in ninjutsu. And he's gone after Norman Osborn in the most ineffectual way possible, first by ranting at him on the television with all the airtight debating strategy of a man with a " End of the World " sandwich board, then by trying to pull a hit on the guy, as if murdering an appointed official ( even an evil one ) would solve anything in the long term. I literally laughed out loud when Clint got the crap kicked out of him in his attempt to assassinate Norman; since I used to like the character, I wish I could enjoy him for more than schadenfreude.

One more essay to go, then I'll have five essays for five years...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cartooning for a Cause: Autism Speaks and Burrito Bob

On a more serious note than my usual blog discussions of superheroic disabilities and PR-enhanced goblins, I was able to use my cartooning abilities towards a cause I believe in.

The neurodiversity blogger abfh wrote a scintillating essay on the response shown by Autism Speaks supporters to civil protestors. For those who don't know, Autism Speaks is an organization devoted to speaking for autism and Asperger's-- if you consider autism a disease that will prevent your child from ever being normal, functional, and happy. They have a lot of support and very deep pockets, and they use it to create awareness- but towards the end of treating autism as a childhood epidemic, and working towards a cure. Their slogan involves " solving the puzzle ", as though a child with cognitive differences is inherently incomplete and needs to be fit together into a preordained form more in line with the social contract.

In a fair world, these people would be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect ( by logical people, at least ) as those camps that try to " pray the gay away ". This is not a fair world, so Autism Speaks has gained a lot of notoriety. They even got director Alfonso Cuaron to do a PSArepresenting Autism as a big scary voice over. They take the understandable desire for parents who want their child to succeed and warp it into bigotry against diversity. Worse, they claim they can speak for autistic people, including autistic adults ( who they pretend do not exist ).

As a person with high-functioning autism, who has had plenty of experience living with difference and the stigmas attached and doesn't want to see that imposed on anyone else by a big company with celebrity support and dubious science, I can speak. And here are the things I say in response...

1.) I'm not going to ever be cured. Even if you developed a pharmaceutical solution much like the mutant cure in X-Men 3, I'd still have all the knowledge and experience that I've gained as a neuro-atypical person-- and I wouldn't just assimilate. Having that identity is just as significant as the neurological quirks that caused it, so if you want to cure me, you'd be better off using your funds to make autistic-hunting Sentinel Robots.

2.) I don't think that people who think differently should be stigmatized by disability. Nobody, even if they function at a very low level, is useless to society. Everyone has something to contribute, and the contributions of a " classic autistic ", the kind who apparently can't live an adult life without Autism Speaks' intervention, give far more than bigots trying to impose order.

3.) The things that have helped me be able to function as well as I do ( which is far from perfect ) came from the love and devotion of my family, my teachers, my friends online and off, and my partner. To know that I am appreciated creates a much better framework for improvement than subjecting children to various medical/behavioral treatments.

4.) Your voice-over PSAs don't speak for me, but Alfonso Cuaron speaks for you. When your opinions are represented by the director that took the third Harry Potter book and made it a pointless, pretentious display of special effects artistry that make The Robin Sparkles Films look like Orson Welles' works, you are by default made of Fail.

Okay, ending rant due to the personal stakes. But the bottom line is this...abfh mentioned an Autism Speaks supporter throwing a burrito at a protestor, in a display of characteristic reasoning ability. She asked for someone to design a mascot around that theme, with a dollar sign attached to characterize the size of their pockets and the stakes involved, so thus I put together my take on Burrito Bob. It's not the best design, and it does look very stupid. But that's the role of satire, isn't it? For all their faux-caring about the disabled children, an organization putting out a bigoted agenda deserves to be treated with all the dignity of an anthropomorphized piece of lard and grease.

Thank you to abfh for putting up the sketch, and for everyone speaking out for autism and disability rights.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Treasure Buried in Sturgeon's Law: Air Raid Robertson

While looking through DeviantArt today, I found an interesting, relatively new webcomic by Ryan Valentine called Air Raid Robertson. The comic is done as a spoof of the old adventure strips at the dawn of comics, back when newspapers gave comics enough space to do such things. Air Raid Robertson is the buffoonish bi-plane riding hero; his bi-plane is shared with his handlebar mustauched comrade Ridley, who has kept him from dying since childhood. They get into various wacky adventures that typically involve them being in danger of being eaten alive, and often end up bickering with the omniscient narrator ( and normally I find regular 4th-wall breaking obnoxious, but since that kind of old-time caption narration was obnoxious in and of itself by describing EXACTLY WHAT WE'RE SEEING ON THE PAGE IN FRONT OF US, it's a welcome part of the satire ).

The current storyline has Air Raid and Ridley trapped on the Island of Misfit Supervillains, the most demented parody of the old adventure strips yet-- these are all the ethnic stereotypes from the old comics, diabolical Asians and thieving Mexicans and greedy Jews. They have been exiled to this island for their offensive traits, ( their leader The Claw bemoaning the fact that being evil isn't equal opportunity ), but I can say that from what 30's and 40's comics I've seen, they are not exaggerations of those stereotypes at all, and are actually somewhat tame by contrast. Hell, Iron Man's former arch-nemesis the Mandarin is much more offensive than the Claw, and he was created in the 60's and pops up to this date!

Hilarious stuff, and well worth a look.

New Avengers: Five Years New Retrospective-- 10 Things that Worked

( Note; this will be the third in a series of five essays, celebrating five years of New Avengers. I presume I could do more, or less for that matter, but I like symmetry. So there.

A friend of mine, in response to the first Five Years New essay, wrote a thoughtful response onhow New Avengers relates to Avengers history, and how it now IS Avengrs history. Realizing that Brian Michael Bendis has been writing the comic for five years leads me to two conclusions;

1.) I'm getting old, since I remember an era when the Avengers was just called the Avengers, Clint Barton called himself Hawkeye, and we were almost going to call John Kerry president, and

2.) New Avengers has been around so long now that even if Bendis leaves the title, it's still become entrenched in the comic's history, and the book is not going to go back to the way it used to be.

In other words, the people still whining about Bendis being the worst Avengers writer ever had the final nail put in the coffin of their hopes for a retro revival. For many readers, New Avengers IS the Avengers. If they started reading with Bendis, their first frame of reference for the comic is a team with Wolverine and Spider-Man. If they were long-time Avengers fans who have been following the book, they've gotten further and further away from a point where bringing back a team of familiar second-stringers would be a viable choice. This isn't a statement about the New Avengers' quality, so much as an assertion of fact; New Avengers isn't going anywhere.

As for assertions about the book's quality; well, I'm going to do this in two parts. The first part here is a discussion, Letterman-style, of the ten things that Bendis has done right with the title. The second part will be the ten things he's done that I didn't think succeeded. Positives first though, since that's an inherently rebellious act on the internet.

The Top 10 Best Contributions Brian Michael Bendis has made to the Avengers

10.) Veranke. From the start of the reboot, new recruit Spider-Woman's loyalties were in question, and readers were asked to wonder wether or not she was really on the Avengers' side. Based on the information given, the answers available were; no, yes, kind of, and No To The Millionth Power. The latter occured when it was revealed that she was not actually Spider-Woman, but Queen Veranke of the Skrull Empire in disguise. Even if you didn't believe that Jessica Drew was doing things for the right reasons, we were given plenty of evidence to believe that at least she wasn't a Skrull impostor. That she was, and that still it made sense in hindsight, was an impressive feat-- and gives re-readings of older New Avengers issues a really creepy undercurrent.

9.) Bendis-speak. Bendis' unique style of dialogue, admitted by the author as influenced by David Mamet, tends to be polarizing-- you either love his back-and-forths or hate it. I'm in the love category, because he pays more attention to conversational rhythm than most comic book scripters. Individual quotes may not be as spectacular, but dialogues flow marvelously-- and while others have criticized the way he writes characters from a non-American-lower-middle class background, I think it's a strength of his-- characters like Namor, Ares, and even Dr. Doom sound like they're actually engaging with the person they're talking to, instead of just going into monologue and tying it into whoever's nearby.

8.) The Cabal.While a secret society of heroic metahuman kings and visionaries proved to be a huge mistake on the part of the characters ( and IMO, a mistake on the part of the writers ), Norman's own group worked much better. Like Jesus if the Son of God were about sinning in every way possible instead of the other way around, Norman has united many different groups for a common cause-- ruling the world. Of course, the various megalomaniacs in Norman's Inner Circle don't like being subordinate to the once and future Green Goblin, so their secret meetings are always an entertaining display of tension and disdain. Thus far two of Norman's Cabal have betrayed him, and there's three more to go-- and from what the solicitations, Victor's the next, leading to a war of the tin tyrants.

7.) The Luke Cage/Jessica Jones marriage. Amidst the overwhelming darkness of the past few years of Marvel, this has been one of the great bright spots. The fact that it's Marvel's first mixed-race marriage isn't important ( well, it's a great thing for representations, but it's just background that doesn't overshadow the characters' individual depths ), here we have two heroic characters who've had hard lives finding solace in each other. Their marriage has been troubled by the shit they've had to deal with as outlaws, especially with their baby involved-- but they've ultimately managed to become closer due to the adversity, not drift apart. If Spider-Man remembered that he was married at one point, he'd regret selling that to the devil after seeing Luke and Jess as a dynamic and likable 'ship.

6.) Avenging Ares. The moral complications of the Marvel Universe have made it so that a public Avengers team can not only have a villainous God of War on the team, but have him in a capacity where he doesn't even need to feign recriminations. Michael Avon Oeming made Ares a complex character, and Bendis gave him the spotlight-- and in a capacity where his love of battle and gratuitous violence always steal the show. Tony Stark called him a mix between Wolverine and Thor, but he's more like the video game character Kratos-- angry and dangerous but more often than not pointed at people who deserve it ( as opposed to that game's Ares, who's more like the old Marvel Ares )At the same time, he does have redeeming qualities beyond pointing his axe at the right targets-- he's trying to be a good single father and do honest work, even if it's for a reprehensible human being like Norman Osborn. Hopefully when Norman falls, Ares won't go with him.

5.) The Iron Patriot. Say, for a moment, that evil is analogous to sugar content, and villains are deserts. Norman Osborn as the costumed maniac Green Goblin is like a good solid milk chocolate bar. Norman as a more realistic corporate shark is like a Nutrageous, loaded with extra peanut butter and caramel. Norman dressed up in a patriot-colored Iron Man suit and swindling the public into thinking that he's America's greatest hero is a Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake. And that Norman combined with the fact that he now believes he's America's greatest hero without acting any less depraved? That's like getting high fructose corn syrup injected directly into your jugular vein.

4.) Iron Man's rise to power. In recent years, Iron Man has gone from a dependable B-Lister to Marvel's A-List. Obviously the excellent movie and RDJ are the main causes, but he's also gotten a lot of great writing in recent years ( even amidst Civil War, when more than half of Marvel's staff felt that he needed a swastika on his armor ). Bendis may not write Tony's solo book, but he always wrote a dynamic Iron Man in the Avengers-- a character whose mistakes come from the fact that he's trying to do good on a much greater scale than any other hero. One of the best scenes in Bendis' run is the moment in New Avengers where he solemnly addresses Luke Cage's team, asking them if they have a better idea how to help the world than him. Unfortunately for him, they don't/can't answer.

It's also worth noting that Bendis' Iron Man scenes are written with a unique display of Tony in the armor-- they show him as a floating VR self in a womb of monitors. Sometimes artists make it look like he's a little fairy floating in a hollow suit, but overall it's a clever way to display the character's abilities.

3.) Luke Cage. It is a great thing that a hero who started out as a Hero For Hire with a tiara, poofy yellow jacket, and endless supply of stereotypical one-liners ( " Where's my money, honey? " ) could eventually take up the reins of Captain America. Luke 's easily the most heroic of the New Avengers, and he often does so simply through stoicism-- refusing to give in, be it to misguided heroes or outright bastards. In the latest issues, he's stood up to Norman while dying of a heart attack.

2.) The Dark Avengers. A perversely entertaining outgrowth of not only Warren Ellis' excellent Thunderbolts, but the direction of the Marvel Universe in general. In Civil War, the super-villains took an unfortunate backseat to the heroes' petty squabbling. Now they've come back at full force, even stealing their enemies' intellectual properties. Not only is Dark Avengers a great series, but it's helped several characters get a new lease-- it's good to see Bullseye moving his agenda beyond killing Daredevil's girlfriends.

And the Number One Good Thing;

1.) Luke Cage in the Elevator, Circa the Ronin Arc. Thrown out a skyscraper window by ninjas, Luke must get back to the upstairs fight-- but first he must take the elevator and listen to a rendition of Matthe wWilder's biggest and debatably only musical hit, Break my Stride. Normally music flops in comics, but this scene used the lyrics to add insult to Cage's injury.

Okay, it's not in a particular order, but these are still the things I liked.