Page 45 Review by Stephen
Previously: CIVIL WAR. Wow, that was succinct.
Now that the team of Avengers which Iron Man used to finance have gone underground, hiding from the law that's made them illegal (see NEW AVENGERS VOL 3 for their constant harassment by Stark), he's building his own team afresh, overtly to fight the good fight but also to undercut any claim to the name that the others might have, thereby undermining their legitimacy.
It's exactly what Andrew von Eldritch did with the 1986 'Sisterhood' LP, snatching the name from under the noses of his ex-bandmates before legally reclaiming the Sisters Of Mercy moniker for himself.
Unfortunately within five seconds of assembling the new team from its more conservative veterans, Iron Man has his firewalls breached by A.I. enemy Ultron, and is transformed into a metallic facsimile of The Wasp (it's all in their somewhat Oedipal history) which then proceeds to weaponise the weather, detonate an EMP and distract the individually effective but collectively unaccustomed-to-each-other Avengers into confronting it head-on. Ares, God of War and the very essence of male pride / presumption, needs little such goading, but in the end it is he who nudges things in a more production direction which - thanks to the Wasp's ex-husband and Ultron-creator Hank Pym - involves a Commodore Sixty-Four.
Yes, this was Bendis' version of old-school AVENGERS, which is to say it was about the wider dysfunctional family that has grown over the years, but with a modern sensibility and dry, caustic wit.
He even brought back the thought bubbles which are cleverly employed for dramatic and often comedic purposes to contradict what individuals' internal editors actually let out of their mouths.
Frank Cho's art is sleek and sexy, particularly his seamlessly jointed Iron Man armours (there will be many), but not so sexy as to be overly objectifying. Evidently as this point he still listened to editors.
It took him forever, however, to draw so by the time 'Venom Bomb' came along the book was running so far behind its sister title, NEW AVENGERS that the SECRET INVASION was rapidly approaching, its sub-plot boiling over, and I'm going to be careful what I adapt or redact from previous reviews for what follows.
'Venom Bomb' was drawn by Mark Bagely.
What is a Venom Bomb, I hear you ask? It's a biological weapon that turns everyone into raging Symbiotes. It went off by mistake, but it came from Latveria.
Iron Man: "You are a horror."
Dr. Doom: "A lot more people hate you than hate me."
Not far from the truth at the time for, post-CIVIL WAR, Tony Stark had become commander of S.H.I.E.L.D. aka S.I.N.K.I.N.G.S.H.I.P. and the futurist had become damned as an untrustworthy reactionary.
In some ways Bagley's style seemed too plastic for this title, but there were some very clever tricks when Iron Man and Doom start time travelling. It's a tradition they share when on the same page. Just as you might meet a particular friend and decide that it has to be tapas because that's what you do together, every time Tony and Victor von D find themselves in the same panel it inevitably ends on Doom's Time Platform.
In this instance they end up in Manhattan during a period when Marvel comics were coloured with Ben-Day dots and advertised their other titles at the bottom of each page with sentences like "What's it like to be a living vampire? Find out in the pages of FEAR - because only Morbius knows". Each of these pages, then, is coloured in Ben-Day dots (a trick Kaare Andrews went on to incorporate in the raging RENATO JONES), features similar slogans and a nod to Bob Layton's Iron Man inking over John Romita Jr. circa those original time-travelling travails (to Camelot!).
Also, the exposition in Doom's thought bubbles neatly takes the piss out traditional exposition in the word balloons, whereby a villain reveals all and so gives their adversaries the upper hand.
The second half of this all-in-one-edition consists of short stories taking place during, after or even before SECRET INVASION (for extra, painful dramatic irony). They were drawn by the likes of Maleev, Cheung and John Romita Jr. before Marvel ran out of adequate artists and printed pap instead.
There was, however, an elegy in an epilogue which by far the finest chapter in this half, as a funeral is held for one of the original Avengers who fell during SECRET INVASION.
Regrets, recriminations and for one bad man an uncharacteristically quiet satisfaction that he finally has everyone exactly where he's long wanted them: under his heel or his thumb.