Page 45 Review by Stephen
This is the starting point for everything Avengers-related which JESSICA JONES' Brian Michael Bendis wrote with exceptional wit and verve, and it lasted something like a decade.
Outside of THE ULTIMATES SEASON ONE and THE ULTIMATES SEASON TWO by Millar and Hitch, it represents the very finest run on The Avengers, and this is coming from the wizened remains of what used to be a 12-year-old boy absolutely in awe of Roy Thomas' 1960s' run alongside John Buscema and Neal Adams as represented by the AVENGERS KREE/ SKRULL WAR.
It begins with 'Avengers Disassembled' during which Bendis and Finch tore the team apart - one of them quite literally - in order to build something brilliant from scratch. It is joined in this bumper edition with those first two volumes of NEW AVENGERS.
Alas, I was so enamoured that I wrote the worst review I've ever written.
For a start I forgot the artist, which is unforgivable, and Finch is unforgettable. His neo-classical figure work is so impressive that I could stare at the sturdy neck muscles for hours; his expressions here are appropriately pained and he executes two successive, 4-tier, 360-degree rotations round a cast of four in conversation which I've never seen done before. Lots of neck muscles there.
Additionally, his sense of scale is right up there with Hitch's - and it needs to be, given the carnage that follows - and his ability to halt you by interrupting a quiet conversation of jaunty, toast-and-marmalade teasing with an explosion which rips through the breakfast room walls is unparalleled thanks in equal amounts to Frank D'Armata's abrupt switch from blue-sky, verdant to volcanic colouring.
The review's eloquent, I hope, but it was an all-too heart-felt, sentimental elegy which gives everything away. Everything.
At Page 45 we pride ourselves on avoiding SPOILERS. If it's a review of the fourth book of a series we love like LAZARUS we avoid SPOILERS even of volume one. Instead we want to intrigue you to start at the beginning. That said, given that there is a decade of material to follow, perhaps this could be considered a review of its prologue. I leave that to you.
Do you love the SCARLET WITCH? This is where you begin.
"For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction."
- Stephen, 200 times on a blackboard after falling asleep during Physics.
That, for me, is the key to why this storyline really worked. For all these years one member of this fluctuating team of superhuman powerhouses has been bending the laws of physics with no obviously equal nor opposite reaction. At no seeming cost. When Iron Man flies, fuel is burned. When Hawkeye spends an arrow, he must make another. And when I write a disproportionately long and po-faced superhero fanboy review, I'm punished with a terrible headache and the nagging suspicion that my LOVE AND ROCKETS credibility has finally been depleted.
Yet all these years, one amongst The Avengers' ranks has been using her reality-altering powers to break the laws of physics, manipulate probability, and turn a bad situation into good fortune. It wasn't a magic she had learned, it was a gift she was born with. As she grew older, as she wielded her powers with increasing confidence, so the feats she performed became increasingly spectacular. What, for example, are the chances that a woman could give birth to two baby boys when her husband was an infertile android?
The chances are nil. You'd have to be insane to believe it was possible.
Wanda Maximoff had never had what you might call an easy life. She was brought up by gypsies after being abandoned by her mother. Her father didn't even know she or her brother existed, which is just as well because he was a mutant terrorist calling himself Magneto - the same mutant terrorist who in her late teens manipulated her into joining his crusade as The Scarlet Witch by preying on her deep fears and past persecution. Throughout her childhood she and her brother Pietro had been hounded by those who hated mutants just because they existed. So any offer of a home was a godsend.
Her brother was a superior son of a bitch, but he doted on her, fulfilling a paternal as much as a fraternal role. You might say he smothered her. Whatever the case, when fortune suddenly changed and salvation appeared - in the form of an offer of membership on an internationally renowned and domestically adulated, government-sanctioned team of American superheroes - she was, perhaps, a little naive. But then these were the early years, and everyone was a little naive.
Her fellow Avengers (Hawkeye, Captain America and her brother Quicksilver) didn't question how she performed minor miracles using what she called 'hexes', they were just glad to have the gentle soul on their side. They became her new family, and over the years they all came to love her, whilst the archer Clint Barton grew particularly close, always there to lift her spirits with a lame joke or a stupid arrowhead exploding into a bouquet of flowers. He too was a criminal made good, and to a certain extent he understood her perspective. It's not everyone who's given a second chance.
The Vision was.
An android created by Ultron (an insane, sentient, almost indestructible robot), the Vision was conceived as the means of the team's destruction, but his programming was based on the brain patterns of a human, and that flaw proved Ultron's undoing. It also allowed the Vision to fall in love with Wanda. Well, that didn't go down well with the public. An android and a mutant
? "Blasphemy!" they cried, and they reacted to their love with hatred. Still, the stoical Vision became a rock to her emotional fragility, and they even got married.
Knowing little more than that that her powers were based in magic, Wanda went looking for help and took training from Franklin Richards' part-time governess and full-time witch, Agatha Harkness. But soon magic came looking for Wanda, possessing her body, infusing it with a level of power she had never encountered and used the woman against her friends. She recovered, of course, or she seemed to. She had those two little boys I mentioned earlier, delivered by surgeon/sorcerer Doctor Strange. But then her husband was abducted and dismembered by the government, only to be rebuilt with none of his previous empathy, and Agatha Harkness discovered that Wanda's twin children weren't even real - just an illusion, a maternal comfort blanket conjured out of thin air by Wanda herself, and she had. A. Nervous. Breakdown.
It was then that a fatal mistake was made. They thought they were doing her a kindness. They thought they were putting the genie back into its bottle. They allowed Agatha Harkness to use her own magical gifts on Wanda to erase the children from her memory. In hindsight it would have been wiser to erase them from everyone's. Here's Wanda and the Wasp by the poolside, one day before this kicks off:
"Wow, did I need this. I am so crazy in my head today."
"What's going on, Janet?"
"I -- listen, Wanda, I'll tell you... But you can't tell anyone."
"I had a... bit of a scare."
"Are you okay?"
"Sshh, I'm fine. It's just -- my little friend came a little late, and I thought I might be -- you know..."
"You thought you were pregnant?"
"Sshh! Hey, sshh! I'm not. I just thought I was. I was really freaked out because that is the last thing I need. With all the crap in my life right now... That's what the world needs... a little Clint Barton walking around."
[Jan waves at Hawkeye, Hawkeye waves back]
"Are you two still seeing each other?"
"That would entail the two of us having an adult conversation about our feelings, which, clearly, is not either of our strong suits. Ugh, can you imagine? Me with a kid? Like a kid could grow up normal in this environment. Avengers should not have kids. Superheroes should not have kids. That should be the rule. And you thought you could have two?"
"What does that mean? Two of what?"
* * *
"Wanda Maximoff. You gave me a bit of a turn just now. Come sit. We haven't spoken in a good time."
"Agatha, I -- Why do people think I once had two children?"
* * *
What are the chances that a dead man could appear out of nowhere and blow up in their faces, immolating Scott Lang? What are the chances that within seconds the Vision would answer their distress call by crashing a plane into the mansion and spawning half a dozen versions of the insane robot that gave birth to him? What are the chances of a rational She-Hulk losing her temper and ripping the Vision clean in two? Smacking Jan into a coma? Slamming a lorry down on Captain America's head? Of Iron Man being drunk without drinking a drop? Of the alien Kree launching a full-on invasion directly over the spot where everyone's assembled, and slaughtering another Avenger right in front of them? All in the space of an hour...?!
The chances are nil.
For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction
So for all these years, while Wanda's been warping reality for the good of others... what has been happening to her?
"Do you know what you've done?!
"You killed the Vision, Wanda! Your own husband! Do you know that? Do you?!
"You killed Scott Lang! You killed Hawkeye! Janet's in a coma!
"You've destroyed The Avengers!
"All of it, it's gone!"
* * *
"Stay away from my children."
* * *
New Avengers: Breakout
The Avengers no longer exist.
Their centre of operations, their funding, their reputation and their very lives were all torn apart by a broken friend whom they loved very dearly but who didn't know what she was doing.
Nature may abhor a vacuum, but for the criminal fraternity it's a singular opportunity.
So I ask you: how many superpowered psychopaths would you deem it safe to house in the same place? And if there was a jailbreak, how many superpowered soldiers or civilians do you think it would take to contain it? You pick your number, go on. It's not enough.
Welcome to Ryker's Island, maximum security penitentiary for the supercriminally insane where, on this very nasty night, several dozen of the most homicidal maniacs in the world are about to be let loose on it courtesy of a single C-list electrical villain who's about to, heh, "discharge" himself.
With so many of these genetic freaks still on the loose, Captain America attempts to recruit those who happened to be on hand to help out during the jailbreak (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and The Sentry) for a fresh team of Avengers that he hesitates from announcing to the world but, with Iron Man's help, secretly locates them in a vast tower rising above Manhattan. Their first mission is to find out who caused the jailbreak, how they succeeded, and return all the creeps to custody.
And you know, if that's all they had to contend with, it might have been do-able. Instead, the ubiquitous international espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D. appears to be involved in several clandestine operations: enslaving the Savage Land's indigenous population as slave labour, stockpiling vibranium reserves to make internationally condemned weapons, and detaining supposedly dead supercriminals for their own purposes. Worse still, it looks as if the new team is compromised before they've even started.
Bendis' unusual choice of team-mates makes for some delicious exchanges, particularly between hard-ass Luke Cage and the dartingly irreverent Spider-Man. There's a particularly fine scene involving the latter webbing up the former's fists without quite explaining how long that'll last, and if you've read the four ALIAS books starring Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, there's a horrible pay-off here involving the Purple Man. Wolverine also finds himself dragged in, but for the moment, and as they regain consciousness in The Savage Land, this unlikely new team of relative strangers find themselves revealing more about themselves than they would perhaps have liked, as Peter Parker explains to Jessica Drew...
"Yep. We're naked."
"They couldn't leave our underwear on?"
"I wasn't wearing any."
"Why wouldn't you be wearing underwear?"
"... I want off the team."
The New Avengers have coalesced by chance, but one of their new members - who happened to be there when everything kicked off in the superhuman penitentiary - is Robert Reynolds, The Sentry. Possibly the most powerful man on the planet, he's an emotional wreck with a memory that comes and goes. Captain America and Iron Man attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of the X-Men's telepath Emma Frost and the comicbook writer Paul Jenkins who invented The Sentry in the first place.