It probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Marvel is trying to cash in on the relative financial success of DC's "New 52." They've announced that several of their titles - but not all, because this is mainstream comics, where if something is worth doing, it's worth half-assing - will be relaunched with new #1s as part of "Marvel NOW!," a name which puts me in mind of two things:
1) NOW Comics, an indie publisher from the '80s that I remember mostly for publishing a pretty okay Green Hornet series, then going out of business in the '90s; and
2) The scene from the beginning of Spider-Man 3 where Ted Raimi pitches his new ad campaign, "The Daily Bugle: It's Hip, It's Now, It's Wow...And How!" to Jonah.
In a single, deft advertising slogan, Marvel has managed to remind me of both a failed competitor and one of their worst films. So...congratulations?
Anyway, this relaunch will not be rebooting continuity - because God knows, we wouldn't want to jettison all these years of brilliant Spider-Man comics, like "that time we found out Gwen Stacy gave birth to Norman Osborn's Goblin-babies," or "that time Peter Parker sold his marriage to the Devil," or their current story arc, "Peter Parker is thirteen years old and just read The Fountainhead for the first time." It will, however, see new writers put onto these new titles, and characters getting redesigned costumes - presumably ones with lines all over them, because everybody knows that if you put lines on a costume, it automatically becomes realistic. Lines are the new shoulder pads and pouches.
On the upside, however, this means Brian Michael Bendis is going to be leaving The Avengers, and Fantastic Four writer Jonathan Hickman will be replacing him. So The Avengers might actually be readable for the first time in nearly a decade. Which brings me, at last, to my point:
Over on my favorite blog, Mightygodking, Jim Smith has posted a challenge: assemble your own Avengers team! Now, Smith worked within the guidelines thusfar established by what we know about Hickman's run: there will be 18 active Avengers(!), and Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, will be on the team. Because even though nothing good has been done with that character since the Doug Moench run on his title ended, they just can't let him go. So, in answer to this challenge, I thought I'd give my take on putting together a good Avengers team.
First and foremost, I will not be following the Jonathan Hickman 18-members-strong guideline; it's just too damn many characters. You get that many super-people working together, and it stops being a team and starts to become a small army. It also feeds partially into that concept of the "superhero class" that I talked about a long time ago: when you've got all these superheroes, and they all hang out with each other, how long will it be until they lose touch with anything else and just start ignoring the ordinary people they're supposed to protect? And Shang-Chi will not be on my roster, because while I love Shang-Chi, I really don't think he fits in with the super-types. I think he works best in exactly the context he was working in for his classic series: martial arts-flavored espionage (or "games of deceit and death," as he called it).
So, without further ado:
1) Steve Rogers/Captain America - Of course.
2) Tony Stark/Iron Man - Again: of course.
3) Monica Rambeua/Photon - While Captain America would naturally serve as the team's leader, one thing a good leader does is surround himself with other good leaders, some of whom he/she may not even agree with. Monica is a good leader; I see her as a very active second-in-command, being able to give feedback to Cap for his strategies, allowing him to consider other points of view and presenting options that may not have occurred to him otherwise; plus, inevitably, there'll be a story where Cap's been kidnapped, so Monica steps up and leads the team herself. I think the pair of them working in tandem would make the team much more effective.
4) Danny Rand/Iron Fist - Come on; just because I wasn't going to have the Master of Kung-Fu doesn't mean I wasn't going to have a martial arts character at all. And unlike Shang-Chi, Danny's Iron Fist power and supreme martial arts training let him fit in just fine with the heavy-hitters. Plus, I like the idea of him and Tony Stark, both superhero billionaires but with completely different outlooks, having to try to get along.
5) Thundra - Because I don't want all the female characters on my team to be of the "flying blaster" type, and because I think the friction that a completely anti-patriarchy character could generate on a predominantly-male team would be a lot of fun.
6) Erik Josten/Atlas - Yes, the guy who used to be Goliath and helped to nearly beat Hercules to death when he was a Master of Evil. One given for the Avengers, as far as I'm concerned, is that they always have to have a giant. But since no one seems to have any idea of what to do with Hank Pym beyond having him angst about that one time he hit Jan thirty years ago, maybe we can give Hank a rest for a while. I figure Atlas could get on the team on a sort of provisional basis, with Hawkeye vouching for him. Atlas was always my favorite Thunderbolt, the Avengers have a history of recruiting reformed villains, and yes - of course the team will end up fighting Baron Zemo at some point; it'll come out that Atlas, out of a sense of loyalty, helped Zemo escape them way back in Thunderbolts #12; and we'll finally get to see Atlas stand up for himself, instead of just completely rolling over when Zemo gives him an order. And that's something that's been a long time coming.
7) Melissa Gold/Songbird - At the risk of turning the series into a Thunderbolts fanwank, I really think Melissa deserves as much of a chance as Atlas. Much like Erik, she's proven over and over that she really does have what it takes to be a tried-and-true hero in spite of her past, and I think Songbird actually has the potential to be a really standout Avenger. Plus, I'm not going to lie: I'm a sucker for redemption stories, so it's hard for me to resist the temptation of putting reforming villains on the team, if the opportunity presents itself.
8) Stingray - Because he's got an established history with the team; because I always thought he had a pretty cool costume; because unlike a lot of aquatic characters, he's useful both in the water and on land (and can even fly, making him an all-terrain character), but doesn't carry any of Namor's baggage; and because I just love obscure characters.
9) Ronin - Nah, I'm just kidding. Fuck Brian Bendis, and fuck anything that would put his stink back on this series.
I admit that this is really a pretty standard roster, and that except for Atlas and Songbird, it doesn't take many risks. But it has what's absolutely essential for any team lineup, especially the Avengers: the potential for some great character interaction. It might lean a bit too heavily on obscure characters, but if it comes down to filling out the roster with B- and C-listers, or shoehorning Spider-Man and Wolverine onto a team where they don't really belong, I'll go with the B- and C-listers every time.
Oh, and you might be wondering where Hawkeye is. The answer? In the imaginary world where I get to write The Avengers, Clint's busy in his own ongoing series, where he and Mockingbird serve as a sort of smarter-mouthed combination of Nick and Nora Charles with Steed and Mrs. Peel. Admit it - you'd read that book.