Captain America Joins the Dark Avengers
Before I begin, there's been some news from above. Lo and behold, Dark Avengers #190 will be the final issue and the series is cancelled. Now, I've predicted this since as far back as #175 but I think it's time to repeat some of the facts. The "Dark Avengers" revamp of Thunderbolts was presumably decided because Thunderbolts was one of Marvel's lowest sellers, and with all things Marvel, when in doubt slap Avengers onto the title. The revamp was timed perfectly to coincide with Marvel's line-wide Marvel NOW initiative which also saw a hideous bastardisation of Thunderbolts pandering to the sales that Thunderbolts hadn't previously achieved with one of the most uninspired and pathetic casts ever assembled. Where did it go wrong for the Dark Avengers? Marvel didn't want Dark Avengers to succeed for the simple reason that the book would be compared to their horrible Thunderbolts book and come out looking like roses. So, Marvel decided to relaunch Thunderbolts as Dark Avengers 6 months before Marvel NOW with no regards to the fact that the book was still wrapping up a long story arc from Thunderbolts. On top of that, they decided to give Dark Avengers legacy numbering - Marvel's stamp for "please let this book fail". The wrap-up of the Thunderbolts stories lasted a whole 9 issues and the real "Dark Avengers" team didn't become focus until the 10th issue into the series. Anyone who legitimately would've been interested in the Dark Avengers and had overlooked Thunderbolts before simply wasn't catered to, instead they picked up the first issue of the new Dark Avengers and were confused. Anyone who stuck with it would've been confused for 9 issues. By the time it actually reached it's revamp, any new potential customers would've mostly been put off by this point. Combined with the fact that at the exact same time that the book introduced it's new status quo, every other Marvel book was relaunched with a new #1 and Dark Avengers was stuck with a bizarre legacy numbering and had been relaunched 6 months ago. On top of all this, Dark Avengers received zero promotion. It was even one of the last things listed in the monthly solicits (even below Disney's Cars Magazine). Could Dark Avengers have succeeded if Marvel had marketed it sensibly? I don't know, but one thing's for certain, if Dark Avengers #184 had been Dark Avengers #1 it would've gotten a much larger readership than Dark Avengers #184 and would've made a hell of a lot more sense than any new reader who bought Dark Avengers #175. Now, Dark Avengers is finished, just in time for Marvel's Thunderbolts book to claim the milestone #200 issue. This is no surprise since I've been saying it all along.
But, how about the actual issue? How has Jeff Parker fared this month? Sadly, we're just going over the same old ground with this story arc. Parker seems more interested in exploring the alternate universe than the actual titular team. While reading this it suddenly hit me exactly what is going on in Parker's mind. You might recall, a few years ago he took over writing the comic Exiles - a comic about a bunch of X-Men visiting alternate realities - but the book was cancelled before he even got a first issue out because Chris Claremont had already killed all interest in the Exiles with insistent Psylocke and Sage fanwanking (also he killed most the long-serving characters and sent the rest away on a "vacation"). I imagine this whole dark universe thing was actually an idea Jeff hatched back then and was wanting to do it with Exiles. Exiles was cancelled though and for the years that have passed it's been festering away in his skull. Every few months, he's come back to the idea and kept adding more and more elements to it and the result was this. He'd came up with so many ideas and specific character concepts for this reality, in order to squeeze them all into a comic, it meant focusing almost solely on the universe itself.
When it comes to the supposedly titular heroes, there's virtually no character work at all going on here. The real character of this story is the constant barrage of "look, how messed up this reality is". However, I will say that this issue, at the very least, feels a bit more like a team book as U.S.Agent, SCIENCE AMORA, Trickshot and Dumb Spider-God are acting in concert and have equal amounts of lines. Which isn't a lot. But then on the other hand, Moonstone and Skaar continue to spend almost the entire issue under a spell and Ragnarok spectacularly manages to score a hat trick and spends another issue unconscious with a sole panel appearance.
And then came the sucker-punch. Remember Venom? One of Marvel's surprising breakout stars of 2011? Against all odds, Flash Thompson became Venom and it sold! Marvel couldn't believe their luck. So, now, U.S.Agent has become Flash Thompson Jr. with authentic symbiotic limbs! This is an utterly repellent, unoriginal and hideous pandering to an audience of idiots who didn't buy this book in the first place. The only silver lining is that the book is finished so thankfully we don't see this repugnant re-used crap play out.
The only other real thing of note is the "death" of Moonstone. The issue ends with the classic Thunderbolts member apparently being obliterated. I'm not stupid enough to see this as more than a fake out, but the matter of fact is that it made me consider the fact that while she probably survived this, she isn't safe at all. When Marvel books fail to sell, Marvel opt to kill off the stars now. Daken died when his book couldn't sell. Lady Ghost Rider lost her powers never to be seen again. The Avengers Academy kids are "shocking" child-murder bait over in Avengers Arena. Hell, the entire fan-favorite Age of Apocalypse reality is being wiped out by the Celestials because that failed to sell. Now look at the Dark Avengers. What are the Dark Avengers? Mostly a group of people who parade around in other people's costumes starring in a book that didn't sell because Marvel wanted it die from the get-go. Considering they're on such a dark and evil alternate reality, I'd be surprised if any of them make it back alive. Marvel feels they have no use for something if it didn't sell.
So, yes, this book didn't have a wing or a prayer. The art by Neil Edwards is good and Jeff Parker is good at raising a smile with his gags, but as a whole this just kinda falls flat. With the book cancelled one story arc in, it's frustrating to see said story arc wasted exploring an alternate reality while members of the team are spending the duration unconscious, under mind-control or as pieces of scenery. I believe Jeff could do a lot better, it's the case that most the bad things about this, both in terms of writing and reading, all revolve around the same impending doom the book has been facing since it "began".
P.S. Someone was confused by the titles I've been given to these reviews (one title would suggest the Space Phantom appeared)... I was intending to use the progressive titles of issues of Avengers and simply insert "Dark" in there somewhere. Alas, this book has ended before it got a chance to become apparent. Oddly enough, the re-purposed titles from issues #1 and #3 were surprisingly apt.