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Marvel's 'Dark Avengers' is a winner

For a variety of reasons - which will be revealed in the "Best of 2009" column - Comics Guy has not reviewed many Marvel comics in 2009.

For a variety of reasons - which will be revealed in the "Best of 2009" column - Comics Guy has not reviewed many Marvel comics in 2009.

But he could not let the year come to a close without a look at "Dark Avengers," arguably the most entertaining title the publisher puts out.

The biggest key to the book's success is writer Brian Michael Bendis' portrayal of the team's leader, Norman Osborn.

As most fans know, Osborn is best-known as the Green Goblin, a Spider-Man foe who reached iconic status 35 years ago when he killed Spider-Man's girlfriend Gwen Stacy and shortly after that heinous act accidentally impaled himself with one of his own gliders.

Exactly two decades later, it was revealed that Osborn "got better" thanks to a healing factor. Most fans - including Comics Guy - were angry at what they felt was the cheapening of an important death. It didn't help that Osborn was brought back as a lame Kingpin wannabe, a far cry from the man whose very name used to haunt Peter Parker, and most of the subsequent 15 years saw the character involved in battles with Spider-Man that were mostly rehashes at best and poor attempts of turning him into "Spider-Man's Joker" at worst.

However, one of the major successes of the various Marvel events of the past few years is that each has slowly enabled Osborn to rise to power and prominence in the Marvel Universe.

After showing he could lead a team of some of the most vicious villains the Marvel U. has to offer, getting them to do good and becoming a national hero during the Skrulls' "Secret Invasion," Osborn was appointed to replace a discredited Tony Stark as head of the national peacekeeping taskforce, H.A.M.M.E.R., which includes his own team of Avengers.

The "Dark Avengers" are a gathering of controversial figures that Osborn has given the iconic likenesses of many of the famous Avengers, as well as the secret identities that go with them. These include: the ultimate assassin Bullseye, now Hawkeye; reformed criminal Moonstone, now Ms. Marvel; Wolverine's disturbed son Dake, now Wolverine; the lethal villain Venom transformed into a new Spider-Man; Kree warrior Marvel Boy taking on the mantle of Captain Marvel; and Osborn himself unveiling a new, heroic identity as the Iron Patriot.

Osborn also retained former Avengers Ares and the Sentry. Ares is the God of War, sort of like a combination of Wolverine and Thor with only a fraction of the nobility of either. Osborn struggles to keep him under control, while at the same time helping the mega-powerful Sentry deal with his demons - and simultaneously dealing with his own mental illness. Both heroes and villains alike figure it is not a question of if Osborn will suffer a breakdown and lose all the power, influence and respect he has earned, but when.

The fact that one of the major villains in the Marvel U. is now a national hero and leads a version of Earth's Mightiest Heroes that consists of psychopaths and murderers is proof that the villains have won. At least for now.

As written by Bendis, Osborn has become a more complex, interesting version of Lex Luthor, who can go from commanding and confident to cowering and back again in the blink of an eye. He tells his team - and the other villains he seeks to control - that as long as they follow orders and "hit something" once in a while, they will always be free to do what they want and even admired. He also stresses the importance of them sticking together, since no matter how powerful each of them are individually, there is always going to be a bigger bully on the block.

Both points were driven home by their latest mission, which took them to Dinosaur, Colo., on the trail of scores of missing people, including a politician's daughter, where Norman comes face to face with the insanely powerful team of Molecule Man, The Beyonder, The Enchantress, Mephisto and Zarathos.

We quickly find that Molecule Man - a.k.a. Owen Reese - has become so omnipotent he actually created versions of the others so he would have friends, each of whom reflects a part of his personality.

Knowing that Reese can recreate beings of almost limitless power, it then comes as no surprise that he dispatches each of the Dark Avengers in new and interesting ways. He probes Osborn's mind and finds he is scared and sorry about an event he has never shown any remorse for.

With all the Avengers down and out, it's up to the non-powered Victoria Hand to get Reese to put everything back the way it was. Bendis's portrayal of Hand again demonstrates his knack for writing strong women.

The coup de grace is surprisingly delivered by a Dark Avenger whose power is so off-the-scale that even the unflappable Osborn and his crew of cool-as-a-cucumber crazies all react with fear and concern about potential problems down the road.

This is a book that showcases Bendis at his best. He explores political issues like the war on terrorism and explores philosophical ones like the meaning of symbols. His dialogue remains the best in the business, moving the plot along, imbuing characterization and setting the mood for each panel. Most important, he doesn't succumb to broadly portraying the characters as a bunch of loons; he instead demonstrates a unique grasp pf psychology by imbuing each chacter with its own tics, quirks and personality.

Artist Mike Deodato's dark style is perfect for this book. Greg Horn's painted panels provide a nice, sharp contrast for certain scenes.

This is a book with few flaws. You should pick it up while you can, while the bad guys still rule, and enjoy a quality book that is at the center of a unique time in Marvel history.



Boom! Studios has announced that Mandalay Pictures has optioned the film rights to their action-thriller comic series "UNTHINKABLE!"

"Our partners at Mandalay are the best in the business," said BOOM! Studios CEO Ross Richie in a statement. "Cathy Schulman won the Oscar for 'Crash' and Peter Guber's a legend in the business. We couldn't be happier!"

"UNTHINKABLE!" was created and written by Mark Sable, with art by Julian Totino Tedesco. The series centers around best-selling author Alan Ripley, recruited just after 9/11 to join a government think tank of America's most imaginative minds to think of nightmare scenarios and crippling terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Years after the think tank is disbanded, attacks Ripley envisioned begin to happen and only he can stop whoever is behind the destruction.

Other BOOM! titles that have been optioned include "Talent," "Tag" and "2 Guns" by Universal; "North Wind" by Davis Entertainment; and "Station" by CBS Films.

Quote of the week

"No matter how hard I work, I never accomplish everything I set out to do in a day. Yeah for anger and stress! I shoulda been a pro wrestler."

- Eric Powell (@goonguy), twittering about his career second thoughts.