One of my all time favorite comic storylines is the 2008-2009 Dark Reign saga. Brian Michael Bendis took a wild swing and told a story where yes, the worst villains in the Marvel Universe took over. Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, became the most powerful man in the world and with a group including Loki, Namor, Emma Frost, The Hood, and Doctor Doom, ran the universe. And it was a bad time for heroes. It is a year of nothing but “like you’d really do it” choices before it ends in the anticlimax of Siege. I can’t say this enough. If an issue is branded Dark Reign, read it.
But I didn’t think I’d ever talk about it here. This column is for looking at tie-ins and you don’t see tie-ins set during a story that ran maybe 18 months. They try for the broadest take possible. But David Guymer saw the potential and Marvel and Aconyte did too so I get the joy of talking about this storyline as I review Guymer’s novel Dark Avengers: The Patriot List.
Of course I have to back up and explain who the Dark Avengers were. They were a team consisting of Osborn in the Iron Patriot armor, Scorpion with the Venom Symbiote posing as Spider-Man, Ares, the psychotic Moonstone posing as Ms. Marvel, the schizophrenic omnipotent Sentry, Wolverine’s asshole son Daken, and most terrifyingly Bullseye posing as Hawkeye. They were a violent force in their 16 issue run.
The plot of the book is wonderfully simple. The team is tasked with recovering incriminating evidence against Osborn. Things get worse for the entirety of the book. That’s it. There’s more of course but at its core, this is a book about damage control and the stakes just get worse and worse for a team so evil their noblest member was a villain in a movie in the DC Universe.
The reason I’m glad the plot is so simple and direct is it makes the book a character study. The fun of this book is you get to spend time with unrepentant horrible monsters. If you stop to think for even a second, you realize their antagonists, noble figures fighting a good cause, are heroes in any other book. But Guymer doesn’t tell it from that side. We don’t get that comfort. We are fully in the minds of these violent mass murderers. That’s a risk and a profoundly compelling one. The result is a uniquely unsettling read that almost makes you feel guilty for having fun.
And it’s not just that we’re there. It’s that Guymer probes this. One of his most interesting threads he pulls is the nightmare relationship between The Sentry and his wife which is a truly toxic horror story of a man controlling a woman. He gets in and really makes you feel how terrifying this story is from her perspective. It’s something Bendis played with but never really got completely down. No this time we are on it.
He also has a blast with the core concept. These are after all true villains not antiheroes but they are playing heroes. The idea of monsters trying to keep a public face as noble do-gooders and the hell of keeping that hidden is fascinating. It gets quite unnerving realizing that the mission is to make people believe Bullseye is a heroic figure.
I should note the book is cleanly written. There’s a minimum of subplots. It’s written with flair but Guymer wants his story told. Things are direct and to the point. The action is told with clear mental pictures and you know everything described in every room.
I have to stress too how intensely political this book is. The team the Dark Avengers is fighting is Middle Eastern and is again made up of decent people. They’re a team of mostly white supervillains. The western policy towards that region in the last 20 years looms so heavy over this book. It’s disturbing that the team goes into the area.
That’s the other thing. I’m reading this book as the 1/6 commission is running. I’m reading it post Donald Trump. Dark Reign reads very different having lived through seeing people not hiding their bigoted evil plans and the public defending them. I don’t think it was intentional but when you reach the end, try not to feel queasy knowing this is how it would go.
So let me get to the point. This is absolutely one of the greatest uses of a license ever. This book reads like what all tie-ins should: a lost arc. Slip this after the Molecule Man arc but before Siege and it fits perfectly. This is in every word a Dark Avengers story. This is the absolute dream this column exists for. That it’s fleshing out a series I thought needed more is the best part. My only observation is you can’t read this cold. You must read the other comics. But you should anyway.
The book arrives October 5. I fully recommend it. N
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