brian-michael-bendisLast year I was dissatisfied with the Marvel Universe-wide “Secret Invasion” crossover. I stand by what I wrote. Wasted opportunity; derivative of the “New Caprica” BS:G storyline; who really cares about the death of the Wasp. What I now regret is writing this, about Marvel’s now-iconic writer, Brian Michael Bendis:

It’s uncharacteristic of Bendis to write something so blatantly derivative. And even more uncharacteristic of him to execute the concept poorly.

“Secret Invasion” gave way to “Dark Reign,” a series-wide maelstrom in which the U.S. venerates Norman Osborn for saving the world from the Skrulls; turns S.H.I.E.L.D. over to him, which he promptly disbands in favor of the dystopic H.A.M.M.E.R.; allows him to reinvent himself as the perversion known as Iron Patriot, a cynical hybrid of Iron Man and Captain America; and, with carte blanche established, celebrates him as he creates a new Avengers team of villains masquerading as heroes. (Venom is the new Spider-Man; Bullseye is Hawkeye; Daken is Wolverine… you get the idea.) At the time, I thought it was a new low in the Marvel U. The Thunderbolts concept on a grander scale. As long as there have been comic books, there have been world-gone-mad storylines of the bad guys running the show.

Dear Brian Michael Bendis: I am sorry I doubted you. If “Secret Invasion” was a good idea poorly executed, “Dark Reign” is a bad idea exquisitely executed. For a year now, Bendis has written Osborne as a truly terrifying villain with flashes of greatness and vulnerability and sheer psychosis. The character has never been handled better. Marvel finally has a villain to match the complexity of the Joker. His manipulation of the levers of power in the Marvel U has been both fascinating and depressingly durable. This isn’t just the Green Goblin anymore. Bendis has Osborne making shrewd compromises with the Avengers-in-exile; outmaneuvering them into futility or counterproductive overreaction; and negotiating a delicate balance of power between the Hood, Loki, Dr. Doom and Emma Frost. Like I say, Bendis: I am sorry I doubted you. I will be buying the Powers omnibus as penance.

The reason why I’m writing this is because I just read the Siege one-shot introduction of the next phase of “Dark Reign.” It’s the best part of the story so far, and by far. Osborne gets way scarier and is about to gamble with forces beyond his control: Asgard. I nearly wept with joy. The Thor re-launch has been one of the best aspects of the new densely-written Marvel U, but Asgard has resisted integration even in the silver age. You can see this shaping up as another cliche-ridden parable — Dark Icarus? — but I have too much restored faith in Bendis to expect it to unfold that way. Also, he kills the Chicago Bears. Make Mine Marvel.