For a few years from about 2006, Brian Michael Bendis’ plots for the Avengers seeped into almost the entire Marvel universe, as events leading to and from Secret Invasion, Dark Reign and Siege had wide ranging effects. For the purposes of Dark Avengers, former villain the Green Goblin, also industrialist Norman Osborn, did something decisive at the end of Secret Invasion, succeeding where the long established S.H.I.E.L.D. under Tony Stark failed. Hilariously, despite his past, Osborn’s reward was to be placed in charge of the replacement organisation, where it didn’t take him long to exploit an already fragile political situation, alienating the Avengers and driving them underground. Dark Avengers were his replacement team, Osborn giving a suit of old Iron Man armour a patriotic respray to lead a team who looked like the Avengers, but were in fact a selection of barely controllable villains masquerading as them. Only the troubled Sentry remained from the old team, while Ares was drafted in for greater credibility. Osborn tolerates their excesses and brutality in private as long as they toe the line in public. For some this requires medication.

The are flashes of brilliance, but a bulky collection shows considerable repetition among the interactions between various team members, and that some slip between the cracks. Noh- Var is barely used until an annual spotlighting him, and then disappears again, while Ares is a big brutal brooding presence whose only significant role highlights his dysfunctional relationship with his son. Bendis lavishes his care on Osborn and the Sentry, both of whom constantly grab the attention. His portrayal of Osborn’s devious, manipulative character is first rate throughout, with the highlight being the faked sincerity of his appearance on a TV show to answer credible accusations. Primary artist Mike Deodato’s facility for body language and expression is crucial. The Sentry’s confusion and mental instability is reconfigured by Bendis to excellent effect. This initially appears to be repetitive, but has a purpose that pays off.

Deodato is spectacular, with his graphic design skills resulting in some amazing looking spreads (sample art), especially in the later Sentry sequences. There is a problem, though, with his mix of breaking down stories across spreads with the more traditional approach of top to bottom of a page, leading to a confusing reading experience throughout. Also very impressive is Chris Bachalo, but he’s allocated weaker stories.

Despite the excellent art, the few standard superhero fights are the most average elements of the series, particularly when featuring sorceress Morgana LeFey. Bendis has conceived a decent conclusion, but getting there is work. His use of the Molecule Man is better, and Greg Horn contributes pages in a different style to signify the disorientation induced.

It should be noted that this doesn’t include all the issues of the Dark Avengers series, as two were written by Matt Fraction and tie-in to the Utopia crossover with the X-Men. This was previously issued in hardcover as Dark Avengers Omnibus, while the chapters are also spread across three trades as Dark Avengers Assemble, Molecule Man and Siege.