The idea behind this incarnation of the Dark Avengers was solid. Former villain Norman Osborn is in charge of US security, dons some of Iron Man’s old armour given a patriotic re-spray, and commands a team of villains masquerading as more familiar members of the Avengers. He’s not concerned about 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 collecting the entire series (or most of it) shows a lot of 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.

Writer Brian Michael 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. In the case of the Sentry’s confusion and mental instability Bendis reconfigures the character 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, 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 from top to bottom of a page, leading to a confusing reading experience throughout. Also very impressive is Chris Bachalo, but that’s on one of the weaker stories here.

Despite the excellent art, the few standard superhero fights are the weakest elements of the series, particularly with 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 a crossover with the X-Men. Those interested can locate this as Utopia. The content can alternatively be found in cheaper paperbacks as Dark Avengers Assemble, Molecule Man and Siege.