Every year, year after year for about a decade, Marvel unleashed a flaming pile of garbage every summer as their line wide crossover. None of them are worth reading, as they are all rancidly bad (generally ranging from simply bad [Secret Invasion] to “SOMEONE THROW ACID IN MY EYES!” [Avengers vs. X-Men]). Not coincidentally all this occurred when writer Brian Michael Bendis was given the most free reign over the entire Marvel line, despite the fact that he was mainly just the Avengers writer.
But Avengers: Disassembled was the flaming pile of garbage that caused the other flaming piles of garbage to explode. It was the great granddaddy that bequeathed ten years of complete crap. In order to understand why all those other bad stories took place, you have to understand Avengers: Disassembled, and in order to understand Avengers: Disassembled you have to understand the Avengers in the first place.
The Avengers were created in 1963 to be Marvel’s response to the Justice League. It was all of Marvel’s solo heroes (minus Spider-Man) coming together to fight villains no single hero could triumph over. But that idea quickly fell apart. By Avengers #16, events in most of the individual characters’ books had made it so they couldn’t be members of the Avengers anymore, and so Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, and the Wasp all resigned their membership. But, since this was barely over a year into the creation of the team, Marvel didn’t have any more solo heroes to replace the outgoing members with. The answer wound up being to have Captain America lead a team with two mutant terrorists and a super villain archer.
This change up is possibly more important to Avengers history than even the founding of the team. It settled the question that the Avengers were not going to be the best of the best, but rather that it was going to be a title with constantly shifting cast composed mostly of C and D list heroes who couldn’t support their own books. So whenever a new writer comes aboard the Avengers, he or she simply picks whatever characters he or she wishes to use and shuffles off the ones they don’t want to use. With the prime example being Avengers #16 where a bunch of Avengers just up and quit.
Enter Bendis. From 1998 to 2002 Kurt Busiek had written a very well regarded and definitive run of the Avengers. But after he left, the team floundered with a series of increasingly bad stories. So in 2004 Marvel brought on Bendis, fresh off his brilliant runs on Daredevil and Alias, to revitalize the team. The problem was that there were a lot of outstanding plot threads and characters currently in the mix.
Bendis wanted to completely remake the team, replacing longstanding members like the Wasp and She-Hulk with characters like Wolverine and Spider-Man. Arguably this was an attempt to return to the very first iteration of the Avengers focusing on the company’s biggest characters, but in reality he seemed to just want to write his personal favorite characters. But for whatever reason, Bendis decided not to simply shuffle off the characters he wasn’t going to use.
The actual plot of Avengers: Disassembled is remarkably simple, because the book doesn’t really have a plot. A bunch of nonsense happens that kills a few Avengers, then Doctor Strange shows up and explains the Scarlet Witch is insane now, and then the Avengers hand her over to Magneto. That’s literally all that happens. Most of the story line is simply taken up with meaningless nonsense. I’m sure Bendis thought he was making meaningful references to Avengers history, but as his interpretation of the Scarlet Witch’s abilities are simply that she does random stuff, it all feels completely random. And since the only motivation in the story anyone has is, “Scarlet Witch is crazy” the story lacks anything approaching characterization or a dynamic narrative. And the Avengers simply give her over to Magneto? That’s one of the most wildly out of character moments in Avengers history. The last time any of the Avengers had heard from Magneto, he had taken over Manhattan and was killing people left and right (which turned out to not be Magneto at all, but a really old mold that had taken over a guy named Xorn to make him pretend to be Magneto pretending to be Xorn, it’s complicated). So, in addition to utterly trashing the Scarlet Witch by making her a psychotic murderer, Bendis irreparably damaged the reputations of the Avengers by having their solution be, “Hey, let’s give our psychotic killer member to her psychotic terrorist father, nothing could possibly go wrong!”
Every bad creative decision that Marvel would follow over the next decade has its roots here, in this story. The incredible over-reach of its crossovers, the trashing of beloved characters, being too lenient with superstar writers, meandering and purposeless story telling, and just general bad writing. Hopefully I will somehow gather my strength and go through the entire parade of abominations that is Marvel’s summer crossovers, but this one pretty much shows you how an entire comic book company can go so completely wrong for so long.