IT'S COOPERATIN' TIME - New Avengers 1

Take a group of friends. Have them meet regularly for conversation, meals, and coordinated activities. In some cases these people will convene at a bar and engage in trivia contests. Other times they'll meet at a pub and go play what some call football, others soccer, and still others call "Well, at least they're not sticking around in the pub and breaking chairs over each others' skulls." But if this sequence of events occurs in a story by Brian Michael Bendis with the word "Avengers" in its title, it's most likely that the food and chit-chat will take place in some large, impressive structure, and the post-dinner schedule will call for a round or two of saving the world.

At least that's been the trend lately, and Bendis' newest Heroic Age Avengers series, "New Avengers," launches with a familiar scene of superheroes exchanging pleasantries and reintroductions before being rudely interrupted by a fiendish plot to destroy the world as we know it. But what makes this a different, better book than its regular "Avengers" counterpart is that while that series is about setting up big spectacle set pieces, "New Avengers" plays to Bendis' strengths by putting more of a focus on the characters motivations and interactions. The book opens at the big Avengers team formation rooftop party at Avengers Tower, where Luke Cage and friends are reluctant to join any sort of official Avengers team after being accustomed to the freedom of not having anyone else calling the shots for them. Steve Rogers accepts that, offering Cage the chance to pick his own team. And Tony Stark then sells the new group Avengers Manor for one dollar, in either a moment of tremendous generosity or a continuing sign of an alarming decline in housing prices. Then Luke makes the tremendous error of waiting to form the team until after he moves into the mansion, thus denying him the advantage of a superpowered moving crew to unpack his U-Haul.

Luke's given free reign to pick his Avengers except for two limitations placed on him by Steve Rogers, channeling the word from on high by Marvel Corporate: he can't have Thor and he can't have Iron Man. Which isn't such a bad restriction, honestly. With Captain America, Iron Man and Thor all being the hot properties Marvel's pushing to make the most out of its current and future slate of summer blockbusters, they tend to steal the spotlight in any book they show up in. Not to mention that they'd necessitate greater creative restrictions to ensure their books are friendly to new readers coming to comics from the films. So with the power trio off having adventures in other books, Bendis has the potential to have a little more fun with this one and have just a bit more creative control over these characters.

There's certainly an interesting cast to play with. In addition to Luke Cage, his wife Jessica Jones and his best friend Danny "Iron Fist" Rand there are a number of other high profile heroes. Spider-Man's there because the team's headquartered in New York and Spider-Man's not one to turn down things like a place to hang out or free food. Wolverine's there because it's a superhero team in the Marvel Universe (there's actually a great line delivered by the gruff Canadian himself that's a knowing nod to this). Hawkeye's there because, well, I guess because he wanted to be on a superhero team with Mockingbird and they didn't let her into the regular Avengers with him. And Ms. Marvel's there and has one whole panel to speak in this issue.

But I haven't yet gotten to the two big surprise additions. First there's The Thing, who so rarely gets to take his wisecracking tough guy act outside of the more serious Fantastic Four dynamic and looks to be a lot of fun paired up with the rest of the team. And then there's Victoria Hand, former trusted confidant of Norman Osborn. Hand's been assigned to the team by Steve Rogers for the team's sake to help track and organize their actions and for her own sake as a chance for redemption. Both Victoria's quest for a second chance in the world and her presence as a potential conflicting viewpoint to the team's more independent vigilante attitude offer the potential for intriguing storylines and I'm interested to see where Bendis takes them.

As for the opening story itself, "New Avengers" #1 sets up a conflict with a mysterious supernatural force seeking to obtain Doctor Voodoo's Eye of Agamotto in order to carry out an as yet unspecified scheme with the goal of causing at this point still be to determined problems for the world. Though there's few details yet, the fight scenes with Doctor Strange and Doctor Voodoo do a good enough job setting up a feeling of tension and piquing readers' curiosity as to what's going to happen next. "New Avengers" #1 isn't a great comic, but it's certainly a good one that assembles a mostly familiar Avengers team with some notable additions. If you've enjoyed Bendis' work more for how he's developed his characters and played them off one another than for his story concepts, this is going to be the Avengers book you'll probably want to devote your attention to.