The Story That Forced The Avengers To Grow Up
Pre-MCU Marvel Comics were a very different landscape. Not so much tied to an image known by the entire world (and maybe multiverse), there was a certain flexibility in the storytelling that is somewhat harder to find nowadays. Because of that, some of the most resonant stories can be found in this pocket of only a few years, and they are stories that still affect the characters in both the comics and the films even today.
With the recent news coming from Marvel Studios (including that mind-bending WandaVision trailer), now seemed like a good time to handle maybe the most important Avengers story ever told and how it ties to the seriousness of mental health. Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch’s Avengers: Disassembled marks one of the first times that the Avengers, as a whole, are forced to grow-up in a way that none of them expected because no one would have even considered the idea that their closest friend was suffering from serious mental illness.
Much like the demolition of a building, the events of Avengers: Disassembled come on suddenly and refuse to stop until the final brick has crumbled and the dust has settled. The chaos begins on multiple fronts; at Avengers mansion, the team is greeted to the body of a resurrected (yet still decomposed) hero by the name of Jack of Hearts. Scott Lang meets him outside, and the conversation ends with Jack stating, “I’m sorry.” and exploding. With the front of the mansion destroyed and Scott seemingly killed, the first blow is struck in the battle that will end the Avengers.
Meanwhile, in the United Nations, Tony Stark holds a conference to further strengthen ties with the Avengers and the world. The problem is he almost immediately begins acting like a belligerent drunk and threatening almost everyone in the room, including T’Challa, the Black Panther, and the king of Wakanda. Following the outburst, Tony admits that it felt like he was drunk again; however, he hasn’t had a drink in years. With word of the attack at the mansion, the heroes at the UN race to meet the others.
The chaos ensues with the Vision crashing a Quinjet into what is left of the mansion and telling the team that while he is no longer in control of his body, he does know that it is time for the team to be punished and lose everything. The Vision then begins to melt as tiny orbs erupt from him and create Ultron robots. It can’t get much worse right? Well, just as the team is getting the upper hand, the She-Hulk begins to go savage and rips the vision in half in a highly detailed and graphic splash page.
As the dust on the first wave of chaos begins to settle, the team has subdued the She-Hulk, but at the cost of Ant-Man, the Vision, the mansion, and the reputation of Tony Stark and the Avengers as a whole. All the group has now are doubts, and the only one thinking this is an attack was last seen acting like a drunken fool. As the team returns to the mansion in low spirits, they are met with a gathering of Avengers, new and old ready to help where they can.
In an almost cruel joke, with every Avenger there to bear witness, the next attack begins in the form of the vast Kree Empire. The attack forces every hero to fight, and the casualties begin to mount with heroes being incapacitated left and right and culminating in the death of Clint Barton, Hawkeye. With his quiver full of explosive arrows caught on fire, he decides it’s time to go down swinging, taking a Kree soldier and taking him and his jetpack directly into one of the large warships, exploding on contact. This death hits both the readers and the heroes in a way that feels like it must be a joke. Hawkeye simply can’t die! Well, with the return of Doctor Strange, he not only confirms that these deaths are real but that this is the cause of a very unstable and powerful magic user with the ability to warp reality, an Avenger named Wanda Maximoff: The Scarlet Witch.
While mental illness has become a much more common topic in the public eye, it wasn’t so long ago that these issues were not given the attention they deserve. Avengers: Disassembled does a great job at showing the consequences that can come from dealing with something like this for so long unchecked. There was a time where the Scarlet Witch manifested two children; they would be the children of her and the Vision. However, some years ago, these children disappeared and were never seen again. Rather than normally cope, her mentor, Agatha Harkness, opts instead to wipe her mind of the loss of her children. Over time Wanda does start to remember what happened but still believes that they are missing rather than nonexistent.
Wanda is later triggered following a conversation with the Wasp about motherhood; the trigger causes her to realize she still has no recent memories of her children. Her quest for answers takes her all the way to Dr. Doom in hopes that he will help her bring her children back. Instead, he aids in her being possessed by a cosmic entity that and with Doom’s guiding push, sends her on a vengeful path to the Avengers. Strange explains to the Avenger’s disbelief that the loss of her children, coupled with the abuse her mind received by Harkness AND the fact that she has no control over her powers, has caused her to have a complete mental collapse that has resulted in the past events. While everything from Jack of Hearts to the Kree was created, the deaths were, in fact, real.
The story comes to a head with Cap and the team being led to a Wanda that is spending time with the illusion of her children. Ultimately it takes the might of Doctor Strange to subdue her finally and put her in a coma. The story ends with a crestfallen Magneto taking her away and the Avengers being forced to do nothing but leave.
Avengers: Disassembled is just as wild now as it was back in 2004 and has done many things that have affected the characters since. The story forced the Avengers to face a titanic defeat and realize that it could have probably been avoided had someone bothered to see if Wanda was okay. While they cannot have that held against them, it does show the ripple effect of small moments and their impact on the larger picture. But how did the Avengers grow up? They learned to see every facet of a situation, every possibility, they weren’t above mistakes, and they knew that now and because no one wants to repeat the same mistakes that took place in Avengers #500. The Avengers ended, but the team grew both individually and collectively. While Wanda’s story continued in House of M, two teams of Avengers were born. The New Avengers, a team of new and classic members who were ready to face new threats and avoid the same mistakes from the past, and the Young Avengers, a team of young heroes who refuse to let what their predecessors represent, die. Following Disassembled, the world was different, and every hero knew that. They knew that a fist wouldn’t solve everything, and because of that, the problems evolved as well. Who knows where the Marvel Universe would have been had Wanda gotten the help she needed?
*Disclaimer: When I wrote this, I had no idea how much mental health was such an important lesson to learn in this story (I wonder if the creators did too). These things are no joke and, left unchecked, can be dangerous to both the victim and those around them. Make sure to check on the people you care about when you can. Who knows, you may be the hero they need.