In the past decade Marvel has increased its focus on the Avengers, bringing that title into the forefront of its publishing efforts and expanding the number of related titles in the Avengers family of books. Many of the recent years' company wide crossover events (i.e. House of M, Civil War and Secret Invasion) have had their genesis in the primary Avengers title, New Avengers. Yet in spite of Marvel's placing a greater importance on the Avengers family, many new customers have expressed confusion as to what titles they should read, how all the titles relate to each other, and where a good place to start reading might be. So in the interest of clarification I offer a few brief summaries of who's doing what, what characters appear in each title, what each book focuses on, and other Avengery quandaries.
First off, it should be noted that the initial issues following the Secret Invasion tie-ins were all designed to be transitional issues introducing new characters, rosters and creative teams. So these would be an ideal place to start reading if you're interested in seeing what's going on in this part of the Marvel Universe. New Avengers #48-50 introduce a new roster which feature some returning characters (Luke Cage, Wolverine, Ronin, Spider-man), and introduce new members as well (Ms. Marvel, the new Captain America, and potential members/supporting characters Jessica Jones and Mockingbird). This series, still written by Marvel mastermind Brian Michael Bendis, continues to play the same role it always has: this is still a 'new' Avengers team that has no ties to the government or other agencies. They continue to rebel against corrupted authorities and taking care of threats and situations that might otherwise get overlooked. They are also still on the run from those authorities who would wish them imprisoned or worse. The artist on the series for the next few months will be Billy Tan before recent Ultimate Spider-man artist Stuart Immonen takes over. With Bendis and Immonen on yet another of their best selling titles, Marvel has a creative team that is known for its timeliness and its potential for having a long, well-crafted run on the title.
Mighty Avengers #20-22 not only act as an epilogue to Secret Invasion, but introduce a completely new roster, focus and creative team. The series initial creative team of Bendis and artist Frank Cho, while great on paper, was plagued by lateness, a slightly odd roster of characters, and occasional uneven storytelling. Post-Secret Invasion, Bendis has passed the writing duties off to Dan Slott, and the art is being handled by Khoi Pham. The new creative team seems intent on making their book more classic in terms of roster and focus. That new roster is led by Avenger co-founder Hank Pym, now calling himself the Wasp in the aftermath of Secret Invasion. There is another giant character in Stature, former Young Avenger and daughter of another Ant Man. There is a classic Avenger in Scarlet Witch. There is a shield-wielder in U.S. Agent, a mythological god in Hercules, and two androids in Vision and Jocasta. So there are plenty of Avenger archetypes in this book. If you've not tried Mighty Avengers because you didn't like the first few issues or heard negative comments about certain story lines in the book, I'd urge you to try out the title again, especially if you were a fan of the Avengers title in the '70's and '80's.
Avengers: The Initiative, thanks to Secret Invasion, is a title that is understandably up in the air as far as its direction is concerned. This title was a direct result of Marvel's Civil War series, and had consistently good story lines and an interesting concept from the beginning. Writer Dan Slott has passed the torch to Christos Gage, a capable writer who has been co-writing the book for months. Original artist Stefano Caselli has moved on to the Secret Invasion spin off series Secret Warriors, written by Jonathan Hickman. The book still contains a large, varied cast of characters, including but not limited to Tigra, Taskmaster, the New Warriors, Gauntlet and several new characters introduced throughout this series. Issues #20-22 wrap up the Secret Invasion tie-ins and lead into a new storyline called "The Initiative Disassembled." With the status of the Initiative program made irrelevant in a post Skrull-invaded Marvel Universe, it will be interesting to see how Christos Gage and artist Humberto Ramos change the direction of the title, and whether or not the Initiative as a whole can continue to exist in a Marvel Universe controlled by villains.
The newest Avengers title, Dark Avengers, is also written by Bendis with art by Mike Deodato, Jr. While Bendis has in the past been one to draw out story lines over several months (such as the mystery behind the identity of the first Ronin), with Dark Avengers he lets readers know who the characters are and what their motivations will be, all within the span of the first issue. There was not a need to draw out the issue of the characters' identities this time around, as it was fairly obvious from initial promotional art. Dark Avengers is essentially a revamped take on the Thunderbolts concept: what if villains masqueraded as heroes? Not to worry, it's doubtful that this will end up being a grand redemption tale. This is a title firmly cemented in the new post-Secret Invasion/Dark Reign era. Villains have the spotlight; they have control. The only question remaining is how they'll use/abuse that power, and to what extent they'll exert their will on humanity and super-humanity in the Marvel Universe.
All these titles have some interaction with each other, but each has it's specific function. In other words, you don't have to read them all in order to understand any one of them. That being said, this is a good time to start reading any of the Avengers books if you haven't already. If you'd like even more of the story, check out the one shots Secret Invasion: Requiem, which offers a nice introduction to the new direction of the Mighty Avengers. Dark Reign: New Nation offers sneak peaks at upcoming Avengers-related titles and miniseries, and Secret Invasion: Dark Reign picks up immediately following Secret Invasion, and plants the seeds for the primary direction of Marvel titles in '09. And if you want to go back even farther, there are trade paperback versions of Civil War, Secret Invasion, and recent Avengers titles all available at our store.