Following directly out of Secret Invasion, was the beginning of a new age for the Avengers – a Dark Age, and a new team is formed to follow this new vision, led by Norman Osborn (formerly the Green Goblin) and made up of some of the Thunderbolts (reformed supervillains) and other undesirables – all ready to protect America from the next threat, whatever it might be, and from wherever it might come. Norman came to prominence when he shot the killing bullet into the Skrull Queen’s head, ending the Secret Invasion – and as a national hero, in a nation where the heroes nearly failed to protect the general populace – well, the president has tapped him to lead both the Avengers and SHIELD. But we’ll discover Norman always has plans of his own. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to review this book for this column. I read it because I was interested in seeing where things would be going after Secret Invasion – but it didn’t have any obvious cosmic/scifi connections like the other comic TPBs I review in this column every other week. But, what it lacks in scifi (and let’s face it, much of having superpowers is science fiction) it makes up for with a story rooted in Fantasy. The new Avengers have barely been assembled, when they’re called on for their first mission – help Doom defend his country of Latveria from invasion by the mystical forces commanded by Morgana (of King Arthur fame). So there’s time travel, as Morgana comes from the past to have her revenge against Doom (from a story told long ago, where he loved and left her), fantastical demon creatures, a relation to the classic Fantasy story of King Arthur, plus three of the Avengers on this team have very science fiction leanings. First there’s the leader, Norman Osborn himself. He now controls much of Tony Starks old armory – and he uses it to craft a new suit, called the Iron Patriot (kind of Iron Man meets Captain America). This hi-tech gizmo allows him to lead this new set of Avengers, even as it upsets the former Thunderbolts leader Moonstone (the new Ms Marvel) who had hoped to lead this team. She finds herself more and more pushed to the side, as Osborn introduces the team to his government liaison and his new second in command. So Moonstone finds herself drawn to Noh-Varr, the new Captain Marvel – a cosmic Kree warrior stuck on Earth and not trusted by the American government because he’s an alien (and though not the same species as Skrull – and despite the long standing war between those two races – is still an ALIEN and therefore a potential enemy). Joining the Avengers might be the only way to prove to the people of Earth that they need not fear him. But he has no idea that these Avengers are actually criminals and supervillains – he thinks he’s been given a great opportunity to join something worthwhile, but part of the story is him finding out the truth about the team. Another cosmically oriented character would be the presence of Venom (looking like Spider-man in his black costume), which is an alien symbiote which has merged with a new human and enhanced him with Spider-man like powers (and an appetite for aliens, literally). Rounding out the team, we’ve got Bullseye (Daredevil villain) as Hawkeye, Wolverine’s son Daken, Ares the God of War (who has his sights set on wooing Moonstone) and finally the Sentry – one of the nuttiest loons this side of crazyville. But Osborn convinces him that his multiple personality problems can be overcome (Sentry’s alter ego The Void is a dangerous killer), just as Osborn has put behind his own Goblin personality. But as the story unfolds, the reader is left to wonder, has Osborn really put it behind him, or is it the Goblin who is in control. This is both a great introduction to this set of characters and a good story arc in it’s own right, moving from the Latveria/Doom/Morgana plot to dealing with The Sentry and his apparent death (at her hands) and resurrection (leading to the question of just how powerful this guy really is, and how scary it is that he’s both this powerful and this screwed up). But when terrorists from the undersea nation of Atlantis attack the United States, how far is Sentry willing to go to prove to Osborn that he’s ready to follow orders and make a difference as part of this team of Avengers – is he willing to commit genocide? I may not continue to follow the Dark Avengers in individual volumes after this book, but this is a great look at the new status quo of the Marvel Universe post-Secret Invasion – and ultimately, it should make for a good introduction for me leading into Siege (the next mega-event from Marvel), which was really what I was looking for out of this story. Even mostly populated by villains, this made for compelling reading – while some of them are completely reprehensible (even as they are humorous in their interactions) in others you can see some light of hope, and I can’t help but wonder if some of them might yet turn their lives around (as so many other Avengers have in the past). It’s something I look forward to learning more about in the future.