I’m not quite sure what made me pick this up – I still remain to be convinced that Dark Reign has much in the way of potential for interesting stories beyond the inherent “Heh, that’s quite cool” of its central gimmick, and I’ve never been particularly bothered about either Hawkeye or Bullseye. I suppose it must just be down to Andy Diggle, who in his career in American comics so far has shown an affinity for the unpleasant that makes him an ideal fit for something like this. And what do you know, it actually turns out to be a rather worthwhile read.
After all, if there’s one aspect of the Dark Avengers setup that’s the most troubling, it’s the placement of Bullseye in the fold – having the murderer of Gwen Stacy feted as a national hero is one thing, but you suspect that Osborn will be due for his comeuppance at some point or another; and indeed, Diggle explores here the Lex Luthor-esque situation of the one-time Goblin simply demanding respect from the proles, and seeing the role of the hero as just another way of attaining it. The completely amoral Bullseye, however, represents the biggest threat to the sustainability of the status quo – and it’s a situation that Diggle immediately sets about dismantling.
And in rather gleeful fashion, too – there’s no attempt by Diggle to reconcile Bullseye’s established character with his new role. He’s a cold-blooded, murdering bastard, and spends the entire issue quite happily either killing bad guys, or allowing through inaction the deaths of civilians. He does make a quite reasonable (well, relatively speaking) point when being chewed out by Osborn about the latter, actually – he’s not a hero, he’s an assassin with a casual disregard for human life. If anything, letting him loose on the public and giving him license to roam is a huge mistake on the part of HAMMER’s new leader – and if the events of the closing pages are anything to go by, with a really quite shocking twist that even goes beyond the behaviour that you’d expect of Bullseye, it’s one that could be his undoing.
And it’s here that the main problem with this miniseries comes to light – on the one hand, putting it in its own series means that it can be written by Diggle, and not Bendis, and he’s so far well-suited to tackling this character. On the other hand, there doesn’t really seem like being enough story here to spread over five issues – yet what story there is feels too big not to be happening in Dark Avengers itself. Unless there’s going to be an almighty (and unbelievable) bit of cover-up going on, then the closing-page cliffhanger (itself rather excellently played) means we should already be seeing the beginning of the end for Osborn’s Avengers – and it’s not something that should really be risked not being read by the followers of the main series.
Still and all, it’s a decent read, with solid – if slightly inconsistent – art from Raney. Bullseye remains a terribly one-dimensional character, but Diggle at least has fun exploring his one notable facet to rather gruesome effect. It won’t do anything to sate the apoplectic rage of those who can’t bear to see such a villain dressing up as their favourite purple-suited Avenger, but for those interested in just how far you can push the idea of bad-guys-pretending-to-be-the-good-guys, it does the job. Let’s just hope the writer can find enough story to fill out the next four issues.