See, it didn’t take too long for us to get to some characters you’ve heard of. The Avengers are Marvel’s version of the Justice League, but with less power, but more angst and drama. They’re Earth’s preeminent superhero team, and the premise usually is that it’s a few A list heavy hitters, combined with a bunch of characters that people like, but aren’t popular enough to carry their own book for any length of time. In general, the Avengers stories tend to be a little more “personal” than Justice League stories, as Avengers characters often don’t have their own comics. Pretty much every popular Marvel character has become an Avenger at some point, and their ranks have included such luminaries as Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wasp, Hank Pym (currently known as Wasp. Formerly known as Yellowjacket. Formerly known as Goliath. Formerly known as Giant-Man. Formerly known as Ant-Man), Vision, Hercules, She-Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and many, many, more. There’s also a huge Avengers movie coming out next year, directed by Joss Whedon.
I’ve always liked the concept of the Avengers, but I’ve never been compulsive about collecting it. So there’s actually plenty of great Avengers stories that I don’t own, and I’m going to be rectifying that soon. Most of my collection is from the current Brian Bendis run on the Avengers books, which long time fans will be horrified by. Suck it, long time fans!
Avengers – Essential Avengers 1-5
First things first. The “Essential” line is a great Marvel concept where they collect years worth of early Marvel stories in cheap, black & white phone book sized softcovers. It’s an inexpensive way to read some of the most important stories in superhero comics history. Unfortunately, the lack of colour basically means you’re only getting half of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I love black and white comics. But not when the comics were supposed to be coloured in the first place. These Essential Avengers trades cover most of the first decade of Avenger’s stories by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and other creative legends. It’s all there: The discovery of Captain America’s body, the formation of the Avengers, The addition of the Vision to the team, the Kree-Skrull War, etc. So if this has so many great Marvel moments, why am I getting rid of them? Because they have so many great Marvel moments. As I’ve read through my Marvel collection, I’ve culled almost all of the Essential books I have, NOT as a reflection on the quality (they’re called Essential for a reason), but because the format quite frankly doesn’t do the source material justice. It’s like watching Avatar on your iPod. Sure, you get the plot, but you really don’t get the whole story. Marvel has a Marvel Masterworks line that does high-end collections of a lot of the comics from this era, and once I’m done my cull and see how much space I have, I’ll be replacing my Essentials with those.
The Avengers – Emperor Doom, Revenge Of The Living Monolith
These were part of Marvel’s early to mid ’80’s stand alone graphic novel experiment. The line itself was of variable quality, and upon rereading only one of these two really worked. Monolith still looks really good upon rereading (Marc Silvestri on pencils), but the story (and the villain) isn’t compelling enough to really grab on to. I don’t think it’s poorly executed, it just doesn’t click for some reason. Emperor Doom is another story however, and to my mind would have to go down as one of the better Dr. Doom stories ever published. Why? Because Doom wins. Hands down, unequivocably wins. Takes over the world, in fact. The only reason he “loses” at the end is because he’s so bored with his new power, that he lets the Avengers win. Great story, with some fine pencils by Bob Hall.
Revenge Of The Living Monolith – CULL. Emperor Doom – KEEP
The Avengers – Last Avengers Story
This was part of a line that Marvel goes back to every once in a while, in which they surmise what the “last” story of a particular character will be. For the most part these have been forgettable (with the striking exception being Pater David’s Hulk: The End), and this (also written by Peter David) is unfortunately no exception. The Avengers are all middle-aged has-beens, and Hank Pym gets them back together one last time to fight a several of their main villains. Blah. Although the premise is sound, the story really doesn’t feel epic enough to justify its “last Avengers story” premise. It comes across as just another big Avengers story, but one where everybody is old and more people die.
The Avengers – Utron Limited, Clear And Present Dangers, The Morgan Conquest, The Kang Dynasty, and Avengers Forever
This was a huge reboot of the Avengers that happened about 13 years ago, and initially it was quite successful. The writer was Kurt Busiek, and the artist was George Perez, so you know that Marvel was serious about making this book a contender. And while I love George Perez’ art a lot, I think that I would argue that he and Busiek didn’t really click creatively as much as one would have thought. The first three trades reread as overly reverential to the past, and the dialogue seems cut and pasted from old Lee and Kirby comics. Not there’s anything wrong with that, but I need a little contemporary dialogue in my comics. Still, there’s plenty to love here. The art is gorgeous, the characterization is spot-on, and the adventures are epic. Surprisingly, it’s when Perez left the book that I felt that it actually started to take off creatively. The Kang Dynasty and Avengers Forever don’t get as much attention as they should in the pantheon of Marvel’s big events, but I think they more than hold their own. In fact, I would say they’re 2 of the best epic Avengers stories ever written. There’s time travel, space battles, love, and betrayal. Pretty much everything you would want in a superhero comic, and if you’re a Marvel fan that hasn’t read these, I recommend you give them a shot, particularly Avengers Forever. Busiek seems to have loosened up by now, and was taking more risks with the characters then he was when Perez was on the book. So no Perez, which is bad, but the stories are more compelling, which is good.
Next up: More Avengers. Lots, and lots, of Avengers.