The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 33: More Avengers

Avengers West Coat – Vision Quest

I’m really not sure how it’s possible that I only have one West Coast Avengers trade, as I loved this book in the late ’80s when it originally came out.This trade focuses on John Byrne’s run on the book. There are lots of interesting stuff here: The first appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, the foreshadowing of Scarlet Witch’s eventual meltdown, and a complete retcon of the origin of the Vision. Plus John Byrne’s pencils were great on this run. I’m definitely looking for more trades from this era ASAP.

KEEP

Avengers – Red Zone

It didn’t take Marvel long to try to scoop DC’s Geoff Johns up for one of their books, but for some reason the pairing never seemed to click. His run got a LOT of online heat from fans, and proved to be controversial. Nothing like what was to come when Brian Michael Bendis took over the book, but at this point, Marvel still hadn’t quite cottoned to the fact that if they wanted the Avengers to become a top-tier book, they were going to need to do some serious changing. So while Johns run is edgier than previous writer’s attempts to reboot the Avengers, it still comes across as slightly forced. That being said, I did enjoy this far more than I thought I would. The “big reveal” of the arc’s villain still comes across as quite hackneyed, and not well-thought out at all, but it’s still quite a good read. Some good character moments between Black Panther and Iron Man as well. There are a few other trades from Johns’ run that I may track down now.

KEEP

New Avengers – Breakout, The Sentry, Secrets & Lies, The Collective, Civil War, Revolution, The Trust, Secret Invasion Books 1 & 2, Power, Search For The Sorcerer supreme, Powerloss, Siege, New Avengers

So it’s 2004, and Marvel finally realizes that the Avengers are done. Not the concept, but the team as it currently stood. The book had been running on fumes for quite a while, and even bringing in superstar writer Geoff Johns to revive the teams fortunes hadn’t grown any traction with fans. The book was is in the doldrums. Enter Brian Michael Bendis. By this point, Bendis had garnered some serious goodwill among Marvel fans for his runs on Daredevil, Alias, and Ultimate Spider-Man. But he had never really tackled anything with quite as big a potential scope as the Avengers. Could he pull it off? Could he make the Avengers relevant again?

From a commercial standpoint, the answer was unequivocably yes. Not only did he make the Avengers relevant again, Marvel essentially rebuilt the entire framework of the Marvel Universe around the work Bendis did on New Avengers. It became Marvel’s flagship book, usurping Spider-Man and X-Men as the top draws at the company. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the title’s success had a large part to do with Marvel realizing that an Avengers movie could work.

From a quality standpoint, the answer is a little more complicated. It’s Brian Bendis. Which means the book went from becoming a light-hearted adventure-of-the-week book to a dark, conspiracy-laden, dialogue-heavy, noir thriller. Whether you liked it had a lot to do with how much you liked Brian Bendis’ writing. I for one loved it, and still do. In fact, my appreciation of what he’s done for the book has only increased upon revisiting the work.

The first thing Bendis realized is that if he was to make this work, if he was to completely revitalize the very concept of the Avengers, he was going to have to make some tough choices. And so he threw out the baby with the bath water. In fact, he didn’t just throw out the baby, he drowned it at the bottom of the tub. He damaged Avengers Mansion, killed fan-favourite character Hawkeye (and didn’t just kill him, but gave him one of the most ignoble deaths a well-known character has ever gotten, and dismantled the team.

Enter New Avengers. The premise here was to organically grow a “street-level” team of some of Marvel’s top characters, as well as some of Bendis’ favourites. And so perennial C listers Luke Cage and Spider-Woman joined team stalwarts Iron Man and Captain America. In addition, he also brought triple A listers Wolverine and Spider-Man into the fold to garner the favour of casual fans. He also threw the Sentry into the mix, just to provide some tension. This doesn’t sound so crazy now, but at the time all of these changes were considered blasphemy, and the changes Bendis brought to the Avengers were probably the most radical since the mid-’60’s. He also provided an opportunity for more casual fans to experience the adventures of their favourites  without having to actually follow what was happening in their own books. Even though I love the team, I’m the first one to admit that not only was this not your daddy’s Avengers, it really wasn’t the Avengers at all. The team didn’t have any type of government mandate, almost never went on patrol, and really just stumbled from adventure to adventure. And for me, that was ok. And still is.

Those looking for holes to poke won’t have to look far however. While there is some long-term plotting here (the buildup to Secret Invasion, the slow recreation of Luke Cage becoming one of Marvel’s top-tier heroes), and some ideas took almost 4 years to pay off, it does seem as if Bendis viewed what was happening in the rest of the Marvel Universe as somewhat of an inconvenience. The Civil War storyline in particular seemed to take Bendis by surprise, though he deftly brought it into his master plan relatively painlessly. I’ll also never fully believe Bendis’ claims that he had the entire arc of Spider-Woman’s character planned out in advance, as the events of Secret Invasion seemed to fly in the face of reason. And while I happen to enjoy Bendis’ Mametian maelstroms of dialogue, they’re not for everyone, and one of the major criticisms of the book was (and still is) that it’s heavy on exposition, low on action. I think that was a legitimate comment at one point, but Bendis seems to have captured a solid middle ground now, blending character development with action much better than he did at the start of his run. Another critique that is often made of the book is the art. Although David Finch garnered few complaints when he started the book, he handed the reigns over to darker, more stylized artists like Lenil Yu and Alex Maleev, whose work seems to have antagonized long-time fans. Again, this happens to be a matter of taste. I happen to think Alex Maleev is one of comics unheralded geniuses, but those looking for a more traditional, detailed look weren’t happy.

For the most part, Bendis’ New Avengers has been a wholly entertaining thrill ride of a superhero comic book. Though not for everybody, I think it’s really set the bar a little higher for what is possible  (and also necessary in order to capture a modern audience) with team superhero books in the 21st century.

KEEP

Next up: Wow. More Avengers. Whee.

 

 

 

 

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The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 31: Marvel Comics – Agents of ATLAS, Alias, Alpha Flight, and Ares

Many Marvel characters that are all getting their own movies next year.

And we’re back. Since I started this, I’ve had numerous people tell me that although they like the blog, what they’re really waiting for is for me to start talking about Marvel comics, since that’s what they grew up with. Well, that moment has arrived. Kind of. For those of you unfamiliar with the superhero comic scene, here’s a brief primer. For the past 4 decades or so, most (but not all) superhero comics have been published by one of two companies: DC, and Marvel. And while superhero books isn’t what they do exclusively, it remains their bread and butter. For most of the past few decades, Marvel has been the number one comic company in terns of market share, and I would say that currently their characters are more recognizable to mainstream North American audiences than DC characters. The recent slate of Marvel movies are a big part of that success, though Marvel’s dominance was solidified before that. Some of Marvel’s top characters that you may recognize, and that I will be writing about here include: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Wolverine, the Hulk, the Punisher, and many more characters that Stan Lee seems to have turned out in one drunken weekend back in 1961. One of the generalities that is usually used to describe the difference between DC and Marvel is that Marvel stories tend to be slightly more “realistic”, though that’s a silly term to describe a character that can walk on walls.

A few things to note:

1) I’m actually way ahead in my reading. So although I’m just starting writing about my Marvel collection (and for those of you who care about such things, I started this with as many Marvel trades and I did DC trades), I’m almost finished reading them. And while I actually ended up culling more Marvel than I did DC, most of the culls don’t happen until I get to the second half of the alphabet. So a lot of the next dozen or so posts will be kept, rather than culled.

 

Two characters that I won't be writing about anytime soon.

 

2) For those of who can’t wait to see what I think of your favourite characters like Wolverine, Punisher, Deadpool, and the X-Men, I have some bad news for you. I have some trades for all of those characters, but not really that many in the grand scheme of things. That side of Marvel hasn’t interested me in a long time. Also, because I’m doing this alphabetically, I have a LOT of Avengers, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four to get through before I get to your favourites. As with DC, I tend to like the more obscure characters, so you’ll just have to put up with 4 blogs of how much I like people like The Incredible Hercules, and The Hood, and Squirrel Girl, before you see what I think of Wolverine.
3) Most of the Marvel trades I have consist of stories from the last couple of decades. One thing I realized when I did this, is that my trade collection is really lacking in terms of representing 1960’s Marvel comics, and that’s going to be a top priority of mine this year.  So don’t get mad at me when you see how little 1960’s Spider-Man stuff I have.

4) The quality of late ’90’s, early 2000’s Marvel trades is awful. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had to handle gingerly in fear of them falling apart, and more than a few of them HAVE fallen apart. For shame.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Agents Of AtlasAgents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars, Return Of The 3D Man

This isn’t an ideal way to start this blog, as most of my rookie readers won’t know who these folks are. Long story short, they’re a collection of little known Marvel characters that writer Jeff Parker decided to throw together as a super-spy type team a few years ago. There’s way more to it than that, but it’s a start. When the first maxi-series came out, I LOVED this series, and the hardcover that collects this series still stands up quite well.  It’s fresh, has lots of action, and the dialogue is sharp. The reality is that although this is one of the most critically acclaimed concepts that Marvel has had in some time, the sales have been poor. And while Marvel should be commended for repeatedly giving Parker a chance at making this concept a hit, the quality of the book has diminished over the past few years, and it’s really only the first hardcover that still works as a self-contained story. The second series (Dark Reign, Turf Wars) starts quite well, and adds some interesting twists to the ATLAS mythos. But I think that they got the cancellation call with very little notice, and so the second half of the series feels very rushed, with some pretty major events being introduced with not enough buildup. By the time the third series (Return of the 3D Man) came out, the concept had run out of steam. Kudos to Marvel (and Parker of course) for trying something new, and at the very least we got some great new characters (Gorilla-Man in particular) that I think will be around for a very long time.

Agents Of Atlas, Dark Reign, Turf Wars: KEEP; Return Of The 3D Man: CULL

AliasAlias, Come Home, The Underneath, The Secret Origins Of Jessica Jones

Full disclosure – Alias is one of my very favourite superhero comics of all time. Of all time. And rereading it did nothing but solidify that opinion for me. As I said above, I’m almost done my Marvel reading, and so I’ve recently read a LOT of Brian Michael Bendis’ Marvel work. And I think that although he’s done some amazing work for the company, this might be my very favourite of the work he’s done (Daredevil is a very close second). It’s the story of Jessica Jones, a down on her luck private detective that used to be a superhero. She still has some power, but doesn’t like to use it very much. And so we follow her as she explores the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Universe. On the surface she’s not that likeable: She swears, she smokes, and she’s the only mainstream superhero that takes it up the a&&. Except for possibly Superman.

This is a story about redemption. Jones is a character so fully developed, that we’re happy to wait for the resolution and redemption that Bendis promises throughout. Even when she’s making horrible life choices, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are happy to follow Bendis as he gets us there. One of the things about this book that isn’t mentioned much, is that it’s the perfect length. It’s not too short, it’s not too long. When the big reveals about what caused Jessica’s retirement from superheroics finally come, one feels as if every page, and every word was crafted meticulously ahead of time, and that Bendis knew exactly how many issues this book should be before he even started writing. He’s essentially teaching a class in how to pace a comic book. This is a must read for anybody that wants something a little different, but can’t quite break the superhero habit. Special mention must be given to how Bendis takes a 3rd string villain called the Purple Man (because he’s purple), and turns him into a truly terrifying depiction of pure evil.

KEEP

Alpha FlightClassic Vol. 1

If you needed proof of how big John Byrne was in his day, look no further than this vanity project that he created to showcase his group of little known Canadian superheroes. The fact that Marvel let him get away with this for as long as they did is a testament to how big a name he was at the time, and how creative and commercial his work was as well.  The book stands up pretty well, though obviously a little dated. It’s a character driven story, which I always like, and Byrne does a credible job in giving you quick, succinct motivations and backgrounds for all his characters. From an art standpoint, it goes down as among the highlights of his career.

KEEP

Ares God Of War

Until recently, the Marvel version of the mythological figure of Ares has never played the major role in that companies stories that his DC counterpart did in theirs. He’s been used as a B level villain a few times, and that was the status quo until 5 years ago, when Michael Avon Oeming and Travis Foreman did a underated mini-series featuring the character that would launch him into the upper echelon of Marvel heroes.  Although not a well-read mini at the time, Marvel has used several of the concepts it posits as cornerstones of their universe ever since, including the villain in the recent Chaos War cross-over. It’s a great, action-packed story, with some fantastic, dynamic art. If ass-kicking mythological action stories are your thing, look no further.

KEEP

Next up: Avengers. Lots and lots of Avengers.