Essential Avengers volume 3


By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Barry Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0787-3

Slightly slimmer than the usual phonebook sized tome, this third collection of the Mighty Avengers’ world-saving exploits (here reproducing in crisp, stylish black and white the contents of issues #47-68 of their monthly comic book and their second summer Annual) established Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics and propelled John Buscema to the forefront of fan-favourite artists. These compelling yarns certainly enhanced the reputations of fellow art veteran Don Heck and Gene Colan and made the wider comics world critically aware of the potential of John’s brother Sal Buscema and original British Invader Barry Smith…

With the Avengers the unbeatable and venerable concept of putting all your star eggs in one basket always scored big dividends for Marvel even after the all-stars such as Thor and Iron Man were replaced and supplemented by lesser luminaries and Jack Kirby moved on to other Marvel assignments and other companies. With this third volume many of the founding stars regularly began showing up as a rotating, open door policy meant that almost every issue could feature somebody’s fave-rave, and the amazingly good stories and artwork were certainly no hindrance either.

Opening this fun-fest is ‘Magneto Walks the Earth!’ from Avengers #47 by writer Roy Thomas (who wrote all the stories contained here), illustrated by John Buscema and George Tuska wherein the master of magnetism returns from enforced exile in space to put his old gang together by recruiting mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch… whether they’re willing or otherwise…

Tuska assumes full art chores for the second chapter in this saga, ‘The Black Knight Lives Again!’ which introduced a brand new Marvel Superhero, whilst furthering a sub-plot featuring Hercules’ return to an abandoned Olympus and #49, (pencilled and inked by Buscema) concluded the Mutant trilogy with ‘Mine is the Power!’ clearing the decks for the 50th issue tussle as the team rejoins Hercules to restore Olympus by defeating the mythological menace of Typhon in ‘To Tame a Titan!’

Reduced to just Hawkeye, the Wasp and a powerless Goliath the Avengers found themselves ‘In the Clutches of the Collector!’ in #51 (illustrated by Buscema and Tuska), but the brief return of Iron Man and Thor swiftly saw the Master of Many Sizes regain his abilities in time to welcome new member Black Panther in the Vince Colletta inked ‘Death Calls for the Arch-Heroes’ which premiered obsessive super-psycho the Grim Reaper.

Next follows the slightly disconcerting cross-over/conclusion to an epic X-Men clash with Magneto from (issues #43-45) that dovetailed neatly into a grand Avengers/mutant face-off in the Buscema-Tuska limned ‘In Battle Joined!’ whilst issue #54 kicked off a mini-renaissance in quality and creativity with ‘…And Deliver Us from the Masters of Evil!’, which re-introduced the Black Knight and finally gave Avengers Butler a character and starring role, but this was simply a prelude to the second instalment which debuted the supremely Oedipal threat of the Robotic Ultron-5 in ‘Mayhem Over Manhattan!’ (inked by the superbly slick George Klein).

Captain America’s introduction to the 1960s got a spectacular reworking in Avengers #56 as ‘Death be not Proud!’ accidentally returned him and his comrades to the fateful night when Bucky died, which segued neatly into 1968’s Avengers Annual #2 (illustrated by Don Heck, Werner Roth and Vince Colletta). ‘…And Time, the Rushing River…’ found Cap, Black Panther, Goliath, Wasp and Hawkeye returned to a divergent present and compelled to battle the founding team of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Giant-Man and the Wasp to correct reality itself.

Buscema and Klein were back for the two-part introduction of possibly the most intriguing of all the team’s roster. ‘Behold… the Vision!’ and the concluding ‘Even an Android Can Cry’ retrofitted an old Simon and Kirby hero from the Golden Age – an extra-dimensional mystery-man – into a high-tech, eerie, amnesiac, artificial man with complete control of his mass and density, and played him as the ultimate outsider, lost and utterly alone in a world that could never, never understand him.

As the adventure and enigma unfolded it was revealed that the nameless Vision had been built by the relentless, remorseless robotic Ultron-5 to destroy the Avengers and especially his/its own creator Henry Pym. Furthermore the mechanical mastermind had used the brain pattern of deceased hero-Wonder Man (see Essential Avengers) as a cerebral template, which may have been a mistake since the synthetic man overruled his programming to help defeat his maniac maker.

Avengers #59 and 60, ‘The Name is Yellowjacket’ and ‘…Till Death do us Part!’ (the latter inked by Mike Esposito moonlighting as Mickey DeMeo) saw Goliath and the Wasp finally marry after the heroic Doctor Pym was seemingly replaced by a new insect-themed hero, with a horde of heroic guest-stars and the deadly Circus of Evil in attendance, followed in swift succession by yet another crossover conclusion.

‘Some Say the World Will End in Fire… Some Say in Ice!’ wrapped up a storyline from Doctor Strange #178 wherein a satanic cult unleashed Norse demons Surtur and Ymir to destroy the planet, and the guest-starring Black Knight hung around for ‘The Monarch and the Man-Ape!’ in Avengers #63; a brief and brutal exploration of African Avenger the Black Panther’s history and rivals.

The next issue began a three-part tale illustrated by Gene Colan whose lavish humanism was intriguingly at odds with the team’s usual art style. ‘And in this Corner… Goliath!’, ‘Like a Death Ray from the Sky!’ and ‘Mightier than the Sword?’ (the final chapter inked by Sam Grainger) was part of a broader tale; an early crossover experiment that intersected with both Sub-Mariner and Captain Marvel issues #14, as a coterie of cerebral second-string villains combined to conquer the world by stealth.

Within the Avengers portion of proceedings Hawkeye revealed his civilian identity and origins before forsaking his bow and trick-arrows, becoming a size-changing hero, and subsequently adopting the vacant name Goliath.

The last three issues reprinted here also form one story-arc, and gave new kid Barry Smith a chance to show just how good he was going to become.

In ‘Betrayal!’ (#66, inked by the legendary Syd Shores) the development of a new super metal, Adamantium, triggers a back-up program in the Vision who is compelled to reconstruct his destroyed creator, whilst in ‘We Stand at… Armageddon!’ (inked by Klein) Adamantium-reinforced Ultron-6 is moments away from world domination and the nuking of New York when a now truly independent Vision intercedes before the dramatic conclusion ‘…And We Battle for the Earth’ (with art from young Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger) sees the team, augmented by Thor and Iron Man, prove that the only answer to an unstoppable force is an unparalleled mind…

To compliment these staggeringly impressive adventures this book also includes ‘Avenjerks Assemble!’ by Thomas, John Buscema and Frank Giacoia: a short spoof from company humour mag Not Brand Echh, the five page full-team entry from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and a beautiful terrific team pin-up.

As the halcyon creative days of Lee and Kirby drew to a close, Roy Thomas and John Buscema led the second wave of creators who built on and consolidated that burst of incredible imagineering into a logical, fully functioning story machine that so many others could add to. These terrific transitional tales are exciting and rewarding in their own right but also a pivotal step of the little company into the corporate colossus.

© 1967, 1968, 2001 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Hawkeye


By Mark Gruenwald, Brett Breeding & Danny Bulanadi (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-87135-364-4

In advance of the Best of Hawkeye trade paperback due at year’s end I thought I’d take another look at this little gem from 1988, collecting one of Marvel’s earliest miniseries – 1983 – and one of the very best adventures of Marvel’s Ace Archer, written and drawn by the hugely underrated and much-missed Mark Gruenwald, ably assisted by inkers Brett Breeding and Danny Bulanadi.

Much like the character himself this project was seriously underestimated when it was first released: most of the industry pundits and more voluble fans expected very little from a second-string hero drawn by a professional writer. Boy, were they wrong!

Clint Barton is probably the world’s greatest archer, swift, unerringly accurate and supplemented with a fantastic selection of trick and high-tech arrows. After an early brush with the law as an Iron Man villain he reformed to join the Mighty Avengers, where he served with honour but always felt overshadowed by his more glamorous and super-powered comrades.

In the first chapter here, ‘Listen to the Mockingbird’, he is moonlighting as security chief for an electronics company when he captures a renegade SHIELD agent. She reveals that his bosses are crooks, secretly involved in some shady mind-control experiment.

After some initial doubt he teams with the svelte and sexy super-agent in ‘Point Blank’ to foil the plot, gaining a new costume and a rogues gallery of foes such as Silence, Oddball and Bombshell (part 3, ‘Beating the Odds’) in the process. As the constant hunt and struggle wears on he succumbs to but is not defeated by a physical handicap and wins a wife (not necessarily the same thing) in the concluding ‘Till Death us do Part…’ where the mastermind behind it all is finally revealed and summarily dealt with.

In those far away days both Gruenwald and Marvel Top Gun Jim Shooter always maintained that a miniseries had to deal with significant events in a character’s life, and this bright and breezy, no-nonsense, compelling and immensely enjoyable yarn certainly kicked out the deadwood and re-launched Hawkeye’s career. In short order from here the bowman went on to create and lead his own team: the West Coast Avengers, gain his own regular series in Solo Avengers and later Avengers Spotlight and consequently become one of the most vibrant and popular characters of the period.

I’m unsure how easily you can lay hands on this specific, terrific tale of old-fashioned romance, skullduggery and derring-do, but since its scheduled to be the main portion of the aforementioned collection you shouldn’t have too long to wait.

But oh, the tension, the tension…
© 1988 Marvel Entertainment Group Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Avengers/Invaders – UK Edition


By Alex Ross, Jim Kreuger, Steven Sadowski, Patrick Berkenkotter & Jack Herbert (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-413-3

I’ve mentioned before my innate antipathy to time-travel stories, which can too often simply be an excuse for empty posturing and flamboyant stunts without impacting on a profitable brand.

It’s all true, and I stand by my view but every so often an exception comes along to shake my surly foundations and Avengers/Invaders happily falls into that rare category.

Released as a 12 part limited series this is a classy and well thought out romp set in the post Civil War Marvel Universe with renegade heroes on the run from the government (represented by superhero technocrat Iron Man,) for refusing to submit to federal registration and licensing.

In 1943 war-time super-team the Invaders (Captain America & Bucky, Human Torch & Toro, Sub-Mariner, Spitfire and Union Jack) is battling its way into Hitler’s Fortress Europe when a cosmic mishap sucks most of them to New York in our era. Disoriented and wary they encounter a battle between government-sponsored heroes and the unlicensed outlaw Spider-Man, and jump to the uncomfortable but logical conclusion that the Nazis won World War II!

They soon come into conflict with Iron Man’s Avengers and battle is joined…

And that’s just the start of a compelling epic which combines chilling mystery and a universe-rending threat with sheer, bravura comicbook shtick as childhood icons battle in spectacular manner, whilst the plot contains many twists and surprises to keep the accent on action and suspense.

Even though this sprawling epic contains a host of guest-stars the creators never forget the cardinal rule that every comic is somebody’s first one; meaning that even the freshest reader can happily navigate these continuity-packed pages with comforting ease, particularly in the extended sub-plot concerning Cap meeting the mystery man who replaced him (sorry, no spoiler hints from me!). This makes Avengers/Invaders a magnificently accessible tale for all lovers of the superhero genre in its most primal form.

Also included in this volume is the Sketchbook issue containing Alex Ross and the greatly underrated Steve Sadowski’s working drawings and un-inked artwork, plus a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases.

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Entertainment Inc. and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.

New Avengers: Illuminati


By Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Jim Cheung & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2436-8

The remodeling of the Avengers franchise continued and expanded with this tale (originally released as the five part miniseries New Avengers: Illuminati) wherein the intellectual and factional powerhouses of the Marvel Universe form a clandestine cabal to guide and dictate the future of the world.

Writers Bendis and Reed spin back to the end of the Kree-Skrull War (relatively recent in story-terms but the epic from Avengers #89-97 was first published in 1971-1972) as a battle between intergalactic rivals nearly destroyed our world. And here the story begins with Charles Xavier of the mutant X-Men, Black Bolt of the Inhumans, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man of the Avengers, the mystic Doctor Strange and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four materialize in the Skrull throne room to threaten the recently defeated emperor, warning him that no further attacks on Earth would be tolerated.

The confrontation leads to massive bloodshed (an attitudinal and moral shift that would appal older fans) before the earthlings are captured and intensively “studied” by the shape-shifting aliens. Although the humans eventually escape back to Earth the damage has been done; the Skrulls will never rest until our world is theirs and now they have a keen understanding of all types of Terran super-humanity…

Safe on Earth the elite star-chamber of champions resolve to meet whenever necessity dictates: the next recorded incidence being after the Thanos Quest/Infinity Gauntlet affair (1991 for us) as the heroes brave overwhelming terror and temptation whilst trying to put six gems which can control all of time, space and reality beyond harms reach. The third mission deals with the secret origin and final fate of the Beyonder (Secret Wars I and II – 1984-1986) whilst the fourth tale is a more intimate exploration as this disparate group of older men discuss love and loss whilst deciding the fate of Kree invader Marvel Boy who had declared open war against all of humanity.

The final chapter leads into and kicks off the publishing event Secret Invasion (2008). The cabal fragments when Iron Man reveals that Skrulls have replaced an unknown number of Earth’s super-humans as a direct result of their failed first mission. The shape-changing invaders are not only undetectable even to Professor X’s telepathy but they have also duplicated all the unique powers of their long-time adversaries…

The habit of strip-mining and in-filling the history of Marvel’s universe has had some high and low points in the past, but I’m happy to say this intriguing idea is one of the better ones, however a fairly good knowledge of the referenced material is predicated so if you’re a bit of a newbie, best be prepared for some confusing moments. For older fans, myself among them, the real shock is the casual abandonment of such abiding principles as “all life is sacred”: oddly, I always thought this was daft and impractical as a young reader, but seeing the obverse operating is disquieting: aren’t your heroes supposed to be better than you?

Still, this is a cracking good read, wonderfully illustrated by Jim Cheung with inkers Mark Morales, John Dell and David Meikis; cohesive enough that it can be read independently and satisfactorily without further reference to the greater Secret Invasion saga.

© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. Marvel Publishing, Inc., a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

She Hulk: Time Trials


By Dan Slott, Juan Babillo & Marcelo Sosa and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78511-795-7

Let’s re-cap: She Hulk is the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. Her alter-ego, lawyer Jennifer Walters, got a blood transfusion from Bruce Banner and the inevitable result was a super-powerful, ample-bosomed, seven foot tall green Valkyrie who is the poster-child for “As If…”

For most of her comics career she’s been played slightly skewed to the rest of the Marvel Universe. For a good deal of it she was the only character to refer to her life in comic-book terms, with all the fourth wall comedy that could be wrung out of that situation. In this incarnation (reprinting her five issue miniseries from 2005 – in which #3 is celebrated as her 100th full issue) she returns to the prestigious Manhattan law-firm which specialises in the fledgling legal grey area known as Superhuman Law (see also Single Green Female).

This volume is marginally less tongue-in-cheek, but still follows the delightfully accessible formula, albeit with a slightly darker overtone as the human Jennifer needs artificial methods to transform into her seven foot glamazon form due to psychological traumas incurred as a result of the Avengers: Disassembled storyline and her rampaging destruction of the city of Bone, Idaho.

Nonetheless she is soon back at work on a time-travel murder case with a fascinating underlying idea. As everybody in the potential jury pool has been prejudiced by constant media coverage of the attempted murder (the victim isn’t dead yet at time of trial) Jen’s defence team comes up with the brilliant notion of calling jurors from the recent past – courtesy of the multiversal temporal police force the Time Variance Authority…

It’s all going so well until Clint Barton is selected as a jury member: how can Jen work when one of the twelve is secretly Hawkeye – a fellow Avenger she feels responsible for killing!? Guilt-racked and conflicted, Jen decides to break her oath and the rules of time-travel to warn the Ace Archer of the doom that awaits his return to his own time…

The Time Variance Authority is infallible however and when Jen is accused of the capital offence of time-tampering she faces having her entire existence erased from the annals of reality.

This third chapter is also her 100th anniversary issue and features guest art from Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar, Scott Kolins, Mike Vosburg, Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, Ron Frenz, Joe Sinnott & Sal Buscema, Mike Mayhew, Don Simpson, Lee Weeks and Eric Powell as well as dozens of costumed guest-stars from her jaded career as a hero/villain, whilst #4 is a brief interlude in the greater story (illustrated by Scott Kolins) as She Hulk explores the aftermath of her Idaho rampage with the poignant and rewarding ‘Back to Bone’ before the jurisprudence and chronal carnage concludes with the rescue and return of a dead hero…

This is a priceless, clever romp with devastatingly sharp wit and low, vulgar slapstick in equal amounts plus loads of the mandatory angst-free action: a great read and possibly the Best Whacky Legal Drama since Boston Legal. But don’t listen to me: catch this book and judge for yourself…

© 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

House of M: Avengers


By Christopher Gage, Mike Perkins & Andrew Hennessey (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2750-5

In the company crossover event House of M reality was rewritten (yes, again!) when the sometime Avenger Scarlet Witch had a breakdown and altered Earth continuity so that Magneto’s mutants took control of society and where normal humans (“sapiens”) are an acknowledged evolutionary dead-end living out their lives and destined for extinction within two generations.

Collecting the ancillary miniseries House of M: Avengers this volume is set in a world of perfect order, but one where certain malcontents and criminals are determined not to go quietly. Rallying around escaped convict and artificial superman Luke Cage, a gang of criminals calling themselves the Avengers fight to survive and get by however they can, inadvertently becoming a rallying point for Sapiens in a world only too eager to see them all gone…

With the likes of Hawkeye, Tigra, Mockingbird, Moon Knight, Iron Fist, Misty Knight (no relation, not even close), Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, Mantis, Swordsman, White Tiger and the Punisher on hand, as well as villains such as Kingpin, Elektra, Bullseye, Taskmaster, Black Cat, Typhoid Mary, the brotherhood of Evil Mutants and Gladiator among the cast there’s plenty of familiar faces and lots of action, but as the countdown ticks towards a big climax and the re-establishment of “real” continuity it’s hard to muster any sense of connection.

Marvel has used this plot to kill off and resurrect our favourites purely for momentary cheap effect so many times its difficult to care…

Weaving established Marvel continuity skilfully into their portion of the overarching epic Gage and Perkins tell an intriguing but frustratingly quick and facile tale that just can’t stand alone (so you will need to read at least some of the other House of M collections for the full picture) that doesn’t fairly reflect their great talents nor deliver the punch we were all hoping for. Pretty, but not for the casual or occasional reader

© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.