Thursday, July 3, 2014

The New, Original Avengers

In 2005, a new series called Earth's Mightiest Heroes caught my eye, mainly because it featured the original Avengers lineup on its cover. At the time, the current-day Avengers had just been "disassembled," seemingly for good--so what was this new series? Reprints? Some sort of condensed history of the team, riding on the coattails of the just-ended main title? But I took a chance on it--and when I got it home and read the story, it turned out to be a very interesting "reimagining" of the founding of the Avengers. Granted, one rarely hears the word "reimagined" without fearing the worst--but if you haven't read this eight-issue series, I think you'll be surprised at this new take on the team's beginnings.

You'll find almost immediately that this first issue goes into much more detail than the first two issues of the original book.  In those stories, the team had already cleared the hurdles of government red tape and public trust, as well as skipping past other minutiae that must have needed to be dealt with in order to get them up and running as an institution; and once the Avengers decided to become a formal team, their development fast-forwarded to show them sitting around a table becoming more acquainted with each other.  But in 2005, with the Avengers already "sold" as a concept to long-time readers, writer Joe Casey has the luxury of inserting detail that the 1963 book couldn't afford to have weigh down the action--showing just how difficult it must have been to secure government assistance and cooperation for this unknown alliance of super-beings, as well as getting Thor and the Hulk to operate within the confines thereof.  Mostly, we'd find that forming the Avengers wasn't just a matter of meeting at Stark's mansion and deciding on what threat to tackle.

We see from Casey's point of view that it's Iron Man, with Stark's extensive experience in organizational matters, who puts together the tight structure within which "the Avengers" must operate, a structure which Thor barely tolerates and which the Hulk eventually rejects. Once it's clear that these five people have made the commitment to band together, Iron Man and Stark do the legwork in terms of the bureaucracy involved, and perhaps going a little overboard, drafting both the charter and the by-laws without the input of the others and having everything ready for the members to agree to and sign. It's clear that this initiative means a great deal to Iron Man; by the time the team meets formally for the first time, he's pulled a lot of strings as Tony Stark (using his clout as the country's foremost munitions manufacturer) and likely called in some favors to secure clearance for the Avengers as well as a certain level of autonomy for them.

As for the public, Iron Man also makes the case that securing their trust is an important part of their operation. Everyone knows that the "Avengers" are about to meet for the first time--but no one knows just what that means yet. Casey uses a tried-and-true method that's been used successfully throughout The Avengers for taking the pulse of John Q. Public--media reporting--to give us a sense of the importance of this day to not only the newly-formed Avengers, but also to the people who now find themselves under their protection:

Inside, Iron Man has opened the meeting, and perhaps forgets that he's dealing with individuals accustomed to action, rather than attendees at a company staff meeting who are used to working swiftly and efficiently through an agenda. It's not that Iron Man's presentation is at fault; but at this first meeting, he practically inundates everyone with bureaucratic matters that need attending to, rather than encouraging interaction which might have put everyone more at ease.

Iron Man is sufficiently diplomatic in dealing with the impatience of Thor and the Hulk, with Ant-Man and the Wasp much more receptive to his points. Chief among those is to secure the Avengers' "priority status," which basically will give the team carte blanche in terms of government authorization to do its job. And that will mostly depend on the team showing its commitment and dedication by signing on the dotted line--the legendary moment when the Avengers are formally founded. Now is the time when these founding members must stand up and be counted:

And so the signatures are put in place. All except for one, who is as distrustful of the Avengers as he's learned to be with people in general:

At first this seems like a deviation from the version we're familiar with, where the rift that develops between the Hulk and the Avengers forms after they're formally in operation, and widens in their battle with the Space Phantom to the point of the Hulk severing ties with the group and leaving. But Casey makes use of time lapses quite well in this series, and the Hulk's return to the group and later encounter with the Phantom happen off-panel.

In either version, it's hard to speculate on what could have prevented the Hulk's eventual abandonment of the team. The rest of the Avengers don't seem to really know or understand who they're dealing with when it comes to the Hulk--even though Iron Man has smoothed things over with the military and must have been briefed on his activities. The Hulk was the perfect example of an unknown quantity--not just in terms of his existence (you could say the same for Thor), but in what he embodied beyond a hostile disposition. In Iron Man's haste to establish the Avengers, no one really stopped to ask if the Hulk was really a team player or truly had the protection of humanity as a concern. Also, the new charter guaranteed that the members of the group never had to disclose their personal details or prior histories, which effectively tied the hands of anyone in the group getting more background on what appeared to be a hostile loose cannon.

Given what we've seen of Iron Man's push to establish the Avengers, it's understandable why he would want to sweep any doubts about the Hulk under the rug--and why he would ramrod the Hulk's status as a member through the National Security Council, an agency which you'd think would take a "you've got to be kidding" stance on the matter. And so now, after the Hulk has left the Avengers for good, hostile and at large, Iron Man finds himself called on the carpet for explanations:

Unfortunately, "handling" the Hulk instead only gives this fledgling team the distinction of having to corral one of its own members, which probably doesn't score the Avengers any points in the public trust department:

Nor does their inability to set things right do anything for team morale--taking them to the point of disbanding, and thereby adding new perspective to a certain historic scene in their undersea craft:

So Earth's Mightiest Heroes makes it almost seem like we're reading those early stories of The Avengers all over again, for the first time. You almost feel an urge to regard these newer stories as the way things really happened, as nicely woven into past events as these behind-the-scenes additions are; but at times, Casey is too eager to make everything as seamless as possible (assuming that's indeed his purpose). For instance, even in this first story, we're already seeing overt signs of Hank Pym's feelings of inadequacy, as well as his simmering feelings of hostility toward Jan--developments which seem forced at this stage of Casey's retelling. But regardless of the liberties Casey takes, you'll find the series a page-turner, offering a compelling look at these Avengers members who saw a fair amount of action in their original stories, but not all that much of each other.

Earth's Mightiest Heroes #1

Script: Joe Casey
Pencils and Inks: Scott Kolins
Letterer: Richard Starkings


Anonymous said...

It's not explained who thought of the name "Avengers" though and who they are avenging (I've often wondered if Stan lee had heard of the British TV show and used the name - the UK Avengers would have been in its' earliest form and not yet as famous as it became but could Stan have heard of it and liked the name?). I always feel the Hulk's inclusion was simply because Marvel had so few characters at the time and so they simply put him in the team to make up the numbers but then they thought of a reborn Captain America and the Hulk was surplus to requirements - he's so obviously not a natural Avenger,he's a loner and not a team player (the Defenders was a "non-team" so that's kind of more acceptable).

Murray said...

Ah, the dreaded "re" prefix. Rebooted, retconned, reimagined...opening an issue openly boasting any of those words is like an old horror movie where the vampire hunters gingerly open a coffin...

But, you're quite right. This mini-series did a decent "fill-in the gaps" job. Though, like Thor and the Hulk, my eyes started to glaze over at the political maneuvering and angst at keeping their government credentials.

Having the Hulk on a team is indeed a ludicrous notion. Especially this Hulk, with the surly attitude problem that in the future would be closer to the "Grey Hulk". The Hulk in the Defenders was still unpredictable and dangerous, but his child-like mentality was also open to the idea of friends and some trust.

And, I guess I won't jump further into the upcoming issues. In case you're reviewing the whole series.

Anonymous said...

Hey look, I'm starting with a digression. Back in the 90s, I started watching Spider-Man, the Saturday morning cartoon and really started getting excited about Spider-Man again. It felt true to the character I grew up reading. Then little things started creeping in, Mary Jane was his girlfriend, not Gwen. They were in high school, not college when they met. She was the clone. I just finally said: Ah pootie head. And silently wept for my lost youth.

Jump ahead to the modern era and the DisneyXD. Five of Earth's Mightiest Heroes come together. Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and Hulk. And dagnabbit, if I didn't get excited about comics again. It handled the old and the new nicely. There were a few things out of order but overall, I liked it. Hawkeye was a prisoner at the beginning. SHIELD was way involved from the beginning as well. By time I became aware of the show, I had missed some of the episodes. I did not get the full run on my DVR. Then the movie JUST EXPLODED!!!!

And the show was cancelled and re-booted. Out were The Wasp and Ant-Man. In were Hawkeye and the Black Widow. And the Falcon. To quote Hawkeye: WHAT!?! I know, right!?! I have been watching, more out of obligation than pleasure, but then again, I haven't seen all the episodes.

Dang, I just missed my point. Nothing around here looks familiar. Oh, yeah, now I remember. I though I had put comics behind me. Then Bronze Age posted the War And Remembrance story arc. And now this. Oh I am so tempted to slink about in to my LCS. I pass not one, but TWO, going to and from work.

So Mr. Fan, from the bottom of my heart..... FAN!!!! FAAANNNN!!!!

And on a last note, I would stand with Murray but I can't include retconned with reboot or reimagined. I mean, I've booted stuff and imagined stuff, but I've yet to tconned anything.

The Prowler (not for the faint of heart or hearing impaired).

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I think your assessment of the Hulk's membership is spot-on--I agree on all points.

Murray--the whole series?? ::THUD::

Prowler, you're not alone in missing your point, buddy! However, if one of my posts can make a guy ramble in such a way, I guess I'm doing something right. Perhaps you're just saying that you prefer the status quo, and that Casey's story has strayed too far for your tastes. Colin makes a good point, though, about the Avengers being formed in this particular lineup simply because they were really the only characters available for insertion into a group--and if that's indeed the case, then think of Casey's addendum here as giving us some justification for these people coming together, as well as making an effort to elaborate on the Hulk's unlikely membership. It's probably no easy task for Casey to mesh everything as reasonably well as he has.

Unknown said...

inking is to comics what sound design/film-stock is to classic movies. thus any inking that looks 'photoshop wanky as seen on pages' SUX, versus Sinnott or Grainger or Palmer or Adkins REAL ink work . This inkwork is to 'real' comics what Lena Dunham is to real Feminism ala Germaine Greer feminism. Or what Eli Roth is to horror films versus James Whale.

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