Monday, September 3, 2012

Assembled Avengers

Before there was Civil War, or Secret Invasion, or House of M, or any other mini-series separate from Marvel's main line of books, longer storylines were entirely dealt with within the confines of the featured book--or, in the case of crossovers, two books. It wasn't until the Annuals (yearly "specials") featuring "events" like Atlantis Attacks or The Evolutionary War that crossovers began to be marketed in earnest--later benefitting books featuring the X-Men or Spider-Man, which had a vested interest in getting readers hooked on the entire line of books of those respective characters.

Stories like these would be handled in one of two ways. Sometimes a book might go four issues with one story (which seemed to be an unofficial limit). With longer stories, in order not to risk losing a reader because they didn't care to wade through an entire storyline they might not be interested in, writers would cleverly space out their stories--shuffling them in and out of a title, letting things reach a crescendo and then backing off until 3 or 4 issues later. Whichever method was chosen, we readers were left salivating for at least an entire month, until the next issue arrived to either continue or end the story.

I think The Avengers probably excelled at this way of storytelling more than other titles, given the variety of characters and the generally higher stakes of their conflicts. Following is a little summary of issues in Volume 1 which concluded long arcs of stories which had buildups that really put readers through the wringer.

Avengers #97 - "Godhood's End!"

The ending to the Kree/Skrull war, which for the Avengers had its beginnings seven issues prior, when Ronan the Accuser's evo-ray de-evolved Yellowjacket into a savage. Yet, the war ends not with either Kree or Skrull triumphant, but--Earth, in the form of Rick Jones. Exactly why that led to a cessation of hostilities still isn't clear to me. What do the Kree or Skrulls care if Jones dreamed a bunch of golden age heroes into temporary reality? Why should the knowledge that all humanity will someday have his abilities stop them from fighting each other?

Avengers #118 - "To The Death!"

After being manipulated into battling each other, the Defenders and Avengers join ranks to defeat the dread Dormammu, who possesses a weapon that is merging his own dimension with that of Earth. This was the period of time in the Avengers title when artist Bob Brown was handling the pencilling, and I cringed through pretty much all of this issue. Brown is a competent enough artist, but his panels are very harsh, and his sketchy style reminds me too much of Frank Robbins. An inker like Joe Sinnott could have smoothed his work out immensely.

Avengers #171 - "...Where Angels Fear To Tread"

The Avengers finally track down and deal with Ultron, one of their most powerful enemies. Every heavy hitter on the team joins this fight--which takes place in a convent! Yet only the Scarlet Witch possesses the key to defeating Ultron. And Hank Pym fittingly provides the closure we're all looking for: "At last...the biggest, darkest blot on my career has been eradicated! Forever!" Yeah, right. Hasn't this guy ever read any comic books??

Avengers #177 - "The Hope... And the Slaughter!"

The conclusion of a six-month storyline (though laying its foundation in earlier issues), this was by far the team's most desperate battle, against a massively powered foe who could seemingly wade through their might with ease. Writer Jim Shooter had been building the tenseness for awhile, with "Michael" making careful preparations for his takeover, and the Avengers all but oblivious to the threat. When it came time for the confrontation--in a comfortable living room, of all places--almost the entire roster of Avengers was present, along with the original Guardians of the Galaxy. And still it wasn't enough. It was a battle issue the likes of which I'd seldom seen in a Marvel book.

Avengers #229 - "Final Curtain!"

Hank Pym, disgraced and expelled from the Avengers, redeems both his heroism and his identity. Roger Stern is one of my all-time favorite Avengers writers, and he picked up where previous writer Jim Shooter left off with Hank Pym, completing a storyline that readers had been following for over a year and a half. Pym had hit rock bottom, as far as his marriage and his self-esteem--but in this issue, he not only comes clean, but single-handedly defeats the Masters of Evil. And don't miss issue #230, which is an amazing epilog to the storyline.

Avengers #277 - "The Price of Victory"

In a siege of Avengers Mansion by the Masters of Evil, this last installment of a 4-issue spread caps a storyline that has seen Hercules brutalized, Jarvis tortured in front of a bound and horrified Captain America, Thor in the midst of a spell that is steadily weakening his bones, and--well, let's just say that the Avengers have seen better days. But they rally in this issue, in a battle that leaves Avengers Mansion in ruins. It also introduces Dr. Druid to the team, beginning a subtle storyline which I won't spoil for you here. But keep reading.

Avengers #285 - "Twilight of the Gods!"

The conclusion to a five-issue storyline, where the Avengers invade Olympus to find a wrathful Zeus--who blames them for the injuries Hercules suffered while battling the Masters of Evil. The first successor to Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau, now leads the Avengers--and though this is a fine portrayal of both her power and her leadership abilities, her tenure as team leader doesn't last very long. That's mostly due to the machinations of--oops, almost let it slip. (But keep reading.) This issue is a page-turner, with Zeus brutally intent on showing the Avengers that he is their unquestioned master, and the Avengers refusing to go down--an excellent battle that begins in the prior issue, and concludes here.

Avengers #297 - "Futures Imperfect!"

Dr. Druid, who has carefully maneuvered through duplicity and subtlety to become leader of the Avengers, is now in thrall to Nebula, who has taken over the will of Druid and his fellow Avengers in order to secure a weapon of unlimited power. Once the Avengers returned from Olympus, Druid began his play for power in earnest, manipulating the team through their innermost fears and doubts.  In this issue, the storyline reaches its conclusion as Druid's presence in the Avengers comes to an end--and the whole team almost goes down with him, along with the writing. Walt Simonson took over as regular writer (with a brief stint by Ralph Macchio) once Roger Stern's stint on the book was over--and from that point, the team became involved in one misadventure after another, each less interesting than the last. For instance, the entire battle in this story, the culmination of months of plotting, takes place on board one of the team's aircraft. The ending of the story lands with a virtual thud.

Avengers #375 - "The Last Gathering"

The storyline of the Gatherers has by this point gone on for almost two years--twenty months--so readers were more than ready to see its conclusion. It really could have been wrapped up in about six issues. So much of the story was needless exposition--a lot of battle scenes where the Avengers took one step forward, two steps back--almost defeating their opponents, then the tide turns against them. Rinse, repeat. And this particular book, a 48-page issue, is split between two unrealated stories. Still, the Epting/Palmer art team handled things very well, and Proctor was a compelling foe. By the story's end, Proctor pays the ultimate price, and the Black Knight and Sersi leave the Avengers.

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