Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Earth's Mightiest Spinoffs

You have only to glance at practically any assemblage of Avengers by artist George Perez to acknowledge one hard fact:

There are a LOT of Avengers.
(Guardians of the Galaxy, the Thing, and Mar-vell notwithstanding.)

In this case, a beautiful 1994 lithograph to mark the team's 30th anniversary (which also featured the work of colorist Tom Smith).

As a comics collector who finally tossed in the towel and took possession of his last pull stack roughly ten years ago, the Avengers were the perfect example to me of how the phrase "the old order changeth" eventually lost its significance as a mark of an Avengers roster change that presented itself as a significant comics event--one that, at one time, represented a piece of comics history. But though history indeed marches on, the Avengers charged on--to the point where their history became inapplicable to the team's evolution. At this point in time, the Avengers are more of a brand than an institution, with no foundation to speak of other than their place in future Disney-Marvel projects.

By any measure of corporate objectives, the Avengers represent a success in terms of a 50-year-old concept that has borne fruit. You will find no present-day editor bemoaning the fact that both the Avengers and Marvel itself have left their respective pasts in the dust. As the saying goes, you can't argue with success--and with its characters being split between (at last count) four media companies, all expecting their piece of the Marvel pie to yield profitable returns, Marvel is unquestionably big business.

Out of curiosity, I was taking a look at the recent collection of Avengers titles, and couldn't help by slowly shake my head in astonishment at, despite swelling ranks, how thinly spread the Avengers seem these days following the Secret Wars crossover event where the Marvel Universe as we once knew it came to an end. Giving these books only a cursory glance, I'd advise tacking on the words "from what I can tell" to each of the following summaries (so do correct me if I'm in error with any of them):

  • Avengers Assemble - based on the animated series
  • New Avengers - (a/k/a Avengers Idea Mechanics), led by Sunspot--appears to have a focus on A.I.M.
  • Uncanny Avengers - the remnants of the Avengers Unity Division, originally formed to unify humans and mutants
  • All-New All-Different Avengers - represents a more familiar core group of Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Vision, and Spider-Man, but with different identities for each
  • A-Force - the all-female team

Perhaps the thought by management here is that the Avengers should be doing more with their resources and abilities, and therefore operate more effectively split into separate groups that focus on separate goals. If so, it would certainly help to capitalize on the preferences of different readers who like the concept of the Avengers but have different ideas on what the team should be doing and who they should be battling, thereby casting a wider net in terms of Avengers readership. On the other hand, with all of these groups operating under the banner of "the Avengers," the team's name (rather, the collective team name) carries little significance; i.e., one team's mission to avenge a wrong has no direct bearing on the agendas of any of the other four, and the cry of "Avengers assemble!" is localized rather than a reflection of the entire team's fighting spirit.

Given that Steve Rogers has (I'm guessing) signed off and is presumably keeping tabs on all of these groups of Avengers, he appears to have adjusted his thinking quite a bit in terms of the team's concept and the possibility of it losing its meaning. Granted, another look at Perez's group shot would suggest that ship had already sailed in the '90s; but the fact that Cap reflects openly about it in an early 1992 Avengers story by writer Bob Harras seems like an omen that, in hindsight, appears to herald the inevitable.

And you can only wonder: Would the Captain America basking in the Disney-Marvel formula of success for the Avengers agree with himself here? Or would he resort to a phrase that he's often been forced to admit himself, as a man suddenly finding himself in a world decades from everything he knew in the past: "Times change."

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