Friday, 24 April 2015

Essential Avengers volume 5

Essential Avengers volume 5 consists of issues #98 to #119 plus the crossover issues Daredevil and the Black Widow #99 and part of Defenders #8 and all of #9 to #11. The early Avengers issues are written by Roy Thomas, with one plot from a story by Harlan Ellison, and the rest of the run is by Steve Englehart who also writes the Defenders issues whilst Steve Gerber writes the Daredevil and the Black Widow issue. The art sees short runs by Barry Windsor-Smith, Rich Buckler, Don Heck and Bob Brown with other issues by John Buscema, Jim Starlin and George Tuska. The Defenders issues are drawn by Sal Buscema and the Daredevil and the Black Widow issue is drawn by Sam Kweskin. Inevitably there's a separate post for some of the labels.

This volume covers the end of one writer's acclaimed run on the series and the start of another's but it's hard to avoid the impression that this results in the tail end of one's ideas and the early learning process for the other's. Both men have produced major epics that Avengers has returned to time and again, but by and large they're to be found in the volumes on either side and this one is instead treading water. That's not to say there aren't some standout moments but the volume as a whole doesn't feel like the best of the Avengers in this period.

One sign of where Thomas's heart really was can be found in the large number of characters that appear from the pages of X-Men, at the time in its reprint wilderness years. There's a multi-part storyline featuring the return of the Sentinels, now seeking to sterilise the entire human race so that the robots can then oversee artificial procreation with no more mutants. This is immediately followed by a visit to the Savage Land leading to a battle with the Mutates. And then there's another multi-part tale in which Magneto and the Piper have captured the X-Men then the Avengers as a prelude to a scheme to create an army of mutants. The latter two stories are scripted by Englehart but Thomas remains the editor and it's easy to see where the enthusiasm for revisiting so many elements from the X-Men, and especially what were then the last years of original material, had come from. But the problem is that both the Sentinels and Magneto, even the somewhat generic would-be world conqueror portrayed in this era, are foes very specific to one title and don't easily translate well to other series even though the Avengers contains one mutant member (the Scarlet Witch) throughout the whole of the volume.

And it's that member's relationship with another team member that is one of the main themes running through the whole volume. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch now feel confident about admitting their feelings for one another, although it's a bumpy ride at first due to the Vision's initial lack of knowledge of human behaviour and the Scarlet Witch's misunderstanding. Still they become an item and are generally supported by their teammates, by the media and by the public at large. There are, however, some exceptions and one issue sees them and the rest of the team attacked by the Living Bombs, a group of bigots who demonstrate strong gender and racial diversity but despise a mixed relationship between mutant and android and fear it will lead to more androids being created and taking over the world. It's a reminder that people can be incredibly tolerant and supportive in regards to one aspect can still be bigots in regards to another. Bigotry and hypocrisy can be found closer to home with Quicksilver's outright hostility to his sister being involved with an artificial android. This is despite Quicksilver having fallen for and become engaged to Crystal of the Inhumans. It seems Pietro will accept some interracial relationships but not others.

The relationship also impacts on one of the other themes to run throughout the volume, Hawkeye's search for his own place in life which also drives both of the crossovers. Having abandoned the growth serum in the Kree-Skrull War at the end of the previous volume, Clint resumes his original identity though initially adopts a total fashion disaster of a new costume before eventually resuming his original outfit. Coming back to Earth in Yugoslavia, he initially settles for working in a carnival where it turns out the mysterious strongman is an amnesiac Hercules. This leads into a grand battle with the Greek deity Ares, allied with the Enchantress in Olympus and utilising a wide range of henchmen, that climaxes in issue #100 which also sees the return of every Avenger so far, even the Hulk and the Swordsman. Although Hercules is left trapped on Olympus, Hawkeye returns to the Avengers full time but becomes increasingly angry and disillusioned, in part because his feelings for the Scarlet Witch have come to nothing. He eventually quits and sets out to resume things with the Black Widow, but she is much changed from the woman he worked alongside and is now in a relationship with Daredevil as seen in the included issue of their joint title. Such is Clint's anger that when the Avengers come looking for help against Magneto he refuses to hear them out and storms off again. He eventually finds himself working alongside the Defenders and gets caught up in the conflict between them and the Avengers due to the machinations of Loki and Dormammu.

The Avengers-Defenders conflict is a milestone in comics history as the longest lasting crossover to that time in terms of both publishing time and issues included. As a Defenders story it's certainly a key event. But as an Avengers storyline it doesn't feel that amazing. Loki may have been the villain the Avengers originally formed to deal with but he hasn't appeared enough to really feel like a core Avengers foe in a way that Dormammu feels more natural for the Defenders, admittedly a much younger team still largely dealing with Doctor Strange's foes. The story feels like it owes more to the traditional Justice League of America formula of dividing the team into several units to deal with individual parts of the menace before all coming together for the final showdown. In practice this boils down to a series of individual battles that are mainly won by the Defenders regardless of which series they take place in, all for individual pieces of a McGuffin. The set-up also flows more from the pages of Defenders than Avengers, making this an ultimately highly unsatisfying crossover here. It presumably owes its reputation to being the first of its kind rather than to the actual content.

The other stories in the volume contain a mixture of old and forgettable new foes. One story sees a teaming of the Space Phantom and the Grim Reaper, apparently allied but each working towards their own ends in just which human body they will put the Vision's consciousness in. The story is complicated by the presence of Hydra in a tie-in to events over in Captain America's own title, with the revelation that the Space Phantom has been impersonating one of Cap's foes. The final issue in the volume sees the team clash with the Collector against the backdrop of the annual Halloween Parade in Rutland. One of the few new foes introduced in these pages is Imus Champion, a very rich giant of a man who seeks to master all skills and hires Hawkeye to train him in archery before embarking upon an audacious scheme to destroy California. There are some good ideas in the concept but the execution just doesn't make for an especially memorable foe. Less memorable still is the Lion God, a deity worshipped by an African tribe and presumably intended to be a recurring foe for the Black Panther but instead he gets easily defeated the first time and then the second time he seems to have been set up purely to demonstrate the worth of the newly arrived Swordsman and Mantis. Even less memorable are Skol and the Troglodytes, a race of underground dwellers who live near the Black Knight's castle.

One of the oddest stories comes from a plot by Harlan Ellison but the result is a rather incoherent mess in which ordinary man Leonard Tibbit is given great powers by the Watcher and told the only way to save humanity from certain doom is to kill five particular people, but this is actually just a way to get the Avengers involved to stop the real menace - Tibbit himself. It's completely out of character for the Watcher to intervene in such a way and it doesn't make much sense either when he could have simply informed the Avengers.

Towards the end of the volume comes the permanent return of the Swordsman, accompanied by the mysterious Mantis, a woman he met in a bar in Vietnam. It's unclear if the Swordsman has genuinely reformed and is seeking acceptance through membership of the team or if he is only faking it as part of a scheme yet to be revealed. Mantis's motivations are even more obscure and her powers have yet to be fully explored, making for good intrigue to come.

The art in the volume is rather inconsistent, particularly when compared to the stability on the writing front. Barry Windsor-Smith's brief run shows his distinctive style which is especially good for the mythology driven storyline, whilst Don Heck provides the best of the more traditionally solid runs.

Overall this volume is okay but not really spectacular. The obsession with reviving old X-Men foes in the first half of the volume is quite simply misplaced and can distract at times from the ongoing storylines and character development. Other than Mantis there just aren't any really memorable creations added in these pages. It's clear that this combines one writer exhausted at the end of a long run and another only slowly limbering up and finding their feet on the title before going on to produce something especially memorable. This is often a curse of the Essentials to catch the less good and it's unfortunate that this volume has landed right between two especially memorable heights.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...