The Avengers #55

The Silver Age of Comics has brought about changes in pop culture that will reverberate for years to come. From the two major companies, Marvel and DC, the sheer amount of work they created that is still being mined is amazing. But do they stand the test of time? Not always.

To get back in the saddle of reviewing I thought I would dive into a classic issue of The Avengers. This issue was the debut of Ultron-5, the evil robot played so amazingly by James Spader in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The premise of the issue is that The Avengers have been kidnapped by the reformed Masters of Evil under the guise of the mysterious Crimson Cowl. While the previous issue came out and said Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler, was The Crimson Cowl, it turns out Jarvis was being hypnotized by Ultron. The scheme was to have a hydrogen bomb held over the Empire State Building while Ultron contacts authorities for a ransom. The Black Knight arrives after Jarvis is able to escape, hijinks ensue, and The Avengers save the day.

The overall story itself was not horrible. I’ve certainly read much worse than this. Yet it does have a couple major failings. The biggest one is how Jarvis is dealt with. First, they imply he’s being hypnotized yet at the end of the issue Jarvis tells The Avengers that his mother was sick and he needed money so he sold them out. Which is it? Was he forced against his will through hypnosis or did he go along with the plan simply to help his mother? Also, maybe someone can fill me in as to what Tony Stark’s fortune was at this point in time but I strongly suspect that Tony would have willingly given Jarvis whatever cash he needed to care for his family.

Secondly, he was attacked by the Melter (after previously being attacked by Ultron) yet was able to escape with essentially minor bruises. When Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers were attacked over and over again yet were able to simply walk away it was done for humorous effect. When a simple butler is able to survive an attack from a robot and a hardened criminal with simply nothing more than an Excedrin headache, it takes the believe ability of these villains, tosses it out a window, and lets birds use them for scraps for their nests. While I could let it slide when it happens to one of The Avengers, because let’s face it, even during the 1960’s you would expect members of a group to train for situations for like this, for an average civilian, you’d expect them to be straight up murdered.

Another issue I had was something I’ve seen a lot in Silver Age Comics. They introduce the big bad villain yet only showcase that villain for a couple of pages. Granted, I’m admittedly being a little impatient here. This issue was during the era where they were just getting into the groove of multi-issue stories. If you take early Avengers stories, early Spider-Man stories, most would be single story issues. With what is called decompression, they were letting stories breath really, letting them flow longer and more organically like a story in a novel or movie compared to the compression stories of the past eras. One drawback of the decompression method is if you find yourself in the middle of the story you may find that certain characters you want to see are simply not going to be around in a particular story simply because they’re not needed. Yet, I still found myself frustrated because for Ultron’s part in the story, we mainly saw him as The Crimson Cowl. Once he reveals himself as Ultron, he only appears in four more pages of the story in only a small handful of panels. This is a complaint…but a complaint I am sure a writer wants to see a person have because I wanted to see more of him.

So where do I stand on this issue? You have to take it in full context honestly. It’s a part of a longer story told in previous issues. With that, as a stand alone story, it doesn’t hold up too well. However, what it did right was not having the enjoyment of this issue be completely reliant upon total knowledge of what happened in previous issues. To me, the sign of a good comic is one that you can pick up with any issue and enjoy it. They have to have the mindset George Lucas said he had for Star Wars, that each film is its own story but all the films together tell one coherent story. This issue fits that formula nicely so I do recommend it as a read. It’s certainly not a classic in comics history along the lines of Amazing Fantasy #15, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, it does what it needs to do. In the age of graphic novels and comics available upon demand digitally, I think this is something some comics creators are forgetting today. They have the mindset that each issue is a chapter in a story and write it accordingly. Comic stories, even today, share more with old movie serials than they do with books. Basically, you have one issue to sell a new reader on your story so make whatever issue they pick up feel like a complete story, not a small part of something bigger. If they like what they read, they will purchase the other issues.

The Avengers #167

the avengers 167

The next issue in the Korvac saga brings us to Avengers Mansion where The Beast, Captain America, and the Scarlet Witch are reacting to an alarm. Turns out it is Nick Fury on the SHIELD space station, where he appears to be drunk. Maybe this is why David Hasselhoff decided to play him in that horrible television movie? Anyway, the call is made for the Avengers to Assemble. But Iron Man is late. Turns out Tony Stark is on the space station with Nick Fury. He excuses himself to head back to Earth…in order to get into his Iron Man gear and head BACK to the space station to handle the crisis with the team.

Why? There was no reason to do this but to kill a few panels of space in the comic. This is what blows my mind about Iron Man in the comics. There is absolutely no reason for him to keep his identity secret. None. For any friend or family member that would be in danger, he is soaking in so much money that he could pay for security for the people he loves ten fold. The fact that his identity was kept secret during this era when the Fantastic Four, another group that had tons of money but had their identities out there for all to know, just tells me that the folks at Marvel weren’t thinking correctly. The movies had it right. Someone as rich as Tony Stark would have an ego. He would LOVE to have the world know he is Iron Man. Hell, let’s say he doesn’t tell the world. Why would he not tell The Avengers his secret? It would make the situations that Tony faces as the leader at this time a little easier to go through when Captain America gets pissed at him. It just created unnecessary conflict. Problems for the sake of problems.

Turns out a big space station has appeared out of nowhere that SHIELD wants The Avengers to investigate. They board the ship only to find the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians inform the Avengers that Korvac has come back in time in an effort to kill the Guardians leader, Vance Astro (not the best name you can give a hero. Sounds like the name of a porn star.) There’s reminiscing and then we switch scenes and see Janet Van Dyne Pym, The Wasp, as she shows off her fall collection.

Yes, The Wasp, when she’s not a super hero, is a fashion designer. Now granted, this is part of her character from day one but it is still annoying as hell. But hey, I’m not going to like every character. Hank Pym is in the audience along with Nighthawk and a strange man who stares intently at one model and says nothing throughout.

Out of nowhere the fashion show is disrupted when a group of criminals with their leader barge in demanding everyone’s money. The leader? His name is The Porcupine. This comic came out in 1977 and they’re naming bad guys with names that would have been made fun of in the 40’s. What, does the guy have the proportional strength of a porcupine? Was he stung by a radioactive porcupine and now is pissed off at the world?

Characters like this are why people made fun of comics for years. While the character is never shown as much of a threat in this issue, it is annoying to see such a pathetic character being presented as anything resembling a threat. It was like watching the WWE in the 1990’s when they had characters like Mantaur, Doink the Clown, the Repo Man, or Irwin R. Shyster. These were characters that, while the wrestlers playing them were fine wrestlers, were never, ever going to be considered as any sort of real threat towards the champion or would ever be taken seriously as athletes. Why couldn’t they come up with something novel like having criminals that were just, you know, criminals? I know that’s a wild idea and all that but at least at this point in time it was still so insane an idea to use that they had to come up with a character called The Porcupine and try and make him appear as if he were a real threat.

The end of the issue was intriguing. An unknown character who earlier had been ogling a model, sets eyes on the model when all hell had broken loose. She’s entranced by him and they meet, embrace, and end up disappearing. This was a nice little way for the issue to end because while this issue ended up resolving, thankfully, it gave you enough intrigue to see what happens in the next issue. While I may end up disappointed, it was a nice way to end the issue.

The artwork was top notch apart from the clothing. I don’t know, I think that too often I have seen DC and Marvel during the ages try and present their characters in ways to make them appealing to people of that time. By the time the issue comes out, whatever fad the creators wished to bank on was probably over and close to forty years later now the characters just look plain stupid when they’re dressed like people of that time. Why they could not dress the characters in neutral clothing is beyond me. I mean, these comics are supposed to be timeless stories, why could they not be drawn as such?

Bottom Line:

This is not a good second issue. Despite my criticism I’m not going to go so far as to say the issue was bad but it simply doesn’t stand the test of time. One annoying part I forgot to mention was the stupid flashback at the beginning of the issue. Show, don’t tell is a common adage they give writers. The writers of this issue forgot that by having the Guardians tell the readers what happened when Thor teamed with them. Yeah, it could be argued that there are some readers who have not read other issues with characters they may not like so having a refresher on what happened is not a bad idea. While I agree with that, I do think there could have been a much better way of retelling the story. Even something as having The Avengers scan security tape of Thor’s adventure would have been better than just people talking.

So yeah, it’s not horrible but I cannot recommend reading this issue. It’s a part of the Krovac saga so if you want to read that story from start to finish you have no choice. This is just not the type of story that you read just for the hell of it. It’s like the Star Wars prequels. You watch them just to say you did and you move on.

The Avengers #151

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Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Avengers_Vol_1_151

The Good:

I wanted to be a little nostalgic today so I decided to see what Marvel comic was released the week I was born. From there, the cover that interested me would be the one I would choose to review today. I came across this issue of The Avengers and decided to give it a read.

This issue concerned the reveal of a new lineup of Avengers. Every now and then the bullpen at Marvel decides they need to add or remove members of the team to kind of spice things up. I like that they do this for the simple fact that the same group of people being put in the same type of situations can lead to repetition. I think of the Fantastic Four here. While I don’t hate that group and can read some of their issues and enjoy them, for the most part that story gets old fast because it is more of the same for each and every issue. You read one, you’ve read them all.

Whereas you take a tv show like The Simpsons for example, a show with a core group of characters that had quite a number of minor characters elevated in order to add more depth to what was going on. You can argue till the cows come home as to when the show jumped the proverbial shark. Fact is, if the show had stayed with the same format it had during its first couple seasons the show would not be on the air now. Not that the first few seasons were bad, there are some classics there. But the show needed to expand beyond its core cast in order to keep repetition from boring viewers. While you may make a pretty good argument about the quality of that show compared to where it used to be, the fact that it is still on the air says something about the formula they use.

Similar to The Avengers. While the same core characters will always be there in one way, shape, or form to influence things, the strength of this comic is the fact that things change up. New characters with new temperaments are mixed with established characters to create new tensions. You don’t have to worry about repetition boring you to death.

The art work is beautiful. I would call it classical if it were released today but this is the artwork that set the template for how we view these characters today. And the cover, man. The covers of comics were a lot like album covers used to be back in the day. Often times you’d have a cover that was completely bad ass that may not even have anything to do with what happens during the story at hand but it is still enough to get you to want to but the issue in question. This issue is no different. With Captain America clearly in charge, you get the sense that something great is going to happen. You want to dive into the story to see what action is about to happen.

The Bad:

While the art initially pulls you into the story, the story itself does its best to bore you to tears. Back before DVD’s of television shows were popular, television shows would commonly have one episode per season that were flashback episodes. They would take the tiniest thread of a story and pad the show with scenes from earlier in the show. The episodes, while they could be entertaining, were throwaway. They were used to remind you of successes past of your favorite characters. This issue is no different.

Now I wouldn’t have had too much of an issue with a flashback issue if there was something going on. Up until the last page the majority of the issue either consists of a newsman pontificating on the importance of The Avengers, old members reminiscing on their former life as Avengers, or the current team sitting at a table deciding who would be on the team. Whoever thought that would be a good idea deserved to be tossed out on their ass for creating such a boring horrible story.

Hank Pym was treated horribly this issue as well. He starts off melodramatically leaving the team because apparently he wants time off to focus on his knitting or something. By issue’s end, he’s suddenly back full force without any hesitation. I can see him reluctantly coming back just to make sure he could protect his wife but the way he comes back here just comes across like an episode of Days of our Lives. There was no real motivation for him to come back other than to allow the writers the chance to make The Wasp fawn all over him because isn’t that what women should do with their men?

There was just no need to have the issue set up like this. None. They could have just had the team members that wanted to leave make their exits and have Captain America or Iron Man bring in new recruits. I mean think about it. You read comics not just for the words but for the pictures on the page. Why did someone thing it was a good idea for a whole issue where people just sit there? Just because the last page promises action in the next issue doesn’t make this issue good. In fact it pisses me off. Why didn’t we get some problem that arises that allows the new members of the team prove themselves as Avengers instead of sitting back and watching a committee meeting decide? Horrible.

Bottom Line:

Ignore this issue. While it has a great cover, there is nothing of value on the inside of this comic. If I had not come across this issue with my Marvel Unlimited subscription I would have hated myself for actually buying it because nothing happens. Nothing at all. It’s like C-SPAN made a comic of a day in the life of the House of Representatives. Unless the Speaker of the House uses his gavel to attack people with a hidden cosmic ray in his quest to take over the world, nothing of note happens worth making it a comic. Same with this issue. Voting on new members of The Avengers is just silly and pointless especially since there is no action whatsoever. Now a story that involved taking a new person out on an adventure, have that new person prove themselves to the team, and then get voted into The Avengers would be a smart thing. It keeps you interested as well as goes about introducing the new members of the team. But what do I know? I give the story a 2.

What saves this work is the art. Despite being drawn in 1976 the art doesn’t really give its age. Apart from shortening the male newscasters hair it could pass for a modern piece which speaks well to the talent of George Perez. The art takes what would be a comic that didn’t deserve a spot in a landfill to a comic that at least visually you have to see once. It may not be classic but it is still well done. I give the art a 7.

assemble

The Avengers #223

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Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Avengers_Vol_1_223

The Good:

Time to go to the circus with Clint Barton and Scott Lang. Hawkeye gets a letter from an old friend asking for his help. He arrives to find that his friend is being held hostage by The Taskmaster in order to use the circus that she owns as a training ground for future terrorists. Scott Lang happens to be at the circus at the same time and, spotting Hawkeye needing help, decides to join in on the fun.

This was a fun simple issue. While some older comics can be tough to read, the beauty in them is that for the most part the stories are self contained little gems that don’t ask too much from you as the reader. Too often comics today want you to know the details of tons of details that in the grand scheme of things don’t matter to the story the writer is trying to tell. They want to have the next grand epic that will last over dozens of issues in order to get interest in stories that really don’t need too much complication for them to be fun. I compare Brian Bendis’ work on the Ultimate Spider-Man line to his work on the Secret Invasion story. While the Spider-Man stories ended up being a grand world that had a lot going on he still did one hell of a job in making the issue you purchased its own self contained story that enticed you to WANT to buy the next issue. You are rewarded with a good story and more to come.

The Secret Invasion was the opposite. Too much was happening for you as the reader to really get a read as to what was going on and what loyalties people had. That’s not a knock on Bendis since he didn’t write every single issue of that series for one and two, when you have to put out the sheer volume of work he has put out over the years, not everything is a gem.

This story fit into the former. While you definitely felt that the characters were a part of a much larger world, that back story was icing on a very good cake. You didn’t have to know the fact that Hawkeye knew the young lady who now owned the circus to know that he cared for her and ended up being sexually attracted to her as well. The same goes for Scott Lang. You knew he cared for his daughter and that he was excited to be Ant-Man but his past had no bearing on the story and hand. While this story was a little simplistic compared to comics today, I wish more comic artists could take some of the rules they followed back in the day to heart.

The art, while feeling aged, was pretty good. The cover alone is classic with Hawkeye ready to shoot an arrow that Ant-Man it hitching a ride on the arrow. Marvel had a habit in the 80’s it seems of wanting to add cultural references at that time into the story to be hip. That included the hair style which today can look silly. When the going gets tough though, the action is well drawn.

The Bad:

As I mentioned Marvel had a nasty habit of trying to be hip by including cultural references of the day into the story. While that can’t always be avoided, for stories that are simple like superhero stories there should be as little to remind you of when the story is taking place as possible. Now apart from Superman at this time, comics weren’t quite the cultural icons they are today. Marvel had one show, The Incredible Hulk, that was a hit but that, apart from the characters, was completely different than how Hulk was in the comics. That doesn’t mean the show was bad. I love that show. For the Hulk character, copying Les Miserables was a brilliant idea because while it allowed the producers of that show to have the action scenes that would interest the kiddies like me, it had enough dramatic meat for the adult viewers to really get into. Comics were still kids stuff though. Things were definitely changing mind you but Marvel and DC were not marketing to 39 year old guys like myself just yet.

I would have liked to have seen more locations than a tent and just outside that tent. They could have done more to spread the action out to other parts of the circus. While circuses don’t cover miles upon miles of space, they are large enough that they could have had a little variety in where the action took place.

The art was a little sloppy when it came to details in the locations where the action took place. It’s not that I demand that comic drawings replicate photos and come across as realistic as possible. These types of stories are fantasy mind you. There is meant to be some element of the fantastic in what we are seeing. What we should not be seeing is sloppiness and that’s what I was seeing throughout the story.

Bottom Line:

You would think that based on my criticisms that I didn’t like the story. That could be farther from the truth. Yes it was a simplistic story and you definitely knew the story took place in the 1980’s but sometimes the simplest of stories can be the best. Take sitcoms. I love Everybody Loves Raymond. There is NOTHING about that show that is original. Nothing. No innovation whatsoever. But they took very familiar sitcom elements and wrote and performed them well. That’s where this comic falls in my thinking. Could it be released today? No. But it’s still a damned good story. I give the story an 8.

The art was pretty good. While I do have some issues with it, the cover alone is worth the price of admission. In fact, I love the cover so much that Kevin Feige and the folks at Marvel would be damn foolish if they don’t do that same Ant-Man on the arrow bit in either Captain America: Civil War or The Avengers: Infinity War. While the movies should mostly use the comics as inspiration and look to adapt them to the movies, if there is no other image in comics that deserves to be on the silver screen it is this cover. I give the art a 7.

Now because I loved The Incredible Hulk, here is the tv show theme song.