Waiting for the Trade: Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Avengers Assemble
vol. 4

By Kurt Busiek, Gerry
Ordway, Steve Epting and Alan Davis

collects Avengers
#35-40, Avengers 2000, Avengers 2001, Avengers: The Ultron

Imperative,
Maximum Security #1-3 and Maximum Security: Dangerous Planet.

 

Why I Bought This: Because
I was reading my way through the entire Busiek run in trade the last couple
years (I finished this one last year and just finished volume five earlier this
year). I would assume this is the least read of the Busiek trades as people
curious about him are likely to buy the first trade, while his three most
famous stories are the Ultron story in volume 2, the Kang epic in volume 5 and
the Avengers Forever miniseries; leaving volumes 3 and 4 a little less well known—and
volume 3 still has all time great Avengers artist George Perez on pencils
leaving this trade as likely the least read of the six so let’s delve into it and see what’s there.

 

The Plot: Again
this is a series of sequential issues rather than one plot as Marvel collects the
entire Busiek run in trades. This one sees the Avengers deal with an alien
invasion, Diablo, Blood Wraith and Ultron among others.

 Quick footnote I am reviewing the hardcover version released
in the early 2000s, the soft cover version released around the time of the
movie has a slightly different issue list as the Hellcat story is moved into an
earlier volume in the soft covers.

With that out of the way, spoilers below.

 

 
Chapter 1 – Professor X has been leading a group of mutant
Skrulls in a fight for equal rights on the Skrull throne world. This causes the
Skrulls to go the Galactic Council and demand something be done to stop Earth
from intervening in cosmic affairs. Among the standard galactic races is a new
race: the R’uul, who have been making friends with several other empires. The
council learns that Ego the Living Planet has destroyed the planet Krylor. A
rescue effort by the council is ineffective but then Silver Surfer arrives to drive
Ego off temporarily. Meanwhile the council debates the past acts of Earth’s
superheroes in cosmic conflicts. When Ego attacks the Shi’ar, Prof. X leads the
Cadre K Skrulls against him Together Prof. X and the Surfer win the day but the
raw power Prof X displays turns most of the Council against Earth and they vote
to take action against the planet.

Chapter 2 – US
Agent has a new costume and is back working for the federal government’s
Commission on Super Human Affairs. The government is tracking a pattern of
incursions by unrelated alien threats. Eventually Captain Reptyl reveals the
Intergalactic Council has designated Earth a prison planet and is sending
cosmic criminals there with the idea being the steady influx of undesirables
will keep the superheroes so busy they will stop interfering in cosmic affairs.
The Avengers go into space to investigate and meet up with Ronan the Accuser.
He teleports them back to Earth after informing them his job is to prevent
anyone from leaving the planet. Things get worse when the Avengers learn Ego is
one of the refugees, and his biomass if left unchecked will consume the Earth
as he reconstitutes himself.

Chapter 3 – Iron Man and the Fantastic Four are failing to
contain Ego by science. Wasp contacts the Cosmic Avengers team already
stationed in deep space (whose members include Quasar, Thor, Starfox,
Moondragon, Tigra and Captain Marvel v2.0—Monica Rambeau, currently Spectrum).
The Council manages to arrest Professor X and Cadre K. U.S. Agent discovers the
R’uul are actually the Kree in disguise.

 Chapter 4 – the Cosmic Avengers (now including Jack of
Hearts among their members) get an audience with the Shi’ar Empress Lilandra,
who stands by the Council’s ruling. The Cosmic team is subsequently ambushed by
the R’uul and defeated with gas. They are taken to the Supreme Intelligence and
he monologues his plot to them. Meanwhile the U.S. Government puts U.S. Agent
in charge of the Avengers for this mission.

 Chapter 5 – Earth’s superheroes beam aboard the R’uul ship.
The Cosmic Avengers escape. Earth’s mystics try to stop Ego but fail. The
Cosmic Avengers find Lilandra and tell her the truth about the R’uul and that
Ego is going to destroy the Earth, which was not part of the Galactic Council’s
verdict against the planet. The Atomic Knights science guys (Reed, Tony &
Bruce) are up and temporarily halt Ego. Then Ronan shows up having absorbed
some of Ego’s power and becomes a giant. The Earth heroes and Cosmic Avengers
join up and take the fight to Ronan. Surfer tries to absorb Ego into his body
but fails. Quasar steps in and succeeds. Ronan takes down the FF and the Hulk
before being attacked by U.S. Agent. Agent takes a severe beating but refuses
to stay down. Once Quasar draws the Ego-power out of Ronan, Agent puts him down
with a punch. Quasar exiles himself from Earth in the aftermath lest Ego ever
escape, while Lilandra gets the Council to reverse its earlier ruling.

 Chapter 6 – The Avengers mop up some leftover
extraterrestrial exiles. We got some quiet moments before the mansion is
attacked by Lord Templar and Pagan (a pair of Busiek originals who’ve been
recurring since volume 2). In the chaos Hank is replaced by his Yellow Jacket
duplicate (leftover from the Kulan Gath story in volume 3). The Avengers are
barely holding their own when a call comes in from Cap seeking help in Slorenia
as Blood Wraith (a Black Knight villain) has resurfaced. Wasp sends Captain
Marvel 2.0, Iron Man, Wonder Man and Scarlet Witch to Slorenia leaving her with
Vision, Warbird, Triathlon and Jack of Hearts. Monica arrives at Slorenia at
light speed where she sees Blood Wraith has grown to the size of a mountain.

 Chapter 7 – Iron Man’s science fails against Blood Wraith’s
magic. Wraith’s magic sword is able to hurt both C.M. and Wonder Man.
We learn that his sword, which can absorb souls, was drawn to Slorenia and has
absorbed the souls of all of Ultron’s victims (Ultron killed the most of the
population of the country in volume 2), which is why Blood Wraith is a giant
now. Back in NYC Templar pulls his cloning trick. The Avengers there are doing
okay until Pagan rejoins the battle. Hank then arrives with a plan. He has C.M.
fly at light speed back to the NYC team where together she and Jack of Hearts
use energy to defeat Pagan’s strength. Triathlon then singlehandedly defeats
all of Templar’s clones. The villains teleport away, while Triathlon is curious
how he did it when Templar has gone toe to toe with Thor—it’s implied Templar
threw the fight as part of the Triune’s plan to make the Avengers look bad but Triathlon
look good. Back in Slorenia with the other Avengers failing to stop Blood
Wraith, Scarlet Witch casts a desperate spell which binds him to the borders of
Slorenia and the Avengers have the UN vacate the entire country. In the
aftermath Cap is very unhappy with how that turned out and talks with Wasp
about restructuring the team.

 Chapter 8 – A mystery man casts a spell in Greece. The
Avengers shut down one of Taskmaster’s schools. We learn Cap has activated all
the reserves and is setting up multiple bases and using a computer to track all
the major villains in an effort make the team more proactive. Black Knight and
Firebird are monitoring Slorenia, Jack of Hearts is monitoring the Savage Land,
and Quasar, C.M. and Living Lightening are monitoring outer space. Vision and
Ms. Marvel go on a date. We see the town in Greece has been overrun by Hulks.

 Chapter 9 – Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Vision, Ms. Marvel, Hank,
Wasp, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are on site to deal with the Hulks. Hank
discovers if two Hulks collide the merge into one, so he encourages the team to
make a giant Hulk with the idea of once there is one Hulk he can shrink it to
bug-size and end the battle. Meanwhile Diablo arrives at Avengers Mansion
where only Silver Claw is on duty as we learn he created the Hulks to get the
team out of town. The Giant Hulk smashes Hank’s portable lab before he can
shrink him thus putting end to that plan.

 Chapter 10 – As the Avengers fight on Bruce Banner radios in
to offer to help and Quicksilver is sent to retrieve him. Back at the mansion
Jarvis radios for help as Silver Claw is severely overmatched but keeps
fighting on until Wonder Man and Triathlon arrive, and together they win. In
Slorenia Banner becomes the Hulk and with the help of Scarlet Witch is able to
disrupt Diablo’s spell. In the aftermath we see the Avengers are being watched
by Kang and the Scarlet Centurion.

Chapter 11 – Hellcat, having recently returned from the
dead, goes back to her hometown which she discovers has been remade into a
theme park. She further discovers most of the inhabitants have been replaced by
demons. She summons the Avengers to help. They arrive to discover the Sons of
Serpent and Salem’s
Seven are involved in trying to bring a snake god (probably Seth of Serpent
Crown fame) to Earth. The Avenger’s lose the fight but an old friend of Patsy’s
manages to disrupt the spell which teleports all the supernatural types away,
leaving the Sons of Serpent alone and they promptly surrender.

Chapter 12.1 – A bunch of gang members are killed by the
Vision only for Vision to be taken down by Grim Reaper. Cut to an ATM being
robbed in shadow by Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man. Cut to a construction site
where Pym and Wasp make an impending emergency even worse. We get speculation
that the Avengers have gone crazy only for the camera to reveal these are not
the Avengers at all but robotic duplicates.

Chapter 12.2 – The real Avengers learn what happened the
night before and convene to investigate. After comparing notes they remember
Ultron captured the six people spotted by witnesses (back in Volume 2) and made
copies of their brainwaves thus this must be his newest children. Vision
concludes they should go to the same lab where he was built by Ultron. The
Avengers arrive and are attacked by the doppelgangers. The real Grim Reaper
arrives to assist the Avengers (who were winning anyway) because he does not
like being imitated either. As the robo-Avengers die they reveal that Alkhema (Ultron’s
second bride built in the pages of West Coast Avengers, she was a prominent
character in the volume 2 Ultron epic) was the one who built them but she later
cast them out for being defective.

Chapter 12.3 – Hawkeye is called in to help find Alkhema
(since her brainwaves are based on his dead wife Mockingbird) while Jarvis
deduces she is in Greece.

Chapter 12.4 – The Avengers search in teams of two while
Hawkeye tries to come to terms with Mockingbird’s death.

Chapter 12.5 – The Avengers are attacked by an army of
robots based on the six Avengers copied earlier. The robots stop attacking when
they recognize the Vision and the Pyms and take the entire team to an
underground city of robots they’ve built.

 Chapter 12.6 –
Alkhema arrives and the robots turn on the Avengers and capture them. Hawkeye
is flung from the battle and revived by Grim Reaper. They make their move with
Hawkeye staring down Alkhema via a vibranium arrow so she pulls out
Mockingbird’s voice to screw with him. She then unveils a third generation of
robots that are more like the Vision (living synthezoids as opposed to robots)
and threatens to blow up Egypt.
Hawkeye is unable to kill what is left of his wife and Alkhema takes him down.

Chapter 12.7 – The third generation robots reveal they are
not loyal to Alkhema and in fact have rebuilt Ultron. Vision uses the confusion
to free the team and we get a big melee. Meanwhile Ultron and Alkhema are
fighting and Ultron wipes out the gen 2 robots. Hank tries a computer override
but Ultron is in the mainframe. Meanwhile Grim Reaper wants to use Hawkeye’s
arrow to kill Alkhema but Hawkeye stops him. Mockingbird’s personality surfaces
long enough to tell Hawkeye to shoot and he fires the arrow presumably killing
Alkhema. When she dies all the robots she built self destruct which causes a
cave-in that buries Ultron.

Chapter 12.8 – The Avengers are forlorn about their victory
and fly off. From the wreckage a synthezoid child emerges carrying Ultron’s
head and calls itself Antigone.

Chapter 13-ish (a backup story from the 2001 annual) Jarvis
answers emails about continuity that Busiek wants to resolve (many are from the
terrible “The Crossing” storyline that preceded the “Heroes Reborn” era though
there also some basics about Cap’s shield and Falcon’s powers as well).

 

Critical Thoughts: Overall
another stand out effort from Busiek. What I really like about Busiek’s run is
the way he used every Avenger in the history of the franchise. He generally had
five of the eight core members of the team (Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye,
Vision, Scarlet Witch and the Pyms) present for every story but then each arc
also let a past member or two rotate in and shine. We see that here as the
space story features Quasar and US Agent heavily, the Blood Wraith arc uses
Captain Marvel’s powers to their fullest, The Diablo story sees Quicksilver and
Hulk return for a bit while also letting his new character Silverclaw get a
separate moment, we get a one-off story that brings in Hellcat and Moondragon
who had not done much Avenging since the 70s, and then the Ultron story gives
Hawkeye (who had been off the team leading the Thunderbolts the past couple
years) a big personal moment focusing on his deceased wife. This is something
you see in all the Busiek Avengers trades: this excellent use of the team’s
history and the constant returning of old favorites while not losing sight of
the core team that people buy the book for—I think it goes a long way to
explaining why his run is so well regarded if you’ve never read it.

My only criticism of Busiek’s run is he does over-rely on
Scarlet Witch. He’s certainly not the first writer to use her reality warp powers
as a get out of jail free card for the team, but I don’t think any writer
played the card more consistently than he did. I don’t think it is an
exaggeration to say that Scarlet Witch saves the day in more than half the
stories Busiek wrote. We see that in this volume with her defeating both Blood
Wraith and the Hulks.

In terms of the actual stories I would say the space story
is a little slow at times particularly the Professor X stuff. Also turning the
Kree into the R’uul (who are shape shifters) was a bad idea because it makes
them and the Skrulls pretty much exactly the same, which is why it is hardly a
surprise that this was later undone (in Captain
Marvel)
. Still I like the Cosmic Avengers so it was fun to see them highlighted
particularly since Quasar saves the day and proves stronger than the Silver
Surfer and I’m a huge Quasar fan.

I enjoyed the Blood Wraith story. I always thought he was a
cool villain. It’s always nice to see Monica back in the fold. And the action
with the team split on two fronts made for an entertaining story device.

I generally liked the Hulk story, mostly because Diablo was
involved and he’s my favorite Fantastic Four villain. The stuff with the Hulks
in Greece
is a bit by the numbers but never drags. I suppose I could also quibble that
this is the third story in a row with a giant-sized version of regular villains
this volume (Ronan, Blood Wraith and now the Hulks) so it is slightly
repetitive by this point in the trade.

The Hellcat story is okay but then I’m not a fan of either
Hellcat or Moondragon. Still it is a nice tying together of a few c-list
Avengers villains into a high stakes plot. And I appreciate Busiek trying to
give every past member one story arc to return in.

I really liked the robot story. Of course like most Avengers
fans I love a good Ultron story but more than that this was really good
character work with Hawkeye and he’s my second favorite of the core eight so
that’s always going to scratch me where I itch—particularly since I loved his
marriage to Mockingbird. I suppose I could live without the hand-wringing from
the Avengers when the second generation robots are dying. They are like ‘oh no
a new life form is being exterminated its awful’ and I’m thinking it’s a bunch
of robots from an assembly line it’s like being upset your toaster broke down;
but that does not diminish my enjoyment of the climax with Hawkeye and Alkhema
which is superb.

Finally the fanboy in me can appreciate Busiek cleaning up
continuity questions but I would say it is hardly necessary since most longtime
Avengers readers prefer to just pretend the Crossing never happened as it is by
far the lowest point in the history of the title. Mercifully Busiek retconned
almost every single thing that happened in that story over the course his run
because that story was just brutally bad (like Clone Saga awful—seriously never
read it).
Grade B+: It’s
not as excellent as the other volumes in the run but it is still very good
storytelling throughout. I’ll admit this is probably the least of the six
Busiek trades (counting Avengers Forever)
but even so what are my criticisms? The Scarlet Witch saves the day too much,
one story out of six is formulaic, and he used a couple characters I don’t care
for. That’s all pretty minor stuff compared to the rampant character
assassination and continuity errors we’d see from the writers who immediately
preceded him and the major writer of the last 10 years that followed him.
Overall this trade is another easy thumbs up.

 

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