Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers Legends vol. 3 : George Perez
by Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Roger Silfer & David Micheline; pencils George Perez.
Collects Avengers161-162, 194-196, 201 and Annuals 6 and 8.
Why I Bought This: It was a chance to get a sampler of various Avengers stories from before my time, including one of the most famous Ultron stories ever told.
The Plot: As with many of these artist visionary volumes, we’re not telling one story but picking up several stories (in this case by four different writers) from different eras that highlight the artist.

Chapter 1 – Living Laser manages to get his hands on the Serpent Crown (an ancient mystic artifact that gives it wearer vast psionic powers). He uses the crown to take control of a military base where Nuklo (a mutant with a childlike intellect that emits a constant stream radioactivity and has vast strength) is being imprisoned. The Avengers arrive and once they get the crown off Laser, Nuklo turns against him. His power build-up is out of control and he’s about to explode when Whizzer (Nuklo’s father, a World War II era speedster that was believed to be the father of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch at the time) arrives at the last second to use his speed to cause his energy to implode instead.
Chapter 2 – The Avengers are attacked by Ant Man (Henry Pym) who remembers nothing since Avengers #1 and thus recognizes none of the current team except Iron Man. He does remarkably well against them considering I’ve always seen Ant Man as a joke of a hero in a fight that Shooter’s writing actually makes plausible. Eventually Wasp takes him down, and the Avengers try to treat his amnesia only for Ultron to show up. He beats down the Avengers severely (Scarlet Witch is the only one who even gets offense on him), and kidnaps Hank leaving the other Avengers for dead.
Chapter 3 – Thor arrives at the mansion and we see Cap, Vision, Beast and Scarlet Witch being taken to the morgue from the fight last issue as only Iron Man, Black Panther and Wonder Man survived the last battle. Ultron meanwhile convinces the still amnesiac Hank that he saved him from his enemies but that Wasp was critically injured and must have her consciousness transferred to a robotic body—this is of course a lie and the process will kill Wasp in order to bring to life Ultron’s bride Jocasta. The Avengers attempt to call in the reserves with no success and with time of the essence decide to mount a last ditch rescue effort of the Pyms, although  Wonder Man notes even Thor expects them to all die in the effort. The battle is going poorly when Ultron reveals the other Avengers are not dead, just in a death-like coma although they will die soon without treatment. Thor and Wonder Man use their combined strength to stalemate Ultron long enough for Iron Man to take Jocasta’s shell hostage and he threatens to kill her unless Ultron releases the Pyms and withdraws to which Ultron surprisingly agrees. Black Panther finds Iron Man’s tactics to be dishonorable and Pym is still nuttier than a fruitcake as the team regroups at the end.
Chapter 4 – Hank Pym (now as Yellow Jacket) decides to give Wasp the Power Prism (an extra-dimensional jewel with the powers of Green Lantern’s ring) as a birthday gift because he’s an idiot and it instantly possesses her into the latest Doctor Spectrum and she attacks the rest of the team defeating most of the team until Vision exposes her to ultraviolet light which cuts off the prism’s power. However the jewel has bonded to her so to cure her they need to track down the original Doctor Spectrum. They learn via Dr. Strange that he cast an amnesia spell on the entire Squadron Sinister (a team of JLA analogs; or more precisely Crime Syndicate analogs since they are villains; and Marvel has a heroic Squadron Supreme version of the exact same characters as well) and that awakening the memories of one will break the spell on all of them. We then get a series of side battles with Vision, Ms. Marvel and Black Panther taking on Superman-analog Hyperion and Thundra (a super-strong amazon that usually bothers the Thing); Cap, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye taking on Flash-analog Whizzer (not the same as the one in chapter one even though have similar costumes and powers). While Beast and Wonder Man retrieve the original Spectrum. He willingly accompanies them back to cure Jan but then takes the jewel himself only for it to reject him and possesses Thor. Thor quickly takes down most of the team except for Iron Man. Thor’s on the verge of winning when his possession makes him unworthy of his power (ala Odin’s enchantment) and unable to lift his hammer he spontaneously reverts back to Don Blake thus shunting the Power Prism off to another dimension where it is presumably destroyed.
Chapter 5 –The Avengers enjoy some downtime, interspersed with soap opera/personal drama when an escapee from a mental asylum comes to them for aid. The team is split on whether he needs their help or is just paranoid with Wasp firmly on his side. As the team debates whether this is something they even have jurisdiction over the police arrive and have a court order to take custody of the escapee. The Avengers turn him over but Wasp shrinks down and chooses to follow on her own unobserved by her teammates.
Chapter 6 – The Avengers notice Wasp is missing and go to the asylum to find her. They also call in Yellow Jacket (who is currently off the team but still married to Wasp) and he bring along the new Ant Man (Scott Lang). Pym and Lang decided to search the facility unobtrusively at bug size as this way the Avengers don’t have to break the court order if nothing is up. They soon find out the asylum is a front for a training facility for criminal henchman and Wasp is being held prisoner. They free her only to encounter Taskmaster (in his debut appearance) who beats the tiny heroes off panel because Pym is still useless.
Chapter 7 – We get Taskmaster’s origin and then the real Avengers mount a rescue mission. (Seriously this is why Ant Man and Wasp have no business being Avengers: the last three stories have been predicated around the real Avengers having to rescue them despite being by three different writers). Anyway Taskmaster improbably fights them to a stalemate and manages to escape.
Chapter 8 – In an 8-page back-up Jarvis the butler goes to visit his mother only to find she had been mugged that afternoon. He tracks the mugger down on his own, learning he’s been bullying local merchants too. Jarvis fights the mugger and does well until the mugger pulls a knife, at which time the various merchants decide to stand-up for themselves and little mob justice chases the mugger out of town.
Critical Thoughts – That Ultron story is fabulous and deserves its exalted position as one of the definitive Ultron stories. Jim Shooter is one of the best writers of fight scenes in Marvel history and it shows here. (And I standby that statement, Shooter wrote Secret Wars and his Avengers run includes all sorts of famous fights as in addition to the Ultron fight, he wrote battles with Nefaria, Graviton, The Grim Reaper and Korvac during his Avengers run that are well-remembered too.)
Sadly the rest of the stories are a mixed bag at best. The Nuklo story is perfectly acceptable for a stand-alone annual but that’s it. I have no use for Squadron Supreme (or in this case Sinister) as they are gimmicks, not characters. None of them have any personality or motivations beyond being JLA-analogs and even in that regard they fail since Hyperion is always defeated way easier than Superman would be, case in point: in this story Vision just casually phases through him to take him down. I did like how Thor’s worthy-enchantment came into play at the end of the story however. The Jarvis story is an okay back-up, nothing more.
The Taskmaster story is by far the weakest of the bunch and sadly at three chapters it’s the longest story in the book. The first two issues of it when they are investigating the mental asylum are flat out boring. I know Taskmaster has a lot of fans but I don’t buy him as an Avengers-level foe at all. You want to use him as a Captain America solo foe or against street level heroes like Daredevil or Iron Fist fine, he’s still not a favorite but I can accept that his powers would make him an A-list threat to those types of heroes who are more or less still human; but I don’t buy him fighting power houses like Iron Man, Wonder Man, and Vision to a stalemate. I mean he uses a flash grenade to escape and it blinds the entire team including two robots and Wonder Man’s whose eyes are made of energy, so that’s a no-sale for me.
I will briefly speak on Perez’s art because this trade bears his name. It’s adequate in this collection but rarely more than that. I love the cover. And I love the panel where Jarvis finds the Avengers after the battle with Ultron. Otherwise I don’t have much to say. The characters all look as they should, but maybe because these are older style stories the art doesn’t have the dynamic moments I’d expect for a volume named for an artist (in contrast with the Jim Lee collection which picked plenty of stories with excellent splash pages). Don’t get me wrong, Perez deserves his status as a legend—the Avengers never looked better than in his run with Busiek and he also drew Infinity Gauntlet, which is one of the most visually powerful books in Marvel history. I’m just saying the stories in this collection have very few wow moments where the reader is really aware of the art.
Grade: That Ultron story is an A+. The next best story (chapter one) is a C+ and then everything else is D-level or worse. We’ll call it a C because the Ultron story is a classic but the rest is meh.