Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers First to Last
by Peter David and Dwayne McDuffie; art by Michael Avon Oeming.
Collects The Last Avengers Story 1-2 and Classic Avengers 1-12.
Why I Bought This: This was another Free Comic Book Day purchase, which means it was the day after the Avengers movie. So besides being double discounted it was exactly what I was in the mood for including stories of the earliest days of the team. Peter David’s name didn’t hurt either.
The Plot: This is actually two very different stories. The Classic Avengers stuff by McDuffie is a series of short stories (about 5-10 pages each) that take place in the cracks of the original 1963 issues. The Last Avengers story by David is a possible/alternate/dystopian future tale that imagines how the Avengers come to an end.
Chapter 0 – An allegedly humorous story on how a young Stan Lee convinced the Avengers to come together to increase comic book sales.
Chapter 1 – The Avengers hold their first meeting.
Chapter 2 – After Hulk quits the Avengers, Banner wakes up covered in blood afraid that Hulk killed an innocent woman.
Chapter 3 – Giant Man and Iron Man test their new powers/armor in training while discussing how they can contribute to a team that includes Thor and faces powerhouses like Hulk and Namor.
Chapter 4 – Captain America reestablishes his identity with the government after being thawed out.
Chapter 5 – Cap and Thor meet for the first time during World War II.
Chapter 6 – Wasp in her civilian identity gets carjacked by a troubled young woman.
Chapter 7 – The Masters of Evil try to survive in another dimension that Thor banished them to.
Chapter 8 – Rick Jones tries to Cap’s advice on combat to dating. He meets a girl and gets in a fight with her ex.
Chapter 9 – Wonder Man has doubts about kidnapping Wasp for Baron Zemo.
Chapter 10 – Cap and Rick find themselves in 17th century France due to Immortus.
Chapter 11 – Cap and Spidey meet for the first time (and battle Electro).
Chapter 12 – Some of the Mole Man’s Moloids gets left behind in NYC and try to make a life for themselves. One of them falls for a heavy-set woman.
Chapter 12.5 – Another Moloid is exposed to Pym’s shrink gas and takes over an ant colony. Also a gorgeous pin-up/cover gallery by Art Adams.
Chapter 13 – In the future the Kang, Ultron and Grim Reaper unite. They nuke Avengers Mansion killing the current team of non-characters. The Pyms, as always taking responsibility for Ultron, form a new team that includes Cannonball, Human Torch, Hercules’ daughter, Black Knight’s son and She Hulk’s daughter. Hawkeye (now blind) and Mockingbird decline to join. We also learn how most of the real Avengers died over the years.
Chapter 14 – Spidey declines to join Pym, while Vision ponders joining having become detached from humanity over the years, and Wiccan leaves his studies with Dr. Strange to join. We see the final battle and Ultron pulls in many of his prior incarnations so the heroes are outnumbered. Cannonball dies and many of the others are wounded when Hawkeye and Mockingbird arrive to turn the tide. We learn Grim Reaper is Wiccan’s brother Speed instead of the original and get a flashback on Scarlet Witch’s death. Kang kills Pym which pisses off Ultron, who wanted that honor for himself. Ultron then attacks Kang giving Wasp the opportunity to kill Kang and avenge Hank. Vision returns to take down Ultron at the cost of his own life. After the battle Hawkeye hints that Captain America is still alive and that’s why he changed his mind about helping.
Critical Thoughts: I liked most of the short stories; I hated the Peter David future stuff, which is quite disappointing.
I’ll hit the short stores first. Chapter 1 has Hulk making fun of Ant Man’s powers, which is hysterical. Chapter 3 is also quite a good look at the insecurities of some of the lesser powered members and manages to foreshadow both Tony’s alcoholism and Pym’s nervous breakdowns without being heavy-handed. I liked Chapter 5 quite a lot. It is told from a young soldier’s perspective and while a bit violent the art and story were both good. The Moloids in New York is also surprisingly charming. Cap and Spidey is also funny and features my two favorite Marvel A-listers even though I’ve seen at least two other stories in the last five years claiming to be the first meeting of Cap and Spidey—although the most recent (a Spidey annual from about two years ago) could occur simultaneously with this one. Really all of the short stories are pretty good. None are actively bad, with maybe Chapters 4 and 8 being the only ones that are forgettable. Chapter 4 also clearly contradicts established Cap history by having him get a government check for his years on ice to reestablish his life and security clearances reactivated. Cap’s back pay was giving to him in a lump sum in the Mark Gruenwald in the 80s: it’s how he started his hotline and became a key plot point in the Cap No More story that I consider the greatest Cap story ever told so that’s a fairly glaring miss in my view. Also Cap didn’t get his government clearance back right away, as Stan Lee had Cap actively seeking that during the Cap’s Kooky Quartet Phase of the Avengers and then when he got reinstated it became the focus of his solo tales in Strange Tales.
The Last Avengers story fails in every conceivable way. It comes across as a poorly done Kingdom Come rip-off with a few nods to Busiek’s Ultron run. But really its biggest failing is not being an Avengers story. The Pyms are the least interesting of the founders of the team and they are the only ones here. The children of the Avengers we meet in this have no real personality and then they are wounded and dead almost as soon as we meet them, so who cares? And then we get Cannonball and the Human Torch, who aren’t even Avengers, coming off the bench. WTF? Seriously, even if you want to go with the no Cap/Thor/Iron Man route, you can’t find any of the 150 or so heroes who have been Avengers to fill the aging heroes’ role in this story? You need the only member of the FF who was never an Avenger and a New Mutant? Nothing against Cannonball and Torch as characters but if I’m reading about the end of Avengers then I want to see the Avengers. (Or to paraphrase Malcolm from Jurassic Park: “Eventually you do intend to have Avengers in your Avengers story”). And why the hell aren’t we using the real Grim Reaper for the villains? How hard is it to unite the Avengers three main foes for the final battle? This thing just fails and fails again.
About the only positive thing I can say for it is Hawkeye and Mockingbird (my second all-time favorite comic book couple) end up together and more or less happy in the end. The Vision stuff, despite being clichéd, is also written fairly well on a personal level. Wiccan training to be sorcerer supreme seemed appropriate as he’s shown pretty strong power levels in his Young Avengers appearances and his presence at the death Vision and Ultron reinforces the whole family theme that drives those characters. The death of the West Coast Avengers also comes across as pretty horrific if that’s the vibe David was trying to create.
Grade: The Classic stuff gets a B+, with a few of the stories being clear A’s. The Last stuff would be lucky to get a D (and that first chapter of it is a definite E, as the little I liked is all in the second chapter). I guess the averages to somewhere in the C’s. I’ll call it a C- because I can’t in good conscience give a positive grade to trade that has that future story no matter how much I enjoyed Hulk making fun of Ant Man.