Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 Mighty Avengers (2): Family Bonding

written by Al Ewing, art by Valerio Schiti and Greg Land

collecting Mighty Avengers #6-10

 Why I Bought This: As a fan of Roger Stern’s Avengers run I’ve always liked Captain Marvel v2.0 a lot. This title finally returned her to prominence with a fitting new code name in Spectrum so I grabbed the first volume as soon as it came out in trade. I liked it quite a bit and thus picked up volume 2 when it hit trade.

 (spoilers below)

 

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Waiting for the Trade – Masters of Evil

House of M: Masters of Evil

written by Christos N. Gage, illustrated by Mannuel Garcia

collects House of M: Masters of Evil #1-4

Why I Bought This: I like villain-centric titles and this was sitting in a 75% off discount bin at the local comic store.

The Plot: We see what life is like in the House of M reality for the super villains who usually fight the Avengers. (House of M was a crossover in which Scarlet Witch created a timeline wherein Magneto conquered the world allowing mutants to flourish at the expense of humans.)

(spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade = Hulk vs. Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Hulk Smash Avengers

written by Tom Defalco, Joe Casey, Roger Stern, Jim McCann and Fred Van Lente

art by Ron Frenz, Max Fiumara, Karl Molinem Agustin Padilla & Michael Avon Oeming

collects Hulk Smash Avengers #1-5

 Why I Bought This: I erroneously thought the entire mini-series was by Tom Defalco and as I’ve often said Defalco is the best choreographer of fight scenes in Marvel history and as this book seemed like it would be chock full of fight scenes I’d intended to pick it up in trade back when I first heard about it in miniseries form.

The Plot: Released in conjunction with the first Avengers film, each chapter is set in a different decade (real time) featuring Hulk battling various line-ups of the Avengers.

(Spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade – New Avengers

 Waiting for the Trade

New Avengers:
Everything Dies

by Jonathan Hickman
and Steve Epting

collects New Avengers
(2013) #1-6

Why I Bought This: Actually
I didn’t, I got it from the library. I had intended to buy this some day when I
first heard it involved the Infinity Gems but then I bought the Infinity crossover trade by Hickman as a
brand new preorder on Amazon for $50 and hated it. After that I wasn’t willing
to spend more money on a Hickman trade. However with this now being the book
that sets the new Secret Wars event
in motion that is allegedly going to end the Marvel Universe I decided it to
track it down and read it. 
The Plot: The
Black Panther reforms the Illuminati when he discovers that universes are
colliding.

(Spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – We open with a flashback of Black Panther
refusing to join the Illuminati when it formed years ago. Now, in Wakanda,
Black Panther is working with three teen geniuses whom he believes are the
future of his country on a stellar map. Suddenly, they uncover a hole in
reality. On the other side of the hole is a looming planet in a red sky as well
as woman speaking Sumerian to her followers. Panther and company approach her
and she informs them that an “incursion” is occurring and she has come to destroy
a world. Panther vows to stop her; at which point her men fatally gun down
Panther’s teen followers. Panther takes on the soldiers while the mystery woman
kills her main hireling and detonates a bomb that destroys the world in the
sky. Panther takes down the woman while the world returns to normal following
the explosion. Panther then summons the Illuminati to Wakanda, whose members
are Black Bolt, Namor, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Captain America and Iron Man.

 Chapter 2 – Reed interrogates the woman from last issue, who
is known as Black Swan. Swan reveals the world she destroyed was an alternate
Earth. Reed briefs the others on the threat. He explains the infinite alternate
earth multiverse theory. He says all universes left to their own die at the
same time. However in one of the universes an event occurred that destroyed
that universe. As a result the remaining universes are contracting together to
fill the gap since the other universes apparently exist literally side by side.
Unfortunately, when the universes contract they collide at the spot where the
original defective universe was destroyed, which was Earth. When two Earths
make contact both of their universes are destroyed. Furthermore, this then
creates larger gaps in the multiverse, which causes more universe to contract,
leading a cycle that ultimately will destroy all realities. However destroying
one of the Earths, as Black Swan did in chapter 1, can prevent the incursion
from destroying the two universes. Tony says they need to investigate the cause
of the collapse and if the chain reaction can be stopped or slowed down. Reed
notes he can rebuild Black Swan’s bomb based on her trigger, which they took
off her when they captured her. Cap then puts a stop to that talk. No one is
blowing up worlds while he is around. Reed is concerned there won’t be time to
deal with this in the normal heroic way as Swan told him that once an Earth
survives one incursion it attracts additional incursions at a rapid rate and when
an incursion begins there are only eight hours from when the other Earth
appears in the sky before the two worlds make contact. Hearing this, Tony makes
the pitch that all options need to be on the table; to which Cap responds,
“What the hell is wrong with you.” Cap says they have a solution: they can just
reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet (The Illuminati have been in possession of the
individual gems since Bendis’ run). As the others leave to get their gems, Reed
stays to talk with T’Challa. Reed feels with infinite worlds on the line this
type of solution should have been tried already thus the two most likely conclusions
are either the problem is inherent to the multiverse and cannot be corrected or
that an outside force is working to destroy all realities. Reed concludes that
while he’s all for trying the moral options first, he’s willing to destroy
worlds if needed. 

Chapter 3 – Cap and Black Bolt recruit Beast to the
Illuminati and he retrieves the Mind Gem, which had been in Professor X’s
possession before he died (again). Reed implants early warning devices into the
Illuminati members’ palms to detect the incursions. Reed then runs the Infinity
Gauntlet plan past Black Swan and she says it will buy them time. Four days
later we have an incursion in Pakistan.
Cap is given the Infinity Gauntlet. Cap forces the other universe backwards but
there is a vibrational feedback so that when Cap ends the incursion all of the
Infinity Gems shatter except the Time Gem, which disappears. Now the Illuminati
meet again. Cap asks Panther to support him before they go in, and T’Challa
vows to do the right thing. Cap again says there will be no world destroying on
his watch. Everyone else disagrees including T’Challa as they vow to protect
their nations, species or family. On Tony’s order, Dr. Strange then mind-wipes
Cap and the Illuminati send him on his way with no memory of being a member so
they can get on with finding ways to destroy worlds.

 Chapter 4 – Reed and T’Challa build anti-matter bombs based
on Black Swan’s technology. Tony starts to build a Dyson Sphere, which can
harness the energy of the sun, which at 2-percent power can destroy a world.
Dr. Strange finds a spell book called the “Blood Bible” which has a spell he
believes can destroy a world but will requires the life force of 40 men and (the
soul of) one righteous man. Just then another incursion occurs over Ellis Island. Reed notes he also has the Ultimate
Nullifier and if fired through vibranium barrel it should destroy a world only
at the cost of the person pulling the trigger. The bombs and Dyson sphere
aren’t ready yet. Beast says they could go to the other Earth to find its
Infinity Gems, which the heroes think is worth trying since the other two
options (The nullifier and Strange’s spell) will both cost one of Illuminati their
life. On the other side of the reality warp, the heroes find Galactus is about
to eat this Earth, which will end the threat. This leads to a debate on if they
should just leave and let this Galactus solve the problem for them or if they
try to save this world from Galactus. The heroes are confronted by Terrax, who
is apparently still the herald of this Galactus and who knows what an incursion
is. He adds Galactus was present at the birth of the universe and is destined
to be present at the end, thus if he senses the universe is going to end
prematurely it is his job to stop it. He adds this will likely to happen to the
heroes’ Earth as well when their Galactus becomes aware of the problem. The
chapter ends with the heroes choosing to fight Terrax instead of leaving.

Chapter 5 – We’re back to Reed and Black Swan having another
Silence of the Lambs moment. She
agrees to help them because she wants to live. Reed and T’Challa release her
from her cell but she has to wear a bomb on her throat. Next we see Terrax is
in an adjoining cell. We flashback to one week ago where Black Bolt defeated
Terrax but the fight lasted long enough for Galactus to eat the world as the
heroes narrowly escaped back to their own reality. Black Swan gives her origin.
She was raised in some mystic temple with doors to other dimensions. Her Earth
was subject to an incursion and the invading earth sent an army to kill
everyone. She went through one of the doors where she found a sisterhood known
as the Black Swans, whom raised her. The Swan dimension has since been
destroyed as well. The Swans believe the birth of a being known as Rabum Alal
is the cause of the universal destruction. Reed asks how to stop the
incursions. Swan says to evacuate the planet and destroy their own Earth and
this will spare their universe. Swan notes she can sense the incursions earlier
than the Illuminati’s warning system and one is due to incur in minutes. This
time it is happening over Latveria.

Chapter 6 – The Illuminati teleport into Latveria with their
antimatter bomb. However this time the incursion sky is blue not red, which
according to Swan is “much worse.” It means a group known as the Mapmakers has
come. The Mapmakers have already destroyed all life on the incursion Earth but
keep a it intact so they can map new universes to conquer when an incursion
occurs. We see the mapmakers in tech-armor and they are fighting Doom and
Kristoff. The Illuminati go to the dead world where Swan says the mapmakers
will detonate the planet before the incursion destroys the two universes, however
if one fragment of that other Earth survives the Mapmakers can find their way
back to this reality so they can devour the new Earth of all it resources as
well. Panther detonates the incursion world with the anti-matter bomb. The
universe returns to normal. The heroes return to Wakanda. When Swan is alone in
her cell she telepathically contacts Terrax. Meanwhile Doom recovers a fragment
of the other Earth.
Critical Thoughts: I
have to admit, I’m surprised by how much I liked this. This certainly presents
a unique threat (at least for Marvel). Now generally I don’t care for
multiverse stories with alternate versions of existing characters but in this
one the details of the multiverses themselves are secondary to the incursion
threat. What I like best about this book is it doesn’t shy away from the fact
that in the Marvel Universe there are plenty of options for destroying a planet
and we discuss some of the most obvious right away: Infinity Gems, Ultimate
Nullifier, Galactus, etc.

The concept is certainly an intriguing take of necessary
evil for the greater good. Do you sacrifice the billions of strangers on
alternate Earth to save the life of not just your own world but the life of
everyone in two universes (which in the Marvel Universe with numerous alien
races some of which have empires that span galaxies is clearly trillions upon
trillions of lifeforms. Now of course in the old days the Fantastic Four alone
would solve a problem like this without even considering killing anyone, but in
modern Marvel generally Cap and Spidey still have that absolute moral sense.
Yes Reed, Beast and maybe Strange could be written to agree with Cap but given
the stakes it is not a stretch for them to have them at least explore all
options, which is where the line is so far in this trade.

Yes in the cons I could easily complain about the Infinity
Gems fracturing. I feel like that just shouldn’t happen, given what we’ve seen
of them in the past. But if it didn’t happen then this story would just be over
and done with; therefore I can see why Hickman made that choice: They are the
most obvious solution first, he had to address them and find a way to take them
off the table if this is the story he wants to tell. Of course with that consideration given, there’s no excuse for the heroes not assembling the Infinity Gems earlier and practicing with them. They come up with this plan with a couple days to spare and gather gems but don’t unite them until the moment of crisis? That does not seem like something that either an expert tactician (like Cap and Panther) or a scientist (like Reed and Tony) would do. What kind of tactician or scientist takes an untested weapon into the field?
Grade A-. Despite
my initial skepticism I liked this enough that I placed an order for the other
trades in this series from my library.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

Avengers: The Big
Three

by Steve Englehart,
Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Kurt Busiek, George Perez, Jack Kirby and
many others.

collects Captain
America 176, Avengers 150-151, 215-216 and 224, The Terminatrix Objective 1-4,
Avengers (vol3) 21 and Thor 81.

Why I Bought This: This
was in the discount bin of my favorite comic shop and as I love me some
Avengers and this premise could be interesting (see below), why not?
The Plot: Released
in conjunction with the first Avengers movie,
this is not so much a plot as a collection of stories over the years that focus
on the relationship of the Avengers “Big Three” of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man.

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – After the resolution of the Secret Empire
storyline in which the President of the United
States was revealed to be a traitor and killed himself in
front of Cap to prevent capture, Steve is disillusioned with America. He
considers giving up the Captain America identity and talks to Thor and Iron Man
about it first (and later to Falcon, Peggy Carter, Vision and Sharon Carter).
He ultimately decides to give up the name and mask.

Chapter 2 – It’s a changing of the guard issue as it seems
they have too many members at present. Thor quits the team. Iron Man agrees to
stay. Cap is asked if he wants to stay which leads to a long flashback of when
everyone quit but Cap and then Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch first
joined.

Chapter 3 – Cap decides to stay. Hawkeye and Two Gun Kid are
made reserve members. Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Wasp all decide to stay but
Hank Pym wants to quit and go back to being a scientist much to Jan’s
disappointment. Moondragon refuses membership on the grounds that she is a
“god.” Beast joins the team. Hellcat also accepts to join but then Moondragon
talks her out of it. Pym reconsiders to at least be a reserve member. This is
apparently the first time the reserve status is used by the team, as Thor
praises the idea and then he, Moondragon and Hellcat all accept reserve status
as well. The active members do the usual press conference but it is interrupted
by Wonder Man returning from the grave and accusing Vision of stealing his
mind.

Chapter 4 – Newest Avenger Tigra is enjoying her new found
fame. Meanwhile Silver Surfer bumps into Molecule Man in NJ and they share
origin stories. This inspires Molecule Man to want to eat the Earth ala
Galactus. He then defeats Surfer fairly easily by trapping him in the ground
though Surfer is able to send his board away for help. It finds the Avengers,
who are only four members at the time: the Big Three and Tigra. They free
Surfer and with much effort the heroes break through a force field Molecule Man
created around a castle he materialized. They send Tigra to sneak around but he
captures her easily. When the rest of the heroes arrive Molecule Man
disintegrates all their special weapons with a wave of his hand (i.e. Cap’s
shield, Thor’s hammer, Surfer’s board and Iron Man’s armor.) He then captures
the male heroes (Cap going down last) and seemingly kills them all in front of
Tigra by dropping a giant anvil on them.

Chapter 5 – Molecule Man tells Tigra she can live as his
pet. The FF arrive but cannot get through the force field. The male heroes turn
up alive as Surfer phased them through the floor at the last minute. Meanwhile
Thor has reverted to Don Blake without his hammer and thus he, Cap and the armor-less
Tony learn each other’s secret identities for the first time. Despite being
powerless Tony and Don insist on fighting alongside Cap and Surfer. Tigra
considers killing Molecule Man as he sleeps but is too scared to even try. As
she slinks away dejected, Cap finds her. Molecule Man attacks first by
disintegrating some spare tech Tony cobbled together and then nearly crushing
him in an avalanche. MM has the heroes on the defensive but ignores Blake and
as a result gets a broken nose from a punch, which causes him to flee. Blake
has to tend to Tony’s injuries so it is up to the three super powered heroes to
fight. Surfer tries the direct approach as he too can manipulate matter but
ultimately Molecule Man proves more powerful and wins. Cap however dodges
everything Molecule Man throws at him and KO’s him with one punch. Tony and Cap
debate whether to kill him or not (with Tony on the pro-side) but it becomes
moot when Molecule Man awakens and Tigra convinces him to see a therapist. As a
gesture of thanks he reconstitutes the heroes’ weapons for them. Surfer is
offered membership but declines, while Tigra decides these kinds of threats are
out her league and quits the team.

Chapter 6 – Hank is in prison and Wasp has filed for
divorce. Tony in a total cad move decides to date her as Tony when she still
doesn’t know his secret identity. Cap completely disapproves. Thor is more
understanding but he feels Tony owes Jan the truth about who he is. When he
tells her she doesn’t take it well and ends things with him on the spot.

Chapter 7 – Terminatrix, who has recently assumed Kang’s
empire while he is in a coma due to the terrible “Citizen Kang” crossover, encounters
a time traveling entity called Alioth who has an even larger time empire that
predates Kang’s. She returns to Chronopolis (Kang’s capital city outside the time
stream) to learn the Anachronauts that served Kang feel no loyalty to her and
are resigning. Then yet another female time traveler named Revelation summons
U.S. Agent, War Machine and Thunderstrike (all replacements for the Big Three
in their solo titles at one point) and sic them on Terminatrix. She escapes
into the old West and then pulls Cap, Thor and Iron Man to her through time.

Chapter 8 – Terminatrix gets the heroic trios to fight each
other. It ends in a stalemate (although you’d think the originals would route
the replacements) and then she sends a bunch of robots to attack all six
heroes. She time travels far into the future to escape but bumps into Marcus
(Immortus’s son with Ms. Marvel). The heroes defeat the robots and compare
notes. Marcus captures Terminatrix but she time jumps again only to end up in
Limbo captured by Immortus. Meanwhile the Avengers find their way to the Cross
Time Council of Kangs.

Chapter 9 – Three members of Kang’s council find the true
Kang’s comatose body, then reveal themselves to actually be members of the
Timekeepers. They note that in over half the timelines today is the day
Chronopolis falls. One of them wants to help Kang because Alioth is worse but
they have a non-interference vow and teleport away which is an awfully
convoluted way to insert foreshadowing into the story. Meanwhile the Avengers retreat
from the Cross Time Council. Meanwhile Immortus tells Terminatrix along with
several other women in stasis who are all apparently divergent versions of her
(including with absolutely no explanation Nebula and a female version of
Grandmaster) today is the day he dies of old age. Immortus has an older version
of Ravonna with him who wants to die at the same time he does and he is looking
for a volunteer to do it. Also this version of Marcus is his kid with Ravonna
(and doesn’t want to kill his mom, hence the nonsense with Terminatrix and her
counterparts). Then just to make this thing more complicated Immortus gives us
the origin of Tempus and it is yet another time loop: Old Immortus built him
now and is sending back in time to serve Silver Age Immortus, who up until
today never knew where Tempus came from. That done Immortus drops dead. Teminatrix
volunteers to kill Ravonna but uses their grief as a distraction and escapes
only to bump into Revelation. The heroes enter another wormhole and end up in
Timely, Wisconsin—an early 20th century town founded by Kang under
the persona Victor Timely that was part of the aforementioned Citizen Kang
crap. Meanwhile in a surprise to absolutely no one Revelation reveals she is a
future version of Terminatrix. She then produces a map of the time stream that
looks like an eighth grade rendition of Europe to explain how Alioth defeating
Kang would be bad for her/their own future empire in a bid to convince
Teriminatrix to revive Kang so he can defeat Alioth—plus she reveals that she
and Kang get together at some point anyway. Terminatrix agrees and is given a
potion of healing by Revelation. Meanwhile the Avengers defeat hi-tech keystone
kops and steal the car which is of course a time machine. Their time jump
stalls out in a mysterious black fog that reveals itself to be Alioth.

Chapter 10 – Terminatrix wakes up Kang. The Avengers get
saved from Alioth by Limbo Whales. Kang explains Alioth is a “primordial force”
that eats time travelers. He goes to find the Cross Time Council but Alioth has
(thankfully) killed them. Kang explains Alioth cannot be stopped by time travel
so Terminatrix & Revelation recruit the Avengers to stop it. Kang gives the
heroes environmental suits and a key and send them to battle Alioth. Thor’s hammer
does nothing but when he pulls the key out it transforms into Tempus. Kang then
sends the Avengers home and professes his love for Terminatrix. Revelation informs
Marcus this is when she and Kang became a couple but this time Terminatrix
stabs Kang and places him back in his coma pod. Then because this crap isn’t convoluted
enough she travels back to Timely, Wisconsin so she can date Kang as Victor
Timely instead. On the final page we see Tempus and Alioth engaged in a
stalemate for all time.

Chapter 11 – So now we jump to the middle of Busiek’s
classic “Ultron Unlimited” arc. UN Troops are trying to free the nation of
Slorenia from Ultron only to discover that he has killed the entire population
and outfitted the corpses with cybernetic implants to make necro-zombies. The
Avengers arrive to save the day consisting of our Big Three, Firestar and Black
Panther. Meanwhile Ultron has captured his “family”: Pym, Wasp, Wonder Man,
Vision, Scarlet Witch and Grim Reaper and plans to use their brainwaves to create
a new race of robot children. The Avengers find Ultron’s hideout and Ultron-16
confronts them. We then get an absolutely epic battle with the team doing
everything it can to penetrate Ultron’s adamantium shell–Panther throws
intangible energy daggers at him, Firestar uses microwave energy, Cap has his
energy shield and shoves it down Ultron’s jaw, Iron Man builds a electronic
disruptor—and none of it works. Ultimately Thor goes all out and manages to
blow Ultron up. The Avengers are exhausted and enter Ultron’s headquarters only
to find Ultron-17 waiting for them. They’re pretty dispirited by that and it
only gets worse when Ultron-23 shows himself; followed by Ultron 458 in the
cliffhanger.

Chapter 12 – We are in part 2 of 6 of a Thor story called Ragnarok (from “Avengers Disassembled”). Thor,
Cap and Iron Man are walking through a burned out Asgardian forest. Next they
came across a city of dead trolls. Cap finds an Asgardian child hiding in a
closet who says a Giant did this led by Loki. Sure enough said Giant shows up
along with Loki, Ullik the Troll and Fenris (a werewolf). A huge fight breaks
out with the heroes doing well against the monsters. Then Loki has Thor’s
hammer (since this is part 2 of a longer story there is no explanation of how
that’s possible) and turns it on Iron Man. Cap uses his shield to prevent the
killing blow. Thor stands alone and pummels both Loki and the Werewolf with his
bare hands until the villains retreat. The Avengers continue on to find Balder
the Brave’s funeral. Thor also learns his mother is dead. With that he sends
the Avengers forcibly home via teleportation to guard the Earth from Loki
should he fail. Thor then gives a rousing speech to the remaining Asgardians
though he believes this is Ragnarok and they are all destined to die.

 

Critical Thoughts
– While the concept is sound, the delivery is terrible. Most of these stories
are throwaways or lack context, while the story that takes up the most space is
atrociously awful. Let’s take them one at a time.

We start with Cap giving up his identity. While in its
entirety this is a legendary story and worth reading, for this book I don’t see
why it is included; especially as the opening story. Sure Cap talks to Tony and
Thor but he talks to other heroes too. Furthermore he doesn’t take their advice
so how does this demonstrate the bond between the three heroes?

Next we get the two-part changing of the guard issue. Again
the inclusion here is baffling. The basic scope of the story has no particular
connection for the big three. The Avengers tell this reshuffling of the roster
story repeatedly in their first 30 years or so of continuity so it is not a big
pivotal moment for the title let alone the big three. Furthermore, Thor doesn’t
even agree to stay on the team. Most bizarrely Marvel is so embarrassed by this
story that even 35 years after the fact they reprint the letters page of issue
151 wherein they publicly fire Steve Englehart for missing his deadline on the
previous issue thus forcing them to reprint large portions of issue 16 verbatim
as part of the 150th anniversary tale (a reprint incidentally that
focuses on Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch not Thor and Iron Man). Think
about that for a minute: I’ve never seen the letters pages of a Marvel comic
reprinted in a trade. Whether it is deluxe hard covers that sometimes have
extras like scripts, interviews with creators or rough pencils they tend not to
have letters pages; nor on the other end of the spectrum do the Essentials,
which collect two years of comics at a time in a bare bones black and white
format, include the letters page even though it would easily fit in with the
theme. But here Marvel feels the need to reprint a 35-year-old letters page
that apologizes for the preceding story—which begs the question: then why
include this story at all?

The two-part Molecule Man story is the first one that really
makes sense for inclusion. It’s a bare bones team that is primarily made of the
Big Three and it features a key moment in their dynamic as they learn each
other’s secret identities. We get to see two of them be heroes without their
powers. All in all it is a decent Avengers story. I wouldn’t consider it
great—Molecule Man’s motivations are all over the place for one thing, but I
generally liked it and it was something I hadn’t read before.

The story with Tony dating the Wasp is just sort of there.
While we do see the three heroes debate ethics a little, ultimately there’s no
action/threat and the ethical quandary does not seem as dire as the writer
makes it out to be.

Then we get to the Terminatrix thing. Now I can understand
why they included this. The only Avengers in it are the Big Three and their
replacements, whom they get to fight. For the theme of this trade including it
makes sense, especially since it has not been reprinted before in trade and was
unlikely to ever be a stand-alone trade. Of course there is a reason for
that—namely it is a terrible frickin’ story. Kang was involved in an escalating
series of nonsensical dreck from the late 80s and through the entire 90s. There
were four or five different Kang stories in that era that were all terrible in
every conceivable way. In many ways Kang was to the Avengers what the Clone
Saga was to Spider-man in that
timeframe (though at least Kang’s bad stories weren’t 45 consecutive issues
long): in that the Kang stories featured too many players, many of whom were
the same person, doing things that made no sense in badly-written,
overly-talky, poorly-paced stories bereft of any possible consequences since there
were half-a-dozen versions of the same character often dying or resurrecting in
any given issue. That Busiek miraculously untangled the mess of Kang’s
continuity in the 2000s with Avengers
Forever
is a minor miracle (note to do this he killed Terminatrix off-panel
in the first issue where she has thankfully never been referenced again). This
story in this trade represents the nadir of that era of bad Kang stories. It is
unrepentantly awful from beginning to end.

From the lowest low to the highest heights we next look at
the Ultron story, which may be the greatest single fight scene in Avengers
history. It is easily the best story in this trade and it fits the theme well.
Yet as great as this chapter is, I feel the need to point out you can find this
issue reprinted in two other trades, both of which include the entire Busiek
Ultron masterpiece (while mercifully omitting the Terminatrix story.)

Finally the Thor chapter has really nice art and camaraderie
among the three heroes. It fits the theme well, yet at the same time it is a
fraction of a larger story. I haven’t read that story but I feel one would be
better served just buying that trade than this one.

I’ll end saying given some of the questionable choices in
this volume. I’d argue at least three or four could have been replaced at no
loss to the theme, it would have been nice to include Thor 390 where Steve
proves worthy to lift the Hammer for the first time and which had never been
reprinted in trade at the time this was released. There’s also a story from the
Shooter era wherein Moondragon hypnotizes Thor and sends him to fight his
teammates of whom the only members are Cap, Tony and Wasp (along with guest
star Drax) that probably would be a better fit than several that were included.
Throw in one of the many Cap-Iron Man moral disagreements and this would have
been a much stronger collection.

 

Grade F – If this
was a numeric grade it would be a 25
rather than 0 only because the
Molecule Man story is a rare find and the Ultron story is a classic even if it
can be found elsewhere. Otherwise we have a bunch of odd choices, incomplete
stories and a catastrophically bad miniseries. There is no way in a million
years this is worth the $30 cover price. It wasn’t even worth the discounted
price I paid for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Secret Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Secret Avengers (2):
Eyes of the Dragon

Written by Ed
Brubaker, Illustrated by Mike Deodato & Will Conrad

Collects Secret
Avengers #6-12

 

Why I Bought This: It
was $6 at BAM. Given the quality of Bru’s Cap run, I was interested to see what
he would do with an Avengers title, particularly one with Cap in the lead and
an espionage-based concept.

 

The Plot: Shang
Chi’s father (Fu Manchu) has returned from the dead and it is up to the
Avengers to stop him.
 

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Shang Chi is sleeping when he is awoken by a
ninja attack. He recognizes them as his father’s ninjas, even though his father
is supposed to be dead. Shang Chi has the fight well in hand, when another
Asian hero “Prince of Orphans,” who can transform into green mist arrives to
help. We learn the Prince was sent in by Cap to retrieve Shang Chi. We
flashback to two days ago when the Prince found a temple of slaughtered monks
and a missing magic scroll that can raise the dead. Back in the present Cap and
Shang Chi come up with a plan of attack to stop Fu Manchu from being
resurrected. This leads to Cap, Widow and Shang Chi breaking into a museum to
preemptively steal some other magic artifact only to be attacked by more
ninjas. Cut to the Shadow Council, where we see Fu Manchu is indeed walking
about though he is only ‘half-alive” and we get a close up of his undead face.

Chapter 2  – ThenNinjas
overrun the heroes and manage to teleport away with Shang Chi. Cap is
surprisingly okay with this as we learn Ant Man (v3.0) is hidden in Shang Chi’s
robe and Ant Man’s helmet is linked to the Hellicarrier. The plan was to track
the ninjas but when they want to behead Shang the heroes are forced to escape.
Meanwhile Valkyrie and Orphan Prince are in China looking for more magic items
and they too get ambushed by a few ninjas. The heroes easily win and bring back
a prisoner for Cap and Widow to interrogate. Meanwhile the Shadow Council is
unhappy so they decide to unleash John Steele on Cap, whom the narration tells
us was America’s
first super soldier.

Chapter 3 – We get a little back-story on Steele and Cap in
WWII as Steele plans a distraction so he can kidnap Shang Chi. Meanwhile Beast
researches and discovers Shang Chi’s father is centuries old and his original
name is Zheng Zu (because Marvel lost the license to Fu Manchu decades ago).
Also the secret to his immortality is to drain the life of family members. Sharon alerts Steve that Zheng Zu is committing a major
terrorist attack in broad daylight in Hong Kong.
The heroes respond and once engaged Shang is suspicious if this is really the
work of his father. Cut to the Hellicarrier where Steel and Max Fury (a rogue
Nick Fury LMD) break in to attack Sharon.
Zheng Zhu blows up Steve’s plane so the heroes cannot go back to aid her. Shang
Chi fights his way to dad only to discover he is a hologram. Beast and Sharon lose their fight.
War Machine and Steve fly in to make the save but its too late Steele has
escaped with Sharon.
He’s left Steve a video offering a hostage exchange of Sharon for Shang Chi.

 Chapter 4 – We get
Cap’s take on Steele’s origin: he dates back to the Civil War and while he
doesn’t have Steve’s fighting skill he does have super strength and
invulnerability similar to Luke Cage. He’s been MIA since 1943. Meanwhile Max
Fury tries to recruit Sharon
to the Shadow Council. Meanwhile Shang tells Steve he is willing to make the
exchange. Cap & Shang meet with Steele on a rooftop. He turns over Sharon and shoots Shang
in the head. That leads to Cap and Steele going one on one and surprisingly
Steele wins, at which point the rest of the team shows up to make the save.
Steele manages to escape while the heroes are occupied with generic thugs. Back
at villain HQ Shang and his father have a moment with Fu Manchu promising to
sacrifice his boy at nightfall. In the cliffhanger we see Moon Knight managed
to sneak into the villains’ hideout disguised as one of the thugs.

Chapter 5 – The heroes crash the sacrificial ceremony. This
time Cap leaves Steele to Valkyrie while he takes on Max. Orphans materializes
and disrupts Fu Manchu’s spell causing him to self combust. Max escapes. Steele
manages to fight Valkyrie to a stalemate but when War Machine lends a hand the
heroes overwhelm him. In the epilogue the door is left open for Shang Chi to join
the team, while Cap visits Steele in prison to ask why he switched sides.

Chapter 6 – Cap uses VR to access Steele’s memories. This
leads to the usual Marvel WWII flashback tale of Nazis in castles. This time
they were trying to summon monsters. Steele becomes aware of Rogers in his brain and breaks free of his
chains in real life.

Chapter 7 – Cap and Orphan Prince subdue Steele with ease.
We return to the VR simulation and see how the Shadow Council captured Steele
and then with an occult ritual summoned the Abyss, who took possession of his
body. At the conclusion of the flashback Steele is himself again and agrees to
join the team.

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is a fairly mundane comic. It’s not bad per se, but it is rather run of
the mill in both action and characterization. There are not any major plot
twists. The threat never seems all that serious. Even the few new characters we
are given are not interesting at all. Furthermore on the latter point Prince of
Orphans is a terrible name for a superhero, while Steele is a yet another
heretofore unknown Super Soldier for Cap to deal with. I’ve complained about
this once before but the point still stands: Cap has way too many foes that are
variations of his powers and origin; one of these is fine, nearly a dozen is
ridiculous especially since no one stays dead in the Marvel Universe so you can
just use the existing ones if this point if you need to tell this story yet
again.

Also on the continuity police front,  why is Fu Manchu dead?
I’m assuming he died when Shang Chi’s 70s book ended (which I never read). But
he was alive and running his empire in the excellent 2000 era team book Marvel Knights. And since Marvel doesn’t
really own the name to the character and Shang Chi doesn’t appear very often I
find it doubtful that he died since that series’ premature cancellation. (Also
an interesting footnote is that series also had a rogue Nick Fury LMD as one of
its recurring villains, so that makes it twice as unforgiveable for an editor
not to catch this point since one could argue Max Fury first appeared in that
series too).

The only positive thing I have to say about this book is the
art in the two fight scenes with Steele is very dynamic.

 

Grade C-. Again
not a terrible comic but there is no reason to go out of your way to read this
either.


Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Avengers: Heroes
Reborn

By Rob Liefeld, Jim
Valentino, Jeph Loeb and Walt Simonson; art by Rob Liefeld, Joe Phillips, Joe
Bennet and Al Rio.

Collects Avengers (vol
2) #1-12

 

Why I Bought This: I
love me some Liefeld art and I love me some Avengers. So even though Heroes
Reborn is notoriously bad I grabbed it off Amazon after I had previously found
issue one in a $1 bin and thought this is a promising start and the art is
terrific so maybe it’s better than its reputation. Alas Liefeld only draws two
chapters and as for the writing, read on.
The Plot – The
Avengers died fighting Onslaught only to be reborn in a pocket universe where
basically their origin starts from scratch thus allowing us to see what the
Marvel Universe would be like if it had been created by Image in the 90s
instead.
 
(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Loki arrives in the Reborn Universe and notices
there is no Asgard here. Meanwhile Donald Blake is an archeologist and he finds
Thor frozen in a block of ice. Loki’s astral form peaks in on the Avengers
although he does not recognize any of them and through him we meet Scarlet
Witch, Swordsman, Hawkeye, Hellcat (looking a lot like Tigra), Vision and Cap.
Also years before the ultimate universe and movies we have Nick Fury and SHIELD
in charge of assembling the Avengers. The team is sent to Blake’s location and
frees Thor from the ice. Loki then appears and tells his brother the Avengers
are responsible for his fate and we get a fight scene. But when Cap saves Thor
from Loki’s backstab and Thor picks up his hammer he sees the truth (and almost
remembers Onslaught but takes it to have been Ragnarok instead). Thor decides
to join the Avengers. Loki retreats and recruits Enchantress who reveals
Scarlet Witch is her daughter.

Chapter 2 – Thor impresses everyone with his strength. We
meet the Pyms for the first time. Kang attacks the team and no one can
penetrate his force field. Kang’s spaceship blasts everyone. Kang then takes
the captured Avengers to Mantis as a gift of love.

Chapter 3 – Kang takes down Fury. Thor summons his hammer to
him and frees the team. Loki meets with Agatha Harkness. Kang’s force field
keeps the human Avengers at bay but they distract him long enough for Wanda to
shut down his force field and one hammer blow later ends the fight. Swordsman
wants to kill Kang but Mantis talks him out of it and this gives Kang and her
time to teleport away. Vision’s body then falls from Kang’s ship and Wanda
fears he may be dead.

Chapter 4 – Hulk is doing his usual Hulk smash thing (only
naked in this universe). Meanwhile Pym and Ultron attempt to repair the Vision
at Pym’s lab. Wanda returns home and we learn Enchantress is now masquerading
as Agatha. Thor is out drinking when Hulk attacks Avengers mansion leaving only
the three humans and Hellcat there to fight him. Hulk wins with only Cap giving
him even a mild fight.

Chapter 5 – Thor arrives and we get some epic Liefeld splash
pages as he and Hulk throw down. Meanwhile Avengers Island apparently has a
gamma reactor on site which is what attracted the Hulk and now due to
collateral damage is about to go nuclear and destroy Manhattan. Hulk wins the
fight with Thor.

Chapter 6 – So apparently this Hulk story crossed over with the
FF HR book and that issue is not reprinted here. So we open with Reed and
Banner working to shut down the reactor while SHIELD evacuates the unconscious
Avengers. Loki’s astral form contacts Nick Fury but says nothing of note. Iron
Man arrives to help with the reactor. Hellcat wakes up and sniffs Bruce realizing
he is the Hulk and tries to attack him. Cap stops her but its too late Bruce
changes into the Hulk.

Chapter 7 – So the Hulk fight was resolved in the pages of
Iron Man (not reprinted here). Iron Man has now joined the Avengers and the
Avengers have split from SHIELD, although Fury is keeping Vision’s shutdown
body claiming it is SHIELD property. Pym meanwhile is still inside the Vision
as Ant Man trying to repair him (and also wearing the ugliest costume ever) and
is running afoul of Vision’s antibodies. Tony also creates Avengers Mansion
and invites Thor inside (but there is no Jarvis in this reality). Hawkeye has a
flashback of working with a cyborg version of Grim Reaper alongside Hellcat in
the first Avengers mission to track down Zemo where apparently Reaper did not
make it out alive. Cap is sitting vigil at Swordsman’s bedside as Hulk put him
in a coma. There is a knock on the door. Thor answers and there is Wonderman
barely able to stand saying he needs help; but it’s a trick as Wonderman attacks
Thor when his guard is down. He is soon joined by the Lethal Legion which
includes Enchantress, Executioner, Ultron and Scarlet Witch.

Chapter 8 – Loki confronts Kang and Mantis and absorbs their
essence as he has discovered the nature of this reality (ergo many of these
people don’t really exist and are just figments of Franklin Richards’
imagination). Meanwhile the battle rages on and Ultron is destroyed (apparently
not adamantium here) by the mansion security system making it probably the
first time that has ever stopped anyone. As the Avengers rally Enchantress and
Wanda teleport away, abandoning their teammates who lose a panel or two later.
The Avengers turn the villains over to SHIELD. Meanwhile Loki sneaks aboard the
SHIELD prison and absorbs various villains from Captain America’s solo
title. Meanwhile inside the Vision, Ant Man finds his brain and hooks up to it
and presumably sees images of the real Marvel Universe which causes him to pass
out. Meanwhile the Avengers are attacked by the Masters of Evil (in the form
C-list Silver Age villains) and a missile explodes. In the prison Loki finds
Executioner and absorbs him. Loki reveals he knows that he himself is not real
but he has a plan to become real.

Chapter 9 – The Masters have the Avengers on the defensive
for all of two pages and then literally three of them trip over each other
breaking legs and hitting heads in the process. Iron Man and Thor punch the
last two and when the fight ends the villains can’t even explain their motives
for attacking. Thor wants to execute the prisoners but Cap puts a stop to that
and then Thor, Hawkeye and Hellcat all quit the team. Loki meets up with
Enchantress & Scarlet Witch for a new plan. Jan (Wasp) asks the team if
anyone has seen Hank who has been missing for days and for no particular reason
Iron Man deduces where he is and takes her to the Hellicarier. Loki teleports
in and absorbs the Masters. Ant Man wakes up and discovers Vision’s memories
are being transmitted back to Avengers
Island and decides to
return to the real world. He emerges just in time to meet up with Tony, Jan and
Fury—who claims he knew Pym was inside Vision all along. Vision then self
destructs for some reason and the Avengers leave while Fury rants like Jonah in
a 60s cartoon. Thor is depressed that he does not get to do Viking activities
like “reaving, pillaging and executing” in the 20th century so
Enchantress teleports in to recruit him to Team Loki by making out with him.
Cap discovers Swordsman is not in his hospital bed (presumably Loki absorbed
him since this subplot is never explained or picked up on again in the series).
Loki rants about Vision blowing up since he was the one using his memories.
Wanda returns to the mansion and is attacked by Hellcat. Wanda claims she was
an undercover agent for the Avengers, at which point Loki ports in behind her
and zaps her. He then offers to put Hellcat’s mind in Wanda’s body so she can
seduce Cap if she will join Team Loki. Cap & Tony are at the gamma reactor
and see some more old (mainstream M.U.) Avengers’ foes materializing but a
single repulsor ray stops that. This causes the energy in the reactor to coalesce
and form Thor.

Chapter 10 – So apparently this is the true Marvel Universe
Thor who assumes he has been reunited with his teammates in Valhalla
after dying in battle with Onslaught. Also Jan is now the Wasp for literally no
explained reason at all—in this entire series she’s not had powers or been on
the team or involved in anyway except as Hank’s wife and yet now she is in
costume and flying with wings. Anyway Cap and Tony have no idea what Thor is
talking about and when they tell him about the reactor Thor is like ‘in what
mad reality would a nuclear reactor be kept in Manhattan?’ and Cap is like ‘good point.’
Loki and Witch-Cat recruit Hawkeye to Team Loki. Reed of the FF comes to
investigate and discovers the reactor is actually a dimensional doorway. Fury
locates Kang’s ship and finds security footage of Loki killing Kang and Mantis.
He shows the footage to the Avengers and MU Thor leaves to investigate. S-Witch
returns and Cap indeed confirms she was an undercover agent known only to him
but then she starts making out with him so that Hawkeye can get a free shot in
with an Asgardian bow. Witch-Cat then fake reveals she liked being bad when she
was undercover so she’s turning heel permanently. HR Thor joins the battle and
starts beating down Iron Man while Enchantress takes out Pym with a sleep spell
kiss. Hawkeye defeats Wasp. HR Thor is about to kill Tony when MU Thor returns to
make the save. Tony zaps Clint as the Thors fight. Loki uses the confusion to
drain the cosmic energy in the reactor.

Chapter 11 – Loki is now giant-sized and he immediately
betrays Enchantress & HR Thor. Heroes and villains regroup together at
which point Agatha’s cat shows Witch her reflection which shows her to be
Hellcat. The mirror then draws in Hellcat’s soul and explodes. Enchantress then
turns the cat back into Agatha. Loki has put a force field around the reactor
that even both Thor hammers combined cannot break. A giant Odin confronts Loki
and they fight with Odin using a Thor hammer. A cut scene reveals Odin is
actually a mystic construct created by the combined magic of Witch, Enchantress
& Agatha. Meanwhile Stark and Pym create a science gizmo powered by MU
Thor’s hammer to break Loki’s force field while he’s distracted. Loki fatally
wounds Odin whose image dissolves into that of HR Thor. Loki takes down the sorceresses
with a mystic bolt and confronts the remaining Avengers. Wasp zaps him in the
ear and then the SHIELD Hellicarrier arrives to blast him with cannons. Loki’s
power is fading and he shrinks to normal size. Cap goes toe to toe with him for
a bit and Thor throws his hammer for the victory shot as Loki dissolves into
purple bubbles. HR Thor dies in MU Thor’s arms. Cap visits Clint in the
hospital where Clint apologizes for going bad but decides to keep the costume
Loki made for him (basically his regular purple costume as opposed to the brown
Wolverine knock off he wore the first 10 issues) as a reminder of how he messed
up.

Chapter 12 – The finale of this universe was a 4-part
“Coming of Galactus” remix. This is part 2. Part 1 was in FF in which Galactus
ate the world but Doom time traveled at the last minute. This chapter opens with
a Viking funeral for HR Thor. Doom arrives and warns everyone that Galactus
will destroy the world tommorow but the Avengers and Fury don’t believe him.
After Doom leaves SHIELD apparently has a satellite near Saturn and detects the
Heralds (Galactus has five in this reality) coming so Fury mobilizes the
Avengers, FF and Hulk. Pym kisses Jan goodbye since she is on one of the four
teams while he’s staying behind to do science. He then resurrects Vision, while
Witch casually mentions Enchantress is not her mom after-all. The FF battle
Silver Surfer. They do okay considering how outgunned they are but Doom is
taking no chances and takes control of Russia’s Nukes and launches them at
the battle site. This succeeds in killing the FF but Surfer is unharmed. Surfer
is touched by the love and nobility the FF showed in death. Another watery Herald
faces SHIELD. She wins rather easily but the Hellicarrier kamikazes the
Galactus planet eating machine on the way down—again impressing the Surfer. In Antarctica
Hulk gets his butt handed to him by Firelord. Vision and Scarlet Witch lend a
helping hand with Vision getting his staff from him. This gives Hulk time to
land a KO punch before he collapses. Vision uses Firelord staff to destroy the
Galactus engine. Banner dies in the snow and Surfer watches. Our final fight is
Avengers vs. Terrax. Terrax kills Hawkeye with ease. Cap gets some hits in.
Tony and Wasp follow up and Wasp dies too. Thor throws his hammer and takes out
both Terrax and the machine, though he is wounded in the explosion—and yes
Surfer watches this too. Then for no reason I can tell the rest of Doom’s nukes
malfunction and blow up. Galactus arrives with Air Walker. The Avengers Big
Three go to confront him but are casually blown away by Air Walker and Galactus
reveals he has a back up machine and with that he starts to eat the planet. The
heroes realize they can’t win but to save other worlds they decide to detonate
the interdimensional reactor to take Galactus with them. Surfer agrees to help
and the entire Heroes Reborn universe ends in an explosion. In the blackness we
learn Doom has time traveled again over to Iron Man #12.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The Heroes Reborn arc is a notoriously bad era for the Avengers and for the
most part this trade lives down to that reputation. Look at how many writers
and artists thing has for a one year stint. No wonder it never gels into a
solid story. The one thing I will say in its defense is Liefeld’s original
vision for this title is actually better than the jumbled throwing everything
at the sink with a side of meta commentary abomination that Simonson turns it
into when he takes over from chapter 8 on. Don’t misunderstand: I am not
arguing that Liefeld is a better writer than Simonson. What I am saying is that
Liefeld at least presented a coherent vision of a superhero team book even if
that vision was a mostly bland retread. Simonson on the other hand is bending
himself into pretzels to undo Liefeld’s story while also finishing it up and
preparing for a larger crossover to get the characters back home. Look at the
chapter recaps: Liefeld’s chapters are more or less short and to the point,
Simonson’s are big unwieldy things because he has so many random tangents in
them.

Let’s examine the Liefeld chapters first. Chapter one really
is a good setup chapter. It pays homage to the classic history by having Loki
be the first villain and having them find a hero in ice. The change of that
frozen hero being Thor rather than Cap is understandable seeing as Cap had a
solo book in this line and Thor did not. It looked fantastic and overall is a
very good first issue for a rebooted universe.

I think the subplots in that first issue all work well. We
start with Loki immediately being aware that the universe isn’t real, and that
is a good way to get the reader invested in what was a controversial reboot at
the time.  I’m pretty sure Loki’s last
prior appearance to this involved being in the Ultraverse with the Infinity
Gauntlet so it is entirely possible the real Loki could have ended up here
after that inter-dimensional mess ended, making it a nice long-term subplot to
keep the reader guessing. I think the interpretation of Thor as being out of
touch with the modern era and still thinking like a Viking is a fun take on the
character for this universe. I also like the plot twist of Scarlet Witch being
Enchantress’ daughter. This is a universe with no mutants so you need to
explain her powers and you don’t have Magneto. This concept is an alternative
that is inline with spirit of her original origins: she is still the daughter
of a master criminal who is sometimes capable of nobility for the greater good
and it later gets her on the Masters of Evil which in the original Silver Age
was very similar to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It was a very promising
start.

However it quickly becomes obvious that Liefeld doesn’t have
much new to say about these characters after that first issue. Now in his
defense I feel the same way about the Ultimate Universe too. If you are going
to reboot these classic characters in a new timeline are you saying anything
new to make the reboot worthwhile or are we just retelling the same stories
with better science jargon and updated technology in the peripherals of the
story? Because if it is the latter, why bother?

With that in mind let’s look at the team. In this book Cap is
fine. While his own Heroes Reborn book was god-awful, here he mostly just
serves the capable leader role that he usually fills on the team. I already
spoke that Thor and Scarlet Witch had some changes that were mostly positive
for trying something new. The other characters though are characters only in
the loosest of terms; all that is different is ugly redesigns of their costumes.
Vision has the same look and powers he usually does but all he does is speak in
weird run-on sentences and then gets blown up in chapter 3. Hawkeye has an ugly
costume with a mask that completely covers his face. It is alleged there is
some mystery there but it is never developed. In Liefeld’s last chapter he gave
a flashback that Hawkeye is responsible for the Grim Reaper being a cyborg but Simonson
doesn’t follow up on it. Mostly Hawkeye just bitches about Cap’s leadership
like it is the Silver Age Cap’s Kooky Quartet era which is a waste of the
character’s legacy given what he’s done since then. This brings us to
Swordsman: a character no one has ever cared about in the main reality, and who
is even less interesting here. He fills Quicksilver’s role of also bitching
alongside Hawkeye in the Silver Age quartet, while power-wise he is just a dude
with a sword—not even a trick techno sword like the Silver Age version or a
magic sword like Black Knight, nope just a dude with a sword who tries to fight
the Hulk. Hellcat is also just an uglier version of Tigra with the occasional
feral rage—a trope Liefeld seems to love.

Later heroes include: Ant Man, whose costume is the ugliest
thing in this book. He is never really member of the team. He contributes
science stuff before Tony joins and we get a redux of his journey inside the
Vision from the Kree-Skrull War that is not half as good as the original. Wasp
isn’t even a superhero in Liefeld’s version until Simonson has her full on
manifest her classic powers with no explanation. Tony had his own book in this
universe making him a late-comer to the team. His new armor looks good and he
does exactly what you expect him to do in an Avengers’ book: no more, no less.

As for the villains, other than the Asgardians, they are
completely interchangeable. Kang’s appearance is a shallow call-back to his
first appearance under Stan Lee. He just shows up and challenges the Avengers
to a fight so he can impress a girl; that is the extent of his grand plan. It’s
a not a bad fight by any means. It takes two issues, Kang gets an early victory—perfectly
serviceable in a surface way but there is nothing under that surface. Also no
one wants to see Kang date Mantis because it reminds us of The Crossing, which
is the worst Avengers’ story of all time. Ultron evolving every issue is kind
of cute (ergo he’s Ultron-1 in issue 1, Ultron-2 in issue 2, etc) but he joins
the Lethal Legion off-panel which dilutes the payoff. Worse his fight scene
occurs under Simonson, who has the frickin’ mansion security system blow him
up–a staggering anti-climax for the Avengers’ greatest foe. The Hulk chapters
are again typical Silver Age Hulk-smash vs. the Avengers but that kind of thing
is always fun and the Liefeld-drawn Hulk-Thor throw down is a tremendous use of
art and action: I think it ends up being the best thing in the book.

Then we come to Simonson and nothing makes sense anymore.
The villains became even less developed and defeated easily on purpose so he
can show they aren’t real. Suddenly there are two Thors for no particular
reason other than I guess Simonson is most famous for writing Thor and he must
have hated Liefeld’s take on the character so he wanted to bring in the “real”
Thor and show how he should be done, which seems petty since you’ve already
replaced the guy on the title. In fact his writing here is full of petty
touches. When Hellcat goes bad and is revealed, Cap is like we never noticed
she was missing well no wonder then (shrug). Yes Hellcat in this story is a
completely forgettable character but it feels like you’re taking cheap shots
for no reason. Ditto when he has Witch reveal the Enchantress mom-thing was a
lie, A) how would Hank Pym even know to ask that question, B) Enchantress did
not say that to Wanda to get her to join her, she said it to Loki why we she
lie about that to him? and C) the characters are going to their home universe
to be restored so who cares who her mom is in this one? It is just another petty
way to insert how much you think your predecessor’s ideas on this title sucked.
(See also MU Thor’s first sentence being ‘Building a nuclear reactor in Manhattan is the height
of folly’ when he arrives).
Grade: Liefelds’
title may have generously been a C. It was not very good as yes there were too
many characters that no one cared about or were poorly developed among the heroes,
while the villains had very basic motivations; however there were also some
decent mysteries being developed for the characters Liefeld was concentrating
his efforts on and the fight scenes ranged from perfectly serviceable to
excellent. Simmons’s run is a bunch of jump the rails nonsense, invalidating
what came before without building to anything new and is easily an F. Overall I
give the entire trade a D+ primarily
for the two chapters of excellent Liefeld art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Avengers/Thunderbolts
vol. 2: Best Intentions

By Kurt Busiek, Fabian
Nicieza and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Tom Grummett.

Collects
Avengers/Thunderbolts #1-6

 
Why I Bought This: Having
finished Busiek’s legendary Avengers
run I discovered this existed and it was like having a bonus Christmas since it
meant more Busiek Avengers. (And I
enjoy the Thunderbolts too on
occasion).

 
The Plot – The
Thunderbolts begin taking a proactive stance on international crime under Zemo’s
leadership and announce they have a plan to save the world. However based on
his past with Zemo, Captain America
does not trust them.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Zemo & Moonstone force some fictional nation
to capitulate to their demands to shut down their reactor program and then take
their results very public. Hawkeye used to lead the Thunderbolts and feels
proud of them but Cap has the opposite reaction given their tactics and Zemo’s
leadership. We see some of the heroic rank and file Thunderbolts like Songbird,
Atlas and Vantage also have doubts about Zemo but Songbird agues it is better
to have him where they can keep an eye on him then letting him go about
unsupervised. Their conversation is overheard by Plant Man. Also
Moonstone has undergone a power upgrade lately which is making her act weird
and distant. She is however working with Zemo, Fixer and Plant Man on a
mysterious plan entitled Project Liberator. The air force of the fake country
attacks T-Bolt HQ but Moonstone dispatches them in a single panel and then in
retaliation Zemo leaks various personal scandals about that nation’s leaders to
the press. Meanwhile Cap visits the former Thunderbolt Beetle/Mach One in
prison to see if he knows what Zemo is up to. Jenkins does and tells Cap, the
Avengers are going to have to stop the Thunderbolts.

Chapter 2 – The Avengers are losing a fight with Cobalt Man
(primarily because if they hurt him he may go nuclear) when the Thunderbolts
arrive to save the day as Fixer drains the excess radiation off of him. They
then teleport away taking Cobalt Man with them. Hawkeye is suspicious that Iron
Man couldn’t invent the same device Fixer did, and his suspicions prove true when
he learns the Iron Man armor in the battle was run on remote control and Tony is
in the Cobalt Man armor and now working with the Thunderbolts undercover.

Chapter 3 – The Thunderbolts raid the Wizard’s home but not
to arrest him just to get some parts for the machine in their big plan. Hawkeye
is conflicted but decides to keep quiet on Stark infiltrating the T-Bolts.
Meanwhile the T-Bolts take over some old satellites. Moonstone is suspicious of
Cobalt Man and talks to the real Cobalt Man’s family to see if he contacted
them since coming back from the dead. Vision based on info Stark if feeding him
realizes the T-Bolts plan to drain all superhuman energy off Earth and Vision
finds a hidden protocol in the T-Bolts computer code that will store and
channel the power, which even Hawkeye concedes feels like Zemo is up to his old
tricks. The T-Bolts are ready to activate their machine when Tony intervenes,
but not to stop them permanently but because they are using stolen Stark
software and Tony realizes the outdated version will fry the satellites when
used in conjunction with the other tech. This confuses Moonstone who was sure
he was an imposter and yet now he just salvaged the plan. The Avengers are enroot
as Zemo fires up the device and it has bad effects on the Pyms, Vision and
Wanda.

Chapter 4 – Reed (of the FF) tells us the T-Bolts are
draining all nuclear, microwave, gamma and tachyon energy sources as well
including the nuclear armaments of all nations. We learn the Thunderbolts
themselves are inoculated from this power drain and their device is safely
storing the drained power. The Avengers quinjet from last issue is falling from
the sky but Songbird and Atlas catch them. Zemo is about hack into television
and address the world when Cap barges in and tells him he is under arrest.
Songbird uses a sound wall to stop Cap and Zemo from fighting. Cap tells Zemo
he can’t impose peace on the world and indeed we see various governments
mobilizing their militaries. Zemo decides to turn the stored energy over to the
Avengers to prove his motives are sincere but there is no energy in the machine
to the bafflement of both sides leading to the obligatory fight scene. Fixer
and Stark (as Cobalt Man) investigate the machine in the midst of the battle
and discover a hidden Kree code in the programming that redirects the stolen
energy thus it is not Zemo but Moonstone with the hidden agenda. Once revealed
she has a seizure but then rises up more powerful than ever. She says she only
put that code there in case Zemo tried to double cross the world but when Cap’s
shield hit the machine during the melee it caused it to activate on its own.
Now however the power being fed into her is making her go all paranoid and when
she unmasks Stark that pushes her further over the edge especially since she
assumes Hawkeye—who besides being a former team leader of the T-Bolts was
Moonstone’s ex-lover—went along with the plan to spy on the T-Bolts. And then
she uses the stolen energy to unleash a massive explosion.

Chapter 5 – The short recap is everyone fights Moonstone for
the entire issue, but if you want the play by play read on. When the smoke
clears we see only the Avengers are down. Vantage and Hawkeye try to talk her
down, while Zemo’s talk may or may not be helping. Moonstone decides she will
teleport everyone into another dimension but Plant Man stops her by literally
rooting the room to the spot. Moonstone pummels him severely for that which
forces Songbird to try and take her on. Songbird is about to win when Zemo
tackles her. Moonstone is pissed so the Avengers regroup and attack her to no
avail. Vantage joins in the assault and Moonstone breaks most of her bones in
response. This causes Atlas to grow to maximum size and he too seems like he is
about to win this fight until Hawkeye interferes with a Pym Particle arrow to
forcibly shrink him. Tony switches to his Iron Man armor as Karla decides she
wants to kill Zemo. Cap makes the save and then when Moonstone tries to kill
Cap, Zemo reciprocates although since he does not have a shield he ends up
burned and disfigured for his trouble. And then former Thunderbolt Jolt arrives
(a teen hero in the team’s early days, and the only member who was never a
villain) who Moonstone feels motherly towards. This gives Moonstone pause but
as Jolt assesses the situation she power up some gizmo Tony and Fixer built and
this rips the stolen energy out of Moonstone. Of course she still has her own
double power level. The gizmo can drain that from her too but they way her powers
work may end up lobotomizing her. Hawkeye weighs the consequences and fires an
arrow as we hit the cliffhanger.

Chapter 6 – Hawkeye’s arrow destroys the gizmo and he asks
everyone to let him talk to Karla without interference. Vision attacks anyway
and Hawkeye takes him down revealing he has an arrow for every member of both
teams. Wanda tries her powers and they interact weirdly with Moonstone causing
a dimensional rift that threatens to destroy the world. Fixer has a device that
could disrupt her intangibility power and with everything getting worse this
time Hawkeye uses it on her causing her to phase but not her stones and Vision
phases and grabs them out of her. The stress takes down Vision and Zemo capitalizes
to steal the stones. He curses Cap and Hawkeye for how this turned out and
teleports away. Hawkeye checks on Karla and she is lobotomized. In the epilogue
the Thunderbolts disband and we see where they end up (Songbird even refuses
Avengers membership). Then Jenkins gets released from prison and decides he is
going to start a new Thunderbolts team. And in the end we see Zemo plotting
with his new power.
Critical Thoughts: It’s
nowhere near the level of Busiek’s Avengers
run but it is still a perfectly enjoyable comic book on its own merits. As
always Busiek’s characterizations for both these teams is strong and if you
like fight scenes the last chapters are basically one extended fight (and for
once Wanda doesn’t just waive her hands and solve everything either).

Hawkeye is the real star of this book as he has to choose
between his loyalty to both teams and Busiek rights his motivations leading up
the climax really well. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Avengers and this is a
strong outing for him. The Hawkeye has an arrow specially designed to take out
each teammate feels a bit too much like Batman but I can’t say completely out
of character. In the West Coast Avengers it
was shown he does carry arrows specifically for longtime recurring foes like
Ultron so it’s not a total stretch he could have them for his teammates
particularly in this situation when he knew he was likely to choose a side and
fight one of the teams eventually.

The Thunderbolts also really shine hear with the differences
between those who have completely reformed and those who can never be fully
trusted. In many ways this is more of a Thunderbolts story than an Avengers
one, which is fine because you can do more with their characters than the core
Avengers who generally have their status quo at this point. I think the trade
is very successful in generating interest in the T-Bolts, as after reading this
book I purchased the New Thunderbolts trade
that the epilogue sets up.

That is not to say the Avengers get the short shrift. The
Cap-Zemo dynamic feels spot on and it leads to a rare Cap admits his judgment
may be compromised and considering what Zemo put Cap through in “Under Seige” it
is perfectly acceptable that Cap would be unwilling to give Zemo the benefit of
the doubt. I also liked Iron Man’s doubts once he is undercover with the
Thunderbolts on whether or not to let them proceed with their plan to remake
the world, as we would see in Civil War
Tony is the rare hero who believes it is okay for superheroes to institute
large scale social changes, so some ways this is a precursor to Tony’s
“futurist” persona that has become his dominant character trait for the past
decade.
Grade B

Waiting for the Trade Dr Doom vs the Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Emperor Doom

by David Michelinie
and Bob Hall

Why I Bought This: So
this is an original graphic novel from the 80s that I had never seen or even
heard of until about a year ago when something on the Internet referenced it
and I was like that sounds interesting. I eventually tracked it down on Amazon
in fair condition for $15.

 

The Plot: Dr.
Doom successfully conquers the world by releasing a mind control contaminant
into the atmosphere. Wonder Man, who is made of living energy and doesn’t
breathe, proves to be immune. He has to find a way to get through his Avengers
teammates and save the day.

Spoilers below:

 

Since this is an original graphic novel there are no chapters/issue breaks but here are the
main beats:

 

Purple Man—a street level villain with a pheromone based
mind control power–is doing his thing when he is abducted by an unseen hand.

Namor, at this time apparently still an outlaw, meets with
Dr. Doom in a NY restaurant. Doom proposes renewing their partnership (from the
70s comic Super Villain Team Up). He
explains he has channeled Purple Man’s power into an amulet and proposes to
power up a larger version to conquer the world. He offers to let Namor rule the
oceans in return for his help (Namor apparently has been exiled from Atlantis
again). Specifically wants Namor to attach control discs on artificial life
forms that are immune to Purple Man’s power. Namor agrees.

At the West Coast Avengers compound Tony Stark puts Wonder
Man into stasis for 30 days so they can better understand his ionic energy
makeup.

At Avengers Mansion Namor attaches a control disc to Vision
after he uses the small amulet to threaten Wanda’s life so that Vision
surrenders. However Vision is able to get an SOS off to the West Coast team
beforehand.

Namor subsequently tracks down Machine Man and Ultron and
attaches discs to them as well.

The West Coast team storm Doom’s island where he holding
Purple Man but are unable to defeat him before he powers up the larger crystal
and takes control of their minds as well as the planet. Doom also betrays Namor
by using the smaller amulet he’s been wearing to fight the robots to take
control of him too.

We see what the Earth is like under Doom’s rule. Generally
he improves things including solving the famines of Africa,
brining an end to war and crime, ending apartheid and increasing prosperity for
many.

Thirty days later Wonder Man wakes up. He is kind of shocked
to see Tony and Cap talk about the honor of serving the “emperor.” When he sees
Doom leading a parade in New York
he attempts to alert his teammates and they attack him. He narrowly escapes
only to become a fugitive across the entire world with mobs of citizens hunting
where he goes.

Doom meanwhile has grown bored of ruling a world of people
who never question him and hopes Wonder Man will provide with a diversion.

More time passes as Wonder Man has been wondering the land
disguised as a drifter. He seriously considers letting Doom rule considering
that people seem happy and things seem to be improved. But a chance encounter
with a blind woman in the woods reminds him of the value of freedom and he
decides he has to bring Doom down.

He subsequently investigates and discovers how Doom did it
and that Daredevil and Kingpin proved in the past that those with exceptional
willpower can shake off Purple Man’s power. With that knowledge Wonder Man
decides Cap is his best bet and indeed armed with video footage of Doom’s past
misdeeds Cap frees himself. Cap suggests Hawkeye, Wasp and Iron Man are the
only other teammates that are likely to shake off Doom’s spell because all of
their powers on heightened concentration. His faith is rewarded thought Tony
proves a little harder to convince than the others. Hawkeye disobeys Cap and
tries to free his wife but she sends out an alert to Doom.

The five heroes quickly storm Doom’s island and fight his
way through various robots. Wasp sneaks into where Purple Man is held but Namor
catches her. However she is able to blast a nearby aquarium and being doused
with water frees Namor as well. Doom has a chance to flood the room with
knockout gas but decides not to because he is bored running this world. Namor
smashes the crystal killing Purple Man in the process. Doom flees before the
Avengers can stop him. As the world reverts to normal (i.e. war, crime, discrimination
and poverty) the Avengers debate whether they did the right thing.
 

Critical Thoughts: This
is a decent but not great, and I feel like it had the potential to be better. 

I was always a big fan of the West Coast Avengers book so it is nice to see them featured with
the East Coast team in the supporting role. This is also a nice reminder of how
Wonder Man was presented as an A-list player back in the 80s. He’s an
interesting character choose for the man alone against the world plot because
he is not the inspirational leader or scientific genius or even the maverick
many of the other Avengers are. He is really is something of an everyman in
terms of personality. His power-set is strong enough to fight these odds but
he’s not the guy you would typically call on and that shows in his doubts in
the middle on whether the world is better under Doom.

The 30 days in stasis and waking up to complete changed
world is also a good plot device. In fact the Avengers Assemble cartoon lifted it for an episode only with Vision
in Wonder Man’s place, and it worked there too.

I think plot with Doom being bored with victory, while
somewhat in character is sort of the easy way to go. It’s not a completely
original idea either as I’ve see it played out in other genres. I’m just not
sure I fully buy it for Doom because he has ruled Latveria for years so he
should be used to a certain amount of day to day administrative decision making
already. I also did not like Doom betraying Namor as there is a longstanding
portrayal of Doom as a man who keeps his word. It also makes the fact that
later writers have kept the Doom-Namor alliance intact kind of absurd.

I’m not familiar with Namor from this era but his brutality
is a bit surprising as he seems willing to kill a hostage in the scene with
Vision. I also feel like there has to be more than just three robots to
override on the planet—if it’s the 80s I would think off the top of my head
Warlock and Nimrod are wandering around the X-books but I understand this is an
Avengers story hence why even the FF don’t appear despite their obvious
connection to Doom, so that’s just a quibble.

Of course I like that Cap is the first one to shake off
Doom’s effects. I think it’s interesting these same Avengers are ones Busiek
chose when he did the “Morgan Conquest” arc where she conquered the world by
magic and only a few heroes had the stuff to see through—although in that story
Iron Man is the one hero unable to shake it off.
 

Grade B-. It
didn’t fully live up to the potential of the concept but overall it is worth
reading.

 

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.

 

.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade’s best of cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade’s Cosmic Countdown

 So today Guardians of
the Galaxy
hits theaters and I cannot wait to see it. I have been giddy for
this movie since it was announced two years ago. I love cosmic marvel in
general and I greatly enjoyed DnA’s run on the Guardians a couple years ago. So in honor of the film I present a
countdown of Marvel’s best cosmic trade paperbacks and because the Guardians
are such an unusual team I am doing a top 15 rather than a top 10. Furthermore in
honor of the obscurity of the Guardians since many of the stories in the
countdown are super famous already I will recommend a second story in the same
vein of each primary pick throughout the countdown. So without further ado
click below.

 

 

 15 – Star-Lord: Annihilation
Conquest
– While the entire Annihilation
Conquest
event was collected in a pair of trades years ago the story as a
whole is good not great. With the Guardians
of the Galaxy
movie this smaller trade was released a few months ago
collecting the four best issues of that event. This is genesis of the Guardians
team as the Kree recruit Star-Lord to go on a no technology suicide mission
against the Phalanx and assign several prisoners from a Kree prison to assist
him—all of whom were marginal cosmic characters who had not appeared in years:
Captain Universe, Death Cry, Groot, Mantis and—best of all—Rocket Raccoon. The
book has a total Dirty Dozen feel to it, and given the minor nature of these
characters no one is safe (though based on the Guardians movie line-up you can probably guess which ones
survived). This is the beginning of Rocket Raccoon’s ascent to awesome-ville.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Redemption.
While reading the second Annihilation
Conquest
trade will give you the ending of the story; and any of the DnA Guardians trades carry the Rocket &
Groot banner nicely Thanos Redemption
is a bit of lost classic by the same author as the Star-Lord trade above and is
the story that brought Star Lord back to the mainstream Marvel Universe. It too
has also only recently been collected in trade thanks to the movie as Thanos Redemption collects a short-lived
12 issue ongoing Thanos series from about 10 years back. The first six issues
are by Starlin and see Thanos and Warlock attempting to help the Rigellians
evacuate their planet when Galactus arrives. It’s a perfectly good Starlin
Thanos story although it doesn’t tread much new ground. The next 6 issues are
by Keith Geffen, and while the change in tone is on first read jarring I
actually like it better than the Starlin issues. Geffen shows us the Crunch,
the sight of the birth of the Universe where cosmic energies are used to bind
rogue cosmic entities. Furthermore the Shi’ar and Xandarians have built a
prison planet there for hardcore threats they have no intention of ever
paroling. However because of what the Crunch represents it is considered a holy
site by many alien races and thus the prison has to deal with a constant flow
of pilgrims. Thanos decides to become one of these pilgrims. He soon finds
Death waiting for him and for the first time in decades she deigns to speak to
him directly. He also discovers heroes Gladiator and Star Lord are in the
prison (among many villains). Best of all Thanos encounters the Beyonder in
this prison and we get a fairly epic Thanos vs. the Beyonder confrontation. The
aftermath of their fight sees the prison damaged and a few galaxy class
villains escape including a previously unknown first herald of Galactus. This
just piles on the fantastic and needs to be read (and in some ways it is a shame
the series got cancelled because they were building to Gladiator and Star Lord
forming a task force to take down Thanos once and for all).

 14 Hulk: Heart of the
Atom –
Famed Science Fiction writer Harlan Ellison penned this story of
Hulk being shrunk into a subatomic world where he finds a John Carter-esque
world of monsters and alien barbarians who happen to have green skin and thus
accept Hulk as a savior. Hulk meets their Queen Jarella and begins a
surprisingly tender and bittersweet love affair with her that ultimately ends
in tragedy.

            If you like
this story also check out: I’m sure Planet
Hulk
is the obvious successor to this one but I’ve never read it so I can’t
recommend it. I will say the recent Captain
America: Castaway in Dimension Z
is really good story of Cap trapped in
another dimension with subjugated alien races fighting a cruel tyrant giving it
some similarities to the Hulk story above. But if you want another Hulk story
then let’s go with Hulk: Pardoned which
while mostly earthbound reprints a chapter of Hulk on Rocket Raccoon’s home
world and a few other alien threats from Bill Mantlo’s nearly forgotten yet
really strong run on the title.

 (13½) Silver Surfer
the Herald Ordeal
(issues 70-75 of his second solo title) is not in trade. If
it was it would rank here as the art is superb, Morg is an excellent villain
and it has the spectacle of every former herald of Galactus teaming up.

13 – Avengers the
Contest –
I’ve reviewed this book before but to recap the Grandmaster makes
a bet with Death and pulls all the heroes of Earth into a contest on their
behalf. Then when Grandmaster loses he pulls both Avengers team into Death’s
realm giving us a pair of excellent fights as first the East and West Coast
Avenger teams square off and then when Grandmaster wins and takes over Death’s
realm he forces the Avengers to fight the Legion of the Unliving for the fate
of the universe in perhaps the greatest fight scene Tom Defalco ever wrote. The
story ends with my all time favorite Hawkeye moment.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers vs. the
Legion of the Unliving
is an excellent anthology collecting all of their
battles against various groups of characters who were dead at the time. You get
two Immortus stories in here, a really creepy Grim Reaper story as he becomes
an Avatar for Death (the Avatar concept played a key role in other cosmic
titles like Quasar and Thanos Imperative), the last chapter of
the story above, and a really good Busiek and Perez story. Speaking of which if
you like the Grandmaster he plays a key role in the very strong Busiek-Perez JLA/Avengers intercompany trade as well.

 

12 – Essential Marvel
Two In One volume 3 –
By far the most obscure choice on my list this series
primarily serves as a prelude to Mark Gruenwald’s superb work on Quasar in the 90s (most of which is not
in trade). This book collects 26 comics (three of which are double sized) and
surprisingly the vast majority qualify as cosmic stories. For those unfamiliar Marvel Two In One is a Thing team up
series from the late 70s/early 80s. Gru kicks us off with Quasar’s first
appearance under that name (the character had appeared a few times before as a
SHIELD agent in Captain America) and
makes Quasar head of security for Project Pegasus. The six part story that
follows (also collected in the full color trade Thing: Project Pegasus Saga)
see Thing, Quasar and Bill Foster (Giant Man v2.0/Black Goliath) deal with a
series of sabotage attempts by Roxxon Oil that ends up pulling in the time
traveling Deathlok, the extra-dimensional Thundra, the alien Wundar and
ultimately leads to the birth of Nth Man—a cosmic class villain that would
trouble Excalibur 10 years later. The other major reason to buy this trade (and
why I recommend it over the color version) is the double sized Thing & the
Avengers in the Negative Zone story by Tom Defalco that sees Annihilus,
Blaastar and Super Adaptoid all team up. I often say Defalco is the best
choreographer of fight scenes in comic history and this is a prime example of
his excellence in that regard. Other cosmic tales include: a three parter with
Thing, Her, Moondragon (both of whom Gru would use again as love interests for
Quasar) and Starhawk (revealed in the 90s to be the son of Quasar and Her)
trying to resurrect Adam Warlock and in the process running afoul of the High
Evolutionary and the Beyonder; A two part tale that sees Thing, Mr. Fantastic,
Sting Ray and the Inhumans taking on Maelstrom (who Gru would later elevate
into an enemy of all life in the universe in Quasar), a three part story
featuring Thing, Sting Ray, Triton and Scarlet Witch preventing the Serpent
Squad using the Serpent Crown to take over the world (this is the first
appearance of Sidewinder and a few others that would go on to become the
Serpent Society in Gru’s Captain America
run, while the Set’s Serpent Crown would be one of the major threats Quasar
dealt with when he became protector of the universe). Other one off stories in
here with cosmic characters are: Thing & Black Bolt vs. Graviton, Thing
& the Impossible Man, Thing vs. Hyperion, Thing & the 30th
century Guardians of the Galaxy, Thing & Quasar in the Savage Land, and
Thing & Hulk vs. The Stranger.

            If you like
this story also check out: Quasar
Classic volume 1
. Quasar was for my money Marvel’s best ongoing series of
the early 90s—a time when they published 60 to 80 books a month. While the
book’s best issues are in the second year and not collected in trade, this
volume will give you Quasar’s origin, his appointment as Protector of the
Universe, the set up of his supporting cast status quo, and some fun fights
with Terminus, Absorbing Man and Living Laser as part of the “Acts of Vengeance”
crossover.

        

11 Infinity War – This
is one of my favorite crossovers but unfortunately it does not have a good
trade paperback. The existing trade collects only the parts written by Jim Starlin:
The six issue main series, a few tie-in issues of Warlock and the Infinity Watch and a four part Thanos back up story
from Marvel Comics Presents. Worse it
doesn’t even intercut those stories in order. It just reprints each of the three
series it collects one after the other even though the Warlock issues
specifically say what issues of the main series they occur after. While like
any crossover some of the tie-in issues are extraneous I feel not including the
issues of Quasar, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer do the story a real
disservice—these are all cosmic level heroes whose tie-in issues were key to
the main event. The Spider-man and Guardians of the Galaxy issues are also a
lot of fun and it is a shame not to have them even if they don’t add much to
the narrative. Besides a story called “Infinity War” should be big and
sprawling. The full story would likely make #5 on this list. Still even in
diminished form this is a trade worth picking up. The Magus has one of the best
plans of any villain ever in this story—from preemptively attempting to destroy
all of Earth’s heroes in one blow by taking out just five key heroes, to hiding
his fortress in another reality several dimensions removed so that even cosmic
level powers cannot get to him without great difficulty to the big plot twist
in issue five on his end goal. This is a rare smart villain executing a well
thought out plan so it is worth reading for the core six issues alone. Also the
story is crazy fun on a cosmic fanboy level because you get to see all the big
cosmic weapons pitted against each other: the Cosmic Cube, the Infinity Gauntlet,
the Quantum Bands and the Ultimate Nullifier are all utilized in one key
chapter of this story. Also it does collect Infinity
Watch #8,
which is a really strong comic featuring an extended flashback of
how Thanos raised Gamora as his foster daughter.

            If you like
this story also check out: Thanos
Imperative.
While Infinity Crusade
is the sequel to Infinity War it is a
badly told bloated story. And while the Magus’s first appearance may be a more
obvious choice to recommend here, Thanos
Imperative
has more in common with Infinity
War
structurally. Both stories see Thanos forced to act alongside a group
of heroes to defend the universe from a threat worse than him. Both see him
working alongside Gamora, Drax and Moondragon while Quasar, Silver Surfer and
Galactus have a separate side mission in the crisis. In both the threat is an
alternate evil version of a great cosmic hero. Thanos Imperative also brings DnA’s four year run as the architects
of cosmic marvel to an end and has the added bonus scene of Rocket Raccoon
standing down Thanos. It’s not the A+ homerun I wanted from DnA but it is a
solid B that holds up on multiple readings.
10-Avengers: The Kree
Skrull War
– While this story is less cosmic than you’d expect—only one chapter
takes place in space;–it does maintain a tense build and for its time period
stories of this scope were very rare. The cliff notes synopsis: first the
Avengers have to deal with the Kree who want to detonate a bomb that will
devolve all of humanity back to Neanderthals. Then as the follow up on the Kree
threat, the Skrulls make their move by taking the place of politicians and
members of the media to turn the public against the Avengers and later imitate
the big three (none of whom were on the active roster at the time) in order to
disband the team. The Avengers also have to battle both races major champions: Ronan
the Accuser and the Super Skrull. The story also pulls in the Inhumans, Captain
Mar-vell and (briefly) Annihilus until the Avengers fly into space to bring the
war to an end. It also contains a famous Fantastic
Voyage
inspired story of Ant Man traveling inside the Vision’s android body
to repair him. Unfortunately by today’s standards the ending with Rick Jones
comes out of nowhere and is far too part. Still that does not negate all the
good that came before.

            If you like
this story also check out: Avengers:
Operation Galactic Storm
a 19-part epic (collected in two trades) wherein
the Avengers get pulled into a Kree-Shi’ar war that manages to remain
remarkably coherent given the number of titles involved and in which the bulk
of the action is in deep space. Also Avengers
Forever
which is more time travel than cosmic but follows up on the Rick
Jones Supreme Intelligence finale of Kree Skrull War in a far more satisfying
way and also gave new relevance to the third Captain Marvel (the original’s son
Legacy).

9-Guardians of the
Galaxy volume 3: War of Kings –
Really the entire DnA run of Guardians is
worth reading as I would consider it the best ongoing series of the past 10
years. But if I had to pick just one trade to highlight this is the best one as
it features the culmination of two different year long subplots: the rupturing
of reality that Warlock and Star-Lord warned all the major alien races about
and no one believed and Warlock being reborn into the Magus in absolute shocker
of a scene that shows just how deadly that character can be. To stop the Magus
the story spins off into a full on time travel epic involving the 30th
century Guardians, Kang the Conqueror and the Cosmic Cube. This is as good as
it gets. (Also paid off in this trade is the “I am Groot” joke in one of the
funniest pages of any story on this list).

            If you like
this story also check out: Guardians of
the Galaxy volume 2
is the next best DnA Guardians trade as it has Quasar and Maelstrom in it, although
volume 4 has Thanos and volume 1 is pretty damn good  too. Also Nova: Knowhere by DnA has the first appearance of Cosmo the
telepathic Russian dog and the Guardians headquarters which is crazy fun. So in
honor of the movie go buy them all, you won’t regret it.
 


8 – Secret Wars – There
are times I consider Secret Wars my favorite crossover ever but I was not sure
whether to even count it as a cosmic story. On the cosmic front it takes place
on alien world, Galactus is in it and it is the first appearance of the
Beyonder but at its core this is a story about Dr. Doom, Magneto and the
earth’s greatest heroes engaging in big old fight scenes more than it is about
a cosmic threat. Still there is no more fun comic story ever published than
this one; it is the ideal primer to bring kids into the Marvel Universe. It is
also deserves historical credit for being first event crossovers– plus it gave
us Spider-man’s black costume which makes it a watershed moment for Marvel’s
flagship character. I would also argue Shooter’s subtle yet distinct characterizations
throughout the entire cast is often overlooked because the story has so much
spectacle in it.

            If you like
this story check out: Never read Secret
War II
as its awfulness is inversely proportional to the original’s
awesomeness. Beyond and Spider-man and the Secret Wars are both
okay looks back at the original concept, but for an actual good story that
picks up where this one leaves off go with Spider-man:
Birth of Venom
. Not really cosmic
other than the alien costume but damn it is both excellent and awesome.
 

 7-Essential Silver
Surfer volume 1 –
In interviews Stan Lee often cites this book as his
favorite thing he ever wrote. When you read it you will understand why. It
collects the entire Silver Age Silver Surfer series as Surfer endures his exile
on Earth. Stan Lee uses the Surfer’s outsider status to make poignant comments
on human nature that remain just as relevant today as when he wrote them 50
years ago.

            If you like
this story also check out: Essential
Silver Surfer volume 2
– Written two decades later by the vastly
under-rated Steve Englehart the Surfer’s second series sees him escape from
exile and make peace with Galactus. The treasure to be found in this volume is
a lost Infinity Gem story arc as the Elders of the Universe gather the gems in
an attempt to assassinate Galactus and remake the universe.
 6-Avengers: Legacy of
Thanos
– Another recent trade we can thank the Guardians movie for as Marvel finally collects the first appearance
of my favorite villain Nebula in trade. Written by the incomparable Roger
Stern, Nebula proves herself every bit the tactician her grandfather is as she
claims his Death Star like space ship Sanctuary II and uses it to position
herself into a Skrull Civil War with a plan that would make her their empress.
She ironically runs into Captain Marvel v2.0 as the first Earth hero she meets
but soon her plot drags in the rest of the Avengers including Thanos’s brother
Star Fox. Aside from the Skrull Civil War the trade also features cosmic
threats Terminus, the Beyonder and Firelord.

            If you like
this story also check out: Spider-man:
Am I an Avenger?
which has an even better Nebula story. The only reason I
am not ranking this trade on the countdown is it is an anthology with plenty of
non-cosmic stories such as Spidey’s first meeting of the Avengers vs. the Hulk
(by Stan Lee), Spidey and the Avengers dealing with a Moonstone led prison
break at Project Pegasus (by Stern), and a few forgettable stories with
Sandman, Rage and the New Avengers. But the five part Nebula story collected
here is fantastic with her both destroying and conquering the universe at
different parts of it and taking on a host of the most powerful Avengers and
the Stranger. It is in fact my single favorite Avengers story of all time and
this trade would by very high on my desert island list.

 
5-The Life and Death
of Captain Mar-vell.
Speaking of first appearances, this would be the first
appearance of Thanos and his first big epic plot with the Cosmic Cube. Also
starring the Avengers, Thing, Rick Jones, Super Skrull, Controller, the first
appearance of Drax and Mar-vell’s appointment as Protector of the Universe this
story is everything it has ever been billed as. In addition it also collects
Mar-vell’s battle with Nitro and his subsequent death by cancer on Titan.

            If you like
this story also check out: Marvel
Masterworks Warlock volume 2
which is Starlin’s second big Thanos story and
also the first appearances of Gamora and the Magus—who is so damn evil Thanos
is forced to recruit heroes to oppose the Magus’s plans because even Thanos
isn’t willing to face him one on one!

 

4-Essential Fantastic
Four volume 3 –
This is here primarily because it collects “The Coming of
Galactus” in which we meet Galactus and the Silver Surfer for the first time and
it is as tremendously excellent as history says it is. Also included is perhaps
the greatest single issue Stan Lee story of all time “This Man, This Monster”
featuring the Thing in the Negative Zone. If for some reason you need more
reasons to buy this it also collects the wedding of Reed and Sue, the first
appearance of the Inhumans, the first appearance of the Black Panther, the
first appearance of Blaastar, a multi-part Frightful Four story and the classic
story wherein Doom steals the Surfer’s powers and conquers the world. Nuff
said.

            If you like
this story also check out: Fantastic
Four Trial of Galactus
which features Galactus coming to feed on Earth and
being confronted by the FF, Avengers and Dr. Strange in a heck of a fight, a
follow-up plot involving Doom teaming with ex-Herald Terrax and ultimately the
Shi’ar putting Reed on trial for crimes against the universe.

 (3½)  Quasar: Cosmos in Collision (issues 19-25
of his solo title) is not in trade. If it was it would be ranked in this spot as it
features Quasar taking on the end of the universe level threat that defined his
title with a little help from Moon Dragon, Ghost Rider and the Eternals and is
second only to “Cap No More” among great stories written by Mark Grunewald.
 

3-Annhilation – By
far the best crossover of the modern era it rightfully sparked a renaissance of
Marvel’s cosmic line. It is the story of what happens when Annihilus finally breaks
into the positive matter universe—something that had been foreshadowed since
the Silver Age. (“The Kree Skrull War” opens with Annihilus trying to break
through and the Avengers and Captain Marvel are immediately like this will be
the end of the world if we don’t stop this now. Ditto the earliest issues of Marvel Team-Up have Spidey and the Torch
battling the Frightful Four in the Baxter
Building and in the
battle the Negative Zone portal opens and the Wizard immediately recognizes how
awful Annihilus is and tells his teammates to just stop fighting and help the
heroes close the portal). Indeed I would argue this story opens with the best
prologue ever: the opening page has Death meeting Thanos at the Crunch and she
tells him “something wonderful” is about to happen—when Death says something
wonderful is going to happen you know sh*t is about to get real; and the
exchange ends with her telling Thanos that this one is someone he could learn
from. What happens next delivers on every bit of that 40 years of foreshadowing
(warning spoilers ahead) as Annihilus
punches through the Crunch freeing the rogue cosmic entities and killing the
Beyonder. Next he hits the Xandarian home world and wipes out the entire Nova
Corps in minutes with only Earth’s Nova Richard Rider surviving. Nova meets up
with (Thanos foe) Drax the Destroyer and (Protector of the Universe) Quasar to
take the fight to Annihilus: that ends with Annihilus killing Quasar (arguably
the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe) and donning the Quantum Bands
making Annihilus exponentially more powerful. Next Annihilus decides he wants
the Power Cosmic and he begins capturing, killing and dissecting former Heralds
of Galactus until things get so bad Silver Surfer reenters Galactus’s service
and that still doesn’t make a difference as Galactus is defeated and strapped
to a star cruiser so his hunger can be used as a planet destroying Death Star
like weapon! And that is just the half way point of the story! If you have not
done so do yourself a favor and read this thing as it is indeed “something
wonderful.”

            If you like
this story also check out: While Annihilation
Conquest
is the supposed sequel, it is really a sequel in name only with
just Nova, Star-Lord and the Kree being the only common characters in the two
stories and it doesn’t have nearly the punch of the original. The best
follow-up story to the plot threads here is Fantastic
Four: The New Fantastic Four
in which the FF learn Surfer has rejoined
Galactus, Galactus is mighty unhappy with how Annihilus treated him and wants
to replenish his power by eating the cosmic entity Epoch—who is in charge of appointing
Protectors of the Universe and with Quasar dead doesn’t have a protector. If
you want another Annihilus story the next best one is in the MTIO trade I
recommended earlier but you could pick up The
Greatest Villains of the Fantastic Four
a 1995 anthology trade collecting
stories on the FF’s top five villains. The Annihilus story therein is a
two-part 80s tale drawn by John Byrne so he’s never looked better and it is yet
another example of the stop Annihilus getting into our universe no matter what
decades long build-up as Reed sacrifices his life to stop him. For something
similar and more recent you could go with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four volume 4 trade in which
Torch sacrifices himself to stop Annihilus and you see more of the fallout of Torch’s
death than in the Reed trade.



2-X-men Dark Phoenix Saga – If you
are reading this column you probably don’t need me to tell you about Dark Phoenix
Saga—a story of unparalleled scope and emotion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a
list of the best comics of all time in which this story was not in the top five,
and it would go in my top five ever too. If you haven’t read it do so. If you
don’t care for the X-men it doesn’t matter this is as good as comics get.

            If you like
this story also check out: X-men Rise
and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire
is a year long trek of six X-men in space by
famed Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker
as the X-men try to prevent long lost Summers’ brother Vulcan from destroying
the Shi’ar Empire and in the process learn a little bit more about the Phoenix
Force.
1-Infinity Gauntlet
– For my money this is the greatest story Marvel has ever published. Jim Starlin’s
writing make the stakes never feel higher than in any other crossover. The art
by George Perez and Ron Lim is superb. The fight scene in issue 4 may be the
greatest of all time, although damn if issue 5 doesn’t give it a run for its
money. Thanos, Nebula and Captain America all get great moments to
shine. This story is perfection.

             If you like this story also check out: Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos shows
how Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet and features writing and art of equal
standard to the main story. Marvel also recently published Infinity Gauntlet Aftermath which shows what happens to the
Infinity Gauntlet after this story and it is pretty good too.

 

So that’s all folks. Questions? Comments? Death threats?
Leave them below.

Waiting for the Trade – Secret Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 

Secret Avengers vol.
2

By Rick Remender

Collects Secret
Avengers #26-32

 

Why I Bought This: As
part of the AvX crossover (which I did not bother to read) Thor leads a team of
some of the strongest Avengers (including Ms. Marvel) to battle the Phoenix
Force in space. It sounded like a fun fight, particularly the idea of Binary
vs. Phoenix not
to mention seeing Thor lead the team for once, so I grabbed it off Amazon.

 

The Plot: Two
separate stories in this trade. First: Thor, in a rare leadership role, takes a
team into space to fight the Phoenix Force; and then when the crossover ends
Hawkeye, Venom v3.0 and Ant Man infiltrate an underground city of super
villains.
 
spoilers after the break

 

Chapter 1 – Thor’s team includes Ms. Marvel, Beast, Protector
(that Kree character Bendis loves who was Captain Marvel v6.0 for awhile), War
Machine, Valkyrie, Vision and Captain Britain–which is quite the
collection of powerhouses. Beast has a flashback to the original Dark Phoenix
Saga and how he built a device to short out Jean’s powers. Now he has modified
that device into a “cage” (it looks like a backpack) that he believes can
contain the raw Phoenix Force. Personally, I am highly dubious of this plan.
Meanwhile some Kree have gathered a sliver of the M’Kraan Crystal and the Nega
Bands. Meanwhile the Phoenix
casually destroys a planet before our heroes catch up with it. Thor unleashes
his hammer’s mystic power on the Phoenix
and stuns it. War Machine then flies into position with Beast’s cage. However
the Phoenix recovers
and roasts Thor with flame breath, the fringe of which also damages War
Machine’s armor. It then casually wipes out all the other heroes except Captain
Britain.
He dons the cage-backpack to implement the plan but Beast on radio warns him the
device is not calibrated to run on magic, which is what powers Britain’s
armor. Britain ignores him
and the cage siphons some Phoenix power but then
overloads and explodes, taking out Britain too. The Phoenix is about
to kill the heroes when we cut back to the Kree, who have the original Captain
Marvel’s body bedecked in the Nega Bands and hooked up to a Frankenstein style
machine with the crystal fragment. The crystal is used to summon the Phoenix (inadvertently sparing the heroes) and while the
Kree moon base this is occurring on blows up when the Phoenix arrives it successfully energizes
Marvel’s corpse in the process. The Avengers meanwhile limp off to Hala (the
Kree home world) to lick their wounds as Thor and especially Rhodes are severely
injured. Enroot Beast calls Britain
an idiot. On Hala Protector and Ms. Marvel reminisce about their Kree heritage
when the resurrected Captain Marvel finds them and asks them to help him kill
the Avengers.

 

Chapter 2 – Marvell flashes back to his death and notes he
was at peace in death. He then makes out with Carol. Meanwhile Rhodes has flat-lined and Beast has to defib him. Britain
has also lost his powers in the space episode and as Thor attempts to give him
a pep talk the three Kree heroes burst in and attack, defeating the Avengers in
a short battle. Half the team is imprisoned, while Vision, Beast and Thor are
somehow free. Vision detects a signal being broadcast to mind control the Kree
on Hala so they will accept death at the hands of the Phoenix Force. Vision
manages to disrupt the signal but there is only an hour left to evacuate the
planet. Marvel arrives and takes down Vision and starts in on Thor but even
injured Thor refuses to fall. Thor also refuses to believe this is the real
Marvel since he is about to commit genocide and tries to decapitate him but
Marvel takes his best shot and then uses the Nega Bands to redirect Thor’s
lightening against him for the KO. Then Marvel sees Kree soldiers executing the
fleeing civilians and begins to have second thoughts.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers are about to be executed but Vision
disrupts the signal on the three Kree heroes just as the Phoenix enters the atmosphere. The Kree
heroes stop the execution. Vision traces the signal back to its source,
revealing relatives of Mar-vell are responsible: one of whom is a high priest
of some cult and his son who has telepathic powers. The priest kills his son
and reveals he brought the Phoenix
to Hala to burn away the shame Mar-vell brought on the family name when he
betrayed the Kree for the people of Earth back in his Silver Age solo title.
Then the priest kills himself. The Kree are trying to evacuate but there’s no
time so Ms. Marvel takes the desperate step of flying into space to try to
absorb the Phoenix
into herself. This causes her to become Binary again and she opens a white hole
which Thor amplifies with his hammer’s dimensional portal power and it seems
like they will suck the Phoenix in but then it blasts both heroes and takes
them down. Marvel saves Carol (who is now back in her Ms. Marvel form) while
Captain Britain
regains his powers. He flies into the heart of the Phoenix and then starts expanding his magic force
field. He is hurting it but it is still advancing on Hala and Mar-vell realizes
it will not stop until it reclaims the portion of the Phoenix Force that
resurrected him. And so he pulls Britain
aside and lets the Phoenix
claim him and thus he dies again. Carol so impressed by what she has witnessed
she ponders taking the Captain Marvel name herself in tribute to his heroism
(which of course she does in her new solo title that launched shortly after
this).

Chapter 4 – a recap page fills us in that John Steele is yet
another pre-Cap super soldier gone bad controlled by a shadowy government group
who recently came to his senses; and the titular heroes have been fighting some
robot conspiracy as well lately. Max Fury (a Nick Fury LMD gone bad) catches up
with Steele alongside his gigantic Masters of Evil that includes at least 20 super
villains (Constrictor, Brothers Grimm, Diablo, Princess Python, Crossfire,
Griffin, Carrion, Whiplash, the female Stiltman, The Grapplers, Madcap,
Vengeance and a bunch I don’t recognize) and they pummel Steele with ease.
Venom (Flash Thompson) is fighting a villain named Abyss who tries to mind
control him but the symbiote is immune and Flash shoots him in the head. Next
we learn Ant Man v3.0 is a mole for the Shadow Council as he buys into some
time traveler’s tale that whatever the Council is up to will create a utopian
future. Hawkeye assembles the Secret Avengers with intel that Fury’s Masters
has “hundreds of members” and they have asylum in some fictional country so
taking them down has to be top secret. In addition Max has the Serpent Crowns
and some other mystic crown so it’s all bad news. The team for the mission is
Hawkeye, Black Widow, Venom, Valkyrie and Ant
Man. The Circus of Crime are
torturing Steele for fun but he breaks free, takes them down and then rendezvous
with Hawkeye’s team. Steele dies and makes Hawkeye promise to stop Fury from
getting a third crown. Venom gets Clown to talk and he reveals the super
villains have an underground city. Flash then morphs to look like the classic
Brock-Venom in hopes he can impersonate him and infiltrate the city but almost
as soon as he arrives he ends up in a bar fight with Taskmaster.

 Chapter 5 – Taskmaster kicks the crap out of Venom until Ant
Man interferes by crawling into his ear (with the onlookers assuming it is the
symbiote doing something so the Avengers’ presence is still secret). Taskmaster
retreats and throws a $1 million bounty out as he goes leading to the Wrecking
Crew and a bunch of other villains in the bar attacking Venom. Meanwhile
Hawkeye and Valkyrie pursue Taskmaster in a motorcycle chase. Vengeance shows up
and takes Valkyrie down hard then doubles back to intercept Clint. Hawkeye
manages to beat him but Taskmaster makes good his escape. He turns the Wolf
Crown over to Max Fury who shoots him for his trouble. Fury then combines the
three crowns and dons them just as Hawkeye and Valkyrie arrive. Fury gets a big
disappointment as he learns that because he’s not a real boy the crowns don’t
work for him. In the fight that follows Fury loses the crown and the bleeding
Taskmaster puts it on becoming the Abyss in the process. Abyss then possesses
all the super villains in the city.

Chapter 6 – We learn Hawkeye and Valkyrie are also
possessed. Only Venom and Ant Man are free. Venom because of the symbiote while
Ant Man claims it is due to his helmet that lets him talk to ants but it is implied
because he is already on the bad guy’s side willingly. Meanwhile back at HQ
Black Widow is aware of how bad things are going. She tries to call in Pym and
Captain Britain for help but
they’re busy in Malaysia
while the main Avengers team is missing. Meanwhile Max Fury throws himself on
the mercy of Abyss promising to use the Shadow Council to serve them but the
Abyss does not care. Meanwhile the possessed are climbing into airplanes that
when they land will spread the possession infection across the globe. Venom and
Ant Man start destroying planes on the runway until Hawkeye kills all of Ant
Man’s bugs and Vengeance beats up Venom. Ant Man is forced to shrink Venom and
retreat. Widow teleports onto Hawkeye’s plane and they have a fight pretty
reminiscent of the movie (right down to Hawkeye black pupil-less eyes) although
this time Hawkeye battles her to a stalemate and the plane continues on its
way. Meanwhile Venom and Ant Man sneak up on Taskmaster only to be intercepted
by Valkyrie.

Chapter 7 – Black Widow gets possessed by the Abyss. While Valkyrie
and Venom fight Ant Man grabs the triple crown but is hit with a psionic blast before
he can get it off Taskmaster’s head. And then the super villain army join the
fight and the heroes are overrun. Fury shoots Scarecrow and pulls a bleeding
Ant Man out of the fray, but more villains intercept them (and apparently Ant
Man is also an LMD). The military forces Hawkeye’s plane to land. Meanwhile the
Wrecking Crew and U-Foes take down Venom and bring him to Taskmaster to kill.
Then in a hail-Mary play Flash sends the symbiote to Taskmaster. Once the
symbiote covers Taskmaster it rejects the crowns breaking the spell. Of course
even without being possessed the super villain army still wants to kill Venom,
Ant Man and Fury but Widow teleports them all out of there. In the epilogue Pym
shrinks the crowns into the Microverse to hide them. Pym also notes there is no
way an Ant Man helmet can block possession, at which point Widow outs him as an
LMD claiming the real Ant Man died in a prior trade and then a robot took his
place. Venom refuses to believe it since Ant Man fought by his side to the very
end so Widow quits the team. Hawkeye is too tired to deal with it and says it
can wait until morning. Val and Flash end up in bed together. In the
cliffhanger Ant Man changes costumes to Black Ant to begin his own evil plan.

 

Critical Thoughts: Overall
I found this to be an decent read but it is by no means a great comic. There
was stuff I liked mixed with some uneven plotting. I’ll look at each story in
turn.
The space story is typical crossover fare. It doesn’t really
have much depth and the fight scenes don’t seem to have any impact. I will say
the final space battle is well drawn with Binary vs. Pheonix and Marvel’s
sacrifice.

The best part of the space story is the return of Captain
Marvel and how it affects Carol. I think the idea of using the Nega Bands to
harness the Pheonix Force to resurrect someone is fairly inspired yet totally
fits with what we know of those two cosmic forces. This also gives Mar-vell
more of a heroic death than dying of cancer yet his return was so brief it
doesn’t undercut the original death story either. On the flip-side those
villains as alleged relatives of Mar-vell are particularly shallow characters
and their connection to Mar-vell feels forced.

I also think the Beast-Captain Britain scene is unnecessarily
harsh. I freely admit to not reading many X-men spin-off books, and what little
I saw of Excalibur in the 80s/90s was
universally terrible. But nevertheless Britain led that team for like 75
issues and no doubt saved the day/England/the Earth/the Universe a bunch of
times during that run. So for Beast to rip into him and tell him it is because
he is an impulsive idiot that he never gets called on to help in the big crisis
is overkill and it’s explaining something that doesn’t need to be explained. He
doesn’t get called on in most of the big crises (i.e. crossovers) because he’s
Captain Britain and all the
crises take place in Manhattan.
Onto the Abyss story. My first thought on meeting John
Steele is ‘dear God, enough with the long lost super soldiers.’ Fortunately
they kill him off but seriously this needs to stop being a thing because this
trope is going to hit Clone Saga territory soon. Here’s a partial list of
villainous Caps out there: Red Skull’s mind is in a clone of Steve’s body,
Brubaker had the 1950s Cap emerge as a right wing fanatic affiliated with the
Watchdogs, US Agent famously replaced Cap and then had a nervous breakdown in
the role, Dan Jurgens created a failed Super Soldier called Protocide that was
thawed out by AIM, the Nazi’s had their own Super Soldier during World War II
called Master Man that is still active as a Cap villain today and the Russians
have Red Guardian who even uses a shield. And that’s off the top of my head.
Furthermore that’s just direct evil super solider rip offs of Cap and doesn’t
count the various other replacement heroic Caps and sidekicks (like Free
Spirit, Patriot, Nomad) with the super soldier serum nor does it count other
villains who duplicate Cap without the Serum like Super Adaptoid, Task Master,
some Hydra assassin named Death Shield, one of the Hate Mongers, the Tumbler.
It just goes on and on. Every A-list hero needs a dark reflection of himself in
their rogues’ gallery (see Venom, the Abomination, Sabretooth, etc) but they
don’t need a dozen of them. Just stop. End of side rant.

Speaking of too much of a good thing. A 100 villains,
really? Because that’s just ridiculous overkill for any hero including Thor and
Hulk to fight let alone for Flash Thompson and not-even-a-scientist Ant Man to
face. If you want to use 100 villains then the heroes need to be dead at the
end of the story because if 100 villains can’t beat four heroes (most of whom
are C-list at best) then we just need to not have super villains anymore
because there’s no threat level. Let me also quibble that I think Diablo is an
arch villain in his own right, unlikely to think of himself as a common criminal
and just should not be present as just another background member of this mob
scene.

Back to 90’s characters I don’t know much about. What’s up with
Vengeance? Now I’ve only seen him in all of one comic I grabbed in a 25-cent
bin but he seemed to be a cop who was trying to use his powers as an anti-hero.
From what I could gather back in the 90s I assumed he was the Ghost Rider
version of Venom: conflicted villain with the hero’s powers whose popularity
made him an anti-hero. In this book he is full on villain but also he is like
this hardcore threat when the other villains are not. Vengeance wins three fights
in this and makes the heroes worry whenever he shows up. Like Venom sees
Vengeance, and notes this a Ghost Rider variant so I’m way out of my league.
No, Ghost Rider is exactly in your league. Brock’s Venom fought him a bunch of
times and was even immune to the Penance Stare. Yet Flash here wilts under
Vengeance’s stare. This makes no sense for two reasons: 1) if a stare that
causes guilt was going to affect someone it would be serious Catholic Eddie
Brock and not over confident jock/war hero Flash Thompson, and 2) how can the
symbiote protect Flash from the Serpent Crown–which in some old school
Avengers stories has been shown to be strong enough to mind control the
population of the entire planet–but the symbiote can’t protect him from a glorified
Care Bear Stare? Also the motorcycle chase seemed so contrived just to get
Vengeance involved. Like when have we ever seen Hawkeye or Taskmaster ride a
motorcycle before? I’m not say they can’t (after all Hawkeye rides a sky cycle
and Taskmaster’s power means he can duplicate any physical skill) but why are
they doing it other than to have a chase scene with Vengeance?

I did like the plot twist where the Serpent crown does not
work for Max Fury because he’s not really alive. And Fury’s despair at learning
all his planning was for nothing was a good scene. I also wonder if this is the
same Abyss who appeared in DNA’s Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy—I mean the
powers seem to be the same but the character was literally exiled from the
universe in that arc. Also why is this character connected to the Serpent Crown
which has always been shown to have been created by the serpent demon Set in order
to bring him back to Earth?

I will say the stakes in the airplane scenes are the best in
the book. The desperation of Venom and Ant Man to stop the planes from taking
off is a good scene. And the Hawkeye-Black Widow fight is a high point.

Hawkeye is also presented as an exceptionally capable hero
throughout this story and I am always on-board with that. It’s nice to see
Hawkeye in a leadership role again since I love the early issues of West Coast
Avengers.

In a general series sense I will say I don’t like the JLA
rip off HQ. I mean they are in a satellite with teleport technology. Besides
being a rip off it’s too much. Why even have Quinjets anymore if you have a
teleporting tower? Why aren’t we teleporting the heroes out of Maylasia if we
need their help? Why aren’t any of the 200 reserve Avengers being called in to
help? It just makes it hard to suspend disbelief that the heroes would ever be
on their own in a serious situation if they have access to casual global teleportation.

Finally WTF is with the team not believing the Black Widow?
Has she ever been wrong about anything spy related? In the modern era she seems
to be second only to Fury in spying so if she says schmuck Ant Man is an LMD
you think at least Hawkeye would believe her on the spot—especially since Pym
is right there calling b*llsh*t on the ant helmet protected him story. Also as
cliffhangers go evil Ant Man does not inspire me to give a crap about your next
trade. We just saw these guys fight 100 villains and a mystical artifact with
global possession power; am I really supposed to think the lamest superhero of
all time gone bad is a threat compared to that?

 

Grade C+. I know
I just ripped this thing apart logically for most of my critical thoughts, but
as you are reading it there is decent dramatic tension. Plus I like Hawkeye and
he’s portrayed very well here. I’m not in any rush to buy another trade from
this series but I also wouldn’t rule out buying another one at a discount price
if I came across it.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers vs. Thunderbolts

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Shadowland:
Thunderbolts

By Jeff Parker, Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey
Collects Thunderbolts
148-151

 

Why I Bought This:
It was in the discount bin of my favorite local comic shop and has a hell of an
intriguing cover of the Avengers big three taking on Juggernaut, Crossbones and
Ghost. Those first two villains can usually both be counted on for a good
story, and even though he hasn’t been used since the 80’s Ghost was presented
as a serious threat back in the day during Michelene’s Iron Man run. Throw in The
Avengers
have always been my favorite title and sometimes you just buy a
book because the cover looks like it promises a fun fight.

 

The Plot: The
Thunderbolts, now a group of inmates working towards parole by taking
government missions under the supervision of Luke Cage, are sent into the
Shadowland. Then in the main event for issue 150 three of the most unrepentant
members of the team: Crossbones, Juggernaut and Ghost escape and have a throw
down with the Avengers big three.

 

Chapter 1 – A cop friend of Luke Cage’s has gone missing due
to whatever the hell is happening in the Shadowland
crossover (haven’t read it and it’s not high on my list to bother with but the
short version seems to be Daredevil gets possessed by a literal demon, become
leader of the Hand ninjas and then builds a castle in Hell’s Kitchen.) Cage
calls in the Thunderbolts to rescue a cop friend who was last seen in the sewers
under the Shadowland castle, while he deals with the main Shadowland story. Apparently this is the first time the crooks have
been given a mission without Cage accompanying them. Cage has Songbird and
Fixer of the original reformed Thunderbolts put in charge of supervising the
criminals, who include: Crossbones, Moonstone, Juggernaut, Ghost and Man-Thing.
The Thunderbolts get attacked by scores of ninjas. For the most part the
criminals aren’t in much danger as Juggernaut’s invulnerable and Moonstone and
Ghost can both go intangible. While they can hurt Crossbones, he is skilled and
viscous enough to kill anyone who comes near him. Man-Thing is also okay since
swords can’t hurt swamp muck and anyone he touches catches on fire. The wardens
on the other hand aren’t nearly so lucky with Fixer getting stabbed from behind
and then Songbird falling to superior numbers while Moonstone looks on without
helping.

Chapter 2 –Songbird is safe in her force field but she’s
also pinned down and can’t move. The ninjas manage to cut Man-Thing into pieces
so Moonstone joins the fight. Songbird lets out a sonic scream to clear the
Ninjas off her force-bubble while Juggernaut and Crossbones become even more
lethal so that whatever ninjas are left retreat. Songbird uses her force field
to carry Fixer to the nearest hospital and now the criminals are completely
unsupervised. Juggernaut plows through walls until he finds ninja-central and
then just wades right into an army of them. The Hand has a dragon on their side
but Moonstone alone takes it out pretty easily. Ghost uses his intangibility to
slip away so he can find and free the Hand prisoners including Cage’s cop
friend. Crossbones is out of ammo but then in desperation he manifests some
sort of fire breath/heat vision. (It was mentioned last chapter he was exposed
to the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mist on a prior mission not in this trade and then
kept that secret to himself.) When Crossbones is done with the Hand the
prisoners show up but since he is alone he kills Cage’s cop friend just cuz;
although he wasn’t actually alone Ghost secretly witnesses everything. When the
other Thunderbolts arrive Crossbones of course blames the cop’s death on the
Hand.

Chapter 3 – Cage is thinking about resigning from overseeing
the Thunderbolts program as he feels the criminals he has on his team will
never be reformed. Cap, Iron Man and Thor arrive to talk with Cage (and also
because a female Asgardian troll is in the prison and Thor wants to meet her.)
Thor offers her friendship but she bites him. Meanwhile Cap has some tense
words with Crossbones, who you may recall killed Cap in Brubaker’s run. Iron
Man and the Ghost also get reacquainted with some hostile threats. As the
heroes get briefed on a new mission, Ghost reveals he has discovered a way to
partially override the teleporter used by the Thunderbolts. When it’s go time
he does just that, transporting himself, Crossbones and Juggernaut to another
dimension. Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Cage follow and take in the scenery (a
talking frog, a lake with magic reflections, etc). We end up with a massive
fight scene that eventually splits into three individual fights along the old
rivalries of Cap vs. Crossbones, Iron Man vs. Ghost and Thor (& Cage) vs.
Juggernaut. Iron Man is able to talk Ghost into surrendering, then Tony joins
the fight against Juggernaut and uses a sonic weapon to stun him long enough to
get him to surrender (with a little help from the magic lake). The
Cap-Crossbones fight is excellent playing off their history and then when Cap
is winning Crossbones unveils his new superpowers to turn the tide for a bit. But
Cap finally lets out his rage for Crossbones killing him and just beats the
crap out of Crossbones. Cap then holds him under the lake but of course lets
him up before killing him. The heroes then use Man-Thing to teleport them home
and Cage agrees to continue supervising the program, although Crossbones is
kicked off the team once Ghost reveals what he did last chapter.

Chapter 4 – We get the origin of the Ghost. He was a
computer programmer. He invented a revolutionary software thing. His bosses
tried to kill him and keep it for themselves. They failed because of his
intangibility tech and then he killed them all and used his computer skills to
erase his real name from all databases.

 

Critical Thoughts: For
what I paid for it I enjoyed the hell out of this. Issue 150 (chapter 3) was
everything you’d want in an anniversary issue. Honestly this could have been a Captain America anniversary issue as
having Steve confront Crossbones for killing him was a pretty big dangling plot
thread from Bru’s run. Their fights have always been pretty good anyway, but
this one takes the cake as the best fight between these characters because it
is so personal and because Crossbones has a surprise power upgrade. So as Cap
fan this issue alone would be worth full cover price let alone $6-off and
everything else is just gravy.

However I was pleasantly surprised with the other two
stories. Yea I have no interest in reading the main Shadowland stuff but the Thunderbolts cast of villains is generally
interesting from top to bottom and the way they each take advantage of the
chaos feels right, so as a standalone story the first two chapters are still
engaging enough to be worth a read.

Ditto the Ghost origin story. Ghost was a major player once
upon a time and his origin to my knowledge was unrevealed up to now. Yea, we’re
not really breaking new ground here with the whole evil corporation double
cross theme, but within the confines of that genre the specifics of this story
are well told.

 

Grade A. I won’t
say this is an all-time classic but I still giving it an A because I honestly
can’t think of a single criticism I have of the stories told here. True, not
every story in it is world changing but they all do what they set out to do
well. And it’s not like it is a total throwaway set of issues: the
Cap-Crossbones fight feels like it has some weight to it, as a major Cap fan it
played out note-perfect to me; and to the extent the Ghost matters we now have
his origin. So all in all I’d recommend picking this one up.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 by Bill Miller

 

Avengers Assemble
by Brian Michael
Bendis and Mark Bagley

collects Avengers
Assemble #1-8

Why I Bought This: Created
in the wake of the film, this features the team from the film taking on Thanos.
Despite my distrust of Bendis, I couldn’t wait to read this and as soon as it
was collected in trade earlier this year, I ordered it from Amazon. That it
also features Mark Bagley’s art and the Guardians of the Galaxy is just gravy.
The Plot: Thanos hires
the Zodiac to steal items of cosmic power found on Earth and it’s up to the
Avengers to stop him.

Chapter 1 – We see a new version of the Zodiac exists. Tony
has built a new Stark
Tower and the Avengers
celebrate. In the desert Hulk is watching an Army convoy that suddenly comes
under attack by a water elemental. Hulk tries to help, although the Army
assumes he is attacking them too. They fight for a few pages with the Elemental
winning by drowning Hulk enough to pass him out and then stealing a mysterious
item from the convoy and escaping. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Black Widow are
tracking terrorists in Latveria. When they see what the terrorists are stealing
they call in the Avengers for back-up. Hawkeye and Widow manage to hijack the
terrorists’ jeep they loaded the item on when Taurus attacks. Thor and Iron Man
arrive to assist but Taurus defeats them both in physical combat.

Chapter 2 – In flashback we see a mysterious benefactor task
the Zodiac with recovering items of power off the Earth in return for power
upgrades. In the present Hulk arrives at Avengers Tower
and asks Jarvis to get Cap. In Latveria, Taurus gloats over defeating Thor
giving Iron Man and Hawkeye a chance to go on offense. They manage to force him
to retreat and then when Thor recovers he sees the mystery object and even he
is shocked by it. The four heroes meet up with Cap and Hulk on the Hellicarrier
and compare notes, deciding the water elemental was Aquarius. We also learn
that Hawkeye and Widow recovered the Ultimate Nullifier prompting Cap to decide
the stakes are so high that the mission should be classified to the six in this
room. And then the entire 12 members of the Zodiac attack the Hellicarrier.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers try to hold the Zodiac off so Widow
can escape with the Nullifier. She is pursued by Aquarius. Tony tries to bribe
the Zodiac into leaving in a funny moment. The fight gets more intense with
some of the villains throwing jets on the Hellicarrier at Thor, until Hulk gets
his mad on and finally manages to defeat one of them. This causes his power to
flow off into space and Tony is able to analyze it. He then builds a jamming
device which reverts the Zodiac to human. The Avengers attempt to question them
when Thanos arrives promising to destroy the Earth.

Chapter 4 – In one of the cooler moments Tony immediately
broadcasts an emergency signal to the White House as the Avengers have
instituted a planet-wide We’re f*ck*d contingency in case Thanos ever comes to
Earth. Thanos possesses the Hulk and sics him on Thor. Hawkeye manages to take
Hulk down with an exploding arrow to the mouth but then Thanos repowers up the
Zodiac at which point the President blows up the Hellicarrier in mid-air.
Apparently Tony has a force field now that can surround the entire team to save
them. The explosion also distances them from Thanos so Hulk is freed of his
control. Cap interrogates the one of the now-Human powerless Zodiac members as
we learn none of them were anything special before Thanos found them; their
mission was to gather objects of power for Thanos and in return he would give
them power to rule the Earth. The Avengers wonder why Thanos would need lackeys
(although he’s used lackeys plenty of times in the past including in his
earliest appearances), at which point the Guardians of the Galaxy show up
offering to help.

Chapter 5 – We see a flashback to a few days ago where the
Guardians were fighting the Badoon on some alien world, and after winning and
interrogating prisoners learned the Badoon were in league with Thanos and that
Thanos had designs on the Earth. The Guardians think Thanos may be after the
Infinity Gems but Cap and Iron Man dismiss that, and Gamora confirms it is not
the Gems in a cool bit of logic. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Widow make out in the
med lab. The Guardians inform the Avengers that the galactic council has deemed
Earth off-limits which is allegedly why Thanos was using lackeys instead of
attacking outright as the lackeys are a loop-hole to that ruling; as if Thanos
would ever care about galactic law (although Gamora suggests that’s exactly why
Thanos is interested in Earth again). Cap and Hulk then question the military
to learn what the Zodiac took for Thanos in chapter 1 and it is a new Cosmic
Cube designed by the U.S.
military. Realizing Thanos has the Cube the Avengers and Guardians head off
into space to find him.

Chapter 6 – Maria Hill briefs the New Avengers, Secret
Avengers and FF on the events of the last few issues and Reed is tasked with
coming up with a line of defense in case the Avengers and Guardians fail. In space
we see Thanos promise the Badoon an empire larger than the Kree and Skrull if
they eliminate the Avengers for him. Shortly thereafter the Badoon fleet
intercepts the Avengers and Guardians. Thor and Iron Man breech the mother ship
followed by the Guardians and just as the Badoon seem like they are about to
defeat Thor, Iron Man’s armor explodes to reveal Hulk inside as Banner was
piloting it as a “Trojan Hulk” ruse. The other Avengers except Widow follow
inside, when the Badoon blow the airlocks sweeping all the heroes sans
astronaut gear into Outer Space. Meanwhile Thanos successfully activates the
Cosmic Cube.

Chapter 7 – Thanos summons the Elders of the Universe,
Stranger and Inbetweener to him and then obliterates them with the Cube,
however the Cube energy then begins to spike out of Thanos’ control. Back in
space Widow gets a space suit and retrieves the other heroes though Tony and
Clint are not doing particularly well from space exposure. Thor is unaffected
by space and continues to attack Badoon ships, while Star Lord has his old
element gun and uses it take on a raiding party of Badoon foot soldiers. Hulk
joins Thor in the fight while Rocket uses undefined space technology to bring
Clint and Tony back from the brink of death. Thor manages to rupture the warp core
of the Badoon Mother Ship and then the Guardians leap to hyperspace to make
good the heroes’ escape; only for the heroes to be confronted by Thanos, who
has once again shed his physical form though this time the Cosmic Cube seems to
be the heart of his universal energy form.

Chapter 8 – Thor tries to fight Cube Thanos, while Tony
analyzes him and learns the Army was not able to build a true Cosmic Cube but
rather a “dark matter energy conduit” in a cube shape. Cube Thanos disintegrates
the Avengers. On Earth Reed and the President prepare for the worst. The
Avengers and Guardians discover they are not dead but have instead been
transported to the Cancerverse from Realm
of Kings.
They also find the Elders of the Universe are here as well and
form an alliance with them. Cube Thanos arrives on Earth and Reed plans to use
the Ultimate Nullifier to stop him when the Avengers arrive on the scene. Thor
uses some weapon Collector gave him to shatter the Cube, which returns Thanos
to normal at which point the heroes of Earth lay the smack down on him and turn
him over to the Elders for imprisonment. In the epilogue the Guardians invite
Iron Man to join their team, while the Badoon declare war on Earth for what the
Avengers did to their mother ship a few chapters back.

 
 Critical Thoughts: I liked the story’s momentum but it is flawed,
as most Bendis stories are. If you look at this as a story designed to appeal
to casual fans that saw the movie and want to see this cast in another
adventure with aliens it succeeds admirably. However, if you know anything
about Marvel continuity this story makes little to no sense.

We’ll start with the Elders power levels being way off.
Other than Grandmaster none of them have ever been shown able to manipulate cosmic
energy on their own; and even he wouldn’t be part of the cosmic pantheon with
the Stranger or Inbetweener. As we saw in Thanos
Quest
Thanos is more than capable enough of handling these characters at
his base power level. Let me also add Thanos should clearly know the difference
between a real Cosmic Cube and an imitation at this point. Groot’s power level
also seems off as he seems to be a peer to Hulk and Thor in the final battle,
and while he is a powerhouse he is still made of wood and nowhere near the
league of upper cosmic level threats like Thanos or Magus as the last Guardians series made clear.

Speaking of which there are several characters who died in
the last Guardian series who are back
alive with absolutely no explanation. Most notably Star Lord, who is human and
if you are going to resurrect him you need to explain how. Thanos, Drax and the
Cancerverse were all dead as well when last we saw them. At one point Star Lord
is asked point blank how he escaped the Cancerverse (a key plot point since it
was permanently sealed and then collapsed in upon itself when last we saw it)
and Bendis just has him stare at the Avengers blankly instead of providing an
explanation. It also seems to imply that the Guardians work for the Galactic
Council now, which isn’t a bad idea, but is a change in the status quo of their
last series (and this begs the question of what happened to the Annihilators).
I can live with a revolving door to death in comics but at least give the
reader the courtesy of an explanation when you use that door.

Reed’s plan to use the Nullifier also seems ill-advised
since we’ve seen in the past the Cosmic Cube trumps the Nullifier (Infinity War) and that using the
Nullifier can cause planet-sized collateral damage (late 90s issues of Silver Surfer involving Morg and
Tyrant); although I guess we can assume Reed’s intellect is such he could
contain the collateral damage.

We also have the whole Avengers blown into space scene which
makes little sense. Cap is shown to be barely harmed by the vacuum of space,
which Bendis attributes to super soldier serum—showing yet again that Bendis
fundamentally misunderstands what the Super Soldier Serum actually does. This
even more bizarre in that a fully armored Iron Man is nearly killed by the
vacuum of space, when I’ve seen Tony in space in numerous other stories. Tony
also claims at one point the Avengers are not prepared to deal with cosmic
threats; but I think Korvac, Nebula, the Elders of the Universe, the Kree and
the Skrull would all beg to differ. Plus this team of Avengers dwarfs the
Guardians in raw power.

I’d also add the Hawkeye & Widow makeout scene is
completely arbitrary. I guess it is supposed to be a nod to the pseudo romantic
tension between the two in the movie, but it has no story value at all here.

On the positive front I really liked the idea that the
Avengers and the President have a cosmic level protocol specifically for
Thanos. I also liked the presentation of Gamroa’s character a lot, particularly
the use of her history as Thanos’ foster daughter. For the future the use of
the Badoon could be interesting, as DnA were clearly building to a major event
with them during the entire run.

Also Mark Bagley’s art is fabulous with lots of beautiful splash pages. And he draws a heck of Thanos,

 

Grade: B-. A
pretty fun story if you don’t mind the cosmic continuity gaps.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade: Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Avengers: Fear
Itself.

by Brian Michael
Bendis, John Romita Jr., Mike Deodato & Chris Bachalo.

collects Avengers
13-17 and New Avengers 14-16.

 
Why I Bought This: As
I mentioned in my Fear Itself review
all of the tie-in trades were in the discount bin of my local comic shop, and I
decided to break my usual no event story rule (and in this case my no Bendis’
Avengers rule as well) and give it a try since the event was supposedly
Cap-centric.

 

The Plot: It
could best be described as the missing fight scenes from Fear Itself; plus Daredevil joining the New Avengers.

 Chapter 1 – We get a framing device of the Avengers being
interviewed for a book shortly after the events of Fear Itself. This leads to recollections of Red Hulk’s recent
joining of the team, Tony blathering of how the Avengers repairing Asgard will
inspire people, and Hawkeye flirting with Spider Woman.

Chapter 2 – Red Hulk fights a hammer-possessed Thing and
loses badly, after which Thing destroys Avengers Tower.

Chapter 3 – Hawkeye, Spider Woman, Ms Marvel and Captain
Marvel (v6.0) battle a hammer-possessed Hulk in South
America. Spider Woman in particular gets a big moment where she
has to fight Hulk one on one for a little while the other three recover. Ultimately
despite the Avengers best efforts the Hulk just keeps walking towards NYC.
Afterwards Hawkeye and Spider Woman have a romantic moment.

Chapter 4 – Cap is feeling down about Bucky’s death. Cap
gets a tip that Sinn is in some old Nazi castle in Sweden, so he takes female SHIELD
agents Sharon Carter, Maria Hill and Victor Hand with him to investigate but
instead they find Master Man (a Nazi with a more powerful version of the Super
Soldier serum that Cap’s been fighting off and on since WWII). Cap defeats him
and the castle blows up as we learn Sinn was never there, she just leaked the
info to set a trap for Steve.

Chapter 5 – Hawkeye’s squad from Chapter 3 arrives in NYC,
which is now in flames thanks to the Nazi Mech-Warrior exoskeletons. When Sinn
arrives Hawkeye shoots her through the neck with an arrow; but thanks to magic
that not only doesn’t kill her, it barely annoys her. Ms Marvel then engages
Sinn for awhile and just as Carol is blasted across the city, the New Avengers
arrive. They are still barely a match for Sinn, so Captain Marvel uses Kree
tech to send all of Tony’s former Iron Man suits in the rubble of Avengers
Tower after her too (with the Iron Patriot suit leading the way). Sinn is still
winning but when the two Avenger teams surround her Sinn chooses to teleport
away rather than continue the fight.

Chapter 6 – Switching over to the New Avengers Mockingbird reflects on a recent near death experience
that resulted in her getting a dose of the super soldier serum. When the Nazi
exoskeletons arrive in NYC, she thrills in the use of her new powers until Avengers Tower falls and makes her ashamed that
she was enjoying the battle.

Chapter 7 – We flashback to Wolverine beating Iron Fist in a
sparing session, after which Squirrel Girl is invited to fight and beats
Wolverine. We also see a little of her civilian college life before returning
to the present, where she fights her way through some of the Nazi exoskeletons
to get back to the mansion so she can babysit Luke Cage’s kid, while the New
Avengers go to work. After the Avengers leave a squadron of the Nazi-bots
surrounds the mansion and open fire on it.

Chapter 8 – In the framing sequence we get some
self-referential meta-snark about what type of hero belongs on the Avengers
before introducing Daredevil into the story. He singlehandedly takes down a
sh*t ton of the Nazi machines before Avengers
Tower falls. DD’s
super-hearing lets him know the Nazi’s plan to take out Avengers Mansion
next so he heads over their and saves Squirrel Girl and the baby, taking out at
least another dozen Nazi robots off-camera (we see the wreckage so we can get an
approximate count). Three weeks later Cage invites DD to join the New Avengers
team in thanks for saving his kid and he accepts, after which we get more of
the framing sequence to justify his decision.
Critical Thoughts: This
is better than the main Fear Itself
story, but then considering how poorly I graded that it’s not hard. The
action/fight scenes are generally very good–far better than in the usual
Bendis story. On the other hand this is full of some of the Bendis-isms that
make me hate most of his Avengers run: the talking heads, the placing of action
in the past tense, the poor characterization of Hawkeye, his tendency to show
not tell and his going to ridiculous lengths to make situations seem more
grave/impactful than they should be.

I’ll take it chapter by chapter. Chapter 1 is your typical
Bendis super hero talking head story in which no one actually attempts to solve
any crimes that make up at least 50-percent of the issues in his Avengers run. We also see Bendis’
continued characterization of Hawkeye as a man-whore despite his wife
(Mockingbird) recently returning from the dead, and his insistence that the
Jessica Drew Spider Woman is an interesting character worthy of being the focal
point of the title. In other words, nothing to see here.

Chapter 2 is a decent fight scene between Red Hulk and
Thing, helped by the fact that JRJR’s art is a good fit for this type of story.
But any good will it builds up is pissed away when Bendis has Jarvis call the
defeat of Red Hulk and fall of Avengers
Tower the worst day of
his life in serving the Avengers. Off the top of the head here are four days
that Jarvis would think of as worse: being hypnotized by Ultron and forced to
betray the team as the Crimson Cowl in the 60s; Being beaten half to death by
Mr. Hyde during Under Siege: a storyline in which Avengers Mansion was
destroyed for the first time (whereas Avengers Tower falling is at least the
fifth time the team has lost its headquarters) and several other members of the
team were hospitalized; The Avengers core members being killed during the
Onslaught crossover, after which the team was disbanded for a year; Bendis’ own
Avengers Disassembled story in which yet again the mansion was destroyed, four
members lost their lives (including main-stays Hawkeye and Vision)—made worse
by the fact the carnage was caused by one of the team’s other mainstays losing
her mind and the team disbanded for six months. But nope clearly this was a
much worse day than those, I mean a building fell down (again) and a dude who’d
been a member of the team for about one week was beaten in a fight. Even if Red
Hulk was missing and presumed dead at the time, the Jarvis comments are
supposedly part of the book interview that takes place after Fear Itself is over so he knows by now Red
Hulk’s not dead; and even if Red Hulk died in that fight, why would that be
worse than days when multiple team members with years of service died? That
sentence right there is everything wrong with Bendis’s writing. He just says
big things to show how grave the situation is that the story doesn’t actually earn
and that anyone with a cursory knowledge of continuity knows isn’t true.

Chapter 3 is probably the best chapter in the book. It’s a
very good fight scene with the heroes employing clear tactics even if is yet
again it is Spider Woman centric and continues the trend of the heroes being
completely ineffective in this story. I will say in the art Ms. Marvel and
Mockingbird are almost indistinguishable from each other in the book interview
scenes (something also present in Chapter 1 and beyond). There is another logic
gap here that is very typical Bendis, in which it implied the latest C.M.’s
teammates still don’t know what his powers are; which I just don’t buy that Cap
sends a team into the field without everyone knowing each other’s capabilities.
Of course this is hardly surprising since it seems Bendis can’t write a team
book without having one character whose powers are “whatever the hell Bendis
feels like pulling out his ass that day” (see Sentry). In fact a few months ago
I reviewed a Dark Avengers trade (by Bendis) where this new Captain Marvel
received a power upgrade from the Supreme Intelligence and yet I couldn’t tell
you what his powers were/are either before or after the upgrade because Bendis apparently
does not want to be hemmed in by firm details like that.

Chapter 4 – I’m always up for a Cap centric issue where he
battles one of his classic foes. Again JRJR’s art rocks here. That said Bendis
clearly has no knowledge of physics in this issue as apparently metal bounces
in the Marvel Universe now, since Cap jumps out a building, lands on his shield
and bounces in one motion (with the shield apparently glued/magnetically
attached to his feet) all the way up to the top of another building. I love Cap
as much as the next dude but that is some fairly inexplicable physics (and it
contradicts stories from Gru’s Cap run, in which he uses a vibranium shield to
break his fall from a plane, and notes his classic shield would not have been
able to absorb falling impact like that.)

Chapter 5 – The dynamic of Hawkeye’s squad is well-written
as is their fighting tactics. I HATE Bendis’ insistence in writing Hawkeye as a
casual killer as it contradicts everything about the character’s first 40-years
of appearances and we see Bendis do it again with him having Hawkeye take an
assassination style head shot at Sinn from the rooftops to kick-off the fight.

Chapter 6 – More continuity ignoring at the expense of a
favorite character of mine, in this case Mockingbird. Here she is exhilarated
to get the super soldier serum when she should be terrified. Mockingbird
started as a SHIELD scientist tasked to recreate the serum and as such is an
expert on the madness it causes without the vita-ray treatment. And this isn’t
arcane continuity; it was a key point in a story published less than a year
before this one in the Hawkeye and
Mockingbird
ongoing series/trade. (The one where Hawkeye also proclaimed
his enduring love for Mockingbird instead of trying to bang Spider Woman in
front of her). Also the serum seems to have given her ridiculous leaping
ability more akin to Spider-man than Cap.

Chapter 7 is about Squirrel Girl, an odd running joke of a
character that you wouldn’t expect to be carried over into the main Avengers title or an event story as a
better fighter than Wolverine. For that matter Wolverine beating Iron Fist
without using his claws in hand to hand combat seems off to me also, but screw
it I don’t care enough about Squirrel Girl to discuss this in-depth.

Finally Chapter 8 is way too self indulgent to even be a story. If you have to
bookend your story with three pages of justification on each side on why a
character belongs on the Avengers that is probably a sign he doesn’t really
belong there. Not that I care if Daredevil joins the New Avengers one way or
the other since they are all bunch of low-powered urban heroes anyway at this
point. I’ll add Bendis’s justifications are a total snake eating its own tale
since the examples he cites of how DD belongs are mostly other characters like
Wolverine and Luke Cage who don’t really belong that Bendis previously
shoe-horned into the series. Also the New
Avengers
chapters highlight another major flaw of the main crossover: which
is why are the Nazi exoskeletons steamrolling from DC through New York in the
main book if glorified acrobats like Mocking Bird and Daredevil can destroy
large numbers of them singlehandedly?

 

Grade: C. Some
good fight scenes and the JRJR art get this a passable grade for a discount
pick-up, but many Bendis’ bad tendencies are on display here as well. In
general the Avenger chapters are a
lot better than the New Avengers
chapters.

PS – Shameless Self Promotional Alert: For those who enjoy my Trade reviews here, feel free to check me out at Spiderman Crawlspace, where I am now the Venom ongoing series reviewer. My first two reviews there were posted earlier this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 

By Bill Miller

 

Avengers: The Contest

by Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, Steve
Englehart and Tom Deflaco (writers) and John Romita Jr., Al Milgrom and Bob
Hall (art).

collects Contest of Champions 1-3, West Coast Avengers
Annual #2, and Avengers Annual #18.

 

Why I Bought This – It was a good mix of old and new for me, as I’d read the two Avengers Annuals before and they are
fabulous—one of the best of Avengers stories of all time that I certainly would
not mind having in trade; while I had never read Contest of Champions before.

 

The Plot: The
Grandmaster gathers all of Earth’s heroes to be part of cosmic game, and then a
follow-up contest collects both teams of Avengers.

 

This story is a lot of superhero fight scenes. Most of the
fun is in seeing who wins and how, so spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

 

Chapter 1 – The Avengers are training when they are suddenly
teleported away. In Russia
the Soviet Super Soldiers are battling the Red Ghost when the heroes are
teleported away. We see the scene repeated across the world with the Fantastic
Four, X-Men, Alpha Flight plus all the solo heroes who had books in the 80s like
Spider-man, Hulk, Dazzler, Daredevil, Ka-Zar, followed by a bunch of
international heroes that no one has ever heard of (several who were created
just for this story).

 

The heroes compare notes on what is going on when the
Grandmaster appears alongside a mysterious hooded figure. Grandmaster explains
he is playing game against “the Unknown” where if he wins he will get to
resurrect the Collector (a fellow Elder of the Universe—the Elders are a group
of cosmic immortals, each one of whom has an obsession. For the Grandmaster
this is playing of games, for Collector its collecting rare things, etc), but
if he loses he too will die. The two entities then draft teams while announcing
that if the heroes do not participate the Earth will be destroyed. Grandmaster
selects Captain America, Talisman (an Australian Aborigine, not the more famous
Alpha Flight hero), Dark Star, Wolverine, Captain Britain, Defensor, Sasquatch,
She-Hulk, Daredevil, Peregrinne, Thing and Blitzkrieg, while The Unknown
selects Iron Man, Vanguard, Shamrock, Iron Fist, Storm, Arabian Knight, Angel,
Sabra, Angel, Invisible Girl, Sunfire, Black Panther and Collective Man. The
teams are then subdivided into smaller squads with the game that each squad
must find a golden orb before its opponent.

 

Chapter 2 – At the north pole we get Daredevil, Talisman and
Darkstar vs. Sunfire, Invisible Girl and Iron Fist. No one is pleased with the cold
and everyone spreads out to search. In the sky Darkstar (who can make solid
objects out of Darkforce) and Sunfire (microwave-based heat powers) battle. Sue
turns invisible as she searches but Talisman senses her mystically and casts a
sound-based spell that causes her to hallucinate. Finally Daredevil and Iron
Fist encounter each other and engage in hand to hand combat. The sky battle
continues and when Darkstar deflects some of Sunfire’s heat blast it begins to
melt the ice below. This breaks Talisman’s concentration on his spell and also
takes out Iron Fist. Everyone then sees the globe in frozen waters. Taliman
casts his spell again affecting everyone but Sue, who has her forcefield up
this time, but before she can grab the prize Daredevil (presumably being immune
to hallucinations because he is blind) uses his billy club’s lasso to retrieve
it and win.

 

In an old west ghost town we get Iron Man, Arabian Knight
and Sabra vs. Defensor, She-Hulk and Captain Britain. Again everyone scatters
(although not before we get Israeli-Muslim hostilities from Sabra and Arabian
Knight) to search alone. She-Hulk tackles Arabian Knight off his flying Carpet
but Sabra comes to his aid by shooting quills from her fingers which allow her
to temporarily drain strength from her target. She then tries to go physical
with She-Hulk. Iron Man is attacked by Defensor, whose magic shield reflects
Iron Man’s repulsors back at him. Iron Man counters by picking him up and
throwing him through a wall. Captain Britain (at this time using a magic
scepter as his power source instead his more familiar battle armor) takes the
fight to Arabian Knight’s magic sword as we get a weapons duel. As She-Hulk’s
strength returns she pounds Sabra good. Captain Britain defeats Arabian Knight only
to be taken out by Defensor’s body. This leaves Iron Man and She-Hulk and Iron
Man wins with one electric blast (which seems way too easy) and this allows his
teammate Arabian Knight to grab the globe.

 

Chapter 3 – In China
we get Vanguard (Russian hero with magical weapons that if crossed make a force
field), Angel and Black Panther vs. Wolverine, Thing and Pergrine (basically a
French version of the Falcon). Yet again everyone separates to search alone to
solo battles. In this case Black Panther and Wolverine meet for some hand to
hand combat, Angel and Pergrine meet in the air, and Vanguard turns on his
forcefield to keep Thing at bay. Wolvie pops his claws and gains the advantage
on Panther, While Angel defeats Pergrine by hitting him in the head with a
stick. Thing pulls Vanguard’s hands apart, which drops his forcefield and then
takes him out in one punch. Thing criticizes Wolvie for using his nails in this
game which allowa Panther to make the fight more of a stalemate and while those
two keep each other busy, Thing walks over to the globe and wins for his team.

 

Chapter 4 – In the jungles of South America we get Storm,
Shamrock and Collective Man vs. Captain America, Saquatch and Blitzkrieg.
Again everyone separates with Collective Man spawning five clones to search faster.
In the air Blitzkrieg encounters Storm, he tries to imprison her in a
lightening cage but she makes it scatter with a thought. Cap and Shamrock meet
in the tree tops and she uses luck based powers to avoid his grasp. Collective
Man uses kung fu on a Sasquatch to no effect and gets punched away but lands on
his feet. He pulls his clones into him to increase his strength but even the
strength of five men is nothing to Sasquatch. Meanwhile Storm uses hurricane
winds to win her fight, while Shamrock summons a snake to battle Cap for her.
Sasquatch has Collective Man pinned so he summons the physical strength of the
entire population of China making him ridiculously strong. He then easily wins,
but passes out from the strain of channeling too much power. Blitzkrieg retrieves
Cap and makes him a flying platform. The two search but Shamrock finds the
globe through luck.

 

Back in space before the assembled heroes, Grandmaster has
won 3-1 but before he can claim his prize. Talisman confuses everyone to allow
Sue to take off the Unknown’s hood and reveal that she is Death. Death then
reveals that while the globe Grandmaster collected can resurrect Collector it
must be charged with another immortal’s lifeforce to do so, and Grandmaster agrees
forfeiting himself to Death so Collector can live and with that the heroes are
all returned to where they were plucked from.

 

Chapter 5 – The East and West Coast Avengers are playing
baseball against each other when Silver Surfer comes racing in to deflect a
bolt of cosmic energy. Alas he was only half-successful and the East Coast team
is all dead. Surfer takes the WCA to the Collector, who tells them the
Grandmaster has pulled the Avengers into Death’s realm in a bid to escape. He
gives them a poison potion so they can die and save their teammates, although
Firebird proves to be immune. Meanwhile in Death’s realm Grandmaster gives the
East Coast the same story in reverse blaming the Collector so when the WCA
arrives we get the inevitable super hero fight and with each team having seven members
they decide to split it into a series of individual battles while Surfer goes
looking for answers on his own. The East Coast team is Cap, Thor, She-Hulk,
Captain Marvel, Wasp, Dr. Druid and Black Knight while the West Coast team is
Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonderman, Iron Man, Hank Pym and Moon Knight.

 

Iron Man vs. Captain Marvel – Tony tries his repulsor blast
but they go through C.M.’s energy form. She tries to short out his armor but he
counters by disrupting her wavelength. She reforms and resumes overloading his
armor but he takes the excess energy he’s absorbed from her and blasts her with
it for the win.

 

Mockingbird vs. Captain America – Mock goes on the attack
with her metal staff but Cap easily avoids and blocks with his shield. He lures
into thorn bushes and quickly disarms her but rather than hitting her Cap
retreats and leads her further into the thorns where her costume becomes
tangled and immobilizes her for the win.

 

Meanwhile Surfer finds Death but she doesn’t speak to him
before we cut to Pym vs. Wasp. At this time Pym is using shrunken weapons that
he reenlarges rather than changing size himself. Wasp shrinks and zaps hum a
bunch of times until Hank pulls out a shield. He then throws three flying laser
guns to chase after her. She hides behind his head and Hank gets hit with his
own lasers but when Wasp goes to check on him he stuns her with sleep gas while
revealing he’s immune to the lasers that he sent after her.

 

Wonderman vs Thor. They trade punches back and forth until
Thor throws his hammer at Simon to put him down.

 

Tigra vs Dr. Druid. Druid makes of illusions of monsters he
pretends to summon mystically but Tigra’s sense of smell clues her in. He
throws an illusion of a boulder at her and she sees through that too, but when
Druid then telekenicaticlly moves a real boulder at her she ignores it and it
lands on her tail. Then he possesses her while she’s trapped for the win.

 

Moon Knight vs Black Knight – Moon Knight tries to make it a
distance fight to avoid BK’s magic sword but anything MK throws at BK, BK cuts
in half.  MK manages to bola BK’s legs
but when he moves closer brandishing an axe, BK cuts both the axe and bola in
half. MK then lunges on the sword shouting “death before dishonor” and Dane
fears the sword’s curse has been activated but MK had done trickery with his
cape to only fake being impaled and uses the opening to konk BK on the head for
the win.

 

Hawkeye vs. She Hulk – With the teams tied 3-3 this is the
deciding battle. Clint hits her with a dynamite arrow and Jen replies by
throwing a boulder at him. Hawkeye dodges but She-Hulk closes the distance and
breaks his bow in half and tears his quiver off his costume. Clint lures her to
a rocky jetty and she breaks it and falls into a lake. Clint throws more
explosive arrows on her head to buy time and make a new bow. As She Hulk comes
up for air he fires a sleep gas arrow into her mouth for the win. The Avengers
go to confront the Grandmaster only to find out he’s imprisoned Death.

 

Chapter 6 – So the combined Avengers attempt to stop the Grandmaster
but he pushes them back with a wave of his hand, then explains how everything
going back to Contest of Champions was a plot to usurp Death’s power. Having
done that he creates five bombs that he intends to spread across the universe
that when detonated will destroy the entire universe. But true to his nature he
offers the Avengers a chance to stop him in a game: he will transport them to
the site of the bombs and then send members of the Legion of the Unliving after
them, the rules are the Avengers must disarm the bomb before the undead kill
them and/or it detonates.

 

Thor, Pym and Hawkeye then find themselves in Hades. They
are met by Nighthawk (former Defender with a winged flight suit and low level
super strength), the Executioner of Asgard and Swordsman (Hawkeye’s mentor and
a former Avenger).  Pym throws a grenade
at Nighthawk while Thor and Executioner go toe to toe and Hawkeye fires arrows
at Swordsman that he deflects with his sword. Pym uses a laser to clip
Nighthawk’s wings but it accidentally triggers a cave-in. Pym attempts to grow
a brace to hold the ceiling but Nighthawk fatally stabs Pym from behind with a
stalagmite. Thor and Hawkeye win their fights but the bomb is about to detonate
so Thor locks it in a vortex which costs him his life as well leaving Hawkeye
as the sole survivor.

 

 Captain Marvel,
She-Hulk, Moon Knight and Tigra find themselves on a tropical island with the
bomb floating in the sky. As the only flyer C.M. attempts to disarm it only to
be intercepted by Captain Mar-vell and Drax the Destroyer (cosmic heroes who
were key in stopping Thanos the first time out) both of whom have energy
absorbing powers that they attempt to use to rip Captain Marvel in half.
She-Hulk throws a tree to allow C.M. to escape. Drax and She-Hulk exchange
punches while Green Goblin arrives to attack Tigra and Moon Knight. Moon Knight
is actually doing well against the Goblin when Death Adder (former Serpent
Society member with fast-acting posion talons and tail spikes along with gills)
attacks Tigra and drags her into the ocean. C.M is using her speed (literally
light speed) to outmaneuver her predecessor and She-Hulk proves to be stronger
than Drax until he flies into orbit and dive bombs her breaking her back.
Goblin uses hallucinogenic gas to disorient Moon Knight and puts him down with
a laser blast from his glove. Tigra escapes to a tree and claws Death Adder
when he follows but as Adder falls his tail catches her and she’s poisoned.
C.M. successfully deactivates the bomb. Tigra and She-Hulk die after seeing
their team’s victory; but then the villains attack C.M. anyway and fatally
disrupt her energy form.


Silver Surfer is in deep space with his bomb when he finds Korvac (cosmic
powered foe of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy from the late 70s whose
story I’ve never read) awaiting him. Korvac fires energy bolts and asteroids at
Surfer to little effect but he’s protected the bomb in a forcefield that Surfer
is having trouble breaking. Surfer cracks the forcefield so Korvac jumps on Surfers
board and absorbs his cosmic power reverting Surfer to his mortal form while in
deep space. Surfer uses his dying will-power to collide his surfboard into the
bomb and deactivates it while destroying Korvac.

 

Iron Man, Dr. Druid, Mockingbird and Black Knight find
themselves in the ruins of an ancient alien civilization. They spread out to
search for the bomb and Dr. Druid finds himself attacked by Dracula.
Mockingbird meets Red Guardian (Russian version of Captain America) and they go
at it. Iron Man is attacked by Terrax (former Herald of Galactus) who throws a
mountain at him which Iron Man tries to deflect with his full power repuslors.
Black Knight meets the original Black Knight of King Arthur’s court (and who
possesses the same magic sword) and we get a sword fight. Druid meanwhile is trying
take on Dracula in a telepathic dual of wills while Mockingbird defeats Red
Guardian with her staff. Iron Man is wobbly and low on power when Terrax
attacks with the Power Cosmic which Iron Man absorbs and redeflects to take out
Terrax but the feedback destroys his armor. The two Black Knights are
stalemated while Dracula kills Druid. Tony in his underwear tries to disarm the
bomb while Mockingbird stands guard but when Dracula arrives he kills her with
ease which distracts Tony and the bomb detonates destroying one-fifth of the
universe.

 

Captain America, Wasp and Wonderman find themselves on a
frozen wasteland planet. They are attacked by Hyperion (Superman analog from
Squadron Supreme), Bucky and Baron Blood (Nazi vampire foe of Cap). Bucky goes
right for Cap and confronts him with guilt over allowing him to die in World
War II. Blood tries to catch Wasp but she is too small for him and then flies
into his ear to fire her lasers. Hyperion and Wonderman trade blows and Hyperion
is much stronger breaking Wonderman’s ribs with one of his punches. Wonderman
tries throwing icy boulders at him but Hyperion has heat vision to block. Cap
dropkicks Blood as he and Wasp trade partners and she gets Bucky on the run
with her laser blasts. Bucky backflips over her and punches her out of the sky.
Cap manages to stake Blood only to turn and see that Bucky squished Wasp like a
bug. Hyperion meanwhile flies Wonderman through the core of the planet, emerges
from the other side and tosses him into the sun. Cap finds the bomb, puts down
Bucky and successfully disarms it.

 

Cap and Hawkeye find themselves back before the Grandmaster
and compare notes on who they lost. Grandmaster then reveals all the dead
Avengers as members of the Legion of the Unliving and announces they will play
a second round with four more bombs. Hawkeye loses his sh*t seeing Mockingbird
dead and fires a ton of arrows at Grandmaster to no avail. Cap brings Hawkeye
to his senses and gives one of his where there’s life there’s hope speeches.
Hawkeye realizes they can’t win and challenges Grandmaster to a new game
wherein Hawkeye will place two arrows behind his back, one has one of his
modular special arrowheads and one is an ordinary arrow, Grandmaster must pick
the special arrow. Grandmaster asks why he should agree but Hawkeye goads him
by noting Grandmaster’s lived his whole life for games and here he can play a
game of blind chance for the fate of the entire universe. Grandmaster can’t
resist. He picks the wrong arrow and Death breaks free. She banishes
Grandmaster from her realm and the restores the Avengers to life in thanks. Cap
asks Hawkeye what he would have done if Grandmaster had picked the right arrow
to which Hawkeye responds Grandmaster did pick correctly but Hawkeye cheated
and snapped the modular arrow head off behind his back. Cap is shocked Hawkeye
would cheat while Hawkeye points out he wasn’t going to leave the fate of the
universe to chance. The two teams then resume their baseball game while the
Grandmaster watches them play from outer space.

 

Critical Thoughts: The
Contest of Champions story isn’t much of a story and I don’t just mean that it
is meaningless fight scenes because I can enjoy that type of story as the
second half of this review will show. It is because it is a bunch of fight
scenes made up mostly of heroes no one cares about. The trade includes notes to
explain this as the series was designed as tie-in to the Olympic Games hence
the creation of a whole bunch of new international heroes but that doesn’t explain
why all the new heroes are broad stereotypes with lame powers.

 

The Avengers story is every bit as excellent as I recall in
my youth. Oh sure I could quibble about why Death is so distracted by the
Avengers fight that Grandmaster can usurp her power, when the Avengers seem to
fight in a very orderly gentlemanly fashion with the seven one-on-one fights and
when those fights end Cap, Thor and Iron Man are like “okay Hawkeye your team
won 4-3 so we’ll follow your plan now.” But if you want a fun old-school 80s
comic when they knew how to choreograph good fight scenes this is the one to
buy. The Avengers a lot of fun and the Legion of the Unliving battle is for my
money one of the two greatest Avengers issues I’ve ever read (the other
involves Nebula and Spiderman in the early 300s by Fabian Niscieza).

 

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn Tom Deflaco wrote
the Legion of the Unliving issue, as he is not I name I usually think of as an
Avengers writer. I’ve already been of the opinion of late the Defalco is the
single greatest choreographer of fight scenes in Marvel history and finding out
he wrote this cements that view for me. (Some other Defalco classics include
Spidey , Silver Sable & Sand Man vs The Sinister Syndicate collected in the
Spidey vs. Silver Sable trade, Spiderman vs Firelord in ASM 268ish, Thing &
the Avengers vs. the entire Negative Zone in Marvel Two In One collected in
Essential MTIO volume 3, and a lot of Spidey-Hobgoblin battles in the 80s
including issue 275 plus he’s used Seth to great effect in Thor, Thunderstrike
and Spider Girl).

 

I also find that final chapter to be the definitive Hawkeye
story. It’s this story that made Hawkeye my second favorite Avenger of all
time. I love the contrast between him and Cap in the ending with Hawkeye being
willing to cheat to win. I also love how of all the powerhouses on the Avengers
in this story it’s the two most human members who are the last ones standing.

 

Anyway it’s a truly great story and if you like it you may
also want to check out Essential Silver Surfer volume 2 as it features the
second half of the Grandmaster’s plan in this story, wherein after being
banished by Death he is now truly immortal and he goes about collecting the
Infinity Gems and trying to kill Galactus.

 

Grade: The
Contest of Champions story in the C-/D+ range but I don’t care because the
Avengers story at the end gets the A+ from Christmas Story with the +’s going
around the room into infinity. So yea A+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Cosmic Marvel

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Annihilators: Earthfall
by Dan Abnet and Andy Lanning; art by Tae Eng Huat & Timothy Green II
Collects Annihilators Earthfall 1 – 4
Why I Bought This – By now everyone should know that I love me some cosmic Marvel and especially Quasar, who is featured prominently on the cover. I also loved DnA’s writing on Guardians of the Galaxy which this book grew out of. It also stars the Avengers so I was all over this.
The Plot: The Annihilators sense a cosmic threat is about to manifest on Earth and head our way to stop it, leading to the usual superhero misunderstanding fight and team-up formula. Also in a series of backup stories Rocket Raccoon and Groot are kidnapped by Mojo. Spoilers ahead.

Chapter 1 – The Universal Church of Truth is having a civil war since the death of the Magus in Thanos Imperative which is destroying entire planets as collateral damage. The Annihilators (Quasar, Ronan the Accuser, Gladiator, Beta Ray Bill, Cosmo and Ikon) intercede and disable both armadas with relative ease. Cosmo’s telepathy on one of the faction’s leaders reveals a universal class threat is about to manifest on Earth and he sends the rest of the team to stop it. SWORD detects the Annihilators arrival but they come in so fast it reads on their monitors as several alpha class alien threats so they send a general distress call to the Avengers and Fantastic Four. In Colorado we see what appears to be a board room of business-people but it’s actually a front for shape-shifting members of the Church. The Annihilators take the fight to them, leveling half the town in collateral damage when the Avengers arrive.
Chapter 1.5 – Rocket Raccoon and Groot are battling the Badoon in hand to hand combat. They retreat to their ship and attempt to flee only to discover there is no star drive. We see the situation has been orchestrated by Mojo (longtime X-foe who presides over a TV dimension) for ratings.
Chapter 2 – The Avengers (Cap, Spidey, Iron Man, Wolverine, Red Hulk, Thing, Ms. Marvel and Valkryie) order the Annihilators to stand down (since the alien shape shifters still look human). We get the big superhero brawl while Quasar and Ikon go looking for the head alien (thus taking Quasar out of the main fight since as a reserve Avenger he could probably clear things up in a sentence or two.) It’s a fun fight scene as despite the heavy hitters on the Avengers they are still outclassed in power with Ronan and Gladiator, which is an unusual dynamic for them in these types of friendly brawls. Spidey follows Quasar and in a nice nod to their history tries to talk things out and accepts it at face value when Quasar leads him into the alien throne room. Once revealed the Church troops attack both teams. Quasar’s crew finds a cocoon but when they open it, it’s empty. They turn only to see the Magus reborn in the body of child and possessing an army of other children to confront them.
Chapter 2.5 – Rocket and Groot make their way thru several virtual reality worlds representing different television shows Mojo is casting them in. Rocket clues in to what’s going only to get wounded as Mojo reveals that TV show or not the stakes are still life and death.
Chapter 3 – The Avengers imprison child Magus and quarantine him from the kids he possessed. Quasar clues them into the danger level, while Ronan favors just killing him even if he is a child and being done with it. In a wonderfully eerie scene baby Magus rises from his chair without saying a word, smiles at the prison surveillance camera and not only blows himself free but sends out a wave of power that converts 30-percent of the U.S. population into purple gene-coded Magus slaves. Ronan again favors killing everyone to stop the contagion much to Cap’s horror and we get a cool standoff as they debate what it means to be a soldier. That’s broken up by things going from bad to worse as the entire fleet of the Universal Church of Truth arrives to invade Earth. We get a major battle, while Iron Man, Quasar, Gladiator and Ronan try to use their combined science knowledge and energy/matter rearranging powers to reverse things. Ronan then calls in the entire fleet of Kree Sentries and informs the heroes that if the reversal plan fails he’s given the order to the Sentries to blow up the planet to stop the Magus from spreading into the universe.
Chapter 3.5 – Rocket and Groot continue to battle through Mojo’s television shows, while Rocket’s stolen postage machine (from the last Annihilators trade) pulls a gun on Mojo and shuts down the VR program.
Chapter 4 –The Avengers (including Quasar) are less than pleased with Ronan’s contingency plan. Valkryie considers killing the Magus (in his child form) put can’t do it. The Church fires up its belief engines (they convert the faith of their congregation into pure energy that can be manipulated to do just about anything, usually draining up the life-force of the believers in the process). Gladiator notes his powers are also belief-based and flies into the belief engine to see if he can override it. Magus then uses that moment to dissolve his child form and ends up possessing Gladiator and manipulating the faith energy combined with Gladiator’s Superman-level strength. The heroes begin to fall until Quasar stands up to him long enough for Ikon to stab Gladiator in the back. Gladiator regains control temporarily and asks his teammates to kill him to stop the Magus threat and while Quasar falters, Ronan does not. Ronan then uses his hammer to manipulate the faith energy and trap the Magus’ spirit back in its cocoon, which Iron Man has wired into a Sentry. The Church retreats and Gladiator comes back from the dead.  Quasar and Cap debate Quasar’s role on this team and just what the Annihilators jurisdiction should be, before Cap agrees to turn Magus’s cocoon over to them. The Annihilators take the Cocoon back to Knowhere and jettison it outside the universe in hopes the Church will never find it again.
Chapter 4.5 – Rocket and Groot take the fight to Mojo. Rocket kills him only to find out he’s a robot. Major Domo confesses to being responsible as Mojo has gone missing and he needs to run things in his absence. Rocket and Groot negotiate a financial cut for the television show Domo produced with them and then head back to space happy with their wealth.
Critical Thoughts: Not a perfect story but I liked it overall.
On the good front, Quasar, who is the primary character I bought this book for, is presented exactly as I would expect him to be and in a similar way from his dearly departed solo title. I really liked the conversation with Quasar and Cap at the end. Those two heroes, both of whom are the most identified with Mark Gruenwald’s tenure in Marvel, were always shown to have a relationship of strong mutual respect and it ends with Quasar clearly defining role on the team to be the moral line between undertaking missions for the greater good of the universe yet being the moral center to hold harder-edged characters like Ronan and Gladiator from going to far. Also his fight with Magus possessed Gladiator is bad-ass, I just wish we got to see more of it.
 Cap in general is also portrayed very well in this story. I loved his scenes with Ronan in this.
I’m also glad to see the Magus back, although I’d prefer him in his more traditional form. To me the biggest disappointment with Thanos Imperative was the casual killing of the Magus in the first chapter since he’s 1) a much more interesting villain than undead Captain Mar-vell & his Lovecraftian tentacles, and 2) the entire 25-issue Guardians of the Galaxy was all build-up to the Magus’ big return and then he gets jettisoned in the opening chapter of the conclusion, which makes for a very poor payoff. So in that sense kudos to anything that puts the Magus back on the board and gives him a more fitting send-off for now.
On the more critical side, while I appreciate the need for exposition, the idea that Quasar (or anyone) has to tell the assembled heroes how dire a threat the Magus is, is laughable. He was the primary villain in the Infinity War crossover in which he came damn to close to both killing every hero on Earth and conquering the Universe—although if anyone in this story should take the threat of the Magus seriously it is Quasar since he was killed by Magus in Infinity War.
Also while I appreciate the effort of trying to keep Quasar away from the big superhero brawl, he could still end it in seconds while searching for the Magus as his Quantum Bands have long been programmed to talk on Avengers frequency from across the Galaxy so he could easily talk into them while flying to find the Magus and clear things up.
I also don’t buy that Valkyie, who is an Asgardian avatar of death, can’t bring herself to kill Magus because he’s in child form, but that’s a minor criticism.
To me the biggest flaw of this story is Gladiator’s casual resurrection at the end cheapens what was a strong heroic finale to the story. Yea, he’d probably come back anyway no matter what, and it seems this is the end of DnA’s cosmic run so I can see not wanting to kill off a semi-important character when there’s no future story plans in this sector of the Marvel Universe but it’s still a lazy out even in an era of frequent resurrections. 
Finally there is absolutely nothing to the Rocket Raccoon story, which is unfortunate because after Guardians of the Galaxy he’s another favorite character of mine. Each mini-chapter is so short that it is just a waste of pages that could have gone to the main story instead.
Grade: B-. While I have some criticisms, I bought this for Quasar and he takes center stage in it (which is fairly rare since the 90s) and is presented in role that suits him. Hopefully DnA will tackle the character again one day, since they clearly had long-term plans for him based on Immortus’ comments in the prior Annihilators trade.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers: Under Siege
by Roger Stern and John Buscema
Collects Avengers 270 – 277
Why I Bought This – As I mentioned a few times the week of The Avengers movie I purchased several trades. This collects the most famous story of the Roger Stern era and Stern is perhaps my all time favorite comic writer (it’s either him or Mark Gruenwald) in large part because of his work on the Avengers.
The Plot – Baron Zemo assembles a small army of supervillains to take down the Avengers in a coordinated assault on the mansion all so he can get revenge on Captain America for killing his father. Your Avengers at the start of this story are Wasp, Cap, the second Captain Marvel, Black Knight, Hercules and Namor. (Spoilers ahead):

Chapter 1 – New Yorkers are protesting the Avengers recent decision to admit Namor as a member due to some of his prior supervillainy in the pages of early Fantastic Four. Moonstone decides this would be an ideal time to pretend to be a widow of a man killed by Namor to incite the crowd to riot. The Avengers deal with the riot and Wasp recognizes Moonstone and they battle one on one for awhile until Black Knight intervenes to defeat Moonstone. As she is hauled off to prison Absorbing Man and Titania are impersonating the police guards in the truck and take her to meet Zemo (as yet unidentified). Namor learns his old foe Attuma is holding his current girlfriend Marina (of Alpha Flight) hostage and leaves to rescue her on his own.
Chapter 2 – Hercules and Wasp continue to argue as part of an ongoing subplot from this era where Hercules resents taking orders from a woman. Wasp goes home to cool off and runs into Paladin, whom she was having a casual relationship with at this time. Wasp and Paladin are interrogating the new Yellow Jacket in prison (Hank Pym’s secretary who stole one of his costumes to become a supervillain six months prior to this story) when Screaming Mimi and Grey Gargoyle arrive to bust her out of jail. The heroes are quickly overwhelmed but Wasp gets out a distress call. Unfortunately only Black Knight is available to answer as C.M. is in space, Cap is out of state traveling via motorcycle, and Hercules broke his at a bar following the argument with Wasp. We end up with a fairly well choreographed three on three fight with the heroes winning. They capture Mimi and Gargoyle but Yellow Jacket escapes. Namor radios the team for help in his rescue mission.
Chapter 3 – The Avengers and Alpha Flight team up to rescue Marina. After the heroes win Marina flees from Namor due to drama of her alien heritage (part of an ongoing Alpha Flight subplot). Namor decides to stick by her anyway and quits the Avengers in order to do so.
Chapter 4 – We finally see Zemo and throughout the issue the full Masters of Evil membership is revealed as the Masters use surveillance cameras to spy on the Avengers, all of whom pursue various individual subplots. The Masters include: Zemo (son of a Nazi, no powers), Moonstone (flight, intangibility, enhanced strength and laser blasts), The Wrecking Crew (four members, all enhanced strength and their leading has a magic crowbar), Blackout (control of the darkforce dimension including making solid objects ala Green Lantern), Mr. Hyde (more enhanced strength), Goliath (enhanced strength near Wonderman levels when human-sized plus growth powers to further increase his strength), Fixer (super science gadgets), Tiger Shark (enhanced strength., sharp teeth, water breathing),Yellow Jacket (costume allows shrinking, flying and energy blasts), Absorbing Man (absorbs the properties of whatever he touches) and Titania (enhanced strength). When their surveillance shows all the Avengers are out they storm the mansion and take Jarvis hostage.
Chapter 5 – Black Knight is first to come home. He is ambushed by Mr. Hyde and severely beaten. They use his comuni-card to call Captain Marvel and when she arrives Blackout zaps her into the darkforce dimension. Cap goes to Wasp’s home and alerts to what is going on (he stumbled onto Zemo’s plot in his own book battling Whirlwind and Trapster in an issue not collected in this trade). Wasp sneaks into an air duct and finds where Jarvis and Knight are being held, and Jarvis warns her Hercules is about to walk into a trap. Cap and Wasp try to divert, but Herc is very drunk and refuses to follow Wasp’s orders. He storms the mansion alone. Cap and Wasp try to back him up but Fixer turns the mansions defenses on them defeating them both and capturing Cap. Hercules defeats Tiger Shark only to be attacked by Hyde and the Wrecking Crew. He’s holding his own until Goliath and then the supervillains beat him to death.
Chapter 6 – Wasp rushes Herc to the ER (the Masters tossed his body out of the mansion) while Zemo gloats to Cap. Ant-Man 2 arrives at the hospital having seen the incident on the news and offers to assist Wasp. The doctors pronounce Herc dead but then his heart starts up on its own; he is however in a coma. Zemo sends Absorbing Man and Titania to the hospital to capture Wasp. Zemo destroys Cap’s personal possessions in front of him and then has Hyde torture Jarvis in front of him. Wasp and Ant Man somewhat improbably defeat the two villains.
Chapter 7 – Captain Marvel escapes from the darkforce dimension by using a portal created by the Shroud when he generates his black fog power. She meets up with Wasp, who has also called in Thor to help. Dr. Druid sees TV coverage of the mansion (which is now enclosed in a Darkforce cube to prevent police and the military from helping the imprisoned Avengers) and he decides to help as well on his own. Wasp has power cut to the mansion, which enables Black Knight to teleport his magic sword to him (Zemo & Fixer were keeping it in a stasis field). He uses it to free himself and Cap and they take the fight to Mr. Hyde. Wasp has CM burn into the mansion from beneath and the assembled team helps finish off Hyde. Druid walks through the darkforce wall with his mystic/mental powers as Ant Man takes out Fixer by surprise. Thor takes out the Wrecking Crew and depowers the three who aren’t Wrecker (they got their powers by Asgardian magic originally) only to be ambushed and pummeled by Goliath. Moonstone attempts to flee and C.M. gives pursuit causing Moonstone to crash into a mountain and break her neck. Druid attempts to deal with Blackout but is shot from behind with a tranquilizer gun by Zemo. Zemo orders Blackout to send the entire mansion into the Darkforce dimension.
Chapter 8 – Thor gets his second win against Goliath, while Cap squares off against Wrecker in a pair of well done battles. Druid uses his telepathy to free Blackout from Zemo’s mind control headband but the ensuing fight causes Blackout to die from a brain hemorrhage. Cap confronts Yellow Jacket, who just surrenders without a fight because as always Cap is the man. C.M. returns to melt all of Zemo’s weapons. The Avengers surround him but Cap demands a one on one fight and it ends with Zemo falling off the roof of the mansion. In the aftermath of the battle C.M. comforts Cap as he mourns the loss of the stuff Zemo destroyed in Chapter 6 and the injuries Zemo caused to Jarvis and Hercules.
Critical Thoughts: The story is as excellent as both I remember and its reputation. Stern in my mind is the definitive Captain America writer (his work on Cap’s solo title is perfection and that carried through in his long Avengers run), and in general I really liked his team of Avengers with Captain Marvel, Black Knight and Hercules all among the best second tier members in team history in my view. This is an epic story with epic fight scenes and yet It also includes plenty of character moments for both heroes and villains. Indeed it’s probably little wonder that a decade later Busiek used these same Masters of Evil for his Thunderbolts because despite the large crowd here several of the villains are given unique motivations throughout the story. (Indeed the only real downside to Thunderbolts is we lost some great Avengers villains like Goliath when they reformed). Zemo also emerges from this story as clearly the #2 all-time Captain America villain; and I have no problem with that.
If there is a downside to this trade it is that the Namor chapter with Alpha Flight is boring (and filled with characters I don’t care for), but that’s one chapter out of eight and it has nothing to do with the main story so that’s a fairly minor criticism.
Grade A. If you like either Cap or the Avengers and you’ve never read this, you should. Nuff’ Said.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers Prime
by Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis
Collects Avengers Prime 1-5
Why I Bought This: I actually rented this from the library, as I don’t like/trust Bendis enough to buy books he writes. Also this is kind of Asgard heavy and that’s not my favorite setting. However, the premise of a mini-series that focuses on the Avengers’ “big three” is definitely something that interests me, so when I decided to rent some trades at the library this was the first one I picked up.
The Plot: In the immediate aftermath of Siege Cap, Thor and Iron Man are warped away to Asgard’s nine realms and must battle their way back to each other/home.

 
Chapter 1 – The big three are looking at the ruins of Asgard (which is still in Oklahoma) when Cap and Tony begin to argue about Civil War again when suddenly a magic vortex opens and sucks them through. Tony ends up in a field alone. Cap (sans shield since Bucky still has it) winds up in a bar full of trolls/orcs/elves, when he asks where to find Thor they all attack him but Cap being awesome lays out the entire bar. Thor finds the Enchantress, who attacks him.
Chapter 2 – Thor and the Enchantress battle, while she blames him for the current state of the nine realms. Iron Man encounters some ogres/trolls who easily defeat him as he isn’t fully armored. Cap battles some more elves and after he wins, he meets an elf chick who has the hots for him after seeing him in battle. The trolls bring Iron Man to a dragon named Fafnir that claims Thor killed him once before and they begin to torture Iron Man. Thor learns from Amora that Hela has conquered the nine realms while the Asgardians have been absent in Oklahoma, and Hela arrives.
Chapter 3 – Thor battles Hela and her army of the dead. Tony uses the lightening flashes of their battle in the distance to scare the trolls into turning against the dragon, and then escapes naked (because it’s a Bendis comic where every captured hero is always naked). The dragons catches up to Tony and is about to kill him when Cap arrives and takes him down in three panels because he’s awesome like that. And then Cap scares the trolls away just by standing up to them without throwing a punch because that’s how he rolls. Hela defeats Thor, but as she’s about to kill him Enchantress teleports him to safety where Cap and Tony find him severely wounded and sans hammer.
Chapter 4 – Enchantress has managed to down Hela and she tries to life Thor’s hammer to no avail, when Hela recovers and defeats her. Hela then tries to first lift and then destroy Thor’s hammer also to no avail. Hela then summons the spirit of Thor’s grandfather to take the hammer promising to send him to Valhalla if he does so, however he too fails to lift it so she banishes him again. Amora recovers and summons an army of demons to attack Hela. Meanwhile the big three compare notes and Thor is baffled that Hela is now more powerful than him amongst other standard Bendis-style silly chit-chat. Thor unites the various dragons, elves, and ogres into an army to oppose Hela. Defeated again, Enchantress learns that Hela has the Twilight Sword.
Chapter 5 – Thor’s army battles Hela’s army of the dead in epically drawn splash pages. Thor and Hela meet in battle and she again overpowers Thor and this time stabs him with the sword. She’s about to decapitate him when Enchantress again intervenes and teleports the two of them away so Thor can recover his hammer. Round 2 and Thor manages to stalemate Hela until Enchantress, Iron Man and the Dragon combine all of their energy attacks with Thor’s lightening to finally defeat Hela. Thor then uses the sword to restore the nine-realms (except he still leaves Asgard broken and in Oklahoma for reasons I don’t buy) and Enchantress teleports the Avengers home. Thor gives the sword to Hemidall for safe-keeping (since the rainbow bridge is broken so he has nothing better to do at the moment I guess), while Cap and Tony finally reconcile their differences.
Critical Thoughts: I was stunned at how much I enjoyed this. This may be the best thing I’ve ever read by Bendis. While it has some of his usual quirks that annoy me they are very few and far between in this story. He actually gets Cap and writes him well both in battle and among his allies (which again stuns me because usually I find Bendis completely misses on a lot of the characters I like–Hawkeye being the most obvious example). The fight scenes are also very strong, which typically is a major criticism I have of Bendis: I’d say in most stories of his I’ve read I find his fight scenes have absolutely no flow at all to the point of being borderline non-existent, so kudos to Davis for making more with less.

I’ve mentioned before that Enchantress is probably my favorite character in the Thor-mythos, and again I’m pleased to say Bendis writes her very well letting her show that hidden streak of nobility she had in her best stories of the 80s alongside the pettiness and superiority that drives her villainous actions. I also really liked the Twilight Sword reveal, as it was last seen in Busiek’s modern classic of the Avengers vs. Morgan Le Fay and Bendis assumes the reader’s know and recall its full power and let’s the moment of its reveal sink in.
Grade: A. – I can’t believe I’m giving this grade to a Bendis written Avengers comic, but I can be objective and this story was quality from top to bottom.