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

Hawkeye finally cancelled. :(

I know Fraction has been insanely delayed on Hawkeye, and frankly who knows if it'll ever even get to the finale, but I'm really sad that the plug has officially been pulled.  Especially when every other new launch seems to be Avengers or X-Men at this point.  Also, I think Iron Man is done, which is weird and sad because it's been pretty great as of late.  

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 – Hawkeye

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Hawkeye: My Life as a
Weapon

By Matt Fraction,
David Aja and Javier Pulido

Collects Hawkeye # 1 –
5 and Young Avengers Presents #6

 

Why I Bought This: I
like Hawkeye. I buy most Hawkeye solo titles sooner or later and with this one
getting rave reviews I opted for sooner.

 

The Plot: Hawkeye
takes Kate Bishop (The Young Avenger that used the Hawkeye name while Clint was
dead and/or being Ronin) on as a sidekick and attempts to take down organized
crime and perform missions for SHIELD.

Warning Spoilers ahead, particularly the final sentence of
the chapter 5 recap is a major spoiler you should avoid if you intend to read
this.

Chapter 1 – In the opening page Hawkeye falls out of a
building and is hospitalized. Six weeks later he goes home to a slum building
in NYC owned by some Russian Dude who is in the process of evicting one of the
tenants. Clint sees the guy is within his legal rights to do it. Later Clint
hangs out with all his neighbors for a barbecue and we see Russian Dude wants
to evict everyone by ridiculously raising the rent. Clint seeks out Russian Dude
in an illegal casino and gives him a duffel bag full of money to pay everyone’s
rent. Russian Dude doesn’t actually want the money as he needs the building
vacated for presumably nefarious purposes so a fight breaks out. Clint, who is
in his civilian identity—ergo sans arrows, gets thrown through a window and
shot in the arm. He’s about to be shot again when Russian Dude’s dog–whom
Clint had given a slice of pizza earlier–bites its master to save Clint. This
gives Clint the opportunity to punch everyone out although the dog gets hit by
a car in the melee. Clint takes the dog to the vet where Russian Dude tracks
him down. Clint wins another brawl and then buys the building outright from
Russian Dude. Clint’s dog pulls through surgery.

Chapter 2 – Clint has Kate over at his house and he shows
her a conspiracy he has stumbled onto courtesy of “hobo code.” They then dress
up James Bond style to attend an underworld circus cruise that includes Owl,
Hammer Head, Tombstone,
Madame Masque and Kingpin as attendees. The cruise is hosted by Ringmaster of
the Circus of Crime and he uses his hat to hypnotize and rob the audience,
including the criminals. Hawkeye and Kate are immune due to spy sunglasses and
go off to investigate. Hawkeye gets ambushed and captured by generic thugs led
by a student of the Swordsman. Kate arrives and makes the save. The commotion
causes Ringmaster to arrive and he’s got an Uzi so Kate shoots his eyes out
with arrows, which Hawkeye thinks is taking things a little too far.
Swordsman’s student challenges Hawk to a fight, and Clint takes him down fairly
hard with a regular arrow as well. And then Hawkeye and Kate take the motorboat
Ringmaster had loaded up with everyone’s money. When the hypnotism wears off we
see Kingpin is not happy with this development. Hawkeye then officially invites
Kate to be his sidekick and she accepts.

Chapter 3 – Hawkeye shows all of his old school trick arrows
to Kate, who mocks some of them. Later Clint meets some chick in a red car and
they fall into bed together. The next morning guys with Uzi’s attack and kidnap
her. Clint gets Kate to pick him up in a Volkswagen and we get a long car chase
scene in which Clint has to use every one of his trick arrows in a story that
ends up being really fun and clever in a way a play by play recap can’t do
justice to. In the end Clint saves the girl and they part with a kiss.

Chapter 4 – A tape of Clint assassinating a terrorist has
fallen into the hands of a black market auction in Madripoor so SHIELD sends
Clint there undercover with an unlimited credit card to buy it back. He gets
made by Madame Masque and her goons tie him up and steal his credit card. At
the auction we see Kingpin, the Maggia, the Mandarin, the Crimson Cowl and
Hydra are among the other bidders. Masque wins the bidding, but when she gets
back to her until room we find out she is Kate Bishop in disguise.

Chapter 5 – Hawkeye, while still tied to a chair, is
attacked by the Hand and thrown out a window, but is rescued in the nick of
time by Maria Hill on his old skycycle. The fight draws hotel security who uncover
Bishop’s ruse. The real Masque gathers Kingpin and Viper to discuss the
situation when Hawkeye flies in for the save. The heroes fight some AIM and
Hydra thugs and manage to steal the tape back. Afterwards Kate questions
Hawkeye about the tape’s contents but we learn it was faked by SHIELD to
uncover a mole in their organization.

Chapter 0 – Reprinted from Young Avengers a few years ago it is the story of how Kate and
Clint met. Kate goes on date with teammate Patriot but decides she wants to
just be friends. She is attacked by Ronin (Clint in a dumb ninja costume Bendis
put him in while the world at large still thinks he’s dead at this time.) Clint
in the brief fight decides she has some skills and invites her to meet him in
the obligatory abandoned warehouse. (His interest in her is because she took up
the Hawkeye mantle after he died). Once there he unmasks as Hawkeye. They have
an archery competition over the name and bow that Clint wins while getting to
know each other. After some personal drama with the other Young Avengers, Kate
gets Speed to help her break into New Avengers headquarters to steal the bow
back. This impresses Clint enough that he gives Kate his blessing to carry on
as Hawkeye.

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is a trade that got better each chapter. It’s funny because after the
first two chapters I was all set not to like this. Having Hawkeye using regular
non-trick arrows to stab people isn’t nearly as interesting as the character’s
classic interpretation and having Kate blind someone with regular arrows seemed
exceptionally hardcore and out of character from the little I’ve seen of her.
(I have one Young Avengers trade and the characters
appeared in Civil War.) And then chapter 3 came along and
it was all about the trick arrows and it was so fun and clever and it started
to turn my opinion on this around. Chapters four and five seal the deal, in
that it starts off looking like exactly the sort of take on Hawkeye I hate (him
as a remorseless killer or in this case a government assassin, which is kind of
the same thing) but in the closing panel we learn the exact opposite of that
supposition is true and I was like yea, okay Hawkeye is in good hands here. Plus
the ride from point A to point B in those two chapters is a lot of fun, with
Fraction making good use of the Madripoor underworld setting.

There are a lot of little things I like here as well. The
interaction between Kate and Hawkeye really clicks. I had read chapter 0 before
in the aforementioned Young Avengers trade
I own and really liked the dynamic between the two in that story, so this feels
like a natural outgrowth of that. I thought using Ringmaster as a Hawkeye
villain was a fairly inspired touch considering Hawkeye’s own background in the
circus; although I would have preferred a traditional Circus of Crime story to
fully explore those themes than what we ended up with. Finally, I think the
ongoing subplot of Hawkeye versus the entire criminal underworld shows
potential. Kingpin in particular seems like he’s getting annoyed by Hawkeye’s shenanigans
and that has the potential to become a major story down the line.

Ultimately, while I prefer what McCann recently did with
Hawkeye better than what Fraction is doing as that is just more inline with my
favorite memories of the character, I can see the validity of this
interpretation. It plays up that Hawkeye is a more morally ambiguous than
Captain America,
but that’s always been the case between those two. Ditto, the stressing of
Hawkeye as the most human of the all Avengers. These themes have always been part
of the character but rarely as out front as they are here; making this feel
like a different take yet one still in line with the character’s core.

 

Grade B-. A rocky
start to set the tone it wants to, but once it finds its footing the
storytelling is pretty remarkable in the ending chapters.

Hawkeye #11

Man, just when you thought Hawkeye couldn’t get any more awesome, the Pizza Dog issue comes along and might have been one of the best comics I’ve ever read.  Why can’t this series be biweekly like all the other Avengers books?  If you want a lesson in sequential storytelling without dialogue, this is the one to pick up. 

Waiting for the Trade – Hawkeye

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

 

Hawkeye: Blindspot

By James McCann and
Paco Diaz

Collects Hawkeye
Blindspot 1-4 plus Hawkeye: Earth’s Mightiest Marksman.

Why I Bought This: We’ve
long established Hawkeye is my second favorite member of the Avengers, and
considering he doesn’t get a whole lot of solo series/trades I tend to pick up
anything he’s given top billing in sooner or later.

 

The Plot: Hawkeye
learns he is going blind just as a mysterious super villain begins plotting
against him.

Chapter 1 – The Avengers are battling the “Lethal Legion”
(although the membership is much more reminiscent of the Zemo’s Masters of Evil
from Under Siege) when Hawkeye misses
a shot. We cut away from the battle to its aftermath where Hawkeye gets some
medical tests courtesy of Tony and Hank. The diagnosis is Clint is going blind
due to head trauma from the Widow Maker
trade (I actually just started that one last week); it’s a degenerative
condition that the science guys can’t stop. We then get a series of flashbacks:
Clint’s father being alcoholic and beating him as a boy, the day his parents
died in a drunk driving accident caused by his father, Clint and his brother
Barney running away from the orphanage as teens to join the circus, and teen
Clint being chosen to be Swordsman’s apprentice while Barney is left mucking up
after the elephants. Back in the present Tony gives Clint hi-tech VR vision
through lenses in his mask and sunglasses for civilian life that will let him
compensate until his vision totally fails. More flashbacks show Clint in the
hospital after Swordsman tried to kill him when he wouldn’t join him in a life
of crime and Barney criticizing that decision followed by Trickshot arriving
and taking Hawkeye under his wing, and then yet again Hawkeye is offered a life
of crime and turns it down, this time getting both himself and Barney riddled
with arrows. Next we see Hawkeye working as a circus archer when he sees Iron
Man for the first time and decides to become a superhero followed by Black
Widow finally luring him into a brief criminal career before they split up and
he reads an article about the Avengers as he ponders his next move. Back in the
present a severely wounded Trickshot arrives at Avengers Tower,
apparently he had cancer and was held prisoner without treatment for over a
year. He warns Hawkeye that he was forced to train someone new in archery who
hates Hawkeye but dies before he can reveal anymore. We cut to Coney Island where we meet the new Trickshot, who is
working for Baron Zemo.

Chapter 2 – We see Hawkeye taking down some arms dealers as
he tests his new eyes. Cap finds Clint and wants him to return to the mansion
for medical tests. We get a flashback of Hawkeye meeting Jarvis for the first
time, followed by the day he joined the Avengers and his early friction with
Cap in the Kooky Quartet days. Cap and Hawkeye fight and we cut back and forth
between the current fight and them earning each other’s respect in the Quartet
days. Clint wins the fight in the present and convinces Steve that avenging
Trickshot’s murder is something he needs to do on his own. We flashback to
Clint becoming Goliath v2.0, and then to the death of his brother after Barney
got involved with the mob. In the present Clint gets a CSI report that leads
him to Coney Island, where he meets the new
Trickshot and they have an arrow fight. The new Trickshot unmasks and reveals
himself as Clint’s long dead brother Barney.

Chapter 3 – We open in Flashback to Clint being forced to
take down Moonstone over Zemo’s protestations in the pages of Thunderbolts and we learn this is Zemo’s
motivation for going after Hawkeye now. We then see how Zemo found one of
Egghead’s old labs and within it the frozen Barney Barton and how Zemo
subsequently revived him. In the present Trickshot wins the fight. Hawkeye
awakens tied into a rollercoaster death trap but of course escapes. Trickshot
keeps Clint on the defensive, so he whips out the Goliath change but then his
brain problems kick in before he can finish the fight. Hawkeye has his final
set of flashbacks tracing his evolution as hero into team leader and his
marriage to Mockingbird; when Zemo arrives to gloat. He plans to force Hawkeye
and Trickshot to fight to the death (so that either way Hawkeye loses since to
win he has to kill his own brother) just as Hawkeye’s vision completely fades.

Chapter 4 – Hawkeye uses his most powerful gimmick arrows to
stay in the fight, but he still takes wounds from several of Trickshot’s
regular pointy arrows. Trickshot wants to finish Hawkeye by beating him to
death, but when Hawkeye mentions their father Trickshot hesitates enough for
Hawkeye to use his Cap training in hand to hand combat to regain the advantage.
And then in a scene that has to be seen in the book to do it justice Hawkeye uses
his last arrow to set Trickshot up and takes him down by catching an arrow out
of the air and return throwing it through Trickshot’s shoulder. Zemo gloats
until Hawkeye finds an opening to attack him too. Hawkeye is on the verge of
winning but Zemo teleports away. Cap and Iron Man later find Clint, who awakens
from his injuries with his eyesight back as Pym and Dr. Blake were able to do
some science fiction surgery and cure him by using Barney as a stem cell donor.
In the hospital we learn Barney consented to be a donor for Clint, but still
refuses to patch up their relationship. In the epilogue Clint has come into
money and decides to rededicate himself to a solo crime fighting career.

 

Bonus 1 – So this trade also collects a Hawkeye miniseries
by Tom Defalco set in the early days of Busiek’s legendary Avengers run. Hawkeye is training with new Avengers Justice and
Firestar. The mansion is visited by a woman who claims to be a computer
programmer who has developed a virus that if activated would go all Skynet and
is now receiving death threats for her research. Hawkeye agrees to investigate
and runs into Batroc’s Brigade (Batroc, Machete & Zaran – all highly
skilled assassins without superpowers). Batroc reveals the virus was a ruse,
and the mystery woman actually hired them to kill Hawkeye. Hawkeye wins the
fight but when he goes to check on the mystery woman he finds a discarded latex
mask of her face instead.

Bonus 2 – Hawkeye runs security footage taken of mystery
chick when she was at the mansion through the Avengers database to see if it
can ID her–although if her face was a latex mask I don’t see how that’s
possible. When that proves fruitless he takes Justice with him to question
Batroc in prison for leads. The mystery woman, now going by the moniker of the
Albino, breaks Batroc out just before Hawkeye arrives. When he gets there all
the cell doors are open and his old foe Odd Ball is waiting for him. Hawkeye
and Justice win after a few pages of fighting. In the cliffhanger we learn the
Albino is working for the Taskmaster.
 
Bonus 3 – Firestar has identified the Albino, and she’s just
some geneticist who doesn’t have a costumed identity that specializes in
studying mutants. Albino actually calls the mansion and arranges a meeting with
Hawkeye. Firestar is concerned it is a trap, to which Hawkeye is like, ‘of
course it is but so what?’ He also prevents her from calling in the rest of the
team for backup feeling nothing about this case so far shows he can’t handle
this on his own. The three heroes make their way to the usual abandoned
warehouse where after disposing of some generic thugs they are gassed into
unconsciousness. Taskmaster then uses Pym Particles to shrink the heroes and
trap them in a miniature maze where they have to fight robot duplicates of
various other heroes. We learn the endgame is that Albino in her study of
mutation is trying to enhance Taskmaster’s mutant power to mimic human athletic
ability so that he can also mimic mutant superpowers—the maze is designed to
make Justice and Firestar use their powers a lot so he can copy them. The
heroes escape the maze earlier then planned by having Firestar burn through the
walls. They resume their full size and Taskmaster has their powers but only temporarily
because of the early escape. Taskmaster has the heroes on the defensive for a
bit but ultimately Justice and Firestar use their experience with their powers
to beat him, while Hawkeye apprehends the Albino. Afterwards we learn Firestar
had the New Warriors waiting as backup since Hawkeye only forbade her to
contact the Avengers on this case. Hawkeye is mad for a second before he laughs
it off and lauds her initiative for following her gut instinct despite orders
ala himself and Cap back in the day.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
may be the greatest Hawkeye story ever told. It is certainly for me the
definitive version of his origin, which I don’t think has ever been told
chronologically in one place before. Trickshot was a retcon added in Solo Avengers decades after the
Swordsman stuff, Barney died in the 70s and hadn’t been referenced since, while
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen how Clint’s parents died or that his father beat
him. This is also a perfect example of how “continuity” does not have to be a
dirty word in a modern comic, but in fact can enrich an already good story. What
also makes this a perfect example is I’ve never read the original
Barney-Egghead stuff from the 70s or the original Thunderbolt series that serves as Zemo’s entire motivation in this
story, and yet with the flashback everything was still crystal clear and as a
result the story was even more compelling than if Zemo was just your typical
super villain of the month taking on Hawkeye.

One other positive of seeing various points of Clint’s
origin presented in chronological order is it makes seem Clint was destined for
a life of crime and thus his rising up to become not just hero but one of the
all time great Avengers’ team leaders makes his hero’s journey character arc
all the more impressive. Look at this story: his first mentor Swordsman offers
teen Clint a life of crime and Clint turns him down and is hospitalized for his
nobility. Then his second mentor Trickshot offers slightly older teen Clint a
life of crime and he again turns him down too, and he is again hospitalized and
this time loses the love of his brother as well. Then young adult Clint tries
to become a hero and the police mistake him for a villain anyway, until he
meets a girl and yet again she entices Clint into a life of crime and this time
after all the disappointments he finally waivers. And that could easily be the
end of his story except we get the whole second act where he happens to save
Jarvis from some muggers and the next thing you know he gets a chance at
redemption with the Avengers. This is just fantastic storytelling using mostly
existing plot elements to illuminate Clint’s character in a new way just as
he’s facing this latest challenge of going blind.

I’d also say McCann captures the dynamic between Clint and
Cap perfectly. I love the shout out to Cap’s “Fighting Chance” when Cap tries
to convince Clint to take it easy for health reasons and Clint responds by
calling him a hypocrite for having done the same thing back then.

Furthermore the action scenes in this are also fantastic.
Again the idea of Clint goes blind and yet manages to fight off both his evil
double (which is what Barney is serving as in this story) as well as Zemo (who
is for all intents and purposes Cap’s #2 bad guy) should be absurd. But damn,
the thought balloons explaining Clint’s strategy and illustrations combine to
make this fight not just credible but thrilling.

As for the back-up story by Defalco it is really not that
good, which is shame because I like Defalco in general and Defalco wrote the
story that made Clint my second favorite Avenger (the one where he cheats the
Grandmaster in the realm of death to save the universe). It’s not terrible. I
like the dynamic between Clint and the two rookie Avengers; and overall Clint’s
voice with not wanting to call in the other Avengers and being proud of
Firestar finding a loophole in his orders feels right. But having Taskmaster
looking to power upgrade so he can duplicate mutant powers doesn’t feel right
to his character, who has long eschewed direct confrontation with the heroes in
favor of making money behind the scenes. Still at the end of the day this is a
back-up and so it’s not going to effect the main story grade.

 

Grade: A+. If you
like Hawkeye you will love this story. McCann also wrote the very good Hawkeye & Mockingbird limited series
so he clearly gets this character. I often complain about how Bendis portrays
Clint, well this is the opposite of that as McCann writes Clint 100% perfectly
in my view. I might go so far as to say he is the best writer of Hawkeye ever.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECCOMENDATION.

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: Captain America & Hawkeye

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Captain America &
Hawkeye

by Cullen Bunn with
illustrations by Alessandro Vitti and Matteo Buffagni

collects Captain America and
Hawkeye 629-632.

 

Why I Bought This: Cap
and Hawkeye are my two favorite Avengers so if you stick them in a series
together you are going to get my money. Throw in Stegron, who is one of the
more enjoyable C-list Spidey foes and that’s just extra incentive to pick this
up.
The Plot: Cap and
Hawkeye go to New Mexico
to investigate the disappearance of some environmentalists only to discover an
army of symbiote dinosaurs.

Chapter 1 – We start with Cap and Hawkeye (now dressed in
his Avengers movie costume) battling
some paramilitary mercenaries while engaging each other in semi-hostile banter.
After they win the fight they learn the mercenaries have a government contract
and meet the female director of the program Kashmir Vennema. Hawkeye flirts
with her but she flirts with Cap, as Cap briefs her on the missing environmentalists
which is made up of families with children. Vennema shows Cap and Hawkeye
around her HQ and notes the mountain is littered with dinosaur bones. Also she
has the corpse of a bug creature, which she reveals is a mutated human.
Apparently the paramilitary group has been fighting the mutants for months, and
when the mutants capture members of her team they make them one of their own.
Cap and Hawkeye go into underground caves to investigate and are attacked by a
velociraptor. When it shrugs off Hawkeye’s electric arrows the heroes realize
something isn’t right. Then when Cap hits it with his shield the skin jumps off
the bone and we see the creature is actually a symbiote animating dinosaur
bones. Once the heroes realize it isn’t a mutated human, Hawkeye using a flame
arrow to kill the symbiote. However the noise of the explosion brings out a lot
more creatures.

Chapter 2 – Cap and Hawkeye are able to hold the creatures
at bay until a pterodactyl swoops in and snatches Cap. Hawkeye tries to hitch a
ride with a cable arrow but the creature shakes him off leaving him alone in a
new dark cave. Back at the lab the mutant corpse from last issue pops up and
its symbiote possesses an old man that was performing an autopsy. Vennema
however shoots him in the head to put him down before that goes any further,
which causes the symbiote to go dormant. Cap wakes up in Stegron’s lair.
Stegron explains these caves were part of an underground city of dinosaur men
called the Saurians who were exterminated by the Dire Wraith. Stegron came here
to use his magic wand that usually reanimates dinosaur bones in museums to try
to resurrect the Saurians but accidentally created the dinosaur symbiotes
instead. Stegron apologizes for his actions as a symbiote drips off him. In the
tunnels Hawkeye comes across Cap who now has a velociraptor symbiote for a
head.

Chapter 3 – Raptor-Cap has Hawkeye on the defensive until
Cap manages to regain control long enough to give Hawkeye an opening, allowing
Clint to use a sonic arrow to drive the symbiote away.  Cap and Hawkeye then re-engage the lesser
mutants, while the main symbiote finds the bones of an enormous snake. After
winning off-camera, Cap and Hawkeye banter some more until they find Stegron.
They have a brief fight that ends with Hawkeye pulling a gun to Stegron’s head
to get him to surrender. Stegron claims he was seeking Cap out to help him as
his original goal of resurrecting the Saurians is impossible, apparently
because their remains are infused with Wraith DNA (The Dire Wraith are kind of
like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers
aliens). The three of them are then
confronted by the mutated children of the environmentalists and Stegron agrees
to fight them, so Cap and Hawkeye can handle the main threat. Back upstairs the
paramilitary group is starting to evacuate with their research when Cap and
Hawkeye confront them. They attempt to draw guns on the heroes but the
stand-off is interrupted by the Wraith-Queen-symbiote-dino-snake monster.

Chapter 4 – The soldiers open fire on the symbiote snake and
when the bullets prove useless they run away. Alas it does them no good because
they run into the horde of mutants. Stegron then shows up and actually makes
the save. Meanwhile Cap decides to crash the Quinjet into Dino-Snake but even
that doesn’t slow it down. Hawkeye wants to try a sonic arrow on it but he only
has one left so Cap tells him to use it to separate the symbiotes from the civilian
hosts instead. Hawkeye does so and then terminates the symbiotes after they
separate. Hawkeye and Stegron come up with a plan, while Cap continues to
battle the dino-snake in a well-rendered fight scene. Ultimately, Clint uses
dino bones as arrow heads and shoots the creature and then has Stegron
reanimate the bones causing dinosaurs to burst out from the snake (ala Aliens) thus  killing it. In the aftermath both Stegron and
Vennema escape and she offers to put Stegron on the payroll of her mysterious
employer.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
perfectly entertaining little comic book. Certainly not world changing but hey it’s
Cap and Hawkeye vs. Velociraptor versions of Venom, which has a fun superficial
appeal.

On the critical level, the Cap and Hawkeye banter is
probably a little harsher than it should be considering how long these two have
been working together, but if you have only four issues to let these characters
play off each other I can understand pushing their differences to the forefront
for a little bit.

The existence of the symbiotes makes little sense in this
context since the symbiotes have long been established as their own alien race,
and these symbiotes clearly have the exact same two weaknesses as the ones we
see in Spider-man all the time, yet
here they are somehow created as a side-effect of trying to magically resurrect
corpses infected with Dire Wraith DNA. I’d complain but at the end of the day
the Symbiotes are 1 million times more interesting than the Dire Wraith in the
pantheon of Marvel alien species, so while it’s a plot hole it results in a far
better story than the alternative.

I’m also not sure I buy Stegron’s motivations. I can see him
not wanting the Symbiote-Wraith hybrids to run amok as its counter to his
long-standing motivation of brining back the dinosaurs to rule the Earth. But I
don’t believe he would care about human children or soldiers (Indeed Stegron’s
second appearance saw him take a child, Billy Connors, hostage).  Furthermore I don’t believe Cap would trust
Stegron to take care of the possessed children while both he and Hawkeye run
off to deal with the problem, he’d be much more likely to have one Stegron
accompany one of the heroes and have the other hero save the kids.

However overall I like Cap’s characterization in this story.
Telling Hawkeye to use his last sonic arrow to save civilians instead of defeat
the monster very much feels like Cap. I also like that he’s able to shake off
the symbiote’s influence long enough to give Hawkeye an opening and his
determination in taking on the big snake in the final battle.

On the flipside, it seems Bendis’s mischaracterization of
Hawkeye is now spreading to other writers. He carries a gun now? (Sigh). He
wants to casually kill Stegron (double sigh). Still it’s not all bad, Hawkeye
does come up with the winning plan after all and it’s fairly unconventional
one, which in that sense is classic Hawkeye.

 

Grade: C+. We’re
not changing the world, but this is a fun enough team up story.

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 – Hawkeye

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
New Avengers: The Reunion
by Jim McCann and David Lopez
Collects New Avengers The Reunion  # 1- 4 and Dark Reign: New Nation.
Why I Bought This – Considering this is the long awaited reunion of Hawkeye and Mockingbird
(again my second favorite comic couple) the real question is why did I take so
long to buy it? The answer to that is actually the New Avengers name, which is
no doubt put here to help it sell but has the opposite effect of invoking bad
connotations for me as I hate everything Bendis has done with Hawkeye (and most
of the team) in that title. It wasn’t until I read the Hawkeye and Mockingbird trade that occurs after this and is also by
McCann that I safely felt this dude gets these characters and decided I wanted
to buy this one too. Having recently (re)read the first meeting of these two in
the Avengers: Hawkeye trade following
the movie this felt like a natural follow-up pick-up.
The Plot:
Hawkeye’s wife Mockingbird needlessly died in the early 90s when West Coast Avengers was cancelled. In Secret Invasion it was revealed she was
still alive, having been kidnapped by aliens before her death and it was a
Skrull impersonating her that had died in her stead way back when. Now Hawkeye
and Mockingbird are reunited for the first time in years.

This is a very character
driven story, so the only way to recap it is with fairly heavy spoilers. You’ve
been warned.
Chapter 0 – Hawk and Bird are
sparring and she draws blood. Later she tests the blood in a private lab to
prove Hawkeye isn’t a Skrull. We also see she is having flashbacks from her
time on the Skull world. Hawkeye wants to renew their relationship but Mock
walks away from him and decides to become a spy again.
Chapter 1 – Hawk follows Bird
to a hospital where she’s doing spy stuff and she tells him to go away. We see
a flashback of how Hawkeye found her: He went to Bucky-Cap, who helped Hawk
track her down after some snarky banter. Bucky also warns Hawkeye that being on
ice and having your life stolen can change a person. Back at the hospital Mock
lets Hawk tag along, and they uncover the hospital is a front for AIM (who in
this story are playing the role of generic terrorists instead of their usual
super science conquer the world bit). I should mention Hawkeye starts the
battle dressed in his ridiculous Ronin identity but fortunately runs out of
ninja weapons and Mock has a bow and arrow for him to fall back on so he can be
his classic self for the rest of the story. Anyway the heroes escape an ambush
in one of SHIELD’s flying cars, and Mock reveals she has some stolen Skrull
information files that she is using to create an independent spy agency to work
outside of SHIELD; in this case to prevent AIM from detonating a chemical bomb
in Spain. Hawkeye then net arrows her and calls in Bucky-Cap for back-up.
Chapter 2 – Bird breaks free
and we get the obligatory fight scene, although the dialogue makes up for it in
spades as Bird questions the whole ludicrous Ronin thing as a reason she
doesn’t know if she can trust Hawkeye anymore and McCann and Lopez through a
combination of art and dialogue reveal how the identity was meant as a tribute
to Mockingbird. And in just two pages he’s partially redeemed five years of
terrible writing by Bendis for fans of classic Hawkeye.  This then directly leads to Hawkeye empathizing
with her on how coming back from the dead can mess you up as we get more
tidying up of Bendis plot holes. This leads to a compromise where Bird will let
Hawk come along on her spy mission if he cuts ties with Bucky-Cap and the New
Avengers for the duration of the mission. We cut to them flying over the
Atlantic and as Bird briefs Hawkeye on the mission and the we get dual
flashbacks: Bird recalls being targeted by the Skrulls when she was on a plane
heading to see Hawkeye about their estranged marriage and Hawkeye recalling having
to tell Tigra (another founding member of the West Coast Avengers and Bobbi’s
best friend on the team) that Mockingbird had died after WCA 100. In Spain
the two discuss infiltrating a James Bond style gala being held for world
leaders and scientists by the villain (Monica Rappaccini, last seen being
killed in MODOK’s 13). Following the
debriefing they retire to separate hotel rooms which causes Bird to flashback
to their honeymoon, followed by their break-up and her kidnapping moments
before a mission with Ultron—which for long time fans of WCA is a big clue to
this issue’s cliffhanger). The duo are then getting dressed into formal wear
for their cover identities when Hawkeye finally asks Mockingbird why she is
acting as if they are still estranged when they had reunited prior to her death
(and indeed were on the verge or retiring from superheroics to try for a family
when she died) and she reveals to Hawkeye she was kidnapped prior to the Ultron
mission that reconciled them, so in fact they had never reconciled and had she
not been kidnapped by Skrulls she was going to file for divorce.
Chapter 3 – The duo are infiltrating
the party, and it really reads like a great James Bond movie. Hawkeye figures
out the plan is not to blow up the scientists but to kidnap them and then blow
up the building to hide the evidence they are missing. Hearing about the
abduction plan causes Bobbi to flashback to some of the mind-fucking she
received on the Skrull homeworld with Skrulls continuously pretending to be
Clint and Tigra to get info out of her. Followed by another flashback to the
Hawkeye Skrull becoming obsessed with her until she had to kill him while he
still looked like her husband. Clint wakes her up and wants to talk about their
marital problems from way back when, but then she finds the bomb and it
explodes, apparently killing Hawkeye.
Chapter 4 – Monica reveals
herself to Mockingbird and tries to recruit her for AIM. Mockingbird says no in
a physical way and we get a short but cool fight scene as Monica has access to
lots of AIM’s cooler science fiction tech. Mockingbird wins with a bit of low
tech trickery by anticipating Monica’s teleport trajectory and bouncing one of
her metal staves off the wall behind her to KO her. We cut to Hawkeye waking up
under the rubble. When he climbs out Bird is happy to see him alive. They
evacuate the civilians at the party and then take out a platoon of AIM agents.
This just leaves defusing the bomb and they pull that off too. After the
mission they fly to the now abandoned West Coast Avengers headquarters so
Mockingbird can have some closure. She then goes through all the reasons they
shouldn’t get back together until Hawkeye kisses her and puts an end to that.
We get one final cut scene that says “nine days later” that shows them jumping
out of a plane together for another spy mission and making dinner plans on the
way down.
Critical Thoughts: I enjoyed the hell out of this. I can see that it would be very
continuity dense for new readers, but as someone who bought every single issue
of West Coast Avengers in real time I
loved how much and how faithfully it used that continuity in the flashback
sequences. I also really appreciated the effort to take all of Bendis’ missteps
with Hawkeye and try to rework them into something more inline with his classic
interpretation.
I found the spy stuff to be
fun, although the action sequences are clearly secondary to the character
moments in this story. I’m not completely sold on AIM being the villains for
this type of story. In their earliest appearances AIM was doing things like
building the Cosmic Cube, empowering MODOK and creating the Super Adaptoid; so
blowing up a building in Spain
seems beneath them. There are plenty of traditional terrorist groups like Hydra
or the Secret Empire that could have been used instead and would have fit
better. However if you are going to use AIM, I didn’t mind seeing Monica as the
villain. While it somewhat undercuts the excellent ending to MODOK’s 13 she’s an interesting enough
villain to bring back.
Finally I’d say this book soars in the final chapter on a
romantic level like few comic books do. That ending of them diving out of plan
while making dinner plans felt like it could have come straight from a movie
hoping for a sequel. (And in fact this book has a sequel, the aforementioned even
more excellent Hawkeye & Mockingbird trade).
It’s a shame that Bendis promptly ignored all this great character work by
McCann so Hawkeye could date frickin’ Spider-Woman instead.
Grade A. This
book is exactly what longtime fans of Hawkeye and Mockingbird would want in a
story titled “The Reunion.”

Waiting for the Trade – Hawkeye

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers: Hawkeye
by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, Stan Lee, John Byrne & Don Heck
Collects Hawkeye # 1- 4, Tales of Suspense #57, Marvel Super Action #1, Avengers #189 and
Marvel Team-Up #95.
Why I Bought This – This was another of my Avengers movie week frenzy purchases. In this case Hawkeye is my second favorite of the core Avengers. This is also focuses on his relationship with Mockingbird and they are my second favorite comic couple of all time. Throw in that Mark Gruenwald (who is basically tied with Roger Stern as my all-time favorite comic writer) wrote the main story arc and this was something that needed to be in my collection.
The Plot – Hawkeye, on hiatus from the Avengers, is working security for a private company when he and Mockingbird stumble upon a supervillain conspiracy. Also we get some of the earliest appearances of Hawkeye and Mockingbird reprinted as well. Spoilers ahead:

Chapter 1 – Hawkeye is trying out his new sky cycle. We see him with his girlfriend Shelia and some of his co-workers at Cross Technological Enterprises and he reflects on his origin and his new post-Avengers success. Hawk’s night off is interrupted by an intruder alarm at Cross Tech. The intruder is Mockingbird and they meet for the first time in a flirty battle. Mock plays the ex-SHIELD card and tries to tell Hawk that she has information on a conspiracy to build a mind control device at Cross Tech but he arrests her anyway. However he can’t shake what she said so he investigates on his own, leading to him being ambushed by a squad of generic thugs. They capture him and toss him in abandoned well where Mockingbird has also been stashed. Shelia reveals herself as one of the bad guys and they attempt to drown Hawk and Bird in toxic waste. The heroes escape on Hawk’s sky cycle but Hawkeye is broken hearted.
Chapter 2 – Hawkeye discovers his apartment has been cleaned out by Cross Tech, so Mockingbird takes him in and shares her origin. An assassin comes for Hawkeye in his sleep but the heroes drive him off. They break into Cross Tech and have a second battle with the assassin with Hawkeye scoring a hard fought victory while Mockingbird steals the bad guys’ plans.
Chapter 3 – Oddball and Bombshell are called in to take out the heroes. Oddball is a juggler with trick balls similar to Hawkeye’s trick arrows, while Bombshell is a chick with fire-based weapons and explosives. They blow up Mockingbird’s apartment but the heroes escape. Hawk touches base with Cap but decides to solve this case without Avengers’ aid. We get the up close and personal battle between the hero and villain pairs. Bombshell takes out Mockingbird, while Hawkeye defeats Oddball but then Bombshell ambushes Hawk from behind to give the villains the win.
Chapter 4 – The heroes awake chained to a wall and Crossfire is revealed as the head villain. His mind-control machine causes uncontrollable rage in all those who hear a sonic pulse it emits. His plan is to kill Hawkeye and then use his machine at the funeral to get the Avengers to kill each other thus taking them off the board for his plan for world conquest. He decides to test his machine on Hawk and Bird and locks them in a room without their weapons. They battle ferociously but Crossfire turns his machine off so the heroes will absorb the horror of their situation. Hawkeye uses that moment to bite down on one of his sonic arrowheads thus deafening himself. When the machine is turned back on he remains in control of himself and is able to defeat Mockingbird. He then feigns collapsing from exhaustion and when the villains come to check on him, he steals Oddballs weapons and defeats all three of them. He checks on Mockingbird and is afraid she’s dead. She revives and they kiss. We cut away to a honeymoon suite where Hawkeye and Mockingbird have eloped.
Chapter 5 – In his first appearance Hawkeye is working at a carnival when he sees Iron Man stop a Ferris wheel from breaking. This inspires Hawkeye to become a super hero but on his first mission stopping a jewel thief the police mistake him for the criminal. While on the run he bumps into Russian spy the Black Widow and instantly falls for her. She talks him into attacking Iron Man for her. We get an extended fight scene with classic Stan Lee choreography. Eventually Widow gets caught in the crossfire between the two and Hawkeye rushes her to safety while a convenient fog storm prevents Iron Man from following.
Chapter 6 – A black and white story of Mockingbird using the alias Huntress. She has been assigned by Congress to ferret out corruption in SHIELD, and we get a fairly straightforward non-superhero spy story of her in Mexico looking into an agent that she went to academy with. It’s actually fairly brutal and more like a pulp story than a Marvel story. The spies don’t even have the usual SHIELD tech as it is all guns and knives and realism. Anyway Mockingbird breaks up this corrupt batch with everyone in the story who isn’t her ending up dead. She finds some papers that indicate Nick Fury may be corrupt.
Chapter 7 –Hawkeye gets the job at Cross Tech that started this trade as he tries to prove he can make it on his own as a hero. Deathbird from the Shi’ar Empire of all people break into Cross Tech on Hawkeye’s first day. Apparently she’s been exiled to Earth and thinks there some tech here that can get her home (in another galaxy, that’s some private company). Anyway they fight and Hawkeye wins.
Chapter 8 – Spider-man (as Peter) is at the airport when he sees a woman being accosted by a group of men. He turns to Spidey while she ends up handling herself quite well and is revealed to be Mockingbird. Spidey learns her attackers were SHIELD agents and assumes she must be a villain after already helping her escape but she uses one of SHIELD’s flying cars to escape. A SHIELD agent named Deladin brings Spidey in to apprehend Mockingbird and says she’s out to assassinate Nick Fury. The plan is to use a Fury LMD to lure Bird out so Spidey can capture her. The plan works but when Spidey captures her, she has microfilm showing the corruption in SHIELD. At this point Deladin reveals himself as a counter agent and attacks the heroes with the Satan Claw (usually used by Baron Strucker of HYDRA). He actually defeats both heroes and is about to kill them when the real Nick Fury arrives and disarms him. Bird attempts to give her evidence to Fury only to be shot by other SHIELD agents, who didn’t know she was working undercover. Fury rushes her to the hospital and vows to finish the job she started in weeding out the corruption in SHIELD.
We also get Hawkeye and Mockingbird’s entries from the 1980s Marvel Universe Handbook.
Critical Thoughts: I liked everything about this. Hawk and Bird are still a fabulously fun couple and both characters shine in both the main story and the various back-ups/reprints.
I’d read both the main story and the Marvel Team Up issue back in the day and both hold up as thoroughly excellent comics. The main story in particular is exactly the kind of story that makes Gruenwald one of my favorites from pacing to the heroes’ interior monologues this is what super hero story telling should be. The fact that none of the heroes or villains in this story have superpowers and yet it feels perfectly at home in the larger Marvel Universe is another credit to Gruenwald’s ability to tell a perfect superhero adventure story. The finale with Hawkeye deafening himself in order to save the day is also the kind of heroic sacrifice with lasting consequences you don’t see very often. Throw in the Hawkeye gets married at the end of this and this was clearly a status quo shattering story for the character, which again is very rare for a mini-series.

I’d never read Hawkeye’s first appearance but it’s great. Let’s face it Stan Lee in the Silver Age creating iconic characters that have lasted 50 years is always excellent. Nuff’ Said.
The Mockingbird pulp story is so different than 99-percent of what Marvel usually publishes that I enjoyed it just for the novelty.
The other Hawkeye story was also a new read for me; and while not as overwhelmingly great as everything else here it was still a perfectly acceptable comic book and sets the table nicely for the main story.
Grade A+. If you like Hawkeye and Mockingbird then you need to own this.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

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

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers vol 2

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers Assemble Vol. 2
by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
Collects 12-23, 0 and Annual ’99
Why I Bought This – As I mentioned a few times the week of The Avengers movie I purchased several trades. This was first on the list with a bullet as I’d waited literally years to read this since the original hardcover volume has been out of print for some time, and I absolutely loved volume 1. Thankfully the movie caused this to be re-released in soft cover.
The Plot – This is a collection of sequential issues so it doesn’t have one plot, although the Ultron story at the end is what this collection is famous for. Spoilers ahead.
Chapter 1 – The Avengers learn Hawkeye has quit the team to join the Thunderbolts, but seeing as they are  the former Masters of Evil some of the team has doubts as to whether he’s being mind-controlled or not. Vision has recovered from his injuries from the Morgan Le Fay arc that started volume 1; and Hank Pym resolves Firestar’s health problems (left over from the New Warriors) as well. Vision learns Wanda and Simon are dating, and decides to keep his own feelings for Wanda to himself. The Avengers then make their way to what will become Thunderbolts mountain, and the two teams have the usual misunderstanding battle until the alien Dominus shows up (originally a Professor X foe, he later switched to the West Coast Avengers—which makes Hawkeye the most familiar with him). Former West Coast Avenger Firebird shows up to help out as well after Dominus sends out a robot that can blow up the planet. The two teams unite and Hawkeye comes up with a plan that enables the Thunderbolts to deactivate the bomb and save the planet, and thus his new team earns the Avengers respect and they all part amicably.
Chapter 2 – We get a flashback from Jarvis’ perspective of the death of the Avengers during the Onslaught crossover; as well as the untold story of why Black Widow was unable to recruit a new Avengers team in the aftermath of the tragedy. In present day four Sentinels made in the image of the founding Avengers attack New York. The Avengers battle them to a stalemate, while Jarvis figures out that Avengers techie Fabian built them from the remains of destroyed Sentinels in the Onslaught story. Fabian had hoped to use them as a heroic strike force that would take the dead Avengers place but as always when humans play with Sentinels tech, it has gone awry and they’ve superseded their programming and are using his brainwaves as a battery until Jarvis can free Fabian which causes the robots to shut down.
Chapter 3 – Justice and Firestar accompany the New Warriors on a mission during their night off from the Avengers. The Warriors run into AIM and new villain Lord Templar and are out of their depth so Justice calls in the Avengers. Templar has energy based powers and can clone himself and thus does very well against both teams until Thor opens up a can of whup-ass; Templar however does manage to escape. Cap was unavailable for this mission due to stuff going on his own book, so Wanda is elected deputy leader. Justice decides he wants to quit the Avengers and go back to the Warriors but before he can tell Angelica, she tells him she wants them to move into the mansion as she’s come to love being an Avenger.
Chapter 4 – Beast stops by the mansion to say hi to longtime best friend Wonder Man. They end up in a bar with Wanda and Vision and we get some more interpersonal drama, while Busiek also cleans up some bad continuity from Wonder Man’s solo-title. A new villain named Pagan attacks the city, and the Avengers are mostly ineffective against him (as he has immensely high level super strength going toe to toe with Thor, Vision and Wonder Man simultaneously at one point). Eventually Pagan calls off his attack and leaves of his own volition.
Chapter 5 – Triathlon is a giving a demonstration of his powers in New York as part of political rally for a quasi-religious/minority rights group called the Triune Understanding, and we learn they gave him his powers. Pagan attacks the Triune rally and the Avengers respond and yet again are ineffective until Templar shows up and aids them against Pagan and wins the day. The Avengers find it fishy that Templar was no match for Thor and yet can defeat Pagan when the team can’t, but the Triune refuses to let them search their building for clues. We learn the head of the Triune is secretly Templar.
Chapter 6 – The Wrecking Crew are teleported to the headquarters of a robot named Doomsday Man (apparently an old foe of Ms. Marvel from her solo title in the 70s). He wants the Wrecking Crew to bring her to him, but they confuse Ms. Marvel with the second Captain Marvel and attack her instead. While normally Captain Marvel should be able to beat the Wrecking Crew in her sleep, apparently Doomsday has also enhanced their powers so they can absorb energy and convert it to physical strength so there isn’t much she can do. She calls in the Avengers for help, and the team along with Black Knight flies down to New Orleans to assist. The Wrecking Crew basically wins the fight giving Justice a concussion and capturing Capt. Marvel but when they call in to Doomsday for a teleport he sees they have the wrong girl and decides to disintegrate them instead; however Wanda’s hex power saves them by inadvertently banishing them to another dimension.
Chapter 7 – Thor tracks the Wrecking Crew and C.M. to Arkon’s dimension and most of the team mounts a rescue operation, while Iron Man treats Justice back at the mansion. The Pyms arrive to inform the team that Doomsday has captured Ms. Marvel (they were with her at the time), but with the rest of the team gone it’s just them and Iron Man to the rescue. We get the obligatory fight scene which ends when Justice arrives; disobeying orders to take medical leave and ends up getting his leg broken by Doomsday although he telekinetically dismantles the robot before passing out. The main team learns the Wrecking Crew has conquered Arkon using C.M as a battery.
Chapter 8 – The Avengers lead a rebellion to free Arkon from the Wrecking Crew. Captain Marvel saves the day by overloading their energy absorption power. Hank Pym is kidnapped from his day job by robots.
Chapter 9 – Wonder Man learns robots have kidnapped his brother Grim Reaper from the mental asylum. The Avengers battle Iron-Man foe Firebrand with Thor banishing him to another dimension to end the fight.
Chapter 10 – Robots raid the Wakandan embassy and Black Panther falls before them. Wasp arrives to inform the team of Hank’s kidnapping just as Black Panther’s distress call comes through. The team arrives and is surprised to find Alkhemia (Ultron’s second bride from WCA), who is now made of Adamantium. A furious battle ensures before Wanda ultimately short circuits her. The Avengers return home to learn Ultron has conquered the fictional European nation of Slorenia.
Chapter 11 – We see every singe person in Slorenia is dead (including some minor superhumans that had appeared in Force Works). Vision, Wanda, Wonder Man and Wasp are searching Hank’s office for clues when all of the prior Ultrons (1-15) attack them and defeat them. Ultron greets them as his family and says he intends to use them (along with Grim Reaper and Hank) to build a new race of robots that will take over the world.
Chapter 12 –  Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Panther and Firestar take on Ultron-16 in an epic back and forth battle until finally Thor manages to destroy him. Then just when they think they’ve won hundreds of additional Ultrons reveal themselves.
Chapter 13 – The Avengers battle on and we learn some of the Ultrons are not adamantium–most of them are steel thus Iron Man is able to build a weapon to defeat them. We learn Hank used his own brain patterns to build Ultron and that guilt is what has caused his mental breakdowns over the years. Vision frees himself and tries to come to a truce with his father, but Ultron rebuffs him. Still Vision is able to buy time for Grim Reaper to free the others. Just then Thor and company arrive and another massive battle ensues. Ultron is on the verge victory when Justice arrives with anti-metal that the team confiscated from AIM in chapter 3 and Hank uses it to disintegrate Ultron.
Chapter 14 – Vision and Wonder Man get into a physical fight over their feelings for Wanda and we learn that both men admire the other as being the superior version of themselves. (They both share the same brainwaves for those who don’t know).
Critical Thoughts: It does not get better than this! I loved every single thing about this book. I mean I could quibble and say the new villains (Templar and Pagan) aren’t all that interesting compared to the more classic Avengers foes; but even those chapters are filled with good character subplots, well drawn battles and a nice little conspiracy mystery that hasn’t hit fruition yet.
The Ultron stuff is every bit as excellent as its reputation. This is the simply the greatest Ultron story ever told. And Ultron is the Avengers’ greatest villain, so it would put it high in the running for greatest Avengers story ever told. Thor has pretty much his most bad-ass moment ever in chapter 13 (“Ultron we would have words with Thee”). Firestar, a character I’ve always liked, also has her greatest moment in chapter 10 as she tries to overheat Alkhema’s insides with her microwave powers and is willing to face-down certain death to do it. And the fight scenes in this arc are all excellent. Hell considering how often they top themselves they are beyond excellent.
I also love the constant one-shot appearances of Avengers’ past aiding the main team when they are in the area. Having Firebird show up to help against an old West Coast Avengers foe, or getting to see Black Knight and Captain Marvel on the team again were real highlights for me because I like them better than the others but this would also apply to Beast and Black Panther showing up.
The interpersonal stories are great. The reversal of Justice and Firestar’s opinions on the team in chapter 3 was a highlight as is all of the Wanda-Vision-Simon stuff. Vision gets a great monologue in the last chapter when he tells Simon how he feels. The Jarvis flashbacks in chapter 2 are also a nice emotional beat for a longtime supporting cast member.
Busiek’s writing remains superb. Perez’s art is without peer. And even the chapters not written by Busiek (the Sentinels chapter and three-issue Wrecking Crew arc) don’t miss a beat, flowing seamlessly into the rest of the title.
Grade A+. Nuff Said.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Mighty Avengers: The Unspoken
by Dan Slott, Khoi Pham and Sean Chen
Collects Mighty Avengers 27 – 31.
Why I Bought This: Late last year I decided to sample the first Slott trade on this title because even though Hank Pym (who is my least favorite of the longtime Avengers) is the central character, the story also promised to focus on Wundagore Mountain, which is one of Marvel’s more interesting settings when done right. Well that first volume showed that even when settling for an Avengers team made up of cast-off characters that Bendis doesn’t want, Slott is an infinitely better choice to write an Avengers story than Bendis will ever be. So in the week before the movie came out I decided to pick-up several Avengers trades and considering how much I liked Slott’s first volume this one made the cut.
The Plot: So in the wake of Secret Invasion, Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn is put in charge of both SHIELD and by extension the Avengers. Pym decided to honor Wasp’s death in that event by forming his own team of Avengers. He ended up with Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hercules, Stature (the second Ant-Man’s daughter, she has size changing powers), Jocasta, U.S. Agent and Amadeus Cho (teenager with super-intelligence on a par with Mr. Fantastic) as well as Jarvis the butler. What he doesn’t know is that Scarlet Witch is actually Loki in disguise. And that sets the table for this volume.
Chapter 1 – A flashback shows that as teenager Black Bolt won the Inhumans throne in trial by combat over the prior king, whose name was subsequently erased from history—making him the Unspoken. US Agent and Quicksilver are on assignment in China when Quicksilver (who used to be married to Crystal of the Inhumans) spots the Unspoken and recognizes him and recommends calling in every Avenger on the planet. China’s own superheroes led by Radioactive Man confront the Unspoken and are quickly decimated.
Chapter 2 – “Scarlet Witch” is on monitor duty when Quicksilver’s distress call comes in and she decides not to report it since Loki realizes that as Scarlet Witch’s brother Quicksilver is the most likely to see through his ruse; however Stature was spying on Witch (because Witch killed her father) but before she can tell anyone what she saw Loki casts a spell on her that prevents her from saying anything negative about “Scarlet Witch” or what she saw. Stature and Vision then visit the Young Avengers (they’d both been on that team prior to this one) and she tells Wiccan (Scarlet Witch’s son) about his “mom” being back from the dead, knowing that he will immediately use his teleportation power to bring her to him. This severely irks Loki who attacks them, and then Hawkeye (in his silly ninja Ronin identity that Bendis had him wearing because Scarlet Witch killed him too) arrives to intervene.
Chapter 3 – We basically have two intercut stories and a brief interlude. The interlude sees Hank conduct an experiment with Reed Richards and Jocasta’s help to see if he can pierce the barriers of the Macroverse and thus he’s unavailable for the ongoing crises. In China the heroes learn the Unspoken has a bomb designed by the Kree that will devolve all of humanity into Alpha Primitives (a cloned slave race seen in Inhumans’ stories), and Unspoken uses the gas on US Agent and some of the Chinese heroes. The Young Avengers and Hawkeye battle Loki. Once Hawkeye determines it not really Scarlet Witch, Vision joins the fray (presumably he was holding back because Wanda is his ex-wife) and is able to turn the tide of the battle. Wiccan is about to cast a spell to shatter Loki illusion but he teleports away. This breaks the silence spell on Stature, and she calls the team to action to aid Quicksilver’s distress call.
Chapter 4 – The Avengers call in the reserves and Bucky-Cap, Spider Woman, Ms. Marvel, Rage, Justice, Tigra and some dude named Gauntlet answer the call and together the Avengers, Young Avengers and reserves join the fight in China. A lot of them quickly fall to the devolving gas but the non-human members like Vision, Ms. Marvel, Hulkling and Hercules are immune; still the battle is going poorly for the heroes. Meanwhile Hank Pym meets Eternity (the living embodiment of the universe) and Eternity appoints him Scientist Supreme, which makes him the other side of the coin to Dr. Strange’s Sorcerer Supreme. He accepts that role and becomes aware of what is happening in China and decides to head home to help.
Chapter 5 – is really just a massive fight issue from beginning to end (albeit a well done one). The heroes win when Cho modifies the Unspoken’s bomb into a laser that causes Unspoken to age rapidly thus becoming too infirm to fight (and it also cures the devolved heroes).
Critical Thoughts: Another good story by Slott. Let’s look at three major plot points in turn.
I liked with the stuff with Loki and Stature best, probably because it feels the most like a classic Avengers story. You have a classic Avengers foe in Loki. He’s impersonating a core member of the team. And we see how the possibility of Wanda’s resurrection impacts several other longtime Avengers like Vision, Hawkeye and Quicksilver (as well as newer characters like Stature and Wanda’s children). I thought Stature’s way of overcoming Loki’s spell was clever (she can’t say anything bad about him, so she tells Wiccan the “good news” that his mom is alive). And then we get a decent fight scene to pay it off. My only criticism of that part of the story is that I’m grossed out that Stature and Vision are dating because she’s the same age as his two children with Wanda, who also happen to be her teammates but apparently that choice was made in the Young Avengers and Slott is working with what he’s been given there, so I’ll let it go even if it is creepy.
The Unspoken story is good as well. I always like to see the Avengers call in the reserves to deal with a big threat. I thought the early chapters with the flashback and his introduction were very well written. On the other hand, I would say I find the vague description of his powers to be lazy writing. When Quicksilver first sees him he just says he’s an “omega level threat” and doesn’t expound on it. I know the X-men use that same sentence all the time but it’s lazy writing when they do it too. Later the Avengers specifically ask Quicksilver what he can do and he just screams “Everything” and they keep fighting. Well that’s still not helpful to either his teammates or the reader; and it is also patently untrue because if he could do “everything” then he wouldn’t need a bomb to devolve humanity, he could just devolve humanity himself. In the final chapter Unspoken says he can use the powers of all of the various Inhumans over the ages (presumably calling them up one at a time but the writing is vague). My point is that information would be more useful early in the story so the reader can anticipate the final battle and what the heroes are up against, rather than three pages before the story ends when it doesn’t make much of a difference anymore. Still the final battle is a full issue long, which is a nice payoff to four issues of build-up and it’s full of nice touches. Hank Pym pulling out a light-saber is damn fun and considering the super-science of the Marvel Universe it is sort of amazing to think Marvel’s waited this long to rip that off from Star Wars. Hawkeye is also given a great moment in the final battle wherein he has to make a one in a million shot to help Cho disarm/reprogram the bomb and to make that shot he has to step into the gas and sacrifice himself (and thus he only has one chance to make the shot since he will be too devolved for a second shot). Even the epilogue with Quicksilver and the Inhumans has a nice bittersweet touch to wrap the story up. So yea, for the most part good stuff here too.

The Hank Pym stuff also works for the most part. I certainly liked how he’s humbled and amazed to meet Eternity. Usually Eternity is only in stories with heroes like Adam Warlock or Quasar and for those types of cosmic heroes it’s just another day at the office; whereas to the guy who talks to bugs, even in the age of constant crossovers, this is a big deal. The Scientist Supreme thing is clearly a stretch but in Slott’s defense he acknowledges that off the bat with Pym himself admitting there is no way he’s smarter than Reed or Tony Stark. Eternity claims he’s choosing him because he’s the one who most makes science looks like magic, and while not a perfect explanation, it’s not completely implausible either: In this series Pym has an invented a teleporting door and he also has size changing, talking to bugs, the creation of life in Ultron, and the nebulous medical science that all Marvel scientists have to heal teammates from laser wounds or whatever. So that’s a fairly diverse set of fields that tie into either life or space, which is what Eternity represents. And while Pym is no favorite of mine, I can appreciate Slott’s desire to rehabilitate the character because under most of the modern cynical writers Pym is just a failed hero/wife beater who created one of humanity’s greatest threats in Ultron. I think Slott lays it on a little thick at times, such as how Hawkeye reacts to Pym’s arrival in the final battle when Hawkeye is a much more proven team leader than Pym at this point, but I’d rather see a writer err in favor of building the heroes up than tearing them down.
Grade: B. This is a perfectly enjoyable Avengers trade. If you don’t mind that the big three aren’t around, you have all the hallmarks of classic Avengers stories. We have both the big global threat that requires the banding together of many heroes in the one story, and the more personal quest for vengeance by an old enemy in the other, with some interpersonal conflicts mixed in. Between this and the first volume (which is even better) Slott clearly shows he’d be a fine choice to take over the franchise when Bendis finally leaves.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers Assemble

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Avengers Assemble Vol. 1
by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
collects 1-11 and Annual ’98
Why I Bought This – The Avengers is my favorite comic. When I first got into buying trades five years ago this was among the first I bought, as I’d heard very good things about this run. I loved it and immediately wanted to buy volume 2 but it was out of print and averaging about $140 at Amazon. Lo and Behold with the release of the movie volume 2 is back in print. I immediately picked it up, and I figured I’d refresh my memory with the first volume.

The Plot – Seeing as there are twelve chapters I’m going to try to keep the chapter reviews to just a few sentences. Some spoilers ahead.
Chapters 1 – In the wake of the Onslaught/Heroes Reborn nonsense the Avengers were disbanded when their entire core A-list members were presumed dead. Those heroes had recently returned when suddenly there are attacks on everyone who has ever been an Avenger by various Asgardian creatures. About 40 Avengers (as well as Justice and Firestar who were with former Avenger Rage when he was attacked as they were all New Warriors together) gather at the mansion, where Thor informs them Asgard is in ruins and the Twilight Sword, which can cleave reality, is missing. The Avengers split into smaller teams to search for clues and discover Modred and Morgan Le Fay are responsible as Morgan uses the sword.
Chapter 2 – Reality has been remade into a Camelot-style kingdom where Morgan rules and the Avengers are her knights, except for Scarlet Witch who is held in a dungeon as a power source for the spell. Cap breaks free of the spell because he’s awesome like that and is able to free Hawkeye and they discover the spell is weakest on those who most deeply feel a connection to the team. They’re able to get through to Wasp, the female Captain Marvel, Quasar and Justice before Iron Man raises the guard against them. Thor frees himself and Cap’s group escapes, while in the dungeon Witch resurrects Wonder Man.
Chapter 3 – Cap and company battle the 30 ensorcelled Avengers while Wanda and Wonder Man battle Morgan. Morgan needs so much power to fight Wanda that she loses control of the other Avengers and then entire team combines their power through Wanda to defeat Morgan and set reality right.
Chapter 4 – The founding Avengers decide to permanently reform the team. They select Cap (as leader), Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Ms. Marvel, Justice and Firestar. A subplot that Ms. Marvel has a drinking problem is introduced.
Chapter 5 – Squadron Supreme accuse the Avengers of being imposters/skrulls in the wake of their resurrection and the two teams battle over the ocean.
Chapter 6 – The Avengers and Squadron Supreme battle in Project Pegasus, where Wanda realizes the Squadron is being mind-controlled and uses her hex-power to free them.
Chapter 7 – The Avengers and Squadron team up to take on the mastermind of the shenanigans of the last two issues: Imus Champion (The fifth wealthiest man on Earth. He has no superpowers but has used his money to by weapons from several different C-list super villains.) The heroes are about to lose until Firestar gets an ant to smuggle a message out to Hank Pym/Ant Man for a last second assist.
Chapter 8 – Ms. Marvel is kicked off the team for going into battle drunk in issues of some Kree-themed crossover not reprinted in the original hardcover edition of this book (Note – the new soft cover edition released this year to coincide with the movie does reprint those issues). The Avengers battle the Kree on the moon where the aliens launch a missile that will destroy the Earth but Firestar intercepts it by opening up a stargate; however she is concerned that using her powers at that level may give her cancer or sterility based on an old New Warriors subplot.
Chapter 9 – The Avengers respond to a terrorist hijacking at the airport and meet new heroes Triathlon (who has the strength of three men) and Silver Claw (who can shape-shift into animals from the Amazon jungle). In order to save civilians the heroes are forced to let the terrorists escape although Triathlon stows away on their plane.
Chapter 10 – Triathlon discovers Moses Magnum (has earthquake powers given to him by Apocalypse) is responsible for the hijacking and calls in the Avengers, who manage to defeat him.
Chapter 11 – The Avengers celebrate the anniversary of their founding with a parade when Grim Reaper attacks and reanimates all of the dead Avengers (including Wonder Man) against them. The villains win the fight.
Chapter 12 – Wanda, who was exploring the source of her increased power last issue and thus was not at the parade, returns to the mansion only to be attacked by the undead Avengers. She uses her powers to restore their true personalities and they then free the living Avengers. The living and dead Avengers battle side by side against Grim Reaper until Wanda uses her power to fully restore Wonder Man to life and he uses the opportunity to drag Reaper (his brother) into the world of the living as well thus depowering him.
Critical Thoughts: The initial Morgan Le Fay story is fabulous. Now it’s true I love Arthurian myth, but at the same time I hate alternate reality stories in comics. For the most part if you’ve read one you’ve read them all: characters are new people with slightly different names, our protagonists remember the truth, reality is restored and any consequences of the past few issues are erased with very few people retaining memory of the events. This is probably the only one of these stories I’ve ever enjoyed. Busiek’s selection of which Avengers feel the connection to the team most strongly is aligned with many of my favorites: Cap and Hawkeye are my favorites of the A-list and of course they are the first two to shake off the spell. Quasar is my favorite of Marvel’s cosmic characters and the second Captain Marvel was such a wonderful addition to the team during Roger Stern’s run before being sent off to comic book limbo by every subsequent author. Even Wasp, who I’m more or less indifferent to, is a fine choice to feel the call stronger than others as she named the team and her time in the team, even more so than her partnership with Hank, helped her grow out of being a ditzy socialite into a strong independent capable woman.
It also helps that the art is quite simply the best in Avengers history, with Perez drawing 40 heroes effortlessly, then redesigning those same heroes with medieval variant costumes, while also drawing frenetic battle scenes with Morgan. His panels featuring the return of Wonder Man are also very nicely done.
Wonder Man’s return ties back to an earlier point, for despite this being an alternate reality tale this story has consequences as Wonder Man (another great character in the team’s history) returns from the dead—and then Vision suffers injuries in the alternate reality that actually stay with him when reality is restored while Wanda comes out of it with vastly increased powers. All of which sets up a romantic triangle with Wanda, Vision and Simon that Busiek heats up throughout all 12 issues in this book.
The new team issue is a staple of Avengers lore, and Busiek writes it as well as its ever been written. He gives plausible reasons why many of the 40 heroes cannot stay. In the end the team he ends up with is the best of the best as to me the Avengers are at their core are Cap-Thor-Iron Man-Hawkeye-Vision and Scarlet Witch. The Avengers are simply not the Avengers if you don’t have at least one of the first three and one of the second three on the team and ideally you want four of those six in the book at all times. I also applaud the decision to put Justice and Firestar on the team. First of all many a writer has used the arrival of new unconfident heroes to let the reader see the rest of the team from a more human perspective. It’s a role filled in the past by Captain Marvel, Wonder Man, Tigra, Firebird and others. I’ve always liked Firestar as a character going back to her cartoon origins and in general it is a nice evolution for some of the New Warriors (who first debuted in the Avengers crossover “Acts of Vengeance”) to get promoted to the big leagues.
The Squadron Supreme story is the low point of this series. I’ve mentioned in a prior review that I just have no use for Squadron Supreme and all the same reasons still apply. They are not real characters. They are just analogs of DC’s heroes. They have no personality or motivations because to give them any would either make them different from their analog or probably stray too close to copyright. Thus they are literally the flattest characters in all of Marvel. There’s nothing to them but their powers, which aren’t even originally theirs. And since Marvel is never going to write a story where their heroes lose to the other company their stories have all the contrivances of hero vs. hero stories without any of the suspense in the actual fight scenes. Furthermore the final chapter where the teams unite to fight Champion isn’t any better. I’ve never seen him before but he’s not an interesting villain as has no powers, just weapons he bought from other minor villains. I completely don’t buy him as a threat to these teams. And yes, I can appreciate Busiek tries to address the concern with Champion being minor-league in the plot with Cap lecturing the team how they have to take every threat seriously and not just the Ultrons of the world; but I’m not sold. It also doesn’t help that this is only the chapter not drawn by Perez. Finally the climax is a WTF moment with Firestar getting a message out to Pym via ants. Does this mean Firestar speaks Ant? Or that all ants understand English and can carry those messages in ant-tongue back to Pym?
The Kree and Moses Magnum stories are more or less routine threats but that’s fine because it gives Busiek time to pay-off the Ms. Marvel subplot and begin a new one with Firestar, plus he continues to focus on the love triangle and introduces two new heroes. It’s all juggled very well and the fight scenes that do occur still look great thanks to Perez.
Finally we get the Grim Reaper story and this another major high point that the first time I read it five years ago convinced me these are some of the finest Avengers stories ever written. I love both parts of the story. The anniversary parade shows just how well Busiek knows Avengers history and their place in the Marvel Universe as we see the reactions of the major New York heroes (Spidey, DD, X-Men and FF) to the celebration. Wanda’s pages with Agatha Harness (another witch/magical deus ex machine I have little use for most of the time) is also well-written as yet another explanation for her powers is given. The chaos-magic explanation is not my favorite choice but I give it a pass because at this point Wanda’s powers have been rewritten so many times I just accept that Wanda’s powers are whatever the current writer says they are. (And since at least half the time she’s a reality warper I just say to myself she’s warped reality around herself and changed her powers again without a second thought.) When Reaper and the Legion of the Unliving show up we get the best fight scenes in the book. But more than that these two chapters are really the comic book equivalent of Mozart (or HBK if you want a wrestling reference) showing off the full depths of his talent just because he can. Perez draws pin-ups of Avenger ever and then another one of their most famous foes in the anniversary issue, while Busiek, who already showed in the Camelot chapters that he knows how to write 40 Avengers strongly and in-character is now showing that yea, he can write all the dead ones correctly too. And as a fan of some of those characters, it’s wonderful to see Mockingbird and Thunderstrike again. It’s the little touches when they fade back to the land of the dead like Mockingbird asking them to get a message to Clint or Thunderstrike asking Thor to look into his son that really make the issue shine.
I only have one small criticism and a nitpick about these chapters. The criticism is in the long run I don’t think it serves the character or the team to bring Grim Reaper back to the land of the living. Marvel in general has a tendency to want to pull all of their characters back to their mid-70s status quo whenever possible, but in Reaper’s case it’s a mistake. When he’s alive Reaper has no powers, just a knife that shoots electricity for a weapon. That would make him a mid-level threat to Cap or Hawkeye individually, but certainly not a threat to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a whole; whereas as a cosmically-powered avatar of death Reaper is in the upper echelon of Avengers foes. While for the story Busiek is telling if Wonder Man has a chance to save his brother he has to take it, sometimes these decisions should be made with the long-term view of comics as a continuing medium in mind. I’ll just add that Reaper has yet to face the Avengers again since this story was written 13 years ago and that’s probably in part because he no longer has the power-levels to realistically do so. As for my nitpick, my all-time favorite Avengers villain Nebula didn’t make the cut in Perez’s splash page.
Grade A+. The Avengers are my favorite franchise in Marvel and if I could only pick one trade to give someone and show them why this is the trade I would pick. Why? Well for one Busiek gets these characters like few other writers ever have. Sure any Avengers writer with even modicum of talent is going to get Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Hawkeye but Busiek gets even the minor characters like D-Man and Firebird who were Avengers for only one issue and nine issues respectively but were nonetheless valiant and likeable heroes under their writers who originally had them join. You have the type of major threats that are the hallmark of the Avengers at their best bookending this volume, while the chapters with lesser threats continue to build the more personal stories of the various heroes. Busiek’s use of thought balloons in particular is so well done as to be a perfect argument for their return since you never see them anymore in current Marvel books and in a team book like this they really help to give us a glimpse into all of the characters. Let’s face it we all have strong nostalgia for our childhood, and during mine there were some excellent Avengers writers in Roger Stern and Steve Englehart, who both wrote grade A Avengers stories as well; but in just this one volume Busiek and Perez overcame that nostalgia. Simply put the Avengers as a team have never been better written and artistically have never looked better than they do in this volume.