Smackdown – September 18, 2003

Smackdown
Date: September 18, 2003
Location: RBC Center, Raleigh, North Carolina
Commentators: Michael Cole, Tazz

It’s a big show here with Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle in a one hour Iron Man match. What else can you really ask for here? These two are capable of putting together any kind of match you want them to and here they’ll have a chance to showcase whatever they want. The rest of the show….does it really matter? Let’s get to it.

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Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

Avengers: The Big
Three

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

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

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

(spoilers below)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Iron Man

Waiting for the Trade

Iron Man: Iron Monger
by Denny O’Neil (and
five artists)
collects Iron Man
193-200

 

Why I Bought This: I always loved Iron Man 200 and thought it would be worth owning the entire Iron
Man/Iron Monger saga in trade.
The Plot: Tony Stark lost everything due to alcoholism
including his company (to Obidiah Stane) and his superhero identity (which he
handed off to James Rhodes). Now having recovered from alcoholism he starts
putting his life back together.

 (Spoilers below)

 Chapter 1 – Tigra is flying a quinjet when a
dinosaur-monster knocks her out of the sky. Cut to Tony’s new company Circuits
Maximus where Rhodes offers to let Tony resume
being Iron Man but he turns him down because he thinks the carefree invincible
attitude he gets when he puts on the armor will lead to him drinking again. Rhodes has also been having headaches so Tony refers Jim
to Henry Pym. Cut to a secret lair in the Pacific Ocean
where Dr. Demonicus (an evil geneticist) is scheming. We learn the
dinosaur-monster is actually Godzilla mutated into a subservient form (because
Marvel’s license to use Godzilla expired hence the change of appearance and
while they can’t use the name it is clearly him based on Demonicus’s comments
as Demonicus first appeared in the Marvel Godzilla
comic) and he orders Godzilla to kill Tigra. At West Coast Avengers
headquarters Tony dons his original armor and reveals his secret identity to
Hawkeye and Mockingbird while also telling them Jim needs to be placed on sick
leave. Just as he is about to depart Tigra’s mayday call comes in. Tony however
declines to join the rescue effort (and Wonder Man is also not around leaving
just the two non-powered humans to try to save the day). After they go Tony
feels guilty and jumps into a second quinjet to follow. Demonicus shoots downs
Hawkeye’s quinjet. Tigra meanwhile is facing Godzilla alone and is completely
ineffectual. Tony picks up Hawk and Bird and they arrive just in time to save
Tigra though Hawkeye’s arrows are only mildly annoying to Godzilla. Tony is
forced to join the battle to save Hawkeye. He picks up Godzilla and carries him
out to sea but his original armor can’t support the weight for long and both
sink into the ocean.

Chapter 2 – Tony is sinking into the ocean and this armor
doesn’t have an air supply. Meanwhile Hank Pym is experimenting with a
dimensional doorway when Rhodes arrives. They
are interrupted by a random armed hit man who wants the secret of Pym’s
shrinking powers. Hawk and Bird cannot find Tony with their quinjet. Tony manages
to get his armor off and swims to the surface but he’s stranded in open water. Rhodes even without armor is able to take down the hit
man but in the melee the hit man and Pym both fall into the other dimension. Rhodes suits up and goes in after them. When he enters a
blob materializes in our universe. Rhodes is
having trouble finding his bearings in the other dimension. The blob attacks
Hank’s secretary. Hawkeye rescues Tony. Rhodes
rescues Pym and the hit man but the hit man reenters the dimension door rather
than go to jail.     

Chapter 3 – Rhodes is
referred to Shaman of Alpha Flight who decides to cast the stereotypical dream
walk face yourself psychology come to life mumbo job plot. Meanwhile two dudes
try to kidnap Bethany Cabe (one of Tony’s ex girlfriends) but she fights them
off. Rhodes completes his dream walk and realizes that Tony is the one who is
meant to be Iron Man.

Chapter 4 – An extra dimensional energy blob (apparently
from chapter 2) finds an Iron Man suit discarded in Jim’s dream in Chapter 3
and reassembles it, then open a portal to Earth seeking to return it to its
owner. Meanwhile Godzilla returns to Demonicus with Tony’s original armor in
his mouth. Extra dimensional Iron Man accidentally pops a hot air balloon
imperiling some lovers and this gets bad PR on the news. Tony sees this and
whips up some spare costume parts from WCA HQ to investigate. Meanwhile
Demonicus dons the original armor to attack Iron Man. He ends up attacking the extra
dimensional creature. Tony interrupts their fight and defeats them both. The extra
dimensional being returns home when they take its helmet off, while Demonicus
goes to jail.

Chapter 5 – In the wake of Secret War II #1 Rhodes as Iron
Man has delivered Thundersword to the police. Thundersword figures out how to
reactivate his powers, breaks out of jail and takes down Rhodes.
Meanwhile Tony and Bethany are on the phone when more kidnappers attack her.
Tony takes the original armor and flies to the rescue but his armor is not fast
enough to catch the helicopter that has her. Rhodes
radios Stark for advice on Thundersword. They lure him to a nuclear power plant
where Jim patches in to power up and punches the dude into the ocean.

Chapter 6 – Madame Masque forms an alliance with Stane.
Stane gives us his origin: his father was a bad luck Gambler who committed
suicide in front of him; the stress made him bald as a child and taught him the
lesson if you are going to play a game you need to win at any cost; he fell in
love with the game of chess; in a chess tournament some other kid was better
than him so the day before the big match he killed the kid’s dog; as an adult
he applied these same underhanded tactics to the world of business moving up
the corporate ladder through blackmail; as a CEO he began using super-powered
henchmen to weaken companies he wanted to take over. He’s also hired a mad
scientist to do something to Cabe. Stane has also built a flying robotic tank
he intends to set on Stark’s new company since Iron Man has begun interfering in
his plans again.  Tony and Rhodes see it
coming and both suit up (Tony in the outdated original suit). Tony has a tough
go off it but with Jim leading the way the two of them destroy the tank. Stane
watches this on a view screen and then turns on Masque by injecting her with
something that KOs her. The original armor is
no longer operable and Tony swears he will never suit up again. Bethany Cabe
wakes up and makes out with Stane.

Chapter 7 – Stane’s goons kidnap Tony’s former secretary
Mrs. Argobast. Tony enjoys some time with his two other employees until he
receives word about the kidnapping. He decides he and Jim should warn all of
his other friends. Rhodes (as Iron Man) interrupts the kidnapping of Pepper
Potts but a helicopter attack sets a nearby building on fire and Jim is forced
to let the kidnappers escape with Pepper so he can save the people in the
building. The next target is Happy Hogan but this time Jim downs their
helicopter and makes the save. Tony finds thugs kidnapping an orphan baby he
delivered but without armor Tony is dropped in one punch. Stane mails a bomb to
Tony’s office. Jim accepts delivery and it detonates just as Tony pulls up.
When Tony wakes he sees a body bag dragged out of the wreckage.

Chapter 8 – The body is one of Tony’s two other employees
not Jim. The sister of the dead employee and Rhodes are also hospitalized by
the explosion. Tony is deeply PO’d and dons
his new Silver Centurion armor for the first time in a gorgeous splash page. He
then flies across the country via space in 20 minutes towards Stane HQ. Stane
meanwhile when he took over Stark Enterprises reveals he got a copy of Tony’s
design journals and used it to build his own armor: the bulkier Iron Monger.
Tony knocks on Stane’s door and demands a meeting. Stane throws a few goons to
no effect and then dons his own armor. However Tony’s experience and advanced
design has Stane totally outclassed. Stane threatens the hostages but Tony is
able to disable the deathtrap he rigged them to. Stane threatens to kill the baby
but Tony creates a distracting explosion to make the save. Stane’s armor is
barely functional but rather than admit defeat he commits suicide.
 

Critical Thoughts: A
real uneven collection. The stuff with Godzilla and the West Coast Avengers is
fun fluff. The stuff in the middle with Rhodes
is terrible. The final three chapters with Stark vs. Stane are terrific.

There is not much more to say about the WCA chapter. I like
the WCA and have mentioned this often. Who doesn’t like Godzilla? Demonicus is
not the best villain but he is not terrible: he has a good look and he would be
a recurring for in the WCA’s solo book. On its perfectly fine single issue
story; while in the larger context this chapter also marks the first time Tony
has worn Iron Man armor in years so its need to be included.

Overall Tony’s journey is well written. We see him express
his doubts on whether being Iron Man again will impact his sobriety.
Circumstances conspire to slowly force him back into the role and each step
along the path feels natural for the character. In the sense of a story telling
a clear character arc for the lead this one succeeds admirably from beginning
to end—and has a hell of a climax to boot.

Those middle chapters are brutal however. Chapter two is
filled with too many coincidences. Hawkeye finds Tony in the middle of the
ocean while some random non-powered criminal chooses the day Jim visits to
attack Hank Pym who has been long retired as a superhero. Indeed Pym and
Shaman’s involvement seems to come out of nowhere. Chapter three with Rhodes
and Shaman is awful. It’s a bad plot device to begin with that comics tend to
overuse, but the execution is worse than most. There is no explanation for why Rhodes’ armor ends up in the dimension Pym was exploring
based on the mystic hoopla he was doing with Shaman in Chapter four. Also
Demonicus’s plan in that chapter is terrible. He’s like ‘I found damaged
outdated Iron Man armor let me put it on and pick a fight with the experienced
hero wearing the current model. Also for no reason I’m going to leave Godzilla
at home for this fight.’ Secret Wars II is a terrible crossover so it should be
no surprise the tie-in chapter there has nothing of note to offer either.

 
The final three chapters rebound really well though. Stane’s
origin is really well done both in narration and art. It’s powerful stuff. The
kidnapping of all Tony’s friends is a nice upping of the stakes and shows why
in the classic comics era you never let anyone find out your secret identity.
The cliffhanger with the bomb is a good one. And then there is issue 200 just a
masterpiece of art and storytelling: both suits of armor look fantastic and the
action scenes are tense and have a very coherent sense of space. It is the
single best Iron Man comic I’ve ever
read both for its own story and for a primer to who Iron Man and what his
powers are as Tony uses every power that his new suit has in the battle with
Stane.

My primary complaint about this volume is it isn’t big
enough. This was released the same time as the first Iron Man film and while I can see why they would want to do a
smaller hardcover prestige edition for the film tie-in; I think they’d have
been better served to show the entire Stane story of him taking over the
company and Tony falling into alcoholism. I actually have not read that
original story and was hoping to get it here when I bought this off Amazon.
Still as I said while we are joining it in the middle, Tony’s character arc is
very linear in this trade and he is the star so in that sense the trade does
give you a solid story if you had seen the film first and then picked this up. 

Grade: There’s
some really good stuff in here but there’s also a lot of bad and mediocre
chapters too. Literally half the book gets a subpar grade and so that averages
out the excellent work down to a C+.

Waiting for the Trade Dr Doom vs the Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Emperor Doom

by David Michelinie
and Bob Hall

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

 

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

Spoilers below:

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers vs. Thunderbolts

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Shadowland:
Thunderbolts

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 by Bill Miller

 

Avengers Assemble
by Brian Michael
Bendis and Mark Bagley

collects Avengers
Assemble #1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

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

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

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

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 – Iron Man

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Iron Man: I am Iron Man
by Peter David
Adaptation of the film Iron Man plus Iron Man 200.
Why I Bought This: About every three months I get emails from an online comic dealer when they are having overstock trade sales usually with headlines like $3 or less, (and never more than $5 or less). The last time they had that sale this book was listed for $2 with the words “by Peter David” near the title. I’d probably give a phone book written by Peter David a chance if it was only $2.

The Plot: It is an adaptation of the first Iron Man film in two chapters (i.e. Tony gets blown up in Afghanistan, builds the Iron Man suit to escape, then fends off a corporate takeover by Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger). There is also a back-up story by Christos Gage that tells the events of the movie from SHIELD’s perspective and a reprint of Iron Man 200 by Denny O’Neil in which Iron Man reclaims his company from Obadiah Stane in official Marvel continuity. (This was the culmination of a four year story in which Tony lost his company, fell into full blown alcoholism and turned over the Iron Man armor to Rhodey before slowly clawing his way back).
Critical Thoughts: Since I bought this online I did not know it was an adaptation of the film until I got it. As much as I like Peter David this has no reason to exist. It tells of the story of the movie in a very flat straightforward manner with none of the wit and charm of Robert Downey Jr’s performance.
The back-up story is a little better. It’s not great, but it is an okay read as a supplemental to the film.
Iron Man 200 is the single greatest Iron Man comic I’ve ever read. This is the debut of his silver centurion armor, that probably because of the age I was when this came out, I always liked best if all his suits. But I will say one of the reasons I liked this suit besides its visual coolness is it debuts in an excellent story wherein we see Iron Man deploy the armor and throughout the battle he has to use every new weapon system in it to defeat the escalating threats so that by the end of the story the reader has a firm grasp of exactly what the hero’s powers and limitations are, which in the hands of good writers sets the stage for all future stories. The full page splash pages of both Iron Man and Iron Monger by Mark Bright as they each don their suits for the first time are also exactly what a splash page should be. And the final battle between the two is epic, and when you read it you can easily see why this story was chosen as the basis of the first film.
Grade: This is a hard one to Grade in that the primary story is completely without merit and deserves an E but the reprint is a perfect comic and an easy A+, while the back-up story is a C+. Basically if you can get this for the price I did and you don’t own Iron Man 200 go out and by this book as that’s probably cheaper than you’ll find the original issue and you’ll get it on thicker paper stock. On the other hand if you have to pay the $17 cover price, use your money to either buy Iron Man on DVD or the Iron Man: Iron Monger trade instead as either will deliver a far more satisfying experience. Anyway if you were to average those 3 grades you’d have a failing grade but Iron Man 200 is so great and I got this so cheap I’ll give it a marginal passing grade at D+.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers Assemble

By Bill Miller
Marvel Adventures: Black Widow and the Avengers
by Paul Tobin
Collects Marvel Adventures Super Heroes 17 – 21.
Why I Bought This: There is no comic franchise I love more than the Avengers. The impending movie has my anticipation building to a full on geek-gasm. I stumbled upon this on Amazon at just $4 (and that includes shipping costs) and was like Hell Yeah I’m up for some Avengers stories I haven’t read before the movie comes out. Plus the description promised Diablo and he’s actually my favorite FF villain so I’m more than happy to see him switch foes since I like the Avengers a lot more than the FF.

The Plot: Marvel Adventures is a different continuity in an “all ages” format. This is the story of the Avengers coming together in a new continuity. While I know some people don’t care for stories outside the main Marvel continuity (and to an extent I understand that as I can’t be bothered mustering the effort to care about the Ultimate universe); I think once you start reading only trades it really doesn’t make much difference. After all look at the stories I’ve reviewed since starting this column: My first review was Brand New Day Spidey and two books later I was back to married Spidey; a week ago I had Galactus fighting Thor in the modern-era, yesterday I had him fighting the FF in the 80s. The point is you bounce back and forth through time often enough you begin not take care so much about when the stories take place versus just whether it’s a good story or not. And once you cross the bridge of not caring about when so much, it’s a short jump to not caring about which universe it’s in either. Plus let’s be honest continuity gets reset every 15 years or so anyway so what difference does it make?
So onto the story at hand: (spoilers ahead)
Chapter 1 – Cap, Iron Man and Thor are working together on a case but are not yet a team. They arrive in Iowa where a small town was devastated by a mass rage incident. In checking out cell phone videos they discover both the Invisible Woman and Diablo (for those who don’t know he’s an evil alchemist with his three primary powers being control of the four Greek elements, potions that transmute inorganic matter such as lead to gold, and immortality thank to the Elixir Vitale) were both present before it all went crazy. They find Sue buried under-wreckage but she is still under the rage-spell and attacks the heroes doing quite well and even neutralizing Thor until Cap takes her down with some strategy because Cap is awesome like that. Sue reveals an alien life-form caused the chaos and we see the not-yet-Avengers along with Reed Richards investigating several leads in a series of well-written mystery scenes such as Androids and Diablo. The Vision gets involved in the investigation and ultimately Diablo is proved to be innocent, instead it is an artificial construct that Thor banishes to another dimension before its origins are uncovered.
Chapter 2 – Nova (who in this reality is either a teenager or early college age and still new to the superhero biz) is in Scotland with his brother and a group paranormal researchers looking into poltergeist-like phenomena that seems to cause an emotional response and gets attacked in the woods by a creature that looks like a satyr but they say is the ghost of a giant. The five not-yet-Avengers arrive to see if this is related to the incidents from last chapter and they run into Black Widow doing her spy thing. The ghost remanifests and the seven heroes unite to vanquish it with Thor doing the heavy lifting since it is a mystic threat and in the end they decide to form the Avengers. So your Avengers are Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Vision, Invisible Woman, Nova and Black Widow.
Chapter 3 – Iron Man sets the team up with a mansion when Plant Man arrives seeking asylum because Silver Surfer is after him and seems to be possessed by an uncontrollable rage. Vision is off with Diablo again, but everyone else is present when Surfer arrives and we then get an epic fight scene. Seriously, this is one the best choreographed fights I’ve seen in years. Anyway the Avengers are losing the battle because let’s face it Surfer is arguably Marvel’s most powerful hero when Vision arrives with one of Diablo’s potions and manages to cure the Surfer.
Chapter 4 – We start ‘in media res’ as the Avengers are battling Diablo and it’s another really good fight scene with him trashing Iron Man thoroughly and sticking some elementals on the rest of the team including an earth elemental that absorbs an entire building as it goes toe to toe with Thor. The fight is interspersed with flashbacks and we see Diablo has fallen into despair and madness. Vision manages to track him down and talk Diablo to his senses before he can kill Iron Man as Diablo realizes the demon D’Spayre is the cause of this and uses his magic to banish the demon.
Chapter 5 – Another story told parallel in action and flashback, Nova gets put in charge of duty roster assignments for a day and has to handle twin problems of a mystic crisis in Hawaii involving obscure titans and goddesses and a closer to home problem with two World War II era heroes that I’ve never heard of seeking help in preventing one of them from becoming a proto-Hulk creature. Anyway this is more a character piece on Nova with a bit of humor tossed in with the threats as window dressing (hence why they’re all so obscure no doubt) so we’ll leave it at that.
Critical Thoughts – I loved this book. This is exactly what an Avengers story should be: big battles with big stakes interspersed with interesting character interactions. I know some people may shy away from this because it’s “all ages” and thus may think that means dumbed-down but they’d be wrong. Heck, the best writers in Marvel history wrote in a time when all comics were meant to be appropriate for younger audience and that never stopped them from creating the stories we rightfully consider classics today.
While I wouldn’t call this a classic, there is some damn good writing here. The investigation in chapter 1 is very compelling. The fight scenes in chapters three and four are awesome; and Nova’s reaction to the idea of even trying to fight the Surfer is well-written and adds to the anticipation for when he does arrive. But also there are really nice character interactions here. Some examples: In this reality Sue is not yet married to Reed and Cap begins to fall for her, and it’s well-written and you want to see how it plays out. Black Widow has joined the team just to spy on them for Reed, which is another intriguing plot twist; at the same time she has a nice comedic chemistry with Nova as she’s the jaded all business spy and he’s the “oh wow” noob—his reaction the new headquarters in chapter three is laugh-out-loud funny. The friendship between Vision and Diablo is well done. Here are two characters that have little in common: one is a hero, one is a villain; one is the science of the future, one is the magic of the past; and yet the writing shows where they have common ground and can find respect for each other. I don’t know who Paul Tobin is, but based on this I’ll be looking for more of his stuff and the main Avengers title would be blessed to have him.
Also this writer gets Cap. And that to me is one of the most important things an Avenger story needs to do to be a success.
Grade A. I don’t what more I can add to my thoughts above. Good writing, good characterizations, great fight scenes focused on characters that I enjoy from the Avengers themselves to Surfer to Diablo. That’s an easy A on every front.