Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Avengers: Heroes
Reborn

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

Collects Avengers (vol
2) #1-12

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

 

Marvel Adventures
Avengers: Vol. 2 – Mischief.

by Tom Bedard and
Shannon Gallant.

collects Marvel Adventures
the Avengers #5-8.

 
Why I Bought This: This
was a cheap pick-up (under $5) as part of my post-Avengers movie feeding frenzy. Specifically Juggernaut is on the
cover, and I figured: even if it is a simplified story, at this price, he’s
always good for a fun fight scene.

The Plot: Loki
discovers the existence of the Avengers and decides to test them by creating new
super villains for them to face. For this universe the Avengers are Captain America, Storm,
Hulk, Spider-man, Giant-Girl (Wasp, only with growth powers instead of her
normal shrinking/flying/laser stings), Iron Man and Wolverine.

 

Chapter 1 – The Avengers are fighting Loki, who keeps them
at bay with a force field and notices that mortals with super power are similar
to “gods” like himself. He wonders why they all choose to be heroes, then
teleports away to see what happens if he were to empower a criminal. The
Avengers split up to search NYC for Loki. Loki finds a crook with a crowbar
breaking into an apartment building and makes him the Wrecker, explaining to
Wrecker he can use his power to do anything he wishes. Wrecker decides to rob a
mini-mart that he was never able successfully shoplift from as a teen. Spidey
finds him and they fight with Wrecker winning easily. He’s about to smash
Spidey with his magic crowbar when Cap arrives to block with his shield. Wrecker
is able to throw around most of the Avengers with relative ease until Banner
gets bumped, turns into Hulk and then punches Wrecker across the city. From the
shadows Loki vows to empower a more ambitious criminal next time.

Chapter 2 – Hulk goes wandering out alone into the desert,
falls asleep and turns back into Banner. Banner comes across a science lab
where four team members are just about to space launch into a cosmic ray storm.
The effects cause them to crash back into the desert and they emerge as the
U-Foes: Vector (low level telekinetic), Vapor (can transform into any gas),
X-Ray (a radioactive version of the Human Torch) and Ironclad (a metal version
of the Thing). They cause Hulk to emerge and they fight. The fight is pretty
even for a few pages until X-Ray figures out how to drain Hulk’s gamma
radiation and turn him back into Banner. Fortunately Spidey and Iron Man arrive
at the moment. The U-Foes get them on the defensive until Giant-Girl arrives
and steps on them all.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers are responding to a monsoon in South America by helping to evacuate a native village.
Also present in the village is corrupt archeologist Cain Marko. Loki, disguised
in human form, leads him to the Temple
of Cyttorak where Marko transforms
into Juggernaut. He encounters Storm, Wolverine and Giant-Girl first. Their
attacks all bounce him off him and he buries the two ersatz X-men under the temple,
forcing Giant Girl to call off the fight to try to dig them out. Next up Spidey
and Iron Man, who don’t fare much better. Hulk arrives and they trade punches
as Giant Girl completes her rescue. She fastball specials Wolvie into the fray
but he still can’t hurt Juggernaut. He is about to finish Wolvie off when the
children of the village form a human shield to protect him. This gives
Juggernaut pause and Storm is about to talk him into going peacefully on his
way when Hulk recovers and attacks again. They topple over a cliff and the
current separates them allowing Juggernaut to escape.

Chapter 4 – Loki meets up with Juggernaut and together they
free Wrecker and the U-Foes from jail. Loki unites them all for revenge on the
Avengers putting them in a flying middle school to assault the mansion. This
tactic indeed confuses the heroes, who are concerned there may be children
inside (there aren’t) so when the school starts to fall from the Giant-Girl overexerts
to catch it, leaving her open to a radiation blast in the eyes. Wrecker takes
down Iron Man and stalemates Cap, while Juggernaut takes out Wolverine. Iron
Man recovers and uses his tech to neutralize Vapor and X-ray, while Vector has
Spidey on the defensive. Cap manages to defeat both Wrecker and Vector and even
takes a shot a Loki with a shield throw but Loki snatches the shield out of the
air. However Cap’s success annoys Loki and causes him to magically dispatch his
own underlings for being unworthy of him. He also uses magic to transform Hulk
and Iron Man into inanimate objects so Cap runs away. Loki is surprised by this
after observing Cap the last few issues, but being a villain he follows him to
the communications room to gloat, saying his motive is he is jealous of the
hero worship the Avengers receive from the public when they should be
worshipping him. Cap lured Loki there to air the villain’s monologue on
television thus make him look like a petty bully to the world and for them to
admire Cap more for standing up to Loki even without his shield. Loki says he
should kill Cap for outmaneuvering him but admits that more than anyone he
appreciates a good trick, concedes victory to Cap and teleports away, restoring
the heroes from the magic whammy in the process.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The Juggernaut fight I bought this for was pretty flat to be honest. The
Wrecker chapter is at best by the numbers, although the mini-mart joke is worth
a chuckle. I enjoyed the U-Foes fight as they do have nice collection of
formidable and somewhat unique powers between them, although it ends rather
abruptly. The finale, however, is a lot of fun, particularly the interaction
between Cap and Loki.

I suppose I could complain that Giant Girl should probably
be either blind or brain dead from taking a radiation blast to the face but
since Loki magically heals everyone in the end anyway what difference does it
make?

Other than that I would say Spider-man seems to be awfully
ineffective in this series, which is weird considering this is targeted for a
younger audience and he’s Marvel’s most popular character.
Grade C-. While
the cover story did not deliver what I wanted, that finale makes up for a lot.
I imagine the younger target audience would be happy with this just for the
number of Hulk fights in this story.

Waiting for the Trade – X-men

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
X-men: The Asgardian Wars
by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith and Arthur Adams
Collects X-Men and Alpha Flight 1 & 2, New Mutants Special #1 and X-Men Annual #9
Why I Bought This: While I was never a big fan of the X-men’s corner of the Marvel Universe: I am more or less indifferent to them and I actively dislike both Alpha Flight and the New Mutants; I had read New Mutants Special #1 when it came out, probably because it was shortly after they had been part of Secret War II (which sucked but hey I was in junior high and the marketing tricked me into buying all 42 parts of that nonsense), and it was one of the greatest comics I’d ever read. So I decided to track down this trade on Amazon to see if that chapter held up, and not liking Alpha Flight I’d never read the first two chapters of this so I was hoping for a nice mix of old and new.
The Plot: In a quest for power Loki unleashes a scheme that gets the attention of Alpha Flight and the X-men. After they thwart his big plan, he kidnaps the New Mutants to Asgard to get revenge on the X-men. Spoilers to follow:
Chapter 1 – Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor are flying over Alaska (they were married and he was retired from superheroing to run a piloting business with her at this time), when a flash of light overtakes their plane. In the Danger Room Rachel (Scott’s daughter from an alternate reality where Jean Grey lived before Sentinels took over the world and put all the mutants in concentration camps; She is also the most annoying character in comics history) feels Scott disappear which causes her to freak out and flashback to her future past because that’s all she ever does. Rachel flies to Canada and attacks Alpha Flight because she sensed magic in whatever happened to Scott and just assumes Shaman did it because he’s the closest spell caster to Alaska and she’s an idiot. Eventually the X-men break up the fight and the two teams decide to investigate together. Snowbird is also dying from a mystic illness. We learn what’s happening is Loki’s doing, who is petitioning some shadowy elder gods for power but is told to gain their favor he must do something good for humanity. The heroes find a golden palace in the middle of nowhere and inside Madelyne and all of the humans on the plane have been transformed into super-beings. Maddie has healing powers and uses them to cure Scott, Rogue, Puck, Aurora and Sasquatch of their various ongoing physical and mental ills. Maddie revels she is pregnant with Scott’s son, which causes Rachel to freak out again because in her reality she was Scott’s first born child. (Mind you in her reality Jean Grey lived and Scott never met/married Maddie so you think she’d have clued in months ago that this isn’t her reality and never will be). This in a nutshell is why I hate Rachel: she spends every appearance whining about how horrible her future is and how it has to be prevented; but then any time she encounters anything divergent from her timeline she whines about how that disproves her whole existence–so the end result is no matter what happens she whines about it.
Anyway the transformed humans discuss creating a utopia. When Shaman approaches the mystic fountain that caused the transformations a bunch of demons escape from his medicine bag.
Chapter 2 – In pursuing the escaped demons Wolverine learns the magic fountain is using all the magic on Earth and thus will kill Snowbird and Shaman, as well those not present like Dr. Strange and Magik. This leads to a debate on whether the good of the many outweigh the lives of a few, which turns physical with Cyclops, Rogue, Pro X, Nightcrawler, Northstar, Wolvie, Talisman and Shadowcat facing the transformed humans, Colossus, Rachel and the rest of Alpha Flight (Shaman and Snowbird being too sick to fight). Later one of the humans who was an architect reveals the fountain also robs people of their ability to be creative. This leads to just about everyone deciding to reject its power, which causes Loki to reveal himself. He tries to force them to accept it, until the shadowy gods tell him he has failed their test—adding the fountain itself was a good enough deed to get him their favor but by ignoring free will when rejected he loses out. He is furthermore forbidden from harming those present that thwarted his plan.
Chapter 3 – Loki decides to circumvent the letter of the law from the last chapter by kidnapping Storm and restoring her powers she had lost thanks to Forge for a few years in this era (thus Loki is helping not harming her) to make her the new god of thunder (and thus replace his brother), while also having the Enchantress kidnap the New Mutants (which is both not him and not the X-Men). This proceeds easily. Magik tries to teleport the New Mutants out the Enchantress’ dungeon but a counter spell scatters them through time and space in Asgard’s various realms, leaving only Magik behind who is quickly defeated by Enchantress. Karma (at the time morbidly obese because of possession by the Shadow King) ends up alone in the desert where she lies down to die. Cypher ends up in an Asgardian banquet hall where he is physically enslaved by its owner. Wolsbane ends up in a forest where she meets another werewolf and romance ensues. Warlock ends up in Hel and quickly runs away from Hela. Sunspot ends up in a bar, finds his strength is greatly enhanced in Asgard and gets a job as a bouncer. Magma meets some fairies and foolishly eats their food becoming transformed into one of them. Cannonball is lost in dwarven mines, and is wounded saving the dwarf king’s daughter from trolls. Mirage rescues a pegasus from a barbed-wire pit and meets up with a sisterhood of pegasus riders. Meanwhile, Enchantress tortures Magik and eventually releases the Darkchilde from her soul and puts it in charge of tracking down the other New Mutants. This chapter is 64 pages and we get a lot of cross-cutting but ultimately half the team is enslaved by Darkchilde via magic armor that sucks people into it and then takes control of them and the other half find their way back to each other. During the big fight Karma (whose time in the desert leans her out) possesses Darkchilde and the heroes Trojan horse their way back in Amora’s castle where they free Magik long enough for her to banish the Enchantress to Limbo. During his exploits Cannonball learned Loki has Storm and the kids decide to mount a rescue. Also everyone but Cannonball wants to live in Asgard when this is all over.
Chapter 4 – Shadowcat feels Magik’s torture from the last chapter in a dream, and after investigating the X-men decide to journey to Asgard to rescue the New Mutants. They meet up with Wolfsbane’s werewolf boyfriend and via Rachel’s telepathy see her in his thoughts. The teams reunite and then split into two groups made of both teams. Loki appears in Amora’s castle and takes down the team led by Cyclops and Magik with ease. He then chains the captured heroes near Magik/Darkchilde so that her evil aura will corrupt them (and claims this doesn’t violate the no harm order since he’s not harming them directly just preventing them from leaving a harmful situation). Meanwhile Wolvie’s team battles some generic thugs (albeit of the Asgardian warrior variety) and he gets bit by a poison dragon and the magic poison is more than his healing factor can take. They storm the castle and free the others just as Loki presents Storm with her new uru hammer. Wolvie tries to tell her the truth but she blasts him with it only to realize too late that Loki is lying and these are her friends she’s battling (He had told her earlier any X-men she’d seen were mystic imposters). Hela comes to claim Wolverine but Storm, Cyclops and Rachel drive her off. Storm tries to take on Loki but he wisely built a failsafe in her hammer that stops it from being turned against him. However attacking Mirage causes the Valkryie to arrive and we learn that she’s one of them now thanks to that whole Pegasus saving last chapter. As taking on the Valkryie would irk Odin, Loki offers the heroes a choice: he will send them home minus any enchantments they’ve gained in Asgard or let them depart his hall in peace and stay in Asgard but if a single person chooses to stay then all must stay. We see the various New Mutants debate staying but ultimately all choose to go home, Storm being the last to choose as she relinquishes her regained weather powers in the process. Mirage gets to remain a valkryie however because the sisterhood is part of Odin’s law and thus supersedes his authority, and the rest of the New Mutants return to normal.
Critical Thoughts: The Alpha Flight chapters are mediocre at best. The Utopian debate goes on too long and comes off heavy-handed in the end with whole if man has everything they want no one will ever grow and create again theme. Plus there is way too much Rachel in it, and really all of Alpha Flight are subpar characters and nothing in this story changes that opinion for me.
But that’s okay because the New Mutants chapter is still an absolutely perfect comic. The art by Art Adams in that chapter is among the best you will ever see in any comic ever; and the story does a fantastic job juggling several plot threads as the cast separates and unites. Most of the individual stories during the separation phase are highly compelling, which is something I rarely say of the New Mutants. I would say only the Sunspot and Wolfsbane stories are meh, the others are all great. Enchantress is one of my favorite villains; and she was at her best in the 80s in books like Secret Wars and Dazzler. This is appearance is no exception. Her showdowns with Magik are a highlight, and she comes across as much more evil than she usually does in Thor and the Avengers yet at the same time is still not out of character.
The fourth chapter isn’t as good as chapter three, and Storm comes off a bit dense in it but it still wraps things up well enough. Plus Shadowcat standing up to Loki is a great moment for her. I also really like Loki’s portrayal in the final two chapters as his Trickster god persona comes off as great fun for the reader as he keeps finding ways to strike at the X-men while sticking to the absolute letter of the law laid down in chapter 2.
Grade: That New Mutants chapter is a definite A+. The others not as much so, but this is still a must read story that shows just how much fun a shared comic universe can be by taking the X-men out of their normal milieu of human-mutant tensions and putting them in mystic medieval themed adventure. We’ll downgrade a little for the Alpha Flight stuff, and call it an A-.

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.