So You Want to Read an Avengers Comic

Posted: May 7, 2012 in Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

I generally enjoy doing a little comics primer for whatever character‘s currently popping up on the screen, and I really wanted to do one for Avengers, but there’s one problem:

An image that erroneously makes it seem like The Kree-Skrull War would be awesome.

By and large, Avengers isn’t really very good. Even the Good Avengers comics aren’t very good.

There are a few “classic” stories that are referenced on everyone’s short list of Best Avengers Comics, but boy did they leave me cold. In fact, the bolder the title, the iffier they seem to be.

In something called the “Kree-Skrull War,” for instance, you might expect to see some awesome alien battles, and you would be wrong.

Mostly, you see the Avengers commuting from one planet to another to pick up some wayward teammates. And then perennial sidekick Rick Jones ends the (mostly off-panel) war with mental powers he was granted for no good reason to wrap the story up. 

What about “The Korvac Saga”? Sounds dramatic and epic, yeah? It is a SAGA. Well, the long and short of it is this: a dictator from the future gains Phenomenal Cosmic Power, comes back to our time, sets up shop in a suburb in Queens, and sits in a lounger plotting for like eight issues.

Until the Avengers show up (using public transit, for reasons that even in 1977 had to kind of undercut the grandeur the story was theoretically aiming for), and basically wail on him for a while, and then his girlfriend won’t help him out, and he seems to die mostly from a broken heart.

These are two of the Definitive Avengers Stories.

But my favorite is one from the early 80’s, the “Under Siege” arc. It’s definitely better than the other two – it tells one story, rather than tossing a dozen disparate elements together and hoping something bombastic happens. And it is a big knock-down, drag-out fight between two big teams of costumed heroes and villains. So, not bad there.

But here is the story, in a nutshell (and if you do want to read it, go ahead and leave the post because I AM GOING TO TELL YOU WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN):

Baron Zemo hates Captain America so much, that he decides to ruin that which Cap loves most: The Avengers. OK, so far, so good. To this end, he gathers a team of bad guys, The Masters of Evil. Very intimidating.

But this is Zemo’s grand scheme: They wait until there are only Cap and a couple other Avengers (all non-powered guys) and their butler, Jarvis, in the Avengers Mansion, tie ‘em up, and beat the shit out of the butler.

(Please note: It is a big deal to torture Jarvis the butler, because he is a sissy-man who screams “aaiiiieeee!” Alfred Pennyworth would never give ‘em the satisfaction, and he’s like a hundred years old.)

Pictured: The moment just before Jarvis lets out a girlish scream.

And then…they just wait around (Zemo wrecks up Cap’s stuff, too, because Baron Zemo is the evilest dude wearing a pink and purple costume with fur trim) until the reinforcement Avengers show up.


I mean look at this guy.

A HAMMER – show up, and get the shit roundly pounded out of them.  That is it. That is the story. Doctor Druid is enough to handle a couple of these guys. They didn’t even have to call in Dr. Strange. They used his non-union Mexican equivalent.

And then Baron Zemo trips and falls off a roof, and the story is over.

So you can see why I can’t categorically recommend that one.

And again: These are the ones that FANS OF THE AVENGERS point to as the best stories.

This should give you a better idea of the books they DON’T recommend, like that time a time-traveling conqueror mentally manipulated Iron Man to kill a couple of c-list Avengers and the team went back in time to grab a teenaged Tony Stark to fight him.

Or the time before that when everyone had mullets and bomber jackets.

Or the time that shit got Very, Very Weird for Ms. Marvel.

Sometimes they’ll recommend Kurt Busiek’s run, but man, that is not for rookies. That is for people who want to read an entire comic book devoted to clearing up continuity issues about purple-headed invader Kang the Conqueror nobody even thought about.

But I like to be helpful in these things, so I will go ahead and recommend Geoff Johns’ run from the early 2000’s. It’s in three collections, it opens with an exciting, fast-paced mission, there’s some fun conflict between Iron Man and Black Panther over who gets to be the Batman on this team, basically, and Captain America’s long-time partner The Falcon gets a great showcase.

It’s all good enough that you’ll forgive Johns for doing what pretty much every Avengers writer does, which is try to make you give a shit about some B-list character who does not deserve any love ever.

Looking at you, Jack of Hearts. You are a stupid weiner and I hate you.

  1. mcnees says:

    May I recommend Avengers Annual #10 as a spectacular stand-alone story? It introduces Rogue, brings in both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and features a pretty classic Avengers lineup: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Hawkeye, Jocasta, and Scarlet Witch. And Spider Woman, too! Not to mention art by Michael Golden at the very top of his game. A classic.

  2. Moff says:

    This pretty much nails it, and I say that as someone who really tried to get into the Avengers as a kid, because my friends had already claimed most of the other comics as their personal favorites. That should have been a sign. (It probably also didn’t help that I jumped into the weird-ass story line about Namor’s wife Marina turning into a sea serpent, and Black Knight getting cursed for killing her, and Nebula being a lady Kang who took over Doctor Druid’s mind and used him to sabotage the Avengers from the inside. Captain America also became just “the Captain” for a little while around that time. And the Forgotten One joined the team, along with Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman. There was a lot going on.)

  3. Moff says:

    (Still, I would recommend this book, if for nothing else than the top-shelf Spider-Man quipping.)

  4. braak says:

    For as much as I am gradually growing to despise Mark Millar (and for as much as there’s a lot of unnecessary “mean people”/”spousal abuse” in it), I still think Ultimates 1 is about the most straightforward comic version of The Avengers.

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, Ultimates is one of those cases of retroactive-dislike thanks to Mark Millar. Whenever I try to remember details of the series, all I can come up with is, “It’s like the Avengers, except everyone’s a total asshole.”

    Which is a paragraph I actually had in there initially, but felt like just sticking with the standard Marvel Universe, anyway.

    I also totally LOVE Dan Slott’s Mighty Avengers, for its oddball lineup (Hank Pym! A couple of Young Avengers! Hercules and Amadeus Cho! USAgent! Quicksilver! Jo- really? Jocasta? Awwwright then…), interesting threat levels, and the increasingly weird/ambitious Hank Pym character rehabilitation.

    But that one should not be anyone’s first Avengers comic.

  6. Jim Stafford says:

    My first issue of the Avengers was bang in the middle of the mullets and bomber jackets period. For ages I thought the vision was meant to be white and that Hercules, the Black Knight and Sersi were a big deal. Looking back, they are some weird, directionless issues.

    I know I’m not meant to, but I still kind of enjoy all the Bendis Avengers Disassembled stuff. At the time it felt like something big was happening and Things Would Change, and there were stakes and stuff. So the plotting didn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but whatever.

    Surely though, if you were recommending books to someone coming in off the Avengers film, you’d just hand them Ultimates 1 & 2? Otherwise, get used to explaining why Nick Fury is an old white dude.

  7. Jeff Holland says:

    What’s bad is, I’d actually just recommend the cartoon, where all the great IDEAS for plots from 60 years of Avengers comics get remixed so that it all logically hangs together.

    For instance, the show’s been building up to the Kree Skrull War for a whole season, but they’re mixing it with the Secret Invasion (a story that would’ve made a ton more sense if Earth hadn’t already dealt with the Skrulls countless times before) – which may lead into the Civil War.

    And also the Hulk is a terse badass.

  8. braak says:

    The Avengers cartoon is amazing in part because of how things just keep sort of building up — Kang the Conquerer invades Earth because of the consequences of the Kree Skrull war (which is going to happen eventually); they use Ultron to beat him in these two episodes, then have to fight Ultron in the next episode, THEN they have to go and fight Loki…

    Yeah, it’s really like someone sat down and said, “Okay, hang on, let me think about this.”

    A privilege of 60 years of hindsight, obviously.

  9. Biil Z'bubb says:

    I’ve found the Avengers shine when joining some larger cross-over event, like Siege, or Secret Invasion. That’s not gonna help any new Avenger fans much, unless they also want to know about the Thunderbolts and/or She-Hulk. If you really want to get down w/ some assembling action, thumb through 7 or 8 volumes of Essential Avengers in glorious black and white. That’s how I did it.

    Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is easily the best Marvel cartoon show ever aired. [hey man, that is not the kind of language that we can get down with here, cool it with that. –ed]

  10. braak says:

    I never read the Avengers as a kid, or really any of the comics that were about major Avengers guys, so I always had a sense of them as being the number 1, important team in the world, but always as sort of weird guest-stars or something like that, so this is an interpretation that makes sense to me.

    In fact, given that perspective, I feel like any actual Avengers comic would be kind of a let down.

  11. Jesse says:

    What did you think of the original Lee/Kirby comics? Those are really fun and they managed to live up to the “when a threat greater than anyone can handle, etc., etc.” tag line. Lots of action, interesting interplay of the characters. I think the Avengers idea may have lost something when it just became a regular X-Men/Legion of Superheroes type team book, with a rotating cast. The cool part of the early issues was that the heroes had a kind of unfamiliar uneasiness with each other yet still managed to instinctually work well together.

    I’m not sure that the original concept can work on a never-ending monthly comic; it’s probably better as a once-in-a-while mini-series or crossover.

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