Returning once again to our review of Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers, which thanks to Marvel's trade policy is being done in the most bizarro numbering possible. Last week, we finished out the period of Busiek's run wherein he collaborated with George Perez and also had our last crossover with Thunderbolts. It is generally assumed to be the end of the peak years of Busiek's run.
This week, we begin what could generally be considered the lesser period of Busiek's run. Sandwiched between Perez's work on the book and the Kang Dynasty storyline this run is really neither fish nor fowl possessed of nothing one might consider definitive. What's more, apart from Alan Davis' run on the book, there's no consistent vision to hold things together and the whole thing feels very much like Busiek's tendency to play Subplot Theatre well past any normal human's point of tolerance, when he's not doing comics about other comics.
No greater example of this can be found than the opening story in the book, Maximum Security. Maximum Security was the last of the big crossovers that happened in the Marvel Universe books for quite awhile (I think--this is about the time that Joe Quesada rose to become Editor in Cheif, so things are in a bit of a state of flux, really) and with something like this, it's not hard to see why. All the alien races in the Marvel Universe get together and decide to deal with that damned upstart Earth (I'm sure I've seen this done before, y'know) and in the B-Plot Ego the Living Planet is looking for a seed of another Ego. In plot C, USAgent looks like Judge Dredd now for what I can generally assume is no utterly good reason, acts like his usual asshole self, few care.
To spare you a vast amount of paragraphs about this crossover (which I can assure you is as boring as whale shit--I've read it twice and it's like plowing through concrete) the aliens decide to make Earth a penal colony, which allows for handy red skies style crossovers where the main character beats some aliens ass. Meanwhile, we learn the Ruul, who seemed to be behind this whole thing, are the superevolved Kree (not that this is ever referred to again) and the Ego-seed gets stuck inside Quasar and he can't go back to Earth and Ronan the Accuser shows up and none of this is at all compelling to me, let's move on.
Because I am apparently a glutton for punishment, post-Maximum Security we return to the long-lived and negligibly interesting Triune Understanding plot (trying my patience for what feels like its second decade now. This thing felt like it ground on forever, and I read Chris Claremont's X-Men all the way to the end--I know from interminable subplots) in the midst of a two-parter featuring the Bloodwraith taking over Slorenia, the entire population of which Ultron killed the hell out of back in the "Ultron Unlimited" storyline.
Fortunately, this Triune Understanding thing is lightened by the presence of Pagan, one of the Triune's agents and one of the most gleefully stupid characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Pagan is a big strong guy WHO YELLS ALL THE TIME and constantly refers to himself in the third person, e.g. "YOU DO NOT NEED THEM, MASTER! YOU HAVE PAGAN!" Don't we all have a little Pagan in our hearts, when you get down to it? Not enough villains speak in 14-pt Impact Bold, and comics are poorer for it, I think.
His master, by the way, is Lord Templar, who has the power to make midgets of himself and be a patronising douchebag. The less said about him the better. Anyways, the wife of the original 3-D Man shows up to further drag this subplot into an uninteresting quagmire, just as the new 3-D Man made the final issue of Atlas an impenetrable mess of an issue that deserved to be ended lest superhero comics disappear up their own backsides completely and we just . . .I dunno, publish reprints. Seriously, that whole storyline was awful, and I say that as someone who really liked Atlas.
Oh and Goliath Hank Pym gets kidnapped by Yellowjacket Hank Pym because this subplot MUST CONTINUE. Tell me--have I yet successfully persuaded you that we could happily do without Hank Pym in the Marvel Universe? I don't mean kill him, just send him off to contemplate his navel somewhere where it will not result in more comics featuring Hank Pym. He's had his high point, and that was crawling out of the Wasp's vagina. [NOTE: THIS REALLY HAPPENED, in Avengers #71] There is nothing meaningful left to be said about Hank Pym once he added "tiny clit-puncher" to his resume.
Anyways, the second part of this story is pretty damn good, because we're actually dealing with something interesting and not dragging it out for 50 issues. The Bloodwraith is actually a pretty cool nemesis for the Avengers, based as his is on the Black Knight's cursed sword (long used as a macguffin in Avengers stories, too bad he was a contemporary of guys like Annex and Empyrean--there were a few good characters who came out of those Annuals, but they all get tarred by association with the lame ones) and his taking possession of Slorenia plays up a recurring theme in Busiek's Avengers--namely that their follow-through is occasionally lacking and frequently returns to bite them in the ass and they spend all their time playing catch-up. Their solution to the problem--to lock the Bloodwraith within the borders of the country is an appropriately phyrric illustration of limits of that philosophy.
Meanwhile, the Avengers fight Lord Templar and Pagan and the head of the Triunes looks smug and sinister about it all. Jack of Hearts becomes an Avenger by osmosis in an effort to make me care about Jack of Hearts, which I have never been able to do with any degree of success. Whatever. Steve Epting's art is really good over these two issues, I should say--this is the last I remember seeing of his older style before his Captain America work, which is a lot more photorealistic.
We join issue #38 with Diablo causing the population of a small Greek town to turn into Hulks. Meanwhile, the Avengers grapple with new ways to follow-through on their recurring threats to stop things like the Bloodwraith thing from happening again. Meanwhile, Thor rejoins the team and Alan Davis comes on as regular penciller for awhile, and well, he's a relaible hand, innit he?
This isn't bad as a palate cleanser when you get down to it. Diablo is a villain with an established pedigree, but one that can have his ass kicked without it having to become a long involved thing and it gives us page after glorious page of Multi-hulk vs. Avengers mayhem, and while it's generally pretty slight (save for a brief cameo by a certain father and son who will be fully revealed at the end) it's mostly a relief from issue after issue of nothing but Subplot Theatre, so I'm all for it.
Oh, and the father and son show up on the last page--it's Kang and the Scarlet Centruion, and their arrival means only one thing--"Kang Dynasty," y'all!
Or it would be, except we have this annual to get through. I have a high tolerance for comics that use the past as a resource. I also like the retro thrill of seeing old characters return. And yet, I hate hate hate comics about other comics--that being comic stories which exist only to undo other comics and try--typically in vain--to make some sense out of tangled continuity. They're never fun, dry as hell, and they always read like academic treatises in which someone tries to explain how Moby Dick is an indictment of the mercantile system.
Hellcat is the poster child for this. A remanant from Marvel's teen comics (back when they published stuff that was designed to appeal to girls . . .er . . .several generations ago) co-opted into the Marvel Universe as a supporting character then made a super-heroine with someone else's hand-me-downs, then made an Avenger, busted down to Defender, married Satan, died . . .then . . .zzzzz . . .
Yeah, I can't really be arsed to read about Hellcat, especially when the result is so boring and impenetrable and makes NO GODDAMNED SENSE TO ME AT ALL, and if even I can't parse out what's going on (comics nerd than I am) I can only imagine how nonsensical it must read to the completely uninitiated. I mean no slight to the people who created it--Busiek is obviously passionate about the character, Norm Breyfogle does great work here and Richard Howell does a great retro-styled scene, but for the love of Christ, reading this felt like homework.
The plot is that Hellcat goes back to her old hometown, only everyone's part of a cult, the Sons of the Serpent (who are actually racists not cultists, as one of the characters says and if you have the main characters pointing out plot holes . . .) led by Salem's Seven (who are supposed to be dead) and then this snake-guy comes up and the Avengers fight him and OH JESUS FUCK GOD I DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS DAMMIT YEARGH BLOO GLERGH.
The final story in this volume is Avengers: The Ultron Imperative, a story which spins out of the finale of "Ultron Unlimited," wherein Ultron's robot bride Alkhema stole memory engrams of several of the Avengers and builds fake Avengers, as you do. The Avengers show up and investigate, Ultron shows up again and there's a big fight Ultron ends up defeated and in the hands of another member of the Ultron family--Antigone--who shows up again in Iron Man, which I refuse to recall reading as it was in the thick Frank Tieri and Chuck Austen's race to the bottom to see who could write the stupidest most insulting to the human intelligence as a whole.
It's by-the-numbers Avengers, which means it's passable and never gets too bogged down in its own history (no mean feat, considering this is a Busiek/Roy Thomas/Roger Stern joint) and there's some good artists at work on it, but as it picks up a plot thread that practically goes nowhere, it's more a curiosity than anything. Light years better than that damned Hellcat annual though. My God.
The backmatter of this issue is from the 2001 annual, wherein we deal with a few niggling continuity questions left over from "The Crossing" (which is damn hilarious, really, as Iron Man says "So am I liable for all those people I killed in "The Crossing?" I feel like I am." and everyone else is like "Naw man, it's cool, it was just shitty characterization. Now let us never speak of that bullshit again, OK?" as if his name was Armand Tanzarian or something) and a few other questions about Cap's shield and whether the Falcon is a mutant, which is really the kind of stuff you should shove into a Marvel Handbook rather than an annual, but better this than a list of top 10 villains or some shit, I guess.
And that's Volume 4. Join us next time for the finale of Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers and the "Kang Dynasty" story, which as grand finales go, is very ambitious and actually succeeds in living up to its ambition for the most part. However, this will not be the finale of the series on Busiek, as following that, we'll be looking at JLA/Avengers. See you then!