Anyways, my angst aside, once again the most ass-backward-yet-somehow-right-for-this-place retrospective look at Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers continues and goes back to the beginning (say it with me--"wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, dodgy availability") to the start. Picture it: Marvel, 1998. We've just gotten the Heroes Reborn business over with and we're trying to get back to the basics with our core characters (generally because Image-ising them didn't work very well and Grant Morrison's JLA was doing big sexy numbers) and someone said: "Get me Kurt Busiek. His near-encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel history will serve us well, especially since Roy Thomas is still burnt out and babbling in the basement."
To further sweeten the deal, they also retained George Perez, who hadn't done a regular run on anything for something like ten years at that point. I like to think--and no, I cannot prove this--that his recruitment went something like this:
MARVEL: Look, we need someone to draw huge crowd scenes and since Liefeld flaked out on us, we're going to try someone who can actually do it right this time. Are you in?
PEREZ: I dunno, man . . .I'm not really feeling it.
MARVEL: You can draw the Scarlet Witch in various kinds of bondage for the first two issues. How about that?
PEREZ: [Puts on sunglasses] I'm hip. Let's ride.
And so, Avengers #1 is born (for the third time), and with all credit to Busiek, the book starts off with an excellent three-parter that manages to hit some familiar continuity buttons and provide something new in the process (it looks like we're going to do yet another Loki brings the Avengers together story, but it's actually Morgan LeFay using Asgardian knickknacks to rewrite reality) and we drag damn near every extant Avenger into it, and by issue #2 give them all sweet medieval redesigns (how the variant hungry action-figure folks never jumped on this, I'll never know) and we even manage to bring Wonder Man back from the dead. It's a genuinely enjoyable romp that really gets the book off to a rousing start, even if this means the book doesn't really settle down and start moving forward until issue #4.
Issue #4 gets the team down to a more manageable size (10 from the original 39) and as is customary at the Prattle, it's time once again for ROLL CALL!
CAPTAIN AMERICA--This is the Mark Waid-era hyper-competent Cap who rides herd on everyone, however reluctantly at times. Over the course of the rest of the issues in this collection, will fret overmuch about how goddamn fractious the team is, but that doesn't really come to a head until much later in the run.
THOR--The designated team muscle, Thor is there to be the hotheaded emeritus member of the team, constantly on a short fuse and the one person who you can be certain that if you step to him, he will bring the pain on your ass. Fades a bit into the background for a bit as the new status quo in the Thor book is established, and rotates in and out periodically from then on.
IRON MAN--Man that armour design he had around 1998 was hella awesome. Anyways, Iron Man shares a subplot from his own book with this one--namely, as a recovering alcoholic, he's deeply worried about Warbird's Sudden Onset Alcoholism Subplot, and well he should, because it is one of the most clumsily handled plot threads in Busiek's entire run and is just . . .embarrassing, really.
SCARLET WITCH--Oh dear. You know, for all I love the Busiek run on this book, this was the exact point where I realised if I never had to read another story featuring the Scarlet Witch, my life would improve dramatically, because the concluding arc in this here collection involves another dry, dull, utterly uninteresting explanation of how her hex powers work (the only correct explanation is of course: "Who gives a flying turtle fuck?") which is in itself nestled in the subplot involving her choosing between Vision and Wonder Man (who remains kinda dead-ish) which, let us not forget, means choosing between a robot and a dead guy/crackle of Kirby-dots. None of this makes her interesting, and I wish she'd said "No More Wanda." I really do.
VISION--Hey, what better way to ensure that one side of a love triangle is doomed to lose out (not that they won't drag it out for THIRTY MORE ISSUES ANYWAY) than to have Vision basically be a non-entity/expository device after issue #3? Because that's totally what they did. Vision gets torn in half in issue #3 and doesn't get back together successfully until much later. The rest of the time he spends moping about as a hologram, occasionally peeking in on Wanda having sex with the dead Kirby-dot guy. This is sick, people. Really sick.
WONDER MAN--Back on the old Avengers mailing list (man, remember those?) one of my biggest criticisms of the early parts of the Avengers run was the following plot progression happened far, far too much: Avengers got their asses kicked, Wanda summoned Wonder Man, Wonder Man kicked ass while Wanda fretted and fussed over why he would appear when he was needed (even though it had pretty much been settled as early as issue #3) and the whole thing was just a hair away from all the Avengers pointing at the sky and calling for the Megazord (or, as I called him, Wonder Robo). I was shouted down, as I remember, but I thought it was pretty fucking funny at the time.
WARBIRD--"Ms. Marvel" may not have been the most imaginative name ever thought of, but sweet shit, it was leagues better than "Warbird." Was the other Ms. Marvel even still around at this point that not confusing the two characters was an issue? Anyways, I imagine that Busiek's goal was to do right by her this time, as Carol Danvers has been the most shit-upon character in the entire history of Marvel Comics. That's not hyperbole--the only one who comes even close is Polaris (and for much the same reasons, now that I think of it) I mean, the 200th issue of the Avengers is basically sending her off to be drugged and raped by her own time-traveling son and the Avengers are waving and going "Okay, have fun!"
That aside, in the name of "fixing" the character, Busiek makes Warbird a bit of a bitch on wheels who hides her de-powering from the team, develops an awfully drama-generating drinking problem, yells at everyone, and eventually gets tossed off the team for being such a hot mess. None of which would be bad, necessarily, except we're never given a moment where she's not being an utter jackass to empathise with her and see the pain that leads her to self-medicate--we're only told after the fact and then, in the shrillest way possible.
Never mind so much of this nonsense could have been avoided with someone having a simple conversation. In short, Warbird is a fictional example of what the late Richard Jeni one said: "This is what happens when you keep fixing something until it's broke."
HAWKEYE--For all that you may say I'm completely negative about even things, I purport to like--here's two awesome Hawkeye moments from this book--Hawkeye takes out the Whizzer, who won't shut up about his super-speed allowing him to run rings around him, and Hawkeye coolly sniping the Corruptor.
Hawkeye is not really on the team for that long a time--he's basically being set up as being discontent with his place on the Avengers (small wonder, he was leader of the West Coast branch for years and years) and setting him up as leader of the Thunderbolts (which happens in the next book) and as a foil for Captain America, which works OK except god damn Hawkeye is shrill as fuck when he's picking arguments with everyone and it kinda ignores the growth he'd made since his earliest days, but as I said, he's not around for long.
FIRESTAR--Firestar and Justice are the two reserves moved up from the New Warriors with the idea that giving them a spot on the Avengers would give them sufficient rub to make them major Marvel characters (see Cage, Luke) The deeper game Busiek was playing, I think, was that even though Justice had always wanted to be an Avenger (New Warriors #1 had him trying and failing to impress Captain America) Firestar would actually be the better Avenger when all was said and done (it would help, of course, that Firestar didn't lose 500 IQ points when she joined, unlike Justice) which is a clever switch and had things gone different, I probably would have liked that wrinkle.
It never quite comes off, because Firestar spends way too much time whining . . .about . . .everything. She's an Avenger only because she tags along with Justice (nothing says "strong female character" like "whiny codependency!") She hates her new costume because her boobs threaten to pop loose at any moment, and she frets over the fact that her powers could kill her (a plot thread that kept getting picked up and dropped because no one consistently dealt with it, and she bitched about Justice pushing her to be more Avenger-y.
Which is fine, but when that's all she does, it becomes so grating that you wish she'd raise up and leave already. As with Warbird, we need more of a larger picture of who she is and what she's about before we start laying on the drama with a trowel.
JUSTICE--In my time reading comics, I have discovered a few constants that exist, and are not unlike Newton's Laws of Motion and the theory of relativity in that they are seemingly immutable. The one law germane to this discussion is as follows: No One Gives A Fuck About What Fabian Nicieza Did. Now allow me to prove it in four steps:
When Cannonball was promoted to the X-Men and moved up after years of being a sober, experienced leader who didn't speak in ridiculous pidgin Southern in the pages of X-Force, he was immediately treated as though he'd just come from New Mutants and acted so ridiculously naive that one expected him to pop out of the bathroom and yell "HOLY SHIT--INDOOR PLUMBING! WHAT AN AGE OF WONDERS WE LIVE IN!" I mean, you could still have done the "rookie plays in the big leagues" thing, but a little subtlety would have helped. Not surprisingly, this was a completely uninteresting way to use the character and Cannonball has now been knocked down to the New Mutants because if comic fans fear anything, it's change.
Cable went from a subtle manipulator playing a long game that would ultimately reshape the world into a utopia (with examination of the consequences of that) to being in some bizarre mash-up of Lone Wolf and Cub and a Roadrunner cartoon.
The Thunderbolts went from being the last bastion of old-school Marvel superhero stories to Warren Ellis Writes The Same 10 Bastards He Writes In Every Story And Oh Look, Speedball's A Cutter Now.
And, most relevant to our subject today, Justice went from being the New Warriors' ace in the whole--wise beyond his years, cool under pressure, well aware of the consequences of his actions (he'd done time in jail for accidentally killing someone) into a callow, reckless starstuck idiot who does for the book what Wesley Crusher did on the Starship Enterprise.
Okay, well, after all that and only four issues covered, let's get back into it. Issue #5 and 6 feature a fight with the Squadron Supreme, who, even Busiek seems to think, have been victims of mind control to an astounding degree. Oh, I think they have the wrong character being a magician, but whatever. Naturally, they're all being mind-controlled here as well because in these heady pre-JLA/Avengers days there was no way we were ever gonna see the Justice League and the Avengers actually fight, right?
The mind-controller du jour happens to be the Corruptor, a Z-list villain from Nova back in the 70's who himself is working for Imus Champion, and even the editorial copy can't believe the continuity backwaters Busiek pulled him out of. This will all be tied up in an annual later in the book. For a quickie two-parter it does very well for what it intends to be--a couple of big fights that set up a conclusion later on and keep the internal subplots humming along.
But before we get to the conclusion, it's time for "Live Kree Or Die," or as it could be more accurately known, Warbird Fucks Up Everything Like Three Times And Nearly Gets Everyone Killed. Seriously, this could have been a done-in-one save for how utterly and repeatedly she messes up and how we watch her fail every single time in nigh-excruciating detail.
Here's all you need to know--after Operation: Galactic Storm, a few Kree survived and are attempting to put together a device that will turn everyone on Earth that it doesn't kill into Kree. As with all Kree plots, it is incredibly convoluted and dumb, and the Kree soldiers trying to make it happen really aren't clever enough to pull a greasy string out of a cat's ass, never mind accomplish a military operation like this.
But they didn't count on Warbird (who, I remind you, is supposed to be undergoing major character rehab) who, after telling off Iron Man for assuming she's a drunk (she is) gets her load on and nearly attacks Iron Man in the same place where (wouldn't you know it) the Kree have been working on their plan. A big fight ensues, and Warbird flies off to prove herself, which obviously is bound to go well, huh?
The story continues in Captain America, wherein Warbird gets herself captured by the Kree and thrown into a death camp (questionable taste, that) calls in Captain America, who actually gets a great scene in this issue when he beats down the head Kree and gets in the following good line, which is worth quoting:
"No. YOU fight for a crumbling empire of a cowardly sadists. You slaughtered innocent men and women who did you no harm. Well . . .I fight for them."
It's a great moment, even if it threatens to become eye-rollingly pretentious because it's a fistfight in Space Auschwitz. But it works, because it's everything you need to know about the Kree and Cap in three sentences.
Anyways, Warbird gets herself captured again (the character rehab's really going well, isn't it?) and we move over to Quicksilver (I cannot believe that Quicksilver once had his ongoing series. Just can't believe it.) wherein Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye try stop the Kree from stealing Terrigen Mists from the Inhumans, only to fail because Warbird gets herself stinking drunk on Space Booze and starts firing wild. On behalf of every alcoholic and every human being everywhere, I would like to apologize for the depiction of Warbird being drunk in this issue. Even Otis from the Andy Griffith show handled the disease of alcoholism with more taste and conscience than is done here.
We cut back to Avengers for the finale in time for Warbird to get cashiered out of the Avengers for being a colossal fuckup and an alcoholic (delivered with the gentle feather-light touch of a claw hammer to the temple, of course) and then it's off to the moon to beat the shit out of the Kree and reveal that . . .yet again . . .this has all been a convoluted plot by the Supreme Intelligence to cover up ropey plotting . . .I mean, part of his master plan for the Kree (which doesn't get covered until Maximum Security a few years later) which, is, as always, utter horseshit. Meanwhile, we're supposed to be sad because Warbird's hit rock bottom, but really, it's an empty moment because we've never been given a moment where the reader can sympathize with her.
That being over and done with, it's time for the Avengers/Squardon Supreme annual mentioned earlier. Imus Champion makes his move (something about blowing up the world) and, in what could be best termed a dramatic inversion of every Avengers/Squadron story up to now, they team-up and split into groups to fight him. And nary a single person is mind-controlled. All pretty standard stuff, but it has some great art by Carlos Pacheco (at this point well into his ascendancy as a top artist) and the whole thing moves efficiently enough, and hey, we get a happy ending for the Squadron (who get to go back to their own Earth, and if I remember right, are never seen again as the new version gains more prominence) and the Swordsman and Magdalene also leave, which is just as well because they only reason they were Avengers in the first place is because they kept hanging around the mansion.
So, there's your Annual, and it's back to the main book for a two-parter wherein Busiek tries to get even more obscure than Imus god damned Champion by pitting the Avengers against Moses Magnum, and I, for one, could not be more delighted. We are also introduced to Silverclaw, who will soon be our newest reserve Avenger and is Jarvis' Save The Children child (because naturally in the Marvel Universe, even something as straightforward as sponsoring a starving child in the Third World means they'll probably have superpowers or something) and Triathlon shows up for the first time.
I've done all my bitching about Triathlon's connection to the 3-D man elsewhere (if you're reading these in chronological order, this means I am retroactively referring to something which for you has not happened yet and as such I am capable of time travel, and this is absolutely blowing your mind) I will, however, say a few other things: I like Triathlon. He's neat, even if by the time he finally joins he spends too much time bitching about being the token black dude.
Also, Triathlon is also responsible for my first realisation that my concerns and the concern of most comic fans follow parallel but not necessarily intersecting tracks, as his introduction and power set (he is as strong and as fast as three men) began a weeks-long debate on the aforementioned mailing list over whether he was as strong as three regular guys or as strong as three Captain America, who is at the peak of what a human can achieve without enhancement. Yes, this was an actual thing, and it on for ever.
To lighten the mood, I shot my mouth off (never a good thing now, even less so then when I was even more of an opinionated pain in the ass than I am now) and said words to the effect of "Thank God we lived in a more enlightened time (give or take--after all, 1998 was the year the New Radicals' "You Get What You Give" held a terrified nation hostage) because otherwise Traithlon would be gadding about in a midriff-baring outfit calling himself the Black Athlete."
This landed with a thud, and everyone went back to arguing the "human vs. peak human" thing, the upshot of which was that when Triathlon came back, it was made explicitly clear that he was three times what a peak human could be because that distinction is IMPORTANT, god dammit.
Anyways, Moses Magnum looks like Mr. T and acts utterly bugged out the whole damn time, which is extraordinarily funny to me, because it's Moses Magnum (or, "who gives a shit?") and because this is part of an on-again off-again thing that happens whenever someone haules Moses out of the mothballs--Moses was apparently reconnected to be working for Apocalypse (because he appeared in X-Men once, and well, everything has to fit together even if no one really cared.) and has the power to create earthquakes and no control over it, hence the being bugged out and being dangerous enough to cause the Avengers two issues of headaches.
Oh, and while this is going on, by the way, the aforementioned icky scene of the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man getting it on while the Vision watches. Yeah. This happened.
Avengers #9 has one of my favourite overwrought, clunky titles of all time: "The Villain Who Fell From Grace With The Earth" (seriously, try to say that out loud. It sounds like two trains colliding) and ties up the Moses Magnum thing with a big fight. Oh, and Traithlon and Hawkeye crawl through air ducts long enough for Triathlon to rattle off his origin. There's a big fight, Magnum holds his own, and falls in a hole, because that's what super-villains tend to do. Oh, and the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye both leave the Avengers for different reasons.
Avengers #10 and 11 are another two-parter, which handily manage to wrap up the Wonder Man thing (or at least get him out of the Wonder Robo formula) and allow George Perez a chance to go utterly apeshit as he manages to draw in one page every Avenger who's ever been an Avenger and a goodly portion of their villains in two separate panels, and the Stuntmaster and Chili show up. If you said "who?" and "who, now?" well, so did I. Life was hard before Wikipedia.
The Avengers celebrate 35 years of continuity (it's all sorta metatextual, really) and in the B-plot the Scarlet Witch frets to Agatha Harkness (who's alive all of a sudden, I guess?) about her powers and we get alternating pages of thrilling summations of the Avengers' history and boring-as-whale-shit explanations of how the Scarlet Witch's powers work for awhile, and then, mercifully, the Grim Reaper shows up, resurrects a team of dead Avengers (85% of whom have been resurrected by now) who promptly beat the living Avengers asses because this is part one of a two-parter and dead Avengers standing over the defeated bodies of living ones is frankly, one hell of a cliff-hanger.
Part 2 starts with the Scarlet Witch returning to the Mansion and getting captured and--you guessed it--tied up while the Grim Reaper monologues to the captured living Avengers about his utterly convoluted plan about how to Not Be Dead Anymore and . . .I've read this thing three or four times now and it just does not make one goddamned bit of sense, really, having to do with the weakening barriers between the living and the dead and love pulling people across and . . .uhm . . .yeah. Wonder Man's alive and he and the Scarlet Witch happily canoodle, and oh yeah, Wonder Man's antler-headed crazy asshole brother also comes back to life because shut up, that's why.
On the whole, one could do worse in trying to bring back the Avengers (and they did a year before this!) and there were enough new wrinkles in the early issues to get me past the bits that didn't work to well and there were a few subplots that worked well enough to balance the ones that got in my nerves.
So . . .yeah. Join us next time whenever the trade for the second volume gets published for the second and final (but not the end--I'm blowing your mind again), when we will cover the early peak of the Busiek Avengers run--"Ultron Unlimited," get a visit from your friend and mine Pagan, and Iron Man learns a valuable lesson about friendship when he fakes the funk on a nasty dunk. Let's all be there!