At long last, I'm free of the backlog that had accumulated (Just in time to get started on possibly more backlog, but we won't dwell on that for now) and finally finishing up our look back at the totality (focused or otherwise) of Kurt Busiek's Avengers run, as Marvel was good enough to put Volume 2 back into print as a trade and spare me from having to drop $70 or whatever for the hardcover (now if you'd just do the same for Infinity Abyss, that'd be swell, guys!) Naturally, as we're doing the second part last, this will doubtless lead to some confusion, but I like to think of that as standard operation procedure, as for a blog that is as sexless as this, 60% of my hits seem to be people doing Google searches for "tits" and "breasts."
It's not an exaggeration, either. I frequently look at the stats and wonder what it all means.
Anyways, when we left off, volume 1 had ended with Wonder Man back in the land of the living and Hawkeye had departed the team. Well, we pick up there in issue #12 as the Avengers find Hawkeye (who's been busy trying to become leader of the Thunderbolts) and a big fight ensues, because, well, why not? They've not long had one in issue 12 of Thunderbolts, and this begins a number of team-ups between the two teams, which seemed poised to become an annual thing, but in practice only happened like, three times, I think.
In any event, it's perfectly serviceable stuff. The Avengers and the Thunderbolts fight and trade quips, and it's kind of fine, but not all it could be. For one thing, the Thunderbolts as a group of villains trying to straight could have some resonance with Justice, who's a convicted murderer himself, but nothing's really made of it and the opportunity was pretty much missed.
On the other hand, this is the issue where Songbird calls the Avengers "Jabronis," which is one of the many reasons Kurt Busiek's in my good books. There will be others, and there are a few in this book.
Since this is a double-sized issue and "two teams fighting over a misunderstanding" isn't enough to cover all that, we also have a villain of the piece in Dominex, who in addition to sounding like a laxative, is yet another agent of Lucifer, a footnote of an Avengers and X-Men villain who gets brought back because anything that happened in the first 100 issues of Avengers or X-Men is gonna show up at least once more time, whether it should or not. There is precious little you need to know about Lucifer, because he's not terribly interesting, unless you consider he's been running a woefully inefficient plan to dominate the Earth for the past 40 years or whatever. Then it's something.
We tie up a few meandering subplots as Hawkeye trundles off to go hang on with the Thunderbolts and give that book's second year some focus and come back in time Avengers next annual, which, in addition to the interesting choice of Leonardo Manco on art (he's not bad, but I can imagine it was a hell of a gear change if you were used to the regular team and/or Carlos Pacheco from last year's book) is a perfectly adequate spot of continuity maintenance that answers the question that was apparently being asked enough to warrant devoting a whole annual to it: Why did the Black Widow disband the Avengers after Onslaught? Well, the answer turns out to be not all that exciting (the real reason would be I expect that at the time Marvel thought that two Avengers books running at the same time would confuse things or dilute the brand. Thank God they learned their lesson, huh?) but it has a few good character bits, some good Manco art, and the Avengers fighting the sphincter-clenching terror that is Fabian Stankowicz, the Mechano Marauder.
Yes indeed, a villain even Lucifer can say "Who, now?!?"
Anyways, back to the title proper, as we get an issue of Triune Understanding fooferaw and Justice and Firestar featured as being caught betwixt and between the New Warriors and the Avengers. For all that this is a thing, Justice is still so far out of character here, it ends up pleasing no one, really, and the advent of Triune bad guy Lord Templar doesn't have the impact it should, partly because he's not terribly interesting, partly because despite 40 issues more or less devoted to it the Triunes are not that interesting, and partly because issue #14 introduces the other, far more interesting, Triune bad guy:
Oh, Pagan is so awesome. I don't know what the thought process behind his creation was, and whether he was intended to be a parody of someone, but oh my lord, Pagan is a hoot and a half. Little more than a big strong guy who walks around yelling and throwing things, Pagan acts and speaks as his font would indicate he lives his life--in 30-point bold Impact. Here's a little bit of the wit and wisdom of Pagan:
"HAH! YOU CANNOT STOP PAGAN WITH GUNS, HUMANS! POLICE CANNOT STOP PAGAN! SOLDIERS CANNOT STOP HIM! PAGAN DOES WHATEVER HE WANTS!!"
It's even funnier when you imagine it being said kinda like this:
This issue also has a bit of fourth-wall breakage as Busiek and Perez show up to explain that what the people really want to see this issue --namely Beast and Wonder Man hanging out and talking about why everyone's hot for the Scarlet Witch (something which I have never understood, especially after trying to read Avengers: The Children's Crusade--sorry Diana, it didn't quite make it there for me. On the other hands, The Legend of Korra was just F'N awesome.) With all due respect to Messrs. Busiek and Perez, I actually came to see PAGAN.
Issue #15 sees the return of Blackrobat--er, Triathlon, sporting a really cool new costume. Despite hating the Triune Understanding subplot and all the connections to the 3-D Man, I really did like Triathlon. Hated that they busted him down to being 3-D Man again for . . .well, reasons, I suppose, but I guess I should stop being shocked that superhero comics are reductionist and frightened of change, shouldn't I?
Anyways, issue #15 is more confusing Triune nonsense, and is thus of little note (except, hey, MORE PAGAN!) except that it teases the big Ultron story . . .which is about three issues away (and hilariously, it's not the only time they do that, which implies that Ultron has a hell of a time shitting or getting off the pot) Issues #16-18 feature Jerry Ordway taking over as writer and artist and . . .they're not all that bad, really (even if I associate Ordway with DC stuff so much it's weird to see him drawing Marvel characters) It's a rather bizarre three-part story wherein the Wrecking Crew take over Polemachus (if you have no idea where that is, don't be too concerned. Remember what i said about pre-100 Avengers stuff coming back, whether it had a good reason to do so or not?) backed with an odd story about the Doomsday Man wanting Ms. Marvel, because of reasons.
It's got some good bits, namely the Wrecking Crew, long a bunch of stupid brutish mooks, getting to act like kings and being exactly as good at it as you'd imagine stupid brutish mooks would be, but the Doomsday Man stuff is just baffling and never really goes anywhere.
But before we can get to "Ultron Unlimited," generally considered the book's high point, we have a little Wizard zero-issue recap of Ultron's (and the Avengers' ) status quo up to now. Stuart Immonen's back to provide art and for the rather slight story it is, does very well with it.
Finally we're on to "Ultron Unlimited" a story which can be boiled down to "Ultron embraces his inner Dalek, and there's a bunch of nonsense about Hank Pym that only succeeds in making you wonder just what the hell sort of doctor is Hank Pym, and why is it that every time they dredge up his history he looks more and more like a shitheel?"
The good thing about all this is that being a very tight four issues, the story doesn't slow down long enough for you to dwell on the weaker bits (Hank Pym, the dunderheaded Freudian underpinnings that are in every Ultron story) that much and does a good job with pushing the stakes higher and higher with every issue, which helps one forgive the ropier story bits, or at least not have time to dwell on them so much. Having re-read it, I still prefer the Kang Dynasty story as it has more scope and the stakes feel much higher, but I do like the focus and intensity in this one as well.
To further confuse the issue, the trade closes with issue #23, which I already covered when this whole thing began with my write-up of Volume 3, which is as good a way as any to close the loop, I suppose. If you're reading this linearly, I suppose I'll finish by pointing you back where we began and leave you to pore through the complete run.