Monday, May 14, 2012

First Impressions: Avengers

Walt Simonson is an extraordinarily creator whose Thor work I’ve gone on record as calling definitive. John Buscema is one of my all-time favorite artists and I’ve devoted space to letting all of you know how incredibly talented I think he is. I love Namor, I think She-Hulk is great, I feel Monica Rambeau is an underrated character and the 90’s aside, I’ve even got a soft spot for The Black Knight.

All of these elements, creators and characters alike, combined to make me at a very young age never want to read another Avengers comic again—through no fault of their own.

Let me elaborate.

The very first Avengers comic I can ever recall getting my hands on is issue #291 of the original volume, written by Walt Simonson, drawn by John Buscema, featuring a line-up of the second Captain Marvel, Thor, The Black Knight, She-Hulk, Namor and Doctor Druid. The story is entitled “Shadows of the Future Past!” and it came out in 1988, so I was either six when I read it or not much older. I can’t remember exactly the circumstances under which it came into my possession, but most super hero comics I got back then I acquired through my dad picking up those plastic-wrapped combo packs at the supermarket (I only bought Archie books for myself). I want to say I got this one along with my first X-Men comic (a story for another day) and for some reason I feel like it was over one summer I spent at my grandparents lake house in the middle of nowhere, New Hampshire (also known as Ossipee).

The story placed the Avengers at some party celebrating some achievement of theirs, I think (it’s been over two decades). Strike one was that everybody was dressed in formal wear, so while I got that the green chick was She-Hulk, I was having trouble wrapping my head around why Thor was a blond guy in a tux, let alone who his friends are (obviously at age six I could not pick The Black Knight out of a line-up and Doctor Druid even in costume would have struck me as more the creepy neighbor type than an Avenger—actually, he probably made a better impression on me in a suit than he would have in his weird red pajamas/purple bathrobe combo). Confusion over why I was reading about a dinner party in a super hero comic was not a good start.

So then Namor’s wife, Marrina, ate some shrimp (I think) and turned first into a scaly monster lady and then into a full-on giant sea dragon thing. It was terrifying to me; the fact that John Buscema is an amazing artist made it even more terrifying. I’m not joking when I say that this comic along with the laborious job I had at Legal Seafood in high school kept me away from really eating fish until I was well out of college. Some kids lived for horror movies and being creeped out (looking at you, Rickey and TJ), but I was the sort of sensitive wuss who couldn’t make it through the end of Ghostbusters II because of that freaky painting dude. So again, I was not digging this comic.

There was also an interlude with Kang that was part of a larger subplot Simonson was building toward that also involved Ravonna and Doctor Druid. After 21-year-old Ben read Avengers Forever, Kang became one of the coolest villains in comics to him; to six-year-old Ben, there couldn’t have been many things more confusing and off-putting than a guy in a purple mask showing up three quarters into a comic for a page to shoot another guy who looked exactly like him, say a couple cryptic words and take off (the longer term story Simonson was working toward with the prime Kang assassinating his Cross-Time Council is actually pretty rad, but I did not know that in 1988).

The issue ended with the evening wear Avengers still battling big ass scary snake Marrina because it was part one of a three-part story. Recall that I was primarily an Archie reader at this point, and mostly double digests at that, so I was used to having up to a dozen or more plots neatly resolved for me by the time I flipped the back cover shut, not everything left irritatingly dangling and unanswered.

As the cherry on this sundae, there was a house ad with the cover below and a big “Beginning of the End” tag…

…this series is ending? Why did I just read this. Also, there was an ad for the Ann Nocenti/John Romita Jr. Daredevil run with Typhoid Mary that looked a hundred times cooler.

The irony for me in recalling pretty much all of the factors that contributed to me not liking this issue would have been huge selling points for me today.

I love quiet stories about character building. If an issue of anything is solicited as an issue where everybody is hanging out in street clothes and talking for the first half (no issue of anything is ever solicited that way) I get psyched. The wedding of Donna Troy and/or Cyclops and Jean Grey! That issue of Guy Gardner: Warrior where he opens his bar! That other issue of Guy Gardner: Warrior where he has a Christmas party! The Busiek/Perez Avengers story with the parade! That time Nova scored with Namorita in New Warriors! The Force Works holiday special where Abnett and Lanning tricked me into thinking Wolverine was guest-starring!

Kang is fantastic. The weirder his time travel plots, the better. Trying to figure out the paradoxes upon paradoxes of him chasing his past and future selves through the decades hurts my head in the best way possible. The issue of Avengers Forever solely devoted to his crazy ass history is a classic. I loved The Kang Dynasty.

I still love a good one-and-done story, but c’mon, I read X-Men in the 90’s and it was my comics lifeblood—simmering subplots and multi-part stories are my bread and (lactose free) butter.

Maybe the craziest thing of all is that this issue takes place only about a year after “Under Siege,” probably my favorite Avengers story of all-time. Slightly different roster, but a lot of the same players. Same awesome artist. Even the same short-lived logo is the same. It goes to show that had I encountered this issue later in my comic collecting life perhaps as I was trying to follow up “Under Siege” by getting all the single issues, I’d probably treasure it; but encountering it on its own at a time when I was the newest of readers made it anathema to me. It’s all about where you’re at in your hobby.

It also may be about whether you’re six or 30, but that doesn’t sound as good in my estimation.

I still don’t care much for giant fish lady monsters, but I am now an avid sushi and shellfish eater who will even occasionally indulge in a tuna steak.

Doctor Druid is still weird.


KP said...

Funny enough, my first and only Avengers comic as a kid was this one:

I had a similar reaction to the story – total bewilderment at the team's mission and specific circumstance, though that one was a more standard "crisis in space story."

Also: I just discovered a story arc while looking for the above cover that I want you to write a post about:

Ben Morse said...

I would love to come across the Super Nova Saga in an eBay sale or 50 cent bin. I have all the issues around it almost, but not it.

Steve Gerding said...

This run of the Avengers (the run that turned me into a full-blown comics fan) also had Tom Palmer on inks. The combination of Buscema/Palmer is my favorite art team, EVAR.