Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reading the Essential Avengers

To help get me thinking about how a team book works, especially in the Marvel style, I headed down to my local public library and picked up Essential Avengers, Vol. 4 (Marvel Essentials)

Volume Four covers Avengers 69-97, which is roughly 1969-1971 and for the most part features Roy Thomas as writer and John Buscema as artist (and Stan Lee consistently getting top billing as editor).  While the cast rotates a bit, it's a mostly Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp, Yellowjacket, Clint Barton as Goliath, Vision, and the Scarlet Witch.  There's a few leit motifs throughout these years.  For example there is the snarky sarcasm and semi-affectionate name-calling between members of the Avengers, especially Goliath, Yellowjacket, and the Wasp.  There's the somewhat overbearing tendency to have people verbalizing the action as a way to help the reader follow along (e.g. "Goliath's bringing down the entire building!" or "Your bullets can't do anything against the Vision's diamond-hard form.")  The worst quality of the era in my mind is loose plot writing that occurs.  Vision quits at the ends of an issue, only to rejoin up the next one.  The Scarlet Witch loses her powers (mostly to make her a easy captive), only to have them be restored by traveling through dimensions, which by the way is helpfully pointed out to her by a muscle-brained savage.  It's not constant, but it crops up enough when you read several years in one bulk to make you realize that there's some sloppiness in there.

But the biggest theme of this era is the contemporary social commentary, especially on the issue of race.  The other common member of the Avengers at this time is the Black Panther, who is publicly shown to be a black man after battling the racial supremacist supervillain organization the Sons of the Serpent.  (As a small corollary, the Native American superhero Red Wolf is also introduced, following the tradition of naming minority characters after their stereotypical skin coloring and an animal.)  The Sons of the Serpent are looking to create a "race war," and Marvel ends up tarring both sides a bit by having it come out that the Sons of the Serpent are actually co-led by a white and black man, both public figures on both sides of the racial tension divide, who merely wanted to stir up conflict for the purpose of gaining power.  The series has that "inner city New York" vibe that I tend to think of as being emblematic of Marvel Comics in general over the years that made it just a little more real than DC Comics using fictitious cities like Metropolis and Gotham.  And the Avengers of this period are frequently torn between dealing with street-level issues, which appeal to the Black Panther, and the more high-level threats which are more Thor and Iron Man's speed (Cap's in the middle, what with him being a downtown graphic artist dating a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn.)

I don't know if this is helpful for anyone looking to recreate the feel of the era or figure out how to craft stories for teams with both high- and low-powered heroes, but they are a pretty fun read.  I did get one bonus out of reading this book, which I will detail in a later post.

As an aside, however, can anyone explain to me the appeal of the Vision?  What a jerk.

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