It’s a little more than a year out, and Avengersis still one of the biggest movies in the world today. We all saw it, we all thought it was totally awesome, everyone agreed on this*. It’s already had a follow up in the mega-successful three-quel Iron Man Three**, and the second Thor film comes out this fall, with more on the way. Everything has been coming up Marvel’s way, and the Avengers are their crown jewels.
So, how does the movie compare to the Avengers’ humble origins in their earliest comics? Well…. Okay, I’d argue that I probably enjoyed them a good bit more than a casual reader would. Generally speaking, these are perfectly serviceable- if not always particularly inspired- early 60’s comics. Stan and Jack are always fun, even when they’re phoning it in, and Don Heck does his best to keep the energy up when Jack moves on. But, at the end of the day…. Well, it’s really not all that compelling.
Maybe this is my fault. Maybe I’m just jaded from all the hype. After all, I’ve been hearing about these stories for 20 years, maybe I’ve just built up my expectations too much? “Avengers #1! The team accidentally forms to save the day from Loki!” Absolutely. Oh, but there’s also this weird stuff in the middle where the Hulk joins the circus and is dressed up like a sad clown. It’s a bit odd.
“Avengers #4! Captain America is found after decades of being frozen in suspended animation and joins the team!” Well, yeah. Obviously. But that’s not really what the story is actually about. The story is about a space alien who’s thousands of years old, who turns out to be the secret inspiration for the myth of Medusa. Oh, and also there’s Namor in it, being a dick, as is his nature.
The real moment where I knew I had exaggerated expectations that needed to be dialed back was in issue 3. As a kid, I had a sort of “Marvel painting-picture comic”, where Great Moments in Marvel History™ had been recreated in gorgeous paintings that filled up full pages. The painting from Avengers #3 had the Hulk desperately trying to lift Thor’s hammer, struggling so hard because he can’t understand how the “puny” thunder god could lift Mjolnir and he couldn’t. It was a dynamic, breathtaking image, that captured my imagination as a child.
This isn’t the painting- I couldn’t find it online- but it’s got a similar energy to this recent cover.
But the scene in the comic? It’s on page 23, and it feels nothing at all like the painting to me. It’s not bad or anything, it’s just that it lacks the majesty I grew up always thinking that scene had in it. I’m having trouble adjusting my perspective, and I know it, so let’s move on, and talk about what’s in the comic, rather than what I thought would be there. It’s fine.
Basically, the team is formed by most of the not-quite-top-tier Marvel characters at the time: Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp. Hulk is a founding member, but he quits in the second issue. As I said, though, Captain America is found by the team, frozen in ice, in issue 4. He’ll be a mainstay for the team basically forever.
After Loki is dispatched, the first few issues do their best to make sure you know it’s 1963, as they deal with the Space Phantom (alien), the aforementioned Namor and Medusa-Broccoli-Dude (also an alien), and then the Lava Men (they live in the center of the Earth, so… technically not an alien, but c’mon!). Finally, is issue 6 we start getting villains that “feel” like Avengers villains, and even an over-arching story plot! Baron Zemo- the modern incarnation of Sgt. Fury’s villain- shows up and forms his Masters of Evil. Along with Zemo, the MoE roster varies slightly, but usually a combination in some form of the Enchantress, Executioner, and Radioactive Man from Thor; and Black Knight and the Melter from Iron Man; along with various saps they happen upon and take advantage of. Ant-Man villains need not apply, because they are lame.
Along with bizarre time travelers Kang the Conqueror and Immortus, Lord of Time (Hey, I wonder if those two will be related somehow….), the Masters of Evil become the primary antagonists for the Avengers, even creating some new bad guys themselves, like Wonder Man. The Mole Man shows up too, because after Namor and Rama-Tut/Kang have already showed up, why not another FF villain? Honestly, I am genuinely surprised that Doctor Doom never showed up.
Oh, and Count Nefaria shows up for an issue. Not that I care.
Speaking of things I don’t care about, the comic continues the Hulk tradition of trying to convince me that pre-Captain Marvel Rick Jones is interesting, even though he isn’t. Their first attempt to make me care takes shape in Rick leading the “Teen Brigade”, a group of teenage boys who mostly sit around ham radios and get captured. Later, they have him put on the clothes of Cap’s dead partner and try to become the new Bucky. And yeah, that’s kind of really creepy, and much has been written on the subject by others. Rather than focus on that, but similarly, oh my sweet evil Jesus, does Captain America ever stop crying? I submit that he does not. I struck upon that in my review of issue 11, but man, he is just so sad at all the times because his totally not gay best friend/ young boy who emulates him is dead. It is so sad you guys.
Anyway, in issue 15 comes the conclusion of several plot lines and in the end, the issue (SPOILERS on a 50 year old comic) kills off Zemo. With the Masters of Evil mostly brought down, the entire team essentially disbands. The book now becomes about Cap, and the reformed villains Hawkeye (see: Iron Man) and Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver (see: X-Men, in my next MMM).
New team, some new (mostly meh) villains (including Swordsman and Power Man, who is straight up Wonder Man 2.0), but same basic structure: The team bickers and fights amongst themselves, until the bad guys show up, and they go and fight them. This is a comic book purely about fighting, but that’s not as exciting as it sounds.
My favorite moment in this book: In issue 22, Power Man and Enchantress have convinced the world that the Avengers are a bigger menace than Spider-Man. After being run out of town by the friggin’ Circus of Crime (I mean, Jesus Christ, Hawkeye, that’s the best you could do?), a statewide manhunt for the team begins. Two kids are arguing one in an FF t-shirt and the other in an Avengers one. In the midst of the fight, the Avengers fan explains that maybe the Avengers are hiding because of some secret plan. The FF fan’s response? “Aww, your uncle eats pickles!” I don’t know why, but that makes me laugh.
Anyway, it’s fine. That’s how I can describe this book. It is fine. Not great, but that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be great. Kang shows up a bunch, and even if he acts like a massive tool most of the time, I love the character, so that’s good. The issues that stick to the Avengers vs. the Masters of Evil formula are pretty fun. It shows potential, and it will grow into something great. We just have to give it time. Here’s hoping volume 2 will build towards something even better.
Because your uncle eats pickles.
*=If you didn’t agree with this, well, your argument has been rendered invalid, and you are wrong. Too bad, so sad, but deal with it.
**= Because I just realized I didn’t talk about it here much, here’s my take on Iron Man Three: Personally, my feelings on it were more mixed than a lot of people’s. A lot of people loved it, and usually I could see their points, it just didn’t hit me quite as well for whatever reason. But even if I only thought “it’s fine, I guess?”, it was heads and tails better than the slaughter fest that was Man of Steel.