Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stripping Down #14 - The 'Lost' CI Reviews Part 2

Why 'lost' reviews? See here...

The Avengers United #73-74 (Panini UK)
“Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” by Joe Casey & Scott Kolins
(Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #5-8)

“The End…And The Beginning!” by Jim Shooter + David Michelinie & Dave Wenzel (The Avengers (vol 1) #175)
“The Destiny Hunt!” by Jim Shooter + David Michelinie & Dave Wenzel (The Avengers (vol 1) #176)
“A Viper In Our Midst!” by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
(Journey Into Mystery #115)

“The Challenge!” by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
(Journey Into Mystery #116)

Joe Casey’s exploration of The Avengers’ early years continues to impress. Back stories explaining Jarvis’ involvement in Hawkeye’s imminent induction and Captain America’s crippling obsession with seeking vengeance for Bucky’s death lend the narrative – and characters – more credibility. In the concluding chapters, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch replace Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man and the Wasp in the team’s first major line-up change. Whilst I’ve had mixed feelings about Scott Kolins’ art in the past, he’s pulled out all the stops here and produced some of his best work. Wil Quintana’s colour art (and the paper quality) has resulted in some overly muddy pages at times, but this is a small gripe. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has been a welcome diversion from the current series, helping the memory of Chuck Austen’s largely execrable run to fade before Brian Michael Bendis mixes things up next issue. In the main archive strip, the origin of Michael/Korvac is revealed before an assemblage of Avengers finally discover their foe, promising one heck of a climatic conflict. Dave Wenzel is not in earlier artist George Perez’ league but he does a good job particularly in the closing pages and despite Pablo Marcos’ occasionally heavy handed inking. Tales Of Asgard wraps up each issue with, predictably, Loki up to his old tricks yet again. These stories were never a must read for me as a kid and the passage of time hasn’t done much to change that opinion. Given their prodigious output at the time, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are below par on this series, though at least inker Vince Colletta is consistent. Consistently crap, that is.

The Avengers United #75 (Panini UK)
“Disassembled” by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch
(The Avengers (vol 1) #500-501)

“The Hope…And The Slaughter!” by Jim Shooter & Dave Wenzel
(The Avengers (vol 1) #177)

“Hulk Remembers…” by Fred Hembeck (The Avengers (vol 1) #500 (Director’s Cut))
“The Man In The Ant Hill!” by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
(Tales To Astonish (vol 1) #27)

A 100-page anniversary issue and the debut of the much aniticpated Disassembled, as a series of crises tear The Avengers apart. So, was it worth the wait? Well… not really. I have to put my cards on the table and say that I think both Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch are overrated. Regardless, it’s fair to say that neither deliver their best work here, with even the ‘shock’ deaths of Jack Of Hearts, Ant Man (Scott Lang, not Hank Pym) and The Vision lacking in impact. It’s easy to compare this to the Under Siege storyline that ran through #271-280 of the original US series which, in my opinion, has so far proved superior to the opening instalments of Disassembled. Still, I was reassured that the climax of The Michael/Korvac Saga, one of my favourite Avengers sagas as a teen, wouldn’t disappoint. And, sure enough, as I read the 18 pages that comprised the original #177, it didn’t. However, as the source of this reprint has been the 1991 trade paperback collection, this has not only resulted in poor quality reproduction of each chapter’s splash page, but also in a ‘new’ 4-page epilogue written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Sal Buscema. As might be expected, it does nothing to enhance the original storyline and in fact needlessly undermines the ambiguous ending of Jim Shooter’s original script with heavy handed exposition. This epilogue was quite rightly dropped from the subsequent 2003 collection and, to be honest, I could have happily done without it here. Fred Hembeck makes a welcome reappearance with an amusing two page ‘talking heads’ narrative as Hulk recalls his contribution to the team’s formation and subsequent ousting, with not a little bitterness. As might be expected, it’s a hoot and a nice diversion from otherwise downbeat material. Wrapping up the issue is a reprint of Tales To Astonish #27, featuring the first appearance of Ant Man (Hank Pym, not Scott Lang). Well, to be strictly accurate, the story introduces Pym, his discovery of the size-changing formula and subsequently terrifying adventure as he tests the formula on himself. It’s the kind of sci-fi fantasy short that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby excelled at in the 1960s and, obviously realising they were onto a good thing, it was a mere eight months before Ant Man’s regular series debuted in Tales To Astonish #35. In summary, The Avengers United #75 delivers an overhyped and underwhelming first half, but compensates for this with the (predominately archive) second.

The Avengers United #76 (Panini UK)
“Disassembled” by Brian Michael Bendis & David Finch
(The Avengers (vol 1) #502-503)

“The Roots Of All Evil” by Bill Morrison (Marvel Double Shot #2)

As the cover promises, the conclusion of Disassembled promises yet more mayhem and death. Those who haven’t been in living in a bubble in the two years since this storyline was originally published in the US will be aware that Hawkeye meets a controversial end this issue. During an unexpected Kree invasion, Hawkeye is struck in the back by a stray blast, igniting his quiver full of explosive arrows. Comandeering a Kree jet pack and flying into the ship itself, his last act is one of self-sacrifice, though a rather pointless one. Doctor Strange turns up at the end of the issue’s first instalment, which rarely bodes well during a crisis. Lo and behold, a flip of the page reveals that The Scarlet Witch, driven insane by the loss of her imaginary children yonks ago and by her perceived betrayal by her friends and teammates, has been subconsciously causing the string of disasters that have decimated The Avengers. I’m not going to spend time here arguing the toss about the implausibility of this narrative and the explicit cock-ups that Bendis makes in this story – heck, there’s an entire section of Wikipedia dedicated to that. However, it’s sad that Bendis seems to have used Chuck Austen’s misjudged interpretation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as the basis for this schlock horror, largely ignoring their predecessors Kurt Busiek’s and Geoff Johns’ sterling storylines and characterisation. Artist David Finch’s contribution relies overly much on large panels and single or double splash pages, with the best part of four pages in the final chapter comprising cut and paste panels of The Scarlet Witch from past issues. In fairness, Finch has a good eye for layouts and copes well with detailed crowd scenes. However, I find his Jim Lee-esque facial art a bit monotonous, with characters frequently looking constipated. Maybe it’s the pain of having to deliver such bad dialogue… Frank D’Armata’s colour art is more of a hindrance than a help, the blood red wash over Hawkeye’s death scene creating ‘atmosphere’ at the expense of clarity. So, after much hype, and the best part of six years in The Avengers United, Disassembled ends this series of The Avengers on a bum note. Thankfully, a reliably well-written and informative Avengers Spotlight feature helps make sense of The Scarlet Witch’s convulted history. Following next issue’s Finale we can look forward to the debut of The New Avengers in #78, albeit with the same creative team of Bendis and Finch. In place of the regular classic strip, there’s some light relief to be had with
The Roots Of All Evil, written and drawn by Bongo Comics supremo Bill Morrison, and containing some much needed belly laughs. At the suggestion of The Enchantress, Loki decides to revert from ‘God Of Evil’ to ‘God Of Mischief’, causing all manner of problems for the erstwhile Avengers. The line-up is a rather unusual one, including The Black Knight and The Falcon, but rendering The Avengers in the style of The Simpsons and Futurama is an inpsired move. The sight of a bald Thor (victim of a helmet lined with hair removal cream) was enough to make me chuckle out loud, but it’s just one of several admittedly juvenile but extremely funny moments. More please…

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