Is there a more famous battle cry in comics? When I’m reading an Avengers issue, I’m always waiting for that point when a member rallies their colleague to tackle the threat du jour. Often it comes in a big splash panel, always it’s a cathartic, impressive moment. And so we come to this moment in Marvel’s latest retro offering.
Goodness me, that’s… understated.
It could be writer Roger Stern having a laugh with the conceit, but that seems unlikely, given how seriously he looks to be taking this trip back to the good old days. And they were good, as Stern, with artists John Buscema, Tom Palmer and other talents, gave us years of adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Well-plotted tales filled with terrific character moments, all beautifully drawn.
And this reads like one of those books. The introduction page tells us exactly where it fits in Avengers history, after Avengers #277, when the invasion of Avengers Mansion by the Masters of Evil was put down. The building was mostly rubble, Jarvis the butler, Hercules and Black Knight were all in hospital, and the rebuilding of mansion and morale had to begin.
So it is that, after a bit of set-up with Loki – he’s after an object of power, wouldn’t you know? – we join most of the remaining members as they’re visited by backer Tony Stark, who isn’t known to be Iron Man by all his colleagues.
Remaining Avenger Captain Marvel is away, comforting Jarvis’s elderly mother.
It’s a great little scene, a nice throwback to the days Monica Rambeau was new to her powers, and our POV character for the world of the Avengers.
Soon, though, the peace of the day is broken.
I love Jan’s last line there, and Monica’s gesture. Incredulous is indeed the appropriate reaction, and if this isn’t a trap baited with the tragically loyal wife of the Prince of Lies, I’ll be a three-eyed Kryptonian babbootch.
Almost immediately, the eldritch form of Dr Strange appears, and if this isn’t the Master of Mischief himself, I’ll be a three-eyed Kryptonian babootch.
As it turns out, it isn’t a disguised Loki. And Sigyn is also on the up. Loki’s stock of deceit is very low this issue, because he’s exactly where he said he was going, doing just what he said he would, at the start of the issue – on the planet Yann, hoping to take the local mystical energies back to Asgard.
In the blink of an eye, aka a spell by Dr Strange and a twirl of Thor’s space warp-opening hammer, the Avengers are where they need to be.
Cue a fight with the resident beasties, an encounter with both Loki and classic Dr Strange bad guy Sise-Neg, and a cameo by one of the biggest of the Marvel Universe’s conceptual beings, and it’s all over but for a spot of brooding by Loki.
That the story ends pretty much where it began, with Loki plotting away, makes sense – Marvel has done a fair few untold story one-offs over the years – at one point this would have been billed as Avengers #277.5 – and you have to put the toys back in the box when you’re done. So there are no big character changes here, no status quo resets, just— as in ‘just’ – a very enjoyable done-in-one reminding us of the classic days of ‘my’ Avengers. The teamwork, the scope, the sheer fun of it all… Stern even gives us a brilliant comic beat as Lorelei, Marvel’s second-best Enchantress, is dismissed from Loki’s presence.
Wonderful. As is the cover by illustrator Patch Zircher and colourist Matt Yackey, a pitch -perfect evocation of the Buscema-Palmer vibe, but with Zircher’s trademark sharpness. I’d love to have seen this team on the inside of the comic. Ron Lim, a favourite artist of many in the Nineties, draws and Espen Grundetjern colours, and it’s pretty decent – just not what I was expecting after that cover. The storytelling is fine, but everything looks so simple compared to the realistic look of the Avengers book back then – this issue reminds me of one of Marvel’s younger line series from a decade ago. Partly, it’s Lim not having an inker now, leaving Grundetjern to do more work than his equivalent in the Nineties (Scott Hanna gets a credit on the cover, but not inside, and I can’t detect his finish here). I’d love to see how that era’s regular colourist, the brilliant Christie Scheele, would have made this issue look, but she’s off doing fine art. Sooo selfish!
I realise it isn’t fair to seem stinting in praise – if you’ve not seen the art from the Stern run of Avengers you’d likely be fine with this, it’s a perfectly decent… oh, there I go again. Well done gentlemen, and that includes Joe Caramagna for his always excellent lettering.
The lack of deception on the part of Loki this issue is weird, it’s his whole thing… Sigyn is set up as willing to do anything for her horrible hubby, but all she does is appeal on his behalf. Loki has impersonated heroes plenty of times, so of course the randomness of Stephen Strange’s arrival had me suspicious. Perhaps, then, I should be congratulating Stern for subverting expections. It’s not like cameos weren’t common in the wonderfully unified Marvel Universe of the time.
Mind, I still can’t explain that nothingy ‘Avengers Assemble’. Anyone?