on 26 January 2006
This collection contains arguably the best quality story arcs - and best characters - in the history of The Avengers. This team has been a favourite of mine since I first started reading comics, and I remember this period with great fondness. Particular highlights are superb Barry Windsor-Smith art in Avengers #100, the Avengers/Defenders crossover (Arguably one of the best and least-contrived x-overs ever...), and an array of stunning guest-stars peppered throughout this run.
Steve Englehart features strongly, and I have always had tremendous respect for his ability to write superhero comics that are dazzling and action-filled, but also mature and smart.
The Avengers - like most of the 'Marvel Universe' - have come a long way since this period, but this edition is timeless, and well worth a revisit for those (Like myself) who want to relive a thrilling read from their youth; but those in the new generation will find much here that will excite and intrigue.
The only thing stopping me giving this 5 stars is the fact it is black and white - but that is what makes these so affordable for such a big chunk of reprint material. Buy it - it's fantastic!
A wonderful globe spanning series of tales starting with a trip to Mount Olympus as the Avengers take on Ares and the Enchantress. The 100th issue being a great excuse to get all past Avengers present as they team up to fight on Earth and on Olympus.
Then a one off Harlan Ellison story about killing innocents in the present to avert a future war. The Grim Reaper returns still trying to persuade his brother, The Vision, to join him. His plans are interrupted by the return of the Sentinels from the Sun, their aim to sterilise mankind to produce a new,perfect race. Then a trip to the Savage Land to take on Magneto's artificially created mutants, the Beast Brood.
The Avengers' first foe The Space Phantom returns allied to the Grim Reaper and the hordes of Hydra, this has a cleverly scripted tie-in to an earlier Captain America story.
Hawkeye leaves the group and is at the forefront of a weaker tale with the giant millionaire Champion.
Magneto returns, having defeated the X-Men he turns his sights on the Avengers. There's a cross-over with Daredevil as he and Hawkeye fight over the Black Widow. DD and the Widow help the Avengers defeat Magneto and she joins the group briefly before realising she has to return to be with Daredevil.
An African deity the Lion God is brought to life, a tale to tie in with current events in the Panther's own land.
Then a great tale with a group of religious zealots turning themselves into human bombs to destroy the Vision after seeing the romance between him and the mutant Scarlet Witch develop. The tension between mutants and humans is never far away here but even the Witch's brother,Quicksilver,is against her relationship with the android Vision. The story is aided by the fact that is does not end with a cop-out and the fanatical bombers are killed. Then the Lion God reappears but the two newest Avenger recruits, the martial arts adept Mantis and her partner,the Avengers' previous foe The Swordsman, help to defeat him.
There's a trip to England to visit the Black Knight who has been absent for some time,briefly interrupted by a band of troglodytes.
This tale leads swiftly into one of the best tales of that era as two of Marvel's greatest villains Dormammu and Loki combine forces to seek the Evil Eye,last seen apparently being destroyed in Fantastic Four # 54. Dormammu uses his arch-foe Doctor Strange's group The Defenders to collect the 6 pieces of the Evil Eye to help him bring the Earth into his domain. Loki reaslise he has been double crossed and uses the Avengers to try and defeat the Defenders. There's a series of memorable fights across the globe between the two groups, Hawkeye has joined the Defenders and takes on his old foe Iron Man, the series ends as Captain America and Namor's fight in Japan is interrupted by the mutant Sunfire,soon they realise there is someone setting them at each other and the two groups join forces just in time to separate Thor and the Hulk. The groups together travel to Dormammu's realm where the Scarlet Witch delivers the final blow to Dormammu. Guest starring The Watcher,SHIELD,Richard The Lionheart,King John and Prester John as well as very brief cameo's from most of Marvel's top stars.
The final tale sees the return of the Collector as he traps the Avengers at the annual Rutland Halloween festival,a regular event on the Marvel calendars.
Where these stories succeed is the consistently great story-lines from both Roy Thomas and Steve Engelhart. The artwork suffers a little from the use of so many artists but Rich Buckler,Bob Brown and Sal Buscema relly stand out with able assistance from John Buscema and Don Heck. In my own opinion the Barry Windsor-Smith issues lose most from the transfer to black and white.
Old gits like me who remember many of these tales the first time will be aware of many of the themes from other titles that tie in with these stories. Unfortunately the lack of both of the fourth volumes of Essential Daredevil and Thor leave new readers relying on the brief Editors comments, a minor grumble from an impatient collector. Next stop The Defenders Volume 1.
There are some big names that show up as writers and artists in the issues collected in "Essential Avengers, Volume 5," but they do not show up for long. Just like the roster for Marvel's premier superhero team, the lineup for writing and drawing this comic book changed a lot. An original story by Harlan Ellison (1964's "Five Dooms to Save Tomorrow") is adapted in #101, while Roy Thomas finished as writer of the book with issue #104 and then Steve Englehart took over. Barry Windsor-Smith draws the first three issues here, even doing some of the inking (along with Joe Sinnott and Syd Shores) for #100 and then we get Rich Buckler (#101-04, 106), John Buscema (#105), George Tuska (#106-07), Jim Starlin (#107), Don Heck (#108-112), and Bob Brown (#113-19).
The Avengers line-up at the start of this collection consists of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and the Vision, with Rick Jones hanging around because he is sharing space with Captain Marvel. By the end Hercules, the Black Panther, Hawkeye, and the Swordsman and his paramour Mantis show up for duty as well, although everybody who has ever been an Avenger shows up for #100 as the Avengers assemble and invade Olympus because Ares the god of war has been causing trouble on Earth. The Ellison story has to do with killing innocents whose descendants will destroy the world, before we move on to more traditional super villain tales. As the Avengers hit 100 issues it is the Vision who is the key member of the group and he has to deal with his brother, the Grim Reaper before alone (#102) and in tandem with the Space Phantom (#106-08), while the romantic relationship between the Vision and Wanda continues its stormy way.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues focusing on Hawkeye, who comes back, quits (#109) and joins the Defenders. I never cottoned to Hawkeye (and never was enamored of the Green Arrow either) and even in retrospect he is, at best, a light proto-type version of Wolverine (think about it). There are also several issues dealing with evil mutants and other characters from "The X-Men." First the Sentinels show up (#102-04), followed by Lorelei (#105), and then Magneto (#110-11). Of course, Wanda and Pietro were original members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, so there is that history to justify it all and it does make for something different (the problem with a super group is that it is so hard to come up with a group of villains for them to fight, so you have to go with one supervillain, such as Magneto, who is arguably stronger than any one hero, which makes you wonder what happens when Cap, Iron Man, Thor, etc., has to deal with somebody one-on-one).
Collected in this volume are "Avengers" #98-119, "Daredevil" #99, and "Defenders" #8-11, so there are some cross-overs that involve not only Daredevil, who is teamed up with the Black Widow at that point, and the newest (at that time) Marvel super group. This clash was interesting because what happened was members of each group met in mini-battles: the Vision and the Scarlet Witch vs. the Silver Surfer; Iron Man vs. Hawkeye; the Black Panther and Mantis vs. Dr. Strange; Swordsman vs. the Valkerie; Captain America vs. Sub-Mariner; and in the last but not least position, Thor vs. Hulk (which is when the two groups finally get together to go after the evil tag-team of Loki and Dormammu. The problem with "The Avengers" is that the comic book never really seemed to jell, and it was always one step forward and one step back. If Buckler had stayed as the artist for most of these issues I could round up, but Don Heck was probably my least favorite Marvel artist during that time and I look at any title he was drawing as being second tier at best.