Braving Marvel – Avengers
After a stressful move to a different country and weeks without my computer, I am finally back with a new edition of Braving Marvel! I have some catching up to do as this July edition is coming to you a bit late. I have been reading quite a bit of comics though, so the August edition will be out soon as well. But for now, let’s focus on the Avengers.
Avengers is one of the titles that have been running since the early years of Marvel. The team has had many different members and been a part of a lot of different crossovers. It can be hard to find a good place to start reading this series even if you are focusing only on the last decade or so. This run of Avengers started in 1998 and ran until 2004 and has been collected in two massive volumes (Vol 2 will be released this November). It’s going back a little further than I had originally planned, but this run is considered a classic and came so highly recommended from multiple sources that I felt it would be silly to pass it up just because of the release date.
After the events of Onslaught (1996) the Avengers have been missing from Earth. After their return, they must gather a new team and face new threats while finding their place in a world that has believed them to be dead. The adventure begins as known Avengers members around the world suddenly find themselves attacked by mythological creatures. Original founding members Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, and Wasp convene at Avengers Mansion to discuss the event and how to deal with it. They are soon joined by Thor, and together they decide that it is time to assemble the Avengers once more and stop whoever is behind the threat.
It’s a bit hard to not be affected by Marvel’s heavy Avengers marketing these days. Like most of you I have seen the two blockbuster films about the team and been wanting to learn more about some of the characters. Like I stated before in earlier BM articles, I also prefer to read about teams instead of solo acts. Avengers and X-men have been on my reading list since I started this journey. I also believed that reading about a team with different members would be a great way to be introduced to new characters without it feeling overwhelming as I would be familiar with most of the characters from my earlier reads.
First of all I’d like to mention how amazing the Omnibus collection is. The quality of the paper and binding is fantastic and the colors look great. The collection also includes extra artwork and all of the variant covers of the different issues. After this purchase I’m tempted to buy similar collections when I can instead of the trade paperbacks. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive up front, but you will get a book that is made to last for a long time.
As I started reading the first storyline I was taken a bit by surprise by the sheer number of characters introduced. I had thought that the Avengers comics would focus on one small team of characters which would make it easier for beginners like me. However, this run starts with a new beginning for the Avengers, so there is no chosen team. Instead, every living character that has ever been an Avenger joins the fight. That results in over 30 heroes to keep track of! Talk about new readers being thrown into the deep end! With a cast that big, some heroes will get more attention than others, but it’s still daunting to keep track of everyone’s names, powers, and relationships to each other.
That does not mean that it is impossible to learn about the new characters, though. In the Omnibus there are two pages dedicated to introducing the reader to most of the cast. There is an image, their names, and a short description of their powers. At first I regularly consulted these pages when I got confused. Many characters get enough page time for the reader to get an impression of their personalities and role in the team, so I hardly needed to use the help pages after the first storyline.
Luckily, the series gets more focused after the initial storyline. A whole issue is dedicated to the process of choosing the new team. Some heroes choose to not be an active member as they have their own jobs and families to take care of. I was a bit sad to see that some of the characters I had liked during the previous storyline did not make the cut, but I will hopefully read more about their adventures later.
After the final team is chosen there is a lot more focus on the people behind the masks. As I mentioned in my write-up on She-Hulk I am pleasantly surprised by some of the depth the writing has regarding the personal issues and journeys of the protagonists. Avengers also has some solid character development. A lot of the attention is given to Scarlet Witch who is not only going through some emotional issues after separating from her husband Vision, but is starting to notice a substantial change in her arcane powers. It seems like her powers are evolving to a higher level, but she has no idea why, how to control it, or how powerful she can become. A more personal journey is given to Ms. Marvel, who is secretly struggling with alcoholism. Her problems soon affect her powers, as well as her friendships and her role in the team. It is the frictions in the team that keeps things interesting. New members and old members trying to figure out a balance while fighting side by side. If everyone were friends all the time it would not make for very interesting reading. Instead, events affect them personally and push them in new directions.
While some heroes get a lot of attention, other characters are not given a lot of space for their own personal journeys. I believe this is because those characters have their own solo series where that is handled. They do show up a lot for the action scenes and when the team is assembled, but you don’t get to know much about what is happening with them outside of the Avengers job. So if you want to learn more about Captain America and Iron Man you will have to read their respective series.
This run of Avengers is a great way to be introduced to new heroes and villains. The core Avengers team changes its line-up on occasion, so you will get to know more heroes than just the original six members. Sometimes they will also join forces with other heroes or teams, like Squadron Supreme. After reading through the Omnibus I have been introduced to so many new characters that I probably wouldn’t be able to name them all off of the top of my head. But I have gotten to know them enough to be able to recognize them and remember their background stories if I meet them again in later issues.
Which brings me into the issue of keeping track of names. I found it very confusing how similar the names of some characters were. For example, you have Warbird, Firebird, and Firestar. These are all female characters as well just to add to the confusion. Having a big cast of characters is one thing, but some diversity in naming would be great. I kept confusing the names of these characters for a long time, and some of them I still am. Some characters also choose to change their names during the story. For example, there is Ms. Marvel. She has already changed her name to Binary at the start of the run, but after a short while she decides to change her name again, this time to Warbird. I almost felt like I was back in school and doing my best to be able to place the right name with the right face and powers.
I’ve been talking a lot about the heroes, but I haven’t mentioned the villains yet. That is kind of how the comics feel too: There is a lot of focus on the heroes, but it feels like the villains have not received the same level of attention. Many of the villains are bland and not very memorable. Some are downright silly, like the Champion. I mean, here is a tall and strong guy that kidnaps the Avengers because he wants to fight them for sport. Sure, he threatens to kill millions of innocents if our heroes refuse to fight him, but he still comes across as an arrogant idiot. Luckily, there are better villains that show up every now and again, like our old friend Ultron. He’s the kind of villain that says ‘Hello’ by destroying a nation. That is when you feel like the Avengers are truly epic. When they face down a bland enemy, their victory seems bland as well. But facing up against a foe as strong and evil as Ultron the challenge seems much bigger and their heroism is given a chance to shine.
Another issue I had with the collection is the inclusion of all twelve issues of Avengers Forever (1998). This story ran alongside the main Avengers run throughout 1998. It is great that this side story has been included to complete the collection, but it does mess up the flow of the rest of the series a bit. It is placed after the 1998 issues of the Avengers, which does make sense when you consider the chronological order of the book. However, as you get into the storylines of the main series and want to read more about the recent developments the sudden jump to Forever seems like an annoying interruption. It also didn’t help that I really disliked the story in this side story. It actually caused me to put the book down for days, and reading it felt like a chore. You might feel different about Avengers Forever, but it just wasn’t for me at all. Once I got through those issues I started really enjoying the book again and found it hard to put down.
Despite Avengers Forever’s rude interruption, I greatly enjoyed reading through this Omnibus. It is a real page turner and Volume 2 will be on my wish list this Christmas.
On a separate note: is it wrong that I am developing a crush on Wasp?
This collection can easily be recommended to people who are looking to get into Avengers comics. As I mentioned before, the first storyline can be a bit daunting as it stars a team of over 30 members. It can be hard to keep a track on all of them. As soon as the final roster is decided, however, things get a lot easier to follow. Each character is given space so that you can get to know them. While the heroes are great, the villains differ greatly in quality. Some are very bland, while others will leave an impression. This run of Avengers is also stand-alone in that it doesn’t cross over with any major Marvel events. There is one minor 4-issue event that is collected in the Omnibus. This is also good news for beginners as they can read all of it without having to worry about buying additional collections to understand the storylines.
The Road From Here?
I have spent a lot of time with Avengers related stories and heroes since starting my journey. Next, I will dip my toe in the vast ocean that is X-men comics. Instead of getting in over my head by choosing an event or team, I will first focus on some solo issues about one of my favourite new members: X-23.