Essential Avengers v4

A comic review article by: Shawn Hill

collects Avengers #69-97, Incredible Hulk #140

Comments: Thomas surpasses Lee in number of Avengers stories written in this volume, and we’re also heading fast for the end of the 1960s, with associated changes in the zeitgeist. The Cold War stuff of earlier issues cools down somewhat, replaced by cosmic battles, alien invaders, and a generally psychedelic brand of lunacy. Thor’s back, and so is the Hulk, briefly, in a story conceived of by Harlan Ellison, a mini-classic in Hulk lore.

We also have John Buscema finding his ideal inker in the expressive work of Tom Palmer, and truly the best art the Avengers has yet seen for several issues (from about #74-84), full of stylish and mature zipotone shadows, glamorous women and anxious posturing warriors. That’s the gold standard, however, only until the final issues of this volume, wherein Neal Adams (mostly) wows us with the beloved Kree-Skrull War.

That is, he would, except his art turns out to be horribly undercut by the lack of color in the Essentials format. Heavy inkers hold up best in this format, and though Adams has the same subtle Tom Palmer as Buscema, his looser and more elongated figures (and his less static compositions) don’t benefit as much. His naturalistic work is designed for four-color brightness to bring it too life; the impact is muted in this format, with Buscema’s pencils actually coming off as more solid. If you’re only getting this volume for this story, the Kree-Skrull full color trade is the far better choice.

But this volume has other milestones. Thomas provides T’Challa’s first full origin in #87, as well as utilizing lasting supporting cast members like Man Ape, Monica Lynne and a Grim Reaper-led Lethal Legion. Arkon debuts, Kang strikes again, as do further versions of the Squadron Supreme featuring Nighthawk (providing the model for stories that persist to this day) and the racist Sons of the Serpent. Marvel, in its own way, deals with both the burgeoning Civil Rights and feminist movements through its chosen idiom, beleaguered heroes, and the fit isn’t so bad.

The feminist issue is actually the more problematic one, as Jean and Sue would both remain “girls” for some years to come. In #83’s mixed up and singular appearance of the Lady Liberators, we see a distaff version of the team that could only occur due to the manipulations of the Enchantress. IE, it’s a novelty item, and the girls are quickly chided back into place. Amora continues to bedevil Thor and the Black Knight, but it’s fun to see an all-female Avengers augmented by the presence of Medusa, the Black Widow and Valkyrie. In its limited way, the story presages the impending leadership runs by Jan and Wanda, even if it took another decade or two. Not to mention years of great Valkyrie stories in Defenders.

The Kree-Skrull War is preceded by a lot of hokey machinations with Captain Marvel (picking up fresh from the Thomas/Kane revamp in his own struggling book). Adams’ fluid art definitely elevates the proceedings, as Thomas mixes in Rick Jones’s knowledge of Golden Age heroes with the Inhumans and a trip inside Vision’s fascinating robotic anatomy a la Fantastic Voyage. You can see the model here for later stories involving the X-men and the Fantastic Four in cosmic wars. Adams also provides a new and over-complicated cover image, where Vision is apparently running through and towards a pair of reflective doors in great distress, as the Avengers (and we) struggle to understand the dilemma. This story set the standard for years to come, even if it has since been surpassed.



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