...reading comics from the year i was born!
Avengers #275-286 (Marvel)
by Roger Stern, John Buscema, Tom Palmer, Julianna Ferriter, Christie Scheele, John Wellington, Jim Novak, L.P. Gregory, Bill Oakley
Recently, there’s been some debate online about what constitutes and/or what should constitute an Avenger. Because Marvel has so many series with “Avengers” in the title, and because in the current “main” Avengers book the roster is so expansive, people are beginning to wonder if the name has lost some or all of its meaning. If so many characters, major and minor, old and new can be part of the ever-growing group, then what distinguishes an Avenger from any other superhero? Mutants are Avengers, Runaways are Avengers, even Loki, the villain whose evil-doings brought the original team together way back when, is part of an Avengers crew now. Yeah, OK, it’s technically Kid Loki, but still…the irony doesn't disappear just because the character ages down.
Personally, I don’t have too strong an opinion one way or another on this topic. If Marvel wants to dilute the brand to such an extreme, that’s certainly their prerogative, and every series should be judged on its own merits, not whether or not it fulfills someone’s criteria of what an Avengers title should be. The reason I bring it up here is because, reading the 'Avengers' issues from 1987, it seems like it was crystal damn clear in those days what being an Avenger meant. Every member of the bizarre and varied cast that starred in the book at that time had some specific qualities in common, and as a team it gave them a few distinct advantages over some impressive foes.
As written by Roger Stern, 'Avengers' is an exemplary team book. The cast is truly an ensemble, each of them having moments of glory and of weakness in more or less equal turn. And what also makes the series such an excellent team book is that its titular heroes make such an excellent team. They understand each other’s strengths, and put absolute faith in one another to come through when needed. When the Masters of Evil invade Avengers HQ, leave Hercules in a coma, bound Captain America and Black Knight, and trap Captain Marvel in another dimension, the only active member left standing is the Wasp. This is the situation at the beginning of 'Avengers' #275, and things sure look hopeless for the good guys. Baron Zemo, the Masters’ leader, cockily mocks Captain America, because in Zemo’s mind the battle is already won. But Cap, though he has no concrete reason to believe this, swears up and down that the Wasp will rescue her teammates, that Zemo is a fool to underestimate her. Cap and Wasp do have a long history together, so he’s more than aware of her competence and capability. But all the same, when he’s tied up and cut off from her, continuing to so unwaveringly believe that she’ll save him and the rest of the team borders on foolishness. Except, of course, that he’s right.
Captain Marvel can turn into innumerable different types of energy, and she’s quite creative in her decisions. Though she prefers some forms to others, typically becoming light when she needs to travel or neutrinos when she wants to stay unseen, in battle her choices are more varied, tailored to each new circumstance. Dr. Druid has mind control and telekinesis, and tends to rely on those, but can hold his own in a straight fistfight if that’s what it comes to. Wasp tends to use her powerful sting, but will sometimes instead use her size-changing powers to take somebody down, either suddenly growing for a surprise hit, or shrinking to dodge her foe’s attack and sending them into the wall behind her. The list goes on, and I won’t bother going through every single Avenger to grace these pages, but suffice it to say they’re all capable combatants with more than one trick up their sleeves.
The art is not mind-blowing, experimental, medium-warping stuff. What Buscema and Palmer bring to the table instead is a classic superhero aesthetic. The heroes and villains alike are sturdy and detailed and clear, no matter how large the cast becomes in a given story line. It’s easy to believe in the extraordinary powers of these characters, because Buscema and Palmer find a pitch perfect balance between everyday realism and comic book fantasy. A scene of Captain Marvel having a heartfelt conversation with her parents about the pros and cons of becoming the team’s new leader carries just as much weight as an all-out brawl between the Avengers and the armies of Hades. Some issues have action on nearly every page, while others focus more heavily on the interpersonal relationships and the day-to-day administrative aspects of the Avengers. In either case, the artwork is equally impressive, full of life and energy. There is no less drama when Wasp announces she is leaving the team, as there is when Captain America beats up on Baron Zemo. The art allows Stern to tell whatever kind of story he pleases, and to take his time with each narrative beat.