May 12, 2012

Gateway Comics: AVENGERS

So, you've just seen Avengers. For the second time. (Hey, I've seen it twice. Everything I said about the first time still stands.) And you want more. You want more Avengers! You want more stories! Your kids want more Avengers! Your girlfriend wants more Avengers! So you go into a shop, go to the "Avengers" section, and you see....

...a lot of books. Where to start? What to do? What to get?



Well, fear not, loyal Cubers! The Cube is here, and I've got suggestions for you, targeted to various demographics! Click away; the recommendations are after the jump!


For the kids: AVENGERS OMNIBUS, VOL. 1/ESSENTIAL AVENGERS, VOL. 1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby


All right, comic book fans, draw the claws in. I'm aware that people of all ages can enjoy the classic stuff, but let's face it: older "new" readers may very easily find the art and storytelling here too outdated. But kids who've never read a comic book before? Much less likely to think so. They can experience the sheer, raw power of Kirby's pencils and Lee's characterization without any preconceptions — just the way it was meant to be enjoyed. This is the start of everything Avengers, and for kids, there's probably no better place to start. From Loki forming the Avengers to the Avengers finding Captain America to the first major roster change, this is the place to start.

You guys have the option of getting the AVENGERS OMNIBUS, which is in color, but costs $100, or the ESSENTIAL AVENGERS volumes, which is much cheaper, but is in black and white.


If you want to see what The Avengers are all about: AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE by Roger Stern and John Buscema



Of all the "classic" AVENGERS stories, this is really the best one for me. The second Baron Zemo, son of one of Captain America's arch-enemies from World War II, assembles a team composed of some of the Avengers' greatest villains, including Thor's arch-enemies The Wrecking Crew! With a well-thought-out strategy, they manage to take over Avengers Mansion, putting Hercules into the hospital and capturing Captain America while Zemo tortures the Black Knight and Edwin Jarvis, the Avengers' faithful butler, right in front of him. Probably no other superhero story better exemplifies the whole concept of getting up while you're down. Wait till you see the final fight between Captain America and Baron Zemo.

This one might suffer in terms of accessibility because Cap and Thor being the only two guys from the movie in this story, but the storytelling is very strong. I went into it being less than enthusiastic about the Black Knight, Captain Marvel, the Wasp, Ant-Man, and Dr. Druid, and I came out of it with a new appreciation for at least three of those characters. (Not Dr. Druid. He sucks.) Give it a shot.

If you want to get into current continuity: CIVIL WAR by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven


When a superheroic mission goes awry and results in disaster, the government enacts a registration policy for all superhumans. Very much in favor of it is Tony Stark, Iron Man. Very much opposed to it is Steve Rogers, Captain America. And the rest of the Marvel Universe chooses sides, causing brother to fight against brother and friend to fight against friend — and only one side can win.

I think this story has weaknesses in that everyone's reasons for fighting each other are fairly thin, so everyone ends up looking like a jerk, but on a purely visceral level, there's very few substitutes. It's Cap and army vs. Iron Man and army!

(For the record, the side Spider-Man is on is the right side, as far as I'm concerned.)


Or if you want to skip that and have it so they're friends again: AVENGERS PRIME by Brian Bendis and Alan Davis



What Civil War started, this actually ended, with Cap and Tony and Thor all making up. Steve may not be Captain America in this one (he's Commander Rogers of SHIELD), but it brings the Big Three together and returns them to their classic dynamic, preparing you for the current status quo. It's as much an ending as a new beginning.

Cap, Iron Man, and Thor end up in a section of Asgard, separated from each other. Iron Man's armor isn't working, Steve needs to find his friends to get home, and Thor is confronted by Hela, Norse Goddess of Death! How will they get out of this one?

Much like most of Bendis' work, it reads great but fast, but that's not a problem when the art makes up for it, and make up for it, it does — in spades. Davis draws some of the best renditions of these characters, the dynamism is off the scale, and the characterization is so natural, since all three characters just play off each other. Highly recommended.


If you want something different: THE ULTIMATES by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch



I kind of hate THE ULTIMATES for several reasons, not the least of which is that it's touted to be a more "realistic" Avengers, but is actually more over the top and exaggerated, but some people find it "badass" that Captain America says things like "Do you think the letter on my head stands for 'France'?" and, you know, muted colors and everything. Cap's a hardcore nationalist, Giant-Man's an actual wifebeater (as opposed to the "real" Giant-Man who wasn't), and Thor may or may not be a hippie with the power of the Norse God of Thunder. So if that sounds great to you, then I can recommend it. (This comic also introduces the Chitauri, the alien race in the movie, if you, you know, care about the Chitauri.)

I somewhat find some value in it it as a satire. Maybe Millar actually did or didn't mean it that way, but I think it's pretty funny.


If you want the lineup that's in the movie: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #1–3 by Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley



This is a new series that debuted two months ago that uses the exact lineup in the movie (Cap, Thor, Tony, Hulk, Hawkeye, Widow). It's only on its third issue, but it makes my list just because I'm sure people will be looking for this exact lineup after the movie.

That's the problem with making these recommendations. The movie lineup has never happened in the comics (well, until now), partly because the Hulk has not been an Avenger since the very beginning (before Cap even joined). I'm glad to see that they're making this kind of an effort, although I wish they did it last year so it'd be out in paperback form by now. As such, you won't find this in the bookstores for a few months, folks, but you will find the single issues in your local comic shops.


The safest bet: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek and George Perez


Many of the Avengers, including Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor had been missing for a year, and when they return, the Avengers are officially disbanded. But right on cue, there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's Mightiest Heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were (re)born — to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!

Everyone who had ever been an Avenger (to that point) gets summoned to Avengers Mansion to fight the menace of Morgan Le Fay. This leads them into an alternate reality where everyone is in medieval clothing and the Avengers are the "Queen's Vengeance," with Captain America being "Yeoman America," Iron Man being "Iron Knight," and Thor being "Donar." When that's all settled, they vote on a team of seven, which may be the most iconic lineup the group has ever gotten (there are really eight Avengers I think of as quintessential, and there are six of them in that lineup, with the other two making sporadic appearances), and it really gets what the Avengers are about.

I would hesitate to call this the best run the book's ever had, but it's my favorite. I love Perez, and it's probably the overall best starting point. The storytelling's not outdated (I think), it has 200 Avengers to start with and introduce you to, it's a clear start so you can easily treat it as the beginning of the story, and the lineup they use is probably the most iconic it gets.

I do tend to think that because this is a throwback to a classic era, it actually ends up feeling more classic than the actual classic era, because there's a deliberate attempt to get that feel. It's able to eliminate things that the classic era did that didn't really work (like Starfox). So that's my whole point. If you want to get into AVENGERS, this is probably the safest bet.

And it's this run that leads right down to our next (and last) pick.


The easiest sell: JLA/AVENGERS by Kurt Busiek and George Perez



 There is no easier sell than this to a new reader. Hey, remember that cartoon you were all watching a few years ago and you all liked? Now, remember that movie you just saw and you all loved? Superman fights Thor! Captain America fights Batman! Wonder Woman! Green Lantern! Iron Man! The Black Widow! The Flash!

Seriously, this one didn't even need a story to sell it, but it has all that, solid characterization, and more Easter eggs than you can shake a bunny at. Read about just how much I love this story here.


Well, what're you waiting for? Go buy some AVENGERS!

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