Friday, 3 October 2008

All types of Avengers

Young Avengers (Volume 1: Sidekicks) - In my opinion, this accessible and punchy 6-part series from a few years back typifies why Marvel is so much fun at the moment. Fantastic, sharp art throughout is combined with a modern and smart take on the role of new teenage heroes and their relationship to older Marvel heroes. The “young avengers” themselves are great new characters, having a streak of sarcastic humour and a daring spirit of “let’s-try-this-because-it-could-be-fun” when it comes to using their weird abilities, like being able to stop projectiles or fly by sheer will-power, or using Hulk-like strength to break through walls. Also long-time Marvel fans will get a kick out of seeing who the first major villain is that the team face – these teens are in way over their heads.

This gives me an excuse to talk about the classic Marvel super-team, the Avengers, which I became interested in maybe a couple of years before going to university. Led at various times by heroes like Iron Man, the Wasp, Captain America or Dr Henry Pym (Ant-man/Giant-man/Yellowjacket/Goliath), the team has been around since the ’60s (apart from a brief period when Marvel sold some of its characters due to near bankrupcy!) Looking back at that last sentence, it surprises me that founding memeber Thor has never got to lead the team, as far as I know - perhaps due to his unpredictable temper? Early on in its history the team dealt with a lot of dangerous threats unleashed by science (read: robots and reality-altering machines) as well as bids for world domination from sorcerers, mythical gods and even old Nazi commanders.

Some of the early stories, notably the Kree-Skrull War, are great adventures to read today – I especially enjoyed the early appearances of the brooding android called the Vision as printed in the late 60s and early 70s, as he wrestles with his own nature and with emotions which he calculates robots have no right to feel. Interestingly there’s a great deal of optimism about the worth and future of humanity in these stories, which is totally different to today’s darker ones – and the George Pérez art on some of the tales is stunning and full of vibrant detail.

The material from the late ’90s and early ’00s is also worth a look. For instance the epic Kang War saga is well-told and shocking - as are the following stories, as the team deals with problems with different team members and face a biological terrorist attack from an unknown enemy in "Red Zone". There was also a fun story where the Avengers came up against a team of apparently reformed criminals, the Thunderbolts, and different team members showed their true colours by choosing to support them and oppose the distrustful Captain America and others on their own team. Finally I can’t move on without mentioning the JLA/Avengers crossover which Marvel and DC ran in 2004 – the icing on the cake was that Pérez returned to draw a huge volume of heroes and cosmic beings in this epic (even damaging his hand in the process of pencilling one of the insanely detailed wrap-around covers [pictured above right])!

The brutal day the team was finally broken up is chronicled in a story called Avengers Disassembled (with incredibly dark, arresting artwork by David Finch). What an outcry this comic event caused! Fans asked how could writer Brian Michael Bendis kill off both Hawkeye and the Vision? Before long however he made it up to us by creating the New Avengers, an ongoing title in which classic Marvel heroes (and some new ones) seem to be taking a more hard-line approach in rounding up their enemies, and are once again involved in political wrangles with powerful government outfit SHIELD.

In the next few days I'll be putting up some more on some of the obvious highlights in Marvel's current output, including looking at the recent success of Iron Man and another dystopian future epic starring most of the Marvel Universe, called "Fantastic Four: The End". Until then, enjoy the beautiful New Avengers artwork I found on the web. Here's another one of mysterious new team member, Ronin:

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