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Digesting The Avengers

Longbox Graveyard #171

I was in the supermarket check-out line the other day, and nestled among the tabloids and the inadequacy mags, what did I see?

Why, it’s the mighty Avengers! Into my cart they went.

I’ve been curious about the Archie Comics Marvel Digest program since it was announced earlier this year. This partnership seems promising. I’ve long wondered why Marvel doesn’t try to better leverage its vast content library in digest form, and with Archie already owning the checkout line thanks to their own long-running digest publications, Marvel couldn’t ask for a better supermarket distributor.

The cover design is clever. At a glance, I was convinced I was buying the very first Marvel Digest, but reading the indicia revealed this was the second issue. (I missed the Spider-Man digest when it streeted two months ago).

The spine design makes clear that this is Marvel Comics Digest #2.

I suppose this is mildly deceptive, but I think it is smart. Technically, this is a first issue, as it is the first time the Avengers have led Marvel Digest, and this volume does reprint Avengers #1. That lets them splash a “#1” on the cover, which can’t hurt sales. Meanwhile, the Digest numbering goes on the spine, where a non-#1 won’t turn off an impulse buy, but collectors will still wish to fill in every number, assuming they store their books spine-out on the shelf.

Less prominent on the cover is the price, which is also wise. At $8.99 Canadian, I thought this was a little expensive. Not because of content — in the weird world of comics, getting 220-odd pages of (mostly) comics for that price is just fine. But out here in the real world, where People Magazine costs about half so much, I imagine Supermarket Mom wincing a little when she sees this little digest rung up. She might not be so quick to reach for Marvel Digest the next time around.

So what do you get in Avengers Digest?

You get a lot of Avengers, from across the ages. The book leads off with Avengers #1-2, and I suppose you kind of have to lead with the origin issues, though I’ve never felt the early Avengers were Stan & Jack’s best work. (Donning my monocle and affecting an Alastair Cooke accent, I’d opine that Avengers doesn’t really find its footing until Hawkeye joins the team in issue #16). As the book launched with golden armor Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp, and Hulk as charter members, this line-up will also prove a little confusing for any kids coming here directly from the movies, but hey, you get the Hulk in clown makeup juggling circus animals, and I find it hard to hate on that.

Next up is a reprint of Avengers #235-237, where the lineup is no less obscure (featuring Star Fox and She Hulk, among others) … but so what, really? She-Hulk is fun.

These are perfectly-serviceable, mid-80s Avengers stories, neither very good nor very bad. I would have reprinted something from the George Perez era, but that’s just me. There’s plenty of action and a whole whack of super-villains, so you get your money’s worth. There’s also a guest turn by Spider-Man, and I expect a bit of Spider-Man is wise for any Marvel Digest.

We also get a reminder that this was the Jim Shooter era, meaning that every issue needed to assume a reader was reading Marvel Comics for the very first time. No Reader Left Behind … even if it meant a ridiculously wordy series of expositional thought balloons …

The Digest rounds out with young reader-specific fare from Marvel Adventures The Avengers #9, #16, Marvel Universe Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2012) #6, and Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble #1-2. I didn’t read these, but was pleased to see M.O.D.O.K., even if he was saddled with some crappy non-canonical name.

The rest of the book is cover reproductions and ads, both for Archie comics (such as this back cover) …

… and for Marvel books, such as this subscription ad for the Champions. (Curious choice, the Champions, unless Marvel thinks there is some youth appeal here? Dunno).

What I found more interesting was what was not included.

For instance, there’s no editorial material. No letters columns or “Stan’s Soapbox” — nothing that speaks directly to the reader. Marvel’s editorial “voice” was critical to winning me over as a kid — all those editorial pages and letters column replies made me feel like I was being invited into some cool, exclusive club. There aren’t even any calls to action for the weak sauce 21st century equivalent of editorial outreach (social media hooks) in any of the Marvel material, although the Archie house ads all include website URLs and Facebook & Twitter handles.

There also isn’t any contextual information. There’s no attempt to fit stories into specific eras, or as the work of individual creators. There are no summaries of what came before, or what was going on for the Avengers at this time, or why the roster looks the way it does at any given time. This all strikes me as a missed opportunity, particularly for appealing to new (younger) readers, who in my experience are mad for every detail of their new-found enthusiasms.

But maybe this is good enough. Maybe just putting old stories out there will be enough to entertain readers, new and old. Comics are pretty ubiquitous, now — they have their own section in the bookstores, and they are easy enough to find at Amazon, or on-line. If readers want more, comics aren’t hard to find. Maybe having the Avengers unexpectedly tumbling out of the grocery bag is enough to recruit new readers to whatever passes for today’s Merry Marvel Marching Society. Maybe these Digests are even enormously profitable for Archie, and for Marvel …

… and if that is the case, then maybe Marvel needs to take a look in the mirror. If comic sales really are in a death spiral, and if Archie can provide an outlet for decades of Marvel’s legacy material, then maybe Disney would be well-advised to pull the plug entirely on publishing comics in-house. Even if Disney wants to keep publishing new material, why not shop it out to a Dark Horse or an IDW? I don’t see where telling Marvel stories is inherently tougher than publishing Star Trek or Transformers comics. And even without new material, there’s no shortage of legacy stories for Marvel’s movie divisions to mine for years to come … with the added benefit of not having to sweat it out that Marvel editorial is going to poison the brand with some dumbass stunt that turns Captain America into a Nazi, or something.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I will toss this digest in the corner someplace, and look forward to discovering it again a time or two. I probably won’t reach for another digest in the checkout line — there’s just not enough here for long-time fans to enjoy — but I applaud this effort, and I am keenly interested to see what publications like Marvel Comics Digest portend for the comics business as we know it today.

What do you think? Is this a tombstone for Marvel, or no big deal? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, below!

 

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Black Knight #1

BLACK KNIGHT #1

Capsule Review

The Black Knight has always been a square peg for me. I loved the Roy Thomas/John Buscema era of Avengers, but that was despite the run’s anachronistic heroes that could too easily throw me out of the adventure. Hercules was a bad fit for that Avengers team, and I never liked him … until his recent relaunch. Black Knight is another character from that era, but his own reintroduction doesn’t measure up to Herc’s. It’s not that this is a bad book … it’s just that it doesn’t do enough engage me with a character that rightly or wrongly I’m not so interested in to begin with. Writer Frank Tieri spends the entire issue setting things up, but he never hooked me. Dane Whitman is the master of a medieval kingdom on Weirdworld; he fights monsters; he has quarrelsome advisors; he collects artifacts from other worlds; he is haunted by some bit of business involving his sword. But the character lacks meaningful internal conflict, the bad guys are a bunch of monster mooks whistled up from central casting, and while artist Luca Pizzari does a credible job of drawing a fantasy world, it still feels like a travelogue for a place I’ve no desire to visit (a damning thing to admit about a kingdom where fire-breathing rock trolls and lost World War II German U-Boats can coexist). It was all action, setting, and monsters for their own sake — I never understood the stakes.

Approachability For New Readers

Pretty good, at least compared to other books in this relaunch. A two-page prologue sets up our hero’s identity and pedigree (which stretches all the way back to King Arthur). If it fails to make much sense, that’s due more to the character concept than this particular story … and while the Weirdworld setting requires some Secret Wars knowledge to understand, the fantasy world trappings of the story are familiar enough that new readers can follow along and fill in the blanks.

Read #2?

Nah. Not onboard with this one.

Sales Rank

#61 November

Read more about the Avengers at Longbox Graveyard

Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.

 

Black Knight #1

All-New All-Different Avengers #1

ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #1

Capsule Review

With their “Uncanny” and “New” versions failing to impress, I was about ready to put a picture of the Avengers on a milk carton, and writer Mark Waid seems to agree, with Sam Wilson/Falcon/Captain America/FalCap noting, on page eight of this story, that “I don’t think there is an Avengers right now.” And so the cast sets out to fill that void. But the creators take their time, with a third of the characters on the cover not even appearing in this issue. I am not complaining. The villain was a bit of a snooze, but his introduction pointed toward some promising intrigue, and I like this book enough to give it a few issues to deploy all the chess pieces. The characters are distinct, the superheroics are fast-paced, and Adam Kubert’s storytelling and action are first-rate. Plenty of imagination on display, too — after all these years, it is no easy feat to surprise with a new way for Iron Man to get into his armor. Waid’s backup story with artist Mahmud Asrar is also entertaining, with Nova working better here than in his own book, striking sparks with a young Ms. Marvel that I sense will be the heart of this series.

Approachability For New Readers

Fine, as long as you are not expecting the canonical Avengers of ages past (or Jarvis, or the Mansion, or traditional Avengers villains, or …). Greater than the sum-of-its parts, and as this is basically the start of an origin story, I expect it will all prove clear in the end.

Read #2?

Yes. Avengers Assemble!

Sales Rank

#6 November

Read more about the Avengers at Longbox Graveyard

Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.

All-New All-Different Avengers #1

 

Chris Hemsworth Naked

I saw Avengers Age of Ultron a second time.

Avengers Age of Ultron

It was a fine action spectacle. I expect I will see it again.

A second viewing brought me no closer to really understanding that Thor subplot, though. Near as I can tell, Thor has a vision of going to a rave with Stringer Bell, then succumbs to a bit of Franchise Service involving the Infinity Gems before flying back to headquarters and using his lightning to power-up a new superhero.

It makes no sense.

So rather than try to unpack this further, I’m going to fall back on an old Longbox Graveyard tradition and instead linkbait Chris Hemsworth naked.

Chris Hemsworth Naked

Hey, if it’s good enough for Joss Whedon, then it’s good enough for me. The Avengers director all but admitted that the reason for that cave scene was to get Hemsworth’s shirt off. And I suppose that is reason enough.

I hope you liked the movie! Go see it, if you hadn’t, though the notion of a Longbox Graveyard reader having not yet seen this movie is about as nonsensical as the Vision’s origin (either in this movie, or in the comics!). So go see it again — or see Mad Max: Fury Road, which is better.

And join me back here in a week for a message of grave import regarding the future of Longbox Graveyard!

Avengers Age of Ultron!

The big week is here — Avengers Age of Ultron is screening in theaters around the world!

Avengers Age of Ultron

To get you in the mood for the latest big-screen adventures of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, here are links to the many Avengers articles previously published here at Longbox Graveyard!

Before they had even heard of Thanos, the Avengers defended earth against alien invasion in the Kree-Skrull War

Kree/Skrull War!

And on a less cosmic scale, I reviewed the bumpy early road navigated by the old-school Avengers in the first year or so of the book

how will three superpowered people EVER manage to save Cap??

Just days ago, I looked at the Oedipal origins of the Bride of Ultron

Avengers #162, Ultron

And you can view some groovy Avengers art in my Pinterest Gallery!

Thanks for reading. Avengers Assemble!

Avengers Assemble!

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