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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

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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!

The Bride of Ultron

Longbox Graveyard #146

Welcome back to The Dollar Box, where I look at single issues and short runs of comics with a cover price of a dollar or less. With the Age of Ultron dawning in theaters this week, I thought it a good time to revisit this classic Ultron story from the pages of Avengers #161-162.

Avengers #161

But in between was a two-year run helmed by Jim Shooter, where he brought his finely-honed Silver Age sensibilities to Marvel’s premiere superhero team. Shooter’s Avengers are best remembered for the Korvac Saga, but my personal favorite portion of Shooter’s run is this two-part story from Avengers #161-162. Featuring rich characterization, explosive action, and extraordinarily tight pencils and powerful visual storytelling from artist George Perez, these issues represent the soul of late-1970s Avengers.The 1970s were a golden age for the Avengers. The brand had not yet been diluted by West Coast Avengers or today’s endless spin-off books, and with only one place to go for Avengers action, Marvel lavished the title with their top talent. The decade began with Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, and continued under Steve Englehart in a series of stories that would test the Avengers both without and within. The era would conclude with a Roger Stern/John Byrne run where the Scarlet Witch would start to show some of the awesome power (and instability) that would later haunt her in Marvel events like The House of M.

Jim Shooter’s editorial reign at Marvel remains a controversial period, but there’s no disputing that Shooter was a superior comic book writer. A genuine savant, Shooter began his career at the tender age of thirteen, writing and drawing for DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, which he would write through that book’s mid-1970s signature run. With Legion, Shooter demonstrated that he could handle ensemble stories that were rich in complicated backstory — skills that would serve him well in this tale of fathers, sons, and Oedipal yearnings.

The action kicks off in issue #161’s “Attacked By The Ant Man!” where Hank Pym has evidently suffered some kind of mental breakdown, accusing the present-day Avengers of being imposters attempting to replace the original vintage versions of those characters, who had first come together with Ant Man to form the team in the pages of Avengers #1.

Avengers #161
The fight is on!This being a Silver Age-style Marvel comic, our heroes solve their differences by beating the tar out of each other, showcasing Shooter and Perez at the top of their game. Perez orchestrates the visually-complicated team fight with relish, while Shooter demonstrates his deft touch with expository dialogue — making sure that readers know who each character is, and making clear why a seemingly-insignificant character like Ant Man poses a threat to earth’s mightiest heroes. In the span of four perfect panels, we see how Ant Man can summon a swarm of ants to do his bidding; how those ants exploit Iron Man’s weakness by flooding through the eye-slits of his mask; and how Ant Man retains enough of his full-sized strength to clout Captain America on the jaw.

Avengers #161

Shooter isn’t content just to recycle old tropes. After making clear that the Vision’s powers are based on making himself insubstantial, he follows up with a power trick (never used before or since?) where the Vision defeats a swarm of ants with an electrified shock. But that does nothing to stop Ant Man from taking out a pair of Avengers with his patented, grow-suddenly-to-full size sneak attack, expertly set in motion by Perez’s pencils.Part of Shooter’s ethos was to make sure that any readers picking up a comic for the first time would not be completely lost, and this awkward speaking of characters’ names and out-loud restating of action and results is part of that agenda. But it also serves to provide a verbal, character-driven rhythm for these stories, where even veteran readers had something to see, nodding along as familiar characters behaved in believable ways. It’s the kind of storytelling that comics can do especially well, and a strength of the form that is rarely used by current creators. Likewise, having characters speak aloud their internal monologues and footnote the uses and limitations of their powers would never wash on film, but when well-executed in a superhero comic, it is pure four-color fun.

Avengers #161

Here Shooter employs his mastery of backstory, rooting Hank’s breakdown in the character’s checkered history. Madness isn’t too much to expect of a character who’s brain has been stressed by a career filled with growing and shrinking powers, and poor Hank has had breakdowns and multiple personalities in his past.The timely arrive of Hank’s wife — Janet Pym, the Wasp — allows the Avengers to get the upper hand, and take stock of what drove Hank off his nut.

Avengers #161

Even a transitional scene affords room for Shooter to provide characterization. Here we see the Beast — having only recently joined the team — struggling to fit in with the rest of the Avengers.The Avengers, of course, take all of this in stride, and quickly act to help their fallen friend.

Screen-shot-2013-03-23-at-12.21.51-PM

Looking back on these tales, of course, we know that they are Ultron stories, but at the time, his reintroduction was a bit of a shock. His appearance was hinted-at in the preceding issue #160, but Ultron had been out of action since taking a powder in Fantastic Four #150, three years before. That’s a long time for a Marvel super-villian to stay on the bench. While making an indelible mark in his introduction arc circa Avengers #55, I’d argue that it is in these Shooter/Perez stories (which would continue in Avengers #170-171) where Ultron became an A-list Marvel bad guy.

Avengers #161, Ultron

It’s perfectly appropriate for a megalomaniacal rage case like Ultron to state his name during his dramatic entrance (which again helps new readers), and in the fight that follows demonstrates through action the villain’s extraordinary strength and the invulnerability granted by his adamantium body. Iron Man gets humiliated a second time, having cleared those ants out of his helmet only to have his transistors drained by the bad guy. Again we see Shooter’s touch with exposition, leaving no doubt about how Ultron has felled Iron Man.

Avengers #161

Round One to Ultron!

Avengers #161

It is in issue #162 that the emotional undercurrents of this story are fully realized, as we learn of Ultron’s scheme. Ultron’s plan is deeply disturbed, and revolves around deceiving his creator/father, Hank Pym, into working his will …

Avengers #162, Ultron

Hank’s brains are still too scrambled to see what is coming, but certain of the Avengers begin to entertain dark concerns.

(And as an aside, I think Perez proves himself an especially great Iron Man artist in this issue — I feel like I can see my own reflection in Iron Man’s face plate thanks to the way Perez draws the character).

Avengers #162

Meanwhile, back at Ultron’s secret lab, Hank abets his monstrous creation in draining the life force from his own wife, Janet (who by extension is Ultron’s mother!) into the unnamed shell of Ultron’s intended bride. This is the first appearance of Jocasta, a largely-forgotten part-time Avenger who would go on to feature in some pretty decent comics in this era.

Avengers #162

But by investing his affections in this mechanical obsession, the previously-impervious Ultron also inherits a liability. His love of his bride makes Ultron vulnerable in new and disturbingly-human ways — a weakness Iron Man is quick to exploit.

Avengers #162, Ultron

It is a mean-spirited way to defeat a villain — a point Shooter skillfully drives home when Black Panther later admonishes Iron Man for attaining victory in such dishonorable fashion — and the Avengers don’t seem to win this battle so much as they attain a temporary reprieve. Ultron quits the field but this conflict is far from resolved.

Avengers #162, George Perez

Unlike most of the stories I review at The Dollar Box, this two-issue tale has plenty of loose ends … but they’re the right kinds of loose ends, deliberately-unresolved plot threads designed to bring you back the following issue. Hank Pym is still insane, and no one is sure what to make of Jocasta, who as the final panel of this issue indicates played a pivotal-but-secret role in defeating Ultron. How will Janet Pym react to having part of her life force drained into a mechanical being? As far as our heroes are concerned, Captain America, the Beast, and the Scarlet Witch are all dead. Ultron is still on the loose. There’s even a subplot featuring Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid (!) that is ready to boil over!

A great Avengers run lays just over the horizon, and these issues are a great place to jump on board. You can get each of them in decent condition for just a little bit more than a contemporary comic book, which is a bargain for a pair of the most iconic Avengers stories ever published. These issues are also a part of Marvel’s growing digital library. They may be non-canonical, insofar as the movies are concerned (where it is Tony Stark — and not Hank Pym — who conceives of Ultron), but they remain among the finest Avengers comics ever published. Excelsior!

This article originally appeared at Stash My Comics.

NEXT WEEK: #147 Top-10 Super-Dogs!

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