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Essential Avengers, Vol. 2 (Marvel Essentials) Paperback – June 1, 2000
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There are some great issues in the mix, especially those where just as Hawkeye is trying to get his Russian girlfriend, the Black Widow, to be voted in as an official member of the superhero fighting team, she is working for Shield where a primary mission is to act as a double agent and give the impression that she is on the Communist side of the Cold War, thus pitting her at odds specifically with The Avengers and, in general, with the free world.
Among the best stories are indeed the ones that strongly center around the Black Widow. The rest of the volume, by and large, has recurring themes of trying to regain or maintain lost superpowers. For instance, for a few issues, Hank Pym is doomed to remain ten feet tall as a result of a freak accident in one of his encounters and thus cannot alternate between his Ant Man and Giant Man states without endangering his health. Also prevalent and quite problematic are the issues focusing upon Quicksilver, with his declining speed, and The Scarlet Witch, with her weakened spell-casting abilities; in these storylines, nothing substantial explains why they were losing their powers from the start or how, after retreating back to their homeland, they were able to fully recover them.
To their credit, the writers did try to pose challenges that would make the Avengers seem more human, that is, where they have to use more ingenuity to remain a team, especially with Thor and Iron Man having already exited the picture for personal reasons. I do think that they got a bit carried away, but I believe that the series of storylines was their way of making Captain America seem, to the mind's eye, like a more relative and relevant leader and member of the Avengers.
So far, this bound volume has the most verbage of any of the Essential volumes I have read. There are several frames per page and in quite a few of them are at least four dialogue or thought balloons. At best, this inclusion does try to get the reader to understand the thought processes and proposals of each hero and villain. At worst, however, are the syrupy statements, worse than the cornball, Scout's Honor phrases that Hawkeye accuses Captain America of overutilizing; long before you reach the last issue will you be sick of the "my darling" accolades between Janet van Dyne, aka The Wonderful Wasp, and Hank Pym, aka The Giant Man, Goliath, Ant Man, etc.
All in all, this is a good volume but one with quite a bit of filler material. And it will take you a while to get get through each issue.
Collected in Volume 2 are "The Avengers" #25-46 and Annual #1, which brings together the "original" Avengers with the Avengers of "today," against the Mandarin, Power Man, the Living Laser, the Swordsman, the Enchantress, and the Executioner. Thomas took over as writer with issue #35 and Buscema takes over as the primary artist with issue #41. The artistic improvement is obvious, especially for someone such as myself who was never enamored of Don Heck's artwork, but the more significant changes are coming from the writing. It was Thomas who brought Hercules into the mix, which upped the ante on the bickering in the group. In other words, with Hawkeye and Pietro vying for the role of the biggest malcontent in the group, always having to be slapped back into place by Cap, Hercules provides a joyful sense of having no regard for teamwork. Consquently, even more so than the Fantastic Four, the Avengers are the group that has to stop fighting itself to be able to fight the super villains.
However, we are still a year or two away from getting to some of the classic issues of "The Avengers." The group starts off fighting Dr. Doom, weathers an attack by the army of Attuma, and Hawkeye falls for the Black Widow. Then there is another giant conspiracy with the Serpents, the attack of the Ultroids, and a visit from the Sub-Mariner. Of the three volumes of "The Essential Avengers" out to date, this is the weakest of the trio, without a really memorable story in the bunch. Again, part of the problem is that we are dealing with characters who were considered strong enough to only carry half a comic (e.g., Captain America with "Tales of Suspense"), if even that (e.g., Giant Man as the former Ant Man), and a couple of ex-members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Wanda and Pietro). It was really not until the Avengers created their own characters (i.e., the Vision) that it really made it up to the next level in the Marvel Universe.
The scripts themselves are uneven. While the initial bickering amongst the team is fairly interesting (if only to hear Captain America, a product of the 40s, exchanging barbs with Hawkeye in perfect 60s tough-guy patois), the team soon begins to emit affirmations of hero-worship to each other like a couple of natural-born bootlickers at a Promise Keepers rally ("You're the man!" "No, you're the man!" <hug>)
The initial promise of Goliath's being trapped at the freakish height of 10 feet tall is squandered within a few issues, Hercules joins the team in an apparent attempt to bring Stan Lee's lofty dialogue back, the Wasp is her usual irrelevant self, and Captain America, the born leader, fails miserably to control the team and needs Goliath to straighten it out.
The issues do build some momentum, and classic battles with the Super-Adaptoid and the Whizzer rekindle the old magic of the Avengers.
Even with all the aforementioned flaws, this collection of the Avengers still beats most of the stuff on the newsstand and in the comics shops today.