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Essential Avengers, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials) Paperback – July 27, 2005
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Had I not read the very early Fantastic Four comics, I would have probably issued a resounding five stars. However, I saw slightly better teamwork with Mr. Fantastic and gang and sensed more creative energy in the science fiction realm with this other title. Nevertheless, the revival of Steve Rogers thus Captain America is a priceless story that only this Essential volume contains.
Though the early days of The Avengers needed a little fine-tuning, that deficiency, in itself, was a strength. With the resurgence of Captain America, a superhero from a day and age that was twenty years before the names Giant Man, The Wasp and Iron Man surfaced, the very first Avengers titles presented recurring clashes between the ideas and ideals of younger and older generations and showed how the initially opposing forces were ultimately united to bring about change for the underlying yet all-encompassing goal of a safer and better world.
From the first issue to the last, it is apparent that The Avengers, despite their shortcomings in establishing a stable team at the start, thanks in large part to the Hulk, had the common goals that made their formation very sensible. Though they did not have a shared fate among them a la The Fantastic Four, they were professional enough to look past their differences and use their skills and powers to complement one another.
All in all, where the Fantastic Four was perhaps the best homogeneous grouping in the Marvel Universe, The Avengers was arguably the best in the heterogeneous domain. Not even the Defenders, with their super powers and talent, could quite live up to the same billing.
The first issue shows the founding Avengers: Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Ant-Man and The Wasp. By issue #2 the Hulk leaves the group and Ant-Man becomes Giant-Man. Captain America reappears in #4. A typical plot features the team battling a villian such as Kang The Conqueror, Mole Man or Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil. The first plots are contained within one issue but by #19 stories continue over two-plus issues.
The original Avengers also appeared in separate books outside this series. As a result, their storylines offered more potential conflicts, sometimes with the characters seemingly in two separate places simultaneously. To solve this, Lee had each original member take a leave of absence and Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver joined the Cap-led team in #16.
I prefer the Avengers DVD-ROM for its complete collection of the entire Avengers run in full color PDFs. However, the Marvel Essentials series offers convenient, inexpensive access to these 40-year old Avengers comics without needing a computer. At over 500 pages this is a tremendous value and offers hours of reading.
The early villains were a mixed bag of forgettable types like The Phantom and The Lava Men. Still some classic Avenger's villains came out of the period. The Masters of Evil including Baron Zemo, Black Knight, Enchantress, Executioner, The Melter and Radioactive Man became one of the Avengers most frequent early foes appearing in issues #6-7, 9-10, and 15-16 during this run and numerous times since with different line-ups over the years. One of the Avengers greatest and most enduring foes Kang the Conqueror made his first of many appearances in issue #8 (not #23 as the reviewer below mentions). Big changes took place with Avengers #16 as all of the members of the team would leave except for Captain America to be replaced by the brother/sister mutant duo of The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as well as Hawkeye. This has always struck me as one of the more confusing moves in Marvel history. Thor had his own title, Iron Man and Giant Man shared titles in Tales of Suspense/Tales to Astonish respectively. But of this new team only Cap was co-starring in his own title (Tales of Suspense). Thus it's rather curious as to why Marvel would team Cap with three rather unknown characters who had formerly been villains. Not to mention the fact that this was hands down the weakest lineup in the team's forty plus year history...
The Swordsman would join the team in #19 but was in reality an underling of the Mandarin's sent to infiltrate the team. Issues 21 & 22 would feature the first appearance of the pre-Luke Cage Powerman and Kang would return for issues 23 & 24. For my money, Avengers #24 had got to be about the most common silver Age issue in history. Jack Kirby provides the art for the first 8 issues of the series and then Don Heck would take over, or as I liked to call him, Don Hack. Heck was one of those old-time artists who had kicked around the industry for years working for Harvey, Quality, and Atlas before Stan Lee brought him back to the new Marvel comics. Heck wasn't horrible but compared to the dynamic work of other silver age artists like Kirby, Ditko, Romita, and Buscema, his work paled in comparison.
I've been an Avengers fan forever but for me the title would really begin taking off and become the best comic around once it got to around issue #50. The Roy Thomas/John Buscema issues are some of my all-time favorites. Still, for any Avengers fan you have to start at the beginning and Essential Avengers #1 does have some good reading in it.
Reviewed by Tim Janson