From the Mighty Marvel Archives!
I’ve written before about what a sucker I am for the gorgeous Premiere Hardcovers that Marvel Comics has been issuing for the past number of years, collecting seminal story-lines from their long history. I grew up a HUGE fan of Marvel Comics (I have always been more attached to Marvel than DC), and so the opportunity to catch up on some famous runs of Marvel Comics that I’d missed is compelling, and having these stories reprinted in such beautiful hardcover editions is just icing on the cake. Here are some of the hardcover collections from Mighty Marvel that I’ve enjoyed over the past few months:
Avengers: Assault on Olympus — I wrote before about reading the hardcover Under Siege that reprinted the famous Avengers story in which the Masters of Evil invaded Avengers Mansion and brutally beat the Avengers’ butler Jarvis. The stories in that collected edition left a number of plot-lines hanging, so I was pleased to see that Marvel had released a follow-up collection reprinting the next several issues of The Avengers, numbers 278-285 from 1978. These issues were written by Roger Stern and illustrated by John Buscema and Tom Palmer. The look of that Buscema/Palmer art is exactly the look I associate with the Marvel comics that I grew up reading in the ’80s, so it’s nostalgic fun to read these issues I’d never-before-read, drawn by that art team, and presented in such a beautiful way on shiny paper and with re-touched colors. Roger Stern’s story also reminds me of the classic Marvel Comics I grew up with. There’s a lot of rhetorical bombast (and a LOT of expository narration), but also rich characterizations. Pretty much each issue contains a complete adventure, but the issues connect to tell a longer story, and there’s a great deal of continuity from issue-to-issue, with subplots constantly providing intriguing hints at story-lines-to-come. This particular story, which focuses on the Avengers’ conflict with the pantheon of Greek gods (instigated by the grievous injuries suffered by the Avenger Hercules in the previous collection), isn’t exactly the best Avengers story I’ve ever read, nor does it have much larger significance in the over-all history of the Avengers (in the way that the events in Under Siege did). But it’s a perfectly entertaining story, and a great sort-of-epilogue to Under Siege. I also really enjoyed the stand-alone issue #280, included in this collection, that was written by Bob Harras and illustrated by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker. That issue focuses on the hospitalized Jarvis’ struggle to recover physically and mentally from the savage tortures he received at the hands of the Masters of Evil in Under Siege. In many ways it’s a very dated story, as the style of having Jarvis ponder his situation by recapping lots of old Avengers adventures is somewhat dry and a little tedious. But it’s also a fun journey back through Avengers history, and the spotlight on Jarvis is a pleasure, as is the writers’ not shying away from addressing the impact of the events of Under Siege on poor Jarvis.
West Coast Avengers: Family Ties — I started reading West Coast Avengers around the time of Hawkeye and Mockingbird’s divorce, and then I became a HUGE fan of the series a few issues later when John Byrne took over with his Vision Quest story-line (which remains one of my favorite super-hero runs of all time, and also one of the great tragedies of modern comics for its unfinished nature when Mr. Byrne abruptly quit the book after conflict with the editors). So it was fun to go back and see where it all began with this collection, which reprinted West Coast Avengers #1-9, along with two cross-over issues from the Vision and the Scarlet Witch maxi-series, from 1985 & ’86. The West Coast Avengers issues that make up the bulk of this collection were written by Steve Englehart, who had a lengthy run on the title until Mr. Byrne took it over, and pencilled by Al Milgrom and inked by Joe Sinnott. The Milgrom/Sinnot pairing is every bit as nostalgic and iconic for me as the Buscema/Palmer team (from the above-discussed Avengers hardcover). Sinnott’s inks are so bold and powerful — they look a little quaint today but boy that look brings me back. (Mr. Sinnott inked a long run on Fantastic Four that was one of the first comic-book series I ever followed.) The stories in this collection aren’t anything to get too excited about, though I was very interested to read the early appearances of Master Pandemonium, a villain who had a pivotal role in Mr. Byrne’s run that would in turn set the stage for some of the Scarlet Witch story-lines that have been a huge part of Brian Michael Bendis’ current decade-long stint writing The Avengers. I enjoyed Mr. Englehart’s combination of soap-opera and super-heroics. These issues focused just as much on who was in love with who as they did on the super-hero adventures. It’s a middle ground between the simplicity of the Marvel Comics of the ’60s and the more sophisticated emotional character-arcs you started to see in more recent years.
Fantastic Four: The Overthrow of Doom — I have read a LOT of issues of Fantastic Four in my day. (As I just mentioned above, FF was one of the first comic-books I started following on a monthly basis.) I’d previously read FF #199, the issue with the iconic cover of Dr. Doom battling his son to the death (which happens to be on the back cover of this collection), but I’d never read the rest of that story-line. So it was fun to read through this collection of Fantastic Four #192-200. The first few issues were written by Len Wein and Bill Mantlo, and the Marv Wolfman took over for the rest of the story-line. The first issue was pencilled by George Perez, while the rest of this run was pencilled by Keith Pollard. Joe Sinnott handled the inking. (Remember above when I wrote that I grew up on a long run of FF issues inked by Joe Sinnott? Well, Keith Pollard did the pencilling of many of those issues!) George Perez is one of the great comic book illustrators of all time. It’s fun seeing his version of the FF, though his style is a bit buried under the heavy look of Mr. Sinnott’s inks. I though I’d see a dip in quality in the non-Perez issues, but I loved the look of Keith Pollard’s pencils and Mr. Sinnott’s strong hand with the inks gives the issues strong visual continuity, despite the switch in pencillers. The stories in this collection pick up immediately after the Fantastic Four have apparently disbanded. Since the first several issues of this collection are focused on the characters picking up the pieces of their split (before eventually reuniting about half-way through this story), I would have appreciated having the issue(s) depicting that break-up included in this collection. As it is, it feels like we’re missing the first few chapters of this story, which is weird. Things then build to one of the “final battle with Dr. Doom” stories that seem to pop up in the Fantastic Four every decade or so. It’s fun to revisit this “old-school” Dr. Doom epic, though I can’t say I found the story to be all that compelling. I thought the stuff with Doom’s son was interesting, though I think John Byrne told a more effective version of that story with Kristoff a few years later. I’m happy to have read this epic tale from the FF’s early years, but I don’t know that I’ll be revisiting this one all to often. Though it was WAY better than the last hardcover I’ll write about today:
Fantastic Four: Resurrection of Galactus — This hardcover collects the Fantastic Four 2001 Annual and Fantastic Four #46-50 from 2001 and 2002. Boy, this one was awful. I bought it not knowing anything about the story, but I was intrigued by the title and figured I’d give it a shot. Oops. The stories were written by Jeph Loeb, Rafael Marin and Carlos Pacheco, and illustrated by a host of different artists, including Mr. Pacheco, Kevin Maguire, and Jeff Johnson. I loved Jeph Loeb’s Superman for All Seasons and Batman: The Long Halloween, but over the last decade I have grown to really dislike his writing. (I whine about his dreadful work on Marvel’s Ultimate books here.) He’s a good idea man — and, indeed, the FF Annual he wrote begins with a cool image, of Galactus’ massive skull crashing to Earth — but I find his stories to be painful to get through, and this one was no exception. We waste a lot of time with various asides to try to explain the inconsistencies and implausibilities in the story, and still so much of the story makes zero sense. Just what was the cosmic villain Abraxas trying to achieve, anyways? How does shooting the dead head of an alternate-universe Galactus to Earth in any way advance his plans? Why would this cosmic villain bother wasting time in fisticuffs with the FF? Did he CAUSE the mergings between alternate universe, or did those mergings somehow summon him? (I felt the story suggested both things.) And what the hell happened in the end? Reed Richards uses the ultimate nullifier on Eternity and instead of wiping out the universe he just reboots the FF title, allowing the writers to jettison whatever aspects of recent continuity (like the character of Valeria) they wanted? Disappointing and confusing. And that the collection is padded out with some fairly worthless extra stories from the anniversary 50th issue was also disappointing. I didn’t find any of those stories good enough to warrant inclusion in one of these Premiere Hardcovers. Even on the main story, the inconsistent art was a drag — I love Mr. Pacheco’s work but the fill-in issues just didn’t hold up for me. In a weird way, this story from the early aughts felt way more dated to me than the Overthrow of Doom stories from 1978. Oh well, they can’t all be winners! Still, I was surprised that this lackluster story was chosen to be reprinted in one of these Premiere Hardcovers.