Sunday, October 1, 2017


This is a post I'd hoped to have up much earlier this year, to coincide with the release date of AVENGERS vol. 3 #1 back in February, but I just wasn't able to pull it together in time. Though at this point the post is already years in the making*, so being eight months late isn't too bad when you look at it that way.

Let's start at the beginning, a year or so prior to that late 1997 release date: It was in the aftermath of "Onslaught" that Marvel launched a slew of new #1 issues. You had DEADPOOL, HEROES FOR HIRE, KA-ZAR, MAN-THING, MAVERICK, MARVEL TEAM-UP, and more. Among this group was THUNDERBOLTS, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Mark Bagley. I'd never heard of Busiek at the time, but Bagley was familiar to me from his days on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and I generally liked his artwork. Nonetheless, I nearly didn't grab THUNDERBOLTS because: what's a Thunderbolt? I was a senior in high school at the time and I had a tight budget; why read some random series about a bunch of new characters I'd never heard of?

Thank goodness for internet spoilers, then! I learned the twist ending to THUNDERBOLTS #1 via an America Online message board within a few days of its release, and promptly went straight out to pick it up. It quickly became one of my most eagerly awaited titles every month. And, eventually, when I learned that its writer would be picking up AVENGERS and IRON MAN when those two returned to the mainstream Marvel Universe after the year-long "Heroes Reborn" event wrapped up, I made sure to put those on my monthly reading list as well.**

George Pérez, on the other hand, was more of an unknown quantity to me at that point. I never read NEW TEEN TITANS or WONDER WOMAN, and his time at Marvel had long passed before I seriously got into the company's comics. I'm fairly certain that the only Pérez comics I had ever read were INFINITY GAUNTLET #1 - 4, which I liked well enough. But I was aware that Pérez had worked on AVENGERS in the seventies and was much loved for that brief run, and his return was being heralded as a Really Big Deal by WIZARD, so I was pretty sure the series would be in good artistic hands.

I'll admit that this series took a little effort to win me over, though. I enjoyed the first issue, with pretty much every Avenger to ever bear the name popping up and assembling for one big mission. But I'm usually not a huge fan of alternate universe stories, and the subsequent issues 2 and 3, with the Avengers transported to a sword-and-sorcery realm and transformed into high fantasy versions of their normal selves, were no exception. Busiek and Pérez rebounded nicely with the lighthearted fourth issue, however, featuring the Avengers solidifying their new roster, and from there I was hooked.

A big part of the Busiek/Pérez AVENGERS was, for me, rooted in this weird little quirk I have where I'm extremely nostalgic for an era I never even lived through. I was born in late 1978, so I was alive, essentially, for only one year of the seventies. But for some reason I love that decade, and I have for a very long time. I love the music of the seventies -- funk/soul/disco type stuff -- and I enjoy gritty "exploitation" style movies. I like the atmosphere of the decade, and I even like some of the fashions. And, of course, I like some of the comics.

I haven't read a ton of seventies stuff, but I love Jim Starlin's WARLOCK and the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-MEN. Claremont/Byrne IRON FIST and O'Neil/Adams BATMAN, too. And, though I prefer the Spider-Man comics of the mid to late sixties and/or the early eighties better, I do like the web-slinger's status quo in the seventies. (This may require its own post someday, but for whatever reason, I feel that Spider-Man, as a character, fits better into the seventies than practically any other decade.)

At any rate, this AVENGERS run owes a great deal to the style of the Bronze Age of comics, and I don't think that's a coincidence. As I noted some time back in my review of the X-MEN: THE TRIAL OF GAMBIT trade paperback, Bob Harras had assumed the editor-in-chief position at Marvel shortly before this run began, and Harras was an avowed fan of the Bronze Age of comics. The beginning of his tenure saw characters like Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Shang-Chi rise back to prominence, and featured the returns of certain classic status quos such as Spider-Man in college and Thor with a mortal identity. Plus, during Harras's time at the company's helm, notable Bronze Age creators such as John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, and -- of course -- George Pérez returned to the company.

I can't say with any degree of certainty that all of these developments were the result of Harras's influence, but the concerted Bronze Age nostalgia push shortly after he took over would make it seem likely. And almost nowhere in the Marvel line was the Bronze Age aesthetic as permeating as in the Busiek/Pérez AVENGERS. Obviously a huge part of this is the art, since Pérez had last drawn the Avengers regularly during the seventies. But Busiek's writing, as well -- even as it drew upon all eras of Marvel continuity -- read as a sort of throwback to that decade. The narrative captions, copious thought balloons, soap opera style sub-plots -- all these things reminded me of the afore-mentioned Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-MEN I loved so much. Even the villains smacked of the Bronze Age, with the Squadron Supreme and Moses Magnum, of all characters, featuring into the series' first year!

Add to the Bronze Age trappings Busiek's encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe, and you had a winner as far as I was concerned. I've always enjoyed "archaeological" comics, the books which delve up decades-old continuity to inform current story points. I'm not necessarily a fan of navel-gazing, but I appreciate flashbacks to previous stories, and footnotes are like crack to me. If I can come away from a comic having enjoyed a decent story and also having learned some archaic history about the universe, or better yet seen that archaic history tied into the story in a novel way, then that comic automatically trumps one that may have been a superior story, but without any sort of educational continuity. Bonus points go to the story if it explains or clarifies something, and double bonus points apply if it fixes something I didn't even know needed to be fixed.

Well, Busiek's plots did all of this in spades. Squadron Supreme, Moses Magnum, Grim Reaper, Beast, Ultron, Juggernaut -- the first two years of the series were packed with characters and continuity from the past -- some known to the Avengers, others new to their world. And when it came time for Pérez to depart the series, his send-off came in the form of a continuity-packed sequel to possibly his best-known AVENGERS work -- the classic battle with Count Nefaria. Even the new characters introduced during the run -- Triathlon and Silverclaw -- while not exactly winners, at least seemed like they fit the book's Bronze Age aesthetic.

Plus we got nods to more recent Marvel as well, with semi-regular appearances by the New Warriors and the Thunderbolts, crossovers with CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, and THOR, and mentions of the X-Men's then ongoing sub-plots whenever Beast and/or Quicksilver occasionally guest-starred.

Due to this confluence of external continuity and due to Busiek's "big picture" writing approach coupled with Pérez's ulta-detailed "widescreen" visuals, AVENGERS felt important during this period, too. This was years before NEW AVENGERS shot the franchise up the sales charts, and long, long before the 2012 Marvel Studios film turned the Avengers into Marvel's biggest property. At the time I believe the X-Men still ruled the roost as the company's number one line, with Spider-Man in second place. But nonetheless, reading Busiek/Pérez felt like you were reading the center -- the heart and soul -- of the Marvel Universe; like everything that happened there was bigger and more impactful than whatever was occurring anywhere else. The Morgan Le Fay saga, "Live Kree or Die!", "Ultron Unlimited", the various THUNDERBOLTS crossovers, "The Eighth Day" -- these were all storylines and events confined mostly to the AVENGERS series or their family of titles, but they felt like epic events on a much grander scale than any of the major crossovers in, say, the X-Men line.

For whatever reason, even though I had been reading comics for several years before, really going back to when I was in elementary school, I look back upon the era of 1997 to about 1999 --which featured my senior year of high school and first two years of college -- as a "Golden Age" at Marvel for me personally (I think I touched on this somewhat a year or so back when I celebrated the twentieth anniversary of SPIDER-MAN: HOBGOBLIN LIVES). I loved the afore-mentioned THUNDERBOLTS, I thought the Spider-Man books were great at this time, and while the bloom was coming off the rose for me as regards the X-Men (discussed in the TRIAL OF GAMBIT review mentioned above), they were still a favorite read every month -- and the Alan Davis run of 1999ish skyrocketed them back up my enjoyment meter for a brief period.***

But somehow I believe the true source of all that nostalgia lies in the Busiek/Pérez AVENGERS. Like I said, it felt like the center of the Marvel Universe; like everything else in the line revolved around it. It's a collection of issues I treasure among my very favorite comic book runs, and it's one that I've returned to multiple times since it was published -- and will continue to return to in the future. It's not just a great run, a throwback, and the heart of the Marvel Universe of its era -- Busiek/Pérez is, for me, the definitive Avengers and one of the very best team book runs of all time.

* I'm not kidding -- I began writing this post when I put up my review of the first AVENGERS BY KURT BUSIEK & GEORGE PÉREZ OMNIBUS in April of 2015! But I was never really able to get it to gel, and backburnered it with the intention to finalize and post it when I did my review of the second Busiek/Pérez book in November of that year -- but again, my thoughts just wouldn't come out in a cohesive fashion. So I set it aside once more, this time thinking I might never publish it, until late last year when 2017 being the twentieth anniversary of the series launch popped onto my radar, and I determined that this time, I would make it happen! I'm still later than I wanted to be, but at least it's finally done.

** It's interesting to note that Busiek has said he really wanted IRON MAN but took AVENGERS as well because Pérez requested him as the writer -- but while Busiek's AVENGERS quickly won me over, his IRON MAN never really set my world on fire. It was decent but rarely rose above that level for me. In subsequent years I've learned that David Michelinie and Bob Layton pitched IRON MAN volume 3 as well, and I find myself wishing we'd received a third Michelinie/Layton run rather than the Busiek/Sean Chen run with which we wound up.

*** I'll release my inner nerd once more, as I did in my HOBGOBLIN LIVES post, to note that I served as game master in a long-running MARVEL SUPER HEROES ROLEPLAYING GAME campaign throughout much of middle school, high school, and college, and it was around this time that I began to really integrate the ongoing Marvel Universe into those stories -- so while my love of this era is borne primarily out of the comics themselves, there is a large chunk of nostalgia attached to weaving my friends' weekly adventures through some of the material covered by all the various Marvel series of the period.


  1. After many years I decided to read once again Avengers vol. 3 run and now I'm around issue 32 (Count Nefaria saga). In a way I'm happy to notice how farther the Avengers' myth was extended since than. Around year 2000 they were most likely on top, nonetheless the Busiek/Perez duo could have done much better than what they really produced. There were too many feeble moments and characters between top notch moments to really enjoy their run as I would expect from two great artists like them.

    1. I can kind of understand what you're getting at. As much as I adore this run, it's not for everybody. My best friend also read it as it came out, and he didn't care for it much at all. For him, a lot of the stuff I described above as positives -- the Bronze Age throwback style, the heavy continuity -- were actually negatives. I guess it's a case of "to each their own," but this run is practically flawless as far as I'm concerned.

    2. The Busiek run did go downhill towards the end, with the never-ending "Kang War" story.
      I think Busiek either was getting burnt-out by the book, or it had something to do with Bill Jemas taking over at Marvel.

    3. Probably a bit of each. The Jemas/Quesada continuity-light approach was completely counter to the way Busiek had been writing the series. Also, my own opinion is that when Pérez left, Busiek lost some of his enthusiasm. I really think Pérez was a huge factor in what made the series so good, and, aside from the six-issue stint by Alan Davis, the subsequent artists never quite recaptured what he brought to the proceedings.

      (Which isn't to say they were all bad -- I enjoyed Kieron Dwyer's stuff, but it just wasn't the same.)

  2. I'm surprised you didn't enjoy Busiek's run on Iron Man.
    It was the last time I've enjoyed the Iron Man comic, and I rank it as the third best run on Iron Man, after Denny O'Neil and Bill Mantlo.

    I'm not as big a fan of the two Micheline runs as most, it had its moments, but I didn't love it.

    1. I should note that I've only read the Busiek/Chen IRON MAN one time, as it was coming out, and never again since. It's been on my re-read list for ages -- I even bought the Omnibus years ago -- but I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

      I should also note that I've read precious little IRON MAN in general. I started following it for the first time with "Heroes Reborn" and continued to read it with the Busiek/Chen run. I kept up with the Joe Quesada run that followed, and eventually dropped it during the subsequent Frank Tieri era. And the only extended run I've read that precedes Busiek is the first Michelinie/Layton period. I've read some of O'Neil, which didn't do a lot for me, and some of Michelinie/Layton II, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Someday I'll read O'Neil, though. Marvel has one more Epic Collection to go until the whole thing is collected, then I'll give it a go.

      Based on my recollections of Busiek/Chen, I can think of two major reasons why it didn't jump out at me: one, Tony Stark didn't feel especially rich. He worked out of his home office and ran a little startup called Stark Solutions. I much prefer seeing Tony as an obscenely wealthy jet-setter, something Michelinie and Layton did very well.

      And two -- I just thought the armor Sean Chen designed was U-G-L-Y. It was all big and bulky, and I've always hated Iron Man with a horned mask. Give me a sleek, streamlined Iron Man any day over that monstrosity!

  3. Sorry to comment on something almost a month old, but I haven't visited in awhile and this is the first thing I've been super invested in.

    Avengers feeling important also jumped it up the sales charts. While you're right that X-Men was in a league of its own, picking a month at random (July 1999), when the book was on issue 20, Avengers was the 6th biggest selling book of the month, behind only 3 X-Men books, an Image first issue, and Spawn (with Spidey's first appearance at #13). This is what drove me nuts about everyone that acted like Bendis' awful team writing was an inevitability: there was a market for good, dense comics, even in the age of Spawn and X-books, but the idea of having big talent on a top team book was clearly working. I believe sales dropped when the book couldn't get a regular artist to replace Perez (and the Kang arc didn't quite work, in part due to multiple artists), but it was right there with Marvel Knights' Daredevil as a book outselling its traditional market share for a long time.

    1. Don't worry about it; any comment that takes a shot at Bendis is more than welcome here, regardless of how late it arrives.

      Good call -- I probably should have actually looked at the sales figures before making my comments above. Now that you mention it, I do recall the "Heroes Return" books -- at least AVENGERS and, I think, CAPTAIN AMERICA -- residing near the top of WIZARD's chart fairly consistently as they were initially coming out.