Monday, May 25, 2020


Writer: Joe Casey | Penciler: Will Rosado | Inker: Tom Palmer
Colorist: Wil Quintana | Letterer: Comicraft | Cover Artist: Dave Johnson
Assistant Editors: Molly Lazer & Aubrey Sitterson | Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley

It kind of fascinates me how infatuated Joe Casey seems to be with the Avengers' "A-1 Priority Clearance". It was this intangible McGuffin through all eight issues of the previous EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES series: "We need priority clearance. It's imperative that we have priority clearance. How can we get priority clearance? We have priority clearance! Our priority clearance is contingent on Captain America staying with the team. Now that we have former criminals joining us, will that jeopardize our priority clearance?" All this would make sense if the riveting priority clearance sub-plot had culminated in... anything. But it's just this thing Iron Man goes on and on about throughout the series, and nothing ever comes of it. They get it, but there's no huge event that shows what happens if they don't have it or how great things go if they do.

Now, maybe the above would've been better as part of last week's review... but I decided to mention it here instead, because -- we're not finished with priority clearance, folks. Almost as soon as EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES II opens, the characters are going on about it again!

EMH I chronicled the "between the panels" lives of the Avengers circa issues 2 - 16 of their original series. EMH II picks up during issue 58, the famous "Even an Android Can Cry", in which the recently-created Vision joins the team. And since Vision is a synthezoid, created to kill the Avengers no less, our heroes immediately find themselves wondering whether -- you guessed it -- his presence on the team will jeopardize their priority clearance... especially since Captain America is currently a part-time member.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, a roll-call for Earth's Mightiest Heroes circa this timeframe: the core Avengers in the series are Goliath (currently the team leader), Wasp, Hawkeye, Black Panther, and Vision. Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man appear as reserve members in the first issue, as they debate with Giant-Man and Wasp the risks of bringing Vision aboard. Meanwhile, Hawkeye fills Vision in on everything that's happened to the Avengers since EMH I concluded. At the same time, we learn that SHIELD is tracking the Super-Adaptoid, recently stolen by AIM. SHIELD agents barge into Avengers Mansion and take the Vision into custody, to study him and determine whether he's related to the Adaptoid. But at the same time, AIM's Adaptoid experiment goes awry, loosing an army of Adaptoid duplicates on a small island near the Philippines. Nick Fury asks the Avengers to mobilize and stop the robots, which they do, once Vision has been released.

But this mission, coming closely on the heels of his creation of Ultron, has a profound affect on Goliath, and it becomes clear at this point that, just as EMH I was primarily Captain America's story, EMH II will be Hank Pym's. Not long after their return to the United States, Pym, already suffering from an inferiority complex, has a schizophrenic break and believes he has murdered Goliath. Adopting the new costumed identity of Yellowjacket, he breaks into Avengers Mansion and demands to join the team -- and to marry the Wasp. The Avengers all realize who he actually is and play along to humor him at SHIELD's suggestion, ultimately leading to Goliath reasserting himself to save the day when the wedding is crashed by the Circus of Crime.

Meanwhile, Black Panther has taken up an American secret identity as a high school history teacher -- and one day after class, he's attacked by a mercenary from his homeland of Wakanda named Death Tiger, hired by insurgents from within his own government to kill him. T'Challa barely manages to escape with the help of one of his students, a boy who was planning to shoot up the school but instead guns down the assassin when he sees his teacher in trouble.

The final issue sees the return of the original Super-Adaptoid, having escaped AIM's custody during the debacle with its clones. It attacks Vision outside Avengers Mansion, but is defeated by the combined efforts of Vision, Hawkeye, and Black Panther. Subsequently, Goliath and Wasp take a leave of absence from the Avengers, dropping the active roster to only the three who battled Super-Adaptoid, and bringing the story to a close.

It becomes clear early on that Casey isn't writing EMH II in the same way as he did volume one. That series' eight issues, as noted above, threaded their way through and around fifteen issues of classic AVENGERS continuity, filling in blanks and re-contextualizing certain events along the way. Volume two, on the other hand, tells a mostly original story al the way through, using only a few touchstones from the classic issues -- and even then, it only seems to align, as far as I can see (and remember that I'm not an expert on vintage AVENGERS by any means), with issues 58 - 60. A much smaller timespan.

I'm not certain why Casey took this approach for EMH II, but I don't like it nearly as much as the way he handled volume one. That felt like a true "Year One" type of story. This feels more like a week or three in the Avengers' lives, and while I appreciate the overarching Adaptoid plot to present a narrative throughline for the series from start to finish -- something the first series lacked (though it did have a few distinct character arcs all the way through) -- I wish Casey had stretched this all out to cover more issues of AVENGERS, with more snippets of the existing continuity thrown in along the way.

I do, however, like Casey's approach to the Yellowjacket story. Originally, Pym took on the identity and showed up at Avengers Mansion, and his teammates didn't realize who he was. They honestly thought this "Yellowjacket" character was a new guy, and went along with his bizarre demands because that was how comic books worked at the time. Here, Casey realizes that original tale was a bit absurd even by Silver Age standards, and frames the story differently, with the Avengers immediately recognizing that of course this is Hank Pym in a new costume, and with a SHIELD psych expert telling them to play along for fear of damaging his fragile psyche further.

Casey also pays service to some other Silver Age sub-plots in the series, such as Black Panther adopting the identity of history teacher Luke Charles, and Hawkeye pining over the Black Widow, who has left their relationship to join SHIELD as a field agent. Then on the other hand, there's the storyline about Death Tiger stalking T'Challa, which begins early in the series and threads through it off and on, culminating in issue 7's fight. As I noted above, I'm no expert in Silver Age Avengers continuity, but as far as I can tell, this character is an original creation of Casey's -- though I'm not sure if the idea of insurgents working to dethrone T'Challa is something he came up with here, or something he's adapting from the existing canon of the era.

The artwork in this one is a step up from EMH I. I noted last week that I liked Scott Kolins' work well enough, but he didn't feel like the right fit for such a retro project. Will Rosado, however, has a more classical feel to his work, aided immensely by an inker who actually worked at Marvel in the sixties, the legendary Tom Palmer. Together, they make this feel like way more of a natural fit to the original timeline than Kolins did previously. (Though I will say that Rosado's perspectives are weirdly off sometimes. There are certain shots where he positions characters on the wrong planes, so that figures in the foreground look like giants rather than appearing closer to the camera -- and there are a number of panels where the background simply drawn at the wrong angle in relation to the characters in front of it, creating sort of a "Colorform" effect.)

Overall, while I wish EMH II had covered a larger span of AVENGERS issues, I still mostly like it. When I decided to look at THE ORIGIN and EMH I and II, this was the series I had the best memories of reading when it first came out -- and revisiting it, while perhaps mildly disappointing, mostly didn't change those feelings. It's still a solid re-framing of Avengers stories past. Honestly, it's too bad there was never an EMH III and IV and V, and so forth. I could've seen this becoming a bi-annual thing for Marvel, slowly moving through the various eras of Avengers history, at least up to the end of the seventies. But I guess that was never meant to be.


  1. Oh yeah, the Avengers and their priority clearance. That was constantly coming up throughout the late seventies and early 80s. The highlight was during the Korvac story, where the Avengers were massively under the control of the government, battling for their clearances. They discover where Korvac, the threat to all existence, is-somewhere in the suburbs, it was '70's Marvel, it just rolled that way-but because of government issues, they can't fly their quinjets.

    So they take a bus.

    The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride a bus to fight their enemy. I'm thinking Jim Shooter woke up when he wrote that issue and said "I'm gonna try to write this like Steve Gerber."

    And I will say this, if asked to define the Avengers as comic books, I will not mention anyone who wrote it, any story line, not the Kree-Skrull War or the Korvac Saga or when the Avengers mansion was attacked by a horde of villians.

    No, to me what defines the Avengers as a comics series is Tom Palmer. He inked the book so often, and for so long, throughout so many different eras, and regardless of the style of the day it still LOOKED like the Avengers. Even when he was inking the book in the 90s over Steve Epting, at the height of Image-mania, it still looked like the Avengers.

    So keep your Roy Thomas and Neal Adams and your Roger Sterns and Jim Shooters, to me the Avengers always will mean "inked by Tom Palmer."

    1. Yeah, it's amazing how many Avengers issues Palmer inked over the decades. His run from the 80s through the 90s really did give it sort of a uniform feel even with all the various pencilers involved. He even made Mike Deodato look consistent with guys like Epting and John Buscema! (Not "as good as," mind you -- but consistent with.)

    2. Forgot to say, I know I've read some of those 70s issues with Gyrich and government oversight and everything. One that sticks with me was, I think drawn by John Byrne, where the group needs to go to Transia to help Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, but Gyrich won't let them launch a Quinjet -- so Cap calls the president directly for clearance. I love that scene.

      Someday I plan to do an "Avengers in the 70s" series here... something like issues 151 - 200 or so. Post-Englehart, as I really don't like him all that much. I think that run would cover Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, and David Michelinie as writers on the series, and would include stuff like Korvac, Count Nefaria, the above-mentioned Transia saga, and more.

    3. Oh man I forgot Palmer inked over Deodato, he truly did superheroic look keeping the book looking consistent then. The only question I have is, could he have made Rob Liefeld look good? On the Avengers, I wouldn't have bet against Palmer.