Monday, May 11, 2020


Writer: Joe Casey | Artist: Phil Noto
Letterer: RS & Comicraft's Albert Deschene
Production: Taylor Esposito, Randall Miller, Irene Lee, & Mayela Gutierrez
Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch | Editor: Tom Brevoort
Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine

Back in 2010, two years before the Avengers became a household name and worldwide phenomenon, Marvel published this five-issue limited series written by self-avowed Avengers fanboy Joe Casey, and illustrated by Phil Noto. It served as an extended retelling of the Avengers' very first issue, presenting an in-depth look at the formation of the team. And while I've gone on record many times about my dislike for "decompressed" comic book storytelling, in this case I have to say that I don't mind it all that much. I've found that whenever I try to read Marvel comics from the early sixties, they feel incredibly dense -- too dense for my tastes sometimes; especially those drawn by Jack Kirby. So here, giving the Avengers' first mission some time to breathe is fine by me.

I'm less enamored with Casey's decision to set the story in the modern day. Yes, I fully understand that the way "Marvel Time" works, the Avengers' first meeting would have occurred around ten years prior to when this story was published -- so in 2000 -- but just the same, I prefer when these sorts of flashbacks are set at some nebulous time "in the past" -- even when they're clearly set in the era when they originally happened! That's one of the things I loved about the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale "color" series (and something I mentioned at the time when I covered them here years ago): they're all flashbacks, ostensibly to the 1990s at the latest, but Sale clearly drew them to take place in the early sixties, and they're far more enjoyable to me for that reason.

Compare that with this story, where not only are the flashbacks clearly not set in the sixties, but there's no attempt to keep them "timeless", either: we have flatscreen TVs, e-mail, computer hackers, and lots of things that scream "THIS IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW". (Though Tony stark is weirdly still drawn to look like Howard Hughes, mustache, immaculate hair, and all, which seems a bit of a dichotomy.)

Of course, I fully acknowledge that this is my own hangup, and most fans probably don't care that much either way (some probably even prefer the updated setting) -- but I wanted to mention it before we dive in.

Now, on with the story: As noted above, it follows the basic outline of 1963's AVENGERS #1: Loki, having been banished to the Isle of Silence in Asgard following events in Thor's solo series, decides to take revenge on his half-brother by pitting him against the Hulk. First he sets the Hulk on a rampage. Then, when Rick Jone and his hacker buddies (originally known as the "Teen Brigade" in more innocent times) try to summon the Fantastic Four for assistance in clearing Hulk's name, Loki redirects their e-mails to Dr. Donald Blake (Thor), Henry Pym (Ant-Man), and Tony Stark (Iron Man). The three heroes, plus Ant-Man's partner the Wasp, go off in search of the Hulk -- but when Iron Man and the rest scoff at Thor's claim to be the authentic God of Thunder, Thor departs on his own for the Isle of Silence, suspecting Loki's involvement.

Meanwhile, Hulk has taken refuge with a traveling circus in Colorado, where Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Wasp find him. The ensuing fight takes them to Denver, and then to a government contracted munitions plant. While that battle rages, Thor defeats Loki and returns to Earth with him, to expose him as the mastermind behind the entire scheme. But Loki had anticipated this, and his powers are at their peak on Earth. He manages to escape before the heroes can incarcerate him.

The story ends with Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp gathered at Tony Stark's plant in New York, where they've decided to formalize their team-up as the Avengers. The Hulk soon arrives and declares that he wants in on the team as well, and the final page sees our newly-minted super-team charging into action.

I'll confess that I'm not an authority on the Silver Age Avengers, but I did read AVENGERS #1 many years ago in the first ESSENTIAL AVENGERS book. And while it's been a long time and my memories have fuzzed over the decades, this story seems to mostly follow that issue's plot. The differences are some updates and fleshing out on Kelly's part. I spoke above about e-mail, hackers, and so forth. We also get a little sub-plot where the Hulk forms an unlikely bond with the circus's bearded lady -- or perhaps it's the other way around, as she seems more taken with him than he is with her, though he does save her life at one point.

Overall, I think the adaptation is fine, though I question a creative choice on Casey's part: he completely foregoes sound effects throughout the entire series. Something like that can work in a "quiet" comic, but not in a story like this, where it's nearly five full issues of wall-to-wall action -- and big action to boot, with Hulk creating thunderclaps from his hands, ground caving in, buildings collapsing, trains running out of control, and so forth. I know Marvel had some asinine rules back in the 00s, but I feel like most of them had been relaxed by 2010 -- and in any case, I'm not sure I recall any sort of blanket moratorium on sound effects. So the lack thereof truly does seem to be Casey's choice, and it's a bizarre one. I'll be curious over the next couple weeks to see if he was using them five or six years earlier in the two EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES mini-series.

I'll comment briefly on the artwork, as well: the character stuff is mostly fine. Phil Noto handles both relaxed conversations and all-out action -- as well as everything in between -- with flair. And while his background work is fine, sometimes it looks a little... plain, I guess? It's hard to explain. Also, I do have one issue with Noto, which has been the case for years: I don't think he uses enough heavy lines and blacks, and all his characters look too "light" as a result. I realize this is his style, sort of a "cel animated cartoon" look -- but there are artists who work in that style and still manage to give their characters and backgrounds a sense of weight and depth. I just find that Noto has trouble pulling that off.

Besides the story and art, one last thing about this series appeals to me: the good ol' Comicraft aesthetic. Marvel ditched Comicraft as their go-to letterers in the early 2000s, but they still use them now and then on various projects. As we'll see over the next couple weeks, Comicraft lettered all three of Joe Casey's Avengers mini-series, but I think their fingerprints are most evident here, with the cover design being a very specific homage to the AVENGERS FOREVER mini-series of a decade or so earlier. No joke; take a look at the final issue of THE ORIGIN side-by-side with the final AVENGERS FOREVER cover, and it's quite clear:

Add to this the fact that the interiors make use of Comicraft's "Meanwhile" and "Holier Than Thou" typefaces -- their go-to dialogue fonts for AVENGERS, THUNDERBOLTS, FANTASTIC FOUR, and THOR, among others, circa the late nineties "Heroes Return" era, and we have a package that, from a graphic design standpoint, evokes some very fond memories of one of my favorite periods reading comics!

Next week we'll jump six years into the past in terms of publication time, but move forward chronologically, for Joe Casey's "Avengers: Year One" series, EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES.


  1. I am trying to remember a time when the Avengers were not one of the big guns at Marvel, even though I pretty consistently read them over the years until Hickman's run ended and I got out of comics period, and man, it feels like it was a lifetime ago.

    Mind I still don't believe how big the Guardians of the Galaxy got. I did not see that coming at ALL.

    The oddity of Marvel's sliding time scale here is even Tony Stark in the movies made a better looking Iron Man suit than the one that's on the covers here. Weren't they going with the same basic "Stark gets wounded in Afghanistan" timeline that the movies appropriated? You'd think he'd have built a better suit than that when he got home! A choice made all the stranger by the simple fact that we saw that he did just that in the movies! If you're gonna keep classic looks, I agree, just make it timeless, don't set it in the 21st Century.

    1. I suspected GotG would be somewhat successful, simply based on Marvel's track record at the time, but I never could've imagined it would take off like it did. Black Widow and Hawkeye becoming household names -- fine. Thanos, too, given they were already building him up in the Avengers franchise.

      But Gamora? Drax? Rocket Raccoon?? I never could've imagined that.

      I stopped reading AVENGERS during Bendis's run, so I totally missed the period where they became ubiquitous. (I actually hung on way longer than I should have, considering I couldn't stand Bendis's writing on that series. I'm not a fan of his in general, but I'm even less a fan of his team books, where everyone sounds exactly the same.)

      I was also thinking recently about other stuff that has changed in the past 10 - 20 years, sometimes first in the comics, sometimes first in the movies, but all becoming "the way it is". It's bizarre to me that my son will grow up in a world where Bucky was never really dead and where Hulk was "always" an Avenger. Hulk spent about fifty years on the outs with the Avengers, but nowadays, in every adaptation, he's a valued member of the team. It's crazy.

      Anyway -- yeah, you're right about the movies and the timeline. IRON MAN had been out for two years when this series was released, and IRON MAN 2 was in theaters the same year these issues came out. It's weird to me that they were still going with the Howard Hughes lookalike thing when Robert Downey Jr.'s version was already pretty iconic. And yeah, the idea that he was tromping around in that bulky 1950s spaceman suit for any appreciable period of time after he got back to civilization is kinda silly.