Sometimes you gotta go back to the classics to truly see how far we’ve come in comics. Acts of Vengeance: Marvel Universe, out this week, certainly scratches that itch. Collected here are stories ranging from one-shots to four-parters across the Marvel universe, starting with the Fantastic Four, dabbling with Punisher, Hulk, Moon Knight, and ending with the often forgotten Damage Control. Set up to be a series of never-before-seen hero vs. villain matchups thanks to Loki, this series is often awkward and strange, but a hell of a good look at Marvel Comics circa 1989.
I don’t know who wanted or needed to see strangely unfair fights between Punisher and Dr. Doom, but this trade paperback certainly closes the door on how they might turn out. Of course, heroes can’t ever lose — especially during this era — so it’s interesting to see these matchups. This collection has a couple of instances where Punisher or Dr. Doom show up, even when it’s not their books. Likely, these two misfit characters were popular helping to spruce up a Moon Knight book for readers who love Punisher, or at least explain how Ultron would ever go after Daredevil in his own book (read: Dr. Doom did it).
— David Brooke (@Nosocialize) September 24, 2020
As a smattering of stories, this book is a nice slice of what 1989 looked like for Marvel with a few gems thrown in. Walter Simonson opens the book as the writer of Fantastic Four with art by Rich Buckler and Ron Lim. The three issues here reveal how Simonson was good at referencing pop culture (gotta love the Batman humor when the movie was a huge hit) and has Mr. Fantastic argue in court that a device to detect mutants breaks people’s inherent rights. The theme of this era and collection uses plenty of lesser-known villains including The Beetle, who is certainly the silliest. You really can’t go wrong with Stilt-Man or The Owl either, both of whom are over-the-top and silly — especially since Simonson knew it was ludicrous to think they could ever topple the Fantastic Four.
Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr.’s Daredevil #275-276 is a fun romp highlighted by Romita’s customary blocky and 3D style. Having Ultron go against Daredevil is ridiculous enough, but it also features the recently introduced character Number Nine, a physically altered cheerleader rescued by Daredevil, to help fight Ultron. The fact that Ultron wants Number Nine because “I am a man, and men are programmed for success, I will succeed” is super campy fun.
And therein lies the rub: many of the stories here are campy and way over-the-top. Editorial got it in their heads that it’d be fun to pit ridiculously overpowered villains against underpowered heroes or vice versa. This collection features Power Pack vs. Typhoid Mary, Hulk vs. Grey Gargoyle, Bushwacker and Doctor Doom vs. Punisher, and so on. Ending the book on Damage Control was certainly an opportune choice to lean into the camp as it’s completely crazy. Made for a younger audience for sure, the comedic element of the book helps you get in the mood as it pokes fun at heroes and villains alike.
With the dark and broody nature of many modern comics, superhero movies, and graphic novels, it’s nice to take a trip back to 1989 and see how comics were silly and fun. Acts of Vengeance: Marvel Universe is a campy and nostalgic read well worth a look to crack a smile and be a kid again.