Even in this increasingly digital age, Marvel continues to reprint some of the unkept corners of superhero lore and chronology. As a comic reader with many decades under my belt, I am thankful there continues to be an editorial drive to collect and curate some of these lesser-known runs from their various lines of iconic books. The Avengers, a quintessential book in Marvel’s pantheon of superheroes, has innumerable issues that hardly generate a murmur in the current corners of comic fandom. This new Epic Collection provides a fine sample of issues from 1972-73 that may act as nostalgia fuel for older readers, and a case study in an era of Marvel Comics for less devoted fans.
Collecting Avengers #98-114 (and an odd Daredevil issue thrown in for good measure), this trade finds the prototypical Marvel team in well-worn territory. It retreads themes and ideas established in the years prior, while giving ample space for the group to intermingle with the larger shared universe Marvel had established by the early ’70s. While forgettable in many regards, there is a lot to like in this collection. It’s packed with crossovers, touching corners of the Marvel Universe with interesting notes to explore, merging it with the melodrama of the ’60s and ’70s. If this era of American comics is your cup of tea, this trade will give it to you in generous magnitudes. These issues are Silver Age comics done well, as not a panel is wasted in telling the designated narrative. Even when the stories feel crammed and compressed, it’s easy to appreciate the efficiency of each issue; dangling plot lines are embedded into the larger arc of these characters, yet each issue tells a complete narrative in a tight 18 pages.
This is the classic Marvel system, for better or for worse. The company kept to a consistent publishing schedule and was able to mix in writers and artists to keep up with the monthly schedule. While that makes for an effective circulating method, it results in many forgettable issues when seen as a whole. With the exception of issue #100, the issues collected here don’t provide anything that stands out as noteworthy or remarkable. These are simply frank superhero adventures from the ’70s, without pretense or greater purpose. Issue #103 fits perfectly into this mold; the Avengers go up against the X-Men’s nemeses the Sentinels, allowing Quicksilver to take center stage narratively while the core team fights the giant machines. Roy Thomas, the consistent writer in this series of issues, knows the superhero genre well. His writing is direct, provides ample tension and hyperbolic tragedy, and gives each issue a clear conclusion. Rich Buckler provides the pencils on this specific issue and does some of the finest work in the trade.
Issue #100 is likely the single published piece from this collection that has gotten the most eyes due to its iconic numerical status. While it does what’s promised — cramming countless Avengers into one adventure — it also suffers from many of the problems this comic faced in the early ’70s. The art by Barry Smith, later known for his incredible work on Weapon X in the years to come, had not quite been refined to the technical quality he would be appreciated for in subsequent years. However, it’s significantly better than some of the work that follows in the trade.
Some of the later issues featuring Don Heck, who was a competent workhorse in the industry, provides stiff and stilted characters and designs that look rushed and unfledged. Understandably, the need to get these issues out quickly meant artists were often rushed and could not allow for the creator’s full potential, but they simply don’t look as accomplished or enjoyable as other books from this decade. Even the aforementioned Roy Thomas, who is recognized as an adept scripter, can’t escape this factory system of comic production, and it is clear why these issues fail to gain much mental traction with readers today.
With all that said, there is plenty to explore in this collection, even if the art and writing is mediocre in many regards. As an X-Men reader, I was thrilled to see the mutant universe (especially Magneto) play such a prominent role in these issues. It’s also an easy trade to read in increments, as each issue sits perfectly in a narrative world of its own. It’s a reminder that comics were not always envisioned as grand narratives but ongoing adventures, easily comprehensible to those who may not read them dependably.
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