When a new Epic Collection drops, I always find myself asking a series of questions. Why this story, why now? Is it the next volume in a series famous for being released non-sequentially? Is there a minor event or television show to promote? There is an endless supply of uncollected corners of the Marvel Universe yet to be illuminated by the Epic Collection, and occasionally a collection arrives just too late for promotional synergy to work.
In the case of Avengers: Kang War, the synergy seems both apparent and just off the mark. With Kang’s arrival in the MCU and the announcement of Kang Dynasty, readers must be hungry for Kang content, and while Kang certainly shows up and sticks around throughout the collection, he isn’t exactly the major point of the stories collected here. If one can say that the stories collected here had a major point at all.
Perhaps most impactful about this volume as it correlates to contemporary events is that the back half features early work by comics legend George Pérez, who sadly passed away earlier this year. In the light of his long illness, the industry went to extreme lengths to celebrate him while he was still alive. A cynical (or tragic) take on Kang War’s release is that this volume was meant to be part of that celebration.
What’s most striking about The Avengers in the 1970s isn’t the odd occasional foundational moment (Kang War sees Beast and Moondragon join the team, Patsy Walker become Hellcat, and Scarlet Witch and Vision married—this last could have been perfect WandaVision promotion), it’s the complete onslaught of equally epic, mind-blowing, and zany action beats that these moments are nestled amongst. Nearly every issue has two or more concerns that could just have easily become a major, time-honored plot point had the dice fallen in only a slightly different manner.
The Kang War itself, which kickstarts this volume, could more poignantly be titled “The Celestial Madonna Saga”. While the events therein have had major consequences and payoffs in recent years, readers of Avengers comics between 1974 and 2020 might have been hard-pressed to recall its intricacies. Rather, the “B” and “C” plots have had a more resounding effect: Wanda learns magic from Agatha Harkness, Swordsman dies, and Vision learns where his body came from. The ancient origins of the Kree/Skrull war are explained, the original Human Torch’s final days are detailed, and an arcane conflict is waged in the Dark Dimension.
In these ten issues (nearly half of the volume), twenty-two distinct non-Avengers superbeings play major but brief roles, up to and including Frankenstein’s Monster. That’s an immense number of balls for writer Steve Englehart to be juggling, and that’s before adding Beast, the Marvel Western heroes, world-jumping with the Squadron Supreme (and Crown of Set), and even more in the back half of the volume.
Kang War perfectly illustrates the “throw everything at the wall” approach to comics that began to proliferate in the Marvel offices of the ’70s – it was an era that gave us Ghost Rider, Killraven, and Ulysses Bloodstone. Every issue of Marvel Premiere, Marvel Chillers, Marvel Spotlight dropped half-baked but good ideas into the Marvel Universe, hoping that any one of them might stick. For everything that did, a dozen didn’t; for every Vision and Scarlet Witch wedding there was somehow a Mantis and the Horribly Plant-Reanimated Corpse of the Swordsman wedding, and these might very well occupy the same issue.
It was a period of endless, wild creativity, and despite occasional moments of narrative whiplash, Englehart’s Avengers never ceases to bring major action to the page. That it might be early George Pérez realizing that action is all the better. The Marvel Universe might have forgotten some of these issues, but the modern reader will have a hard time doing the same.
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