Wednesday 3 November 2010

The Avengers #61. The forces of evil blow hot and cold.

The Avengers #61 or is it the Avengers #79? Fire and Ice
The Avengers #61, as UK readers got to see it.
Welcome to Steve’s Hand of Cheat. It may not have the iconic power of Maradona’s Hand of God but it’ll get me booed at less football grounds and allow me to type this post.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, my policy is to only review comics that I had as a kid, and, technically, I never had The Avengers #61.

I still don’t.

I did however have the tale - and a zillion and one other Marvel comics - reprinted in Marvel UK’s weekly black and white mags, and it’s dawned on me that I can therefore review any story I encountered in those, with impunity.

Having made this conceptual breakthrough, I thought I’d cover The Avengers #61 (or #79 as we in the UK knew it) because it’s one of my favourite Avengers tales of all time.

It all kicks off when Dr Strange shows up at the Avengers’ mansion and tells the few Avengers on duty that, thanks to the Sons of Satannish, the world’s in deadly peril. Not only that but the Black Knight’s been seriously injured.

No sooner has Strange done a bit of quick but tense surgery to sort out the Knight than the Avengers, together with the recuperating hero, set out to save the world. The Knight and Hawkeye go to Antarctica to stop the giant fire demon Surtur while the Vision and Panther go to Wakanda to deal with the humongous ice monster Ymir. I’ve got the feeling from somewhere that, in Norse Mythology, Ymir had some sort of relationship to a giant cow. Sadly, there’s no sign of a giant cow in this tale. Dr Strange however does what he does best and stays behind to talk to himself.

Despite our heroes making no impact at all in their attempts to stop the giants from doing whatever it is they’re trying to do, it all ends happily when Dr Strange makes the two demons vanish then reappear, face-to-face, just as they’re about to strike a blow, meaning they inadvertently hit each other and disappear in a puff of smoke.

There’s so much to love about this tale. One is it has Dr Strange, which is always appreciated by some of us. Strange is wearing his short-lived super-hero style outfit that looked so bad when everyone else drew it but actually looks good here.

Secondly, it has a certain scale to it as we get the outmatched Avengers in a two-pronged battle against the odds.

But the main thing is that, for my money, it features the best art job I’ve ever seen from John Buscema.

Avengers #61, John Buscema splash page
Aided by George Klein’s inks, from its opening double-page splash of the Avengers facing the colossal figures of Ymir and Surtur, the issue’s like a master class in how to draw a comic book. Its use of lighting, camera angles and figure drawing are simply a joy to behold.

I suspect this may not be coincidence. Buscema was at the peak of his powers when he drew it but beyond that, it’s not a conventional super-hero tale. The dominating presence of the supernatural gives Buscema the chance to draw The Avengers in a way he’s not quite done before, lending a style of drama to events that’s quite distinct from the strip’s usual look. If it was indeed true that he hated drawing super-hero comics, it’s hard to believe he hated drawing this one as it shows every sign of having been done by a man who, inspired by a chance to ramp up the mood and melodrama, was pulling out all the stops.

So, I may have had to cheat to review this tale, and if I didn’t follow up my bout of rule-bending with the literary equivalent of running past the entire England team to score the goal of the century, at least I came out of it with the sense of satisfaction that only the determined swindler can know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is something slightly barking about this issue, isn’t there? I think that because Doc Strange was the back up feature and they’d got to the story with the Black Knight, they carried on the continuity and blessed us with part 2 of the tale as the headline Avengers story. This should not have given a problem with Avengers continuity, because it was a one off story, but it did because it leap-frogged the Avengers straight over the Vision’s arrival which is why you get Thor drawn over him on the cover, but, mysteriously, as you say, not inside!

Agree about JB's pencil's though. When you look at these issues, you can really see how much of that later run of Avengers in the 80's was actually Tom Palmer.