Wednesday 7 September 2011

Avengers Annual #2. The Old vs the New.

Avengers Annual #2, the new Avengers vs the original Avengers, John Buscema cover
Like anyone sane, I've often wondered how I'd fare in a fight against myself.

I like to think that, thanks to my animal cunning and willingness to use any dirty trick in the book, I'd win comfortably, but only after a long and gruelling struggle with my superior strength.

Happily, it's not a problem I'm going to have to face for many a long year yet, but the Avengers aren't so lucky. They've already been through that trial, way back in 1968, in the pages of Avengers Annual #2.

It barely needs to be said that Avengers Annual #2 features one of the great comic book covers of all time, as John Buscema literally flings our super-doers headlong at each other - though, looking at that picture, you can't help but feel the Black Panther drew the short straw in his choice of opponents. Unlike Captain America, he didn't even get a shield to protect himself with.

Avengers Annual #2, Giant Man vs Goliath
Still, however much I may love the cover, it's what's inside a book that counts. And what's inside is one of my favourite Avengers tales as, fresh back from their trip to gawp at Bucky getting killed in World War Two, the Avengers discover that the Wasp's nodding off at the time machine controls changed the course of history, meaning the original Avengers never broke up and instead fell under the influence of a being called the Scarlet Centurion who's promised he'll give us all a barrelful of Utopia if the Avengers defeat and imprison all other super-powered beings in the world. This means that, by the time the new Avengers show up, the originals are the only super-beings left at liberty anywhere on Earth.

Of course, upon meeting the old Avengers, the New Avengers have a chat with them about the situation and, being reasonable adults, as they all are, they sort the whole thing out and team up to get rid of the Scarlet Centurion.

Of course they don't. They're Marvel heroes. They could start a fight in an empty room. And so, now at war with their older counterparts, the new Avengers set out to stop them and use Dr Doom's time machine to restore everything to how it should be.

Avengers Annual #2, Hawkeye vs the Incredible Hulk
After achieving an improbable victory over the more powerful original Avengers, the new Avengers find themselves in a showdown with the Scarlet Centurion who turns out to be an earlier incarnation of Kang the Conqueror. Happily, he's soon sent flying off into the far future by Doom's time machine, and everything's soon put back as it was, with none of the Avengers remembering anything that's happened.

How could you not love this story? It doesn't just give us the Avengers, it gives us the Avengers times two, and there's something irresistible about seeing the likes of the Black Panther and Hawkeye somehow taking out the Hulk and Iron Man while the totally un-super-powered Captain America defeats Thor. In my favourite section of the story, Goliath beats Giant Man by virtue of having practised learning to hold his breath for longer, just in case he ever has to fight the Sub-Mariner again, while the Wasp beats her old self simply by being marginally more level-headed.

It's an interesting thesis the story puts forward that, without any super-villains left to fight and no other super-heroes to rival them, the Avengers would soon drift into being nothing more than super-villains themselves. Given how eager the average Marvel hero is to use his knuckles before his brain, it's probably not an unreasonable point for writer Roy Thomas to posit.

If you were really determined to find fault in the tale, you might complain that, unlike the cover, the interior's not drawn by John Buscema. It's drawn by Don Heck. This isn't always good news in a comic but Heck's in one of his more reader-friendly modes this time out and Vinnie Colletta's inks soften his pencils pleasingly. There's also a helping hand lent by Werner Roth whose style's close enough to Heck's for the transitions between pencillers to be barely noticeable let alone jarring.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

I just started reading Marvel Masterworks Avengers Vol. 1 & 2. I felt like Jack Kirby hurried through the drawing on a lot of that- Heck's drawing on your posted examples exceed it greatly (and I'm a Kirby fan, for the record). Buscema was just The Bomb, wasn't he? :)

Kid said...

I just love it when you feature comics I actually own. And I've got the first annual as well. In fact, the cover of the first annual was also the cover of FANTASTIC #85. (Nobody asked, but it can't hurt.)

Britt Reid said...

Actually, Heck did layouts and Roth added "full pencils" (detailing), a working method they also used on a number of issues of X-Men from 1967-1969.

David said...

Don Heck was a pretty decent artist, but his style was poorly suited for superheroes. His best work was in a variety of Western, Crime and Horror comics back in the 1950's.

Steve W. said...

Hi, David. Nice to hear from you. I agree with you. My favourite Heck super-hero work was always Iron Man, because of his depiction of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and Happy. In other words because of the way he handled the non-super-hero elements.