After a full day of reading a giant pile of Avengers issues amassed over the years, this is what I learned:
1. Man howdy, the Avengers do not have a legacy of great comics.
I went through a cross section of about 50 issues in the first volume, between issue #150 and #391 and they ranged primarily from mediocre to pure dreck. When you feel like you have to power through that many issues just to say you've read them, you are not reading good comics. They were rough.
2. Iconic covers do not make iconic issues.
This is an incredibly famous (and Awesome) cover.
What an incredible cover with such a bold mission statement - "See these two tremendously underpowered Avengers? They are gonna nail it!" I want to BUY this comic.
But then as an issue? Meh. They fight Taskmaster. They win. There's not much there. Grant Morrison does a much better job actually doing something cool with this amazing set up in his JLA homage during the 90s that sees Green Arrow and The Atom team up to take down Darkseid. Now THAT is an amazing moment.
The Avengers issue basically serves to show why Scott Lang absolutely deserved to lose custody rights over Cassie, after he drops her off on a roller coaster ride and abandons her for hours to go fight evil carnies. Which sounds a LOT better than it plays out.
That's a pretty indicative statement of most of these issues, sadly.
3. Those Character boxes on the right will tell you literally who is in this issue.
In the X-Men, those classic 'roster boxes' on the upper left serve as a good indication of who is in the active lineup at that time, but you might see any combination thereof. In Avengers, it will tell you literally who will be appearing, as they change issue to issue with frightening accuracy. It wasn't until #342 that the faces on the cover did not EXACTLY match the characters in the issue. That is an impressive attention to detail given how many times the roster changes.
And oh man...
4. Wow, does that Roster change a lot, and are these characters Bland as Heck.
Somewhere along the way Cap made a rule that there could only be six active Avengers on duty at any time (and anyone currently reading Avengers vs. X-Men is doing a spit take at that concept while watching 47 Avengers jump off a Helicarrier). And literally, every ten issues, it is six different people. And so every ten to twenty issues the exact same plots repeat:
- Someone leaves.
- Someone joins.
- Someone is hard to get along with.
- Maybe someone turns evil for a bit, or has a breakdown. (Hank Pym, Tony Stark, and Vision all get bad and get better).
There are almost no compelling subplots. Or character arcs. The closest we get is Tony is randomly a raging alcoholic out of NOWHERE, and Cap broods about it for a few issues. No set up. No follow up. They just show up one day (he's in the issue 2 or 3 issues before totally fine) cause he calls to quite and he is SCHWASTED in the afternoon and Rhodey is IM now. There are a few other minor character arcs, like Vision going crazy, but mostly it's all who's in, who's out, villain of the arc.
Which would be okay, except almost all the characters are EXTRAORDINARILY dull. Someone like Starfox became really interesting to me if only because he had a personality. We are just not treated to a lot of compelling dialogue and characterization in these issues. It's all plot, all the time.
Hope you like exposition.
Also, people call each other 'jerk' a lot.
4. Walt Simonson is AWESOME.
I know Roger Stern had a long and distinguished run on the title and a lot of this assortment comes from his pen. But my collection cuts off just as we're about to start his incredibly famous and well received 'Under Siege' story, and the rest of his issues are tremendously dull. I have one Simonson issue and the difference is apparent from the first page. We have a female version of Kang traveling to an alternate future filled with gigantic robot dinosaurs called Dinodroids so she can snag the Mechanisaurus Rex (real name) to face down Thor in the present. We have a secret society of Kangs including 'Kang Kong.' We've got Thor respecting Mechanisaurus Rex as a worthy warrior and challenging it to a battle to the death, while it "Skrees!" like a real boy. And most amazingly the Black Knight, who is turning into an immovable version of his Ebony Blade, jumping headfirst out a Quinjet slicing the Dinodroid down the middle with his own body while screaming "What's happening to Meeeeee!?"
That is BAT-SHIT INSANE and AMAZING. This is why I read comics, not to figure out who's going to be chairman or listen to Wasp lecture Hercules/Namor/Starfox/Insert Name Here on the importance of following orders.
6. No one involved in "The Crossing" had any idea what the hell was happening.
What was going on here? Good lord.
7. All hope is not lost.
Despite all this, the Avengers do have a lot of highlights not represented in this post. "Even an Android can Cry" is a seminal moment in Marvel History. The Kree/Skrull War, Korvac Saga, and Under Siege are all stories that are still referred to as classics today. The Hank Pym breakdown is THE defining moment of that character, and one of Superhero Comics' only long term attempts to look at a couple trying to reclaim a relationship and trust after a total mental breakdown and domestic abuse, and does not shy away from the lingering affects. This is not indicative of the ENTIRE run.
But overall, Avengers Volume 1 is not what I would recommend for a fan who's just seen the movie and loved every second. You will be sad. I say start at Kurt Busiek's run in the '90s. It has great art, a classic lineup including Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and Hawkeye, and a more modern sensibility - with some lovely character arcs for a lot of the main cast. It also leads into Ultron Unlimited - one of the best Avengers stories EVER and contains one of my favorite moments in all of comic history.
You'll know it when you see it.
Up next I do the same thing for my Hulk back issues, with hopefully better results.