Comics Bulletin wraps up our month-long look at classic Avengers stories with information you can really use: a list of the Top 10 Avengers Storylines. Read our list, then head out to your LCS and check out these amazing comics. And did we leave off one of your favorite stories? Are you annoyed that the newest comic on the list is from the 1990s? Let us know in our message boards!
10. Avengers vol. 3 #19-22: Ultron Unlimited
by Samuel Salama Cohén
The scene is as follows: Thor, leading Captain America, the Black Panther, Iron Man and Firestar, enters into Ultron’s subterranean lair, breaking through one of the walls.
And Thor is angry. Really angry. God level angry.
As a god, Thor had lived through many battles, seen many terrible things. But that day, after fighting a seemingly endless army of soulless robots whose only purpose was to destroy and kill all trace of life, the god of thunder had had enough.
Enough of seeing his dearest friends in peril, enough of watching impotently how a creation had gone wrong, a creation of his friend Hank Pym, murdering and destroying, claiming all human life to be stupid and useless.
As a protector of Midgard, as a warrior of Asgard, Thor had had enough.
This scene is the writer’s homage to Avengers #163, where Thor, leading a different line-up but with some Avengers in common, like the Panther or Iron Man, saved the day, and fellow teammates Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, as a new Avenger was born: Jocasta.
But Kurt Busiek and George Perez, though taking into account the title’s rich history, as Kurt did during all the course of his everlasting run, stepped it up a bit with the “Ultron Unlimited” storyline.
Along with Avengers Forever and the Kang War, this was Kurt’s ultimate wrap-up. That is, taking continuity, put everything right, all the players where they belong, but giving it a brand new twist.
To illustrate my point…readers know Ultron is badass and doesn’t care for human life, as he craves for a world populated by his robot minions, right?
Well, but what if those minions weren’t in his mind but real? What if he created so many of them that they could decimate an entire country? And what if he used his own intelligence to create an army with that country’s dead people, turned into robot-zombies killing machines?
And what if at the same time, he had kidnapped Han Pym, his creator, Wonder Man and the Grim Reaper, “brothers” to the Vision, and his “son”? What if the Vision and the Scarlet Witch were prisoners of his as well? Wouldn’t that make for the biggest and weirdest family reunion ever?
Would that be enough to scare the hell out of the Avengers?
No, but it would certainly make them silent.
This is just a taste of Ultron at his worst. Of the one moment where it looked like the Avengers weren’t going to make it, despite Thor’s strength or Iron Man’s chestplate, running at full power like a new weapon.
These are some of the reasons why you should go read “Ultron Unlimited”.
Or maybe I should just tell you how Hank Pym, founder Avenger and creator of Ultron, redeems himself in an spectacular and climactic way…but that would be telling too much.
9. Avengers #182-186: The Nights of Wundagore
by Ray C. Tate
“Nights of Wundagore” spans Avengers 181 through 187. The story begins inauspiciously. Peter Gyrich, unwelcome government liason, winnows the Avengers’ ranks down to the magic number of seven. Toward the end of the first chapter, Wanda and Pietro collapse.
The reason behind the collapse unveils Wanda’s and Pietro’s foster father, a Gypsy named Django Maximoff. Though they do not believe the old man is their father, the siblings vaguely recall Django. That’s enough to convince Wanda to take a leave of absence with her brother to investigate.
The Scarlet Witch and Pietro have close encounters with the denizens of Wundagore. Unfortunately for Wanda, she meets Modred, son of Morganne Le Fey, keeper of The Book of Darkhold. Quicksilver has a more genial confab with Bova, a cow mutated to humanoid by the High Evolutionary. In Bova’s tale we learn the identity of Wanda’s and Pietro’s true father: Magneto. That’s old news now, but a bombshell back in the day.
Bova attempted to give Wanda and Pietro to the Golden Age hero the Whizzer, after his own children and his wife Miss America died during childbirth. The Whizzer denied them. So the High Evolutionary offered the twins to the Gypsies. Django Maximoff was indeed Wanda’s and Pietro’s true father.
All well and good, but none of this prevents Wanda from being taken over by the demon Chthon. Quicksilver calls for help, and his plea leads to more reasons why this story will never leave my mind.
Quicksilver refers to the Vision as “robot.” Quicksilver always hated the Vision. When the Vision informs the Avengers, Gyrich tells the Avengers to stay put. Captain America in a superb counter-move goes to “make a phone call.” Jarvis appears and explains to Gyrich that he has a call. Infuriated, Gyrich blasts the caller and then discovers it’s the President of the United States. That is awesome.
The defeated Gyrich gives the Avengers formal leave but demands the Vision, Wanda’s husband, remain on monitor duty. Now, Gyrich could have ordered Ms. Marvel to carry out the task, but he just wants to show Cap that his penis is larger. The Vision reacts by picking Gyrich up by his tie and lifting him high above his head. Ahhhh.
Written by David Michelinie, Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant, “Nights of Wundagore” demonstrates continuity strengthening story, but I probably wouldn’t remember any of this tale if not for the incomparable John Byrne. Byrne’s illustrations make “Nights of Wundagore” unforgettable.
The scene where Bova is ladling soup out to Pietro as he awakens, looks so natural, so iconic that I believed I had seen Bova with Pietro before. I hadn’t. Whenever somebody thinks Cap is old-fashioned, I just muse over the instance where he angrily storms out of the room to call the Commander-in-Chief and his sly smile when he watches Gyrich squirm. Wanda sleeps in the nude. My pre-pubescent eyes grew wide, and I cursed Modred’s ability to conjure Wanda’s costume. Hank McCoy imitates Rodin’s The Thinker as he ponders a helmet made for a manimal and reappears as a Knight of Wundagore. Finally, there’s the scene where without throwing a punch the Avengers as a team defeat Chthon, who seems to strip away Wanda’s humanity in each successive panel. “Nights of Wundagore” is just magic
8. Avengers #59-60: The Marriage of Yellowjacket and the Wasp
by Michael Deeley
For those of you who haven’t read these comics, here’s what actually happens. Hank Pym goes crazy in a lab accident and develops a second personality, the brash and tough Yellowjacket. As Yellowjacket, he breaks into Avengers’ mansion, ties up Jarvis, and tells his teammates he killed Hank Pym. He fights off his teammates and kidnaps Janet, taking her to a treetop hideaway he apparently built overnight. He forces himself on Janet who recognizes Hank from his kissing. She later agrees to marry him.
Janet and YJ register at a courthouse and have the ceremony at the mansion. Nearly every superhero is invited. At this point, Janet has not told her friends nor Yellowjacket the truth about Hank Pym. Meanwhile, the Circus of Crime sneaks into the ceremony disguised as caterers planning to kill all the heroes and possibly Thor. During the fight, YJ grows to giant height revealing himself to be Hank Pym. Pym recovers his memory and deduces his psychotic break was caused by his love for Jane conflicting with his love for science and an overdose of untested chemicals. Janet informs him they’re still legally married, even though Hank was crazy at the time.
Lots of questions here. First off, if Yellowjacket didn’t know he was really Hank Pym, what did he sign on the marriage certificate? Spider-Man can’t cash a check made out to “Spider-Man”. So a document signed “Yellowjacket” can’t be legally binding. And speaking of binding, is a marriage still valid if one of the people was insane at the time? And what made the Circus of Crime think they could take out over a dozen of the strongest superheroes in the country, let alone The Mighty Thor? The Circus don’t have any superpowers, (with the exception of Ringmaster’s hypnotic hat). They’re literally circus performers who use their human-level skills to commit crimes. How deluded do they have to be to think two acrobats, a trained snake, and an evil clown could possibly defeat the god of thunder?
But the worst part of all this is Janet’s behavior. Rather than inform her teammates that their friend isn’t dead, rather than trying to get her fiancé psychological help, she plays along with it all to snag a husband. She’s not worried about what her teammates think of her, marrying the man who killed her lover. She’s not worried about the long-term effects of Hank’s breakdown. She just wants to become Mrs. Pym. Or Mrs. Yellowjacket. (Janet Jacket?) No wonder their marriage fell apart.
If you don’t take all this too seriously, it reads like a bizarre sitcom. You could play Benny Hill music while you’re reading this. The Silver Age of comics is known for its wackiness, bizarre plot twists, and general “WTF”-ery. But I’ve never seen this level of human-based insanity and stupidity.
And that’s why it’s a classic!
7. Avengers #141-144, 147-148: The Serpent Crown Saga
by Ray C. Tate
“The Serpent Crown” has a strange narrative structure. The story opens with a group of non-descript goons attacking the Beast, who isn’t even an Avenger yet, but the opening is actually deft sleight of hand from writer Steve Engelheart. The Big Bad is somebody who should be considered a Little Bad. Buzz Baxter, Patsy Walker’s husband and Roxxon Oil appear to be behind the shenanigans. Then, for no apparent reason the Squadron Supreme show up.
All of the “Serpent Crown”‘s seemingly unrelated parts mesh into a satisfying whole, but it’s actually the parts that make the story one of the most memorable in Avengers history. First and foremost, Engelheart takes a non super-hero character with an esteemable Marvel history and makes her a super-hero. This is the debut of Patsy Walker as the Happy Go-Lucky Hellcat as well as the debut George Perez. Fortunately for all of us, Mike Esposito inked the moment when Hellcat poses for her splash page. In addition, what Patsy does to her former husband strikes a blow for psychologically abused women everywhere. More than anything, Hellcat symbolizes the super-hero as empowerment for women.
Hellcat’s premiere stands out, but “The Serpent Crown” functions on the Vision and Scarlet Witch being head over heels in love. Numerous moments depend on their bond. Engelheart displays every one of the Vision’s powers in his battle against Hyperion who manhandles Wanda, and Wanda’s love for the Vision counters the Serpent Crown’s influence, no mean feat. Engelheart keeps emphasizing Wanda’s disappointment over her curtailed honeymoon, and her marvelment over the Vision is palpable, as is the Vision’s passion for Wanda.
The Serpent Crown is actually the final peice of the puzzle. When President Nelson Rockefeller shows up on the Squadron Supreme’s earth wearing the less than fetching snake cap, everything falls into place. The Serpent Crown is less of an accoutrement and more of an evil brainwashing entity from Lemuria that’s reminiscent of Doctor Who’s Fendahl. The Serpent Crown is running the show on Squadron Supreme’s earth and trying to make inroads into the Avengers earth by influencing Roxxon Oil’s CEO, who teamed with Buzz. Buzz’s established hatred of the Beast in his own limited run explains why he bothered to attack the mutant in the first place, and the Beast’s promise to Patsy naturally brings her into the fray.
The whole shebang can be summed up in one sentence but only after reading the entire story. The Serpent Crown, already the secret ruler of the Squadron Supreme’s earth, schemes to take over the rest of the universe but fails thanks to the might of the Avengers.
6. Avengers #16: The Old Order Changeth
by Jason Sacks
If you want to see why Marvel was seen as the rebel company in the comics industry during the 1960s, this comic is a perfect example.
DC’s Justice League of America was a deeply conservative comic. In 1965, when Avengers #16 was published, the stories produced by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky for JLA featured formulaic stories and interchangeable heroes. Fox’s stories were all about solving puzzles; there was little focus on characters, and there were few surprises in most issues.
Stan and Jack’s work on Avengers was quite different. Stories were messy and followed their own strange flows. The heroes all seemed completely different from each other. And thoroughly unexpected events would happen in many iss
Avengers #16 is the perfect example of Stan’s vision.
There are so many small and large moments in this issue that make it feel completely different compared with a contemporary DC comic.
The issue begins with the end of a battle between the Avengers and the Masters of Evil. The battle is frankly a bit perfunctory, and not the reason people remember this issue, but it important as a symbol of the unpredictability of this comic. In the previous issue the Masters seemed like a frightening team, but just like real life, they seemed must less daunting when they were fought.
Shortly after the battle ends, and after an interlude with Captain America in South America, we see the Avengers gathered around a conference table. Well, that is, we see three Avengers – Iron Man, Giant Man and the Wasp – gathered around the table. Wasp is tired of being a heroine, stating “why don’t all of us take a leave of absence? Everybody deserves a vacation sometime!” You’d never see three members of the Justice League having a conversation like this!
Conveniently, just as the conversation is winding up, a certain purple-suited archer attacks Avengers Mansion and petitions for membership. Hawkeye quickly tells his tale of woe and makes the case for being an Avenger. Remember, he had recently been a villain, fighting with Iron Man in Shellhead’s solo title, but the Avengers, being a Marvel team, were willing to take the unexpected action, move on and accept the villain.
The same thing almost happens on the next page, as the team asks Sub-Mariner to join the team. Remember that Subby had recently attacked the surface world in Fantastic Four, but once again Marvel shows its difference by accepting the man as a complex person able to change.
Of course, two former “Evil Mutants” are also accepted by the team in this issue, as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have their application for membership accepted. In the Marvel Universe, characters’ personalities aren’t fixed. Men and women who once were evil can turn good. You wouldn’t see that in the DC Universe.
So every one of the founding members of the Avengers leaves the team in Avengers #16, putting the team in the hands of a man who had joined the team just about a year previously. And with that man were three former villains. None of the remaining or new members had close to the amount of power of their departing counterparts, but why should that stop them>
And thus was born Cap’s Kooky Quartet, one of the most unexpected teams in comics history. Of course, this comic was also yet another proof that readers should always expect the unexpected from Marvel Comics in the 1960s.
5. Avengers #4: Finding Captain America
by David Wallace
Every classic series has a defining moment in which all of its elements seem to come into alignment as the creators strike upon the perfect dynamic that’s needed to make it a success. For many Avengers fans, that moment comes in issue #4, as the team find and recruit the long-lost Captain America.
The story starts in a typically irregular Marvel fashion, as a surly Namor angrily attacks a group of Inuits using a chunk of iceberg that happens to contain the frozen body of Captain America, breaking the hero free of the ice and allowing the Avengers to recover his defrosting body. After waking up in the present day, fighting with the rest of his team-mates (another very Marvel touch) and getting to grips with the ways in which the world had changed (such as the appearance of the UN building in New York, and the prevalence of television), Steve Rogers agrees to join the team, replacing the Hulk (who had deserted the group in the previous issue).
Captain America of course went on to become the longtime leader of the Avengers, and for most peoplehe’s probably the most important member of the team. As the last of the classic Avengers triumvirate to join the team, it’s only after issue #4 that the book starts feeling like the Avengers that most people will know and love, as though Captain America was the missing ingredient that the book needed to really come into its own.
However, what a lot of people probably don’t realise is that shoehorning Cap into the Avengers required no small amount of creative effort on the part of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
That’s because Captain America existed before Marvel’s new universe of characters came into bloom in the early 1960s. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941 as a Nazi-fighting hero of World War II, the character actually had a career that lasted long into the post-war era, eventually being published for the last time in 1954 (by which time he had become a “Commie Smasher” rather than a nazi-fighter).
So how does that jibe with the story of Avengers #4, in which we learn that Steve didn’t live to see the end of the war before being frozen? Let’s just say that retcons aren’t exactly a modern invention.
After testing reader interest in the character via a story in Strange Tales #114 that purported to show the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America — only to eventually reveal him to be an impostor called the Acrobat — Lee and Kirby embarked upon a revision of the Captain America myth. They created a new history that saw Steve frozen in ice towards the end of the war after trying to save Bucky from an exploding experimental aircraft at the tail end of the war, thus forcing later writers to retcon his 1950s appearances as being stand-ins for Steve, rather than the real thing.
It’s an excellent example of how retroactive continuity fixes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Most people would agree that the “man out of time” aspect of Cap’s character is one of his more interesting facets, and his nature as a lost WWII hero both reinforces his iconic status and give him instant credibility as a leader — but without Lee and Kirby’s retcon, we’d be stuck with a Cap who had lived out the war and gone on to less interesting adventures, rather than being taken out of the game at the peak of WWII only to be rediscovered by a new generation of heroes in the future.
The discovery of Captain America remains an iconic moment that has been homaged and referenced too many times to count, but even after discounting the nostalgia factor for these early Avengers books and the enduring nature of the story (which was used as the basis for the successful Ultimates re-envisioning, and will probably inform the upcoming Avengers movie, too), it remains one of the most important events in Avengers history and Marvel history in general: the moment in which the team found their leader and the elder statesman of Marvel’s superhero community entered the modern-day Marvel universe.
4. Avengers #167-168, 170-177: The Korvac Saga
by Shawn Hill
What hits first about this story is the cosmic scale. The Guardians of the Galaxy pop into Earth orbit with their giant freaking space station, and we and the Avengers watch in awe as it renders the S.H.I.E.L.D. space station a toy in comparison. From there we’re off on an adventure that pulls in characters from all over the Marvel landscape, jumping seamlessly from guest stars to main character arcs already underway.
Ms. Marvel shows up in full feminist flower, and we hear the guys rant about “putting her in her place” then do a spit-take when she flirts with Wonder Man (experiencing his own crisis of confidence). Cap and Iron Man (on the verge of revealing his secret identity) feud over leadership styles, and later both Scarlet Witch and Iron Man break up battles between teammates. The hot-blooded team of those days entertains, whether it’s Quicksilver still missing the connection between mutant prejudice and his disdain for his android brother-in-law, or Wanda jumping into Hawkeye’s arms when her old friend makes a surprising return
This series has one of those patented Marvel moments where cosmic events set off alarms in the most “subtle of earth-dwellers,” meaning we see Spidey, Doc Strange, Captain Marvel and a few others far from the action sense a ‘disturbance in the Force’ that none of them are subtle enough to pinpoint. The culprit is an innocuous man we first meet wearing an out-of-place tuxedo at a fashion show. This is the mysterious Michael, who shocks us early on by engaging in an epic psychedelic battle with Starhawk. The story is full of surreal moments emphasized by George Perez’s ornate art, as Starhawk visits Michael in the form of his female “subconscious,” Aleta, foolishly without backup. The battle between the two cosmic beings plays out simultaneously on the physical, psychological and astral planes.
Michael used to be Korvac, a time-displaced cyborg from another earth, before he wandered into Galactus’ abandoned ship and had his mind completely blown. Now he’s found a mate in Carina Walters. She too is more than she seems, and the fact that the two major antagonists of this arc (who resonate as distorted mirror images of Starhawk/Aleta) resemble 1970s Hollywood fitness nuts in tight t-shirts and gym shorts only makes the story more unsettling. Michael’s god-like transformation pits him against Eternity (like every other philosophical concept, a personification in the Marvel cosmos), and he only hopes he can carry out his plans before the other old gods fight him to an early apocalypse. Along the way Ultron and Jocasta carry out an eerie drama in a nunnery (where Ultron traps Wanda, his principal foe in previous battles, in a funhouse mirrored torture chamber), in yet another, robotic parody of the love story of Michael and Carina.
It’s actually Moondragon (demi-goddess, back then mostly annoying the team with her arrogance) who leads the Avengers to put the evidence together that reveals their hidden foes, an act she comes to regret by story’s end. That denouement suffers from having lost the touch of Perez (but Pablo Marcos and Klaus Janson stick around to spruce up the joint, and Sal Buscema delivers a solid couple of issues), and is admittedly a pastiche of the original Star Trek “Where No Man Has Gone Before” episode (where humans go insane with god-like psychic powers), but watching Michael and Carina blast the team to smithereens one by one is still a perverse and shocking thrill. Even Thor ends up on the ropes. Moondragon actually sits out the fight in tears, aware of all that is being lost.
Michael reaches out to Carina as the remaining Avengers pile into him, but she doubts, and he dies. Then she suicidally goads Thor into killing her as well. Dr. Donald Blake is left to pick up the pieces, because Michael’s last act saved the fallen teammates from certain death, but just barely. Moondragon regretfully eases their minds as Thor’s other self heals their bodies, the powerless lone witness to the full scale of the tragedy.
3. Avengers Forever
by Kelvin Green
First things first. Avengers Forever, good as it is, and it is very good indeed, does grind to a bit of a halt during the eighth and ninth issues. It’s very much a series about Avengers history, but these two chapters are big fat continuity fixes, spending an arguably inordinate amount of space on clearing away some of the discrepancies built up over the years between 1963’s Avengers #1 and 1998’s Avengers #1 . It’s done about as well as can be expected from the solid writing team of Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern, and I’ve only ever read this as a collected edition, so it holds together quite well for me, but I can only imagine what those reading the individual issues thought about waiting a month only to read an entire issue about why Kang is sometimes a lizard.
That’s my only criticism; the rest is pure fried gold. One might argue that a series so obsessed with history might be a bit uninviting, even unfriendly, but aside from the aforementioned blip in #8 and #9, Busiek and Stern use the long Avengers history as dressing for their time-travel story, a fistful of nods and winks to the long-term fans, but never a barrier to new readers. Indeed, when I read this, it was the first Avengers story I’d read since 1986, I’d not read many of the classic tales, and yet I had no trouble keeping up. If the time-hopping Forever team drop into Avengers #142 or Marvel Premiere #37 on their way to their final battle with Immortus, then it’s not necessary for the reader to understand the context to enjoy the heroes facing off against cowboys, dinosaurs, Martian tripods and a Skrull Richard Nixon. Rather than being impenetrable, this story is welcoming to both the new and old Avengers enthusiast, and is also a great advert for the comics footnote, something of a lost art at Marvel nowadays; the notes included here are not only explanatory, but have, I’m sure, done wonders for the back issue market.
Art comes from the familiar team of Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino, with Pacheco at the top of his game, free of the roughness of his early days, but retaining that distinctive, rounded, look sometimes lost from his more recent work for Marvel’s Ultimate line. On the other hand, the colouring is a little flat, with a lack of vibrancy in the hues, so everything looks a bit anaemic. Still, for the most part, it looks good, and the Pacheco/Merino pairing do well to keep up with the epic kitchen-sink aspect of the story, particularly the big climax, in which almost every Avenger, past, present, future and alternate (including Death’s Head!), wade into a big brawl for the fate of the timestream itself. Also, the Agents of Atlas are in it, and that’s always a bonus.
It is unfortunate that, aside from one or two issues from Kurt Busiek’s run on the parent title, this is probably the last decent Avengers story published by Marvel. If you want to read a classic, epic tale in which Earth’s Mightiest team up with Kang to rescue a corrupted future from the consequences of their own legacy, then put aside Bendis’ current attempt, and invest in Avengers Forever instead. It’s a great story, one which makes excellent use of Avengers history in order to craft a tale that stands proud alongside the very best moments from that history.
#129-135 and Giant-Size Avengers #4: The Celestial Madonna
by Thom Young
Steve Englehart’s first run of Avengers stories included the now-famous Celestial Madonna Saga in which the character known as Mantis was revealed to be the “space mother” who would give birth to “The One.” Englehart wrote The Avengers (first series) from #105 to #152 plusGiant-Size Avengers #2-4. Within those 51 issues, he produced this saga in Avengers #129-35 and Giant-Size Avengers #2-4.
It’s a story that I’ve long wanted to read ever since I first became a fan of Englehart’s work (when he came to DC in late 1976 after leaving Marvel). However, I’ve just now finally read this saga in preparation for writing this item you are currently reading.
I loved Englehart’s work at DC once he arrived at the company in 1976–Detective Comics #469-76, Mister Miracle #19-22, and Justice League of America # 139-46 and #149-50 (issues #147-48 were the annual JLA/JSA team-up issues, and Englehart didn’t write them). As he explains on his Web site, Englehart was leaving comics to work on his novel The Point Man, but before he left the industry he wanted to work for DC for a year, and he was hired to work specifically on the Justice League “to give the characters personalities–like The Avengers–after decades of being simply ‘costumes.'”
One of those Justice League stories had a character named Willow–a mysterious, green-skinned woman who told the JLA that she was originally from Earth and was returning from space to give birth to her child. In other words, she is a “space mother” (or “Celestial Madonna”).
At the time, I didn’t really know who Englehart was, nor that he had just completed a 51-issue run of Avengers comic books. I thought he was simply introducing a mysterious, green-skinned woman who was being pursued by an artificial intelligence that could inhabit any and all machines (such as The Vision’s android body).
It turns out that the Construct, the A.I. villain, must be an analog for Kang the Conqueror, since Kang’s plot was to father Mantis’s child so that he would be the sire of the Celestial Messiah. However, in the Justice League part of the tale, the Construct seems to have wanted to kill Willow and her unborn child–probably because he wasn’t the father.
Anyway, years later I found out about Englehart’s previous work on the Avengers and the fact that Willow was an analog of the Celestial Madonna named Mantis from his Avengers stories. However, by the time I realized that I didn’t know the entire story, the back issues of those issues of Avengers were out of my price range (in the 1980s), and I merely thought, “Some day I’ll get around to reading the entire story.”
Now I can finally say that the Celestial Madonna Saga is truly an example of the type of “comic book epics” that were the norm throughout the 1970s. Under today’s editorial guidelines, Englehart would have been instructed to wrap up the story in six issues (or about 132 pages). However, the story as originally published in 1974 and 1975 spanned 10 issues (three of them being the Giant-Size Avengersissues that had twice as many pages as the regular series); the entire story is 213 pages in length.
However, those ten issues of 213 pages don’t actually encompass the entire saga, which really began inAvengers #112–seventeen issues earlier (though not all of those 17 issues would have been devoted to the plot of the mysterious past and nebulous future of Mantis.
Of course, in addition to those 27 issues published by Marvel in 1973-76, there is also Justice League of America (first series) #142, which must be considered part of the Celestial Madonna Saga as well. Finally, what would the Saga be without the revelation of the birth of “The One”? The nativity of the Celestial Messiah was revealed in Englehart’s Scorpio Rose #2, which was published by Eclipse Comics in 1983.
The Celestial Madonna Saga has long been my favorite Avengers story–even though I just finished reading it after starting it more than 33 years ago (and reading it out of order as well). Where else are you going to find a comic book saga that spans three different companies and that involves the two iconic superhero groups of both Marvel and DC?
1. Avengers #89-97: The Kree-Skrull War
by Paul Brian McCoy
Roy Thomas had been writing The Avengers since Stan Lee handed it off in 1966 (with issue #35) and over the course of those five years he introduced nearly every concept that we associate with The Avengers to this day. He co-created The Vision, the Squadron Sinister/Supreme, and Ultron. He brought Black Panther into the team and orchestrated the romance between Vision and Scarlet Witch. And before he took over as Editor-in-Chief in 1972, he crafted the first major Avengers Event: The Kree-Skrull War.
The story was mostly improvised, growing out of a realization that with two major alien races in the MU, it seemed inevitable that there would be a cosmic war at some point, and Thomas, along with Sal Buscema, began to lay that groundwork, introducing Kree conflicts to the title and bringing Captain Mar-vell into play.
After those issues, Neal Adams was brought on-board with a bravura art performance in the classic issue, “This Beachhead Earth” (#93), which sent Hank Pym on a solo adventure into the body of the fallen Vision in a nod to Fantastic Voyage. We then discovered that the first Skrulls ever introduced in the MU (back in Fantastic Four #2) were still around and ready to get back to work conquering the planet. After this, it was revealed that the Kree were attempting to recruit The Inhumans into their own Earth-Conquering machinations.
Then, with Wanda and Pietro captives of the Skrulls, and Rick Jones a captive of the Kree, the Avengers (Cap, Thor, Iron Man, and Vision) roll into space in a borrowed ship and proceed to take on the entire Skrull invasion fleet single-handedly, in what is a defining moment in Avengers mythology.
John Buscema took over the art chores for the final issue, as Rick Jones, with the help of the Kree Supreme Intelligence, manifests cosmic level psychic powers that not only bring his childhood comic book heroes briefly to life, but also paralyzes every Kree and Skrull in the galaxy, thereby ending the war. This is when Thomas revealed that the Kree and Skrull races had both reached evolutionary cul-de-sacs and were subconsciously targeting Earth because Humanity would eventually become their superiors.
This was pretty heady stuff, nicely executed by the creative teams. However, “The Kree-Skrull War” is not without flaws; the most glaring of which being that it is essentially a Sausage Party from start to finish. The Wasp quits the team earl
y on, for no reason other than because Yellowjacket is quitting, Wanda spends the majority of the story as an unconscious captive or simply standing around doing nothing, and Carol Danvers isn’t even really a woman (SPOILER: She’s Super-Skrull). And the less said about Caveman Hank dragging Jan off to his cave, the better.
Regardless this story captures all the elements that made The Avengers great. There is world-threatening danger, a vast array of subplots and melodrama, and elements of Marvel continuity are integral to the way the story plays out. We even get nods to the Atlas years and a trademark outbreak of Marvel Universe paranoid hostility towards our heroes as the citizens of New York actually invade Avengers Mansion and trash it during an anti-Avengers riot inspired by a McCarthy-esque politician who, of course, turns out to be a Skrull.
“The Kree-Skrull War” is the culmination of Roy Thomas’ extended run on The Avengers; a run that introduced more now-classic innovations to the Avengers Canon than any writer since, while at the same time helping to define what Marvel Comics could, and would, achieve over the next decade.