Posts from May 2015

May 30th, 2015

Comics: Behold … The Vision!

avengers epic collectionOur book today is a good oldie reprinted for crass opportunistic motives: it’s the latest “Epic Collection” from Marvel Comics, The Avengers: Behold … The Vision, and the crass part isn’t far to seek: the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron is still in theaters worldwide and has already grossed north of $500 million with no end in sight, and that no doubt motivated the choice of reprint material in even androidthis volume.

Four major characters are introduced to movegoers in Age of Ultron: Ultron, the title bad guy, a grinning near-indestructible robot bent on world domination, the Vision, a red-skinned yellow-caped android created by Ultron but possessing, against all odds, a heroic nature, Quicksilver, a young Eastern European mutant gifted with super-speed, and his sister, the Scarlet Witch, a mutant with the ability to hurl reality-warping “hexes.” Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have a long history in Marvel comics, but Ultron and the Vision were introduced together, in the classic 1968 Avengers issue #57, in which the Vision, capable of altering his body’s density from wraithlike intangibility to diamond-hard compactness, is sent by Ultron to destroy the Avengers.

The core team at the time consisted of Captain America, the Black Panther, Giant-Man, and the Wasp … and the Vision very nearly defeats them all, until his heroic nature violently reasserts itself and he dares to rebel against his master:

“Well, do not simply stand there … like some lifeless mannequin! I gave you a tongue to speak … let me hear your report!”

“Yes … you created me … gave me life! But you meant me to be nothing but a nameless, soulless imitation of a human being! Release the Avengers … or face him whom they have named … the Vision!”

vision & ultronThe team quickly inducts the Vision into their ranks (in the classic issue “Even an Android Can Cry”), and the rest of this Epic Collection features the Vision’s first dozen adventures with the team. The volume reprints some of writer Roy Thomas’s best issues on the title and has artwork by John Buscema, his brother Sal, and the great Gene Colan, here somewhat out of his element (there are also a couple of issues drawn by BarryWindsor Smith, doing a very ham-handed Jack Kirby pastiche). Characters are added – in addition to the Vision, quicksilver & sisterthe Black Knight returns (the volume also includes his 1968 solo adventure from Marvel Super-Heroes #17, an unexpected treat), the archer Hawkeye takes on the role of Giant-Man, and, coming back to Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch briefly return to the team.

gene colan avengersThe Avengers experience in these fantastic issues is even better than the admittedly fantastic one those theatergoers all over the world are getting with Age of Ultron; it’s even more melodramatic, yes, but it’s also much more satisfyingly adult. Thomas knows exactly what he’s doing in this run, giving us well-rounded characters who just happen to be super-heroes, and pitting those characters against corporate greed and societal racism just as often as he pits them against Kang the Conqueror. We see Hawkeye tormented by his shady past, the Vision tormented by his weird tabula rasa existence … and a few times we see ranting old Ultron in various incarnations, although the simple truth is that he’s one of the Avengers’ least interesting villains – just an evil robot bent on world domination.

Marvel has reprinted some of these issues many times in the past (there’s a new reprint of their Masterworks series that very nearly duplicates the contents of this volume, for instance), but with Age of Ultron currently generating obscene amounts of profit, they’re not about to let Ultron-related back issues languish in limbo. And since those issues are often drawn from high points in the comic’s history, it’s win-win for long-time Avengers fans.

September 21st, 2012

Comics! Thanos: The Final Threat!

One quick comics side-note that I just couldn’t resist making: buried in this week’s issues was something called “Thanos: The Final Threat” – a full-color reprint of the two-part story Jim Starlin did for Marvel back in 1977 (back then, the first part appeared in “Avengers” Annual #7 and the second part in “Marvel Two-in-One” Annual #2 – a title-jumping gimmick that was almost unheard of at the time). The story boils down to an epic tussle between the Avengers and a ‘mutant demi-god’ named Thanos who’s in love with Death and wants to bring about the end of all life – and that little synopsis right there should tell you why Marvel would reprint this thing in such a nice volume: at one point in this summer’s gargantuan $400-million-grossing Hollywood blockbuster movie “The Avengers,” Thanos makes a teaser appearance that sets him up as the villain of the next movie. Comic book fans were overjoyed by the move, since it guarantees the next movie will be a sprawling space-epic of the type such fans have always enjoyed, but all non comics-fans saw was a weird-looking purple guy. It’s in Marvel’s best interests to begin raising Thanos’ profile a bit (they’ve been doing that over in the pages of “Avengers Assemble” as well, and very enjoyably). Hence this reprint.

Not that it matters: I’ll take any reason at all as long as it gives truly classic comics moments more time in the sun. And this story – conceived as one big unit by the freakishly talented Starlin, written by him with a winning combination of cosmic grandiosity and simple human emotion, and drawn by him with almost Hogarthian intricacy – is certainly a classic. In Thanos and his endless army of minions, Starlin gives the Avengers an enemy big enough to fight on even terms, and there are some truly definitive action-sequences throughout these pages. But Starlin also very smartly counter-balances all the cosmic stuff with some refreshingly quotidian grounding – in this case, in the form of Marvel Comics’ two best ‘everyman’ heroes, The Thing from the Fantastic Four, and of course Spider-Man.

Starlin’s pursuing his own agenda here as well, giving a finale to one of his most lovingly-shaped characters, Adam Warlock (weird to see Captain Marvel alive and well in these pages too, knowing that his death will be the centerpiece of Starlin’s other Marvel masterpiece, only a few years later). The climactic moment when Warlock comes back from seeming defeat and death to deal with Thanos is every bit as thrilling now as it was a mind-boggling forty years ago.

Classic comics stories like this one are odd things, sometimes determined only by the slowest of consensus. But some of us were eating this stuff up the weeks it was being published – which makes seeing it presented again now on the shelf at my beloved Comicopia all the more thrilling. Comics fans with even an inkling of interest should take advantage of the luxury and snap this issue up.