The fourth ‘Ages Of’ book focuses on Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’. They might not be a family like the Fantastic Four or have a mutual interest in survival like the mutant X-Men, but the Avengers were the team that could be best described equivalent to super-powered police force or as their numbers grew, practically a military unit to take on some seriously deadly super-villains who might also work from numbers as well. In many respects, it does make a lot of sense. As powerful as individually some of these super-powered people are, there are some threats where numbers are better, even if having Thor amongst them made the team a little top heavy. Then again, the Avengers were no way as powerful as DC’s Justice League Of America where several team members are substantial powerhouses in their own right. You wouldn’t want to face one of them, let alone a team of them.
The fifteen articles in ‘The Ages Of The Avengers’ looks at how this varying membership was influenced by events from our reality. I have to confess when I was young, Liam Webb’s assertion that the VietNam connection was strong in ‘The Avengers’ inception didn’t really sink in much in the UK as the focus was away from that war over here for youngsters like me. How much was it in Stan Lee’s mind at the time is more debatable because any writer will tell you that you will use what’s available that can make a connection to the reader or at least something they recognise. If Tony Stark hadn’t been injured and captured in VietNam then it would have been in some other war. The fact that such a strong bond continues today is because the setting might change but the cause or why else did the first ‘Iron Man’ film still resonate using the same background but a different war as is pointed out later in the book? Why would Stark need to make his first iron armour if he hadn’t been stabbed through the chest with a thin sliver of shrapnel? It isn’t like you can buy that off the shelf although anything is likely these days.
The Kree-Skrull War is speculated by Paul R. Krol as being the Marvel version of the Cold War although I doubt if Roy Thomas developed it that way as he wanted to put the Avengers through the ringer of not being able to trust anyone, including their fellow countrymen. In many respects, the shape-shifting Skrulls are reminiscent of an early Avengers foe, the Space Phantom, who kept transforming himself to resemble members of the team and causing mistrust by doing so. If anything, it’s a demonstration of how quickly mistrust can settle in and not believing whatever you’re being told. I tend to think that’s a stronger message than looking for the reds under the bed attitude. In this respect, don’t fully trust authority figures to do everything for the public good.
Giacomo Matteo Miniussi’s examination of Jim Shooter and George Perez’ ‘The Korvac Saga’ hits all the right notes, including Thor’s own reaction to entering a Christian church which I still fondly remember because the issue wasn’t ducked. As much as he makes the sound argument that the Avengers were ultimately the villains of the piece at the end, I can’t help feel that Shooter undid this work with the Beyonder in the ‘Secret Wars’ sagas. I mean, there is a level of how much leeway should you give an omnipotent being and there are many in the Marvel Universe and all capable of swatting them like flies should they choose but haven’t.
In many respects, something all these writers hit on here is the fact that the Avengers are the official super-hero police force in Marvel America, even if it was Tony Stark who was financing them with a mansion and equipment like the Quinjets. Although a couple of the writers explore ‘The Ultimates’ and ‘Great Lakes Avengers’ and even the Wasp as the female leader of the main team, I was rather drawn to see what was said about the ‘Civil War’, especially as I’m wondering if I ought to give it more attention. After all, with so many identity reveals, there had to be a reset button to give most of them some privacy at the end of the day. The follow up about the ‘Secret Invasion’ by the Skrulls, now given a religious bent differing from the original ‘Kree-Skrull War’, is an interesting twist in their background. I would have thought that might have been more appropriate for the Baddoon but then they can’t shape-shift.
It’s rather interesting that as long-running as ‘The Avengers’ have been, that they rarely had major skirmishes up to the 1990s and then three in the past decade. With team members drawn (sic) from other books, even with the Marvel Universe’s perchance for cross-over, anyone writing ‘The Avengers’ had to be careful not to step on the toes of writers doing the other books because you had to work out where it would affect continuity. These days, there’s a lot more planning involved and the editors tend to have more power in that regard. In some respects, I wish one of the writers had at least looked at that as part of their argument.
In the meantime, they do look like they’ve researched their own sections properly and explain enough about what was happening in the stories to give a reasonably brief synopsis and better analysis than from the other books in this series, helped by focusing on particular issues. If you liked ‘The Avengers’ and familiar with a large part of their history, then you will get something out of this book.
(pub: McFarland. 196 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £34.50 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-7485-5)