Thursday, November 6, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Avengers/Defenders War

Avengers/Defenders War is one of those legendary Marvel events that didn't make it onto my radar the first time around. It predates my original comic book reading and collecting by a good ten years, but when I came upon the Premiere Hardcover Collection edition of it in the half-price box at a local comic book show, I couldn't pass it up!

Beyond what the title reveals, I didn't know what to expect with this one, but what unfolded on the pages within was like a giant-sized Giant-Size Marvel epic. The prologue and 12 chapters are sprawled across eight issues of both Avengers and Defenders titles. At the time of its original printing, it was one of Marvel's first experiments in bi-weekly storytelling in the medium. And while I can't speak to how it played upon its original release in 1973, it holds up beautifully as a collected edition.

I have a handful of Steve Englehart's work in the Original Collection -- a couple of Vision and the Scarlet Witch and West Coast Avengers issues, along with an Avengers or two. I'm going to have to go back and revisit those issues, because I really enjoyed the writing in this Avengers/Defenders War event. As much as I love the comics of my youth, there is a certain lack of sophistication detectable in the storytelling when held up against today's writers. But Englehart's tale is coherent, intelligent, and fun!

In terms of comic books, the premise is simple: Dormammu, Lord of the Dark Dimension, pushes Loki, Prince of Evil, to join him in his quest to -- what else? -- conquer Earth by gaining possession of the Evil Eye. Dormammu uses his grudge against Doctor Strange as motivation to trick the Defenders into recovering the six pieces of the Evil Eye dispersed across the planet. When the Evil Eye is assembled, it will unite Dormammu's dimension with Earth's dimension, allowing him to take it over.

Sometime Avenger and sometime Defender the Black Knight has been turned to stone, and Dormammu tricks Doctor Strange by impersonating the essence of the Black Knight, telling him they must assemble the pieces of the Evil Eye to save their friend. Loki simultaneously tricks the Avengers, who believe the Black Knight has been captured by Doctor Strange, into going up against the Defenders when he realizes that Dormammu will never uphold his end of the bargain and restore Loki's sight.

Playing off the idea of the Defenders non-team team being outsiders, the war itself is based on a misunderstanding! It's quaint. It's provincial. And I love this sort of old school setup, and Englehart knocks it out of the park. The chapter conceit works great here, allowing Englehart room to stretch with a prologue to setup the villains, and chapter-by-chapter battles as the story progresses.

Great, key one-on-one (or sometimes one-on-two) skirmishes include Silver Surfer versus Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Iron Man versus Hawkeye, Doctor Strange versus the Black Panther and Mantis, Swordsman versus the Valkrie, Captain America versus Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk versus Thor! Bob Brown and Sal Buscema do a fantastic job rendering these clashes. This is bold, primary color stuff that pops off the page! The Premier Hardcover Collection edition notes "select art reconstruction" and "select color reconstruction," but I have to believe the originals were just as amazing.

The book is comprehensive, in that it includes six full issues, plus a prologue and first chapter pulled from the end of Avengers #115 and Defenders #8. The extras are pretty standard for Marvel's Premier Hardcover Collection offerings from my experience. The most important extra being a thoughtful introduction by a key participant -- in this case, Englehart himself. This insightful essay provides great background on what Marvel was doing at the time as a company, how the event idea came about and was pitched, and even how penciler Brown was brought on board. Avengers/Defenders War also has all the relevant original covers, including the covers for Avengers #115 and Defenders #8, and the 2002 trade paperback cover for completeness. This is one of the few Premiere Hardcover Collection books I've felt compelled to buy, and although I didn't know it at the time, the storytelling, art, and presentation are worth a full-price admission ticket.

And in light of the events from New Avengers #46, now is a great time to read this book, and maybe reread Brian K. Vaughan's collection, The Hood: Blood from Stones.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"...a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 04 March 1865