Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review- AVENGERS: THE SERPENT CROWN

AVENGERS: THE SERPENT CROWN (Marvel, 2012; Hardcover)
Collects Avengers Nos. 141-144, 147-149 (cover dates November, 1975- July, 1976)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: George Perez and various inkers
I originally passed on this book when it was solicited, as I had the 2005 trade paperback and figured that I would wait for the Marvel Masterworks line to reach this era before I double dipped. The Masterworks line has slowed down as of late, with only one volume being released a month. I fear for the health of the line, and since I fear for the health of my sanity if this book fell out of print and was unavailable in the advent of the collapse of said line, I did the double dip and bought this book. A pox upon you, completist OCD!
This arc is a classic. Steve Englehart is in his prime, spouting off about Government corruption and corporate corruption on the “Other-Earth” inhabited by the Squadron Supreme. The President of the United States wears the Serpent Crown, an ancient evil artifact which allows the wearer(s) of various dimensions to communicate with one another in their quest for power. Englehart was locked into the zeitgeist of post-Watergate America. Sadly, things have not improved in the last 35 or so years. Indeed, our world has descended into the corrupt abyss of this “Other-Earth”. 
The Squadron Supreme (formerly known as the Squadron Sinister) are facsimiles of the Justice League of America, replete with Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, etc. doppelgangers. Their Earth is essentially the DC Universe. I love how they stated that “unlike the Avengers, (their) wins are always decisive”, an obvious stab at DC's storytelling style during that era.
George Perez's first Avengers work was issue 141, and he went on to become a fan favorite. I credit him and John Byrne with carrying the torch of Silver Age Marvel. Their style is a combination of the photo-realistic artwork in the vein of Neal Adams with the energy and power of Jack Kirby. They ushered Marvel into the '80s and helped raise the bar for comic book artwork that we are reaping the benefits of today. Perez crams ton of detail into every panel, and his action sequences are bone crushing. 
Hand lettering in old comics is a make or break thing for me. We have Tom Orzechowski's lettering in most of this book, and it's great. He has a pleasant lettering style, with everything being clear and concise. Many of these Bronze Age letterers leave a lot to be desired and annoy the piss out of me. 
This is an era of change for the team, back in the days when new members were a rare thing. The Beast, who was at the time in publishing limbo with the demise of his Amazing Adventures run, was a logical inclusion. I wonder if anyone ever explained if his personality change was related to his blue fur mutation. Patsy Walker as Hellcat was a less inspired choice. While the costume design was cool, the original Cat became Tigra. Not one to let a good costume design go unused, Marvel repurposed it with another character who was in publishing Limbo, Patsy Walker. I had a hard time buying that this character who had no formal combat training could put on a costume and be able to fight villains immediately, let alone having combat hardened superheroes like Captain America and Iron Man allowing her to fight alongside them with minimal protest. Nowadays, Marvel would have taken an entire arc to bring her into the team, and an entire mini-series to explain her origin. Come to think of it, all of the spontaneity and life would have been sucked out of the character by that point. I think that I'll accept Englehart's rushed origin as a means to an end, however haphazardly handled it may have been. 
As a stand alone read, this is fantastic. As a part of Avengers mythology, this is essential.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- The late, lamented Marvel Premiere Classic line of hardcovers were a sort of junior Masterworks line, with decent restoration, nice paper, and sewn binding at a much lower MSRP.
Note: Issues 145 and 146 are omitted because they were a two-part fill-in story by Tony Isabella and Don Heck. They were collected in Avengers: Coming of the Beast Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover. There is an index page with the issue information included in the back of this book as a further reassurance to readers that these two issues didn't belong in this collection. I do hope that if and when the Masterworks line gets here that they are collected in order of publication as usual for the line.
Linework restoration rating: 4.5 out of 5. The linework restoration is mostly excellent.
Color restoration rating: 4.5 out of 5. The colors are spot on and faithful to the original comics.
Paper rating: 4.5 out of 5. This line of books had thick coated stock paper.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Wonderful sewn binding which allows the book to lay flat from the first page to the last.
Dustjacket coating rating: 3 out of 5. This has that image coated/ solid blacks not coated approach that so many publishers have adopted. It is easily scuffed and therefore loses points here in the OCD zone. Durability trumps fancy production values every time out in my world.

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