Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review- AVENGERS: HEART OF STONE



AVENGERS: HEART OF STONE (Marvel, First Printing, 2013; Softcover)

Collects Avengers #188-196 and Avengers Annual #9 (cover dates October, 1979- June, 1980)

Writers: David Michelinie, Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Steven Grant, Mark Gruenwald, Roger Stern, Pittsburgh Comix Club (plot assist #193)
Artists: Pencilers- John Byrne #188-191), Arvell Jones (#192), Sal Buscema (#193), and George Perez (#194-196), and Don Newton (Annual #9)
Inkers- Dan Green (#188-191, 193, 195, 196), Ricardo Villamonte (#192), Joe Rubinstein (#194, Annual #9), Jack Abel, and Frank Springer

My God I miss Marvel Comics. I mean real Marvel, not that fan fiction garbage being passed off on folks today with a Marvel logo on the cover. Things start out with a bang and there isn't a second to catch your breath until the book is over. I had #188 as a cheap-o back issue in the mid '80s and it held up very well all these years later. While en route from Attilan (home of The Inhumans) The Avengers seek permission to cross Soviet airspace. These comics were originally published during the Cold War, so starting an international incident or nuclear war with the Russians was the last thing that The Avengers wanted to do. When a Russian fighter jet flying next to their Quinjet gets blown up they vote to set down to help out at the site of a nuclear reactor, where they encounter beings who have taken over a nuclear power plant. Their powers are elemental in nature, and their powers match their names: Vanadium, Phosphorus, Cobalt, and Chlorine. The Avengers' roster at this time is Captain America, the Beast, Wonder Man, the Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, the Falcon, and Ms. Marvel. The elemental monsters want to make an army like them and are using the nuclear reactor to make that a reality but are stopped, all of this being done in one issue, eighteen pages of story. This would have been a six issue arc if it were made in the past dozen or so years.



Next is Annual #9, where the team discovers a terror living in an unknown subbasement of Avengers Mansion named Arsenal. Mild spoilers, folks- it was a robot created by Howard Stark and set to activate at a certain frequency as a fail safe in case the United States fell in World War II. This extra long tale features an extra large cast of Avengers, with Hawkeye, Iron Man, Yellowjacket, Thor, and the Vision returning to the team for this story. Thor departs at the beginning of #189, as does Wonder Man and Hawkeye. That sets the stage for the issue, as it is largely a solo Hawkeye tale. Hawkeye answers a want ad in a newspaper for head of security as Cross Technological Enterprises. Cross has been having a series of break ins and they need a head of security to stave off a series of bizarre break-ins. This led to a battle with Deathbird, later revealed to be a part of the Shi'Ar Empire over in The Uncanny X-Men.

#190 and 191 see the team, now consisting of Iron Man, Captain America, the Beast, the Vision, the Scarlet Witch, the Falcon, and Ms. Marvel, involved in a legal battle with Government liaison Henry Peter Gyrich. Gyrich is trying to hamper the team with procedures and red tape, albeit with the best of intentions for the American public. It is during the proceedings that a creature of some sort attacks the city and The Avengers are called into action. After a seemingly brief fight the creature is revealed to be a shell, and inside that shell is the Grey Gargoyle. This being a legal proceeding of course means that Matt Murdock is there, and once the fur starts flying he goes into action as Daredevil. The Grey Gargoyle gives the team a run for their money, and the Falcon comes into his own as a teammate. This was an underlying subplot throughout the book thus far, as Gyrich demanded that the team include all races on their roster. This would be the dawn of Affirmative Action, and both the team and the Falcon resent his token status. This is all presented in much the same manor as the equal rights for women on the team segments are, as underlying subplots, not the main focus of the series. Character development and occurrences, not calculated hype and soapboxing at the expense of the story. Modern writers should take note.

Bendis would have milked this panel for an entire issue. Hell, he DID. 


#192 and 193 are a two part fill-in issue, picking up a stray plotline from a Thor comic in the 1960s. Solid, entertaining stuff that moves the overall story forward. The Falcon leaves in #194 and the stage is set for an epic three parter. A man named Selbe escapes from an insane asylum, arriving at Avengers Mansion and pleads with The Avengers to help him. When two orderlies with paperwork show up they release him to them and things seem fine for everyone except for the Wasp, who believes his story that they are trying to kill him. At the end of the issue she has vanished and the team realizes where she went.

This leads us to #195, where The Avengers are staking out the Solomon Institute in Southampton, Long Island. They decided to try and be sneaky and send in Yellowjacket and Ant-Man (II, the Scott Lang one) to do some reconnaissance and try to rescue the Wasp. Things are not what they seem here at the Solomon Institute. Indeed, it is not an insane asylum at all but a training compound for freelance criminals. The head of the institute reveals himself after defeating Yellowjacket and Ant-Man “off screen” on the final page of the issue: The Taskmaster!

Yesiree bob, the Taskmaster! I was one lucky little sonuvabitch, as I bought #196 off of the stands in one of those Marvel three packs at the long-defunct Farmer Jack grocery store chain in March of 1980. Do you remember those? Comic books were 40 cents at the time but were three for 99 cents in those bags. You had to play with the bag to see what the comic in the middle was. I remember Spider-Woman #27 being one of the other two but I did a search of all Marvel Comics with a June, 1980 cover date and came up drawing a blank for the third. Nothing could compare to the sheer majesty of Avengers #196. That cover just killed me a six year old kid (I turned seven a few months later), and it honestly still does.

What freedom loving, red-blooded American male wouldn't buy this comic book?


This team of Avengers were badass and blew my mind as a child. Iron Man, Captain America, the Beast, the Vision, Wonder Man, Jocasta, and Ms. Marvel. I thrilled at the way that the Taskmaster recounted his origin to the team before he fought them, talking about his mutant power of Photographic Reflexes, where he can perform anything that he sees to perfection. He gives the team a sound thrashing before Jocasta comes in and gives the team the breathing room that they need to regroup and form a plan of attack. Not wanting to try his luck against the full might of The Avengers plus Yellowjacket, Ant-Man, and the Wasp, Taskmaster chooses the better part of valor and flees.



I did not know at that time that this was the first full appearance of the character (he appeared on the final page of #195). I also did not know at the time that the artwork was by George Perez, who was one of the best comic book pencilers of the day, if not all time. All that I knew was that this issue totally rocked and I wanted more more more! Alas, my family was poor and my comic buying was intermittent in those days. We had no cable television and rarely went to movies. I must have read that comic book until it disintegrated. I replaced it with a back issue copy in the 1980s. I still got a rush reading that issue along with every other one collected in this book. Your modern day Avengers might sit around breakfast tables having endless conversations and occasionally save the day. My old school Avengers save the day every single issue and kick butt. Make mine (old) Marvel!
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- Methinks that this was prepped for a Marvel Premiere Classic hardcover and was slapped into a softcover when that line was scuttled.
#188 and 189 were reprinted in the black and white Nights Of Wundagore trade paperback, which I had and dumped years ago when the full color trade of the same name came out. Double dips are fun! Kill me now!
#194-196 are also double dips, as they were collected in the Avengers Visionaries: George Perez trade paperback. I gave that one to my son when this book was released because I want him to know that The Avengers rule. I remember flipping through one of Bendis' New Avengers hardcovers when he was 3 or 4 and he said “Daddy, they're not doing anything. They are just sitting around talking.” I told him I know, son. I know...
Linework and Color restoration: Very very good overall. I am certain that when this material receives the Marvel Masterworks treatment in a few years that things will be tightened up here and there. Most people won't notice but the trained eye will be able to spot differences. The original color palette is faithfully maintained.
Paper stock: Off white matte coated stock. This is the same stock found in softcover Masterworks, Classic line trades, and Epic line trades. It is my favorite paper stock for comics with flat coloring.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback.
Cardstock cover notes: Laminated cardstock cover.

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