AVENGERS: LEGION OF THE UNLIVING (Marvel, 2012; Softcover)
Collects Avengers Nos. 131, 132, 352-354, (Vol. 2) Nos. 10,11, Avengers Annual No. 16, Avengers West Coast No. 61, and Giant-Size Avengers No. 3 (cover dates January, 1975- December, 1998).
Writers: Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Tom DeFalco, Dann Thomas, Len Kaminski, and Kurt Busiek.
Artists: Pencilers- Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Bob Hall, Paul Ryan, M.C. Wyman, and George Perez; Inkers- Tom Palmer and others.
Upon first glance this book might seem like a confusing hodge-podge of random issues cobbled together to make you unclench that cash from your fist, and you would be right. Once you settle in and start reading it though you will see a thread throughout these stories spanning 24 years of publication. That thread is The Avengers, in various incarnations, fighting the Legion of the Unliving, also in various incarnations.
Things start out smack dab in the middle of the Bronze Age of comics with Avengers #131, 132, and Giant-Size Avengers #3 by the criminally forgotten Steve Engelhart. These issues are the first three parts of the legendary Celestial Madonna storyline. I have always been a sucker for Kang The Conqueror/Rama-Tut/Immortus, in all of their various timeline and reality glory. For the uninitiated, they are all one and the same from different points in time. Immortus, working at a grand scheme not clear to those who have not lived for seventy odd centuries in timeless Limbo, gets unwittingly/wittingly trapped by Kang, who plucks dead villains from various points in time to fight The Avengers.
When reading comic books it is most helpful to have a healthy suspension of disbelief. When reading Bronze Age comics, it is also helpful to not over-analyze and overthink everything. Just relax and enjoy it. Let's face facts: seeing Thor battling the Frankenstein Monster is worth it, no matter how it gets to that point, right?
Avengers Annual #16 is the weak link of the book, being enjoyable but not great. While I am a fan of Tom DeFalco's writing, particularly his Spider-Man and Spider-Girl stuff, he is outclassed as an Avengers writer by the heaping helping of talent present in this book. I did enjoy the “comic jam” aspect of that annual, with artwork by a smorgasbord of greats. This issue has been collected in multiple books, so I have read it a number of times.
Avengers West Coast #61 finds Roy Thomas doing what Roy Thomas always does, making continuity as tight as a drum, for better or for worse. Here we see Agatha Harkness cast a spell on Immortus and make him spill the beans on things. Roy Thomas was apparently not a fan of the original android Human Torch being a part of the original Legion of the Unliving, since an android is not alive and therefore cannot truly die. He ret-cons Toro, the Torch's Golden Age kid sidekick, into that role instead. I can dig it. Continuity is Roy Thomas' porn.
Avengers #352-354 were a pleasant surprise to say the least. '90s Marvel can be a dicey thing, but here we see the Grim Reaper upgraded to his logical extreme. Changes to a character that make sense are welcome. Changes to a character to suit a spoiled brat “rock star” writer are not. The Grim Reaper is more dead than alive, a quasi-demon almost. I like this version of the character way more than the original (and current version). Len Kaminski wrote a ton of great comics for Marvel during this time but has seemingly dropped off the comic grid. The same can be said for artist M.C. Wyman, a wonderful craftsman whose work here reflected the Marvel house style. He took a severe turn for the worse shortly after these issues, which is a shame because he can clearly do great work. Stupid Image artists! They, and the speculator nonsense that they created and attracted, nearly destroyed the entire industry.
|M.C. Wyman was a good artist at one point in time.|
The endcap of this book are issues 9 and 10 from the incredible 1998 relaunch of the title by Kurt Busiek and George Perez. Busiek is Avengers royalty, a writer whose run I hold in the highest regard. Busiek, Englehart, Stern, Thomas...these are the greatest Avengers writers bar none. Busiek's writing is so rich and textured here. If space aliens landed and asked me what are the best Avengers comic books to read, I would have to flip a coin between Busiek's and Stern's run. Perez is at the top of his game here. Unlike some artists, Perez's work only improves with age. Seriously, check his artwork out. That is some seriously great stuff! Like Ultron, Busiek managed to pen the ultimate Legion of the Unliving story.
|George Perez rules!|
This book was an absolute blast to read and should be a welcome addition to any serious superhero fan's bookshelf. And would you look at that...I made it through an Avengers review without bashing Brian Michael Bendis' eight year run on the title once. I could...but I won't. Even though I should.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- There is a typo on Avengers #10, page 2. Mighty is mistyped might. I am all for preserving comics as they are originally printed, but typos, especially those from the computer lettered era, drive me nuts.
I like how the trade dress is included on the covers of the issues for the 1998 Avengers series. It has been standard practice in the industry to not include it on covers of issues of modern material collected editions, and has been for a dozen or more years. These two issues were reprinted in Avengers: Clear And Present Dangers trade paperback and again in the Avengers Assemble oversized hardcovers without the trade dress. I am a big fan of trade dress, so I thought that this was cool. Most folks like things the way that they are, but I am a “I want to see the cover as it was originally published” sort of cat.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: The fully rendered covers found on the front and back of this book, minus trade dress.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 4 out of 5. #131 is pretty hit or miss in terms of restoration, with page 8 of this book looking abysmal. Luckily, this issue will receive the Cory Sedlmeier treatment with the forthcoming Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Vol. 14, on sale this summer. While that won't rectify the inferior restoration found in this book and of the same issue in the old Avengers: Celestial Madonna trade paperback, you can rest assured that any future reprintings of this issue will look superb. DC does it once, and if it sucks, it will suck for all time because they never revisit and remaster their material.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Nice dull matte finish coated stock, the same found in Classic lines and the softcover Marvel Masterworks.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. Perfect bound trade paperback.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. The usual high quality waxlike lamination found on all Marvel trade paperback releases.