Emily Scott, our great and amazing writer/editor, had planned to get an article up on Operation: Galactic Storm, but she hurt her hand, and as such, she was unable to type for about a month! No worries, as she is all healed up now, and also, no worries on getting some splendid Operation: Galactic Storm chat, as Emily and I sat down and got this podcast done for you! So sit back and enjoy as the next hour takes you across the cosmos!
“Boyoboy, a pointless scuffle. Just like old times…” – Hawkeye
Have you seen “Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron”? I assume you have. We here at the Unspoken Decade have. This month we want to share our boundless enthusiasm for all things Avengers with you and are taking a closer look at some of our favorite Avengers’ stories.
In 1995 Peter David wrote his first and only (aside from the “Season One” OGN) Avengers’ story, “The Last Avengers Story,” featuring the first American work of Argentinian artist Ariel Olivetti. Seeing print alongside such avant-garde alternate reality stories as Warren Ellis’ “Ruins” and Garth Ennis’ “Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe,” it is a trip through the bleak wasteland of the far future of 2016. It is also the story of the “last” Avenger, the man, the myth, and the legend himself, Hank Pym.
This is not a comic about hope. It is not a comic about why you would want to be a superhero. This is a comic about what happens when you are a superhero, even if you cannot help it. Most importantly, this is a comic about family. “The Last Avengers Story” features cameos and appearances by many notable Avengers and some members who were, at least at the time, candidates from some weird future. This includes Cannonball, the Nigh-Invulnerable Man (sort of like “The Human Rocket” except with even more innuendo), so we can assume Jon Hickman was a fan. One notable absence is Tony Stark.
At no point during the two issue, prestige-format limited series does anyone acknowledge the fate of the team’s longtime benefactor or his “armored bodyguard.” Instead the story focuses on and shows the fruit of the Pym family tree. As if the entirety of what the Avengers are had been focused through the lens of Hank Pym, the doughy, porn-‘stached form of Hank Pym.
Have you ever had to acknowledge anything sadder than that?
In a world without the Avengers (it has been about two or three decades since we last saw the originals “in action”), things merely moved on. The Avengers became a poorly run franchise full of unlikable, younger heroes that are (since this was 1995) promptly “nuked” from existence.
When we first meet Hank (again) he is retired (again) and desperately trying to repair things with Jan van Dyne (again). The difference here is that this is the beginning as opposed to most Hank stories, where the failure comes later. Years after he first provided superpowers to a young woman in hopes of having her like him, the Wasp has begun to shrink, about an inch a year, and it is not to enhance her abilities. One of Hank’s only unobstructed accomplishments is killing the one person he loves more than life itself, and, as far as we are shown, Hank is no closer to solving the dilemma after a decade of constant work.
Hank has grown fat and watched the world slowly become unrecognizable. There are references made to Greenwich Village becoming an unlivable hellhole, while the South Bronx has become trendy and fashionable. If you are not intimately familiar with the various neighborhoods in and around New York this is not that important, but if you are, well, then I guess we could have worse instances of world-building. If nothing else, these issues escaped Peter David’s incessant obsession with puns. The heroes never made the world better. No grand change was made to how man and superman live together and without the constant focus of monthly adventures to distract our heroes they slumped into the same mediocrity that we ourselves can one day expect.
My favorite Avenger, Clint Barton (referred to as “Cliff” at the beginning of the second issue because either Mockingbird has some undiagnosed memory issues or no one cared enough about the Avengers to copy edit) is retired and blind, lamenting the loss of the good old days. Bobbi Morse, his wife, hates everyone because Kirby-forbid that character ever to be likable. As another reminder that the world became worse, we are told that President Captain America was assassinated some time ago, under mysterious circumstances that remain unsolved.
Next is Ultron-59, scion of the House of Pym, who has come to issue a challenge: Whatever heroes Hank can muster (the “real kind,” not these “pale imitations of today,” sounding similar to more than one aged fanboy I have met) versus the surviving forces of evil. This, we are told, will be for all the marbles but is one more instance of a child acting out for attention. Not only was he the one who annihilated the New Avengers in one fell swoop, but, to really drive home the point, he pulls out a cigarette and lights it with his eye beams. Take that, Dad! I can choose to smoke, even though I am an unconquerable killer robot. Alongside him is the Grim Reaper, this time played by Billy Maximoff about a decade before, and a world over, becoming Wiccan of the Young Avengers.
His twin brother Tommy is also around, apprenticing as the Sorcerer Supreme. Their father, the Vision, makes an appearance as we are shown why the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are no longer around. This is Hank’s extended family. The wife he could never quite figure out how to love, the son he never intended to have, the grandson he could never have fathomed, and the two great-grandchildren he now must simultaneously fight against and lead into battle.
Reaper is joined by Kang the Conqueror and a shapechanger named Oddball. “The Last Avengers Story” is a story within the story as well, used by Ultron-59 to lure Kang back to this decade because reasons. The nature of Oddball’s relationship to Grim Reaper, which is portrayed as important, is never explained. I like to believe he is the first, non-canonical appearance of Teddy “Hulkling” Altman. In a world apparently constructed around Hank, everyone suffers and no one is truly happy. Even a character that had yet to be created, such as Hulkling, appears to be retroactively sucked into this void. Instead of the Next Generation of Heroes there is a homicidal maniac (Billy), an indecisive shut-in (Tommy), and a pile of nonsense molded to look like a Simon Bisley drawing (Teddy).
The cinematic world of the Avengers is one built by and around Tony Stark. In some cases the fact that he flies around as Iron Man is secondary. He built Ultron, gets credit for bringing the Avengers together, and is in the center of all those group-shot movie posters, inexplicably not wearing his helmet even though they are in the heat of battle. The world of “The Last Avengers Story” eschews Cocktail Shaker Man and focuses on the parts of the Avengers that stem from Hank Pym, a character who has yet to appear in any movie.
Part of that is not his fault; my understanding is that the Ant-Man film was green-lit way back when the first Iron Man film was getting made, so those characters were sequestered away. Still, I cannot imagine Tony Stark being that upset if Ultron-59 came to his door and demanded a Final Battle to get over his Daddy Issues. Tony, unlike Hank, will have moved on, and an Ultron built by him may not end up as needy as one built by Hank. With each reread I am surprised how dark the world presented here is.
This story is a tragedy but it is also funny, the humor coming from the absurdity of the situations these also-rans find themselves in. Wikipedia tells me that this comic was written in 1986 and was shelved until the powers that be decided to temporarily replace the “What If?” brand with the darker, and more expensive-per-issue, “Alterniverse” brand. That means that instead of being a contemporary of “The Crossing,” the much maligned Avengers event that shipped merely two months before this far better remembered story, this should actually be considered a peer of Peter David’s own “The Death of Jean DeWolff” and the other boundary pushing stories of the eighties. This is not a parody of the era it found itself in, but is really one of its precursors. I am not sure what of David’s original scripts made it onto the page. There is a reference to the also much-maligned reveal of Alicia Masters as a Skrull from a few years before (She and Johnny Storm, also a former Avenger, have an adult child that Pym attempts to enlist).
This story felt as if it could have been the future that the Marvel eighties promised, an era of Jim Shooter, Frank Miller, and a slow transition from Bronze to Dark. It was not a place of hope, and the noble tended to be ground down. Pym tells his motley crew that he wishes Captain America was there, to lead them, inspire them, and most of all to tell them what to do. Thor, Hercules, and other mythic characters have all perished in a separate, unrelated great disaster. This leaves the team constantly wondering why they should bother, which encapsulates what the Avengers are, both as a team and a franchise. They are not the Justice League. They are not the best of the best, they are the other guys. They constantly change their lineup and most of their greatest foes are former teammates. They occupy a pronounced space in popular culture that can be uniquely self-defeating.
To watch them flounder with existential despair while in the midst of their last great struggle shows that maybe this is what being a hero is. Fighting for what you believe in, no matter the odds, and hoping against hope that your faith in your friends will be enough to see you through. Except if you are Hank “Seriously, I went back to using the name Yellowjacket even after that Salvation-1 business (but that may have actually been a Skrull)” Pym. Then you wait until things get heated, grab your wife, and try to hightail it to the Microverse. My single favorite moment in this comic, possibly in all of Avengers fiction, is the look on Jan’s face as she realizes what Hank is proposing and that he is ready to go, no questions asked. He has thought about this. Amid the carnage and bloodshed of their friends and superpowered children fighting for their lives against a monster Pym himself created, Hank is ready to run away and hide. In fact, that was his plan all along.
Hank’s not the noble, inspirational figure of the story, at least not this one. He is not supposed to be. Those who are wear capes, gives speeches, and maintain even heart rates as they calmly tell mad gods to go ☠☠☠☠ themselves. Hank is the one who makes those people shine brighter by comparison. Captain America is a great man in story, but is he an interesting character? When he has something to fight against, sure. When he is disillusioned and coming up against something that makes him question what he believes in or how those beliefs are portrayed in the world. Hank does not have ideals; he just tries to follow those who do. You cannot write compelling fiction about a person who only does good. The writers of “Action Comics” for the last thirty or so years can tell you that.
“The Last Avengers Story” is about the legacy of a man who was there at the beginning of an idea and who sees it through to the end. Hank is murdered by a time traveling former pharaoh who may have once banged his “niece” (again, in another world). His has been a weird life made all the more strange by the fact that he never once made a decision he could really be proud of and that said decisions come back to haunt him in his twilight years. This is not “The Dark Knight Returns,” and the hero does not prove everyone else wrong. Hank, potbelly intact and with only a few flaccid devices at his disposal, can only defeat his villainous son (who should have been Hank’s legacy considering he created AI alone in his basement) by being murdered by an underling.
Hank falls, Ultron slaughters Kang, the man responsible for stealing his victory. Fearing that Ultron will now never know his true purpose he is then murdered by his own son, the barely coherent Vision, moved to action by the death of his “grandfather.” A vicious, awful cycle comes to an end, the dead are buried, and the survivors are left to wonder whether any of this was worth it. There are no celebrations and as far as I can tell Jan is still shrinking, slowly but surely, into eventual oblivion.
This comic is in many ways a precursor to DC’s “Kingdom Come.” That story featured a generation of morally vacant, superpowered young people causing more harm than good until their shenanigans reach a boiling point and Superman must be convinced to step in. He assembles together the remaining adult heroes, spanks the children, and ultimately leads to the deaths of an untold number of civilians. Momma Kent’s Lil’ Boy did not have a good time during the nineties is what I am saying. In a similar fashion, Captain America is revealed to have been watching as the world grew steadily worse. Watching the last of his friends taken down by their own inabilities.
Years before, Cap had come forward to lead the nation in light of rampant bureaucratic abuse of his superpowered peers (a government orchestrated “Villain Massacre” is mentioned). He could not have known that in this world the rules of the narrative would not allow for things to end well. He is shown to now be in a regenerative chamber. He is, inexplicably, clad in his full uniform and mask. Hawkeye, still blind, tells a mourning, doubtful Jan that “He” will return. There is a promise of glory to come but none is shown. We are never told how or if Cap has been healed or if something else has occurred to allow him to return. In this story Cap is reduced to a hollow shell, not a real person. His story, if there will be one, is hinted at as the primary story closes, with no acknowledgement if something better is just around this corner.
In this world, where all things apparently stem from Hank Pym, Cap is unable to save the day. He cannot do much of anything because he only exists as the one dimensional caricature he is remembered as. Hank thinks back to him as the father figure he never had, and even then Cap is portrayed only as an example of unyielding heroism. We have been shown in this story what happens to heroes, so why are we to believe now, at the worst of times, that one will change the fundamental nature of things? I do not buy it, and while the first time I read this, I was invigorated by the idea of Cap coming back to deal with all of the nonsense that the future had wrought, I think now of Superman in KC. Maybe Cap would have a titanic battle with Iron Man (our Captain Marvel stand-in) that corrects the indignities heaped on their dead comrades, but more than likely, based on what we have seen, more people would perish in the worst way leaving a still blind Hawkeye proselytizing to no one in particular.
Hank could never get out of his own way. This makes a certain kind of sense when you consider that he is an outcast from a different genre than someone like Cap. “The Man in the Ant-Hill,” Hank’s first story, was published in those early, just barely Marvel stories. His peers are giant monsters and unknowable invaders from beyond. He was widowed and traumatized beyond repair before he ever met anyone wearing a brightly colored costume. He belongs in a Chuck Palahniuk novel, not standing alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Regardless, Hank represents what the Avengers are: what happens when normal people try to make sense of all the incredible crap that they come across while living in a place such as the Marvel Universe.
The Avengers are the number one box office draw in recent history. They have even eclipsed their peers and mass media precursors, the X-Men. There is a different “Last Avengers Story” waiting to be told today. That story will have glory and heroic sacrifice, and it may even have Cannonball. It will not have Hank Pym. It does not need to. The franchise outgrew him. All that he was died unceremoniously in a fight that could have been avoided altogether if he had been better at anything he had tried to do earlier in life. “The Last Avengers Story” is just that, the final tale of a team at a certain point and what that could have meant. So much has changed since then that the franchise is almost unrecognizable by comparison, but that is also its greatest strength. The Avengers endure, no matter what, which is what makes this story as enjoyable as any blockbuster film featuring all the pretty people.
Hello, Legions of the Unspoken! I hope that you are better than me and have enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron by now. We went to the Ultimate Marvel Marathon, only to find out that the big enchilada, Avengers: AoU, would be in 3D! I am not sure I have related this before to the Legions, but I have vertigo and therefore cannot handle a 3D movie! So we sucked it up and left early.
To date, I still have not seen the movie. I am sure I will, but to placate me until then, and to satisfy all of the guests taking a gander here due to the Super Blog Team Up, I am going to give you the top 1990’s moments for The Avengers. Now all of these moments won’t be highlights or the best stuff that happened to them, but they will certainly be the ones that stood out the most, had the most impact, and generate the most buzz, good or bad, to this day.
Aren’t you glad I warned you that there’d be stuff you hated on this list? Don’t you wish that either the warning had come sooner or that this had come later? This is legendarily bad. So bad that we are still talking about it not just as the worst moment of Avengers history in the 90’s, but it is probably the worst moment for the Avengers period. In this story, we learn that Tony Stark, Iron Man, has been working for Kang for years and is a traitor to the Avengers. The Avengers have issues defeating him, so they go back in time to retrieve a young Tony Stark to beat the current Tony Stark for them. That makes no sense, and after this story, it is almost NEVER MENTIONED again. After Heroes Reborn/Return (which we’ll see more of later in this article) Tony Stark is just back. Of course, that’s the worst thing that happened in this story. Other awful things happened, too, such as the Wasp looking like this:
9-Spider-Man joins The Avengers
This one is controversial and creates a huge schism for superhero fans. I first learned of Spidey’s status as an Avenger by the 1991 trading card above. Should Spidey be an Avenger? There are several story arcs in the 80’s dedicated to such an idea, but it isn’t until 1991 that it finally happens! Of course, it wasn’t easy, as at one point in Avengers #316 he gets offered a spot on the team, only to have said offer be rescinded.
It would be just 13 issues later when Spidey would be brought in as a reserve Avenger, complete with one of those “WHO WILL BE IN THE AVENGERS” trademark covers the group likes to do so much. Spidey even gets to stick it to J. Jonah Jameson without webbing up the Daily Bugle Publisher’s mouth.
My two cents on Spidey being one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is that he should be in…but only as a Reserve Avenger. That makes sense to me, as Spidey is always fun to see team-up with folks once in awhile, and he’d be there if the situation was large enough, anyhow. Seeing him month in and month out is just no fun, though.
8-At one point, there were 8 simultaneous Avengers-related titles on the shelf at once.
The 1990’s are said to be the decade of Image Comics and the X-Men, and rightfully so. The Avengers, however, were no slouches. Despite spending most of the decade as perceived 2nd-tier players, you could get 8 titles related to the Avengers! Of course, some of these were solo titles that were not Avengers titles, but I cannot imagine Quasar, Thunderstrike, or Wonder Man getting titles without their Avengers connection. In the opposite manner, Mighty Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America certainly could have stood on their own without any Avengers ties, but the fact that these three guys are “The Big Three” of The Avengers means that even in their own books, being an Avengers is an integral part of the character. Throw in Avengers and Avengers West Coast, and you’ve got 8 books in the year 1993 to choose from to get an Avengers fix.
7-Acts of Vengeance
This one is a bit of a cheat, as the event actually begins in 1989, but it crosses over into 1990 just enough to garner it a place on this list. If more of it had happened in the 90’s, rest assured it would have a higher spot. As it is, the idea of the greatest supervillains of the world switching partners and taking on other foes is a great one, and it led to some awesome stories everywhere from Spider-Man to Punisher, with stuff like Daredevil taking on Ultron in-between. We also got a sweet John Byrne FF#1 homage cover. As one cover blurb states, it was the “ultimate Super-Villain Team-Up”. Read that in a Vince McMahon voice, please.
Marvel was slumping from the loss of the speculator boom, and their flagship titles, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and Avengers, were slumping not just in terms of sales, but in how they were seen by the audience. As stated earlier, Image Comics, X-Men, and Spider-Man (among several properties) had taken the eminent position in the marketplace. This led Marvel to throw a Hail Mary by reaching out to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee to re-tool these properties and bring them back to the audience as cool and hot properties. Heroes Reborn resulted in great sales, including the best selling issue of Avengers of all time, but the sales were not quite what was needed to pay the salaries of Liefeld and Lee. There was harsh criticism of the books as well, especially Liefeld’s Avengers and Captain America. About midway through Heroes Reborn, Marvel asked them to take pay cuts. Lee acquiesced while Liefeld balked and walked. After a year, the deal was done, and we’d get Heroes Return, but Heroes Reborn might be the loudest Avengers moment of the 90’s, and it almost certainly generated the most revenue in Avengers comic book history; the movies, of course, are another story.
5-Avengers West Coast Disbanded
When I started reading comics regularly, there were two branches of Avengers. This made Avengers seem awesome and very important. Avengers West Coast was also consistently more entertaining than its east coast cousin when Roy and Dann Thomas were at the writing helm, while the Bob Harras Avengers title just sort of floundered. I didn’t see the end of Avengers West Coast coming. I remember being shocked when I read about it in Wizard or Hero Illustrated or some such magazine. I was upset, and I didn’t understand why they’d trash this legacy for Force Works. I liked FW all right, but it was no Avengers West Coast to me, and while much of that grandeur surrounding The Avengers has been restored, I wonder why in the last decade of umpteen badrillion Avengers books named everything from New to Secret to Pet Avengers, why we couldn’t have gotten the return of Avengers West Coast…
4-Operation: Galactic Storm
A huge part of the history of The Avengers is the role that the mega epic plays in their history. If they didn’t have any, we could not refer to them as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” and they probably would not be the center of the movie world. The Avengers mega epic menagerie includes great stories like The Korvac Saga, The Thanos/Warlock/Mar-Vell Saga, The Kree-Skrull War (to which Operation: Galactic Storm was sort of a sequel), The Avengers-Defenders War, and more. Operation: Galactic Storm is one of the biggest editions to the cosmic cabinet that holds these mega epics…LITERALLY. The story goes on for 19 parts through 7 different titles, and it has epilogue stories that even include a Silver Surfer issue. While it is unwieldy at parts, and it was definitely stretched too thin, the ongoing saga has that epic feel that The Avengers really didn’t capture as often as they should have in the 90’s. There’s also a giant moral theme that permeates the story and the epilogues, and it also spawned a really crappy video game.
Emily Scott will be taking a closer look at Operation: Galactic Storm later this month, as we are celebrating The Avengers all month long! She will be crafting a 2-parter because that’s what passes for a mega epic around here.
I’d call Avengers Forever confusing, but that would sort of be like saying that race cars go fast. That sort of description is appallingly insufficient. Avengers Forever centers around Kang, The Destiny War, Rick Jones, Immortus, and a cast of different Avengers from throughout time as they run into other Avengers throughout time. I have read this three times, and that’s honestly the best way to put it. Actually, a better way to put it might be a love letter to Avengers continuity. It is confusing, but it is also quite a fun book, and it is beautifully done by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino. Just enjoy getting to see cool stuff like the Avengers teaming with Killraven against Martians, as seen above, and Two-Gun Kid vs. Kang, and you’ll be ok. Try and make too much sense of it and you will have a headache that can only be destroyed by Ant-Man. Enjoy it as a romp, and well, you get a romp.
2-The Last Avengers Story
Peter David crafts a dark tale that isn’t saturated in grim and gritty nonsense that Ariel Olivetti renders in an eye-pleasing darkness that seeps into everything. The Avengers aren’t what they used to be, kids, and what they used to be was kids. David’s story highlights the inherent advantages that villains have within the superhero paradigm. He also shows us a world gone mad, heroes broken for different reasons, and the fate of the children of several of the heroes. Also, we get Cannonball in this for some reason. I guess in this timeline, he grows up to be an Avenger instead of Cable: The Sequel. In the end what passes for The Avengers gather to make their last stand against an assemblage of their greatest foes, and many of the Avengers who are left simply don’t make it, but hope remains for those who do. Darry Weight will take a closer look at this masterpiece later this month!
In my mind, this isn’t just the greatest 90’s moment in Avengers history, but this is truly the greatest moment in Avengers history, period.
That. That’s it. That panel epitomizes The Avengers. Even their heaviest hitter, Thor, is war-scarred, having battled all that Ultron has to offer. Captain America and Firestar are beaten down too. Despite the hardship, despite the war they have just gone through, and despite their fatigue and injuries, The Avengers are here to do a job, and that job is saving the world. Ultron is at his uttermost worst in this tale; in contrast, the Avengers have never been better, shone brighter, or come through against more horrendous odds. That, to me, is what The Avengers is all about. When things look bleak, they find a way. When the odds are stacked against them, they unstack them. When the worst villains show up, they get confronted by the best heroes. Those heroes are…THE AVENGERS!!!
Just want to give an honorable mention here to the Infinity Saga. I had it on the list, but it’s really more of a Marvel Universe story instead of just an Avengers one. One could make the same argument for Acts of Vengeance, but it ended in an Avengers title. and so I justified it. While the Infinity Saga did crossover into the Avengers titles, it was more or less contained within the three mini-series under the “Infinity” heading.
Thanks for enjoying our top ten! Now, Assemble with these other fine folks in the Super Blog Team Up!