Welcome To My Nightmare

A few weeks ago I discussed some of my favorite story arcs from various titles at Marvel and DC. But there was one story that I’ve always been a huge fan of, and it didn’t fit real neatly into that previous discussion. So I thought I’d talk about it this week: Marvel’s “Acts of Vengeance.” 

This was a colossal company-wide crossover, hitting everything from Avengers to X-Men to Power Pack to What The…? and all parts in between. The chances of this whole thing ever being collected in a trade is slim and none, since many of the “tie-in” issues didn’t have a great deal to do with the core thread of the tale, which was handled primarily in Avengers. The story remains strangely unique, a point I’ll come back to later.

“Acts of Vengeance” was a nifty concept: Start a cabal of Marvel Arch-Fiends and trade sparring partners. An enigmatic gentleman, later revealed to be Loki, gathered the unlikely collection of would be conquerors and set them up with access to a pocket dimension from which they could conduct their clandestine machinations. This Evil Illuminati consisted of Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Magneto, Mandarin, The Kingpin and the Wizard. Stop and think about that for a moment. The Norse Trickster God recruited a drug czar in Wilson Fisk. Magneto is working with the Red Skull, despite the history they shared of being on opposite sides in Nazi concentration camps. Doom and Mandarin are ever looking out for themselves, and the Wizard…um…he represented the color Purple very well. Seriously, what’s with this guy? Goofy get-up, zero magical powers yet calls himself the Wingless Wizard, and gets to hang out with the real movers and shakers of the supervillain world. He could at least get a cape, you’d think. I guess after the Mad Thinker and Apocalypse turned Loki down the Wizard was the only one left worth recruiting for the management-level opening, but Loki was scarping the bottom of the barrel. I’d have recruited Taskmaster myself, but then I’m a bit of a mark for that character. Maybe a gal like Viper, or…I am tempted to say Namor, but he might have been an Avenger around that time. It’s been a few years since I’ve read through those issues, admittedly!

The unique thing was that the villains switched opponents. The Kingpin, for example, usually fought Spider-Man and Daredevil, but now Magento faced Spidey. Mandarin left Iron Man to his new partners and took on the disjointed X-Men. I know, when aren’t the X-Men a disjointed mess? But this was Chris Claremont circa Australia and Madripoor and the only people even in Uncanny at the time were Wolverine, Psylocke and Jubilee. I don’t remember exactly every trade off, but I can tell you this was also the time when Spider-Man became imbued with the Captain Universe power, The New Warriors made their debut, and in a bit of irony Mr. Fantastic talked Congress out of going forward with the “Super Powers Registration Act.” Yet recently he advocated registration in the events of the Civil War. Reed Richards would make one Hell of a wishy-washy politician.

On the whole, the issues in and around the Acts of Vengeance were a lot of fun. I recall thinking two things the last time I read them. First, I don’t know if they hold up that well against the test of time. Some of the dialog is less, I don’t know, sophisticated for lack of a better word. Despite my general boredom with the majority of comics on the shelves in recent weeks, most are written to modern sensibilities. Some of those older issues were really dumbed down. I blame the Comic Code Authority. Or maybe it’s just as simple of my tastes in comics having changed a lot since then. Going from reading 30 issues of John Constantine and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman to reading Erik Larsen era Spider-Man and Larry Hama’s Wolverine can be kind of jarring, I must admit.

Second, and most importantly, I found myself wonder why the villains didn’t try to keep this up at least a little bit and why they don’t try again today? The concept is sound. And early on in the Acts of Vengeance, the trading of opponents was working to some degree. Imagine if the Punisher was up against Doom or Mandarin for a change. The Red Skull versus the X-Men. If there’s one glaring problem in superhero comics, it’s the sameness of it all. Spider-Man always fights HIS Rogues’ Gallery. Captain America has been fighting the Red Skull since my late grandpa was stationed at Pearl Harbor. No matter how great Ed Brubaker’s run has been, it’s STILL Cap versus Skull, round MCMVLXVIII. The Frightful Four, including my old chum the Wizard, just fought the Fantastic Four yet again within the last couple of months. It’s like a sport without interleague play but also no post season. The local baseball Cardinals at least get to play a handful of American League teams in five series every year, and more if they make it the World Series. By the way, for those of you keeping score at home, the longest streak of dominance in professional sports continued again this year at the World Series: United Stated – 102 (or so) and the Rest of the World – 2. And that 2 comes from Canada, which ain’t that different. I’d love to see the American Champions take on the top team for Japan, Australia, and Cuba in a short round-robin tourney to crown a real World Champion. And I’d like to see Dr. Doom face the X-Men, the Mandarin match wits against Dr. Strange or the Wingless Wizard against Thor, if only for one panel.

There seems to be a number of characters whom Marvel tries to put into solo books but nobody ever tries to do anything new with them. Doctor Strange only ever fights denizens of Dark Dimensions, not would be mutant dictators. For years the Black Panther only ever fought Ulysses Klaw and Man-Ape. Namor battles constant intrigues by fellow Atlanteans, but not the Frightful Four. If the Kingpin was still around, he should have recognized Atlantis as a vast unclaimed market for his drug trade. At their hearts, superhero comics are always going to boil down to one guy in a mask beating up another guy in a mask for fairly shallow reasons. I think spreading the villains around — and letting them WIN once in awhile — would go a long way towards keeping things fresh. They’ve revisited Secret Wars, I think it’s time to revisit Acts of Vengeance!
And with that, I’m off to get a CT Scan and a consultation from a surgeon to see why my jaw doesn’t open anymore. And I need to buy more of that damn nasty yogurt. Oh how I long for a half-pound slab of well-done beef on a Kaiser roll with white onion and a cucumber-worth of pickles! 
Welcome to my nightmare.

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