Retro-Reviews: Marvel Comics’ Avengers #305 – 317 By John Byrne, Fabian Nicieza, Paul Ryan & Tom Palmer

Avengers #305 – 317 (July 1989 – May 1990)

Written by John Byrne, with scripting by Fabian Nicieza (#317)

Pencilled by Paul Ryan

Inked by Tom Palmer

In my last retro-review, which covered the set of issues that came after long-time writer Roger Stern left the book, I had written about how rudderless the Avengers series began to feel, and how I was curious to see how the addition of John Byrne as writer for an extended run would help stabilize things.

It looks like Byrne was intent on making a number of changes to the way in which the Avengers operated.  In his first issue (#305) he has Captain America assemble any and everyone who was ever considered a member of the team, to basically have a little pep rally.  He basically gets rid of the distinction between East Coast and West Coast teams (which makes sense, considering that Byrne was both writing and drawing the West Coast title, which reshuffled its name under his tenure), and declares that he doesn’t really see the team as made up of active and reserve members anymore.  Instead, he’d like the ability to call up anyone he needs, when he needs them.  This goes over well enough, and leads to a pretty fluid line-up for the rest of Byrne’s run, although to my mind, it’s marked by the sudden disappearance of some characters (like the Black Panther, who is there for a couple of issues, and then just isn’t).

Another change that Byrne brought to the book was the creation of a support staff for the Avengers.  It didn’t really make sense to have Jarvis do everything for the team, especially after moving the Mansion to Hydro Base, so this was a wise change.  Strangely, none of these people were hired in the main title.  I vaguely remember Cap approaching some of them in his own title (like that annoying Fabian kid), and so suddenly, people like Peggy Carter and that O’Brien Guardian guy are just around, sometimes.  John Jameson too.  Also some plant-based villain, whose job is keeping the tropical Hydro Base plants alive once the island is based just off Manhattan.

Here are some of the things that happened in this run:

  • After Cap’s pep rally, Lava Men attack the island and capture the Avengers, leaving Reed and Sue Richards to try to save the island from destruction.
  • Gilgamesh gets badly hurt fighting the Lava Men.
  • The Avengers try to get Sersi to help save Gilgamesh, which leads to a trip to Olympia, which has gone missing.
  • The Avengers search for Olympia in the Negative Zone, which leads to a big fight with Blastarr.
  • The Acts of Vengeance crossover begins, which leads to a bunch of robots attacking and sinking Hydro Base while all the Avengers are away.
  • A group of heroes fight off Freedom Force from attacking Avengers Park, which has become their main base after losing Hydro Base.
  • Mandarin and the Wizard (constantly referred to as the Wingless Wizard, which is just weird) then attack the same park, and get fought off by even more Avengers.
  • Loki is never actually revealed as being behind the Acts of Vengeance in this series, although it’s pretty obvious.
  • Nebula shows up again, manipulating some old scientist into using a device that wipes out existence (although a small group of Avengers manage to continue existing to take the fight to her).
  • The Stranger shows up because Nebula stole some super-weapon from him.

It’s hard to point out a list of ‘active’ Avengers in this run, because of the changes Captain America made to their usual protocol (the classic six-person roster), but these are the characters who fought under the Avengers banner for some or all of this run:

  • Captain America
  • Thor
  • Quasar (although he spent much of his time sitting out or just missing the team)
  • She-Hulk
  • Gilgamesh
  • Black Panther
  • Namor
  • Sersi (she joined somewhere in here)
  • Scarlet Witch (I’m pretty sure she stayed with the West Coast team)
  • Hank Pym (red jumpsuit era; also West Coast)
  • Wasp (West Coast?)
  • Falcon (showed up out of nowhere, disappeared right after)
  • Vision
  • Black Widow (for one issue)
  • Hellcat (for one issue)
  • Wonder Man (West Coast)
  • Spider-Man (joined team for one adventure, and was awkwardly fired at the end of the story, which isn’t in this run as Byrne left)
  • Starfox
  • Iron Man

I’m not entirely sure that Byrne brought the stability that people were looking for, as the team was constantly shifting around, and there were no plotlines involving characters’ personal lives (although both Vision and Captain America were shown as being doubtful that there was someone other than Tony Stark in the Iron Man armour, which is something he was claiming at the time, apparently).  One thing he did that I appreciated was use some random pages in early issues of his run to set up later storylines.  From the beginning, we kept being shown the old scientist who ended up working with Nebula towards the end of the run.  I liked when writers did this more, but writing for the trade has killed that kind of thing in modern superhero comics.

I was pretty disappointed with the Acts of Vengeance issues.  Granted, these are tie-ins to a larger event which I didn’t just re-read, but I was surprised to not reach a resolution in this title (where did that happen?), and to not see any kind of checklist or indication as to what other books I would need to read to get the whole story.  Was there really a time when Marvel didn’t over-market their cross-over events?  It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

While not as impressive as the run on this title by Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer, it is impressive that the team of Byrne, Ryan, and Palmer were able to put out thirteen straight issues together.  I assume that Byrne left because his superior Namor series launched towards the end of this run (now that’s a title I should re-read), and I’ve noticed that Ryan and Palmer stuck around a fair amount afterwards.  Keeping Tom Palmer as inker on this book for so many years really gave it a consistent feel, and he works well with Ryan, who is a very capable artist.

This was definitely not one of Byrne’s more celebrated comics.  His work here is fine, but it doesn’t compare to the other books he’s so well known for, like Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, Namor, Superman, or even She-Hulk.

From what I recall, after this run, the Avengers continued to slouch slowly towards 90s terribleness, so my next retro-review will cover the period from Byrne’s departure to my own abandoning of the book.

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