Retro-Reviews: Avengers Vol. 3 #1-34 By Kurt Busiek & George Perez With Others For Marvel Comics

Avengers Vol. 3 #1-34, Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98, and Avengers 2000 (February ‘98-November ‘00)

Written by Kurt Busiek (#1-15, 19-34, Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98, Avengers 2000), Jerry Ordway (#16-18), and Len Kaminski (Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98)

Pencilled by George Perez (#1-15, 19-25, 27-34), Jerry Ordway (#16-18), Stuart Immonen (#26), Paul Ryan (#32-33), Carlos Pacheco (Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98), Norm Breyfogle (Avengers 2000), and Richard Howell (Avengers 2000)

Inked by Al Vey (#1-15, 18-25, 27-34, Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98), Bob Wiacek (#4, 6, 11-12, Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98), Bruce Patterson (#6), Scott Koblish (#13, 15), Al Gordon (#16-17), Jerry Ordway (#18), George Perez (#18), Dick Giordano (#24, 29), Wade Von Grawbadger (#26), Scott Hanna (#30), Matt Banning (Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98), Vince Russell (Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98), Paul Neary (Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98), Norm Breyfogle (Avengers 2000), and Richard Howell (Avengers 2000)

Spoilers (from fifteen to seventeen years ago)

I think I will always consider Roger Stern and John Buscema’s run on Avengers as ‘my’ classic run, but when you want to talk about the time period where the potential and power of the Avengers was best put to use, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Kurt Busiek and George Perez’s run that ushered in the new millennium.  These comics came during a period of renaissance at Marvel, after the nonsense of the 90s, and the Heroes Reborn experiment, when there was a real focus on creating well-crafted modern superhero stories.

Busiek has always been known for his attention to continuity, and he wove this book into the tapestry of the Marvel universe, with team members coming and going as they were needed in other titles, and with their appearance and personal lives carefully coordinated.

This run began with basically every living Avenger showing up and taking part in things, before the line-up was narrowed down to a more manageable, if ever-shifting, core group.  Here is a list of ever Avenger that appeared in this legendary run:

  • Captain America (Steve Rogers; declares himself chair in #1; reassembles the team; disappears after #12, returns in #14, quits #25, leaves #27, appears in Avengers 2000 and in #34)
  • Iron Man (Tony Stark; goes on medical leave #12, returns #15)
  • Wasp (Janet Van Dyne; leaves in #4; reserve status starting in #10, goes full-time and becomes leader #27)
  • Giant-Man/Goliath (Hank Pym; leaves in #4; helps in Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98; reserve status starting in #10, goes full-time #27)
  • Thor (leaves active status in #8 but continues showing up in more issues than he doesn’t; leaves for real #27)
  • Hawkeye (Clint Barton; leaves active status in #9; becomes leader of Thunderbolts and appears in #12, appears in Avengers 2000 and #33-34)
  • Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)
  • Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff; leaves in #4, helps in #7 and #24-25)
  • Crystal (leaves in #4)
  • Machine Man (Aaron Stack; leaves in #4)
  • Falcon (Sam Wilson; leaves in #4)
  • Hercules (leaves in #4, helps in #25)
  • Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff; leaves in #4, helps briefly in #32, #33, and appears in #34)
  • Beast (Hank McCoy; leaves in #4, visits in #14)
  • Warbird/Binary/Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers; quits #7, appears #16-18, appears #26, rejoins #27)
  • She-Hulk (Jen Walters; leaves in #4, rejoins #27, leaves #32)
  • Sersi (leaves in #4)
  • Darkhawk (leaves in #4)
  • Starfox (Eros, leaves in #4)
  • Sandman (Cain Marko; leaves in #4)
  • Magdalene (leaves in #4; appears in Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98)
  • Swordsman II (leaves in #4; appears in Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98)
  • Moondragon (Heather Douglas; leaves in #4; appears in Avengers 2000)
  • D-Man (leaves in #4)
  • Black Panther (T’Challa; leaves in #4, helps in #19-23)
  • Namor (leaves in #4)
  • Spider-Woman (Julia Carpenter; leaves in #4)
  • USAgent (leaves in #4)
  • Rage (leaves in #4; appears in #13 as a New Warrior)
  • Tigra (leaves in #4)
  • Living Lightning (leaves in #4)
  • Firebird (leaves in #4; helps in #12)
  • Photon (Monica Rambeau; leaves in #4, helps out #16-18)
  • Black Knight (Dane Whitman; leaves in #4, helps out #16-18)
  • Stingray (leaves in #4)
  • Quasar (Wendell Vaughn; leaves in #4)
  • Vision (leaves in #23; returns in #31)
  • Spider-Man (Peter Parker; leaves in #1, helps in #25)
  • Moon Knight (Marc Spector; leaves in #1)
  • Justice (Vance Astrovik; tags along starting in #1; made reserve Avenger in #4 but not called on until #7; active status after that, goes inactive #27)
  • Firestar (Angelica Jones; tags along starting in #1; made reserve Avenger in #4 but not called on until #7; active status after that, goes inactive #27)
  • Wonder Man (Simon Williams; sporadically returns from the dead in #2; returns for real in #11, goes inactive #27, returns #32)
  • Triathlon (Delroy Garrett; first appears in #8, becomes member #27)
  • Silverclaw (first appears in #8; becomes reserve member #30)
  • Hellcat (appears in Avengers 2000)

Also of great importance are two supporting cast members:

  • Edwin Jarvis
  • Duane Freeman (first appears in #4)

Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:

  • The series opens introducing the fact that so many heroes have returned to the regular Marvel Universe after whatever nonsense that happened in the Heroes Reborn universe got resolved.
  • We see that various monsters and mythological creatures appear out of nowhere, attacking all sorts of Avengers, and then disappearing.
  • Captain America, Wasp, Giant-Man, and Iron Man convene a meeting at Avengers Mansion, for the first time since they all returned to the 616.  Thor arrives, with bad news.  They call in all the Avengers.
  • At this big meeting, Cap and Thor explain what’s going on.  It seems that Asgard and the other Nine Realms are empty, and that the Bifrost Bridge, as well as Asgard, have been destroyed.  To make matters worse, something called the Twilight Sword is missing, as are the Norn Stones, which do something.  This part had way too much exposition.
  • The Avengers are split into five teams, to search out each of the Stones, or something.
  • Cap, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Crystal, Hercules, Quasar, and D-Man head to Cornwall, where they get caught in a weird storm that Wanda is able to stop.  They find the Twilight Sword, but they also find Mordred, who captures Wanda in the Earth.
  • The rest of them fight and best him pretty quickly, and then discover that Morgan Le Fay (who I HATE) is behind all of this, and that she needs Wanda’s powers to be able to use the Twilight Sword.  Did I mention that she’s giant sized?  I’m not sure why.
  • Once she has the sword in her hand, everything goes white.
  • We learn that Le Fay has rewritten reality, making herself the ruler of a Medieval world.  The Avengers have all been medieval-ized (Captain America is now Yeoman America, Iron Man the Iron Knight, and so on) and are working for Le Fay.  This makes Mordred nervous.
  • The villains realize that Thor (now called Donar) is a little confused, and has some memories of his earlier life.  He decides to head off to Asgard.
  • The Scarlet Witch is being held in a dungeon, as Le Fay needs to use her to maintain her control over things, but Wanda is resisting, trying to find help.
  • She is able to bring Captain America back to his senses.  He goes off to try to restore some of the others, getting success with Hawkeye.  Together, they go with Photon and the Wasp to try to fix Tony Stark, but he’s very resistant.  This leads to a big fight with all the rest of the Avengers, with only Quasar and Justice coming over to Cap’s side.  Things look bad, but Thor returns, in his right mind.  Le Fay gets involved, but Cap’s group escapes.
  • In her cell, Wanda somehow manifests Simon Williams, Wonder Man.
  • While Cap trains his team to be ready to fight Morgan Le Fay, she shows that she’s starting to lose her grip after learning that the Scarlet Witch has escaped her.  This causes her to threaten Cap’s group, giving them the upper hand, really.
  • Wanda talks with Simon, and we learn about how he was not entirely dead before being called back to life by Wanda.  He’s just energy now though.
  • Cap and his crew try to sneak into Le Fay’s castle, but are spotted and attacked by the rest of the Avengers.  They fight, and Le Fay enters the fray, as does Scarlet Witch.  When Wonder Man appears, he distracts her enough that she loses her control over the other Avengers, restoring them all to their right minds.
  • They all join their power with Wanda’s (whatever that means), the Vision gets ripped in half, and Le Fay is defeated, and it looks like Wonder Man sacrifices himself to make that happen.  Everything returns to normal, but now there are thirty-nine Avengers (which, really, was the central concept of Jonathan Hickman’s run).
  • Whirlwind tries to rob a bank, but is stopped by the arrival of some nineteen Avengers, who trip all over each other, making it possible for him to escape.
  • The founding Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, Wasp, and Captain America (who wasn’t a founder but is considered one anyway) meet with Duane Freeman, their federal security liaison with the government, to pick a smaller, more manageable lineup.  They remove team members who have turned them down, and spend most of an issue talking.  
  • We learn that the Vision is slowly repairing his body, and is using the Avengers Mansion apparatus to interact holographically during this time.  He is cold to Scarlet Witch, and claims they are no longer married since he ‘died’.
  • Hawkeye is annoyed that he is not in the meeting with the founders.
  • Carol Danvers confirms with Beast that her Binary powers are mostly gone, and works to select a new name for herself (although no one says why).  Iron Man tries to block her from being put on the team, because he saw her at the Mansion’s bar, and she lied about what she was doing there.  This is called foreshadowing.  He is voted down by the others.
  • Justice and Firestar track down Whirlwind, and stop him.  Hawkeye follows them and later makes the case that they should be on the team.
  • The final line-up is announced:  Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Warbird (which is the name Danvers went with), Iron Man, and Vision, with Justice and Firestar taking reserve status.
  • One thing that Busiek does very well is find space to carve out for character development.  In a short amount of space, he establishes that Jarvis writes ‘personal’ letters to someone in Costa Verde, that Warbird is avoiding any discussion of why she doesn’t switch to her ‘Binary’ persona, that Tony Stark doesn’t believe Vision when he says things are over between him and Wanda, and that Wanda feels some kind of way about bringing Simon back just to kill him off.
  • The team is sent to rescue passengers of a commercial airplane that crashed into the ocean.  The plane is carrying Project: Pegasus scientists who were on their way to study an alien vessel.
  • When they get there, Hawkeye bucks against Cap’s orders, and then the Squadron Supreme shows up.  These are the same Squadron from the classic Mark Gruenwald series, who have apparently been trapped in the 616 for a long time, and who don’t believe that the Avengers are who they say they are, believing them to be dead.
  • The two teams fight (of course).  Wonder Man appears again to help in the fight.  Eventually Dr. Spectrum saves the passengers of the sinking plane, and the teams depart.
  • While all this was going on, a shadowy bearded guy’s workers were able to extract weapons from the alien ship.  Iron Man saw this, but then appears to have forgotten it.
  • Because of the allegations made by the Squadron, the Avengers have a limited amount of time in which to prove that they are who they claim to be, before they lose their security clearance.
  • After a bit of in-fighting (which includes a one-on-one between Cap and Hawkeye), an early morning drinky for Carol Danvers, and a bit of judgement from Wanda, the team heads to Project: Pegasus, where the Squadron’s been living.
  • The team only gets past security because one of the guards knew Carol back in the day.  They go looking through the Squadron’s stuff for evidence of mind control, and when the Squadron returns home, they fight again.  Since the Squadron is basically the Justice League, the two teams are very evenly matched.  Oh, and Wonder Man is called back by Wanda again.
  • Warbird figures out that there’s something wrong with the commander of Project: Pegasus, and has Hawkeye shoot out his image inducer.  It turns out he’s the Corrupter, and that whatever mind control he was doing was negated at that point.
  • As the team goes to leave, Cap takes an uncharacteristic swipe at Hyperion about how often his team gets mind-controlled, and then gets into it with Warbird, when she still refuses to discuss the changes to her powers.  She flies off in a huff.
  • We discover that the bearded guy behind the Avengers’ problems is none other than Imus Champion.  That is one thing I like about Busiek’s writing – he remembers a lot of characters no one else remembers.
  • Between issues 6 and 7 the team gets involved in a cross-over called Live Kree or Die! that began in issues of Iron Man, Captain America, and Quicksilver.  Basically, some Kree are trying to genetically alter all people on Earth to become Kree by using a device on the Moon.  The Supreme Intelligence does not agree with this plan.
  • The team has discovered Warbird’s alcoholism, and hold a hearing to decide whether or not she should remain on the team.  After testimony and outbursts, they are all voting to place her on ‘inactive’ status; before Wanda can cast the final vote, they are interrupted by the news that the Lunatic Legion (that’s what the Kree are calling themselves) are about to use their device on the Earth.  They rush off, leaving Warbird behind (although Wanda finds some time to sit at a window and navel gaze for a bit before they leave).
  • Justice, Firestar, and Quicksilver come with the team, and everyone gets in a fight on the Moon with the Kree.  
  • Warbird decides to join them, but isn’t able to fly to the Moon under her own power.
  • Thor creates a portal to get rid of the Kree device, but isn’t able to keep it fully powered.  Justice suggests that Firestar use her powers to keep the portal open, but apparently that puts her at some kind of risk.  His enthusiasm is already irritating.
  • The risk averted, Cap questions the Supreme Intelligence on whether or not he is the one who warned them about the Kree, while Carol sits at a bar nursing a drink.
  • In the late 90s and early 00s, Marvel stopped calling their annuals by that name, at least in the indicia, and so we got Avengers/Squadron Supreme ‘98, a one-shot that wrapped up all the Squadron Supreme plotlines.
  • During a training session that randomly included Swordsman and Magdalene, and at which Justice got all enthusiastic again, the Avengers received a distress call from Moonglow, of the Squadron Supreme.  Expecting them to have been put under mind control again, the team flies out to meet them.
  • After some posturing, they realize that someone did try to mind control the Squadron, but they stopped it from happening.  The two teams fly off together to investigate, and come across Imus Champion, who has some weird plot involving bombs which will explode all across the country if the team doesn’t catch him before he can go to a tower where he will set them off.  He’s blanketed the area with electromagnetics, so they can’t warn anyone.
  • The two teams split into squads of two to four, and each grouping gives Busiek the chance to work on the characters, before Champion shows up and defeats them all, using different devices he’s selected for that task.
  • Having taken everyone out, he goes to set off his bombs (still not sure why), but is stopped by Giant-Man, who was informed of what was going on by ants sent by Firestar (although, how did she do that?).
  • Iron Man finds a device that can send the Squadron back to their own dimension with the help of Magdalene (how convenient that she was around before).  They go home, except Haywire stays (was he ever seen again?), and Swordsman and Magdalene use the same device to leave Earth.
  • Jarvis takes a day off to meet the girl he has been sponsoring from Costa Verde, who is coming to New York.  When he goes, her plane bursts open, full of armored terrorists, apparently led by Silverclaw.
  • Back at the mansion, Firestar, Justice, and Scarlet Witch all get new uniforms.  I have never been a fan of George Perez’s costume designs, and that continues with these three.  It’s a bit racist the way Wanda talks about honoring her ‘gypsy’ roots, and that means dressing like a scarlet belly dancer.  Firestar is not happy with the cleavage she is showing, and her and Vance argue.
  • Captain America practises with his new energy-shield, and Thor quits the team because of personal reasons (this is the Jake Olson Thor era).  Hawkeye doesn’t trust the Thunderbolts, and Wanda gives Vision the cold shoulder.
  • The team learns of what’s happening at the airport, and go to help out.  They fight the terrorists, but get trapped in an energy shield thing.  The Avengers learn that this attack is being orchestrated by Moses Magnum, who has a terrible costume.  That’s when Triathlon shows up to help them out, freeing them from the energy thing so they can attack the Magnum Force.  The Magnum people have been after a seismic cannon thing, which they use to try to destroy a building.
  • Thor and Iron Man show up to help out, but the Magnum Force escape, with Triathlon holding on to their plane.
  • The Avengers learn that Silverclaw is innocent, having been forced into helping the Magnum Force in return for their promising not to harm anyone.  As it turns out, she is the girl that Jarvis was coming to meet, and she is the daughter of the volcano or something, which gives her shapeshifting abilities based on the animals of the jungle.  Funny that she never mentioned that in her years of correspondence with Jarvis, or that the traditional hero of a village would require sponsorship through a World Vision sort of organization…
  • Back at the mansion, Wanda manifests Wonder Man, which she refused to do during the battle, and they make out.  Vision sees this.
  • The Avengers, with Silverclaw, infiltrate the Evangeline, a massive floating hotel/casino complex, because they were called in by Triathlon, informing them that Moses Magnum was there.
  • Triathlon explains his origin to Hawkeye.  He is a disgraced Olympic athlete, who after being caught using steroids, ended up involved with the Triune Understanding, a Scientology-like cult which granted him abilities.
  • Hawkeye and Triathlon are found by Magnum, after he goes through some villainous ranting, and soon they, and the rest of the Avengers, are all fighting.  Wanda almost takes him out, but he knocks her out instead.  Wonder Man appears and flies Magnum off the cruise ship to dry land.
  • Magnum’s powers are out of control, and we learn about his past with Apocalypse, who he had been hiding from at sea.  The ground opens and Magnum disappears.
  • When the Avengers return to the mansion, Hawkeye leaves them a note telling them that he has left the team.
  • New York City holds a parade for the Avengers to help them celebrate their anniversary, which of course coincides with the 35th anniversary of the comic’s creation.  There are a ton of cameos, as different heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men react to seeing the parade, either live or on TV.  We also check in on people like Imus Champion and Ultron, who are grumbly.
  • Wanda skips the parade, instead driving out to visit Agatha Harkness to find out what’s going on with Wonder Man.  This occassions another long retelling of Wanda’s history (much of which just got retconned away), and she learns that she can bring him back to life by loving him.
  • The Grim Reaper appears at the press conference at the end of the Avengers’ parade, and he uses some energy to resurrect some dead Avengers:  Captain Mar-Vell, Doctor Druid, Hellcat (I don’t remember her ever being dead or coming back), Mockingbird, Swordsman, Thunderstrike, and Wonder Man.  These dead Avengers take out the live team pretty quickly, protected by an energy barrier that surrounds much of Central Park.
  • Wanda returns to the mansion, not knowing what has happened, and is surprised to find a bunch of her dead friends and colleagues holding Jarvis hostage.
  • The Grim Reaper has the rest of the team trussed up in Central Park, retelling his backstory, while other heroes try in vain to break through his energy barrier.
  • Wanda, tied up, uses her abilities to free the Dead Avengers from the Reaper’s influence.  They fly off, but Agatha Harkness (who came from where?) keeps her from going to the rest of the team.
  • The Dead Avengers free the live ones, and the Reaper summons a bunch of creatures, so all these characters would each have something to fight.  
  • Wanda works at reviving Wonder Man permanently, which causes the other Dead Avengers to disappear.  Wonder Man stops the Grim Reaper, and then latter cuddles with Wanda on the couch at the mansion.
  • The Vision returns to his fully healed body, and Simon awkwardly wants to hang out with him and Wanda together.  Firestar is given a bodysuit that should fix her powers so she isn’t at risk of becoming sterile when she uses them, and Vance chats with Cap about his nervousness.
  • Hawkeye, as leader of the Thunderbolts, tries to secure them a new base in the remains of Dominus’s old base.  The Avengers arrive, thinking that the Thunderbolts have kidnapped Hawkeye.  There is fighting, until Clint calms everyone down.
  • The base transforms into Dominex, a giant robot that wants to destroy the Earth.  It knocks everyone out.  The Thunderbolts wake up first, and go after it.  The Avengers, roused by Firebird, pursue later.
  • The two teams have to work together to stop Dominex, and the Avengers end up showing trust to the Thunderbolts, who we should remember, are all former villains.
  • Justice and Firestar spend the night with their old team, the New Warriors, helping them take down a tech gang which then leads them to an AIM warehouse.
  • The Avengers have a meeting to discuss the fact that Captain America is missing, that Iron Man is out injured, and that Thor is really busy.  They want to name Scarlet Witch deputy leader until Cap returns, but she is reluctant at first.
  • While the New Warriors fight AIM, they get interrupted by a new villain, Lord Templar, who wants the weapons for himself.  Angelica calls in the Avengers to help, and Templar calls forth six Avatars of Templar to fight them.  Eventually, Wanda figures out that LT is vulnerable, and gets Thor to smack him down.  Templar escapes while the Avengers and New Warriors flee the exploding building they are in.
  • Vance considers leaving the Avengers, since he felt more confident fighting with his old team, but now Angelica likes it there.
  • The Beast shows up at the mansion, looking to hang out with Wonder Man again.  He ends up going out to a jazz bar (looks like the Blue Note) with him and Wanda, and they run into the Vision there.
  • We learn that Hank Pym has been working for a company called Nugent Technologies, where he thought he was doing pure research, yet the company has other plans for his work…
  • A big monster-dude named Pagan tears up Times Square, and manages to hold off the whole team.  He has some sort of connection to or animosity for Lord Templar.  After proving that he can beat them, he dives into the Earth and tunnels away.
  • Wanda is not impressed with Cap’s leadership in the fight against Pagan, and pulls him aside to discuss it, while the Beast returns to Muir Island to try to cure the Legacy Virus.
  • Wanda takes on the job of being the Avengers’ ‘morale officer’, trying to help Cap run the team more effectively.  Iron Man returns, and brings devices that should be able to help the team find Lord Templar.
  • Their search brings them to the Triune Understanding’s new headquarters, where Triathlon tries to keep them away.  Pagan shows up (very conveniently) and starts wrecking the place.  The Avengers have a hard time stopping him, even with Triathlon’s help, but Lord Templar shows up and is able to hurl him into deep space.  Only Wanda notices that Templar should not be powerful enough to stop Pagan, seeing as Thor couldn’t beat Pagan but he could Templar.
  • We learn that Templar is in cahoots with the leader of the Triune Understanding, L. Ron Hubbard.  I mean Jonathan Tremont.  We also learn that the Wrecking Crew are on the loose, and that Ultron has been running the company that Hank Pym works for.
  • Kurt Busiek and George Perez took a well-deserved break for three issues starting in #16, with Jerry Ordway stepping in to tell a story that fits perfectly within the continuity established in the book. This is not a fill-in, and you can tell that Busiek was consulted deeply, and knew what the plans were for a while.
  • We learn that the Wrecking Crew, recently released and powered-up, are expected to do the bidding of an alien robot thing, which is interested tracking down Ms. Marvel (we know her as Warbird).  The Wrecking Crew, not being too bright, go looking for Photon, who used to be Captain Marvel.
  • Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, comes by Avengers Mansion to work out and visit, but his visit is interrupted by Photon’s arrival, warning of what the Wrecking Crew are up to in New Orleans.  The Avengers fly out.
  • The fight doesn’t go as well as it should, considering the opponents, and the Crew get their hands on Photon.  Justice gets smacked by the flat of Black Knight’s sword, knocking him out.  Their robot boss realizes that this is not who he wants, and goes looking for Carol Danvers, who is back in New York, and who snubs the Wasp on the street.
  • Robot boss teleports Danvers away, and tries to remotely disintegrate the Wrecking Crew and Photon, but Wanda’s magic somehow transports them to Polemachus, the home of Arkon and Thundra.
  • The Avengers head to Polemachus, leaving the injured Justice with Iron Man.  Polemachus is in bad shape, as it looks like the Wrecking Crew have been wrecking.
  • Vance is put on the injured reserve list (he has a concussion), and Wasp and Giant-Man show up at the Mansion, looking for help to find Warbird.
  • We see that Warbird, now in her original Ms. Marvel outfit, is the prisoner of the robot, who we learn is the Doomsday Man, who was present when Carol got her powers.  After some exposition, she gets free and starts fighting him.  Iron Man, Wasp, and Giant-Man show up to help her.
  • On Polemachus, the Avengers are attacked by the Polemachans (?) who think they might be working with the Wrecking Crew, who have captured Arkon.  Black Knight is mouthy, and Firestar doesn’t like him.
  • Justice shows up at the battle with Doomsday Man, against doctor’s orders, and helps defeat him, even though he ends up with a worse headache and a broken leg.  It turns out that Doomsday Man had a person inside him, Kerwin Korman, the Destructor, who was also around when Carol got her powers.
  • The Wrecking Crew capture Captain America, but it’s all part of a plan to infiltrate the palace, where we learn that the Vizier is behind the coup.  Cap and Vision fight inside the palace, while the rest of the Avengers support Thundra’s people in taking back their planet.  Photon gets freed, the Wrecking Crew knocked out and de-powered, and Arkon gets his throne back.
  • Firestar becomes friends with the Black Knight, and the Avengers return home.
  • Later, at Nugent Technologies, Hank Pym is attacked by a bunch of robots, and that’s the end of Jerry Ordway’s tenure.
  • Busiek and Perez return and launch into their Ultron story, which is a highpoint of their run together.
  • A robotic intruder invades a Wakandan-run Quinjet plant in Long Island.  Black Panther shows up to try to stop it.
  • The Avengers hold a press conference where they get slammed for not having minorities on the team, while Firestar and Justice move into the Mansion, and while Scarlet Witch dances at a Transian restaurant, and Vision spies on her.
  • The Wasp interrupts the press conference bringing news that Hank Pym has been abducted by a robot.  While they talk about this, they learn about the Long Island situation and fly off to help Black Panther.  Everyone thinks this is an Ultron problem.
  • When they get there, they discover Alkhema-2 (this character must have shown up during the long stretch of mid-90s Avengers comics I didn’t read).  Scarlet Witch finally gets the drop on her.
  • The team learns that Ultron has attacked the nation of Slorenia, massacring civilians and destroying the main city.  At the Pentagon, they learn that Ultron has killed every person in the country, so he can use it as the beginnings of a coming robot civilization.
  • Alkhema, now a prisoner and immobilized, does not help the Avengers, but does send some kind of signal somewhere.
  • Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, and Vision investigate Hank Pym’s abduction in NJ, and we get a lengthy look back over Pym’s life with Janet.  They are attacked by a large number of Ultrons, captured, and imprisoned alongside Pym and Grim Reaper, while Captain America leads a force of UN soldiers towards Slorenia.
  • The Avengers and the UN troops fight their way through hordes of dead Slorenians that have been turned into cyborg zombies by Ultron while Ultron talks a lot to his captives about his plans to use their brainwaves to create new synthetic life.
  • When Black Panther and Firestar get close to Ultron’s lab, he goes and fights them himself.  It takes the combined efforts of the Avengers to stop him, at which point they discover that there are hundreds of more Ultrons around them.
  • While this was going on, some other robots come to free Alkhema, and Justice studies Ultron’s history.
  • While Ultron scans the brainwaves of his ‘family’, the Avengers continue to fight massive numbers of Ultrons.  Iron Man rejigs a device inside an ultron, a molecular rearranger, turning it into a weapon that can wreck the Ultrons.
  • Vision tries to appeal to Ultron on a personal and emotional level, but it doesn’t work, although it buys him time to hack the computer systems around him, and he’s able to free the captive Avengers, just as the other Avengers break into the same chamber.  Perez kills this page.
  • Justice shows up with some vibranium, which Pym uses to destroy Ultron.  Later, Alkhema gets the scanned brainwave patterns.
  • After the craziness of the Ultron story, Busiek and Perez give us a quieter issue.  Cap is happy to have his shield back, Justice is feeling confident, and the public is upset about the lack of racial diversity on the team (although Iron Man and Black Panther are suspicious of what’s working behind the scenes).
  • Wanda tries to have a conversation with Vision about how he has been hiding his emotions, and when Simon enters the conversation, Vision loses his temper.  He feels like a poor copy of Wonder Man, while Simon has always been envious of him.  Vision flies off, basically leaving the team.
  • The protests against the Avengers continue, with anti-mutant hysteria tossed into the mix.  Justice gets his cast off, and a new, even uglier uniform from the Wasp.
  • Quicksilver comes by the Mansion, and discovers reporters going through the team’s garbage.  He learns that they, and many of the protestors, are members of the Triune Understanding, lending credence to Iron Man’s theory.  We learn that Duane Freeman is also part of Triune, and he pushes for the organization’s innocence in this matter.  
  • A giant stone structure flies over Manhattan, wrecking stuff, but resisting the Avenger’s attempts to stop it.  This thing belongs to the Exemplars, a group of powerful characters clearly designed by Erik Larsen (who look terrible under Perez’s pencil), who are after the Juggernaut, who comes to the Avengers for help.  The Exemplar’s capture Juggernaut, and fly off to execute him.
  • The Avengers appear to take their time getting ready to rescue Juggernaut.  Stark and Pym build a device, Hercules comes to help out, people protest, Cap distrusts Duane, Wanda and Pietro chat, Jan and Simon chat, and then they fly off to the rescue, very randomly joined by Spider-Man and Nova (who contributes nothing).
  • The team fight the Exemplars, and eventually are subdued and captured, except for Cap, who reasons with the mystically powered beings, trying to appeal to the original person inside of them.  He gets through to one, who uses her mind powers to get through to the others.  They fly off.
  • Back in New York, the team is beset upon by the media, and Thor loses his temper.  Captain America decides to leave the team, in the hope that a change in leadership will allow them a fresh start.
  • Cap goes around assembling a small team to help him on a secret mission, claiming he hasn’t quit the Avengers, and is instead going undercover to try to figure out what the Triune Understanding are up to.  He recruits Silverclaw, Warbird, and Ant-Man (Scott Lang).  Captain Marvel (Genis) also shows up to help, completely out of the blue.
  • We learn that Jonathan Tremont, the leader of the Triune, gains power from his followers’ beliefs.
  • Cap and his squad sneak into the Triune’s tower headquarters, and discover a large device which Cap immediately recognizes as a will-suppressor, which he wants to destroy.  The others think this is outside of Cap’s character, and he reveals that he is really Taskmaster, and he has some goons fight them.  They take him out, but Tremont shows up and knocks them out.
  • When they come to, they find themselves in a pit, with the building gone around them.  The media keeps referring to them as the Avengers, which they find odd.
  • The team has a big meeting to sort out their issues.  Justice and Firestar leave on vacation, Wonder Man does the same, Thor storms off when Duane Freeman asks him to apologize to the media, Wasp and Goliath (new costume and name for Pym) return, the oddball team from the issue before arrive to apologize, which leads to Warbird rejoining the team, partly under court order due to her involvement in the destruction of an airplane, and when Jonathan Tremont and Triathlon arrive to meet with the Avengers, Triathlon stops an attack on the mansion by guys in masks with high-tech weapons.
  • Duane suggests that Triathlon be made a member of the team, and Iron Man sees this as part of a larger conspiracy against them being perpetrated by the Triune Understanding.  Triathlon hears this conversation, and agrees to join the team as a way of proving himself.
  • Wasp calls She-Hulk and gets her on the team to fill in for the Vision, who is still missing.  At the press conference to announce the new line-up, no one seems too happy, especially Duane.
  • Silverclaw gets word that there are bad things happening back in her hometown, and the team agrees, after doing some public relations demolition work, to accompany her.  We see that the problem involves Kulan Gath, the old Conan villain who was used brilliantly in an Uncanny X-Men story that once featured the Avengers (which, I think, they must have forgotten about).
  • During the flight to South America, Silverclaw recounts her complete origin, including the possibility that her mother is the goddess Peliali.
  • The team finds her village completely transformed, are attacked by guys on giant birds, and when they try to enter the village, are themselves transformed into medieval/fantasy versions of themselves (She-Hulk is basically dressed as Red Sonja, which is awesome, and Goliath becomes a swashbuckling version of Yellowjacket, which isn’t).  After leaving the town limits, the Avengers decide to camp out there, and Triathlon gives attitude about having to get water for his teammates.  
  • The Avengers see that Kulan Gath’s followers are attacking Peliali, and go to help her, but are stopped by some of Gath’s other followers.  The god disappears, and the team splits up.  Iron Man and Wasp go to stop the local military from intervening, and being trapped in Gath’s spell, while the rest infiltrate the village, using Wanda’s magic to keep from being transformed.  
  • They end up in a big bar brawl, while Gath narrates his origin to the captured volcano god.  The Avengers are all knocked out with a magic gas or something, and get trussed up to watch Gath sacrifice Peliali as a ticket to get to some other dimension.
  • Goliath and Warbird are able to free the Avengers, just as Iron Man and the Wasp show up with the local military.  There’s a lot of fighting, but in the end, Gath is able to stab Peliali, although he doesn’t kill her, and is himself taken by the creatures he was trying to summon.
  • Silverclaw watches her goddess mother who she’s never met die, and then becomes a reserve Avenger.
  • We learn that a shadowy figure who’s been hinted at over the last couple of issues, and who helped the team out secretly, is actually Yellowjacket, which is confusing, since Hank Pym is shown on the same page.
  • In the Avengers 2000 Annual, which fits around here, Hellcat, newly returned to life, finds herself in trouble when she learns that the Sons of the Serpent, now dabbling in the occult, have turned most of the town where she grew up into demons.  She calls in Moondragon for help, who in turn brings in Captain America, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Songbird, and they fight the Salem Seven, eventually freeing everyone.
  • After running some tests, Iron Man (who is in his classic armor) determines that there is nothing wrong with Hank Pym, despite his recent difficulty in using his powers.  We also see that tiny Yellowjacket is wandering the mansion, before he heads out into the city.
  • Triathlon and She-Hulk train together, and Delroy starts to make friends on the team.  Wanda can’t figure out why Wonder Man came back to town but didn’t come see her.
  • The Vision contacts the team.  He’s been following the Grim Reaper, and has a line on him, Madame Masque, and the various leaders of the Maggia (I’ve always found this name hilarious; it stems from Marvel’s not being able to use the word mafia at one point).
  • The Avengers go to Chicago to break up the Maggia meeting, where they fight Dreadnoughts, and capture a bunch of bad guys.  Madame Masque blows up her head (more or less proving she’s a robot), while the Grim Reaper escapes.  Iron Man is worried about Masque.
  • With the Vision back, She-Hulk leaves the team, just as Black Widow arrives to help sort out what’s going on with Madame Masque and the Maggia.
  • Triathlon stands up to the leader of the Triune, Vision asks Warbird on a date, and the other Hank Pym starts a bar brawl with a bunch of scientists.
  • We get basically a full recap of Madame Masque’s life, including that of one of her bio-duplicates who used to hang out with the Avengers as Mask in the 90s.
  • The Grim Reaper, with a bunch of goons, goes to attack Masque, but instead finds the Avengers.  Masque sends out a bunch of robots to join in the fight, but it all gets interrupted when Count Nefaria shows up with Wonder Man and Atlas in tow.
  • There is a lot of fighting, which is narrated by a very paranoid Madame Masque, who believes the Avengers are working with her father to capture her.  By the end of it all, Nefaria takes off with Wonder Man and Atlas, Goliath acts weird, Grim Reaper gets captured by the Avengers, as does Masque.
  • She agrees to help the team enact her ‘Nefaria Protocols’, after learning from the Thunderbolts and Black Widow that Nefaria plans to irradiate the entire Earth.  This leads the story into Thunderbolts #44, which I didn’t read for this column.
  • The combined Avengers and Thunderbolts, with Captain America tossed in at some point, are in a pitched battle with Count Nefaria.  Madame Masque’s device has freed Wonder Man and Atlas from his influence, but he doesn’t need them to hold off all of these heroes.  He delays them so they can’t stop his bomb from exploding, by trying to wreck a local town.
  • Mask tries to convince Madame Masque to help, especially since she’s built a working model of her anti-Nefaria device that should stop him, but it takes the bio-duplicate’s own sacrifice to convince Masque to help out.
  • Nefaria more or less makes himself blow up in rage, while Wonder Man and Atlas stop the bomb by absorbing its ionic power.  Masque tries to sneak away, but Mach-2 stops her and gives her a communications device in case she ever wants to talk.
  • Other Hank Pym sees the Wasp on TV in a bar.  He also sees himself, but doesn’t say anything about that.

The first thing that needs to be discussed here is Perez’s art.  There is no one finer when it comes to creating double-page spreads that could feature as many as thirty characters, each with different facial expressions and body language.  The man was, at this point, a machine, pencilling all but four of thirty-four issues (there were a couple he just did lay outs on, but whatever).  Of these thirty comics, more than a few were double-sized.  It’s a very impressive body of work, and impossible to imagine in today’s world.

While I’ve always been a fan of Perez’s work, I’ve never much liked his costume designs, and that is something that continued here, with Justice, Firestar, Triathlon, Silverclaw, and the Scarlet Witch all suffering some pretty terrible looks (although, when put next to Mark Bagley’s Thunderbolts, they look fantastic).

Still, Perez made each of these characters look like individuals.  In too many comics, it’s impossible to tell Hawkeye from Captain America when they aren’t in uniform; that never happens here (because Clint’s always angry).

Busiek also needs to be recognized for doing some of the best work of his career on this run.  He returned the book to a more classic understanding of what the team was for, and made it the flagship Marvel title once again.  He had the Avengers face both classic and obscure foes, and was always ready with a (sometimes too lengthy) flashback or explanation, so that a reader did not need his encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe to understand the nuances of his story.

I particularly like the way Busiek honors other writers, matching the continuity of other books.  Leaving the aside the characters who had their own titles at this point, Busiek focused on the other Avengers like Ms. Marvel, Vision, Justice, and Firestar, who otherwise didn’t get a lot of chance to develop.  I particularly like the way he wrote the Scarlet Witch, who began to grow as a leader over his tenure, and become a much stronger character than the victim she was usually portrayed as.  These books made me bemoan the last ten years or so of her history, as she has become such a terrible character today.

One thing I really admire about Busiek’s run is the slow burn approach he’s taken to building up plotlines.  We’ve known since about issue 8 that the Triune Understanding are no good, yet at the end of Perez’s run, this has still not been addressed.  That’s something I miss in mainstream comics today, where no one other than Jonathan Hickman and occasionally Rick Remender write with a picture in mind bigger than a twelve or eighteen issue run.

One thing I find interesting going through these issues is how poorly Marvel promoted their other titles at that time.  Avengers Forever, Busiek’s incredible miniseries with Carlos Pacheco does get mentioned, but things like Annuals and the Avengers Infinity miniseries are not advertised at all.  

Anyway, I’ve stopped writing about this series at issue 34 because Perez left.  Busiek stayed on for quite a while after that, so next time, I’ll be examining the remainder of his run, which had him working with artists like Alan Davis and Kieron Dwyer.

I started writing these retro-review columns about a year ago, and began with the original volume of the Avengers, around the point where my collection solidified into a complete run.  If you are interested in reading about it, here are some links.

 

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