Retro-Reviews: Marvel Comics’ The Avengers Vol. 3 #77-84 By Chuck Austen, Olivier Coipel & Scott Kolins

Avengers Vol. 3 #77-84 (October ‘02-February ‘04)

Written by Chuck Austen (#77-84)

Pencilled by Olivier Coipel (#77-78, 80-81), Sean Chen (#79), Scott Kolins (#82-84)

Inked by Andy Lanning (#77-78, 80-81), Tom Simmons (#79)

Spoilers (from eleven to thirteen years ago)

I have taken no time to research this, but I believe that Geoff Johns’s run on the Avengers was cut short by the exclusive contract battles of the beginning of the 21st century that were waged between DC and Marvel.  It was clear that Johns had a longer run in mind, with some of the storylines he was setting up in his run, but then he suddenly had to finish his plots, kill off Jack of Hearts in a rush, and run for the door.

I really don’t know what the plan was around bringing Chuck Austen on-board to take over.  Did Austen intend to stay with the comic for a good long time (like his seemingly endless time on Uncanny X-Men during the same period), or was he aware that he was simply keeping the lights on until Brian Michael Bendis could take over the book and rip it to shreds?  

Austen seems to feel like he’s in control of things.  His run is notable for two things that were almost instantly forgotten about – the introduction of the new Captain Britain and her family, and the beginning of a romance between Janet Van Dyne and Clint Barton.  Were this simply a fill-in gig, I don’t know why either story element would have been greenlit.

Austen’s run was highly decompressed, ignored much of what Kurt Busiek and Johns had established as status quo, and ended very abruptly.  He didn’t so much winnow down the team as just ignore characters he didn’t want to work with (in particular, Ant-Man, Vision, and Falcon, to say nothing of the Black Panther, who just disappeared completely).  He also didn’t much care for established characterizations of the characters who did make up his core team.
Here’s the line-up, such as it was, during his run:

  • Captain America (Steve Rogers)
  • Hawkeye (Clint Barton)
  • Wasp (Janet Van Dyne)
  • She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters)
  • Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)
  • Iron Man (Tony Stark)
  • Yellowjacket/Giant-Man (Hank Pym; reverted randomly to Giant-Man in #82)
  • Ant-Man (Scott Lang; first shown #81)
  • Captain Britain (Kelsey Leigh; first appeared as Kelsey #77, became Captain Britain #80; joined team #81)
  • Vision (first shown #82)
  • Falcon (Sam Wilson; first shown #82)
  • Warbird (Carol Danvers; non-speaking cameo #82)

Also of great importance are the supporting cast members:

  • Martin Leigh (Captain Britain’s son)
  • Jenny Leigh (Captain Britain’s daughter)
  • Mrs. Shorr (Captain Britain’s mother)
  • Edwin Jarvis (first shown #83)
  • Henry Peter Gyrich (official UN liaison; first shown #83)

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

  • Austen’s first arc is called “Lionheart of Avalon”, and is set in Ispwich, England.  We meet a young boy, Martin, who sees Captain America as his biggest hero.  His mother has a prominent scar running from forehead to chin, and it is hinted that a man did this to her.
  • Cap and Hawkeye are patrolling Ipswich in their civilian clothes, looking for the Wrecking Crew.  Not one to hide from a theme, Austen has them discussing Clint’s theory that, if Cap were more willing to hit women, he’d have better luck getting a girlfriend.  Yes, this is classic Chuck Austen at work.
  • Martin, his sister, and his mother, go to a local pub for ice cream, even though the mother doesn’t like being stared at in public.  We learn that the mother’s name is Kelsey Leigh, since she works it into her conversation with her children, who presumably already knew her name.
  • Wasp signals Clint and Steve that she’s found the Wrecking Crew, so they change into their uniforms in the middle of the sidewalk.  Classic Austen again.
  • Wasp has grown to Giant-Man size, and is holding an armored car and three of the Wrecking Crew.  Thunderball wraps his chain around her ankle, and starts pulling her around, while Cap and Hawkeye try to figure out how to get to the other side of the block to help her.  Cap keeps calling for Jennifer, presumably She-Hulk, but she never shows up.  
  • The family watches from the pub window, and Martin gets excited when Cap runs through the pub.
  • Thunderball manages to pull Wasp down on a building, and then she decides to shrink.  Cap knocks out Thunderball with one punch, but he recovers and tries to kill him.  Kelsey and her kids are now outside the pub, and unable to get back in, because the door is stuck (really), so Cap tries to block for them.  He’s knocked out, and Thunderball is about to crush him with his thunder ball.
  • We see that She-Hulk is also in Ipswich, helping first responders rescue someone in a crushed car.
  • Thunderball is about to kill Captain America, but Kelsey grabs his shield and deflects the blow.  The member of the Wrecking Crew and her start trading literary quotes with one another, as he continues to try to crush her and Cap.  She tells the kids to run inside the wrecked pub, but they don’t.
  • Hawkeye interrupts a very annoying conversation between the Wrecker and Piledriver, and then shoots them with arrows (remember, these guys have beaten up Thor).
  • She-Hulk finally shows up just as Thunderball hits Kelsey again, and she passes out on Cap’s chest.  She-Hulk grabs his wrecking ball from him, and beats him up.
  • She-Hulk and the newly awakened Wasp decide that Kelsey and Cap need to go to the hospital.  Jan grows to Giant-Man size, and walks them off to one of Tony Stark’s mansions, while the kids hang out with She-Hulk and Hawkeye.  We learn just how devoted an Avengers fan Martin is.
  • At Tony’s mansion, we learn that he, Scarlet Witch, and Yellowjacket are also in England, although there is no explanation as to why they weren’t helping with the search for the Wrecking Crew, who, while stupid, are major villains.
  • Wanda fixes Cap’s broken jaw with her hex powers, but we learn that Kelsey has died of her injuries (which, I guess, Wanda didn’t try to fix?).
  • While Cap, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, and Yellowjacket stand over Kelsey’s body, Hawkeye and She-Hulk bring her children into the room. Cap loses his temper and starts yelling at Clint, while the kids freak out about their mother.  Jen tries to calm the kids down, while Clint feels bad.  Weirdly, no one blames Jen for bringing the kids in the room, even though she was also there.
  • Cap and Clint continue to squabble while the woman’s body is put in a Quinjet.
  • Cap takes Martin for a walk while Jen cuddles Jenny.
  • The rest of the Avengers stand around talking about how hard it is to live without a mother.  Hank doesn’t quite see the problem, and then Hawkeye brings up the fact that Hank used to hit Jan, because of course Chuck Austen is going to bring that up again.
  • Apparently Hank thought that the other Avengers never knew about that, although I’m very sure it’s been discussed openly before.  They argue, and leave the room.
  • Angry, Hawkeye grabs some special arrows that were apparently made by Thor to fight people at his power level, and that he gave to Iron Man.  Because of course Thor makes and gives powerful arrows to the guy in a technological suit, instead of the archer on the team.
  • There is more melodrama, because Chuck Austen.
  • In the holding cells, the Wrecking Crew are arguing too.  It’s clear that someone or something has taken over Thunderball, and when the Wrecker makes reference to a female employer, without saying her name, Thunderball gets angry and starts fighting.
  • This is interrupted by Hawkeye shooting Thunderball in the arm with one of Thor’s arrows, which just sticks out of his arm.  Then Thunderball hits it against the cell door, and it explodes, which makes no sense.
  • The Crew give Hawkeye a beating.
  • A shadowed figure in white gloves appears standing over Kelsey’s body, saying that Avalon needs her.
  • We see Kelsey standing in a Henge, where oversized, ghostly images of Brian Braddock and Meggan appear.  They tell her that ‘Avalon’ needs a champion, and that it should be her.  They tell her to pick between a sword and a pendant, but tell her if she picks the wrong thing, she will never be able to see her children again.  She picks the sword, and is transformed into the new Captain Britain, wearing a variant of Braddock’s old uniform.
  • She is told that if she ever reveals herself to her children, they will die horribly.  She also is told that she needs to fight an evil, but there is no specific evil mentioned.
  • The Wrecking Crew move to steal the Quinjet, taking Hawkeye with them.  Jan sees this, and increases her size to giant form, wrecking Tony’s home.
  • Despite the fact that this has happened right outside the Quinjet, the Crew have time to argue about how to fly it away.  Thunderball looks into Clint’s eyes, and learns how to fly the jet.
  • This is when Jan decides to tear the jet apart, but they launch it anyway.  There’s some mayhem.  Wanda subdues most of the Wrecking Crew, while Jan and Tony try to stop the Quinjet, which crashes into a nearby village.
  • Thunderball is attacked by Captain Britain, who stabs him through the chest with a sword she’s never shown having again.  
  • A woman appears, Thunderball’s master, and he is turned into a guy in Medieval armor.  Wanda arrives, just as she, Captain Britain, the knight, and the woman disappear in a flash of light.
  • Cap and Jen have taken the children to their grandmother, where they learn the older lady is not likely to be able to care for the kids.
  • In the wrecked village, Jan finally shrinks down.
  • We learn that the others were taken to Otherworld, where Captain Britain continues to beat on the knight until Wanda stops her.  We see that the mysterious woman has Brian Braddock chained up, and he and Kelsey start to argue.  The woman, who we figure out is Morgan Le Fey, although she’s not named, expects that torturing Braddock would destroy England.  The knight who used to be Thunderball uses one of the arrows from Thor (what a weird plot device that is) to hit Kelsey, and parts of London explode, which gives Le Fey power (Kelsey calls her Morgan, although how she knew that is never explained).
  • The knight, who Morgan calls the Black Knight, is about to poke out one of Kelsey’s eyes, when Captain America stops him, although his presence is not explained, nor the fact that he came alone, when we’d just seen him with She-Hulk.
  • They all fight, and Kelsey stabs Morgan, which makes her go away.  Then Kelsey’s costume changes to a more updated look, and for all we know, they leave Braddock chained up.  All the creatures that had been surrounding Le Fey have disappeared too, because this is very sloppily written.
  • Later, we see that Captain Britain and her family have moved into Avengers Mansion in New York.  Kelsey is upset that she can’t reveal her identity to them, and her and Wanda talk, then she visits her children and mother, and only the mother secretly recognizes her, and then she goes to lie down and cry.  Chuck Austen, people.
  • In the Middle East, John Walker (USAgent) negotiates with a terrorist group that is holding an American prisoner.  The prisoner is Mark Todd, the Blazing Skull, who has been alive since 1910.  Walker claims that global violence is worse now than it was when Todd was the Skull, which would have been during the Second World War, so that’s a very strange statement.  Chuck Austen.
  • At Avengers Mansion, the Avengers hold a funeral for Kelsey Leigh, attended by some random Avengers, most of whom weren’t present in England when she died, and her family.  Kelsey is also there, as Captain Britain, but that’s still a secret to everyone except Scarlet Witch.
  • Captain America gives a speech about the nobility of being an Avenger, and Kelsey scoffs, which leads to an argument between the Captains, which ends when she blows up the statue of herself that serves as her gravestone, and storms off.
  • Later, Cap, Tony, and Hank (who skipped the funeral and is now in his Giant-Man uniform again) talk about the fact that Cap. Britain might be Kelsey, and how it’s not that bad to grow up without a mother.
  • Hawkeye, recovering from the beating the Wrecking Crew gave him, has a conversation with the Wasp, sort of reveals that he is in love with her, and they make out.  Chuck Austen.
  • In the Middle East, the terrorists ask for more money for the Blazing Skull, so Walker kills them.  He’s dressed in a weird version of Captain America’s uniform, and goes by that name.  The Skull joins the fight, and they are joined by the new Invaders – Union Jack and Spitfire.  Walker claims that they are reforming the Invaders, and are going to ‘end the Avengers.’
  • Clint and Jan, post kiss, are chatting, when they are interrupted by Cap and Giant-Man.  Hank makes a joke, and things get tense between he and Clint.
  • Walker is in a helicopter with his Invader crew, flying over an ocean.  They arrive at a confusing battle at sea, featuring an oil tanker, two attacking vessels, and some Atlantean crab ship things that are trying to defend the tanker.  The Invaders join the fight, including a naked girl named Tara, kept in a torpedo tube under the helicopter, who burns when exposed to oxygen like the original Human Torch used to.  Spitfire and Union Jack, who stay on the copter with Walker (who is fully dressed like Captain America) are not too happy to be on this squad, but explain that they have to work with Walker because their government ordered them to.
  • Back at Avengers Mansion, Clint and Jan continue to talk about his feelings for her while the rest of the team has lunch.
  • In Atlantis, Namor feeds a big lunch to the Invaders, and they form a mutual plan to invade the nation of Mazikhandar, to protect Atlantis from pollution, and to provide America with a new oil supply.  Why this needs to involve the two Brits, is never clear.
  • At the Mansion, Gyrich acknowledges that the Invaders team was planned by a shadow cabinet in the US government, that was somehow a plot by Dell Rusk, who we know was the Red Skull.
  • Clint and Jan hang out, post-coitally, and Hank walks in on them, because this is a Chuck Austen comic.  Hank runs out of the room, and is heard vomiting.
  • A few minutes later, the Avengers (at least Cap, She-Hulk, Captain Britain, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Wasp do; we don’t know why none of the others come) assemble to get in a quinjet.  Cap pulls Hawkeye aside to point out that he has Jan’s underwear hanging from his belt.
  • In Mazikhandar, Walker, Burning Skull, and the Torch, joined by Namor’s forces, are invading.
  • In the capital, Union Jack and Spitfire have snuck into the capitol building, and incapacitate the guards.  They think they have captured the head of state, but aren’t sure it’s not a body double, until the guy’s brother inform them that the ruler only has one testicle, but they don’t want to check.  Chuck Austen.
  • Walker’s group continue their assault, but come across the Avengers.  Apparently Captain Britain can now project force fields from her British staff thing, and uses it to protect some locals.  Cap fights Walker while the rest of the team takes on the rest.
  • Clint and Jan enter into some weird, easy banter while fighting, and Clint comments on how quickly they got to that level in their six or seven-hour long relationship.
  • Cap beats down Walker, and that puts everything on pause.  He reacquaints himself with the Blazing Skull, and lets Walker know that it was the Red Skull who had provided him with his orders.
  • Jan tries to show Clint that she hurt her hand, and he ignores her, and it’s really weird and forced.  Because?  Chuck Austen.
  • As the Avengers go to meet with Namor and the rest of the Invaders, the person that they are installing as the new leader of Mazikhandar shoots his predecessor, and walks back inside.
  • This is the end of Austen’s Avengers run, but since the story continues into The New Invaders #0, I decided to read that comic too.  It’s a mess, as Austen is joined by the New Invaders series writer, Allan Jacobsen.  We learn that the Thin Man has been working behind the scenes, directing the Invaders team.  Namor declares the country of Mazikhandar a protectorate of Atlantis, and the Avengers play supporting roles.

And with that, Austen is done with the Avengers.  His X-Men run was considerably worse, but that’s really only because he had such a large number of issues with which to batter that team.  Remember Sammy the Fish Boy?  Angel having sex with Husk in the sky above her mother?  Juggernaut sleeping with She-Hulk?  The weird love triangle between Iceman, Havok, and a nurse?  The Draco?  It was truly awful stuff.

Here, Austen’s choices were bizarre, and his championing of Kelsey Leigh as a central character who then quickly becomes a third-tier supporting character was really odd.  

It would be interesting to look at how sales of this book changed over the course of his run.  I’d also like to know just how involved editorial was in producing this comic.  I rather imagine that they knew Bendis was going to wipe away all of this stuff (as only he can, with his shaky grasp of continuity), and they just didn’t care.

One strange thing is that artist Olivier Coipel, who was as much a big gun then as he is today, was put on much of the first storyline, and that Austen’s first issue was promoted with one of the $0.50 promotions that were common at that time.  Coipel’s work is nice, but the transition from him to Scott Kolins, was jarring.

Another strange thing is that Austen was used to organize and launch the New Invaders title, but was then never made the writer of that book, beyond co-writing the ‘zero’ issue that finished off his Avengers story.  New Invaders didn’t last long, and is something I only remember for CP Smith’s strange but endearing artwork.

Anyway, comics are a strange business.  I guess I’m glad that I reread this run, but mostly because it was amusing to read and poke fun at it.

Next time, we’ll look at how Bendis started his very long relationship with the Avengers, by ripping them to pieces.

If you want to know your history, here are links to all of my previous Avengers articles:

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