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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:




AVENGERS ANNUAL 10. Could it be the ultimate single issue Marvel comic? The greatest ever? An awe-inspiring distillation of everything that made Marvel great, even in the waning quality that marked the 80s?

It is all of these and more. If you need to know why Marvel comics ruled my adolescence, then look no further. I was in the throes of perhaps my most gripping obsession with the X-MEN and by extension, the Marvel cosmology that was beginning to orbit around the lodestone of Merry Mutant Mayhem, but hadn’t yet reached and surpassed the saturation point that would make the whole of it taste, like the second roasted yam in Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN, sweet, but with something rotten in the middle of it all.

Marvel’s house style might have been defined by the frenetic and overworded prose of Stan Lee, grafted onto plots created by both him and Jack Kirby. But for me, the Marvel style, and that which made it successful and compelling was shaped by the writing of Chris Claremont. He understood, better than any other writer of the time, the importance of character and character-driven drama being at the center of all these crazy misadventures that spanned multitudes of mythologies that you used to be able to get between two flimsy covers for less than fifty cents.

It wasn’t just the Big Ideas and the fisticuffs and exploding buildings in exploding cities on exploding planets in exploding universes that made these books readable and addictive. It was the sense that these characters had a life beyond all those crazy situations, and that those personalities defined how they’d act. And not just the protagonists, but the villains as well.

But let’s start at the cover, shall we? What do we see? What is it that makes this one so outstanding in the field?

That’s right. It’s not an ICONIC PIN-UP cover. It’s not even an action shot with a speech balloon and a caption that absolutely dared you not to pick up the comic because it’s too much for your puny mortal brain to comprehend. Not one, but FIVE glimpses into the gripping story that lay ahead of those who had the seventy-five cents that were needed to walk out with a copy in hand. You figure that if most comics can only cough up one single moment to put on the cover, then that’s about all you’re gonna get. But five! Five crazy story turns was just too much.

I know, there’s really six on the cover, but a cameo appearance by the X-Men doesn’t really make for a salient story point. It’ll sell the hell out of a book, and guarantee that I’d (at age 13) pick it up, though.

But really, there’s more text on that cover than there is in the average issue of a superhero comic today. Even though the art by Al Milgrom is at best, workmanlike, there’s still a sense of gripping excitement in the whole works, simply because it’s such an unusual presentation.

Speaking of covers, when was the last time that a cover artist was absolutely blown out of the water by the interiors? I know, doesn’t happen much these days. And really, it didn’t happen all that often then. The covers, and not Previews, were the primary sales tools, and they by God had better do their job or the newsstand might not be carrying that book in a couple months. However, in this case, the cover is put to shame by the interiors.

Why? Because Michael Golden did the pencils, inked by Armando Gil. And I’ll note that Mr. Golden is credited with the colors as well, and they’re outstanding, worthy of a decently-tuned printing on some nice matte paper with today’s print technology behind it. I’d been taken with Mr. Golden’s art since seeing it in THE MICRONAUTS, and finding entire issues of it was a rare thing indeed. The coloring, though, really stood out. Comics had been pushing things as much as they could, anyways, using more sophisticated techniques to integrate color into the storytelling, but this one had stuck with me, and I don’t remember too many examples surpassing it until I got my hands on WATCHMEN, but that’s another subject, isn’t it? Suffice it to say that the art team was firing on all cylinders.

Additionally, Mr. Claremont gave the art team plenty of interesting things to draw. X-Men repairing stuff in the Danger Room? Check. Captain America getting punked and chucked through the window of Avenger’s Mansion into a tea and cakes team meeting? Check. Mystique of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Mk II) transforming into her natural form having assumed the shape of Nick Fury while trying to gun down Spider-Woman with an M-16 on full auto? Check. A no-holds barred all-out war between a decimated Avengers and said Brotherhood of Evil Mutants breaking out of Ryker’s? Check. Pyrokenetic monsters being turned into solid stone by the Scarlet Witch’s hex power in a full-page splash that’s so demented it belongs in the pages of DR. STRANGE? Check and double-check.

And I’m not even getting to the part where Carol Danvers single-handedly guts the Avengers without so much as a twitch of a super-powered pinky finger. There’s a reason the title of the story is “By Friends—Betrayed” (which is such a perfect Marvel title that it isn’t even funny.) But a little more on that later.

There was no shortage of action, and crazy action at that. As my comics-loving friends from the UK would say, there was no shortage of thrill-power on these pages. The Avengers find themselves under attack from multiple fronts, and in short order, they’re down three of their most intimidating members: Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. That’s like having your heart ripped out, folks. Hang up the phone and stick a fork in it: it’s done. Okay, sure, Wonder Man is a heavy hitter, but he’s kinda unreliable. You’re down to The Vision, the Scarlet Witch, the Beast, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman pinch hitting. I’d mention Jocasta, but they never seemed to figure out what to do with her, and she’s only good for some dialog here.

So you’ve got the B-team versus the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants who are sporting a brand-new member. Some girl called Rogue who can suck the powers out of you with a single touch and some Kirby dot magic. Little would anyone suspect the ridiculous popularity that this character would see in the years that ensued. Me? I was on board for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, who were riding high as Awesome Badasses from the Days of Future Past storyline in UNCANNY a little over a year previous. And for the better part of the story, they lived up to that, taking the Avengers from champs to chumps on the road to breaking out of Ryker’s by


Here, the art team knows to balance energy and detail, giving enough to anchor the action but not to overwhelm it. And geez, that menacing naked Blob is enough to scare anyone.

Now, this being a superhero book of the time, the odds are against our pals, the Avengers. Their anchor members are out, and the only reasonable approximation of a powerhouse gets punched through a guard tower and takes a Blob-powered trip to the West Bronx, effectively out of the fight until his little hip-jets can get him back. Destiny, the precognitive member of the Brotherhood, has everyone on their heels, being able to counter their moves before they happen. The situation deteriorates until the wildcard Spider-Woman (unaccounted for in Destiny’s long-range plan) is able to get to Iron Man, dragging out the fight long enough for Rogue’s power boost to begin to wear off.

When the plan is to go in fast and hard, the longer you stick around, the more likely things are to go bad. And that’s precisely what happens. Overwhelming victory for the bad guys gets turned into a morass from which they all can’t escape (literally, in the case of the Blob, who gets dumped into a pool of ersatz concrete). But the solution to the problem was creative, engaging and thrilling. I mean, when was the last time you saw bad guys brought low by gas mains spontaneously exploding? Okay, not entirely spontaneously, since they were spurred on by the Scarlet Witch’s unstable Hex power, but you get the idea.

It’s not just raw power that takes the bad guys down. It’s teamwork and using your brain, and oh yeah, not cutting out when the fight looks like it’s not going your way any longer (which is exactly what Mystique and Rogue do, friendship be damned.) See, that’s the difference between the Avengers and the Brotherhood, right? The Avengers are in it until the end, until the last chip falls and the Fat Lady’s aria has ceased ringing in the hall. They stand by their pals, shoulder to shoulder until it’s done, right?

Not exactly. Remember the title? That “By Friends Betrayed” thing? Yeah, we’re not talking about the Brotherhood cutting out on their own when times get tough. We’re talking about the Avengers.

I’m not going to pretend to try and tell you the whole tortured backstory of the Ms. Marvel character, the Carol Danvers who is tossed from the Golden Gate Bridge at the beginning of the story, setting everything into motion. Suffice it to say that around AVENGERS 200 she was (ahem) impregnated by an Overlord from an alien dimension, against her will. You can sugarcoat it if you want, but it’s ultimately one thing and one thing only, even if (im)proper intercourse never took place and it was conducted by floating wisp proxies or whatever the hell it was. It freaked me out when I read about it then and it freaks me out today. Particularly chilling was the Avengers’ then-reaction, which was along the lines of picking out baby names and asking if they should knit booties.

Apparently I’m not the only one who was repelled by that. Because at the end of AVENGERS ANNUAL 10, Chris Claremont, by way of Carol Danvers rips a new asshole for the editorial team that thought the whole interdimensional rape thing (oh, by the way, did I mention that Danvers gave birth to a man who proclaimed to love her and eventually used a machine to make her love him and then spirited her away to his home dimension where they could be happily ever after?) was a good idea. And man, does she ever.

Okay, it’s a little strange that she’s doing it while wearing a bathing suit after lounging around at the X-Men mansion’s pool, but even so, the fact that she’d do this:

Is utterly astonishing in the pages of a mainstream comic of the day. She hauls out and slaps Thor. Thor! The slap itself was unexpected, but even moreso was what motivated that slap: the failings of their characters and the unspoken (but pointed at) failings of the creators who’d written that story in the first place. I only partially put it together, and wouldn’t fully until I read more extensively in Marvel politics at the time (by way of THE X-MEN COMPANION by Fantagraphics of all publishers) among others, not leaving out a quick conversation I was able to have with Chris Claremont himself at a San Diego con some years later. Sure, it’s good to destroy yr idols, but talking with them is sometimes elucidating as well.

But here was a writer calling out the stories that had come before him and administering a savage and public beatdown upon them, all shaped by character-driven (melo)drama. And really, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with melodrama when traditional drama just won’t work in the situation. Really, superheroes are made for melodrama. As has been pointed out by smarter guys than me, we’re talking about Opera here. And this delivered. Yes, it’s insane, and built upon a backstory that’s squirm-inducing, but nobody on the creative team pulled any punches (‘cept perhaps for not calling it what it was, but you have to remember, this was a time when the Comics Code was still in force among the big two, and rape is a four letter word.)

This book was a gut-shot for thirteen-year-old me. Here I was rooting for the good guys and ready to spit on the bad guys (multidimensional as some of them were, though less so than they would eventually become) and I get to the end of things to see that the Avengers are just as capable of being utter and total heels as anyone else was. Talk about injecting humanity into the works. Yes, on one level it’s totally ridiculous and borderline incomprehensible gibberish, but then so were most comics (and largely are still unless you’re holding an advanced degree in geekery.) But for the initiates, for those who are happily reading along, this was a goddamn bombshell, shattering preconceived notions of who the good guys actually were. Here was vulnerable Carol Danvers basically thrown to the wolves by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

There’s other, more existential pleasures to be found in this twenty-plus year old comic. For instance, the banner on the top “WIN A COLUMBIA TEN-SPEED RACER” takes me right back to gawky teenagerhood when escape was fifty cents away. But there’s other things. For instance, the sense that there was a world outside the pages of the comic book, one that was hinted at by other characters, but that you didn’t need to read every other comic that month to understand. That’s the difference between a shared universe and a giant crossover.

Readers get some nice character moments before Hell is unleashed, where the Avengers sit around in costume and prove that superhero business meetings are about as productive as real-world business meetings (i.e., nothing gets done until the team leader gets chucked through a window.) You get Michael Golden drawing dinosaurs chasing Sopwith Camels chasing knights on horseback, all in service of recounting the previous misadventures with chronometry-warping Marcus (the intangible impregnator). And hey, what’s this? You get a D&D AND a Hostess ad? Bonus.


AVENGERS ANNUAL 10 is the alpha and omega of Marvel team books from the eighties. It literally has all the stuff and more. If any of this has had any resonance with you, then do yourself a favor and paw through the bargain bins next time you’re at a comic show and track this one down. It’s a gem, a flawless encapsulation of what made all these books of that era so damn good for a time.

Matt Maxwell

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