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The Essential Avengers Vol. 2
posted January 20, 2009

imageCreators: Stan Lee, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Sam Rosen, Frank Giacoia, Artie Simek, Roy Thomas, George Bell, Vince Colletta, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Publishing Information: Marvel, softcover, 400+ pages, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 078510741X (ISBN10)

It probably says something not altogether encouraging about my state of mind that so much of my current comics reading is ensconced in nostalgia. But what the hell? Here I am. Old Avengers comics were among my two or three favorites growing up, both the real deal whenever I could find them and reprints in Marvel Triple Action. Avengers was the most relentlessly violent of all the early Marvel comics, and in this volume's featured work it's the flat-out action that connects the early issues and their soap opera heroics from the later issues where Roy Thomas began to shuffle towards his odd, time-tortured, almost mournful distillation of the Lee/Kirby formula.

The crying androids can wait. At this point it's still all about copious ass-beatings and ladies straight from the set of Mad Men proclaiming the handsome awesomeness of Hercules. Mostly, it's the violence. Don Heck and especially John Buscema drew all of their male superheroes as thick-shouldered brutes, the kind of people you could imagine punching out livestock, drinking things out of barrels, cuffing one another to the floor of the kitchen in order to grab the last pop tart. In fact, my childhood comprehension of the title was of a bunch of large, angry men sitting around a house waiting for a call to go thump something. The comics here seem less a string of episodes than five or six long, beefy fistfights interspersed with the occasional panel of Hawkeye complaining or the Scarlet Witch looking forlorn. No surprise that the best sequences involve physically formidable antagonists. I have great fondness for Marvel's once-mighty stable of angry morons that yell and hit things, like Attuma, Undersea Emperor of Found Headgear, while Dragon Man is one of the few Kirby designs I find more attractively illustrated by John Buscema than by the King himself. None of this work means anything; it struggles to find sentience, for pity's sake, let alone a sense of purpose. I still like it.