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Essential Avengers, Volume 3 by Roy Thomas
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There came a day, unlike any other, when Earth's Mightiest Heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born -- to fight the foes no single hero could withstand. Featuring the formation of the Avengers, the revival of Captain America, and enemies such as the Sub-Mariner and Kang the Conqueror!… (more)

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‘Avengers: Age Of Ultron’ being the big movie of the moment. I thought I would dive into my extensive ‘Essential’ archives and dig out the source material. This is conveniently located in Essential Avengers Volume 3. I have read the stories oft times before but reviewing them was a pleasure only slightly ruined by the work of Mikhail Bortnik. Who he? He’s the man given credit for ‘interior design and retouch’ on the inside cover so presumably the vandal who thought that in a black and white reprint, John Buscema’s beautiful art needed grey tones. It does not. Instead, it is almost obscured by the heavy-handed imposition, like a sunny day suddenly gone overcast. It’s as if a child got hold of the book and decided to colour it in with a pencil. Weirdly, this vandalism is applied to some issues while others, most, thank God, have been left mercifully untainted.

That’s the bad news over with. The good news is that this volume contains excellent art by three of Marvel’s finest. John Buscema tended to go for bigger panels in these early years and to be honest it seemed to suit him. No one draws the human figure better than Big John and his super-heroes look truly fit. He’s great with females, too, but you have to look at his ‘Conan’ work to see that to full advantage. There are a couple of issues by Gene Colan, also fairly early in his Marvel career and again using big panels but with striking page designs and his usual dynamic figures and subtle shading which, alas, even the best inkers found hard to translate from the pencil. Perhaps best of all is the young Barry Smith doing his Kirby riff on an adventure in which the aforementioned Ultron is the bad guy. I always loved these two issues. The beautiful inks by Syd Shores and George Klein make this unusual artwork even more interesting than it might otherwise have been. I should mention that Don Heck turned in good pencils for Avengers King-Size Special # 2.

The writer is Roy Thomas, who, I hear, was satisfied with the cheque he got from those movie moguls as creator of Ultron, which is nice. Thomas was always one of the best Marvel writers and the stories in this bumper bargain book show off his talents well. They also show his roots, reading pulp fiction and Golden Age comics. Scanning this stuff again, I was struck by the melodramatic dialogue of the villains and the slightly purple prose in the captions. But all this is great when you’re young and he did make it literary by putting the whole of Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ on the last page of Ultron’s first defeat in issue # 57, accompanied by very apt drawings from John Buscema for added poignancy. Ultron’s first appearance was in issue # 54-55 but he was in disguise. He is a presence in issues # 57-58 but in a flashback sequence concerning his origins and those of the Vision. He makes his spectacular comeback in issue # 66. However, there are many other villains to be enjoyed in this collection from old favourites like the Collector and the Swordsman to the magnificent Magneto and the gods themselves, Greek Typhon and Asgardian Ymir and Surtur. There’s a guest appearance by the X-Men, too. That’s the original X-Men, not the more famous ones who came along later.

‘Essential Avengers Volume 3’ is not published this year but can be obtained second hand from various bookish websites for about £12.00. It contains some of the greatest stories produced in the Silver Age of Marvel Comics and is well worth a look, even if you’re one of those Johny-come forty-seven year latelys only interested because it’s all on the big screen now. What? You weren’t born in 1968! What sort of feeble excuse is that?

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/

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  bigfootmurf | Aug 11, 2019 |
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Across the infinite, fathomless void of space -- on a grim, grey world without a name -- stands the vengeful entity known as -- Magneto! 
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