Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Mighty Avengers: Roger Stern's New York period

1. NY Period: 1983

*1.Captain Marvel most indicative of Stern’s run; fresh character that lasts throughout the run
*2.The Wasp Leader throughout most of the run; grows as adult person, equal as super-hero.
Hawkeye & She-Hulk (New York period character identified most closely with the city, as a new resident)
Spider-Man, David Letterman transition: Spider-Woman’s story
Also features: Captain America, Starfox, Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch

Roger Stern’s first year writing the Avengers ties up storylines set in motion by Jim Shooter, writer and editor-in-chief at the time for Marvel Comic Group, the title’s publisher. Founding member Hank Pym redeems himself as a hero against his foe, Egghead, and the Masters of Evil.

Just as he’d used his brains to create the powers of himself and the Wasp, he uses his brains to create a trap from the very device he’s been coerced into building for the Masters. There’s no return to costume for him, now, which is just as well, considering the anguish his life as a super-hero has created. After all, Hank endangered the Avengers at a court-martial hearing following his use of force against an enemy who had surrendered, the time-lost sorceress who attacked the nation’s capital in AVENGERS #212---with powerful robot he created with a weakness built-in for him to exploit. His anger and paranoia also destroyed his marriage to Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp. Always the more eager adventurer, his heiress ex-wife stays with the team, and becomes the character Stern develops best in his first year, as she takes on chairpersonship of the Avengers.

Hot-headed, wise-cracking archer Hawkeye also gets an Avengers-style tribunal, to investigate his use of force against Egghead; he is acquitted for self-defense. A powerless superhero who relies on skill, nerve, and clever use of his trick arrowheads, he’s often felt out of depth amongst the Avengers, not unlike Hank Pym and his constantly evolving powers. He embodies the team’s never-say-die spirit, however, and his sarcasm and levity are developed to the side by Mark Gruenwald’s one-man-band limited series, following his stint as head of security at Cross Technologies. This follows a broken foot suffered a few issues into the run, leading to his change-of-pace.

The feckless archer, with his mix of under-confidence and chauvinism, finds a foil in one of team’s newest members, Bruce Banner’s gamma-spawned cousin the She-Hulk.

"Yeah, he does pretty well for a guy with no powers, but I could take him!"---She Hulk, on Captain America.

Despite a share of cousin Hulk’s massive temper, she’s actually a brassy individual, maintaining her intelligence as trial lawyer Jennifer Walters, interested in romance and a social life as well as adventure. Her out-sized, showy personality clashes wonderfully with Hawkeye’s. Her first encounter with him involves a revenge arrow fired at her pink Caddillac, which she tries to fix and then compacts like a soda can in the next issue. To his horror, She-Hulk is his new team mate! Her overall disdain for New York City versus Los Angeles involves a comparison of little real-world touches, such as her Wasp-aided search for a new apartment, dramatizing the premium for affordable housing in a fun way. Her attempt to cheer up Hawkeye and help him to his apartment (you should see the dump in which he lives, in earlier issues!) after the broken foot shows she’s a good sport, but Hawk’s too wrapped-up in proving himself to show gratitude.

Starfox, the code name for Eros of Titan, the very newest Avenger, provides a bit of romantic intrigue and a hint of a relaxed, casual affair with Jennifer, however fleeting. He seems to have the newly-single Wasp in his sights for a while. It’s this recurrent subtraction-addition of a member or two every few issues that keeps things fresh, while developing other characters, like Wasp and Captain Marvel, continuously.

Captain Marvel. There’s a name with a lot of comic book history! Maybe, in the long run, too much…but certainly, this isn’t the Shazam! Character we sometimes call the Big Cheese, who sold like Superman in the days of World War II…nor is it the cosmically-aware Kree alien of the 1970’s Marvels.

The character who owed everything to Roger Stern’s care, however, is an Afro-American former Coast Guard officer from New Orleans named Monica Rambeau, who gains the power to transform into a wide spectrum of energies during an accident in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #16, doubtlessly written by Unca Roj. She comes in green---new to her powers, new to super-heroes---yet she trains diligently and reads Avengers files about previous cases. With her speed-of-light travel, she stays in close touch with her mom and dad, a shopkeeper and a soon-to-be retired fire fighter, to whom she reveals her secret identity. Maybe she lacks the tragic element that comes with the package of the leading lights of Marveldom, but she’s a positive role model, as well as the point-of-view character role Stern asserts first with her, and later with the Black Knight: a regular person, amazed by the strangeness and power of the Avengers’ milieu.

Tomorrow: a wrap-up of the "New York Period"

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