Friday, December 2, 2011

Jumping to Conclusions: the beauty of Roger Stern's AVENGERS, 1987

#275 A doctor in #276 says he’s never seen anyone with injuries like this live; “I’d almost believe he really is the Hercules of myth!”
My friend Joseph makes the point that the Hercules of myth used some brain power---whether he borrowed the suggestions or not is never made clear---and showed more leadership and skill than the boorish braggart depicted in 1980’s AVENGERS comics.

It’s true! Even if someone made the suggestion to flood the stables of Aegeus to clean them (and if the twelve labors of Hercules doesn’t sound familiar, crack open a copy of Edith Wharton or Bullfinch’s mythology, pronto!---Literary Lue), no one else was around when he tricked Atlas into taking the world back on his shoulders. (Now that JUST may have involved a bit of …embellishment?)

I suggested he suffers from context: he was what he needed to be in the chemistry of the Avengers personalities. Still, he could have a negative trait, like the sexism that forces Janet to stand up for herself, and still show some strategic cleverness---more than what Joe calls “a redneck that talks funny.” As he points out, it harkens back to Lee and Kirby’s original purpose in 1965. I mentioned that inherent story limitation that calls for one person to punch another through a wall sometimes undermines rounder characters (while a series of talking heads doesn’t suit an action-oriented comic for long, either). Still, I have brought what insight these stories inspire, in search of the actual literary quality we the readers bring in our readings.

That limitation---part and parcel of the wonder and escapism, to be sure---probably hurts the villains at times, requiring baser personalities geared towards making victims and spreading terror. Then again, there are stories where the criminal’s motives and capacity for treachery and temptations towards the light, a better life ascribe unpredictability. I always enjoyed a villain with the brains to use interesting strategies, too. No one’s aiming for the straight and narrow, here, but the broken unity that set up the Avengers’ defeat cuts both ways. While the Masters of Evil require a plan to be effective, it’s when the heroes must think fast and improvise that we see them at their best.

That’s why I love #275. Because---well, the cover, this time, says it all! If what you have is mostly the ability to shrink (and become less powerful!) and shrink things, you’re going to have to improvise your weaponry, against a human tank and a brute who can absorb the properties of any substance! The arc from despair to revenge was and is a delight to me, more years later than I sometimes care to admit.

I’d dearly love to devote more time in the future to wrapping up commentary on these comics, but I have original work that’s crying for my attention, too, and I plan now to put my CD-ROM in my friend Ed’s hands for a little bit, so he can soak up the history of the Vision. When I do come back to this, I want it to be more than a mere description of the plot; it’s the characters, and life itself, that inspire the words worth writing.

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