Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Avengers: The Contest review

Avengers: The Contest collects what is arguably the first superhero crossover. I don’t mean the first superhero team-up or the first superhero team book or even the first time superheroes have appeared in a shared universe. No, all of those things have already happened decades before these comics were published. This collection includes the three issue The Contest of Champions series, West Coast Avengers #2, and Avengers Annual #16. The writing and arts credits are a bit overwhelming for only five issues. The writing credits include: Mark Gruenwald, Steve Englehart , Tom DeFalco, and Bill Mantlo while the art credits include John Romita Jr., Bob Layton, Tom Palmer, and several inkers.

Originally The Contest of Champions was intended to be a tie-in to the 1980 Olympics but the United States embargoed the Olympics and the project was shelved for a little while. Interestingly enough, most of the art had already been completed and then Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter, and his editors decided to recycle the project. The tie-in project was retooled into a three issue mini-series but due to an editorial mistake, the third issues ended in an error that resulted in a cliffhanger of sorts (it’s a bit of a mess). It took several more years for a sequel to take place and end the story that started almost a decade before. It’s a tad disappointing that so much effort and so much time resulted in what is now collected in Avengers: The Contest because the story isn’t very good. Somehow, probably thanks to the time that has past, it’s possible to enjoy what these issues have to offer and now be so concerned with the lack of quality.

The first three issues feel slight. The story is so straightforward it’s almost boring. The only real fun to be had here is seeing some of our beloved Marvel heroes interacting with one another; mainly by fighting. The Contest itself is rather boring. Two teams of twelve superheroes are formed. There are four matches to be played and each team sends out three members per match. The goal is to find a piece of a golden orb. The heroes are coerced into playing by powerful cosmic beings that hold the earth in suspended animation. If the heroes refuse to fight the earth is doomed. Essentially, the game is a super powered Easter egg hunt where only one prize exists. Each match plays out in the same way. Both teams meet, both teams fight and someone randomly stumbles upon the piece of the golden orb. There is little here to keep the reader interested other than the fighting itself which can only be appreciated by reader who lives and breathes for superheroes bashing one another on the head.

The story allows for interesting and somewhat unusual setting for the heroes to interact. It’s nice but they don’t spend enough time in each location. It’s frustrating because the story doesn’t require more issues to tell the story but the art could use some breathing space because the artists barely have time to showcase these locales before they have to move on to the next one. A similar comment can be made for the characters interactions. The book assembles (ha!) many heroes that rarely appear in the same book together but the writers aren’t taking advantage of it. They barely interact with each other except for the fighting that takes place. Again, the problem is that the story doesn’t allow for more character development or even socializing between the superheroes.

The second half of the collection is a repetition of the boring first half.The story itself is just a tad more complex. Once again the heroes are fighting each other but instead of being coerced they’re being tricked into it. They think the reason they're fighting is to rescue the other team members. The team are also better than in the first series because they already exist. It's west coast vs. east coast, Avengers vs. Avengers. Unfortunately, as the second part progresses it came to reassemble the first part more and more. Both teams are divided into smaller groups and the story ends more or less the same way as Contest of Champions.

The most pleasant aspect of the comic is the art. I quite like it. It’s simple yet effective. It has a classic appeal that is timeless. This could be a story from the 60s even though it was published well into the 80s (some might disagree).The colour is plain and straightforward like many coloured comics were before the arrival of digital colouring. Despite the technological limitations, the colouring is effective and quite charming. The biggest difference between the art here and modern comic book art is the shading and use of inks. There is very little use of heavy inks in this collection but I don’t mind. It adds to the timeless feel. The art is clean and easy to understand. I’m not sure how else to describe the art. I feel I should say more because it’s what I enjoyed the most while reading Avengers: The Contest. I will say this: John Romita Jr.’s art has changed a lot. I really like his current style (it’s very blocky yet more detailed than the style he used when he was younger) but it’s hard to imagine that the art from this collection is the same one to be found in Avengers VS. X-men and other recent comics.

Despite is many, many flaws, Avengers: The Contest has a certain whimsical charm to it. This is by no means the best Avengers story or even one of the best Marvel mini-series of the early 80s but it’s a fun read and for anyone who's a fan of Marvel comics, you'll most likely be cheering on your favourite heroes as they battle each other in order to save the planet, the universe and themselves.

Most of my enjoyment for this comic was due to the fact that this is an old Marvel comic. The bright colours, the costumes being so different, the status of some of the characters, it’s all very different from the modern Marvel Universe. For example, Beast not only looks very different but he’s more closely associated with the Avengers than with the X-men. I also enjoy this style of art for the most part. Sure, JR JR’s style has changed considerably over the years but he’s still a good artist so early in his career. It seems to me that those who will enjoy Avengers: The Contest are fans of old or classic Marvel comics or fans of older comics in general. If you grew up reading comics in the nineties or later, it might be difficult for your to enjoy this book. If this is your cup of tea though, enjoy the The Contest. It’s a quirky and brightly coloured comics to be read on a lazy summer afternoon. For those who are looking for the greatest Avengers story ever told, look elsewhere, it’s not found within these pages.

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