Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Avengers: Assault on Olympus Review (Unread 027)

My edition of The Avengers: Assault on Olympus is a hardcover from the Marvel Premiere Classic line of reprints. It’s super expensive but luckily I bought mine for 50% off. I have no idea why Marvel charges so much for reprints of old comics. It seems wrong somehow as well as counter intuitive. Why check out old comics when it’s cheaper to buy new ones? Then again, new Marvel comics aren’t cheap either. Either way, if you can find some of these old reprints for cheap, either in discount bins or 50% off shelves, grab ‘em. They’re almost always a treat. Even when the comics are bad it gives you an idea of what they were like back in the day. That’s always interesting. If you get lucky, you’ll end up buying a comic as good as this one. I’ve only ever read one comic by Roger Stern, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment and that was an excellent story. Clearly I’ve been missing out the Stern goodness because Assault on Olympus was also pretty great.

All of the issues in this collection were written by Roger Stern with exception to issue# 280 which was written by Bob Harras. Likewise John Buscema and Tom Palmer illustrated all of the issues except for #280 which was drawn by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker. Christie Scheele coloured most of the stories and Bill Oakley did the bulk of the lettering. These are all familiar creator names for anybody who has read Marvel comics from the 1980s. This is a solid creative team and it shouldn’t have been surprising as to how good these issues were.

If the people of the internet can be trusted, Stern had a pretty celebrated run on The Avengers that continues to be popular with fans today. Assault on Olympus was his last completed story on the title (he started another one but didn’t finish it) and as such, he ends things on a high note. What more, this story follows one of the stories often cited as one of the greatest Avengers storylines of all time. The issues collected in this volume, #278-285, directly follow the events depicted in Under Siege. You don’t need to have read those issues to be able to enjoy Assault on Olympus. I know I didn’t. There trouble isn’t that you won’t be able to follow along, it’s simply that you missed out on another good story.

The first three issues focus on specific characters and how they were affected by the events of Under Siege. Janet van Dyne, Wasp, was the leader of the Avengers at the time their mansion was attacked by the Masters of Evil. She was their leader at a time when the Avengers suffered one of their greatest defeats. Nobody blames her for it, much the opposite, they’re all confident that she will be able to help the team heal. Wasp, however, doesn’t feel she’s up to the task anymore and desperately wants a vacation so she leaves the team.

The following issue focuses on Captain Marvel. During a meeting to select the next team leader, Captain America nominates Monica Rambeau who is also known as Captain Marvel. She’s hesitant to take on the role as she thinks other team members would be more capable than her. She talks it over with her parents and does a lot of soul searching. She thinks about what the team means to her and realizes that she’s been given more opportunity and encouragement to grow in the Avengers that she’s ever had in her civilian life. It’s not long before she makes her decision and agrees to take on the role as the leader of the Avengers.

Issue #280 also spends its time with one character who is dealing with the consequences of Under Siege. Jarvis is physically wounded. He’s lost 90% of the vision in one eye and had a knee replaced, along with other injuries. He gets a visit from Tony Stark who informs him that he’s done a lot for the Avengers over the years and that he’s sorry for all the trouble he’s caused Jarvis. Stark asks him to consider retiring with full pay and benefits. The rest of the issue is about Jarvis reminiscing over his time with the team and thinking about what it’s meant to him. It’s very similar to the previous issue but the differences in role between Jarvis and Captain Marvel make for two very different issues. Ultimately, this is a poignant and emotional visit down memory road that culminates in a well-executed, if a little predictable, finish.

The last five issues also deal with the consequences of the previous storyline but this time the whole group is affected. The Avengers learn that their teammate Hercules has been kidnapped from the hospital where he was healing from his injuries sustained at the hands of the Masters of Evil. The culprit is Hermes, god of the Greco-Roman pantheon acting on the orders of Zeus. The Avengers follow the kidnapper to Mount Olympus where they are summarily sentenced to Hades to pay for their crimes. Zeus believes the Avengers, specifically Wasp, are responsible for his son’s injuries. The Avengers are then forced to escape from their imprisonment and confront Zeus to convince him that he’s wrong about them and Hercules. The result, naturally, is a huge brawl between the Avengers and the gods of Olympus.

After finishing Assault on Olympus I came to the realization that this is my favourite classic Avengers story. By classic, I mean anything published prior to 2000. The writing is excellent. I really like that Stern and Harras take the time to deal with the consequences of the attack on Avengers Mansion. It adds weight to the story while also showing us that the Avengers are not infallible. They can hurt and they can break just like everybody else. It humanizes them in a way that you don’t often see in these kinds of comics. It’s also interesting to see the juxtaposition of issues dealing with human failings followed by a literal conflict with gods.

The art was also very good. I’m surprised by the art style of John Buscema. It’s more realistic than I remember. He’s grasp of anatomy is very pleasing but everything else is also very realistically drawn. The costumes don’t look like body paint, they look like actual costumes. Some of them are less functional than others, certainly, but they look like something you could actually wear. One thing that sometimes bothers me with older comics is facial expressions. In a team book like this one that regularly has six panels per page, it’s difficult to get up close to characters and see their faces. Simply put, sometimes there are too many characters crammed into a single panel. One way to deal with this, as Buscema and Palmer do, is to add more body language. It’s much more noticeable in the action sequences where full body images happen frequently in order to let the action tell the story, but it’s also noticeable in quieter scenes. I also really liked the colouring in this volume. The sleek, high quality paper of the Marvel Premiere Classic collection really lets the linework and the colours pop off the page.

If you have never read old Avengers comics, I wouldn’t recommend you start here. This isn’t the most recognizable team line-up. You might also find a hard time figuring out who is who, as a lot of these characters have changed considerably in recent years or simply aren’t figured prominently in current comics. If you’ve read old Avengers comics and enjoyed them, then I highly recommend this volume. Heck, I’d ever recommend you start exploring Stern’s tenure on the title with Under Siege or and earlier storyline. I’ve been impressed enough by the guy’s writing to want to check out more of it. I can’t see why the rest of his Avengers wouldn’t be as good as these. If you ever find old Marvel comics on the cheap, give them a try. You might just be as surprised and delighted as I was to discover a good storyline like Assault on Olympus

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