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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – Avengers 30th Anniversary Issues

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993’s four chromium embossed covers the Avengers’ 30th anniversary…

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Avengers #360, 363, 366 and 369 (published March, June, September and December, 1993) – script by Bob Harras, pencils by Steve Epting (w/Jan Duursema for #369), inks by Tom Palmer

With CSBG recently naming its 50 greatest Avengers stories in honor of the 50th anniversary of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” I thought it was apropos for “Gimmick or Good?” to take a look at 1993’s 30th anniversary Avenger specials. To mark this special occasion, Marvel did something I’ve always found to be a little curious. The company published four special bronze, silver and gold foil embossed covers throughout the year, but the selected comics were spaced three issues apart numerically and the storylines didn’t cleanly connect with each other (especially Avengers #369, which was a tie-in to “Bloodties,” an Avengers/X-Men arc). I’m going to attempt to review these issues as one lump sum, so please forgive the brevity of analysis the individual issues receive (lest you want me to spill 2,500-3,000 words on 90s Avengers comics).

So what about inside these comics?

Of the four issues, #360 and #363 are the only two connected by the same arc, “The Gatherers” storyline (ranked 29th by the readers of CSBG),which deals with the villain Proctor, an alternate version of the Black Knight who had fallen in love and was spurned by Sersi, launching an attack on the Avengers by abducting Vision and switching his artificial mind into another Vision from an alternative universe (and thus sending the new Vision out to ambush the unknowing Avengers). Issue #363 shows the Avengers team gaining access to Proctor’s Citadel in the Andes Mountains in an attempt to rescue Vision.

The arc also spotlights the Avengers dealing with Sersi’s mental instability, who is unknowingly being controlled by Proctor, causing her to physically attack her boyfriend, Black Knight, and the rest of her Avengers teammates. Knight eventually has the same problem keeping control after mentally syncing up with Sersi, and attacks Captain America during the Avengers’ battle with Proctor.

Avengers_363_01

Speaking of Cap, in a moment befitting a “special” anniversary issue, #360 also marks his official return to the Avengers, who went on hiatus after his teammates defied him and assassinated the Kree Supreme Intelligence during the Operation Galactic Storm arc.

Avengers_360_01

And speaking of the Krees and Galactic Storm, Avengers #366 revisits the fallout from the storyline when a couple of Kree militants bent on getting revenge for the murder of the Supreme Intelligence threaten to detonate a Nega Bomb on Earth.

Avengers #369 strays the farthest from the pack as a tie-in to the “Bloodlines” X-Men Avengers arc, which is when Magneto’s protégé Exodus kidnaps Quicksilver and Crystal’s daughter Luna. This issue has cameos galore as both the full line-up of the Avengers, X-Men and even some members of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempt to take down Exodus.
It really wouldn’t be fair of me to criticize these four issues for lacking any real cohesion with each other, despite the fact that I still don’t get why Marvel would have four foil embossed covers equally spaced out from each other, but not be part of the same storyline. With that said, while admitting I’m not exactly well-versed in my early 90s Avengers comics, it does seem that the post-Galactic Storm run/Bob Harras run of issues was a weak period for the title.

The Avengers team is really lacking star power at this point, with storylines focusing on more B-list members like Black Knight, Sersi and Crystal. There are a couple of fun character moments for those three, and certainly some entertaining ones for the few remaining classic team members, like when Vision discovers in #360 that he has been stripped of his power to turn intangible and he only response is a Spock-ian “logical.”

Avengers_360_02

But overall, outside of Cap’s return, there are very few moments in these four comics that would grab me as a reader and make me want to shell out $3 for an anniversary comic (and reportedly Marvel didn’t even offer a non-foil/cheaper version of these comics as they often did with their other gimmick covers).

It’s not like Harras doesn’t try and tell some good stories here – there’s certainly an “epic” feel to the events in issues #366 and #369. But in the case of #366, it feels too much like Galactic Storm redux without really matching the story and its tension and drama during its final few chapters. That comic also stretches my suspension of disbelief to comical levels when we are led to believe that the Avengers are able to travel 200 square miles in 13 seconds in order to avoid being disintegrated by an (albeit weakened) Nega Bomb blast. Apparently the writers of Batman: Dark Knight Rises were taking notes when they were coming up with an ending for their movie (whoops, *spoiler alert*).

Avengers_366_01

Avengers #369 certainly gives you some bang for your buck in terms of characters used – but it’s a case of overkill. Just too many X-Men and too many Avengers competing for screen time for anyone to make a worthwhile impact. The end result is a slog of an issue with some rushed artwork to boot (check out Captain America’s neck in this image).

Avengers_369_01

You can tell Harras definitely has a love affair for the Black Knight as after starring in “The Gatherers” arc, he gets another big “moment” in “Bloodlines” by delivering the knockout blow to Exodus (after the villain is distracted by some psychic interference from Professor X).

Still, even by double-sized issue standards, characters like Beast, War Machine and Gambit were just shoe-horned in, delivering an inconsequential but quippy one-liner (including one by Beast that embodies a pet peeve of mine: when a writer makes fun of his own dialogue through one of his characters. In this case, Beast calls out one of the villains for saying “slay.” If you think your dialogue is silly enough that one of your characters can comment on it, you probably need to come up with better dialogue, or at least, more subtle jokes about it).

Avengers_369_02

I’m going to guess that fans of Harras’ work on the Avengers are going to tell me I’m being unfairly critical of these comics, but in my defense, I’m going to fall back on a tried by true mantra of mine for “Gimmick or Good?” You have to remember that these comics were marketed with gimmick covers in order to bring in casual readers and to hopefully hook them for non-gimmick issues in the future. As someone who didn’t religiously read Avengers comics during this era, I can’t say I was that impressed by any of these issues 20 years later. The interesting character moments were few and far between, and any of the villains they squared off against (not named Proctor) lacked any real punch (plus they orated like Bond villains).

Verdict: #360/363: Good
#366/369: Gimmick

33 Comments

“Avengers #360, 363, 366 and 369 (published March, June, September and December, 1963)”

Maybe on Earth 616! ;-)

I can’t believe you actually called two of these “good”. I was a huge Avengers fan at the time and actually bought all four of these off the shelf and they were AWFUL. I think that period of Avengers was what turned me off of the book (or at least until Busiek made it not suck again).

Assuming that the 200 square miles destroyed by the explosion would be a circular area centered on it, and given that the area of a circle is 2 x pi x the radius, then the team would actually have needed to travel only 8 miles to get out of the blast radius. So they’d have to travel at only 2200 MPH to escape in time. Much better! ;)

I wasn’t following the Avengers during this era either, but I remember buyin 363 at my comic shop because it was a slow week for me and the foil cover caught my attention. The story seemed interesting but too far into the storyline for me to make any sense of or want to continue reading. It had interesting elements to it and I enjoyed it well enough, though I could never figure out how the Black Knight got his hands on a light saber.

Tracer Bullet

July 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

“Let’s book!”

Bob Harras. He’s down with the kids.

It was a difficult time for Avengers fans.

I’m surprised that two Avengers issues from this period are deemed “good” while Punisher War Zone (which was far from a masterpiece, but wasn’t the disaster this book was) is deemed “gimmick”. But different strokes for different folks.

I worked at a comic book store at this time and here’s what I remember. After the misguided Larry Hama run (and speaking as a huge Hama fan) I would say that Avengers as a book was as dead as it had ever been. The Harras run started and sales ticked up. Operation Galactic Storm was a decent seller but once that was finally over sales went back down to their normal steady levels. In fact Avengers might have been one of the most consistent sellers we had with hardly a tick up or down. So when we ordered 360 we probably doubled our order (special covers being better sellers than regular covers) and it was pretty much an instant sellthrough. Special cover equals sales being an early nineties specialty. So 360 was very much a success financially. For 363 we ordered probably double or triple what we ordered for 360 (based on 360’s sales). Not nearly as good a seller… we had plenty of copies left over. 366 we ordered between the two and sold roughly the same number of copies of 360. 369 sold well as any X-Men crossover did then though the Bloodties crossover in AWC 101 was the one that was really hard to find (relatively speaking).
Overall, I’d say this gimmick was a sales success as our store was ordering more copies of the Avengers both during the gimmick run and after it was over.

“I’m going to guess that fans of Harras’ work on the Avengers are going to tell me I’m being unfairly critical of these comics, ”

I’m going to guess that that won’t happen.

So many stupid 90s helmets. So many teeth.

@MarkBlack — Punisher: War Zone was excellent.

@Anonymous — Hama’s always had trouble writing cape books. His non-superhero stuff is consistently excellent though.

I was a fan – you’re being unfairly critical. :)

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say “unfairly critical”, this was an era of the Avengers that I remember fondly. It’s quintessentially ‘90s, but as Anonymous pointed out, the book hadn’t been interesting since Stern left. (I absolutely loathe the issues running up to #300, as not a single character acted like themselves and everything served the plot.)

While you’re right in that there were no big “stars” in that lineup, the lack of stars allowed Harras to develop the characters in interesting ways. Besides the BK/Sersi/Crystal triangle, the Vision had some interesting moments that began to bring the character back from the abyss that Byrne left him in.

“The villain Proctor, an alternate version of the Black Knight who had fallen in love and was spurned by Sersi, launching an attack on the Avengers by abducting Vision and switching his artificial mind into another Vision from an alternative universe (and thus sending the new Vision out to ambush the unknowing Avengers).”

Wow. Don’t ever change, comic books.

Just a point of clarity here, while I wasn’t blown away by any of these books, I deemed 360/363 good because they were part of a larger arc that at least told an interesting story. The stuff with Vision/Black Knight/Cap in those two books made them worthwhile, especially when compared to the latter two, which were just overstuffed 90s tripe.

In the meantime, I’m never going to live down my criticism of Punisher War Zone, eh?? :)

Avengers #360 was one of the best gimmick covers, though: a foil-embossed Vision rising out of the pages was/is pretty awesome.

Cory!! Strode

July 10, 2013 at 6:41 am

There are fans of the Bob Harris era? It all read like 3rd generation X-Men with endless alternate futures, dark version of characters and so many “mysterious overlords” that I simply gave up.

I liked Harras’ run at the time and still remember it fondly. One thing I’ve always liked about the Avengers is that it wasn’t always a team of big name characters, so you’d get B and C listers that the creators could develop pretty much any way they want. Heck, even some of what I would consider A list Avengers have never really been able to hold their own title. Like Vision, Hawkeye, Hank Pym etc.

Anyway, I liked the more unique lineups like this that you’d often get in the Avengers. I also thought the whole Proctor Saga was really good. Granted, I haven’t re-read any of it since then, so maybe nowadays my opinion would differ.

As far as enhanced covers go, 363 was pretty awesome, what with each link of Captain America’s mail being embossed. It was like touching a pretty metal fish. As to the stories, well… Harras’ Avengers became my Avengers by default, due to the vagaries of rural newsstand distribution in the early-mid-ninties. Never really went back to Avengers after dropping this run, and I’m still gobsmacked that the series managed to surpass the X-Men in popularity.

I started reading comics in maybe ’92 and the gatherers story-line was my first dip into the Avengers. As a little kid I thought that these issues were really cool and I still love the characters involved Black Knight and Vision are favorites of mine still. I’m sure they don’t hold up today but at the time I thought they were good. Especially liked the cover with the Vision coming out of it.

LouReedRichards

July 10, 2013 at 9:53 am

Man Steve Epting really stepped his game up over the years.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Palmer’s inking (I know, I’m in the minority), but was there any inker LESS suited for the horrible early 90’s than Tom? His feathery, blotchy lines worked well enough on later day Buscema, but here it’s a total clash of styles. That’s actually a compliment, anything at odds with the ghastly Image style is good.

Mark there was a 5th embossed Avengers cover at this time as well, “Avengers West Coast” 100, which came out between “Avengers 366 and 369.

On the gimmick – I was always a bit confused by the random (I see now, quarterly) special covers pretty unrelated to major storyline events. I guess ok to celebrate the whole year, but in terms of bringing in new readers, slapping a fancy cover on a regular book doesn’t sound like it would get you the most return.

On the substance, I’ll chime in as another reader who has very fond memories of the Harras era Avengers (if not so much the very end of that era). I thought the Gathering storyline was well developed over time and actually a lot more coherent than what Harras was overseeing over at X-Men (i.e. there was an end to it). I thought the Black Knight / Crystal / Sersi love triangle was also a very engaging storyline (and the main reason this was the only comic my then girlfriend would read). There was even some good work done with Hercules. And yeah, I found the mostly no-name team in many ways more enjoyable than the all-star line-up Bendis gave us in New Avengers. Would I want the Avengers running around in matching bomber jackets forever? No, but it was a cool change of pace for a while.

I wouldn’t say this was a difficult time to be an Avengers fan, as much as 1993 was a difficult time to be a Marvel fan – look at what was coming out in March 1993. I’d put Avengers 360 in my top 5 Marvel books of the month, maybe top 3.

@Jeff I did see the WC Avengers cover but I honestly felt a tad overwhelmed tackling 4 unconnected comics as it was…. a 5th would have made this brutal to write.

I’ll save you the effort: WCA #100 sucked. There, done.

Yeah, it was in fact not great. I had just about given up on the series then and unbeknownst to me it was cancelled after just one more issue.

“Assuming that the 200 square miles destroyed by the explosion would be a circular area centered on it, and given that the area of a circle is 2 x pi x the radius, then the team would actually have needed to travel only 8 miles to get out of the blast radius. So they’d have to travel at only 2200 MPH to escape in time. Much better!”

Also, they themselves are not at the center of the explosion, they are already outside of the forcefield which has been constructed to contain the explosion. I can’t even estimate from the above page, but it feels fair to knock at least a mile off of the distance they need to flee.

That panel from Avengers #369 makes me laugh. It looks like Cap injected himself with venom between panels and turned into Bane.
That or he became a turtle.

Who needs Captain America when you have Black Knight? He has a light saber, glowy eyes and PLENTY of extreme ‘tude.

I know someone already called it out but good lord: “LETS BOOK!”

[…] Comics Should Be Good blog. In this column, I look at the gimmick cover comics of the 1990s (chromium, foil, glow-in-the-dark, polybags, etc.) and determine if the comic had any artistic/literary merit […]

akkadiannumen

July 31, 2013 at 1:43 am

Imho, these issues were pretty decent (well, except for the Bloodties crossover), particularly considering the era in which they were released. They’re still fairly enjoyable with a touch of good will and a normal level of suspension of disbelief.

I’d make fun of your Math regarding your “200 square miles” remark but I see someone else corrected you already so I’ll just clarify a specific detail for future reference: when you see “square” next to a measurement unit it means they’re talking about surface area not distance.

PS: Vision says the containment field is failing 13 seconds sooner than he anticipated but I don’t think that means they only have 13 seconds to escape.

Re: “Let’s Book”
It was not an uncommon thing to hear someone say in the early 90s. You can mock it for not being “cool” slang anymore, but it was something a lot of people used to say.

The “purpose” of the foil covers was to celebrate the (30th? I believe)anniversary of the avengers which culminated in the X Men crossover. Why those particular issues? No idea.

I actually liked the harras run but good god- the stubble!

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