I have recently posted my thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War and about my enjoyment of Kurt Busiek’s writing, and it got me thinking about something I find incongruous about the MCU from the perspective of a long-term comic book fan:
I have always found The Avengers a really boring book.
I bought Busiek’s run on The Avengers, after Heroes Reborn, but sold the books when I was downsizing to return to the UK because I didn’t care about them enough to keep them in my collection, despite being a fan of Busiek. They were fine comic books – Busiek’s a good writer, after all – but they were steeped in the history and love of the Avengers, and that didn’t have an impact on me because I simply don’t care about them.
(Conversely, I still have Avengers Forever, despite it being steeped in Avengers lore, but it was something different and I prefer Carlos Pacheco’s art. To quote someone better with words: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”)
When I first started reading Marvel comic books, I was an X-Men fan through and through, collecting all the X-books I could get my hands on. I would occasionally branch out, based on the classic Marvel technique of crossovers with other books, leading me to the likes of Walt Simonson’s Thor, Power Pack, Peter David’s The Incredible Hulk. However, when I would stumble across Avengers books, I would find them dull, old-fashioned, staid, conventional. For example, because of Simonson’s Thor run, I followed him onto The Avengers, but the 10 issues he would last on the title were drab, not helped by the John Buscema art – he is an excellent artist but in 1988/1989, it felt very like it was from another era and not done deliberately to evoke a period, making it seem dated and uncool, for want of a better term.
Therefore, it has rather amused me that the MCU is so enjoyable; I adore the films and what has been done with the characters and the Avengers films are among my favourite superhero films (see my review of The Avengers and my review of Avengers: Age of Ultron). This cinematic enjoyment is despite the films being based around the Avengers, a team for which I have no affection from my comic book reading. It’s also funny that Marvel Studios based the films around the Avengers solely on the fact that Marvel had sold off the cinematic rights to the cooler books back in the 1990s during the bankruptcy period. The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man – those were the books that held the fans’ attentions and affections, which is why other people wanted to make films from the properties. Nobody, as far as I’m aware, was scrambling to get the movie rights for the Avengers, perhaps because they had seen that awful Captain America film from 1990, or perhaps because it was considered a hokey concept. Nobody was anticipating much from the Iron Man movie when it was released in 2008, let alone thinking it would lead to an Avengers movie that would dominate the world and completely alter the way studios try to make universes out of their franchises.
I think that the Avengers comic book can be considered ordinary through its history via the lack of big spin-offs, until the Avengers: Disassembled story by Brian Michael Bendis at the end of 2004 completely upended the Avengers corner of the Marvel universe and produced many successful spin-offs. The West Coast Avengers didn’t get a mini-series until 1984, closely followed by a nine-year run for the ongoing series, and there was a Solo Avengers that started in 1987 and lasted for 40 issues, but kind of defeats the point of a team book. Compare this with the four titles starring Peter Parker as Spider-Man, or the multitude of X-books that dominated the comic book industry in the pre-collapse years. I realise this is a suspect argument, but if people wanted more Avengers, there would have been more books.
(I should point out that I obviously haven’t read all of The Avengers and I’m sure there are some good storylines in there, and that we wouldn’t have the films if it weren’t for the comic books, but that’s part of my point: the films based on the books are exciting; the books themselves are not.)
The Avengers always seemed to be the establishment of the Marvel universe, whereas the X-Men and other teams always seemed to be outcasts on the periphery (even if they were the dominant books at the time) – Marvel characters were such a refreshing change to the boring DC characters because they were not the establishment. The Avengers had a mansion in Manhattan, they had lots of money due to Tony Stark, they had a liaison to the UN Security Council, they always had Ultron coming back again and again (I’ve always found Ultron boring; I’m so glad that James Spader voiced the character with such a disdainful approach) – it all seemed so rote, so repetitious, so conservative, so conformist, so square. I could not be bothered by any of them – Busiek’s run was the only stretch that I collected before Bendis’ run, and that was mostly due to Busiek’s work on Marvels and Astro City, but that couldn’t save those books from a cull of my collection.
I guess I missed the point of the Avengers; the X-Men were the outcasts trying to survive, to make a better world for mutants, they had a special bond due to genetics. The Avengers were simply ‘put individual superheroes on a team’ (the start of the Avengers is literally that: take Marvel’s then existing solo characters and force them into a group). That is not a hook on which to hang a team book, at least not for me. The only aspect that has allowed the Avengers to survive and to some extent thrive is the concept that was introduced when all the original members quit and Captain America was left to form a new team: a continuously changing roster that could include any super-powered character. Allowing anyone to be a member of the team provided an almost unlimited scope for changing up the boring – and practically everyone in the Marvel universe has been an Avenger at some point: Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four, even Triathlon. But it’s still not enough to make the Avengers interesting to me. Even Jonathan Hickman didn’t make the Avengers interesting, mostly because he was just telling a massive story that needed to have a huge collection of Marvel superheroes in order to tell the story.
So, there you have it: I’m a long-time comic book fan, particularly a fan of the Marvel universe, who couldn’t care less about the Avengers in the comic books, but who is deliriously happy watching them on the silver screen. I’m conflicted but I’m working on it …