Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Avengers 385

Avengers 385, "Evil in a Cold and Lonely Place," Cover Date April, 1995
Written by Bob Harras and Terry Kavanagh, Pencils by Mike Deodato and John Buscema, finishes by Tom Palmer

Avengers 385 Cover
Despite the cover, I can assure you that Black Widow's head does not start blasting electricity at the team. Thunderstrike (Thor's 90s equivalent) does not appear inside the issue.

I'll be the first to admit I actually like the teamster jacket wearing Avengers of the early 90's, as written by Bob Harras and penciled by Steve Epting. Part of it might be that I love Steve Epting's art, and part of it may be that while the series was accused of turning into an "X-Men ripoff," that meant a focus on character relationships and inter-team drama, which I am always a sucker for. Epting left after the conclusion to "The Gathering" in issue 375, concluding a subplot that Harras and Epting started way back in issue 344. After a series of fill-in artists resolving other subplots, and a team-up with Fantastic Force (stay tuned for more Fantastic Force), the series introduced new regular penciler, cheesecake extraordinaire Mike Deodato, and Harras began co-plotting with editor Terry Kavanagh, the man responsible for some of the very worst Spider-Man comics of the 90's (he also suggested the clone saga) before eventually handing the writing duties over to Kavanagh entirely. As Avengers historians may recall, the end results... were not great. So let's get things started!

Avengers 385 Black Widow Deodato
Which is more out of proportion? Black Widow or the moon?

We begin on a rooftop, as Natalia (Natasha?) Romanova poses on a rooftop behind an enormous full moon, her feet cleverly hidden from view, as narration boxes briefly recap her history as a spy and superhero. She leaps through the city to meet her contact, Ivan Petrovich, her former chauffer/bodyguard. Ivan speaks with a goofy accent, as apparently he's meant to sound like "Bogart" based on watching old movies. He and Widow leave after he briefs her on this danger in Canada, as we get some amazingly over-the-top prose: "and from the now-deserted street... comes the sepulchral sound of an ancient manhole cover being lifted from the roadbed... by an oddly sinister gold-gloved hand." As opposed to the perfectly friendly gold-gloved hands we run across on a daily basis. As Ivan drives his sports car, we're told two (unseen) energy blasts hit each of his tires, and he rolls out of his car, a pistol in each hand. A laser blast hits him with a FA-SHAMM. A dazed Ivan looks up and recognizes the figure who shot him, but the reader sees only an oddly sinister gold boot.

Avengers 385 Deathcry Quicksilver Crystal
"Like, the malls on this planet are totally better than the malls on my home planet!" -Deathcry

Meanwhile, back at the recently re-built (via magic, obviously) Avengers Mansion, Quicksilver and his estranged wife Crystal are fiddling with the mysterious door in the sub-basement while teenage alien Deathcry supervises. Deathcry, it should be noted, was introduced as a deadly Shi'ar warrior during a storyline where the Kree were out to kill the Avengers. Now, she has apparently taken English classes from Jubilee, as she casually asks "wouldn't it be dope to get our pictures taken in People?" Her hair is also somewhere between the traditional Shi'ar mohawk and straight-up Wolverine hair. Quicksilver shushes Deathcry, but Crystal says to give her a break, as no teenager would want to hang around with "old fogies" like them. A moment later, fire blasts through the sub-basement door, scalding Deathcry. Deathcry is miraculously not burned, as Crystal points out that the flare vanished "as though it never happened." Quicksilver says that may well be the case, positing some sort of "temporal flux emanating from that damnable door!" I know the Avengers have like, 7 scientists, so why is Quicksilver the one left to drop these scientific vocab words? As the heroes make their way back up into the mansion, they don't hear a tapping at the mystery door.

Avengers 385 Nick Fury Dugan
The Greatest (fashion) Generation.

We next join Nick Fury on the Hellicarrier. He gets a that the Avengers are heading for a restricted area, based on the information Ivan gave Black Widow earlier, and gets in touch with "Dum Dum" Dugan and requests a mysterious file.

Avengers 385 Quicksilver Crystal
Next panel: Pietro flies the Quinjet directly into a mountain.

Over Canada, the Avengers make their way to this mystery location. Quicksilver points out they don't know much of what's going on, and Black Widow says she'll tell them when she can, and wonders what's caused Cap's disappearance, with an editor's note pointing us to Cap #438. An incredibly mopey Hercules wonders if maybe he'll get lucky and die this mission, so that he can be joined with his "beloved Taylor," a made-up construct Zeus used to teach Hera a lesson, that Hercules subsequently fell in love with (she "died" in last month's issue). Crystal gives a speech to Hercules about how that's not what the non-person Taylor would've wanted, encouraging Hercules to cherish the time he did spend with her. Quicksilver, in the pilot's seat, is distracted by his wife's speech, as he maybe wonders whether her words have a second meaning (she also lost her love interest the Black Knight in issue #375, but has since tried to patch things up with Quicksilver). Deathcry calls in and uses the word "like" multiple times in a sentence, as she was taught by her proud Shi'ar warriors.

Avengers 385 Hercules
Earth's Pout-iest Heroes.

The team approaches a huge smoking crater. As the team approaches, Quicksilver says "can you feel it? Somewhere from within the bowels of this crater-- there's still an essence of power." Hercules lowers the team, still moping. When the ropes go slack, he immediately thinks there's danger, and leaps in after the team. When Black Widow points out how stupid that line of thinking is, Hercules pouts by going off to explore the underground complex after saying "I am a dullard, am I not?" As the group walk along a catwalk, a sudden blast threatens to plunge them deeper underground. The team all grab onto one another, but before they can be pulled up, Hercules asks again why they're there in the first place. A mysterious voice also wants to know. We reveal the Red Skull, wearing a sinister gold-colored outfit and holding an energy gun, as he stands over an unconscious Ivan. To be continued!


This is actually issue 2 of the all-star Harras/Kavanagh writing team, and things are already going great! Harras is credited with scripting this issue, although both have story credits. I'm not sure whose idea it was to make Deathcry a complete Jubilee rip-off with Wolverine hair, but... it ain't a great idea. This was a weird time when it seemed like every team had to have its own Shi'ar, but Excalibur's Cerise seems much cooler than the annoying Deathcry. It probably helped that Cerise was mostly drawn by Alan Davis and made out with Nightcrawler. We also get amazingly hammy prose, and Quicksilver is speaking like he just speed-read a word of the day calendar. Here's this month's vocab words:
  • sepulchral
  • temporal flux
  • emanation
  • bowel
  • prattle
Be sure to study, there's a quiz on Wednesday!

I have to assume the opening scene with Ivan Petrovich and the conflict between Natasha and Hercules is in response to fan letters, who pointed out that while Black Widow is technically the leader, she hasn't done anything in about 40 issues. Unfortunately, she doesn't really do anything here either except keep secrets from the team and "be mysterious." We also get to see a scene where Nick Fury says she's "the best" at getting information, which otherwise serves no purpose except I guess telling the reader that Nick Fury and/or SHIELD will get involved in this story- otherwise it's just some character telling the reader that our heroes are good at what they do. Hercules is a mopey idiot, which is understandable, but I like Hercules to be a lovable buffoon, so I hope he snaps back soon. He probably just misses his old wrestling helmet. So to recap, we've got two characters, Quicksilver and Deathcry, acting noticeably out of character, and a "focus" on the Black Widow that tells us virtually nothing new about her. On the plus side, the small cast allows the new reader to pretty easily pick up who's who and what's going on, unlike most X-Men comics of the period.

The art is handled by the unlikely team of Mike Deodato and "Big" John Buscema. For those that aren't comic book historians, John Buscema is one of the biggest comic book artists of the 60's and 70's: in addition to runs on Avengers, Fantastic Four (where he was Kirby's replacement), Thor and Silver Surfer, he's probably best known for working on Conan comics for about 15 years. Deodato (real name: Deodato Taumaturgo Borges) was an up-and-comer, having just finished a run on Wonder Woman, and already had a reputation for being a Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld style artist who liked drawing hot women. This issue represents more Deodato than Buscema. In the opening splash page, Black Widow is about 2/3 legs, which is definitely Deodato's anatomy. My favorite possibly unintentional shot is the panel of Crystal bending over to examine the mystery door, where her husband Quicksilver's text bubble completely obscures the butt shot that I'm sure Deodato wanted to be the focus of the image. Then again, Quicksilver in that image appears to be looking directly at the reader, as if to say "oh no you don't!" So maybe the obstruction was intentional. Other than that, there aren't many cheesecake shots, and the art looks like an above-average 90's comic. There are a few missing backgrounds, but they're all in places where it at least sort of makes sense to not focus on backgrounds. The face-work is actually very solid, and might be where Buscema's influence showed up.

Avengers 385 Crystal Deodato butt
Avengers 385 Quicksilver
"Nice try, perverts. Stay away from my wife." -Quicksilver

All in all, this isn't the worst; it's a down-swing from the Harras/Epting period, but we're not nearly scraping the bottom of the well. Stay with us and we'll get there!

90's Fashion: The entire team wears their Avengers jackets. Black Widow is wearing a version of her hideous Frank Miller 80's costume, but has accessorized it with a belt that appears to be nothing but pouches. Nick Fury is wearing a sleeveless SHIELD uniform that makes him look like Cyclops, it's so covered with gold belts over a blue costume. And Dum Dum rocks a similar look, but with his trademark bowler hat on. Hercules's "costume" appears to be a sleeveless t-shirt with an Avengers logo and a pair of slacks with knee pads over them: even without his helmet, he is ready to wrassle.

General Miscellany: Check out the hot new cartoon coming "on line" this March! Reboot! Somehow this Canadian cartoon has better CGI than 2012's Foodfight! 

Reboot ad Avengers 385


  1. To be fair, Cerise was not intended by Davis to be Shi'ar. That was ret-conned by the subsequent writer -- Scott Lobdell.

    Someday I plan to read Harras's full run of Avengers. They aren't "my" Avengers, but I have fond memories of this group nonetheless, as they were the Avengers when I was really getting into comics regularly. I just never read their series.

  2. Wow, I did not know Davis had other plans for Cerise. His run(s) on Excalibur were too brief. It's a shame that almost all of the new cast he brought in were immediately jettisoned to make the book fit better into X-continuity.

    As mentioned, I really enjoy the Harras/Epting collaboration. Harras does a pretty solid job of having a master storyline pay off with the Gatherers, and I liked the inter-team drama of Black Knight, Crystal and Sersi. It was a rough period for Avengers writers as Iron Man and Thor were terminally unavailable.

    Harras also gave the book some consistency. After Marvel pulled the plug on Simonson, they gave Byrne, Fabe, and even Larry Hama a shot with the book, and none lasted long or did a whole lot that stuck (Hama created Rage [who was completely insufferable], Byrne had Spidey show up for an arc and destroyed the Hydro-base, and Fabe had a bi-weekly fill-in story about Atlanteans taking a nuclear sub). I think in every case Avengers was the second or third most important book those guys were writing, and it showed. Harras seemed to give the book some attention, and the quality definitely picks up.

    That's just for Harras the writer, though. Harras the editor/EIC? That's another story.

  3. I love the Harras/Epting Avengers. My favorite run, just barely ahead of the Stern/Buscema/Palmer run, because it was the first era of Avengers I read.

    I love the jackets (it just makes sense for teams to have clothing with their logo on it, and the jackets help the team look uniform while still allowing for individuality), love the interpersonal stuff (because I came to Avengers from the X-Men), love the lineup, with a mix of stalwart (Cap, Vision), mid-level (Black Knight, Hercules) and new-to-the-team (Crystal, Sersi) characters, love the Gatherers subplot...just tons of underrated stuff here obscured by peoples disdain for anything 90s/in leather jackets.

    Deathcry, it should be noted, was introduced as a deadly Shi'ar warrior during a storyline where the Kree were out to kill the Avengers. Now, she has apparently taken English classes from Jubilee

    That always bugged me. Not that I loved Angsty 90s Warrior Deathcry or anything, but the arbitrariness of the change always rubbed me the wrong way.

    The face-work is actually very solid, and might be where Buscema's influence showed up.

    True, though Deodato's more recent work shows a skill for realistic faces. Then again, he could have just traced all those Norma Osborn-as-Tommy Lee Jones drawings.

  4. Yup, Davis indicated on his forum that he had other origins in mind for Cerise. I liked all of those characters he added to Excalibur as well, but Cerise especially was a favorite.

    And -- I say it almost everywhere I can get away with it -- I liked Bob Harras as an editor and an editor-in-chief. X-Men and Uncanny were always my two top reads when he was behind them, and the last time I really, truly enjoyed the majority of Marvel's output was when he was the EiC.

    I do think, however, that by the end of his tenure, the line was already headed south. I was not a fan of the Spider-Man reboot or the X-Men "Revolution" and "Counter X" events. But I can't be too hard on him, because there was some very good Spidey between Clone Saga and the reboot, I loved the Alan Davis X-Men era, and the Avengers-related Heroes Return titles were all very consistently good.

    Hmm, maybe I'll write a Bob Harras post for my blog. Finally compile all my thoughts on the guy in one place...