Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Avengers Unplugged #1

Avengers Unplugged #1, "Unchain My Heart," Cover Date October 1995
Written by Glenn Herdling, Art by M.C. Wyman and Sandu Florea

Avengers Unplugged 1

Last month, I alluded to Marvel's corporate synergy and how it created the greatness that was Fantastic Force as part of an attempt to expand the "Marvel Universe" editorial brand that didn't have the hot sellers that X-Men and Spider-Man's clone saga had at the time. In addition to the majesty of Devlor the Inhuman, Marvel of this time created "Unplugged" versions of books like Avengers and Fantastic Four, a great way to enjoy acoustic versions of your favorite superhero comics. Seriously though, they're pretty bad. Let's get to it!

Avengers Unplugged Nefarius
Why would the Jury make form-fitting suits of armor for female guards? The guys don't wear form-fitting metal outfits.

We begin as Hercules, Vision, Hank Pym and Black Widow personally escort "Nefarius" into the Vault, the prison for super-criminals that unfortunately didn't survive the 1990's. As Nefarius's jailer whines about the habeus corpus motion he received from Nefarius's (evil) lawyer, Dr. Karla Sofen (aka Moonstone) is getting her fake tan on in another section of the prison. My tax dollars are going towards super villains tans?! It turns out that Nefarius was playing possum, as he revives and immediately starts targeting the tanning villainess. Somehow the Jury goons transporting Nefarius get separated from the heroes, and Nefarius uses this opportunity to pummel the lot of them while making fun of their armor and making dated references to anti-drug PSAs.

Avengers Unplugged Nefarius Moonstone
It's a good thing they set up the tanning so that they'd have an in-story reason to put this girl in her swimsuit as she's punched into a wall!

Nefarius smashes through Dr. Sofen's cell, and she tries to seduce him, but he throws her across the room and threatens to break her neck, but she negotiates down to an arm-breaking. The Avengers finally show up and engage Nefarius enough for Moonstone to fall down a tunnel, causing her moon gem's powers to return to her (although I would think her arm would still be broken).

Avengers Unplugged Nefarius Hank Pym
Close your mouth, guys.

While Hank Pym, Vision, and Hercules deal with Nefarius in a pretty boring 10 page punch-up, Widow and Moonstone fight just outside the facility, with Widow correctly pointing out that clearly this wasn't Moonstone's plan, and that if she just goes ahead and surrenders, she'll be in far less trouble than if Widow has to call in the Avengers. Moonstone sees the logic in this and surrenders, even as Hercules and Hank Pym throw a super-dense Vision at Nefarius as hard as possible like some sort of nightmarish game of dodgeball. We end with the boys finding Moonstone helping Widow up with her apparently uninjured arm, as Widow brags about using psychology. Hank Pym has the eye-rolling last line "not too shabby, considering Moonstone is a master psychologist herself!"

Avengers Unplugged Hercules
Hercules and his magic changing outfit.

Review: Almost all of this issue is dedicated to a fight scene, but it's so amateurishly set-up and so poorly done everything around the fight requires a ton of background information not in the comic. The comic tells us that Nefarius was captured, and that Dr. Sofen "tricked" Nefarius into rejecting his moon gem. The book doesn't really explain that Nefarius was the original original Moonstone, that her power source is his old power source, or what exactly he has the power to do: he's dressed like Count Nefaria, a classic 70's Avengers villain (who had previously been a minor X-Men villain in the Silver Age). But does he have Nefaria's powers? If so, how? The internet tells me he was re-powered in Gruenwald's Captain America #379, but for those keeping score at home, that was published five years earlier, and no footnote to that issue is ever given. The effect is that the issue ends up being completely nonsensical, built around an incredibly minor villain's grudge against a character who at the time was equally minor (fortunately for Moonstone, Kurt Busiek and the Thunderbolts was just 2 years away), with the Avengers just showing up to go a few rounds with a stupidly named Superman-type.

Avengers Unplugged Vision
Nice to see Vision was built with white teeth for increased glowering.

Additionally, Herdling writes some truly horrendous dialogue, as Nefarius is basically a blank-slate "angry guy" who makes ridiculous quips while attacking everyone. The dialogue also doesn't make it clear what Nefarius actually wants from Moonstone: I think he wants his moon gem back, but the book seems to imply that he's a sadist who is going to murder this woman. Hey kids, 99 cent comics! Another example of horrible dialogue? The Grey Gargoyle, aka Paul Pierre Duval, asks Nefarius for help by asking him to help "bust him outta this joint," because French guys talk like 1920's gangsters.

M.C. Wyman at the time was a dedicated fill-in artist whose only regular gig was a stint on early 90's Thor. He also did some Cable fill-ins, and worked on a few limited series through the early to mid-90's. Wyman definitely seems to be going for a Rob Liefeld-esque look, including "not knowing what women look like, and plenty of focus on gritted teeth. Also, maybe it was editorial edict, but Wyman gives Moonstone a new costume here that's absolutely awful, and next issue, he gives another 70's villain a hideous new outfit. Was somebody at editorial demanding Wyman design at least one awful new outfit a month? Also Hercules appears to change outfits between panels, as the art team can't seem to come to a consensus as to what Herk is actually wearing. It literally changes panel-to-panel. I like to recommend something better when I'm as down on the art as I am on this, so I'll recommend Wyman's turn as the fill-in artist of the Avengers from issues 352-354, as the team face off against the Grim Reaper and his Legion of the Unliving, and a weird Lovecraftian hand-monster elder god shows up. In the same vein, I recommend fans of Herdling check out the Pizza Hut X-Men Collector's Edition, which is a true classic.

90's Fashion: the ludicrously impractical female Jury outfits definitely qualify. Moonstone drops her old "Legion of Superheroes" style helmet and her moon insignia to wear a plain yellow bodysuit, but accessorizes it with a pair of tiny sunglasses.


  1. I hate to pick nits (if by hate you mean love), but I just wanted to point out that the guards at the Vault are called Guardsmen. The Jury was a group formed to hunt Venom, with one ex-Guardsman, wearing modified armor, among their membership.

    And yes, those "Boobsman" armors are ridiculous.

  2. You're right, I'm not sure how I managed to mix the two up, except that the guards at the Vault weren't named in this issue. "Boobsman" armor cracked me up.

  3. It's amazing how Marvel's $0.99 initiative could give us something as great as Untold Tales of Spider-Man for the same price as dreck like this and FF Unplugged.