Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exit Roy, Enter Steve

I'm still in the midst of my ongoing reading project of tackling all 7 volumes of Essential Avengers. I am in the middle of Volume 5 right now, and the 1970s are well underway. Perhaps even more important than the change in decade (which actually happened in Vol. 4), however, is the change in writer. You see, Volume 5 includes the end of Roy Thomas' long and storied run as regular scribe of The Avengers.

It's kind of funny, but I was a little sad to reach this point in the run. It's not as if I didn't know it was coming, but it still felt somewhat bittersweet. As I've mentioned in prior discussions of this project, Roy's run on that title includes one of my favorite single stretches of any comic book series. The man took over sometime during Volume 2's issues, and it takes until Volume 5 for him to leave the book. That's an impressive run no matter how you look at it.

I have to admire Thomas' approach to his departure. He could have wrapped up all his plot threads neatly, but he chose not to do this. Instead, he left at least two (Quicksilver's disappearance and the Grim Reaper's offer to the Vision) unresolved for his replacement. When you consider that Thomas KNEW he was leaving (he was editor-in-chief by then, and he titled his last story "With A Bang And A Whimper", so...), that's either a generous or maddening move for the guy that had to fill his shoes. It drives the modern day Chris mad, with his desire that the Thomas era end cleanly, but I have to applaud it as a sure-fire way to keep the kids reading even with a new name in the credits box.

That new name turned out to be Steve Englehart, and he was never quite as effective in telling his stories than he was in this timeframe. Those early issues have some growing pains that show, such as the Black Panther lapsing into a wholly uncharacteristic speech pattern for at least one issue. It's also a bit of a jarring shift to see heroes transition from Roy's dialogue to Steve's. Still, Englehart gamely grabs the baton and runs with it. His resolution to the Grim Reaper/Vision story may not have been Thomas' original concept (given the bait and switch, I suspect not), but it's pretty clever all the same. It even manages to incorporate inventory story pages from Captain America into the narrative! And while the ambition that would mark Englehart's storytelling is not quite in evidence yet, it helps to know that it is lurking just around the corner. For instance, I'm still a few issues away from the debut of a certain lady named Mantis.

I may be taking a breather after Volume 5 to read DC's latest JLA Showcase book, which also happens to be a Volume 5. I've already read over 100 issues, and nearly 10 years worth of The Avengers. It's a fascinating evolution, to be sure.

2 comments:

Xenorama said...

I dunno... with Roy there as editor, and returning to help plot out the entire "origin of the Vision" story, I think he must have left a basic outline for Steve.

the Avengers 101-108 were the first story arc I had ever read through. it was awesome, and I didn't notice a difference in the writers (of course I was 7 or so). I love the artwork of those issues and it's what cemented my love of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch and their story.

and the letters pages were awesome as well.

now about those Cap story pages... I've wondered about them a lot, but I think they are part of the story, drawn for the Avengers. please discuss!

C. Elam said...

I think Editor Roy gave Steve some leeway to do things differently than Writer Roy. Thomas has mentioned that the "interim Cap" idea was his (surprise?), but Englehart took it in an entirely different direction. So I have no trouble imagining Steve deciding he didn't even want to deal with the Vision in Wonder Man's body angle, even if that was the original plot. I mean, it gets dismissed rather out of hand when Englehart picks up that thread.

Roy definitely set up the Vision as the Torch, which was another thing I should have mentioned in the entry. It was just less pressing at the time!

The Cap sequences are all drawn by George Tuska, though there are art additions to tie them into the main narrative. The Dave Cockrum inks disguise this pretty well. I don't really recall Marvel doing the two artists for different sequences thing as a storytelling device much (if at all) then. My understanding is that the Tuska pages are part of an inventory story, but I'll be darned if I can find anything beyond GCD agreeing with me to back this up. I should see if I still have those Avengers Index comics and check.