All real comic book fans know that Marvel’s “The Mighty Avengers” is the embodiment of teamwork and that they are Marvel’s answer to DC’s “Justice League”. Truth be told, the DCU JLA animated series was successful because it borrowed elements from this comic book. Why is “The Avengers” so successful? Well, because it had a more human approach. Those of you who are familiar with Marvel comics’ “earth’s mightiest heroes” would also be familiar with “The Masters of Evil”; a band of superhuman villains originally founded by Baron Zemo to have revenge against Captain America.
Well, almost ten years ago, Marvel launched the comic book called “Thunderbolts” by then Avengers writer Kurt Busiek. This title reunited Zemo’s son with several members of the “Masters of Evil”; only this time, they are former outlaws who are looking for redemption. AVENGERS UNDER SIEGE may well be seen as the secret origin of the Thunderbolts. Written by Roger Stern, illustrated by John Buscema and inked by Tom Palmer; the three have come up with a home grown threat for the Avengers amid the Fire Demons of Surtur, The Dire Wraiths and the threat of Annihilus in the mid-1980’s.
This collection has the issues of Avengers vol. one, numbers 270, 271 and 273-277.
Baron Helmut Zemo is the son of Heinrich Zemo; one of the Capt. America’s most relentless foes until he met his death in combat with the Living Legend. Zemo is a master strategist and has no use for the restraints of society. He has brought together more than a dozen of the most powerful super-villains on Earth to lay siege on the Avengers.
During this time, the mighty Avengers consists of a very powerful line up: Captain America, Hercules, The Sub-Mariner, Captain Marvel (now called Photon), The Black Knight and the Wasp. Preying on their differences, he will divide and conquer the planet’s most powerful united force. Outsmarting their mansion’s defense systems, he will bring the fight to their front door. This is a story that breaks all rules…including the Avenger’s own butler.
I loved this story arc; because this was a time when the unspoken rules of the Avengers were all broken: 1) No intelligent foe would assault their own headquarters 2) Jarvis, the butler is off limits to severe physical abuse 3) A group of villains can only band together to match the number of the current Avengers roster. These are unspoken rules that most writers (if not all) have practiced for many decades. Roger Stern’s writing was inspired as he thought that the past incarnations of the “Masters” founded by Zemo, Ultron and even Egghead were just so easily beaten. This time around, Stern thought that the best way to defeat this band of heroes was not just to match their number but OUTNUMBER them. After all, these are the bad guys and bad guys should play dirty. Why match when you can outman, outnumber and overpower six of earth’s mightiest heroes? Roger Stern had a great idea and he executed it very well.
From the pages of Thor hails The Absorbing Man, Mr. Hyde, the Wrecker and his Wrecking Crew and the Grey Gargoyle. From the previous “Masters” group came Moonstone and Tiger Shark. From the pages of Secret Wars come Titania and from recent encounters come Blackout, Screaming Mimi, Whirlwind, Yellowjacket, Goliath and the Fixer. These were arguably the most powerful band of superhuman terrorists ever assembled. I was also impressed that all sixteen villains had a strong connection to the Masters and had a grudge against the Avengers.
Stern wanted to have a story that had the accuracy and the cleverness needed to convince the reader that the “Masters” had a carefully planned out strategy. In the first three chapters, we see the sinister band spy on the Avengers, recruit and plant the seeds of dissent among the members to catch them off guard to better humiliate them. Hercules had a growing resentment in following the Wasp‘s leadership; that increased his natural carelessness. The Black Knight has been infatuated with the Wasp that made him confused and jealous with the appearance of Paladin. Captain America is kept busy fighting other secret members of the “Masters”. The Sub-Mariner is busy with his own affairs. The assault was a product of perfect planning and timing as the heroes were brought to their knees.
The script is very suspenseful and intense as I wondered what would happen next in the beginning of the third chapter. Clearly these new “masters” were aiming for the total defeat and humiliation of Earth’s mightiest heroes and they are able to play REALLY dirty. Captain America and The Black Knight were captured and beaten. Hercules ambushed by more than six of the Masters’ strongmen. The son of Zeus has strength to rival The Hulk (he pushed the island of Manhattan) and he is brought to a comatose state. Captain Marvel banished to the dark force dimension where even her energy-manipulating powers are useless. The Wasp is left alone to tend to the wounds of Hercules with no help. What really proved disturbing were the scenes of raw brutality and torture on Jarvis by Mister Hyde to break the Avengers’ spirit.
But while the Avengers reserves were occupied and with time running out; the Wasp finds new life as she beats the Absorbing Man and Titania with the assistance of the new Ant-Man. Chapters 5-7 chronicles the return of the Avengers as they come back seeking vengeance. Allies such as Dr. Druid come to lend a helping hand and Captain Marvel escapes her exile. But what really got most comic fans excited was the fact that a match-up was brewing between a returning God of Thunder and one of the strongest villains in the persona of Goliath who has the strength of Wonder Man magnified by the stolen size-changing power of Giant-Man. This was a match in the making and wonderfully set up since Goliath was the one who had beaten Hercules within an inch of his life. Also, we see an unarmed Captain America take on a four-times stronger than before “the Wrecker”. It is always entertaining to see the Living Legend in action.
Another worthwhile element that Stern and Buscema had injected into the story was the emotions. Zemo is a man obsessed with revenge and would stoop the lowest ways to break Captain America’s spirit. You see Zemo play mental games with Steve Rogers as he slowly mocks the remnants of his past and the memory of his late partner Bucky and even his mother. This led to the severe beating of Jarvis by the brutal Mr. Hyde, which proves to be a truly shocking moment in the pages of comic books. Stern and Buscema had pushed the limits of comic storytelling for this period in time. Rogers is a strong man and he would take care of business. The final encounter between Helmut Zemo and Rogers was powerful and exposes the humanism and strength that Captain America represented.
Carefully illustrated by comics legend John Buscema, the action is kept tight and taut. I loved the art as Buscema has a knack for drawing great fight sequences that may indeed match the skills of George Perez. I also loved the way he draws the female characters as they don’t look like supermodels but rather they look like strong athletic women. Remember, the story was written in the 80’s and comics reflect the practices of society during that time. The dialogue is pretty mature but still lack the realistic graphic profanity that evil men should speak. Profanity is printed as “#$@% or something like that.
Still, despite some weaknesses in the plain of “real time”, and it felt a little rushed on chapter 6; Stern's writing was still impressive seeing as it did hit all its best aces well. It was no surprise that he wrote this title for a significant number of years. “The Mighty Avengers” have always been a contender for the Eisner awards and this is one of the many reasons why. This is one of the few times that the Avengers look, feel like they’ve really been in a REAL struggle and they didn‘t leave unscathed.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Stars]
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This review is a TRIBUTE to the late JOHN BUSCEMA (1927-2002)
Comic book artist EXTRAORDINAIRE and EISNER comic Book Hall of FAMER.