Avengers: 2017 “Where Are They Now?” Update (Jarvis and Agent Murch)

Every good hero needs a supporting cast. Sure, everyone needs somebody but no protagonist worth a damn operates in a vacuum. It doesn’t matter if you’re Don Quixote, James Bond or Batman. Hell, even the Punisher has his tech-savvy pal, Microchip. In this, the Avengers are certainly no different. While the first three parts cover the adventurers themselves (here, here and here), let’s dial it back this time to look at some honorable mentionables running things behind the scenes…

j.tos59kirby

Words by Stan Lee; Art by Jack Kirby and Chic Stone

EDWIN JARVIS

Active As Of: Tales of Suspense #59 (Nov, 1964)

Current Affiliation: Honorary Member (Active)

History: Earth’s. Mightiest. Butler. (‘Nuff said!)

Perhaps better known these days as either a disembodied voice or Agent Peggy Carter’s lovably bungling tag-along thanks to portrayals by Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts, the comic book version is really more the spiritual glue of the Avengers’ history and tradition.

The Starks’ loyal family manservant Tony’s entire growing up, Jarvis ostensibly comes as part of the package when Iron Man offers up his ancestral Manhattan townhouse as Avengers Mansion.

However, despite his being the most upstanding of chaps, the straightforwardness with ol’ Eddie ends about there- as he also may very well be the unsung “Patient Zero” of Marvel story retcons…

For those not in the know, “retcon” stands for “retroactive continuity“. It’s a word typically thrown around when a late-breaking story element reframes (or sometimes overwrites) another previously-established work. A great recent example is the referential interaction between Rogue One and the original 1977 Star Wars. Everyone knows which historically comes first yet who among us is going to disavow the new intended viewing order??

So, yeah, think of Jarvis maybe more in those terms and it’ll be easier. Anyway, down the rabbit hole we go…

While Tony’s house may first appear in 1963’s Avengers #2, it’s only ever inferred that there’s an attending domestic staff (if that). That begins to change when the first Avenger takes up residence (Captain America, between Avengers #4 and 5). However, Jarvis doesn’t make an on-panel appearance until Cap (Steve Rogers) gains his own backing serial in the pages of the Tales of Suspense anthology (circa the time of Avengers #10). He’s not actually seen in the pages of Avengers until #16 (May, 1965).

av280flshbk

Words by Bob Harras; Art by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker

Other flashbacks and retroactive “period pieces” place Jarvis on the hero scene even earlier, though- possibly the earliest depicting him absorbing the duties of the other servants who quit in haste over the idea of having to deal with the Hulk!

After Cap, the next live-in Avengers are a trio of young adults and a couch-surfer who just also happens to be an actual Greek demigod. That said, it doesn’t take long for Jarvis to become as much a beloved institution himself as the institution he himself is responsible for dusting.

Indeed, Jarvis is probably the factor that invites the most comparisons to those other (unrelated) “Avengers” of classic BBC-TV fame. It’s probably his apparent British-by-way-of-Brooklyn demeanor.

Yes, to further add to whole snag, there’s J’s actual origin (or definitive lack thereof). Official sources kinda negate one another and offer nothing but speculative conjecture. Furthermore, as Marvel’s “sliding timescale” moves away from World War II, the less plausible the whole “Jarvis ran away as a kid to fight Nazis” angle is. The “ex-Royal Air Force pilot and three-year boxing champ” part’s still good as long as it’s kept flexible.

His mom’s still around (gotta really be up there in age now) but good luck making more of this mystery by finding clues on her…

Regardless, what all incarnations can agree upon is that this man is put into the employ of Howard Stark and dutifully serves above and beyond the call- no matter how weird or mortally perilous his life becomes.

jkitchen

Words by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar

So, yeah, in all the years that the Avengers operate in the greater New York area, Jarvis is usually right there getting their tea tray ready for the big meetings and ops debriefs. Usually he’s in the Mansion but in later years makes the move to Avengers Tower. That is, understandably, except for the times when he’s hospitalized for being beaten within an inch of his life by super-villains or abducted and replaced by shape-shifting aliens.

In the “All-New, All-Different” status quo, the esteemed “Stark acumen” isn’t all that it once was, causing Tony to downsize and liquidate. As a result, Jarvis is offered a sizable severance upon the sale of the Tower.

However, not long thereafter, Iron Man and Captain America (Sam Wilson) resume operations of a new, wholly-unfunded branch of Avengers, taking up in a hangar out in an old Stark Industries New Jersey airfield (the All-New All-Different Avengers series). Unfulfilled in forced retirement, Jarvis returns to the fold.

As this incarnation of the Avengers fluctuates and Stark’s fortune (personal well-being and otherwise) continues to diminish, Jarvis is recast into an unlikely role: mentor to the Unstoppable Wasp, the genius daughter of Hank Pym.

With the extremely recent turnover of Avengers Mansion coming back from the investors that bought it as a superhero “fantasy theme” hotel, there is an air of hopefulness. On the other hand, it occurs at the cusp of HYDRA-makeover Captain America’s Secret Empire outbreak, so who knows how long before we get to see Jarvis reorganize the cabinets just the way he likes them. Undoubtedly, one “gentleman’s gentleman” in particular will be at the ready all the same…

 

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Words by Joe Casey; Art by Scott Kolins

JAMES MURCH

Active As Of: Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #1 (Jan, 2005)

Current Affiliation: Associate (Deceased)

History: Special Agent of the National Security Council. The original gruff old dean to the Avengers’ metaphoric party dorm.

Never heard of him? That’s probably because he’s really only ever existed as a retcon character within the two volumes of the “untold tales of yesteryear”-style Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series.

When Tony Stark petitions the US government for official recognition and security clearance for the Avengers, Murch is assigned to further investigate the legitimacy of the “mystery folk” gathering. Needless to say, there’s some convincing…

It’s not even just the obvious Hulk that raises red flags as the agent’s also quick to label Captain America an unfit-for-duty PTSD hot mess upon the living legend’s sudden re-emergence!

murch.emh3kolins

Words by Joe Casey; Art by Scott Kolins

Despite racking up an increasing record of heroic displays, Murch continues to dangle “A-1 Priority Status” in front of the Avengers like some just-out-of-reach carrot. Eventually, repeated military coordinations demonstrate the Avengers’ effectiveness and Murch acquiesces- on the stipulation that, once better-acclimated, Captain America remains forefront in the organization.

Murch backs off for a while and only interjects himself again when, during one of Cap’s leaves-of-absence, a couple of new- if not slightly unorthodox- members join the ranks…

Even though he expresses mad reservations about the synthetic man sent to kill the Avengers that they instead welcome with open arms (the Vision), Murch is actually diplomatically accommodating in assisting a foreign leader (the Black Panther)’s establishment of an American schoolteacher undercover identity.

In this era, S.H.I.E.L.D. begins to overall assert itself as a natural bureaucratic firewall between the Avengers and the government. Murch finds himself more in the role of consulting advisor to liaison, Agent Jasper Sitwell. However, this doesn’t stop the Ron Swanson impersonator from training up his own successor as well. Enter deputy partner and future pain-in-superhumans’-collective-ass: Henry Peter Gyrich.

murchhead

Words by Joe Casey; Art by Nathan Fox

Not seen in continuity for years, it’s implied that Murch remains in the intelligence game for awhile, at least. Unfortunately, the next time he appears on-panel, it’s as a severed head- freshly murdered for his knowledge of state secrets. His assassin is a curious flash-in-the-pan anarchist nutjob named “Zodiac” (the final issue of the short-run 2010 Age of Heroes anthology).

Sooo… quite the legacy when the bright side is serving as Gyrich’s personal Qui-Gon Jinn, huh?

Oh, and those secrets Murch dies for? Who can say as Zodiac’s plans are never followed up!

Here lies Special Agent James Murch, truly the Shakespearean bit player. Sound and fury? Check. Signifying nothing? Yeah, big ol’ check right there…

UP NEXT:   The Spangly and The Sporting Goods-y! Captain America! Hawkeye!

Avengers: 2017 “Where Are They Now?” Update (Hulk and Rick Jones)

It’s funny but for all the boasting of being “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, the Avengers sure do start out kinda “remainder bin”. While the first two parts focus on the big guns and the mighty tiny, this last look at the founding class is indeed the most… misfit.

hulk.kirby

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

HULK (Dr. Robert Bruce Banner)

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder

Current Affiliation: Former Member (Deceased)

History:  Brilliant nuclear physicist sharing existence with a gamma-fueled, rage-monster alter ego. Purple pants aficionado. Excellent smasher. Historically the second-most recognizable of all Marvel icons behind Spider-Man, you’d be hard-pressed to find a soul alive who doesn’t have some inkling as to who the Incredible frikkin’ Hulk is!

For those who may need a reminder, though, he’s been rockin’ this catchy ditty since the ’60s. In the late 1970s, he even gains a sad “walking away” outro, playing him off screen until the next adventure.

However, despite all this greater pop culture love, the career of “Hulk The Avenger” is altogether something else…

In the early days, the Hulk serves more as a catalytic element for driving the plot forward than as an equal-footed partner in the fledgling organization- literally being the reason the Avengers form!

Using the Hulk as an unwitting pawn, Loki the Asgardian God of Mischief devises a scheme to lure his hated brother, Thor, into hopefully-mismatched combat.  An unforeseen side-effect of baiting the Thunder God also independently brings Iron Man and the Ant-Man/Wasp duo onto the scene. Before long, Thor senses his adopted sibling’s handiwork as the others track down “The Strongest There Is”. This is where things get… interesting.

av1.robotclown

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

On the run for Loki’s criminal framing, the Hulk seeks refuge in the one place he knows to be the perfect sanctuary: a traveling circus (of course, so obvious!). Now, bear in mind that this is just one of those logic-defying-yet-delightfully-campy Silver Age moments that you just have to take with a proverbial grain of salt but somehow the Hulk enacts a ruse wherein he pretends to play (wait for it)… a robot clown. Yes, that’s right- once again:  A Robot. Clown. Both words together as a compound concept- as if it’s just some commonplace thing that you’d never think twice about. Nonchalantly pretending to read a newspaper on a park bench until it all blows over evidently isn’t an option…

So, yeah, the subterfuge doesn’t last and a classic “misunderstanding” fight breaks out. Eventually, Thor shows up with the real villain, the heroes all combine forces and the Avengers are born.

Depending on who’s writing over the years, there’s some latitude as to exactly how long and to what extent this “honeymoon phase” lasts. However, by the historic second publication (November, 1963), ol’ Jade Jaws is on the outs as a member of the official “charter and mansion” Avengers. The next few issues thereafter chronicle the relationship going from bad to worse.

From there, the Hulk is rarely in the franchise- save for the odd appearance throughout the decades. And it’s never the same interaction. Sometimes he’s an adversary, sometimes a reluctant ally, sometimes he’s only semi-reluctant and sometimes he genuinely surprises, making the Avengers kinda have to say, “why did we break up with this guy, again?”. It really all depends on his mood, disposition and general level of intelligence at any given moment.

indhulk11.mukesh

Art by Mukesh Singh

Fast- forward to 2012. In an effort to better cross-platform promote, the Hulk gradually makes his way back into the fold. Starting with an extremely Marvel Cinematic Universe-friendly storyline running in the Avengers Assemble title and moving through the Avengers Vs. X-Men big summer event series, the Hulk is viewed more and more as a powerfully valuable asset by his once and future peers.

Indeed, when the Avengers restructure during the original “Marvel Now!” marketing initiative, Banner is given a core position on the new roster. Tony Stark, particularly, lobbies heavily for his “Science Bro”…

Banner continues to give back and get his by also enlisting in S.H.I.E.L.D., who assign him his own science-based task force (the Indestructible Hulk series). In exchange, the Hulk is called upon to handle missions far above and beyond regular agents (like policing the timestream in the wake of 2013’s Age of Ultron series).

Being something of a smarty-pants, Banner’s only back in the Avengers for a short while before uncovering that Tony’s also involved in an ongoing reunion of the secretive Illuminati. Instead of going public with the information, Stark brings Banner into the think tank on a full-time basis as the two concoct a “Hulk freak out” scenario that “conveniently” leads to the green giant’s removal from the Avengers.

Shortly thereafter, Banner is shot in the head(!) and only a direct cranial injection of Tony’s hi-tech Extremis formula is able to save him. Unexpectedly, this yields a new intelligent-yet-still-kinda-schemey Hulk personality: “Doc Green”. Before stabilizing, the bromance hits a snag when the apparently long-forgotten tidbit that brash, young weapons-manufacturer Tony Stark drunkenly forgets to carry a “2” or something when asked to consult on a certain infamous gamma bomb test comes to light (2014’s Original Sin).

After this, Doc’s agenda is rounding up his extended Hulk family and one by one removing their gamma powers. He also has to briefly wrestle with a separate, inverted personality: “Kluh- the Hulk’s Hulk” (2014’s Avengers and X-Men: Axis).

When the Multiverse’s final two Earths collide (2015’s Secret Wars), Banner stays behind to battle the invading forces of the Ultimate Universe and seemingly perishes.

bannerhulk

Art by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer; Colors by Matt Hollingsworth

After reality reconstitutes itself after Secret Wars (the “All-New, All-Different” marketing initiative), Banner evidently goes back to being a fairly standard Hulk still in good standing with the hero community.

On hand for a crisis involving the meltdown of a nuclear reactor, Banner becomes the Hulk in order to safeguard a sizable nearby population. Absorbing way too much radioactivity, colleague/ wunderkind protege Amadeus Cho utilizes nanotechnology in an attempt to leach off the Hulk’s excess. This instead leads to Cho himself accidentally soaking up enough gamma energy to become the “Totally Awesome Hulk” while Banner appears human and completely cured.

banner_rip

Art by David Marquez

After this, Banner’s friends begin to get increasingly concerned. Apparently Doc’s got a bit of a severe morbid fixation despite having this new lease on life. The fact that he keeps mostly to himself and tries to stay off the grid doesn’t help.

At some point, Banner reaches out to fellow Avenger Hawkeye and entrusts the archer with a very special arrowhead and a serious request: if at any point he is showing signs of reverting to the Hulk, Barton is to become Banner’s executioner.

By coincidence, a young Inhuman named Ulysses soon has a prophetic vision of a rampaging Hulk single-handedly destroying the hero community (2016’s Civil War II). Tracking Banner down in the middle of nowhere Utah, a large coalition of heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents decide to give a friendly check-in.

During the course of the whole awkward “hey, we all just happened to be in the neighborhood” conversation, it’s discovered that Banner’s been self-experimenting with gamma again. Just as things are getting their most heated, the aforementioned arrow flies from the treeline, hitting Banner square in the forehead with a quick follow-up bolt piercing his heart.

Surrendering immediately, Barton is soon put on trial. It becomes public knowledge that Banner masterminded his own demise, choosing Barton for his ability to live with making tough decisions. Banner has a respectable funeral and leaves many of his friends behind with some surprising warm fuzzies and profound personal notes.

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Art by Pepe Larraz

However, it doesn’t end there. Shortly after the service, the Hand ninja clan (of Netflix’s Daredevil fame) are up to their old “resurrecting the dead” tricks! Temporarily enlisting the aid of the assassin Elektra, the Avengers Unity Squad contend in Japan against the mind-controlled, undead corpse of the Hulk. Once the walking nightmare is defeated, supernatural Avenger, Doctor Voodoo, is able to attest that Banner’s spirit has indeed “crossed over” and is finally at peace.

For the time being, it seems that’s all she wrote for the big guy but who really stays dead in comics, anyway? Given the Hulk’s track record of being spat back out by the void, there could still be a case for “To Be Continued”… (*Turns up collar on back road interstate as “Lonely Man Theme” cues up softly in the distance…*)

rj.kirby

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

RICK JONES

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963)

Current Affiliation: Honorary Member (Inactive)

History: Musician, hacktivist and professional sidekick. A/V enthusiast. Let’s face it, for an everyman in a world of Marvels, Rick still gets up to a lotta cool stuff! In fact, Comic Book Resources recently published an article highlighting the Top 15.

As a fairly all-encompassing and recent read, I don’t want to retread the same ground. However there are some points to elaborate on…

ihulk1.origin

Art by Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman

So, yes- as an eager-to-impress teenage orphan, Rick accepts a dare from some desert towny kids to drive out onto an active military testing ground. This, of course, leads to his boneheadedly bringing the “public service message” aspect to the origin issue of the Incredible Hulk.

Over the initial six-part run, it’s clear Smilin’ Stan and company really enjoy their new bizarro buddy duo. However, they don’t exactly know what to do with them as the formula switches on a near issue-to-issue basis. Forget the whole historic “grey-to-green” happy accident at the printers- at one point, Rick is granted the ability to mentally control the Hulk!

As the first series winds down, the Teen Brigade is introduced. Showcasing the “big tech craze” all the kids are into in the early ’60s, Rick organizes a bunch of friends into a neighborhood watch-type network using shortwave or “ham” radio. (For those on the younger side, think of it more as trucker-style CB broadcasting and try less to imagine, say, the pork equivalent of a potato battery…)

Due to Marvel’s “sliding timescale”, this bit of mid-century kitsch is given a facelift in recent years. In 2010’s five-part re-examination Avengers: The Origin, the Teen Brigade is brought up to speed as computer hackers. They even introduce some edge to the whole “extras from Happy Days” pallette by packing handguns!

All the same, a lot of them are never given any real identity and only ever appear again in the most minor of roles.

But not Richard Milhouse Jones- who is essentially accredited some kinda “Forrest Gump Award” as the guy who gets the Avengers together…

rj_whisperer

Art by Jesus Saiz

Just prior to the multiversal collapse of 2015’s Secret Wars, Rick abandons one of his brief forays into being an actual superhero when Banner’s Extremis-driven “Doc Green” Hulk removes the gamma energy Jones employs as the blue armadillo-like “A-Bomb”.

When reality resets as the “All-New, All-Different”, Rick realizes he retains the ability to um, … quickly develop new abilities. Not superhuman, mind you, but ridiculous life hacks all the same- some very much in the literal sense. This kinda brings him back to his “geek squad” roots and a new life as anonymous interwebz agitator “The Whisperer”.

In this role, Rick serves as advisory informant to the socially-attuned Captain America, Sam Wilson. However, this is much to the consternation of Old Man Steve Rogers and causes a rift between the former partners.

All this comes to a head when Rick blows the lid off ongoing-though-officially-denied top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. operations involving the Cosmic Cube and a prison where reality is manipulated to reshape inmates (the  Avengers: Standoff! event aka Captain America’s 75th Anniversary).

During this “Assault on Pleasant Hill”, Steve Rogers is reverted to his youthful physique but changed by the Cube with a *cough* secret agenda. In the aftermath, Cap (Rogers) tracks down Jones in a spider-hole and enlists his one-time partner to put his talents to use for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Given that the lid is about to get blown off Rogers’ Secret Empire plans, it stands to reason Rick is probably gonna be on the Helicarrier command deck when it all goes down! That said, he’s front and center for yet another epic without even trying. Who has this luck?!!?

UP NEXT: Tales of Retcon! Lo, There Shall Cometh… The Support Staff!

Avengers: 2017 “Where Are They Now?” Update (Ant-Man and the Wasp)

Welcome back! While the first installment opens our series with a pair of instant Avenger icons, this next couple is certainly a little more… involved. With their roles largely farmed out to legacy players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (thus far), they are indeed the least visible *ahem* of the original comic book crew. However, that hasn’t stopped either from being extremely integral to the source material. Let’s take a look!

pym.milgrom

Art by Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott

ANT-MAN/ GIANT-MAN/ GOLIATH/ YELLOWJACKET/ WASP (Dr. Henry Pym)

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder

Current Affiliation: Former Member

History:  Size-changing biochemistry and cybernetics genius. Just going off the number of slashes above, it’s probably a sure bet that no one in the history of Avengering has more code-names than ol’ Hank! As it is, a combination of power and mental instabilities causes him to switch up the first four before the title’s even made it outta the ’60s.

During the 1970s, he pairs it down to ping-ponging between only two and falls into his comfort zone of just being a part-time super-hero. He also joins the “hey no worries, we’re sorta like a book club” Defenders.

Feeling like he’s gotta measure up to his wife and the old gang (size joke, again…), Hank re-joins the Avengers in an early ’80s open membership drive. Saying it doesn’t take puts it mildly…

In the new roster’s first field mission, Pym overzealously shoots their surrendering adversary in the back. This results in an official court martial but just hours before the hearing, Hank really loses it and physically strikes his teammate wife! He also builds (another) crazy killer robot to “conveniently” interrupt the proceedings, so that he alone may defeat it and demonstrate his heroic worth. Things don’t exactly go to plan and ultimately cost Pym his membership and marriage. He also shortly thereafter spends a little time in jail.

Retiring completely, Hank resurfaces sometime later as some kinda “Higgins” figure to the Avengers’ collective “Magnum, P.I.” when they open a west coast franchise branch. Eventually he works his way back onto the active list as the Venture Bros.-style speedsuit-wearing “Doctor Pym, Scientific Adventurer”.

Hank stays with the West Coast Avengers until they fold in the mid-90s, even serving turns as a respectable default leader. Returning to the main New York-based team, he makes a breakthrough in his Pym Particle formula and resumes his Giant-Man identity.

The Doc remains firmly in the mix for the next few years of stories, rotating through his costumed “greatest hits” parade until the “classic” Avengers disband amidst turmoil and tragedy.

While back in academia, Pym is kidnapped by alien shape-shifting Skrulls as part of their massive “Secret Invasion” plot. The joke’s somewhat on the invaders as Hank’s history of mental problems prove difficult for their agents to pattern, sending at least one completely off the rails.

hankwasp.pham

Art by Khoi Pham

Sadly, the climax of this event appears to claim the life of Pym’s ex. Once the abductees return, Hank sets out to pay tribute in what’s clearly the best way fit: by further altering his powerset, growing wings and adopting his dead ex-wife’s moniker as the new Wasp. (Yeah, no looking too closely at any issues here…)

When the Avengers open a school similar to the X-Men’s schtick of “gifted youngster learnifying”, Hank is selected headmaster. Soon after, he resumes his more-identifiable Giant-Man role and proves in short order that he’s just as, um… let’s just say “capable” as Professor X, Magneto or Emma Frost (seriously not a compliment) with many of his young charges abducted for a “Hunger Games”-style teenage death match and a faction of survivors consequently breaking bad. (The exact scenario they built the school to avoid. Irony…)

Compounding this, when multiversal-level time travel shenanigans involving Pym, Wolverine and Pym’s first and historically most recognized deadly killer robot result in a subtle re-ordering of reality (2013’s Age of Ultron event series), Hank is overwhelmed by personal repercussions. Elevated to some sorta elder statesman of all things “The Cyber”, Pym heads a joint Avengers/ S.H.I.E.L.D. task-force to take down a new time-travelling evil artificial intelligence. (Anything to take his mind off those kids misplaced like a set of frikkin’ car keys, I guess…)

Just prior to the total multiversal collapse predicating 2015’s Secret Wars enormo-tacular, the secretive think tank consisting of Tony Stark, the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, the Black Panther and others (colloquially “The Illuminati”) reach out. Given that Pym’s known for years that his size-changing powers derive from drawing or shunting mass from another dimension, he is a well-regarded expert on the extraplanar. That said, the group conscripts Hank as some kind of human long-range reconnaissance probe into the abstract to explore the very forces behind the assailing utter oblivion. For this mission, he curiously chooses “Yellowjacket”- the most controversial of personas…

After seeing some things and stuff, man, Hank makes it back just days before the final world collision. Unhinged even further from his journey, Pym doesn’t even bother trying to get into a support group with Astronaut Dave from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey much less contend for a spot on Reed Richards’ “Scientists and My Family First” interdimensional life-raft.

Hanktron

Art by Ryan Stegman, Colors by Richard Isanove

Not long after reality resets into the post-Secret Wars “All-New, All-Different” status quo, Pym (back in Giant-Man mode) and other Avengers take on some long-standing hostile A.I.’s. However, there’s a marked difference in Hank’s approach as he coldly eradicates the antagonists- seemingly backpedaling on his artificial intelligence rights stance. Things really escalate when everyone’s favorite creepy robot uncle/ metaphoric prodigal son makes a timely return (2015’s Rage of Ultron Original Graphic Novel)…

A mishap during the usual “machine vs. creator” showdown causes Ultron to amalgamate Pym into itself, reintegrating the two as a new shared techno-organic form. Put it this way: remember the end of the circa 1980 Disney B-sci fi The Black Hole when the evil scientist merges with his psycho automaton? (No? Just me, then?) Well, think of it more like that than say, the song “Sy-Borg” from Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage. (Still, just a little bit of “ewww” and “yikes!”…)

Horrified, the Avengers battle Ult-Pym all the same until newfound self-awareness catches the cyborg off-guard and it launches back out into the deep space from whence it just came. Indeed, a hollow, fleeting victory…

For all intents and purposes, the Avengers declare Hank dead at this point- creating monuments in his honor and such. Of course, this doesn’t stop Ultron from returning once more. Claiming Pym has civilized the “kill all humans” outta their new collective OS, the cyborg comes back to the heroes as a proverbial wolf in android sheep’s clothing. Needless to say, they don’t bite and fighting ensues (again) until resulting in Ultron being transported to the heart of the Sun.

And there- finally– you’d think that’d be that, huh? Well, not quite. Upcoming solicits for the Summer 2017 Secret Empire event depict that Hanktron is already set to make the rounds again!

However, expect this next go-around to have an additional personal component as it’s only been recently revealed that Hank has (wait for it)… a hitherto unknown teenage daughter from his first marriage: Nadia aka burgeoning size-changing genius, The Unstoppable Wasp! (Comics, people, comics…)

janwasp.kirby

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

WASP/ GIANT-WOMAN (Janet van Dyne)

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder

Current Affiliation: Active

History: Wealthy insect-themed, size-changing fashion designer and strategist. If Tony’s the traditional backer and Cap the starting QB, then Jan is easily the team’s biggest cheerleader as well as their ace in the hole.

Despite being the one to actually name the group, Jan spends a great deal of her early history as the team’s original second-class citizen. However, by the early 1980s, she weaponizes that constant sense of being under-estimated and arguably becomes the Avengers’ second-most effectively capable field leader (sorry, Hawkeye).

Indeed, until that point, Janet is used more as a plot device to keep Hank Pym agonizing over his revolving door-like membership in and out of the group. It’s not until divorcing him that Jan comes to personify the very ’80s zeitgeist of the quasi-corporate “power leader”.

By that decade’s end, she earns some well-deserved vacation time and fades into the background. Next, Jan resurfaces with the West Coasters- first as “big sis just checkin’ in” but recurring appearances see her surprisingly falling back into romantic patterns with Pym.

avengers394cvr.deo

Art by MIke Deodato, Jr.

By the mid-’90s, Marvel really gets into re-inventing a “totally extreme” wheel with all the classic 1960s Silver Age properties (to speak in the parlance of the time). In this, perhaps nobody receives a more radical makeover than Janet! When fatally wounded, Jan winds up back on Hank’s operating table. Desperate to save her life, he opts to double-down on Jan’s original power formula. Pym instead turns his ex-wife into an actual human-sized, literal mutated wasp-lady! (Also, serious missed opportunity for a new Hank Pym identity: “Doctor Ooops!”…)

For some reason, this doesn’t really last all that long (can’t imagine why…). Thankfully, after a couple of near back-to-back reality resets, Jan returns to her “classic” look. By the early 2000s, she’s steadily co-leading the Avengers again.

By the end of this era, she begins diversifying more into Pym’s territory: operating under interchangeable code-names and becoming the self-evident “Giant-Woman” as needed.

After one of the alien Skrulls impersonating Pym ends any chance of the exes permanently rekindling their relationship, Jan stays away from supering for a while. Eventually, she aligns with Stark’s pro-registration forces in the first superhero civil war and rejoins the “Mighty” Avengers as they rebrand under the umbrella of the government-sponsored Fifty-State Initiative.

During this time, Jan takes things a little more passive. In boasting a starting seven-person line-up featuring four current and former field leaders, maybe it’s not wanting to add to a “too many chiefs” scenario but regardless, the most Jan contributes is staging a fashion intervention and delivering kinda ditzy one-liners.

When the shape-shifting Skrulls finally make their invasion plans not such a secret and (surprise!) meet a great deal of resistance from Earth’s superhuman population, the final Yellowjacket impersonator kicks in a failsafe just as the aliens lose their cause. Months before, still utilizing the guise of Hank Pym, the Skrulls offer Jan a seemingly harmless power “upgrade”. In reality, she’s become some sorta literal living weapon-of-last-resort…

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Art by Leinil Yu and Mark Morales

Fearing the worst as waves of unknown energy pore out of her, Janet acquiesces that her own sacrifice may be needed. Creating an interdimensional vortex with his magic hammer, Thor heavy-heartedly responds- saving the day while seemingly dissipating Jan into the nether.

So, for a while everyone think Jan’s dead and she doesn’t appear in any new comics for like four years. But is it ever that simple? Nope. Turns out what really happened is that she got theoretical-particle-microscopically small, visiting a dimension called “The Microverse”. Eventually, she gets word to the Avengers and a rescue is staged.

When Captain America establishes the Avengers Unity Squad as the premiere symbol of human-mutant relations (the ongoing Uncanny Avengers), Jan soon joins the organization. Originally intending to work with the group in a support capacity as public relations and branding “mutant chic” as commercial fashion, it’s not long before Jan becomes romantically interested in the field leader, Havok- best known for being X-Man Cyclops’ little brother.

As expected, the Jan-Alex courtship isn’t your typical “whirlwind, storybook romance”. All the same, their relationship covers a near-literal lifetime of shared experience in a very rapid and compressed manner.

Trailing the Apocalypse Twins to their space ark (yeah, ‘cuz that’s how you sentence…), the mutant portion of the Unity Squad (along with a stowaway Wasp) are transported away from Earth before the giant Kirby space robot gods, The Celestials, show up to trash it. Apparently spending five years on a dystopic mutants-only “Planet X”, Jan and Alex have a daughter, Katherine (“Katie”), who is named after Alex’s mother. Along with resistance sympathizers such as Hank “The Beast” McCoy, the family manages to elude the Apocalypse Twins’ totalitarian regime.

In the course of hitting the “undo button” on this reality, the Avengers don’t do the standard time-travel thing. Instead, the survivors have their consciousnesses sent back to their old bodies- five years of life experiences intact– to inform the others to make different choices. Unlikely ally, the usually untrustworthy and self-serving Time Master Immortus, swears he can make it so Jan and Alex can still be a family with Katie- but first the Avengers need to take down the real architect behind the Apocalypse Twins: their old time-travelling arch-nemesis, Kang The Conqueror…

During this skirmish, Alex is severely wounded- with the left side of his body critically burned and disfigured, forcing him into a protracted medically-regenerative stasis as Jan also takes some understandable down-time.

Already having a hard time adjusting, it doesn’t take much to send Alex over the edge. Shortly thereafter, the Scarlet Witch and Dr. Doom unite forces, casting an “inversion spell” in an attempt to liberate the mind of Professor X from the body of the Red Skull (2014’s Avengers and X-Men: Axis event). A great deal of heroes and villains are also caught in the “down is the new up” wake and consequently Havok officially secedes the mutant faction of the Avengers as the X-Men take on a more villainous air.

By the end of the event, most everyone goes back to their old ways. However, Alex is one exception- apparently kidnapping Janet in a misguided attempt to bring their family back together or something. It’s never really followed up on and before long, the whole Marvel multiverse ends with 2015’s Secret Wars

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Art by Pepe Larraz

After reality resets in its current incarnation as the “All-New, All-Different”, Jan is among the Avengers when Hank Pym effectively ceases to exist. To no one’s surprise, she is left in charge of all of his patents and holdings and begins transitioning into being more of a “behind the scenes” businesswoman.

When “Hanktron” briefly returns to Earth, she effectively rejoins the Unity Squad. However, Pym’s “whack-a-mole” pop-up legacy just doesn’t stop there- shortly thereafter, Jan gets a very unexpected front door visitor: a mysteriously-never-mentioned teenage step-daughter?!?

Turns out young Nadia has Dad’s proclivity for super-science and is already trading on the name the Unstoppable Wasp when the Avengers’ butler introduces them. Like most things, Jan takes all this in stride and simply folds her costumed namesake into her adventuring.

During the second superhero civil war, the X-faction of the Unity Squad run some pro-mutant “extracurricular activities”, making temporary alliances with unsavory bedfellows. Secretly-a-HYDRA-agent Captain America catches wind of the unsanctioned ops and officially disavows the entire Unity Squad.

However, the team stays together- placed in a position of clearing their names while continuing to fight the good fight. Although the most seasoned active Avenger, Jan remains content to let others lead. Evidently, this doesn’t stop Steve Rogers from recognizing, as upcoming solicits note Jan as one of his specific Secret Empire targets…

(What’s that axiom about power and responsibility again??)

UP NEXT: Don’t Make Him Angry (you know the rest…)- The Incredible Hulk! Plus Teenage Singing Sensation, Rick Jones!

Avengers: 2017 “Where Are They Now?” Update (Thor and Iron Man)

The mission statement used to read “united against a common threat” but these days, that notion is sorely tested. Existing for over half a century of publication, the Avengers’ ranks indeed roll deep but rarely have they been as fractious. With a seemingly endless array of Wars and Empires (both Secret and Civil) coming at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, who will answer the call? Let’s take a look back through ye ol’ ever-changing order and see where everyone’s at. Assemble!

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Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

THOR ODINSON

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder

Current Affiliation: Inactive

History: God of Thunder (and Rock n’ Roll!). The broad strokes of the Asgardian Prince’s exploits are well known these days, thanks in large part to Marvel’s wildly successful cinematic universe. Although, in the past handful of comic book years, things have been a bit upside down for ol’ Goldilocks.

After losing the ability to wield his magic hammer, Mjolnir, in an intervention/ stand-off surrounding old, crusty, white Nick Fury on the Moon (2014’s Original Sin event series), Thor abdicates his name to the mystery woman who assumes his classic mantle when the enchantment shifts. He also has his left arm severed in a battle against Dark Elf witch-king, Malekith The Accursed, and is fitted with a prosthetic made of the same otherworldly metal as his famous former weapon. He responds only to “(the) Odinson” (although is often referred to as “The Unworthy Thor”) and employs the also-ensorcelled battle axe Jarnbjorn as his primary instrument.

Just prior to the total multiversal collapse leading into 2015’s Secret Wars extravaganza, the Hero-Formerly-Known-As-Thor leads a small cadre of super-cosmic Avenger heavy hitters on an assumed suicide mission to meet head-on whatever’s causing the end of everything. Ironically, in the final showdown, the Odinson proves he’s reclaimed his “worthiness” by failing to lift the hammer of an evil, alternate universe Unworthy Thor he’d previously confiscated.

Shortly thereafter, Secret Wars supreme architect Doctor Doom comes across the aftermath and the familiar-yet-discarded artifact. No doubt inspired by the Thunderer’s valiant sacrifice, the arch-villain utilizes newly-acquired omnipotence and recreates an entire network of Thor-themed guardians to police the patchwork salvaged remains of all that came before.

Heroes eventually triumph and all more or less returns to how it was before (with few having complete recollection of the literal world-colliding annihilation of everything). The Odinson keeps it kinda low-key (mischievous foster sibling-related puns unintended). Feeling residually remorseful, The Unseen, an ever-vigilant quasi-reincarnation of Old Fury, alerts the Odinson to a second chance: the Mjolnir of Ultimate Universe Thor made it through the Secret Wars reshuffling and resides on the abandoned space island of Old Asgard.

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Art by Olivier Coipel

Aided by his stalwart brother-in-arms, the alien Beta Ray Bill, the Odinson embarks on a quest of  possibility and valediction. Finding the floating continent of Old Asgard not to be in its last known location, the “Hammer Bros” trace the unlikely theft back to the OG acquirer of things unique-  the Elder of the Universe known as The Collector!

Needles to say, the boys get themselves imprisoned and that’s pretty much how “T.O.” spends the bulk of the time behind the scenes in Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” landscape. To complicate matters, Thanos the Mad Titan catches wind of this much-coveted object and accordingly dispatches lieutenants.

Whatever the outcome of this adventure (chronicling in the Unworthy Thor five-parter), it stands to reason that the Odinson’s profile will remain on the rise throughout 2017- especially given the impending release of the Thor: Ragnarok movie later in the year. That said, it’s probably only a matter of time before Asgard’s favorite son realigns with his long-time allies on “Midgard” (Earth). The question remains, in what state will he find them?

(Still, gotta wonder if there’s a comic book version of roommate Darryl and if he’s been covering all of the rent while somebody’s been off in space jail…)

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Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

IRON MAN (Tony Stark)

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder

Current Affiliation: Inactive

History: Millionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist. Turned to steel in a great magnetic field. (Maybe not so much that last one and yet…)

Know what’s awesome about living in a world of successful Marvel movies? I don’t have to spend time explaining Tony frikkin’ Stark!

Cutting right to it, Tony somehow gets yet another positive reset following his d-bag culpability as a player in the Secret Wars multiversal collapse (*cough* synergy *cough*). However, there’s some degree of karmic comeuppance in the “All-New, All-Different” status quo as Stark’s not quite as wealthy as he once was. Aside from scaling back his offices and liquidating assets such as Avengers Tower, Tony’s obsessions turn more toward the pursuit of uncovering who his actual biological parents are.

Shockingly, he is assisted in this search by a physically healed and seemingly-looking-to-reform Victor von Doom. Despite this reluctant globe-hopping bromance, Tony also manages to star-crossedly fall in love with a brilliant biophysicist and back-handedly blow up making Mary Jane Watson (of Spider-Man fame) his new assistant. Topping it all off, he tells next to no one before faking his own death just to avoid hi-tech ninjas. Classic Tony.

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Art by Marko Djurdjevic

When a new member of the alien-derived Inhuman offshoot appears, the young man’s eerily precise predictive visions divide the hero community (once again) along philosophical and ethical grounds.

Historically fancying himself something of a futurist, Tony advocates erring on the side of caution- reasoning that there’s still a helluva lot unknown about Ulysses’ powers before everyone runs around all half-cocked, Minority Report-style. More to the point, it’s not that Stark distrusts those immediately arguing in favor, it’s that he fears the slippery slope of bureaucracy once the good judgment of peers he respects is removed from the oversight chain of command.

It doesn’t take long for things to get personal when a number of precognitive flashes result in superhuman tragedies- including the death of Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, Stark’s best friend and significant other to vocally pro-Ulysses hero, Captain  Marvel (Carol Danvers).

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Art by Rod Reis

Tony draws a final line in the sand when Carol pro-actively attempts to detain one of his youthful Avenger teammates for a crime not yet committed. Battling one-on-one,  the super-strong, energy-absorbing Captain Marvel beats an extra-armored Iron Man into some kind of near-death “robo coma”. Esteemed superhuman biochemist, Dr. Henry “The Beast” McCoy, posits that the only thing saving the Armored Avenger is actually Stark’s own constant self-tinkering in post-human techno-physiology. This also gets Tony far closer to a literal interpretation of his Black Sabbath namesake song than he’s ever been…

However, the saga of “Mr. Stank” isn’t so easily put on pause.  These days, the remains of his business interests are run by holographic in-house artificial intelligence, Friday, and the “so glad to finally agree to take the job just in time for the office building to be turned into rubble” Ms. Watson.  Tony’s biological mother, a London-based music producer named Amanda Armstrong  also cycles into this mix- no doubt setting off mad deja vu for MJ, having some sorta ersatz “Aunt May” figure hanging around.

Stark’s super-hero legacy also takes a couple of unlikely shapes. Continuing his suspect “rehabilitation”, Doom overhauls his armored look to invoke homage to the fallen Stark. Vic’s heavy-handed form of “do-goodery” is currently on display in the Infamous Iron Man series, wherein he’s already hit the radar of Fantastic Four alum/ Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Benjamin J. Grimm- The Ever-Lovin’, Blue-Eyed Thing.

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Art by Jeff Dekal

Countering this, Tony also has the foresight to designate an inspirationally heroic successor. During the time of the whole “fake death ninja dodge” fiasco, a bright teenage girl named Riri Williams begins developing an “Iron Man Mark 1”-esque prototype armor in her MIT dorm room. It doesn’t stay a secret project for long, her amateur exploits soon grabbing headlines and the attention of Mr. Perpetual Mortality Fraud (once he cycles back to the world).

Expelled from school in the course of making her debut, Riri nonetheless makes quite the lasting impression on Tony. Returning home to her mother to rethink her life, Riri soon receives a very unexpected present: an artificial intelligence upgrade for her armor. What makes it particularly special is that is essentially a computer upload of Stark himself!

Soooo… yeah, for the duration, Tony now serves in the role of the snarky robot advisor to Riri’s Ironheart hero persona (as currently seen in the latest volume of Invincible Iron Man). But really, Stark should just start giving heavy consideration to changing his name to “Irony, man”…

UP NEXT: Marvel’s Original Diminutively Dysfunctional Duo- Ant-Man and The Wasp!

“What’s so Civil about War, Anyway?” Looking Back on Marvel’s 2006 Mega-Event (Prologue Segment, Part 3)

It’s been a while since the last installment but the road to Marvel’s original  Civil War blowout is indeed a slow and steady thing. You can find Parts One and Two here and here but let’s get back to it now with an in-depth look at the very next case…

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(New Avengers #1, cover-dated January, 2005. Cover art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

THE NEW AVENGERS

New Avengers #1 – 10 (2004 – 2005)…And there came a day unlike any other. Okay, maybe there’s been a few days kinda, sorta like it- but this one definitely brings something… New. Writer Brian Michael Bendis encores the super-crew from his Secret War mini and transposes into reigniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It’s not exactly all going back and just flipping the lights on at the Mansion but, all the same, the rallying cry and fighting spirit live on!

Like the very first time, though, it’s a bit of fate/bit of chance that brings the group together. Either way, Cap and Iron Man realize that maybe they shouldn’t’ve broken up in the first place…

The first six issues of this relaunch is an extended story entitled “Breakout”. Like the name implies, there is a jailbreak but it’s more about mysteries within mysteries than it is about something that straightforward.

[[Full disclosure before continuing: the beginning of this Avengers reboot is in actuality laying long-game tracks for a story Bendis is brewing called Secret Invasion, not seeing fruition until 2008. That said, I’m going to try my damnedest to stay on point with only how the formation of the New Avengers pertains to Civil War…]]

So, the prison. Lawyers Nelson and Murdock (yes, that Nelson and Murdock) helicopter out to the Ryker’s Island super-power annex island, The Raft, along with their specially-hired bodyguard, Luke Cage. They are greeted by S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison, Jessica Drew (yes, that Jessica Drew- the former Spider-Woman).

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Yep. Totally normal day at the office for Foggy… (New Avengers #1, cover-dated January, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Nelson, Murdock and Cage are visiting The Raft at the request of Reed Richards- asking that they look into the well-being of Robert Reynolds, The Sentry. We’ll get more into the whole thing of the Sentry soon enough but for right now, let’s just leave it with: Bob, a Superman-type good guy, asked to be put in prison because he is convinced that he killed his wife. M’kay?

Just as Jessica and the guys are making their way through the prison, doing the whole run-down of who’s incarcerated there, how evil powers are neutralized inside very thick cells and how incredibly safe they are with all the S.H.I.E.L.D. guards around, the power cuts out. Classic.

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Um… prisons aren’t supposed to do that, right? (New Avengers #1, cover-dated January, 2005. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

It’s not just the prison, either. The entire city’s grid is down. From his apartment, Peter Parker notices a bright light and explosion coming from The Raft. As Spider-Man, he decides to investigate further. Again, the luck/fate factor steps in, as he’s able to snag a webline ride along the bottom of a passing helicopter, also turning toward the incident.

However, an electrical surge strikes the chopper and Spidey lands in the icy water. Swimming to shore, Peter is pulled up by fellow passenger of the fiery wreck: Captain America.

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“Come with me if you want to live…” (New Avengers #1, cover-dated January, 2005. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

What’s happening is that Electro, one of Spidey’s B-list Silver Age goons, is hired by persons momentarily unknown to break someone out of The Raft. Their intelligence says that the Fantastic Four is out of town and that the X-Men are “preoccupied”. And since there currently aren’t any Avengers- well, that just about takes care of that. Right?

So… yeah, Electro makes off with this person but not before disrupting everything with his electricity powers, letting all the inmates loose in the process. Good stuff.

Resuming, Murdock and company find Bob Reynolds’ cell and toss Foggy inside, figuring it’s probably the safest place for him, as they prepare for all hell to break loose. All the while, of course, ol’ Matty is publicly disavowing that he’s actually Daredevil. Nah, man- blind lawyers always get into ninja fight stance during a superhuman prison riot. It’s all good…

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Awkward… (New Avengers #2, cover-dated February, 2005. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Mark Morales and Frank D’Armata)

Up top, Cap urges Spidey to let the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents take the investigation lead. However, before the wall-crawler can fully fire back his quippy retort, he’s eating energy blast from the escapees! Indeed, it is now on (as the kids say)…

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Sooo… that just happened… (New Avengers #2, cover-dated February, 2005. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Mark Morales and Frank D’Armata)

Down below, Jessica Drew exhibits that she’s evidently back in the Spider-Woman game- complete with venom blasts and flight ability. The inmates make their presence known as Foggy petitions the Sentry to help his friends. Reynolds finally comes around and overzealously dispatches 90s Venom derivation, Carnage. Not only “dispatches” him but flies straight up through floors of the prison and into low orbit- ripping the frikkin’ psychotic symbiote in half! Yeah, that’s a totally measured response…

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Getting the band back together. (New Avengers #2, cover-dated February, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis, Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Mark Morales and Frank D’Armata)

Finally Iron Man shows up and makes it a proper Avengers stew! Before long, more S.H.I.E.L.D. reinforcements arrive and the lockdown begins. In the aftermath, Cap and Tony talk at length about reactivating the Avengers.

Tony hems and haws a bit but Cap goes around the next day asking anyway. No U.N. bells and whistles. No fancy crime-busting lab and “Danger Room”-esque work-out center. Just heroes taking on the big problems. And no regular paycheck (yes, the Avengers used to offer a weekly stipend). The irony is not lost on Spider-Man…

Daredevil respectfully declines as he is far too busy doing damage control to the public outing of his secret identity. Luke Cage agrees to join but on the condition that he is “heard” in the new organization. Indeed, Cage goes on to become something of a central figure throughout Bendis’ eight-year franchise tenure. (Sidebar: Foggy Nelson- relieved or upset that no one asked him?)

Spider-Woman is busted down by S.H.I.E.L.D. for “total assignment failure” as Cap offers her the distinction of being their new “go-between” agent. However, on her way to the first official assembling, she converses with a shadowy figure about re-framing a spying arrangement to now also incorporate the Avengers…

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Establishing shot. (New Avengers #3, cover-dated March, 2005. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Victor Olazaba and Frank D’Armata)

The “New” Avengers (they still just call themselves “The Avengers” in-story) gather at Stark Tower. Despite Tony’s wonky “Stark-onomics” not allowing the wherewithal to rebuild historic Avengers Mansion and restore the super-team to its “classic” status quo, he’s had a skyscraper ginormity in the offing since before the old guard went tits up. Never mind that the Avengers typically operate from grants by the Maria Stark Foundation, a separate non-profit existing regardless of Iron Man’s presence and operational inclusion. But whatever- let’s go with Tony now has a brand new office building that he can’t lease space in for fear of super-attacks and was planning on using the top three floors as his new personal New York residence anyway. Convenient, right? Even more so when he reveals that he just happens to have a new prototype Quinjet in the roof hangar (because, y’know, Jarvis was just gonna use it to zip down to the store for groceries otherwise…).

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There! New charter ratified! Boom! Next! (New Avengers #4, cover-dated April, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Victor Olazaba and Frank D’Armata)

Before the gang gets down to formulating their prison break recourse, new S.H.I.E.L.D. Director, Maria Hill, is on the video-conference trying to break up whatever it is this gathering of supers think they have going on. Cap counters by citing that he has “Full Champion  Licence”- some obscure ace-in-the-hole title that pretty much allows him to do whatever he wants. Including forming (or re-forming) super-teams. Hill acquiesces and forwards information so the Avengers can begin investigating but not without giving them a very hairy stinkeye. She also claims to have the Sentry back in custody but that’s not exactly the case. We’ll circle back on this soon…

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Break out ye old Handbook! (New Avengers #4, cover-dated April, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Victor Olazaba and Frank D’Armata; Characters on monitor screens by various artists)

Going through scant security footage, the Avengers identify Electro. Spidey actually cops to “recognizing that blurry shoulder anywhere” and proceeds to heap guilt on himself that it’s one of his rogues responsible. It takes Tony two seconds to trace Electro’s recent banking transactions and so the team chases him down.

As the villain faints before they can get anything from him, the Avengers resort to Plan B: bribery. Agent Drew returns to Rykers for information from the inmates who didn’t escape. They pretty much fall over each other for a box of donuts, blurting out the name of Electro’s target extraction: Dr. Karl Lykos.

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Cap’s thinking how different log entries are going to be now with this new bunch… (New Avengers #4, cover-dated April, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Victor Olazaba and Frank D’Armata)

Lykos is an old-school X-Men bad guy dating back to the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams late 60s run. Essentially, he siphons other mutants’ energies to become a giant, leather-winged pterodactyl-man named Sauron. Make no mistake, like many Led Zeppelin lyrics, his name is indeed a heart-on-the-sleeve nod to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

And where does an evil parasitic dino-mutant go when he wants to lay low? How about Marvel’s own improbable prehistoric subcontinent located in Antarctica, The Savage Land! (Of course, so obvious…)

Giving chase anew, the Avengers no sooner set down when a dinosaur crushes their vacant Quinjet. Scattering to the nearby underbrush, Cage and Spider-Woman narrowly escape the one attack to encounter something just as shocking and deadly: the familiar clawed forearm of Wolverine is now at Drew’s throat as she grabs cover behind a tree…

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The Best There Is = Earth’s Mightiest. (New Avengers #5, cover-dated May, 2005. Cover art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Working the Lykos abduction from another angle, Wolverine is there on a tip from another one of Spidey’s bad guys who was offered Electro’s job, The Scorcher. Wanting to go straight and without Avengers around, Scorcher phones the X-Mansion and gives Logan the scoop. Hopping in one of the X-Men’s Blackbirds, he heads out solo and crashes in the Savage Land. (Destructive flight arrival is evidently how one simply travels there…)

On the run with his hyper-keen senses all screwy from the preternatural environment, Logan sets upon Cage and Drew mistaking them for some mysterious jungle stalkers. Also reacting before realizing he’s a friendly, Spider-Woman venom-blast flash-fries his face, judo flips and stabs Wolverine in the jugular with his own claws.

Regrouping and comparing notes, the Avengers are soon ambushed by the Savage Land Mutates (more Silver Age X-Men goons), knocked unconscious and taken captive.

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Ladies and gentlemen… The Nude Avengers! (New Avengers #5, cover-dated May, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Awakening naked (awkward and creepy, right?), bound and suspended in midair (again…), the Mutates take the Avengers to Lykos (at least that works out). Cap demands the doctor surrender himself. The Mutates want to experiment on their captives while Lykos urges to just shoot them.

Tony takes matters into his own hands and remote-control activates his Iron Man armor into breaking the Avengers free. The ensuing melee escalates when Wolverine goes after Lykos and accidentally brings on the Sauron transformation! Just as “Jurassic Vampire” is about to launch into a full-on villain monologue about how his escape is actually bigger than just him and the Mutates, Lykos is shot in the head by a S.H.I.E.L.D. sniper unit emerging from the nearby jungle. The Avengers recognize the commander as blonde Black Widow also-ran, Yelena Belova. She orders her unit to “clean and clear” the area and leave no survivors.

Taking advantage of the soldiers’ momentary hesitancy in shooting Captain America, the Avengers press the initiative. Tony magnetically attracts all of their weapons to the Iron Man armor, literally sending the goons running for the hills while Cap has to physically restrain Wolverine- bent on killing Belova.

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O…kay. Not too cryptic… (New Avengers #6, cover-dated June, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

The Avengers begin aiming “Who do you work for?” questions at the captive mercenary; Spider-Woman leaning in and threatening with a face full of venom blast. They don’t exactly know what to do when Belova half blows up Jess’s spot by firing back that the two of them are actually on the same side but then continues on with gibberish.

Before they can ask further, Sauron pops up surprisingly not dead (it’s chocked up to his absorbing Wolverine’s healing factor) and dragon-breath flambes Belova! Evidently, he’s due some payback…

The Avengers subdue Sauron while Belova runs off burning and smoking. Wolverine tells them it doesn’t smell so good for her. As they’re figuring out where this inept weirdo black ops squad parked, Tony starts getting some strange nearby readings.

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Hey, Professor! What’s another word for “buried treasure”? (New Avengers #6, cover-dated June, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Soon, they come across a mining facility where S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are forcing the indigenous Savage Landers to stockpile the Vibranium super-metal onto trucks at gunpoint. The team rushes in but doesn’t get too far when Iron Man picks up another incoming signal: a full-scale air strike targeted right at their location (Gah! No breaks!). His quick-responding repulsor force field saves the Avengers but the surrounding area is utterly decimated (not going for the all-too-obvious “bombed back into the Stone Age” joke- wait, did I?).

The launchers of this rain of death rockets? None other than Maria Hill and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. Hill claims she’s acting on orders to eradicate a rogue faction and has no prior knowledge of the Avengers’ investigation leading to the Savage Land- let alone ground zero of her intended strike zone. She furthers that, in all fairness, she did also ask them not to nose in.

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“Welcome to the Avengers, Wolverine. Hope you enjoy our butler and weekly paychecks!” (New Avengers #6, cover-dated June, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by David Finch, Danny Miki and Frank D’Armata)

Hill gives the Avengers a ride home as Wolverine is offered a spot on the team despite his own and Cap’s reservations. Ultimately, it comes down to Tony’s irresistible money paying for a guy who can make “tough choices”. (To recap: $$→ Logan = Yes; $$→ Spidey = No?! Wtf- “Parker Luck” is no myth…)

As the team pretty much gets right back to the business of convict round-up (the noobs prove their Avenger-yness during a protracted foray against the enchanted crowbar-wielding Wrecker), Iron Man approaches another one of their new mysteries: The Sentry.

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Together again for the first time. The first in-story appearance of Marvel’s “Illuminati”. (New Avengers #7, cover-dated July, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales and Morry Hollowell)

Tony begins by assembling a think-tank of Marvel’s major “patriarchs”. It consists of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men, Doctor Stephen Strange- the Sorcerer Supreme, Prince Namor of undersea Atlantis and Black Bolt- King of the Inhumans, an alien-infused offshoot of humanity (currently making their way around the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series).

It’s not so much that Iron Man starts throwing nets out into the super-community. Don’t forget, Reed Richards is allegedly the one who hires Nelson & Murdock to go out to The Raft and check on the Sentry in the first place. However, Tony is taken aback when Reed denies doing such a thing. It’s part of the mystery and we’ll get there but it isn’t something that these bigwigs get into right away with, either…

Instead, their immediate through-the-door line of questioning boils down to “when did the Avengers get back together and when were you going to tell us?”, followed up with “didn’t we talk about establishing new hero teams in other cities?”. Yeah, this doesn’t really come off as an impromptu one-time confab to just talk business about this Sentry guy. No, this smacks of some kinda regular meet-up familiarity…

What the hell is this group all about?? How long has it been going on for? And why are they meeting in an old, abandoned Stark subsidiary warehouse?

 

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Cover art to New Avengers: Illuminati #1 (May 2006) by Gabriele Dell’Otto

Throughout the next few years, Brian Michael Bendis sporadically releases a New Avengers: Illuminati side-series that delves into the gathering’s surprisingly lengthy exploits. It turns into something of a reluctant fellowship that they can’t seem to quit, either- no matter how hard they try. Suffice to say, it’s an alliance that takes its cues and will go on to inform major Marvel plotlines reaching from 1971’s Kree/Skrull War to Jonathan Hickman’s 2015 Secret Wars.

Some time later, Tony and Cap hop in a Quinjet and head to the Nevada desert, where Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. are maintaining armed watch over a cave. Inside, the Sentry is fetal-position huddled in a dark corner. (This counts as “in custody”, Hill?!?)

Cap and Tony approach. They are accompanied not only by the Sentry’s surprisingly not-dead wife, Lindy, but also Paul Jenkins, a comic book creator claiming to have written stories about the Sentry years ago. These stories are the only reference to the Sentry that the Avengers could find anywhere on the planet.

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Art imitating life imitating a serpent eating its own tail… (New Avengers #8, cover-dated August, 2005. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales and Morry Hollowell. “Startling Stories featuring Sentry!” interior comic book art by Sal Buscema)

Before this gets all too “meta” (can’t see how…), let’s take a bit of a sidestep. Paul Jenkins is the actual, in-real-life creator of the Sentry character. Circa 2000, Jenkins, with an assist from artist Rick Veitch, pitches then-Marvel Knights editor Joe Quesada a story about a middle-aged, struggling addict ex-superhero that somehow the world forgot. Tweaking the idea slightly, Quesada greenlights a mini-series featuring Jenkins and his collaborator from the acclaimed Inhumans run, artist Jae Lee.

Topping off the mythos, Quesada fabricates a winky backstory wherein Marvel staffers just happen to have been moving some filing cabinets when some “mysterious unused sketches from the 1960s” are “discovered” from an artist named “Artie Rosen” (undoubtedly an amalgam tribute to actual Silver Age Marvel Bullpenners Artie Simek and brothers Sam and Joe Rosen). Stan Lee even corroborates the entire hoax, “conveniently” owing up to his notoriously bad memory as to why he’d forgotten commissioning the character until the “fortuitous unearthing”.

So, despite having all these deep, meaningful and allegedly reconnective moments with the denizens of the Marvel Universe, the original Sentry “phenomenon” unfolds and resolves itself in such a manner that it reads as kinda ambiguously canonical (Think: Earth-616.1, if you will). And that’s the skinny up until the Sentry appears all tattered and bearded in a Raft prison cell…

Oh, and one other thing: In addition to the heroic Sentry persona, Bob Reynolds also becomes his own evil opposite- The Void- an elusive shape-shifting being so destructively powerful it is the very reason why he feels the need to be locked away.

Another other thing: Comic creators have been inserting themselves into their fictitious worlds forever. Stan The Man and Jack “King” Kirby began doing it back in early issues of Fantastic Four and its become something of a running gag ever since. Hell, Steve Rogers even got the job as the artist on Captain America for a while (but couldn’t keep the gig because actually being Cap messed with his deadlines).

Back in the cave, Bob is quickly confused and overloaded by all the feels. Terrified, he flees in a flash of light, fearing that The Void is already on its way…

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Marvel’s Intervention Now! (New Avengers #8, cover-dated August, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales and Morry Hollowell)

The Avengers call in additional support, affording Tony’s secret club a chance to scrutinize under the guise of a more universal coalition. It also helps that the X-Men just happen to have a few world-class telepaths as well…

Tailing Sentry to the Reynolds’ suburban home, Emma Frost starts to get inside Bob’s head. However, The Void manifests (as a separate entity) and begins attacking the assembled heroes- right there on the lawn! (Whatever will the neighbors think??)

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Avoid the Void! Bringing death and destruction to the world will probably ruin your pizza, too. (New Avengers #9, cover-dated September, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales and Morry Hollowell)

Frost and Reed Richards, aided by a pre-recorded video message of Bob Reynolds himself, start in on the mother of all pep talks as their friends run interference. Emma gets back inside Bob’s head and begins to unravel the mystery…

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This is your brain on comics. (New Avengers #9, cover-dated September, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales and Morry Hollowell)

After some intense mental digging, Emma uncovers the root of it all- turns out that among his other super-powers, Bob is also an incredibly powerful psychic. Like “forget I ever existed” powerful. Bob is duped into turning that very power on everyone and himself by Mastermind, one of Magneto’s original Silver Age Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and probably best known as the guy indirectly responsible for the X-Men’s infamous Dark Phoenix Saga.  In this case, a hidden memory reveals he’s in the employ of the Sentry’s generically retro-tinged arch-nemesis, “The General”.

After this breakthrough, the Void’s assault stops. They also realize that the “comic stories” in-story Paul Jenkins has “written” are actually Bob’s metaphoric messages in a bottle, psychically sending them to Jenkins (seemingly at random) so that he wouldn’t be truly erased from the world.

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Yep. Definitely no super-people living here. Totally normal office building. (New Avengers #10, cover-dated October, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales, John Dell, Morry Hollowell and Laura Martin)

The post-intervention chinwag is cut short when Jarvis calls- urging the Avengers to return to Manhattan immediately as something weird’s going down at Stark Tower. In the type of coincidence that can only be found in comic books, it seems Sentry’s old Watchtower hq has also re-joined the world. However, it’s sharing real estate and now sits like some creepy, Lovecraftian skyscraper pencil-topper above Tony’s new building! (People are totally gonna rent there now…)

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Whatever you do- don’t call it a “Fortress of Solitude”… (New Avengers #10, cover-dated October, 2005. Words by Brian Michael Bendis. Art and colors by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales, John Dell, Morry Hollowell and Laura Martin)

The Avengers land on the roof and the Sentry departs for the Watchtower, feeling he needs some “alone time” to process everything. The team and his wife reassure that they’ll patiently await his return.

Whew! What an action-packed couple of days!

In all, the Avengers are left certain that the world definitely needs them to once again unite against a common threat. But what does this all mean on the Civil War tip?

Well, aside from the bureaucratic new kid no longer extending former Director Fury’s gruff yet familiar camaraderie, something’s definitely horribly “off” within S.H.I.E.L.D. A subject that will keep for now but suffice to say trust, transparency and oversight issues are a-brewin’…

However, it’s not exactly like the Marvel public should suddenly feel 100% safe and protected either. After the Scarlet Witch debacle, this iteration of the team (now living in a giant “here we are” target) sees the addition of two new potential super-WMDs. One a mutant assassin. The other an agoraphobic-schizophrenic touting “the power of one million exploding suns” (whatever that means but it’s probably worse than a nuclear bomb).

Yeah, Cap and Tony can’t lose when the roster rounds out with Spider-Man- you know, “New York’s Media Darling”, a known ex-con (Cage) and a “former” HYDRA agent.

About that last one, that mysterious convo of Jess’s before the first meet-up at the Tower? Turns out Drew’s back in HYDRA (they gave her her powers back). BUT- she’s really doing a “triple-agent” thing and is reporting back to Nick “I may be forced underground but I’m still a spymaster” Fury. Indeed, Jess has many secrets…

Welcome back, Avengers. Just in time for old shit to bite you in the ass…

UP NEXT: The House of M! (No, seriously, f’r realz this time…)

“What’s so Civil about War, Anyway?” Looking Back on Marvel’s 2006 Mega-Event (Prologue Segment, Part 1)

Super-heroes: great for saving the day, right? But, man, they sure can break a few proverbial eggs along the way in making that omelette! While reading all about their fantastic exploits is certainly entertaining in the real world, just imagine how terrifying it must be being an average citizen of the Marvel Universe. Well, ten years ago, the “House of Ideas” put it to the test with a topically-polarizing event series that still reverberates to this day.

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*Warning: Image may not reflect actual sides…* (Civil War #1 variant cover, published May, 2006. Art by Michael Turner)

But this isn’t a coincidental anniversary commemoration- no sir, what’s old is indeed new again as this material is hardcore back in the 2016 zeitgeist! Not only does it serve as a major source for the third Captain America film (Captain America: Civil War, obvs…), Marvel Comics is also poising to re-divide its expansive hero stable on all-new, all-different ethical grounds in the summer-long Civil War II; allegedly billing as a sequel “in name only” because, hey, branding…

Before any of the forward-motion blockbuster-y spectacle goes down, though, let’s walk it back through the deep, dark jungles of continuity past to see where stuff comes from…  [MORE→]