You can’t tell me how to spend my time.
If you could, I doubt you would have told me to spend a significant portion of my weekend reading comics that have been forgotten by time. The Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans team-up comic, the first three issues of “Dazzler,” “Micronauts” #1, a random issue of “Marvel Team-Up” — sometimes I can’t be stopped! Reading old comics that I have lying around is what I try to do in my spare time, usually to get away from whatever controversies and conundrums are currently tearing through the modern comic landscape.
Sometimes I venture into areas that feel as if they’ve been quarantined, as if they’ve been condemned by the collective comic book memory. From what I’ve gathered during my years as an adult comic book consuming human, the ’90s run of “Avengers” has been widely panned — or at least I don’t see nearly enough people defending it from detractors. However convoluted and ridiculous “Uncanny X-Men” got during the decade, I’ve always just assumed that the mistakes made in “Avengers” were twice as egregious.
So of course I had to read those issues.
The Avengers never seemed cool to me when I was a kid. All the affection I have for them nowadays comes directly from their big screen dominance. My favorite Captain America is easily movie Captain America, and I hear Scarlett Johansson’s voice every time I read a Black Widow line. The Avengers, who never seemed as cool as the X-Men did in the early ’90s, offered little in the way of escape for me. I was a weird, lonely kid that loved comics well after everyone else gave them up. The X-Men gave me a mansion to retreat to and a group of heroes that were as persecuted as I felt. I could relate to them. If there’s a deeper meaning to the Avengers, it was lost on eight-year-old me — and it’s actually still kinda lost on 30-year-old me, too.
That’s not to say that the Hama/Ryan/Harras/Epting-era team didn’t make an impact on my childhood. No, I didn’t read an issue of “Avengers” until Kurt Busiek and George Perez restarted the team in 1998, but I did have all of their trading cards. The lineup on their Marvel Universe Series III trading card from 1992 has been tattooed on my brain: Captain America, Sersi, Crystal, Black Knight, Hercules, Thor, and Vision. Yeah, I went for years assuming that Sersi and Crystal were A-list, big deal Avengers characters. You could not have been more wrong, chubby child Brett! Their 1993 trading cards grabbed my attention even more — because Sersi and Crystal had fly bomber jackets! Kid me never associated Iron Man — or even Thor, actually — with the team. Sersi, Crystal, and Thunderstrike might as well have formed my Avengers trinity. So yes, I can apparently conjure up nostalgic feelings for a team that I had never even read before a few months ago.
In the past six months I’ve read “Avengers” #329-360, including every chapter of “Operation: Galactic Storm.” I’m digging it, you guys. Yeah! It’s not horrible! Yet. I fast-forwarded ahead and read “Avengers” #397, and oof, it does go swiftly downhill at some point before 1996. The early ’90s issues, though, get a hearty endorsement from IN YOUR FACE JAM.
I have to acknowledge my bias. There’s something oddly reassuring, comforting and inviting about reading comics for the first time from what I consider my “home era.” I fell in love with comics because of 1992 issues of “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” and what the X-Men books were doing in early 1993. This era of comics, everything from the coloring style to the Cool-O-Meters, just feels like home to me. A lot of the enjoyment I get from these issues of “Avengers” comes from finding out how the other half lived back then. It’s also fascinating to see how the X-Men’s success affected the Avengers; this is undoubtedly why this era is so looked down upon by Avengers fans, as the team kinda turned into the X-Avengers by the time their 30th anniversary issues arrived. That transition feels deliberate as the Larry Hama/Paul Ryan era ends and the Bob Harras/Steve Epting era begins. Harras was, after all, the editor of the X-Line. The appearance of love triangles, bomber jackets, and issues dedicated to heroes moping around in a mansion during his tenure as writer could not be a coincidence.
I’ll acknowledge my bias again and say that I do not mind any of these changes. I get that longtime “Avengers” readers probably didn’t want their favorite comic X-Men-ized. I also get that if new Avengers fans want to read essential Avengers stories filled with the most Avengers-y Avenging possible, they should probably steer clear of the era where the team was mostly aping the X-Men’s melodrama. Y’all, I’m coming at this from the opposite end of the spectrum. I can’t get enough of ’90s X-Men, and that’s become a problem now that I’ve read the franchise’s entire ’90s output a half dozen times over. The Harras/Epting run on “Avengers” is scratching that nostalgic itch.
The villains throughout this run haven’t impressed me. The name “Thane Ector” reminds me way too much of “Ecto Cooler” to be intimidating, and Proctor’s whole plan of switching out Marvel U heroes with their evil alternate universe counterparts is incredibly convoluted. I’m getting way more enjoyment out of the Avengers themselves. Black Knight has been turned into a version of Han Solo that carries a straight up lightsaber and lacks self-confidence. I’ve read thirty issues of his Avengers tenure and I just realized that the guy is supposed to be a scientist over the weekend. I love how catty and aloof Sersi is, and reading her lines in Eva Gabor’s voice only makes her more delightful. I don’t have a handle on Crystal as a character, but that’s because all of her plots revolve around her scandalous crush on the Black Knight. Crystal is responsible for bringing a nanny, the Inhuman Marilla, into Avengers Mansion. I would read a whole comic of just Marilla bulldozing over Jarvis — actually, that pretty much sums up “Avengers” #357, when Marilla and Jarvis clashed over dinner party preparations. It was way more entertaining than that sentence would lead you to believe. Eric Masterson became a favorite of mine during “Operation: Galactic Storm,” where he proved that Thor’s powers in the body of an average dude — one that’s not above goofing up — can be hilarious. My crush on Hercules might have something to do with this run being so entertaining. To counteract the creative team’s bad decision to shave off Hercules’ beard, I’ve given the demi-god Nick Offerman’s voice.
I really didn’t expect to enjoy these comics as much as I have. I’ve only ever seen people hate on them, and I’m glad that I didn’t let naysayers keep me away. I’m probably enjoying them for the very reasons people dislike them (did I mention that I firmly believe that any super hero costume can be made better by adding a bomber jacket?), but I’m still enjoying them. I’m glad that I can now attach an actual fondness for this roster to my childhood memories of looking at those trading cards. I think that, through the course of writing this JAM, I’ve subconsciously decided that this roster is my Avengers roster.
And now I have to track down action figures of all of these characters. That’s how my brain works, everyone!
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts Matt & Brett Love Comics, writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio, and makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).