Avengers, Assembled...Finally

"Avengers" was the first comic I ever fell in love with.

I'm fairly certain the first issue I bought -- plucked off a spinner rack at a local deli -- was #149, with the admittedly lame villain Orka on the cover. But what it did have was George Perez interiors. George become the first artist my young eyes cold pick out instantly, and put a name to. (Years later, when I got to work with George on a couple issues of "CrossGen Chronicles," it was truly a fanboy moment.)

Issue #149 led to #150, and I was hooked. More Perez art, some Kirby covers, the Korvac Saga by Shooter and Perez, then John Byrne taking over the penciling duties. I read "Avengers" every month, or at least every month I could find an issue. This was before I knew anything called a "comic book store" even existed. If my local convenience stores and supermarkets were sold out, I was outta luck. Come back next month, kid.

The Vision became my favorite Avenger. Something about the "Mr. Spock with a red face" persona appealed to me. I remember finding a Vision ringer T-shirt in a department store. I was stunned such a thing even existed, and pleaded with my mother to buy it for me. She did, and it was my prize possession until I outgrew it.

I can remembering making a list of "my" Avengers team, which would've included oddballs like Nova (buckethead, not the herald), Moon Knight and Son of Satan, as well as the Big Three of Cap, Iron Man and Thor. And, of course, the Vision.

I stuck with the title for quite a while, a good few years past the milestone issue #200. But my interest in "Avengers," and almost all comics, waned, until I re-discovered them a few years later. I've read "Avengers" sporadically since becoming a pro, checking it out when an enticing creative team lands on the title (like, say, Walter Simonson drawing a batch of current issue). But I've never followed a title, before or since, like I followed "Avengers" for those years.

So it was with a mix of expectation and trepidation that I approached the "Avengers" film, both extremes fueled by virtually everyone I follow on Twitter registering unabashed raves. I took my three kids, all of whom have enjoyed the "Iron Man" (times two),"Thor" and "Captain America" run-up to "Avengers," and even liked the Ed Norton "Incredible Hulk" well enough.

Before we go any further: yes, I had mixed feelings about even seeing the film due to Marvel's treatment of Jack Kirby. Yes, those feelings were exacerbated upon seeing my friend Jim Starlin in the credits "thank yous," knowing that Jim has received precious little remuneration for creating Thanos. The 10-year-old who discovered Avengers #149 on a spinner rack wanted to sit in a darkened theater and see something he never thought possible. The adult who has been working in comics for two decades is sending in his donation to Hero Initiative today for the amount we spent on tickets.

My kids loved it, laughing and cheering along with the rest of the audience. I laughed, and I cheered, and I liked it a lot. There were a few stumbling blocks for me. The Hulk's turn from heel to face was a little abrupt. I didn't quite buy agent Coulson's fate as the final motivation for the Avengers to set aside their differences and start avenging. I was yanked out of the film when anybody spouted a variation of the too-frequent "What's your play?" line.

But there was a lot to love. I'll admit to maybe squirting a tear or two when the helicarrier rose up majestically from the sea. I'll admit to staring in rapt wonder when Thor and Iron Man beat the hell out of each other in the forest. Or when Thor and the Hulk ripped into each other on the helicarrier. Or just taking in the glorious destruction of Manhattan, filled with trademark George Perez rubble.

I didn't think "Avengers" was perfect, but it entertained the hell out of me. More than anything, it got the heart right. Obviously Joss Whedon is a guy who understands that all the thundering spectacle in the world is useless if we don't care about the characters. Yes, he had the luxury of the previous films establishing these characters, and giving us a reason to root for them. But putting them all into the mix and coming up with something other than a muddle mess is an accomplishment.

The film encapsulated why I grew up a Marvel kid, rather than a DC reader. The Marvel characters were flawed, they didn't always get along. They squabbled and clashed, but pulled together when they were needed most. They had to overcome an inner weakness (as opposed to, say, kryptonite, or yellow).

But even as I reveled in the vast majority of what was up on the screen, I found myself experiencing a bit of wistful twinge, and I didn't quite understand. "The Avengers" offered everything you could expect in a comic: stunning imagery, fantastic battles, clever character exchanges. And then I realized that's why I felt wistful. Because once upon a time, this was the sort of thing that only comics could give you.

Before the $200 million opening weekend, if you wanted the Hulk and Thor smashing each other, you needed Kirby. If you wanted Manhattan reduced to rubble by an army of aliens, you needed George Perez. Only comics offered seemingly unlimited budgets and imagination. Now those things are yours for the price of a ticket (plus the applicable surcharges for 3D and Imax).

I'm glad for the success of "The Avengers." And I'll gladly go see it again. But part of me still feels like we've lost a bit more of what makes comics unique. What makes them ours. And that makes me a little sad.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" and "Magdalena" for Top Cow, and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

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