It's Separated at Byrne-th Month! It's a hoot and a half, it's a back-to-the-basics bonanza, it's more thrilling than paparazzi photos of the She-Hulk, it's more fun than the time the Watcher stole Jaunty John B. from his drawing desk to serve as a witness in the trial of Reed Richard (not covered on Court TV)! Yes, it's a month of Saturdays spotlighting the salutes, parodies, pastiches and homages of Mister John Byrne, so let's get started with a bang, shall we? Oh maybe I should say...with a bang, eh?
L: [Uncanny] X-Men #109 (February 1978), art by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin
R: Alpha Flight #17 (December 1984), art by John Byrne ("after Cockrum")
(Click picture to ROG-2000-size)
Panel from Marvel Team-Up #100 (December 1980), script and co-plot by Chris Claremont, co-plot and breakdowns by Frank Miller, finishes and inks by Bob Wiacek, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by Annette Kawecki
At the risk of sounding uncannily like grumpy Grampy Bull, you kids today and your Avengers. You got New Avengers and Mighty Avengers and Dark Avengers and Initiative Avengers and Secret Avengers and Cobalt Avengers and 100-Calorie Pack Avengers and Bikini Avengers and Chocolate Avengers...well, now, that last one sounds pretty good to me, and some of my readers might really enjoy the one before that.
My point, thoughand I do have oneis that in my day, we had Avengers and onlyAvengers, and that was the way we liked it! before the franchise got so bloomin' popular that it required seventeen or eighteen monthly comics books, miniseries, one-shots, Official Handbooks to the Avengers Universii, and heavily annotated extremely unofficial webguides to all fifty states worth of Avengers plus Avengers Puerto Rico...well, before all that there was simply one comic book, The Avengers, which has always been one of my favorite comic books of all time, and right behind the FF, my second favorite superhero team. Who can resist the team antics of Dr. Druid, Gilgamesh, Sersi, Rage, Firestar and Jarvis? Not me, that's who!
Like all my favorite comic books, there's a solid handful of creator teams on the book that have truly made The Avengers the world's mightiest heroes, to this little stuffed bull, at least. I love the David Michelinie/John Byrne/George Perez eras, and the wacky and wild Steve Englehart era, and there's the Kurt Busiek/George Perez "Heroes Return" relaunch, all of which have a special place in my little red satin heart. I loves me the period just post issue #16 when the team really started to take off, and the Roger Stern/John Buscema issues of the mid-1980s got me back interested in the book after a long period of distinterest. And oh my golly, I simply stand up and cheer when I read the Avengers: The Crossing-era books. Oh wait, that's the wrong word. Stand up and jeer, I mean.
But by far my fave era of The Avengers is the last couple years of the 1960s, starting round about issue #50 and running through the early #70s, where Roy Thomas and John Buscema introduced the world to the Marvel Universe's first crying robot, Yellowjacket (and his amazing treehouse), and brought The BlackPanther Black Leopard Panther into the fold of the World's Mightiest. This is the era I mostly collected in the 1980s reprint issues of Marvel Triple Action, a title which might have made no logical sense by the time Shooter and Company just threw up their hands and said, "Let's just reprint Avengers in the thing"...but for me, a copy of MTA always meant as much excitement and thrills as three regular Marvel Comics. I collected a large number of reprints from this period, missing a few issues here and there, but enough to make up my decision very early on in my comic book-collectin' career: them's good comics.
I could spend several dozen columns going over each ish of this magnificent run by Messrs Thomas, Buscema, and many other fantabulous Marvel creators, but instead let's have a fun and rapid romp through those golden coupla years by peeking in on each issue's coming next issue blurbs. They're works of art in and of themselves, aren't they? Starting with Avengers #50 (March 1968) and zooming right onto the end of the Age of Aquarius, December '69's #71, here, in order, are the cliffhanger teasers that made sure you would eagerly fork over your twelve cents each and every month of the Woodstock years. Why, this run is so classic, I bet you can even name the issues each story blurb belongs to!
By the time the sixties are rolling to a close, Neil Armstrong's starting work building our first moon hotel, Nixon's getting into practice by stealing candy from babies, and the Beatles are hitting each other with folding chairs. But the sixties Avengers are going out on a high note, with the conclusion of a mega-issue story that somehow guest-starred the Invaders and later gave rise to Roy Thomas's supposition that a villain would take off Namor's trunks and replace them with another pair, just to have those green trunks. (Yeah, I'm sure that's why he did it.) So there's no "next issue" blurb at the end of #71 as we say goodbye to the Screamin' Sixties, but rather as Marvel starts to head into its second sensation decade, Roy and John bring the whole cast onto stage to jubilantly announce those two words, that, whenever they've been spoken with urgency and purpose, signal great events: Avengers Assemble!:
Ah, those were the days, my friends. We thought they'd never end.
Panel from Marvel Two-in-One #24 (January 1983), script by Bill Mantlo and Jim Shooter, breakdowns by Sal Buscema, finishes and inks by Pablo Marcos Pablo Marcos, colors by George Roussos, letters by Irving Watanabe