Sunday, May 30, 2010

Avengers Day Special: Worst Avengers Stories Ever

Welcome back, compadres, to our special wrap-up of our Avengers Day celebration. Previously this week (and by this week, I mean like two weeks ago; blame Kang) we counted down the 25 Greatest Avengers Stories Ever (viewable here, here, here and waaaaay over here). But while Avengers has consistently been an excellent title over the years, particularly over its first 24 years or so, it's also had its fair share of stinkers. So without further ado, here's our list of the Five Worst Avengers Issues Ever.

Further Ado: actually, a couple notes. Firstly, I decided to go with single issues for this list rather than crappy extended arcs (we'll call this The Crossing Rule). And tying into that, secondly, nothing from Heroes Reborn counts for the purposes of this list. Because otherwise, why even bother? Okay, now with the ground rules established and without further further ado, here's our list:

5) Tie: Avengers #376 and Avengers #377

Okay, I know what you're thinking: a tie? That's total weaksauce, Mr. Cheater McGee. And normally I agree, because when list makers make lists and include a ton of extra choices just because they are too wishy-washy to actually man up, well, it's irritating. But in this case there's a semi-decent excuse, which is the fact that these two issues, while technically both solo fill-ins, are thematically connected (they spotlight solo adventures of separated couple Crystal and Quicksilver) and also were both done by the same team of writer Joey Cavalieri and Grant Miehm. And they both sucked so hard that it's really hard to pick between one or the other.

So what are these stink-bombs about? Well, Crystal's story deals with some lady trying to replicate the Terrigen mists; she does so by draining the energy from a grody new Inhuman named Sporr, who has the ability to split himself into multiple piles of animated snot. Quicksilver's tale, on the other hand, involves a retcon that introduces the only African-American kid ever to grow up among the gypsies of Eastern Europe. Apparently this dude has had a lifelong crush on Wanda that Quicksilver snuffed out, so he's finally decided to gain revenge by siccing his freaky children on Pietro inside a dilapidated crackhouse. And in both issues, a total crapfest ensues.

I want to add that being forced to re-read these issues in order to provide plot details has taken a massive emotional toll on my soul. Thanks, guys.

4) Avengers #210

Okay, I'm going to say this right up front: this story isn't that bad. Which I realize is a weird thing to say about a story bad enough to land on my list of the five worst Avengers comics of all time, but there's bad and then there's bad, and this is just bad in a specific, old-school way. See, back in the day, when stories were bad, they usually were at least competent (usually -- see Iron Man #39 for a notable exception). They might have boring art and crappy writing, but they at least could be read and understood. In other words, compared to a lot of the nonsense that has come out since Avengers #210, this comic at least wasn't totally incompetent.

Still, it was bad enough to earn a special place in Avengers lore: for many, many years, most Avengers fans (though not me, as you will soon see) considered this story of how Beast's girlfriend Vera became turned to crystal by evil weathermen to be the worst issue of Avengers ever. That attitude now seems almost quaint after stuff like The Crossing and Heroes Reborn, but legend is legend for good or ill. This comic also has the distinction of being the final Beast issue of Avengers, as he was dumped in #211 by returning writer Jim Shooter and shunted into Defenders instead. The end of an era.

3) Avengers #178

So if #210 wasn't the worst issue of Avengers ever, what was? Why, it's none other than one of the most disappointing fill-in issue of all-time (which is really saying something), Avengers #178 which, coincidentally (?) was another Beast spotlight story. This monstrous pile of crap featured some clanky, late-career art from Carmine Infantino and a horrible story about a two-faced robot dude that... you know what, I'm not even going to get into it, other than to say that bizarrely enough, this terrible comic actually had a follow-up story in Captain America that I also don't want to think about but which still wasn't nearly as bad as this. Making matters even worse: this issue followed directly on the heels of one of the greatest Avengers epics of all time, the Korvac Saga, meaning that tens of thousands of fans waiting to read the epilogue to that tale were instead flummoxed when they found this turd burger at the shop instead (and the next two-part fill-in story was nearly as bad, barely missing my list).

Epic fail on every possible level.

2) West Coast Avengers #38

Normally reliable pros D. G. Chichester and Tom Palmer turn in yet another awful fill-in issue, this one taking place in the pages of West Coast Avengers. Why are so many fill-ins so bad? Who knows.

It's especially too bad here because when you crack the comic open and see that this is a fill-in -- meaning you don't have to read about Mantis -- you're probably breathing a sigh of relief. But no. Instead, we get this story about a guy named The Defiler who, as it happens, is a heavy metal rock star who's sucking the life force out of his fans by shunting them to another dimension where they get stuck in what appears to be a giant pile of flan. The only way for the Avengers to save the day? While a mulleted Wonder Man distracts Deflier, Hank Pym leaps into the other dimension and uses his Pym particles to enlarge a skateboard to gigantic proportions. Then he ties a giant rope to it and the heavyweights on the Earth side of the dimensional portal tow them to safety. Mullets, skateboards and a villain apparently based on Glenn Danzig: what more could you ask from an Avengers comic?

Other than competence.

1) New Avengers #16

This is for all those Bendis fans wondering why none of his stories made my last Avengers list. Well, have no fear: he's on this one! And really, there was no doubt about it, because New Avengers #16 has the distinction of being the worst comic book I have ever purchased.

And that's without even getting into the fact that it also kicks off the worst extended arc in Avengers history as well (with only The Crossing really rivaling it for sheer awfulness). But we don't really need to drag that horrific Xorn nonsense into this one; New Avengers #16 earns this spot entirely on its own merits.

So what's so bad about it? Well, for one thing, it's new-style "widescreen" storytelling at its absolute worst, as Bendis and artist Steve McNiven manage to waste an unbelievable number of pages showing us that a guy from space lands on Earth. you wouldn't think that would take multiple full splash pages to tell, but apparently it does, especially when you're writing for the trade market and you have to stretch a really godawful idea out over five entire issues.

But, hey, maybe you like that sort of thing. Well, then there's also problem two: the Avengers aren't even in this issue. Nope. Nowhere. Not even for one panel. Instead, once the guy from space lands, the entire rest of the issue is a bunch of SHIELD guys talking to each other about their satellite feeds, bantering in that patented "everyone sounds exactly the same" Bendis style.

Indeed, the only "action" per se in the entire story is the death of Alpha Flight, as the entire team gets offed between panels for no apparent reason at all other than the fact that Bendis wanted to show how tough this new menace is. Except, they don't show it. Because it happens off panel.

So to recap: an entire comic book that costs readers $2.50 and consists of 1) a multi-page sequence showing the Earth getting closer and closer until a dude lands on it and 2) a dozen pages of SHIELD agents talking to each other about how bad the menace we aren't seeing is.

If this all sounds like something your normal, professional comic writer could have delivered in the space of two pages, you'd be correct. Instead, we get this: without a doubt, the single worst issue of any Avengers title ever printed and, incidentally, the story that eventually convinced me to stop buying Avengers after 22 years. Everyone involved, take a bow, because you're... NUMBER ONE!!!

Next: Coming soon, a special announcement about the project I've been working on that has prevented me from getting more Vault entries done. Also: reviews of all the new Avengers titles. Be there! or... here, I guess. Be here!

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Aw, man. I still have a special place in my heart for the Weathermen issue. Thanks for making me question my taste in comics this morning.
This was probably a hard list to make, because back in the early 1990s, when it was all about gimick covers and subpar Marvel artists/writers trying to copy the Image style, there was a LOT of crap being pumped out routinely. It seemed like almost every issue of every line was an attempt to launch another crap character instead of sticking to good storytelling with the stars of the book.

yeah, this was tricky because the early 90's stuff from Avenegrs #376-400 is sooooooo bad. As I said, though, I don't personally think the Weathermen story is that bad, and by comparison it actually looks solid. But for a lot of older fans I've talked to, it sort of symbolized the one down period Avengers had before Stern left (and a very short down period, really -- just from like 205-210, which did have some other really bad stuff). So I included it more on reputation than on how bad I think it actually reads now. And I think people who were also Defenders fans, as I believe you are, probably like it more than straight Avengers fans do.

#178 still sucks to high heaven though. So bad.

I'm glad you have #178 on this list. By far the worst Avengers comic I've ever seen, from the writing to the art. I think #169 should bump #210 off the list though. West Coast Avengers #38 was indeed bad, but I think Avengers #178 was even worse. Luckily, I've never read New Avengers #16, but based on the Bendis Avengers stuff I have read, I'm sure it deserves its place on this list.

By the way, you should do a worst Avengers story arc list as well.

I am not sure if you got #210 right, as Vera did not appear in this issue, nor did anybody got turn into crystal. What did happened was the Beast found a bunch of nubile female vacationers encased in ice before he himself was subdued in the same way.

The Weathermen issue was really a deliberate spotlight on Jocasta before she was written out of the team in the next issue.

I'm a big Steve Gerber fan and the beast is my favorite avengers so I enjoyed avengers 178 much better than the poorly developed doom/namor crossover and fill in in 155-158. But I loved Perez's art in 154.

That New Avengers issue is probably the one that finally made me give up. I - literally - had almost everything ever produced with the word Avengers on it up to that point. I hadn't missed a new issues since #234 and I hadn't gone more than a few months without buying an Avengers comic since I was six (which puts me back to Jack Kirby covers!). Bendis' run was terrible. I thought it would never end. It actually almost made me miss Chuck Austen (almost).