Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Greatest Avengers Stories Ever: #15-6

Welcome back to my countdown of the Greatest Avengers Stories of All Time. Yesterday we kicked things off in grand style with such classics as The Avengers/Defenders War and The Serpent Crown Saga. Now we continue our celebration of Avengers Day (tomorrow, for those of you keeping track) by revealing the next batch of ten epic stories from Avengers history. So settle in, because here we go!

15) Ultron Mark 12 (West Coast Avengers #7)

Okay, I know what you're thinking: WTF? But bear with me a moment. It's true that this stand alone story isn't generally recognized as an Avengers classic, but for my money it's one of the best explorations of Ultron's character ever written. In this moving tale, following the apparent destruction of Ultron-11, the newest version of the ever-evolving menace actually evolves into a version that has moved beyond his childish hatred of his father figure, creator Hank Pym. Naming himself Mark, Ultron Mark 12 tries and finally succeeds in forging a tentative relationship with the obviously very hesitant Pym. Just when the sin of Ultron's misbegotten creation seems to finally have been redeemed, the still-murderous Ultron-11 returns and Mark 12 sacrifices his own life to save Pym. In the end, Pym is left more devastated than ever, wondering what might have been if Mark 12 had lived to end Ultron's evil once and for all -- and become the son Pym always hoped for. A great story from Steve Englehart.

14) The Squadron Supreme (Avengers #85-86)

Right from the stunning John Buscema cover, this great storyline from Roy Thomas kicks things into a new gear. Accientally shanghaied into an alternate universe, the Avengers find themselves face to face with an all-new superhero team: the Squadron Supreme! Clearly based on DC's Justice League of America, the Squadron of course first mistakes the Avengers for attackers. But finally the two teams band together in order to stop a potential holocaust. The story sets the scene for decades worth of great Squadron Supreme stories while also providing a slam-bang action story that ends with a typical -- and memorable -- bit of Thomas philosophizing, as the Avengers, returned to their own home, wonder if they can ever be sure if the world they have come home to is actually their own or just another almost-identical alternate world. As a bonus, this story is also part of a meta-crossover with that month's issue of Justice League of America, #87, which featured the DC version of the Avengers, known as The Assemblers. Sweet.

13) The Death of Adam Warlock (Avengers Annual #7, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2)

In this cosmic epic from Jim Starlin, Thanos is back for his second go-round with the Avengers. Along for the ride this time is Thing and Adam Warlock, who pays the ultimate price in his efforts to settle Thanos's hash once and for all. But thanks to the power of the Soul Gem, not even death can keep Warlock from saving the universe, as Starlin brings the Warlock-as-Christ metaphor to its logical conclusion. He also provides great art in what may be the best of his many Thanos storylines. The mega-event Infinity Gauntlet owes its existence to this story.

12) Ultron Unlimited (Avengers vol. 3 #19-23)

Kurt Busiek and George Perez blew it out of the water with their epic Ultron throwdown to end all Ultron throwdowns. Things look bad enough wen the Avengers struggle to tak down the latest iteration of Ultron. But when a slew of even more advanced Ultrons appear, things look especially grim; forget Ultron-16, when Ultron-453 comes around the corner, well, you know you are majorly boned. This story also added a new wrinkle to the Pym-Ultron dynamic as it is revealed for the first time that Pym used his own brain patterns to create Ulton's personality. But the story is first and foremost best known for the epic final battle and Thor's classic line, "Ultron, we would have words with thee," as he prepares to put Ultron down for good. Oh yeah.

11) The New Masters of Evil (Avengers #54-55)

When Roy Thomas decided to bring bring back the Masters of Evil, he went full out. In a precursor to Roger Stern's epic Mansion Siege, the new Masters of Evil get the drop on the team and capture them thanks to their sleeper agent inside Avengers Mansion: Jarvis! In fact, Jarvis is actually the leader of the Masters of Evil! Except, in a rare-double reverse twist, it turns out he isn't. The actual leader? Much to the shock of the Masters themselves, their leader turns out to be an all-new menace making his comics debut -- the one and only Ultron. Add in some fantastic art from John Buscema and the return of the Black Knight and you have an instant -- and enduring -- classic.

10) JLA/Avengers (JLA/Avengers #1-4)

An event literally decades in the making, JLA/Avengers didn't disappoint thanks to some genius art by George Perez and a great story by Kurt Busiek. Harking back to the Avengers/Defenders War and the first appearance of the Squadron Sinister (both of which appeared on yesterday's list -- check it out already), the Avengers and the Justice League find themselves on opposite sides in a cosmic game being played between the Grandmaster and Kronos. In the end, though, they team up to prevent Kronos from completely destroying the multi-verse and thanks to some wonky time-distortion, every member from the long histories of both teams manage to get in on the action, providing undoubtedly the most satisfying inter-company crossover ever. Favorite moment: when Hawkeye, in a nice bit of meta-commentary, realizes that the Justice League is just an alternate version of the Squadron Supreme. Nice.

9) The Celestial Madonna (Avengers #129-135, Giant-Size Avengers #2-4)

Steve Englehart brought back Kang the Conqueror with a bang in this classic epic which asked the simple question: how can you defeat someone who controls time? The answer? With great difficulty. The Avengers suffered their first death in this storyline, as the Swordsman fell in an eventually successful attempt to redeem his name. Along the way, Englehart and company also revealed the secret history of the Vision, the Kree and the Skrulls and the connection between Immortus and Kang. And, oh yeah, Vision and the Scarlet Witch got married while Mantis was revealed to be the Celestial Madonna, whose child is destined to redeem the universe. No wonder this story has become legend.

8) The Great Betrayal (Avengers #66-68)

Introducing the art of Barry Windsor-Smith to the world, this landmark story also developed a number of ideas that would continue to reverberate for years later throughout both Avengers and the larger Marvel universe. Adamantium, for instance, made it's debut here, as did the Vision's control crystal (later key to Roger Stern's Ultimate Vision storyline) and his ability to phase through people in order to knock them out (which was introduced in a classic Smith splash sequence). But it's the story that really endures, as the newly evolved Ultron-6 unveils his master plan, stealing the secret of adamantium and becoming an indestructible killing machine. The only thing that can stop him? His inability to understand human emotion. Decades of Ultron storylines were set in motion with this classic tale.

7) Nefaria Supreme (Avengers #164-166)

What would happen if the Avengers fought Superman? That was the simple premise behind this Jim Shooter / John Byrne collaboration. Simple, but magical. Count Nefaria, seeking to harness immortality, stumbles upon a procedure that grants him godlike physical powers. All the team's heaviest hitters show up here to gang-tackle Nefaria, with Vision, Iron Man, Wonder Man and Thor going toe to toe with the Count in the streets of Manhattan. The most memorable sequence has the Vision ascending a mile above the city before turning his mass as solid and heavy as diamond and dropping himself straight down onto Nefaria's head. Even this isn't enough to take him out, but the efforts finally overstrain his system and he burns himself out, the victim of his own lust for power.

6) The Kree/Skrull War (Avengers #89-97)

This story needs no introduction or explanation, but here's the short version anyway: an epic feat of storytelling, Roy Thomas here manages to tie together all the various continuity threads of Marvel's various alien races into one magnum opus. He also brings back the Big Three, ties up loose plotlines from Captain Marvel and Inhumans and, oh year, reintroduces the Timely Comics Golden Age stable of heroes ot the Marvel Universe. All of this (or, most of it) with brilliant art from the legendary Neal Adams in a space epic that not only defined comic book events but also acted as a precursor for later films such as Star Wars. Forty years later and the Kree/Skrull War remains a landmark in Marvel and comics history.

Tomorrow: The conclusion! What five stories could possibly top the Kree/Skrull War?! Find out on Avengers Day!

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Another great list. I agree with most of them.

I probably wouldn't have any Squadron Sinister or Squadron Supreme stories in my Top 25.

But I might have missed the "Torn Between Two Ultrons", "The New Masters of Evil" and "The Great Betrayal" stories, all of which I agree are great. Not sure if I would put "Two Ultrons" on the all-time list.

JLA/AVENGERS would be higher on my list.