Saturday, March 12, 2011

Avengers: The Contest by Mantlo, Gruenwald, Grant, Englehart, DeFalco, Romita Jr., Milgrom and Hall

When the Gamesmaster starts a contest with the Immortal Unknown, the members of the Avengers become the Pawns in their game, along with the Fantastic Four and X-Men, along with heroes and villains from across the globe. As the heroes from the Earth disappear and end up in a huge arena, the reason for their disappearance soon becomes clear.

The Gamesmaster seeks the restoration of his brother, the being known as the Collector, destroyed by Korvac. But while Korvac undid the destruction he caused before his death, he didn't bring the Collector back to life. Since not even the Gamesmaster can bring an immortal back to life, the Unknown has offered her services on that score, provided the Gamesmaster can beat her at a game. The heroes selected must take part, or Earth will stay in stasis that it has been put in forever. Furthermore, if the Gamesmaster wins, he offers the concession that he will never use any being from Earth as a pawn ever again, and the Unknown offers a similar prize: she will give the Earth's sun an extra million years of life.

Each immortal selects twelve heroes to quest for piece of the Orb of life, each quarter of which is hidden somewhere on Earth. The first member of a team to touch the quarter of the orb will be accounted the "winner" of that piece. But as the heroes meet in Combat in four different olaces on Earth, what will be the outcome of the contest? Who is the Unknown, and what does she want from the contest to bring the Collector back to life, and what is the price the Gamesmaster will have to pay even if he wins the contest?

Seven years later, the contest continues when the Gamesmaster finds a way around the rules of the contest and abducts the souls of the West Coast Avengers to be his pawns once again, but when the East Coast Avengers, led by The Silver Surfer, must go into the lands of Death herself to bring back the souls of their friends and overcome the Gamesmaster's plans. But when their failures join the dead on the side of the Gamesmaster, can Hawkeye find a new game to overcome the Gamesmaster and save his friends and his wife?

Wow, what a long and convoluted story! The second part was only possible because of an error in the original, where the writers forgot who was on whose team, and the story, which should have ended with a tie, was given to one of the original participants instead. But when the lead writer was told to fix it, and given two annuals in which to fix it (the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers Annuals), he was more than glad to fix the story, giving us the second half, which takes place in the land of Death.

I liked the story, which felt very epic. Given what was happening, and the promises made by the two main figures, plus the threat of keeping the Earth in endless stasis, you can see why the Earth's heroes agreed to participate in the contest. The second part involves only the Avengers on both sides of the conflict, but given the number of heroes we can see in the first part of the contest, you can see the large number and wide variety of heroes around the globe, from those from Israel (Sabra), China (Collective Man) and even places like Ireland (Shamrock) and Russia (Vanguard). In fact, sometimes I would like to see more of these "national heroes", and we generally only get to see them when American heroes are dumped in other countries. Because honestly, some of them seem just as or more interesting as some of the more "mainstream" heroes!

The second part of the story uses only the Avengers, but manages to be just as interesting, as some of them are not well-known outside of the 80's, and many of which have died, lost their powers, or changed costumes in the intervening time. The West Coast Avengers themselves have been absorbed back into the rest of the Avengers, and no longer exist in California (although the Marvel Universe has that covered with the X-Men moving there instead). While the ending of the second story was decried by some of the fans as being non-heroic, the writer feels he was being true to the characterization of the character, and I honestly have to agree. Just because you're a hero doesn't mean you can't resort to trickery rather than straight-out fighting. Doesn't Spider Man prove this in just about every issue?

Given that the stories were written eight years apart, it's a given that there is going to be some, even a lot of differences between them, but put together, the two stories are very enjoyable, given that in both cases, both sides are heroes, and will settle at least some of the "Who would win in a fight of Hero A versus Hero B?" questions. An entertaining book with a story that won't make you feel stupid for reading it. Well done and recommended.

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