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cover by Gil KaneThe Avengers: The Serpent Crown 2008 (SC TPB) 140 pages

Written by Steve Englehart. Pencils by George Perez. Inks by Vincent Colletta, Sam Grainger, Mike Esposito.
Colours: various. Letters: Tom Orzechowski, Denise Wohl. Editor: Marv Wolfman.

Reprinting: The Avengers (1st series) #141-144, 147-149 (1975)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

I've often remarked -- ruefully -- how comics can be hard to read for the casual fan, that even if you pick up a TPB collection purporting to reprint a story might be tied into -- and reference -- a zillion other comics from a zillion other series, making it frustrating as just a read-it-for-itself entertainment. And though that has become more extreme in recent years, such situations have marked comics for decades.

Though one difference is that, whereas now whole company "universes" are often handed over to single writers (Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis) to dictate the direction all other writers take, in the old days, it was more that a writer might simply tie all the titles he himself was working on into a self-referencing epic.

Which brings us to this Avengers arc from the mid-1970s (the skipped #145-146 was an unrelated deadline filler by another creative team). Steve Englehart works in references, and carries along threads, not just from previous Avengers issues, but his then-recent Captain America run, and a solo series of The Beast that ran in Amazing Adventures. He also crams in guest appearances, thanks to time travel, of a bunch of Marvel Comics' wild west heroes, and, thanks to dimension hopping, the Squadron Supreme, the super group that was modelled after DC Comics' Justice League.

It can be pretty dizzying. But it can also be a lot of fun.

Like a lot of epic arcs from days gone by, this is actually a few stories that wrap around each other to form a whole. The Avengers spilt up into two teams, one to investigate time travelling Kang the Conqueror, leading to Thor and a few others in the American west, circa the late 1800s, teaming up with such western stalwarts as the Rawhide Kid, the Two-Gun Kid, and a few other "Kids" (making it kind of confusing when characters just refer to each other as "Kid"). While the main group investigates the Brand/Roxxon corporation, leading to a tussle with the Squadron Supreme, taking the Avengers to the Squadron's other-earth home reality. Eventually, the Avengers return to their earth (sans the Squadron) for the final showdown with Brand/Roxxon.

That's not even getting into all the little character bits, or the introduction of Patsy Walker as Hellcat -- Patsy a one time teen comedy heroine (in an Archie Andrews mould) who was being integrated into the regular Marvel universe -- first in those aforementioned Beast solo issues, then here where she actually becomes a bonafide super an oddly contrived, arbitrary way, yet one that established the flighty, happy-go-lucky nature of the character. Ironically, it would be in the more deliberately quirky Defenders -- the un-Avengers, if you will -- that she enjoyed lasting appeal.

Now I've often said I try and review TPBs from the point of view of saying, do they read well enough on their own? It can be tricky, because if I am familiar with the outside references, I might not realize how confusing it would be to a reader less widely read. Although, in this day of inevitable TPB collections, much of the referenced material is easily available. For instance, the Kang plot makes (passing) references to the adventures depicted in Avengers: The Celestial Madonna (or, alternately, Essential Avengers, vol. 6). The Captain America connection is reprinted in Captain America: Secret Empire and Captain America: Nomad (or, alternately, Essential Captain America, vol. 4) and even the Beast solo adventures were reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men, vol. 3.

And, as the title of this collection implies, the sinister Serpent Crown is involved...a recurring evil force that had appeared before -- and since -- in Marvel Comics, including in some old Sub-Mariner comics (not -- yet -- reprinted anywhere, so far as I know) and the previously mentioned Captain America: Nomad.

But can you just pick this up without having taken a semester in Englehart's 1970s Marvel Work 101?

Yes? No? Maybe?

I'm going with...yes. With a touch of maybe.

The basic plot(s) can be followed, whatever the background. You know who are the good guys, who are the bad, etc. As well, although it draws on a lot of backstory...most of it is explained as you go, sooner or later. So, for example, when some of the Avengers set off after time travelling Kang, they recruit the help of foe-turned-ally Immortus, and there are some oblique references made to Immortus' relationship to Kang. Yet by the end of that part of the story, it's explained more clearly.

Perhaps the biggest "out-of-left-field" element is the Serpent Crown itself, which is thrown in more than half way through and, if you were familiar with it, seems natural. If not, you might think it seems a bit like a plot idea that drops in out of nowhere. Ironically, it is foreshadowed as early as #141, in a brief flashback to a Captain America adventure -- except the crown isn't actually referenced, but is seen in the visuals!

Though I can complain if a comic seems too incoherently muddled up with past adventures and references, conversely, if such references are explained, it can enhance the adventure, making the story seem richer, and grander, than its page count.

Ignoring the backstory question (which I've wasted a lot of verbiage on) like a lot of Englehart's work at the time -- and the work of some others -- the execution is wild mishmash of high brow and low brow that combine to make for a pretty entertaining, fast paced romp. Is the dialogue sometimes corny and clumsy -- ya, you betcha. But I tend to be forgiving, even appreciative of that. You accept it as "the style", just as one doesn't watch a Shakespeare play and dismiss it because no one really talks that way. And most dialogue is contrived and corny in its own way, particularly with the benefit of hindsight. (Trust me, kids, future readers are going to be snorting derisively reading reprints of Brian Michael Bendis, or Grant Morrison). And, at the same time, there is a wonderful humanity to Englehart's characters. These aren't iconic super men, but real people, with real quirks and foibles, and it's that fact, that we like the people inside the costumes, that makes the action interesting as much as the hammer blows.

And like with Englehart's Captain America run, Englehart writes larger-than-life adventure that rockets along with all the subtlety of a movie serial, making it a fast, gee whiz, four colour romp...while also teasing along some genuine social and political undercurrents. It's not quite as angry or in-your-face as his Captain America issues, Englehart perhaps having burned himself out a bit. But it's there. Englehart uses the Serpent Crown, and the Squadron Supreme's other-world, as a chance to hint at some metaphorical issues, as Cap even says: "My God, people! This, then, is what might have happened to us!" Or as a business man turned president (the other-world version of Nelson Rockefeller) says: "We commit the most outrageous acts...and you go right along, pretending not to notice!" Even the Squadron is put in a cynical light, as heroes who have "sold out".

(Although not directly related, one can see this story having influenced the later Squadron Supreme maxi-series, which began with the Squadron emerging from a period where they had sold out to a different, corrupting power).

Perhaps a criticism is that Englehart tosses in such themes, but doesn't really delve into them as he had in his Captain America run. This remain, first and foremost, a colourful action-adventure, with the sub-text more just garnish for the goose. At the same time, maybe that's its advantage. You can nod appreciatively at the cautionary insights beneath the surface, the brains beneath the brawn, without feeling the comics get particularly heavy handed or self-important.

And, sure, it's fairly breezy over all. It's not like Englehart offers up some complex stew of twists and turns. When the Avengers are on the run on the other-earth...they are just on the run, rather than enacting some clever counter strategy. And in the western sequence, the assemblage of Marvel's cowboy heroes can be cute...but it's not like they emerge as much more than an anonymous group who disappear a couple of issues later.

And some of the other sub-text are a bit more frivolous. The Squadron is, of course, a riff on rival DC's line, and Englehart throws in a few self-reflective digs, like having a Squadron member remark that when they win an adventure, there aren't any loose ends or questions, an allusion to the fact that most (though not all) of DC's line at the time tended not to go for the same kind of soap opera-y, rambling, plotting that Marvel employed. Even the idea of using the Squadron as corporate sell-outs might be seen as a partisan dig (ironically, shortly after this Englehart left Marvel...for DC!)

I've rambled on so long, without even touching on the art. George Perez was and, astoundingly, remains a legend over thirty years later. Though this is early in his career, he was still definitely an A-list artist joining the series after a period of competent but, arguably, unexceptional artists. But this is early work from Perez, and the art can be a bit uneven (and, indeed, reflects ups and downs that stay with him throughout his career). On one hand, he delivers solid, realist faces and figures...on the other hand, his characters can be a bit stiff. On one hand, he shows some clever use of panels and framing, some innovative presentation of scenes, of breaking down an action (the sun bather in #147) while other times, his action scenes can lack a certain dramatic flare. Perez is, of course, known for his ridiculous amount of meticulous background detail. And there's that here...but not nearly as much so as later years. Of course, the inkers he's paired with influence the work. Vinnie Colletta, with his stiff, thin lines, wasn't the most sympathetic. But Sam Grainger's finishes put me a bit in mind of Romeo Tanghal's inks over Perez's pencils from his later, much regarded, New Teen Titans run.

The bottom line? It's better than average art, making for more consistently appealing visuals than, say, the previous Celestial Madonna collection.

And that bottom line applies to the writing, as well. Better-than-average. Fast-paced, with enough going on to justify the page count, it's a fun adventure(s) with just enough soap opera-y character and relationship stuff, and socio-political sub-text, to engage the heart and mind, as well as the adrenal glands.

An enjoyable page turner.

(These same issues are also included in Essential Avengers, vol. 7)

Cover price: $___.

coverThe Avengers: Supreme Justice 2001 (SC TPB) 200 pages

Written by Kurt Busiek, with Mark Waid, John Ostrander, Joe Edkin. Pencils by George Perez, Carlos Pacheco, Sean Chen, Andy Kubert, Derec Aucoin. Inks by various.
Colours/letters: various.

Reprinting: The Avengers (1997 series) #5-7, Avengers/Squadron Supreme 1998 Annual, Iron Man (1998 series) #7, Captain America (1998 series) #8, Quicksilver #9

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Review posted: Nov. 2014

This was the second consecutive TPB collecting Kurt Busiek and George Perez's then-recent revival of the Avengers (begun in The Morgan Conquest). Though Perez is under-represented this time. He only draws three issues as the collection also includes a story that crossed-over into other titles, as well as that year's Annual which wasn't drawn by Perez.

It begins with a two-parter which squares The Avengers off against The Squadron Supreme -- heroes from an alternate reality (and deliberately modelled after DC Comics' Justice League of America). The Squadron had cropped up occasionally in Marvel comics, usually to act as token adversaries such as here (usually because of misunderstandings, or mind-control -- there's also, I believe, The Squadron Sinister, their actual counterparts on the regular Marvel earth) and most famously featured in their own critically acclaimed maxi-series.

At this point, The Squadron are permanent residents on earth, and they show up declaring The Avengers imposters (the Avengers had only recent returned from being believed dead). Cue: big fight. In the second issue, The Avengers go to the government facility where the Squadron have been living to try and figure out why they are saying these terrible things about them. Cue: another big fight.

That's about it.

The conflict is sort of resolved (turns out, yup, mind-control was involved) though the true villain behind it isn't discovered...

..until The Avengers/Squadron Supreme Annual (technically it's just an Avengers Annual -- but Marvel was experimenting with making many of their annuals team-ups with characters without a monthly series). Here the two teams join forces to take on Imus Champion -- a relatively obscure old foe who is so super powerful he figures he can take on the entirety of both teams. And he challenges them to prove him wrong. Cue: a bunch of little fights as the two groups break up into small groups. Presumably it's meant to evoke all those old JLA/JSA team ups where the two teams broke up into smaller groups for brief chapters. Except it's all kind of repetitious and pointless. Champion doesn't have a scheme they have to stop -- his "scheme" is simply to fight them. And since if they defeat him before the climax, the story would be over, it means each sequence has to end the same way, with the heroes being defeated. There's supposed to be an ironic twist in how and who defeats Imus finally -- except I wasn't really sure how she did it!

The two-part story is illustrated by Perez, the Annual by Carlos Pacheco -- both are well drawn, but basically have all the depth of a WWF match.

The cross-over story -- running from Iron Man, to Captain America, to Quicksilver (who had his own short-lived series at the time) and climaxing in Avengers #9 -- is a bit better. Dubbed "Live Kree or Die!" it involves agents of the alien Kree race (ticked off at the Avengers and earth in general) planning some deadly scheme with a secondary emotional/character thread bringing to a head a previously hinted at sub-plot involving Warbird (the former Ms. Marvel) and her increasingly out-of-control alcoholism. To be honest, Busiek's writing on the Avengers (both here and in the previous TPB) hadn't really won me over, but his work on the Iron Man issue is actually stronger. Focusing on fewer characters, he seems to be able to better bring out the human factor of the heroes, while also developing scenes.

Unfortunately, as the plot progresses over the various issues, it ends up seeming a bit thin -- more just an excuse to string together a bunch of fights. The heroes have very little significant impact on the villains' plan because, if they did, it would halt the story before the climax! The Ms. Marvel stuff is fairly effective, though it too can feel a bit repetitive (and, of course, alcoholic super heroes have been done before, as the story acknowledges).

Still, "Live Kree or Die!" is stronger than the Squadron Supreme stories. (Though I'm not sure why the captions keeping describing the blue area of the moon -- long established in Marvel lore -- as "mysterious" when surely by this point we know pretty much all there is to know about it!). The art isn't as detailed or impressive as Perez's -- but in some ways, is maybe more effective (at least on, say, The Iron Man issue by Sean Chen) precisely because it's not too cluttered with details.

Ultimately this isn't a disagreeable collection. But despite the accolades Busiek and Perez won for their run, like with the previous Morgan Conquest, it leaves me ambivalent.

This review is based on the original comics.

Cover price: $___.

The Avengers: Ultron Unlimited 2001 (SC TPB) 110 pages

Written by Kurt Busiek. Pencils by George Pereze, with Stuart Immonen. Inks by Al Vey, with Wade Von Grawbadger.
Colours: Tom Smith. Letters: Richard Starkings, Wes Abbott.

Reprinting: The Avengers (3rd series) #0, 19-22 (1999)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Review posted: Feb. 2016

Number of readings: 1

This follows Clear and Present Dangers

Okay, just as a preamble -- I've been reading a lot of this old Busiek-Perez run recently (had a few of the issues, borrowed a few TPBs, etc.) but, I'll admit, I never really got into it. Still, I've pushed on just out of curiosity, to see if it would grow on me. Which now brings us to Ultron Unlimited which is, in many ways, the biggest arc of their run to date -- at least in that it's a single story stretched over four issues (plus the prologue from Avengers #0). And, yeah, in a way it does work a bit better than Busiek's smaller arcs, allowing the focus to stay on the movie serial-like adventure as the heroes take on the villain who, in many ways, has established himself as the team's most dangerous, most implacable foe -- the robot, Ultron.

Though given it's only 5 issues between the covers, it's curious they skipped #16-18 instead of including them in this TPB just to make the run of TPBs a complete chronology of Avengers comics (I assume that's because #16-18 were actually fill-in issues by Jerry Ordway).

But as much as I think Ultron Unlimited is a decent saga, evoking the sense of grand Avengers' epics of days gone by, I still more enjoyed it rather than loved it.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is just the eternal dilemma with recurring foes like Ultron. After all, a writer like Busiek is both struggling to come up with something new...even as part of the fun is the familiarity. So it can feel like it has echoes of past Ultron showdowns. It's not like Ultron has different motives or agendas or M.O.s from story to story. Busiek even acknowledges this, I think, by borrowing chapter titles from past Ultron stories.

There's also that violence/mass destruction thing in modern-era comics I have some qualms about. In this case, Ultron attacks an entire nation, Solenia, a recurring small European country in Marvel lore -- at least it was! Ultron literally kills every man, woman and child in the country. Yup. Complete genocide! Yet that barely seems more than just a nifty set up for the latest Avengers-Ultron tussle! I mean, I get that it's supposed to make the story seem bigger, more dramatic than any previous Ultron story, raising the stakes higher than ever before -- but, equally, it's a little troubling how comics just seem to up, and up, and up the death and slaughter in stories as if we've become so numb we can no longer be bothered to care if the death toll isn't high enough (like those afternoon talk shows that kept trying to out-do themselves with more and more shocking and sordid exposes).

Anyway, The Avengers lead a team of U.N. soldiers to take back the country -- while simultaneously, Ultron has already kidnapped a few other Avengers, plus there's a side plot involving the Ultron-created Akthena, which allows the saga to cut between different threads, justifying the four issues. Busiek tries to play up the recurring threads of family (with Ultron's complicated relationship with his "dad", Henry Pym, and "son", the Vision, and others) even if some of the family ties can seem a bit tenuous. He also adds former Avenger, The Black Panther, to the mix.

Artist Perez is, of course, very much in his element here -- lots of bombastic battles, lots of bricks and rubble and panels full of details, lots of robots and heroes running about.

At the same time, one of the criticism I've had of Busiek's run (and, indeed, of other of his writings) is his tendency to fall back on a certain idolatry -- as if writing as much from a fan perspective as from the characters (dating all the way back to his seminal Marvels -- which was an entire saga told from the point of view of a character reflecting on the awesomeness of super heroes). So here, for instance, despite including The Black Panther -- the Panther himself has few lines, and with little insight into him as a person (for a character who in past incarnations was often heavily given to brooding and introspection). Instead what we get are characters fawnishly telling us about how wonderful and great The Panther is!

I was going to make the same point about the opening chapter, which is mostly told through a news reporter reflecting upon the Avengers -- but then I realized it was from an ancillary comic, Avengers #0, and is mainly there to act as a primer/recap of then recent Avengers' lore. Which probably makes it a good opener to a TPB collection. It's also drawn, not by series regular, Perez, but by equally talented Stuart Immonen.

Still, as I say, in terms of just being a big, grand, action-spectacle, yet leavened with character moments and interaction, Ultron Unlimited does the trick. If you want to see an old school Avengers saga of the team taking on an unstoppable menace, pushed to the limits of their reserves, and then triumphing, all told with a lot of non-stop fighting -- it makes a decent tome to have on the shelf. I won't say it's necessarily the best Ultron saga out there, but it's a decent page turner.

Cover price: __

cover by John Buscema/Joe JuskoAvengers Under Siege 1999 (SC TPB) 160 pgs.

Written by Roger Stern. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer.
Colours: Christie Scheele, others. Letters: Jim Novak. Editor: Mark Gruenwald.

Reprinting: The Avengers (1st series) #270, 271, 273-277 (1986-1987)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Taking advantage of some minor divisions in the Avengers, Baron Zemo and a new Masters of Evil (comprised of a host of second string Avengers' foes) manage to route the team and wrest control of, and occupy, Avengers' mansion itself, before our heroes rally and fight back.

This was a pleasantly enjoyable saga -- though pleasant might seem like an odd description for a story in which poor old Jarvis gets beaten half-to-death. But there's a laidback mood to the thing that makes it all palatable. On the other hand, that may be part of the problem. Avengers Under Siege is enjoyable, without being riveting; interesting without quite being edge-of-the-seat exciting. It's a decent read, but not really a must read.

For one thing, the Avengers usually tackle big menaces threatening the whole city or even the world. Here, though Zemo and his gang mutter vaguely about what they'll do once they've defeated the Avengers, they seem unfocused. The threat remains largely a personal one to the Avengers themselves. Which may have been why this story has been collected some 12 years later. It's seen as a "personal" story that puts the characters through the proverbial wringer. But even though the Avengers get kicked around, and the mansion gets trashed, it never really convinces you that Zemo and his gang have achieved anything more than a lucky first round.

The Avengers' line-up at the time consisted of Captain America, the Wasp, the Black Knight, Hercules, and Captain Marvel II (the woman who could turn into energy), with the Sub-Mariner and Thor popping up occasionally, and guest stars for an issue or two like Ant-Man (II), Dr. Druid, Paladin and, in a cameo, the Shroud.They're a likeable enough bunch, but they're also a bit...dull, missing some of the more vibrant characters I associate with the group. That may be a problem with Stern's writing, which tends to be a bit subdued -- some of these characters have been more interesting elsewhere. At the same time, I enjoyed the humanity of the heroes. I suppose that's where the Avengers can sometimes break from DC Comics' Justice League -- the greater sense that these are people first, costumes second.

The plot also promises more intrigue than it entirely delivers. Zemo hints at exploiting some of the tension between the Avengers, using it as a wedge to divide-and-conquer, except the actual plot delivers very little of that. The character conflicts seem a bit half-hearted. And for all his talk, Zemo's main plan is just to gather enough goons that he out-numbers the Avengers two-to-one (no great strategy there).

The climax of the saga becomes a showdown between Zemo and Captain America -- the problem is, Cap hadn't really been the focal character previously. Therefore, the story doesn't really feel like it's reached some inevitable emotional/thematic climax the way Roger Stern obviously thinks it has. Maybe I need to read it again to pick up on the nuances, but viscerally it doesn't quite play. Additional note: after a second reading, I realize it is more obvious: throughout, Zemo makes no bones about the fact that he's attacking the Avengers partly as a way to strike at Captain America.

The art by John Buscema (a one time Avengers artist who had returned to the fold) and Tom Palmer is, well, what can I say? When Buscema draws characters sitting around, or standing, they look like real people sitting around or standing. The down side, though, may relate to my feeling of an overall...sedateness. Looking at these mighty, larger-than-life figures, stand around, hands on hips, looking like they really existed is strikingly effective (think Alex Ross in pencils and inks), but Buscema doesn't unleash his characters as much as I know he can. We don't really see the angst. As well, there's a roughness to his and Palmer's work at times that becomes all the more glaring in contrast with the more carefully rendered panels (perhaps that's why he is credited with "breakdowns"...his pencil art was a bit rougher than usual).

All of this goes to making Avengers Under Siege an enjoyable, but not altogether remarkable read. In a way, its strengths are its weaknesses, and vice versa. The art is beautiful, but a little restrained, the characters are personable if not entrancing, the pacing is pleasantly unhurried -- not frenetic and hysterical -- but also a little too laid-back.

One final weakness, though, is a problem stemming from cross-over stories. The Sub-Mariner is in the first chapter, then runs off to get involved in an Alpha Flight story (a story which spilled into Avengers #272 -- hence why it's not reprinted in this collection, nor is the final page from Avengers #271, which led into #272). He doesn't return for the remainder of this story. As well, the overall Under Siege saga overlaps with a Captain America comic and a Spider-Man comic (neither of which are included). None of this undermines the coherence of these issues -- watching Cap or Spider-Man battle some of the villains solo hardly enhances the drama. But it does mean that in this collection, the entire saga isn't actually collected.

This is a review of the story as it was originally serialized in Avengers comics.

Cover price: $24.95 CDN./$16.95 USA.

The Avengers: Vision and the Scarlet Witch 2007 (SC TPB) 128 pages

Written by Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart. Pencils by Rick Leonardi, Don Heck. Inks by Ian Akin, Brian Garvey, John Tartag.
Colours/letters: various

Reprinting: Giant-Size Avengers #4 (the lead story), and the first Vision and the Scarlet Witch mini-series (1975, 1982)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Why companies like Marvel and DC choose certain material for collection at certain times can be -- I'll admit -- a mystery of almost cosmic ineffableness. So rather than dwelling on it, let's just proceed to the review.

This TPB focuses on one-time Avengers The Scarlet Witch and the android, the Vision -- long mainstays of that super hero team, whose starcrossed romance was stretched out over many issues, resulting in a wedding, various temporary estrangements and, then, because creative types had nothing better to do -- or, as would seem to be the case looking at so many similar events in comics, just were uncomfortable with the grown up idea of marriage -- they were eventually broken up, mucked up, messed up, and eventually, I believe, variously killed off. But these stories are from before all that.

Giant-Size Avengers #4 features the wedding of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch -- unfortunately, it is rather a problematic tale on various levels. For one, it serves as the climax to the whole Celestial Madonna epic (and was previously included in that earlier TPB), as such, there's a lot going on and a lot referenced that won't make a lot of sense out of context. As well, the art by Don Heck and John Tartag is -- well -- it just ain't very good. And further, the script by Steve Englehart, despite his good work on the Avengers, and on the Celestial Madonna epic in general, isn't his best, either, perhaps because he's trying to tie up too many threads.

So despite it being the climax of a "classic" saga, the real strength of this collection is the less significant mini-series.

This was the first of what would be two Vision & the Scarlet Witch mini-series featuring the married Avengers in solo adventures, after they've taken a leave of absence from the Avengers. Though "solo" is perhaps an overstatement, as there are plenty of guest appearances and cameos. That's because in addition to being a series featuring the Vision and the Scarlet Witch, it also covers much of their complicated back history, drawing in various characters who have a personal connection to the couple, and ultimately serving as a primer on the characters as well. Each of the four issues is relatively self-contained, even as one leads to the next.

The first issue is perhaps the most inconsequential (though involving some recapping of origins), involving the characters fighting an ancient sorcerer on Halloween. But the next three issues are emotionally richer, drawing upon the characters' elaborate histories, involving the Whizzer (the man the Scarlet Witch had once believed to be her father), Wonder Man and the Avengers, and Quicksilver (the Scarlet Witch's brother) and the Inhumans, and a climactic confrontation with arch-foe Magneto as the characters finally learn what Marvel had been hinting at for years -- Magneto is the true father of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.

Mantlo's writing is a tad pretentious here, but generally nicely effective. Likewise, the art, though not especially dynamic, boasts a certain low-key atmosphere and mood. Which suits the series which manages -- despite plenty of action and fighting -- to be kind of subdued, even sombre. There's a thoughtful melancholiness at work in the tales, perhaps appropriate for star crossed characters whose history was full of so many sad coincidences and missed opportunities. Yet it is not needlessly grim or relentlessly mean as so many modern comics can be.

Indeed, part of the appeal of the series is simply that it exists. A mini-series of one of the most intriguing couples in comics who have been particularly ill-served by later creative "geniuses" at Marvel, it's moody, occasionally moving, and manages to seem like it's definitely trying to be more -- and more sophisticated -- than simply a churned out mini-series featuring second tier heroes.

The third issue is arguably the strongest, and the most atmospheric, involving the delirious Vision struggling with nightmares while unconscious, even as menaced by the Grim Reaper. But, overall, this is a reasonably effective, engaging effort.

This is a review of the story as they were originally published in comic book form.

Cover price: $__ CDN./$15.99 USA.

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