Jan 24, 2012

Avengers #90 And the Stream of Consciousness.

Spoiler: This cover references
the LAST PAGE of the comic!
Avengers #90 is a Silver Age Super Hero comic. In fact it's probably one of the most Silver Age Super Hero comics I've ever read. A lot of people try and describe what makes a Silver Age comic. They usually use words like "Goofy" or "Silly" or even "Unrealistic", and I think that's missing the point, really.

Silver Age Super Hero comics had a certain style of writing to them which for various reasons is very stream-of-consciousness. Reading a lot of old DC and Marvel comics is like reading an Axe Cop story. Things flow from one idea to the next without even a sign of how the ideas connected in the writer's mind. Things travel from point to point at breakneck speed, and if you don't keep up you'll be completely freaking lost.

This can be the most glorious thing ever, or it can be horrible.

So, before we talk more about the origins of this writing style, and the differences between Marvel and DC let's take a little looksee at Avengers #90.

Avengers #90 is considered a classic issue, part of a classic storyline -- the Kree/Skrull war, in fact. It's an issue with momentum, but it's also an awful mess of a comic. Describing its plot would be like... well... actually, remember the Axe Cop reference I made a few paragraphs back? It'd be like describing an issue of Axe Cop.

So that's exactly what we're gunna do!

Errr, describe the plot of issue #90, I mean. Not describe a plot from Axe Cop. I'll leave that to someone else.

This issue was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by the mighty Sal Buscema (in some of his earlier pencils work). It's part of a story wrapping up ideas from Captain Marvel's solo series (also written, sometimes, by Roy Thomas), which had ended in 1970 with issue 21. (The series would  pick up again with issue 22 in 1972, mostly because of the success of this story arc.)

So, let's get started:

The issue starts with a Kree Sentry attacking a hospital to try and kidnap Captain Marvel, who is in a coma after radiation exposure last issue. The Avengers try and fight him, but the Sentry gets away with Captain Marvel, teleporting to parts unknown! So the Avengers decide to chase after him!

This is how you know you're having a
bad day -- a Kree Sentry busts a hole
in your Splash Page.

But they're stopped by Carol Danvers! Who... uhhh... actually I have no idea what she's doing here. This is before she became a super hero, so she's just here to cameo because she was a popular supporting character in Captain Marvel's own series.

Boy it sure is a good thing you guys stopped to brief Carol so
she could... wish you good luck?

Then we have a two-page summary showing both the origin of the Kree Sentry, and Captain Marvel himself -- tying this issue into hundreds of issues of Marvel backstory. There's so much going on here that I'm just gunna post both pages and you can read it for yourself.

Seriously, we're only up to pages 7 and 8, guys.
The Avengers get back to their mansion and get a call from Goliath (Hawkeye, but using Hank Pym's growth technology). He's heading to Alaska because of a distress call by Hank and Janet Pym (Ant Man and the Wasp). So when he gets there he finds Jan in distress and she tells about how Hank and her found this green jungle area in Alaska, and giant dragonflies, and ancient mammals and...

I didn't even get a chance to talk about this little gag
with Jarvis!  Oh, and that's Rick Jones there!

Okay, breath time.

So in the flash back we get to see this:

Oh that Hank.
What an incorrigible
wife beater!

This wasn't purely gratuituos -- realising the danger in the jungle Hank knocks out his wife and sends her back into the frozen wastes of Alaska, so that he can face the danger alone! It's not like she's a super hero, or anything. Thus ends our flashback.

So, knowing what he has to deal with Goliath abandons Jan (hey, how could she help? she's just a girl!) and heads into the jugnle to try and save Hank. Only he's attacked by an ancient mammal, I think a giant sloth, and then shot in the back by Ronan the Accuser!

Did I mention that Goliath decided to go to
Alaska without a shirt?
The Avengers arrive in Alaska, and they head towards the jungle area, but this time? Hey! Jan gets to go with! Awww! The two-page fight sequence that follows is about as insane as everything else up unto this point. It turns out the Kree Sentry, or possibly Ronan, is able to control the mind of Goliath and turn him against his comrades. In the ensuing battle we learn that:
1) Jan knows special combat techniques for fighting giants, specifically because of her Husband.
2) It takes the Vision 5.073 seconds to become intangible after throwing something. (no, seriously!)
3) Wanda's hexes do NOTHING.

Damn, Vision. Even Green Lantern would laugh at
that weakness!!

The issue closes with Ronan the Accuser bragging about his plan. He's going to destroy the earth! And how is he going to do that? He's going to use special rays to devolve earth's animal and plant life to a primitive state, so that they can't continue to advance and threaten the Kree empire! He caps off this plan by sending a devolved Hank Pym to kill Janet Pym!

Oh Ronan, you so craaazy.
And we have a cliffhanger!!

Phew, I need a rest again. As you can see, this story is all over the place. It travels geographically from place to place, villains and characters pop in and out all over the place, and even the final panels are adding new insanity, just because they can.

As I said at the start, this stream-of-consciousness writing was at the heart of Silver Age Super Hero comics.

At DC it was because of all the rules the editors forced on the stories. 1950s Jimmy Olsen stories were required to have an appearance by Superman, show Olsen as a cub reporter, show the Daily Planet and usually even show other side characters like Lois Lane and Perry White. These things were compounded by a writing style where editors would construct splash pages or comic covers, and then the writer had to write the story around these covers. On top of that there were structural rules for the pacing and general structure of the story they were required to follow. Even the artists were required to structure pages to immitate an 'ideal' page structure DC editors admired.

This all had to be squashed into 7 or 8 page stories, forcing the writers to adopt a style where things just happen with barely a sign of continuity.

The Marvel comics on the other hand? The thing there was that there were literally no rules. They were using the "Marvel style" of writing, where the writer would come up with a story summary, then hand it off to the writers to create the pages, and basically direct the story. The dialogue is then added later. There were either no editorial rules, or hardly any. The writers and the artists could do whatever they wanted and go whereever they wanted. Marvel comics, as a result, were a lot more exciting than DC comics.

But they still tended to end up a bit stream-of-consciousness.

I loved reading Avengers #90, but all through the ride I kept pausing to say, "What the hell?" as new random things came rushing at me. Roy Thomas is not my favourite writer, but this is definitely him at his insane best.

--Andrew S.
(Oh yeah, and Roy Thomas seems to hate Jan)

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