Marvel Adventures Avengers #5

Background

You want an Avengers team where everybody likes each other? Where Iron Man and Captain America work together? Where no one gives a thought to secret identities and their relationship to the public good? Where grim and gritty moral complexity takes a back seat to light-hearted, Silver-Agey superheroics?

Then have I got a book for you...

Story 'The Trickster and the Wrecker'

The story opens with the Avengers-- Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Hulk, Storm, and... er...Giant-girl-- trying to beat up Loki. The narrator informs us that this fellow in the yellow and green armour has been causing dangerous mischief around the city, and the Avengers have been called out to stop him. (We readers recognize him as Loki, but these Avengers don't, as they've never met him before. The Marvel Adventures book have their own continuity.) Loki's got a force field up that even Wolverine's claws can't penetrate, and rather than retaliate the Asgardian simply laughs at the Avengers' futile attempts to harm him.

And that's all on the first page! Now that's Silver Age pacing for you.

Despite the Avengers' best efforts, they can't lay a glove on Loki. He withstands blows from the Hulk and Iron Man, and returns them with gusto. Storm's lightning bolts only make him annoyed. Barely aware of the Avengers' assault, Loki muses to himself that humans have changed since he last visited Earth, and some of them have powers of their own now. He wonders aloud about the relationship between power and morality: are the Avengers mighty because they are good, or good because they are mighty? (Shades of Euthyphro!) Musing over the question, he smashes a hole in the street and, ignoring the Avengers completely, vanishes into the sewer.

Elsewhere, a burglar dressed in a green tracksuit and a purple balaclava uses a crowbar to break into a hotel room. As he works, he monologues for the readers' benefit: he received a tip that a "fancy stranger" had just checked in, dripping with cash and jewelry... and the burglar means to help himself to them. Surprise! The fancy stranger is in fact Loki. As the burglar recoils in fear, Loki explains that he doesn't mean to hurt him, but rather just the opposite. Eager to test his theory about the relationship between power and morality, Loki infuses the hapless burglar and his crowbar with mystical power. The burglar, now filled with energy, asks what Loki wants in return. "I want only to observe while you use this gift any way you desire. Is there not something you've always wished to accomplish? Some ambition you've always wanted to fulfill?"

And there is. Grinning ferociously, the burglar smashes his way through the wall to the street.

Cut to the Avengers, still puzzling over Loki's whereabouts. Wolverine's attempt to use his enhanced sense of smell track Loki through the sewers has predictably failed, as has Spider-Man's attempts to reason out where he might be. With no other option, the Avengers split into teams and begin combing the city, hoping to find Loki by spotting the mischief he makes.

Cut back to Loki, who is invisibly observing his guinea pig. Armed with his glowing crowbar, the erstwhile burglar has made his way to the one place he most wants to rob: "The corner store on Skid Row and Bleecker! Fort Knox and the National Bank can wait. I wanna be the first to crack this nut!"

To Loki's bemusement, his newly-empowered thug has decided to use the power of the gods to rob a convenience store. Locks and bulletproof glass quickly fall to the enchanted crowbar, and the burglar, who has now decided to call himself the Wrecker, departs with Slim Jims, Pringles chips, and a soda. "I could knock off every jewel store in town an' it won't feel half as sweet as finally robbin' that over-priced jerk!"

Enter Spider-Man. Bored and frustrated with his failed search for Loki, he's more than happy to take time out to collar somebody else. Spider-Man takes the Wrecker by surprise and gets a good roundhouse kick in at the beginning, but the Wrecker is only surprised, not hurt, and quickly Spidey's using all of his agility merely to dodge the Wrecker's blows. As Loki, still invisible, watches with delight, the Wrecker cracks open a hydrant and knocks Spider-Man to the ground.

Spider-Man's in real trouble now. The Wrecker raises his crowbar to bash Spidey's brains in, but pauses to ask why the wall-crawler uses his powers to fight crime, rather than make himself rich. A stunned Spider-Man stammers out the lesson he learned when he got his powers: "with great power... comes great responsibility." The Wrecker's reply? " That... is the stupidest thing I ever heard!" And he swings his crowbar in a killing blow.

It is intercepted by Captain America's shield. Seems Spidey had the foresight to call the Avengers for backup before taking on the Wrecker. The Wrecker doesn't care, though, because he sees taking out the Avengers as his key to celebrity. And maybe he's right, because he takes a strong lead in the battle. He throws Cap aside like a child, stuns Iron Man with a roundhouse crowbar swing to the head, tosses Spider-Man into Wolverine like a bowling ball, and easily fends off Giant-Girl's grasp: "You broke my nail, you animal!" (Ha ha. Get it? It's funny... because she's a girl!) Storm fries him with lightning bolts, but just like with Loki before, the Wrecker is barely fazed.

Luckily for the Avengers, they've got one more card to play. Enter the Hulk, and exit the Wrecker: with one massive haymaker the Wrecker is unconscious and aloft.

While Iron Man goes to retrieve the Wrecker for incarceration, the Hulk tries to break the Wrecker's crowbar, but finds he can't. Spider-Man and Storm both make the shrewd guess that Loki must be involved with this affair somehow. Loki, still invisible, sulks at his client's defeat, but mutters aloud that he isn't through making supervillains. And next time, he'll aim his sights higher, to criminals far worse than petty thieves...

General Comments

The Marvel Adventure books offer a lot of good things. Complete stories in one issue, which makes for a rapid pacing all but unknown in this era of writing for the trades. The need to keep it clean for the kids eliminates the brutal violence, raciness, grimness, and grittiness so prevalent in mainstream comics, which makes for a refreshing change. These books are as close as you can come to Silver-Age style books today.

Silver Age doesn't have to mean embarrassing, though, and this issue is a perfect example of that. The idea that the one thing the Wrecker most wants to do with the power of the gods is to rob his local corner store is simply delicious. You can take the boy out of the neighbourhood, but not the neighbourhood out of the boy. Not only amusing, but well-observed too.

One embarrassing Silver-Ageism that did somehow make it through the editing process is the sexist dialogue that Giant-Girl spouts. I recognize she's supposed to be the light-hearted and frivolous counterweight to Storm, as Spider-Man is to Captain America, but come on: complaining that fighting evildoers has broken her nail? Maybe next issue we should see her and Storm braiding each other's hair and having pillow fights... sheesh.

Overall Rating

3.5 webs. A good yarn: not only funny but also a satisfying super-team romp. It would have been four webs, but it loses half a web for sexism.