The opening splash page depicts Iron Man, riding a skeletal horse, jousting with the Black Knight, who is riding a horse with wings. The two are in mid-air, of course, and Iron Man has just been unseated by a Kirbyesque bolt of energy from the Black Knight's lance. An off-panel voice intones that now "the Avengers are slaves in the realm of Avalon forever!"
Having grabbed the readers' interest, the story begins at Avengers Mansion (they don't operate out of Stark Tower anymore?) where Spidey and Giant-Girl, or "Janet", as Spidey calls her, are engrossed in a session of World of Slaycraft. Logan is unimpressed that they've been playing for hours. Tony is unimpressed that they're using his $4-million emergency-monitor to play games. And Bruce is unimpressed that the game is emitting a strange energy that, according to his tracking device, is being broadcast directly into the players' brains.
Concerned, the unaffected Avengers-- Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, and Bruce Banner-- board a Quinjet and fly to source of the signal, which Jarvis has identified as a Renaissance Faire in Rochester. "I'm something of a medievalist," he admits. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think we've seen Jarvis in this title before. Nice to have him aboard. Making room for Jarvis in this story leaves no room for Storm, who doesn't appear this issue, as "she's on a date with an African king." And they can't call her to duty when mysterious brain-energy infects her comrades? I guess the Avengers have a very understanding policy on work-life balance.
At first glance the RenFaire is a typical specimen of the genre, although Banner does point out that he doesn't think Rochester has always had a castle. But no time to worry about that: over in the lists, a duel has just concluded, and per the rules, the defeated knight must swear eternal fealty to the queen of Avalon. Said queen shows up in her own splash page: it's Morgan le Fay [sic]. She immediately captures the Avengers' attention, partly because she's floating in the air on the wings of a magical spell, but mostly because of her extremely un-medievalish outfit. Dressed to kill in a cocktail dress cut high on the thigh and low on the bosom, her purple (!) hair flying free in the breeze, she zaps the defeated knight with a magical whammy that teleports him to her castle.
Having conferred with Jarvis via communicator, Iron Man has learned that Morgan le Fay [again, sic] is a powerful and evil sorceress. "Bub, even I knew who she was," puts in Wolverine. Cap details Banner and Wolverine to infiltrate the castle while he and Iron Man "keep an eye on things here." As the former two Avengers depart, servants begin handing out free copies of World of Slaycraft, firmly establishing the connection between le Fay and the spell on Spidey and Giant-Girl. Iron Man gets his mad on and challenges le Fay-- or, rather, le Fay's champion-- for rulership of Avalon.
Iron Man is allowed into the lists after swearing an oath that should he lose he will serve Avalon forever. The oath-taker, some strange tattooed man, also provides him with Gryngolet, the skeletal horse of Sir Gawain. The appearance of a skeletal yet living horse in a puff of smoke is enough to convince Iron Man that something is really wrong here. (A flying sorceress who blasts defeated knights with magical hexes wasn't enough?) In a flash of magic, Iron Man is mounted and armed with a lance, and faces le Fay's champion, Sir Tristan Dane, the Black Knight.
What was wrong with the Black Knight's original name, Dane Whitman, I wonder?
Anyway. Banner and Wolverine have been stymied in their efforts to enter the castle. The doors are guarded, but the guards make no effort to keep the Avengers out. They don't need to, because the doors are magically sealed, and will only open to those who can answer their riddle. Said riddle is no challenge to Banner, and the doors admit him and his companion. They find it filled with the slaves of Avalon, men cursed to serve le Fay forever, some of whom have been doing so for decades, kept in line by fear of Urlik, le Fay's troll. Wolverine, unfazed, kicks Banner in the rear, which brings forth an even greater troll, and the fight is on.
The story intercuts between Iron Man's joust with the Black Knight and the Hulk's battle with Urlik. The Hulk has no trouble felling the troll with a right cross, but Iron Man doesn't fare so well: the Black Knight shoots a particle charge out of his lance, knocking the surprised Avenger from his saddle, ending the bout.
This is where we came in. The Black Knight, dismounting, apologizes to Iron Man for not pulling his punches, but admits he's not allowed to: it seems that his ancestor, Sir Percy, swore eternal servitude to Morgan, for both himself and his heirs, in return for magical armour and a flying steed. (In an interesting departure from 616 continuity, there's no mention of an unbreakable ebony blade.) Now, the latter-day Black Knight, Tristan Dane, is forced to use his engineer-level knowledge of physics to aid Morgan: before she simply used Renaissance Faires to gather minions, but now, with Whitman's help, she can do so through World of Slaycraft, albeit in an unspecified manner.
While Morgan and Whitman monologue, Cap talks to Jarvis on his cell phone. Huh; Cap has a cell phone. He's so current. Thanks to a tip from Jarvis, Cap declares the bout invalid because Iron Man had no shield, and he demands a rematch.
Armed with Cap's unbreakable shield, Iron Man easily deflects the Black Knight's particle blasts and unhorses his foe with a blast of repulsor rays. Meanwhile the Hulk easily wrestles Urlik the troll into submission, knocking out the video game broadcasts in the process. Morgan is furious, not least because she's just tumbled to the fact that Whitman set up the video-game racket precisely because it would attract the attention of superheroes who could bring her schemes to an end. With both the Black Knight and her troll enforcer defeated, Morgan has lost power over Avalon. She declines to fight, but teleports away, promising the Avengers that "...on this day you have made a powerful enemy! " And with that, the story ends: Dane promises to come to the Avengers' aid if Morgan ever returns, and Jarvis looks on approvingly as Spidey and Giant-Girl go into withdrawal as their video game crashes.
It's a fun premise, throwing the Avengers against Morgan le Fey (dammit, I'm gonna spell it right) and the Black Knight, but I think this story needed another draft. For a story that focuses only on four Avengers, there still isn't very much for Wolverine to do. The ending is anticlimactic: it isn't obvious why Morgan declines to fight against the Avengers. The terms of the match don't seem to forbid it, and Morgan is a powerful sorceress, who hardly should be worried about a bunch of muscle-bound superheroes. Look how unfazed Loki was by the Avengers back in issue #8.
Perhaps that has something to do with it: a pitched battle against a magic-user might have come off as too reminiscent of a recent number in this title.
Finally, there's no good explanation, or indeed any explanation at all, of why Iron Man's victory should free the Black Knight from his family's century-old curse, or what the video-game that Whitman cooked up was doing to people exactly, or how the game tied in with her long-term plans.
Worst of all, this issue has a full six pages of backup stories in it. Seems to me some of those pages could have been devoted to fleshing out and addressing problems in the main story.
A decent outing, but the story feels cramped, and there's no excuse for that, given the length of the backup features. I can't give this issue more than three webs.
Shouldn't the title have been "Medieval Woman"?
There are two backup features: a five-page Franklin Richards: Boy Genius strip, and a one-page Mini Marvels strip, for you collectors out there. I like these fine, especially the Mini Marvels, but come on, Marvel Editorial, I buy this book for the main story. Show it some more love.