Review by Frank Plowright
The device giving this book its title is an ancient artefact, looking as described, that exerts a level of control via the guiding intelligence of a malign entity while also permitting the wearer an array of extraordinary abilities. A key revelation is that the mystical forces within are also capable of maintaining contact with its other-dimensional counterparts. An Earth, therefore, where the President of the USA wears it, is not good news.
That’s not the only threat set-up for the Avengers. They also have to deal with the recurring problem of tyrant from the future Kang, now meddling in the 19th century, and with the Squadron Supreme, a team of superheroes from another world.
These comics reprinted from 1975-1976 are the first Avengers stories drawn by George Pérez, who would become the team’s definitive artist. Truth be told, the opening chapters lack a professional polish, with unusually distracting hatching applied to backgrounds, odd figures and cramped layouts, but his skill is apparent. There’s rapid development over the seven chapters and by the midway point Pérez is a competent superhero artist, displaying signs of what he’d become.
Steve Englehart’s writing showcases the character development he brought to the team, and the inventive plotting. He’s now a very confident writer, whereas when he began on the Avengers he struggled to integrate the continuity elements on which Marvel thrives. Here they’ve seamless, jocular even, as he creates a new superheroine, Hellcat, from a character who once populated Marvel’s romance titles, and supplies fine 1960s sitcom banter between her and the Beast. There’s also the novelty of some Avengers meeting the united characters from Marvel’s Western titles, Englehart bringing his frequent use of Kang to an end in inventive fashion, and of course, the Squadron Supreme.
In 1976 they’d only been seen twice (three times if their villainous doppelgangers are included), and were a nod and a wink to fans of the era with their resemblance to DC’s Justice League of America. In the days before inter-company team-ups had ever been considered, this was quite the thrilling event. Even discounting that aspect, though, The Serpent Crown remains an enthralling superhero comic. Time and familiarity haven’t dulled the plot twists, and there’s an appealing lightness that’s been absent from Avengers for many years.
The content is also available in both cheaper and more expensive formats. The story is split over the black and white presentation of Essential Avengers 7 and 8, and can also be found in the hardcover Marvel Masterworks: Avengers volume 15.