Review by Frank Plowright
This is an uncharacteristically bulky Masterworks volume, covering a fourteen issue run, although raising questions regarding the slavish devotion to maintaining the original sequence of issues printed. In 1975 and 1976 deadline problems plagued the Avengers. The sensible decision has been taken to omit the reprinting of a Beast story (which is in Marvel Masterworks: X-Men volume 7), but then why repeat the original publication necessity of a two chapter interruption amid a lengthy storyline? Did these mistakes of decades past have to be compounded by interrupting the story again here? Could they not have been placed at the conclusion?
At the point we reach here, Steve Englehart has just completed the highlight of his Avengers run, Celestial Madonna, and his reward is to again be landed with George Tuska as his penciller. This was the man Englehart recalls in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story as simply declining to draw the pages featuring characterisation as he wasn’t interested. That, admittedly, was on another title, but while the inking of Vince Colletta on Tuska improves the art, there are still the dull layouts to contend with.
The Avengers are freshened by the addition of wise-cracking, fur covered scientist the Beast, arrogant, bald priestess Moondragon, and, later, the peppy Hellcat, and former members Yellowjacket and the Wasp return, albeit briefly. Englehart doesn’t lack for other ideas so we have a call for new Avengers with auditions in Yankee Stadium, the Vision on the beach in a swimsuit, one villain disguised as another, and the reverse of a neat trick sequence from Avengers Masterworks 10. That’s all before we hit the meat of the book, an extended sequence that both concludes Englehart’s repeated use of the time-travelling Kang the Conqueror, and pits the Avengers against the Squadron Supreme, who are analogues of that era’s Justice League. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, there’s also some Avengers facing off against a grouping of Marvel’s 19th century Western heroes.
That story can also be located in paperback as The Serpent Crown, and is notable for the pencilling début of George Pérez, who would become the definitive Avengers artist for a generation. He’s not that great to begin with, but improves immensely over his eight chapters here, and whatever his original artistic deficiencies he compensated with an obvious enthusiasm, which immediately ranks him well above Tuska. While not quite matching the trippy weirdness that characterised Celestial Madonna, this sequence is still a fun read, with some Avengers trapped in the past and others on an alternate world.
Englehart brought characterisation to the Avengers in a manner not previously seen, and here one of his themes is how Thor is a God, yet subconsciously holding himself back due to his association with the mortal Avengers. Out of context, it may not convince, but here it’s a strong and nagging concept that works well. He also toyed further with the distinctly odd relationship between the Scarlet Witch and the Vision, bounces the Beast’s exuberant personality off everyone, and delivers some fine Hawkeye.
There is, though, one final tale to deal with, as mentioned in the opening paragraph. When a fill-in was required at short notice in 1976 a story by Tony Isabella and Don Heck (with three pages by Keith Pollard) was reformatted to cover two issues. It’s very pedestrian, and the big reveal is almost laughable. It’s also available, along with the Tuska drawn material in a collection titled The Coming of the Beast, and the entirety of this collection is also available spread over Essential Avengers 6 and 7, although in black and white.