Spoilers in review

David Michelinie, best-known for making Iron Man interesting, is a writer not particularly celebrated for his late 1970s and early 1980s work, but one of those who kept the superhero industry ticking over, and in many ways laid the foundations for the more spectacular work that was to follow. This volume in Marvel’s phone-directory cheap black-and-white reprint series covers most of his time on The Avengers, from 1979 to 1981, but omits the first issues of Michelinie’s run, throwing the reader in mid-story. These can be found in Essential Avengers 8, but their absence here makes for a less coherent package, and ending Essential 8 before the Michelinie run might have made more sense. That, however, is far from the biggest problem with this volume.

Actually, it’s a bit of misnomer to call this Michelinie’s Avengers. There are a lot of fill-in issues, most often by Bill Mantlo, and even when Michelinie was scripting, he often did so from someone else’s plot. A two-part Ultron tale adapted a Jim Shooter short story.

The early stories are pretty good. There’s the Scarlet Witch/Quicksilver origin story, also collected in Nights of Wundagore, and then a series of shorter stories all collected in full colour in Heart of Stone. The early issues feature dynamic superhero art from John Byrne, before George Pérez returns.

The problem with this volume comes with the big stonking faeces of a story that is ‘The Child is Father To …?’, originally published as the 200th anniversary issue of Avengers. Here it is impossible to avoid spoilers, but you really don’t want to read this. As the Avengers are fighting Red Ronin, a giant robot hangover from Godzilla comics, Ms Marvel discovers she is impossibly pregnant. It turns out that Marcus Immortus, son of Immortus, master of time, wants to leave Limbo. He can’t just walk out, and so abducts Ms Marvel, determines to woo her without using his father’s mind-controlling devices, but then decides he will use them a bit, and impregnates her with himself. At the end of this story, Marcus must return to Limbo, but Ms Marvel, still in love with him, decides to accompany him. The Avengers, instead of saying “No, you’ve been kidnapped, brainwashed and raped!”, let her go, with some cheerleading the idea (Thor being chauvinist-in-chief) and some others, most notably Hawkeye, expressing a few qualms.

Four people plotted this (Michelinie, Pérez, Shooter and Bob Layton), and it was signed off by editor Jim Salicrup and editor-in-chief Shooter. And yet no-one seems to have thought that this was a terrible idea. That this should have been experienced by any superhero is terrible. That it should have happened to Ms Marvel, Marvel’s flagship feminist character (albeit a male idea of feminist) makes it worse. And she finds out that she’s pregnant just after ranting about how women don’t need children for fulfillment. Oh, the irony! 35 years later, it still induces a strong desire to throw the volume across the room in disgust.

After the Ultron story and an excellent Jarvis solo tale, Pérez leaves, and Michelinie’s heart departs. The last few stories here aren’t as poor as Shooter’s subsequent Avengers, but they are nondescript, with mediocre art. This collection is rounded out with a dull Vision solo tale.

Don’t bother. Nights of Wundagore and Heart of Stone, plus Avengers Visionaries: George Pérez for the Jarvis story, will give you everything you need from this volume.