Review by Frank Plowright
This volume is quite the hodge-podge. The first half concludes Steve Englehart’s still memorable run on the Avengers, taking us through 1976, followed by a dip in quality before concluding with Jim Shooter’s early Avengers material. More than anything, though, it charts the tremendous progress of artist George Pérez, who draws 75% of the content.
The opening issue is his Avengers début, and it’s an awkward affair, with poor figurework excessively distracting background hatching, and page layouts that oppress the figures within rather than letting them breathe. Credit to him, though, as Pérez learned very quickly on the job. By the time the still exciting and unpredictable Serpent Crown story wraps up eight chapters later Pérez is in command of his pages, and packing characters into his panels while still giving them space. He’s still having a little trouble with his figures, but by the penultimate story here, pencilled less than two years after that début, that’s all but evaporated as well. Pérez has now become the dynamic big superhero event artist of his era.
Elsewhere there’s art from Don Heck taking more care than he did with his contributions to Essential Avengers 6, Sal Buscema and George Tuska taking less, and an uninspired John Buscema.
Deadline problems led to fill-ins and reprints blighting Englehart’s run, and he was replaced by Gerry Conway, who works with Englehart bequeathing him a revived Wonder Man, who’d become an Avengers mainstay for the remainder of the decade. Conway’s material is by the numbers, though, including an ambitious, but ultimately ordinary crossover featuring Sub-Mariner, Dr Doom and Attuma’s machinations. and he’s rapidly replaced in turn by Shooter, who drew a chapter of the previous story. Shooter’s contributions don’t immediately hit the mark, but he rapidly settles into a groove. Most of his material is also collected as The Bride of Ultron, and it’s that title story that comes the closest to matching Englehart’s work earlier in the book. It funnels gothic horror tropes into a superhero story in engaging fashion, returns Ultron, and sees the best use of Ant-Man in well over a decade. Almost as good is Shooter’s one chapter return for the Grim Reaper. They’re of their time, however, in featuring an abundance of expository thought balloons.
Early issues of Essential Avengers suffered from poor reproduction and off-white pulp pages, but the reproduction here is sharp and the pages white, making the $19.99 list price a bargain for those with a limited budget. The Englehart-written material is also available in colour as both the reasonably priced paperback The Serpent Crown and the luxury of Marvel Masterworks: Avengers volume 15. All but the final issues of the remainder are due in volume 16 in summer 2016.