Tom Palmer’s painted cover kicks off our favorite years of the Avengers. Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer would collaborate from #255 through #285 in a number of powerful story arcs and historical events. Stern would hand over the writing reigns to Ralph Macchio and subsequently Walter Simonson while Buscema and Palmer stayed on through #300.
The creative team begins with a brutal destruction of the primitive but beautiful Savage Land, a hidden ecosystem in the Antarctic regions where dinosaurs still roam tropical jungles. While the Avengers take down the bad guy, it comes at a heavy cost, and Stern makes no effort to put a silver lining on the tragedy.
The storytelling in the next arc of deep-space intrigue continues to fire on all cylinders for several issues. Then we get derailed by the hokiest ending possible. Why? All I can type without raising my blood pressure is “Secret Wars II.”
The stories bounce back quickly when Sub-mariner comes on stage. The X-Factor tie in of #263 makes a much better read than the Secret Wars II debacle. Some may revile this issue for cheapening the death of Jean Grey by bringing her back, and they’ve got a point.
After the last unsavory Secret Wars II tie-in, #266 comes as a surprise: one of the highlights of this run.
Maybe it’s that opening splash page of the Silver Surfer zooming through a seething gouge in the earth’s crust, magma and stone implacably raging all around him. Buscema draws the Surfer like no one before or since, and it’s a treat to see him in these pages. Stern gives us an intimate character study of the Surfer and the Molecule Man against a background of geologic ferocity.
The stories kick back into high gear with a totally off-beat Kang story. Stern takes us wandering with lost Avengers in a misty maze of limbo as a madman with a time machine tries to kill off every version of himself except the one living now. This was the story that originally got us into the Avengers, and we may show it some undue favoritism. It still kicks ass.
Just seeing this opening splash panel where Storm joins the Avengers brings a smile to my face. Oh, this is going to be good!
The Sub-mariner gets a very sympathetic treatment in these tales. Stern portrays him as arrogant and hot-headed, yes, but he’s also grown up a lot. Public outcry about crimes he has committed in the past saddens him. He knows he has acted rashly and been in the wrong. Captain America and Hercules know what the score is with Prince Namor, though, and they stand by him. The entire team has his back when he needs to set things right in Atlantis, and many readers recall this as a highlight of the series.
The brutality of the next big story arc is all the more disturbing in light of how unflinchingly the team handled the devastation of the Savage Land twenty issues earlier! The Avengers get beat down, and we mean beat down. They suffer.
Since the writing of this arc, many mainstream comics have topped it for sheer shocking brutality. But you would be hard pressed to find an Avengers fan that wasn’t blown away at this particular point in the series. It has a certain subtlety to it, like when we see a character’s face reacting to the horrors we never see.
In the aftermath of this battle, we get a few issues of character studies, shake up the membership roster, and have a quiet moment with Jarvis the Butler in the hospital after his terrible beating. Stern ends this run by pitting the Avengers against the Gods of Olympus in another action-packed confrontation.