The Avengers vol. 3 (1998) #1 Heroes Return, part 1 of 4 “Once an Avenger...”

When DC’s editors handed Justice League of America to Howard Porter and Grant Morrison, it caused a stir. Everyone loved the pair’s insane writing and dynamic art and it became the comic to buy (at least, it seemed that way at the time; everyone at the comic store talked about it). But earlier at Marvel, there was an X-Men event known as Onslaught, and in its wake the Fantastic Four and the Avengers disappeared and were presumed dead. This paved the way for the Heroes Reborn event, where Marvel published those characters in their own self-contained universe, illustrating the comics with artists who had previously left for Image. Those stories… weren’t so good, and soon we had Heroes Return.

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So, with Marvel needing a big win, and with DC laying down the gauntlet with JLA, what did Marvel management do? They brought back the Avengers, and they went with George Perez, one of the best artists in the business to pencil their titles. And they paired him up with Kurt Busiek, a writer whose two biggest projects for the company had been Marvels with the incomparable Alex Ross, and the utterly awesome villains-posing-as-heroes-who-become-true-heroes comic Thunderbolts with artist Mark Bagley. Busiek was a reliable choice, and he was paired with a legend. So how did they two do together? Let’s find out!

Our story opens in Café Transia, a “Slavic restaurant” located in one of Manhattan’s Eastern European communites. We find siblings Wanda and Pietro, AKA the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, having dinner with Pietro’s wife, Crystal and their baby daughter. So these two hooked up again? I must confess, by this point I was buying so few Marvel titles that when I bought this comic, I was scratching my head a lot. Pietro is bitching and complaining about how some clerk made them wait in the wrong line, and Wanda exposits that it was a small price to pay for him having his wife and sister back. Okay, so I guess Crystal was part of the Avengers at this point. Or the Fantastic Four. Or maybe the Inhumans fought Onslaught too, and went away as well? I have no clue. So Wanda is telling Pietro to chill and just be happy his family’s back together, when suddenly—

—they get flying trolls from Thryhem? So, a typical Monday in Marvel’s NYC, then. But this isn’t the only place where the madness ensues. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a young woman known as Bonita Juarez is assaulted by monsters erupting from the earth below. But Bonita is also the heroine known as Firebird, and a former Avenger.

In far off Wakanda, a dragon-like creature disrupts a wedding celebration being hosted by King T’Challa, AKA Black Panther. And it happens elsewhere as well, as Hawkeye is attacked by the humanoid bull “Mutaurus” and the Swordsman—and isn’t he dead? Is he back from the dead? Is this a new Swordsman? And who is this Magdalene fighting alongside him with a Jack-Kirby-esque power staff? Damn, a lot happened in just a few years.

In Cincinnati, Hercules, sporting a new outfit, is also assaulted, as is the “Living Lightning” on the campus of UCLA. Just how many people got accepted into the Avengers, anyway? We see that Moondragon, Spider-Woman ver. 2.0, Namor, She-Hulk, Darkhawk, and Rage and his friends in the New Warriors are all under assault. And then, just like that, the attackers vanish. Pietro turns to Wanda and says he has no idea what just happened, but he sure as hell wants to find out. And right away, George Perez delivers the goods, with fantastic action set pieces. As was seen in the epic Avengers/JLA crossover, few people could match the man’s ability to illustrate so many different superheroes so effectively.

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Cut to Avengers Mansion, where the inestimable butler Jarvis prepares refreshments for his charges.

Assuming that’s Hank Pym, and not somebody else wearing the Giant-Man costume, he’s 1) got one butt-ugly version of his costume going on there, and 2) forcing Jarvis to make a quart of coffee just so he can drink it out of a giant mug. That’s a bit of a dick move. As least Janet/Wasp has the decency to be at human-size for this little get together. Iron Man—and let me just say, I love the hell out of that armor, with its retro-horned faceplate and glowy bits and neck guard—lays down some much, much needed exposition as the group discusses the various attacks, and how they are almost all Asgardian in nature, so that implies Loki is involved. Stark is pretty pissed off the team got disbanded while they were missing and wants to know why, but Cap defends those who had been left behind, because they had no idea what went down in their absence. But before they can speculate any further, someone comes crashing through the window.

Thor’s half-dead, and as the guys rush to help him out, Janet calls Jarvis via intercom to bring up mead and mutton for the God of Thunder. Thor reports that something Very Very Bad is coming and Earth itself is in danger, and while he’s looking for aid, the Avengers are just mortal and apparently of no use to him. But Captain America says he’s up to take down any threat and Thor says he had almost forgotten Cap’s “easy courage”, citing his exhaustion. He turns to the others and without hesitation, each of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes step up, holding out their hand in one of those Silver Age-esque moments that feels both corny and awesome at the same time. It’s time for the biggest Avengers Assemble moment ever!

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Cut to daytime and we find Hawkeye zip-lining from a rooftop to the pavement below in a way we should have seen at least once in one of the MCU movies by now. He looks down and sees a familiar face: Wanda.

He notes how good she looks, and then quickly follows up to assure her he’s not hitting on her. Well hey, with Vision and Wanda having broken up, she’s available again, right? Hawkeye is about to activate the gate with his ID card when Pietro slips his in the slot first. He and Hawkeye trade verbal shots just like old times, and Wanda has to as usual play peacemaker. She notes Crystal isn’t with her brother, and he says she had some legal issues to clean up, and will be here later. Jarvis meets them at the front door and says they can join the others. The others?

Kudos to inker Al Vey, who has to keep up with George Perez, as well as colorist Tom Smith. I could spend hours talking about this splash page, so I’ll just call out a couple things. I’m seeing some people I don’t recognize, so I’ll assume they’re old Avengers in new costumes, and… is that Sandman? Wow, I guess anybody can be an Avenger now. Then again, Cap hired three ne’er-do-wells to flesh out his Quirky Quartet, so there’s precedent. I’m also digging how Machine Man’s head is twisted about at what for humans is a truly unnatural angle; nice touch, George.

Falcon asks Black Widow (and very cool that George has gone old school with ’70s era Natasha here) what’s going down and she doesn’t want to speculate, while Hercules schmoozes with Wanda.

And damn, the more I see of Hercules’ costume, the less I like it. Without the beard and that mug in his hand, he’d look like a drunken frat boy. I mean, even more than normal.

Meanwhile, Namor, Moondragon, and Black Panther wonder if the homeless guy chowing down on the dagwood in the corner belongs here. It’s D-Man, and Cap himself made him a member. Rage assures Vance and Firestar, his fellow New Warriors, that it’s all good. I’m guessing part of him thinks there are so many costumed characters around, no one will notice.

The Beast tries to make small talk with Carol Danvers, who’s between secret identities at this point, but she’s sounding a bit bitter. She might still be sore over than incident in issue #200, and there’s not enough liquor in the world to make me numb enough to read that story again. Elsewhere, the core group is talking to Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four who say even though three of the four are reserve Avengers, they’ve already got a full plate. Hulk calls and pretty much says, “Leave Hulk alone!” This was during one of his more articulate phases. With the rest of the Avengers unavailable for some reason (i.e. being in the future or past), everyone who can or wants to show up is here, and Cap convenes the meeting.

I like how Vision sits near Wanda, while Hercules is next to Natasha, since they were both Champions together. Oh, but whoops! Falcon is white now, apparently. And Spider-Man bows out, citing his own problems, and in an amusing bit, Swordsman tries to call Spider-Man “yellow” and Sandman is ready to throw down to defend him.

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With things quieted down, Thor recounts the events of Heroes Reborn: The Return #3, another comic I didn’t read. He threw down with Dr. Doom over Franklin Richard’s life and created a rift between realities where they might fight forever. And when Thor woke up, he found Doom was gone and Asgard destroyed.

Thor found a fragment of the Rainbow Bridge, and in touching it was transported to Chicago. Could have been worse; he could have wound up in Detroit. He says that on top of all this, the Twilight Sword is gone, and the Black Knight asks what the hell a “Twilight Sword” is, and I shall avoid the most obvious Stephenie Meyer joke. Thor explains Surtur forged it “in the heart of a flaming galaxy” and once again, I wish I had read Walt Simonson’s epic run on that comic. Also, the sword thief has the Norn stones as well. See what happens when you don’t lock up your coolest stuff?

Thor senses the five stones are spread out across the world, which means it’s time for the gang to split up into five teams. And thus five Quinjets take off. Outside, Moon Knight watches the jets fly off. He heard the call, but he no longer “does” groups. Rick Jones, in a high-tech wheelchair (why? How? No clue) stays behind with Jarvis. We catch up to Quinjet #1…

…and that’s actually a pretty badass team. The jet hits turbulence, and while Quasar and Crystal try to get things under control outside, Black Panther calls; the other four Norn stones disappeared and are now with the fifth, near Cap’s team. Crystal and Quasar have trouble with the magical turbulence, but with Wanda providing a magical assist, they’re able to break on through to the other side, where they find…

Herc goes off on D-Man, but Cap defends his friend. It turns out the Big D is the hero of “Zerotown”, where clean water is only available for drinking. It’s then that a bad guy who’s not a minion makes an appearance:

Modred, son of Morgan Le Fey. For a D-list villain, he’s rockin’ quite a cool costume. He uses magic to immobilize Wanda with stone tentacles and suck her down, then stony beasts erupt out of the ground to attack the team.

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Modred monologues with the best of them, but unfortunately for him, he’s dealing with a master strategist. The team runs interference for Quicksilver, who quickly ends the speechifying.

Pietro attempts to interrogate a now stripped bare Modred, but before he can ask any questions, Modred’s mom shows up.

Eh, her design is a little too busy for my tastes, and eyeshadow is not her friend, but alright. Cap says they’re ready to throw down, and Morgan shows the gang how the other teams are fighting worldwide. She then pulls a Ozymandias and tells them she’s already triggered her master plan, and Wanda was the last part. Scarlet Witch appears on a stone altar. It was all a ruse! Morgan taps into Wanda’s chaos magic as she pulls the sword from the hill.

And then the world goes white…

Next up: The second part of our epic tale!

Tag: The Avengers vol. 3 (1998) Heroes Return

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