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Avengers Best Comics (1971-1981)


The Avengers. Earth's Mightiest Heroes. While many comics faltered or fell short in this decade from the change in writers and leadership, the Avengers did not. In fact, they soared above all the others and proved to be one of the best Marvel Comic lines for a good while until about the 200th issue where it completely fell off. The Avengers went through many changes with an ever-evolving roster of characters. Some surprising entries were the return of Wonder Man from way back in the first issues of the comic as well as Beast who came bouncing over from the X-Men. Swordsman, an old Avengers and Hawkey foe, also joined for a time in addition to Mantis who audiences know more from Guardians of the Galaxy.


Roy Thomas's run was coming to an end after 70 issues on the comic, his other responsibilities and assignments at the time taking priority. He closed out his run with a storyline left hanging from his X-Men run and once he was gone, it was decided that upcoming writer Steve Englehart would take over. Now, the first part of Englehart's run was weak and didn't really work as he proclaimed himself he tried to emulate Roy Thomas as much as possible there. Once he realized that wasn't working, he focused on his own style and the stories truly began to rise. He was the one who brought in the Swordsman for a major redemption arc as well as his own personal creation of Mantis who here is a martial arts master. One thing can be said about Englehart was that he liked big, grand stories that ran for a while. At the time, he was also writing the Defenders comic and decided to put the two together in an epic clash. After that, he had a major storyline involving Kang, a Celestial Madonna, the Vision's origin, and the start of the infamous Kree/Skrull War that ran for a while. He finished off his run with a multi-dimensional journey involving the Serpent Crown before passing the baton on. In his time, Englehart focused on the characters of the Avengers, specifically on two couples: Wanda and Vision as well as Swordsman and Mantis. Their relationships proved to be the stem of his run.


Gerry Conway took over for a little while but wasn't able to stay too long. Still, he was the one who brought back Wonder Man and also wrote an exciting and epic storyline that crossed over with the Super-Villain Team-Up comic being published starring Doctor Doom and Namor. After him, Jim Shooter stepped up and his run proved to be the highlight of the 70s. He treated each Avenger with care, giving them their own storylines and arcs, making them human and relatable to readers. And not just them. For every villain he had them fight, he made sure readers all knew that these people were human too with their own flaws and ticks. The fantastic action sequences were always partnered with equally great character moments. It was one of the major draws of his run. In addition, Shooter also seemed to want to emphasize that this team was made up of Earth's Mightiest Heroes who formed up with the purpose of stopping threats they couldn't handle on their own. Well, Shooter made sure whoever they went up against, they were a threat worthy of all of them together. He ended his run with the phenomenal Korvac Saga before taking up administrative duties.


After him, David Michelinie became the main writer and he had a few good stories to tell. However, it was clear he had no real structure or long-term plan and the series suffered for that. And then, Avengers 200 happened.


There were so many people involved in that it's hard to tell who's the most at fault. The point is, that storyline and especially that single comic should never have seen the light of day. Chris Claremont was able to rectify it, more on that later, but the comic still brings the publishing line down. After that, it took a while before the series was able to recover.


The 70s were sort of a renaissance for the Avengers as they flourished under new writers, becoming better and stronger than before. They earned their name here and I can't wait to see what the 80s have in store for them.


16. Avengers Vol 1 194-196: Taskmaster

 

David Michelinie introduces one of the most interest Avengers villains here, the Taskmaster. A man capable to copying and replicating any move he’s seen as long as his body in is the condition to do it as well as memorizing all his opponents’ moves so he knows what they’ll do next. So he has most of the Avengers’ attacks locked and loaded to use against them. He’s also one of the smartest villains as he knows the best time to fight and to retreat. In this short story, the Avengers get drawn into a mystery as a random man comes to them begging for help except he’s from a criminally insane institute. This brings them into conflict with Taskmaster’s undercover school for thugs and goons. This is where all those random extra bad guys that work for all the big time villains in the last twenty years of comics have come from. Michelinie has provided the answer to the question you never thought to ask, and it’s a good one. While the story is lacking in a lot of areas, it manages to be a surprisingly fun time with an exciting new villain who immediately stands out from all others.


15. Avengers Vol 1 185-187: Nights of Wundagore

 

In this story, David Michelinie decides to take another crack at Wanda and Pietro’s backstory, only complicating it further than it was. However, what makes this story interesting is how he helps flesh out the lore behind Wundagore Mountain as it is revealed to be the prison to the ancient demon Chthon and the throne to the Scarlet Witch (which was adapted in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). Thus the Avengers are thrown into one of their greatest battles against an unspeakable evil that they stand no chance of beating without some luck on their side, especially as they are fighting their ally and friend Wanda Maximoff who has reached her full potential. While the action and script leaves a little to be desired, it still ranks among some of the best as it starts to flesh out Wanda’s character even more as well as showing how far the Avengers will go to protect and help one of their own. Plus, John Byrne’s artwork is always amazing to see.


14. Avengers Vol 1 102-104: The Sentinels Are Alive and Well

 

Roy Thomas’s last story on the Avengers run and he ends with a bang, bringing back the Sentinels from his fantastic X-Men run. This story has a lot of intense action, as the Avengers struggle to fight against the far superior Sentinels, as well as a tense atmosphere as Quicksilver kidnaps Larry Trask, son of the Sentinels’ inventor, to save his sister and separates from the Avengers. However, like most of Thomas’s work on this title, the story came off as stale at times and sadly many of the characters felt like they could be switched out with any other, having interchangeable voices which is not good for a team book. Still, the action and stakes of the story help save it and this still marks Roy Thomas as one of the greatest Avengers writers.


13. Avengers Vol 1 160: The Trial


One of Jim Shooter’s earliest work in the Avengers as, after the character of Wonder Man returns, the Grim Reaper holds a trial to see who is really his brother, Vision or the Wonder Man. This tale goes into an origin for the two and help readers reconnect to the character of Wonder Man after his one appearance in the Avengers early days. It shows his grief and shock at seeing the villain his brother is as well as showing off his new power level. The tenseness as well as the emotional connection presented what Jim Shooter would bring to his future stories.


12. Avengers Vol 1 158-159: Graviton

 

Jim Shooter’s first story in the Avengers and he starts off with a bang as the Vision and Wonder Man come to blows almost instantly, a fight that has been brewing for a while, and it is packed with heat and emotion. Of course, the adrenaline doesn’t let up as the Avengers are quickly called into action to combat the new threat of Graviton, a mild worker who accidentally gained the power of gravity and now has a serious god complex. Thus begins one of the Avengers’ toughest fights as they battle the godlike figure who wipes the floor with them. It’s only thanks to Thor and Black Panther’s timely arrival that they’re able to secure victory and even then it’s because of Graviton’s mental state that turned his power against him. Jarvis also gets a cool moment at the ending showcasing his own heroism. Shooter comes up with a lot of villains in his run but as with Graviton he likes to show how human they are as what might happen when a disgruntled worker suddenly has godlike power and what it does to him. He also reminds everyone how human the Avengers are and their dysfunctional team dynamics. This story was a precursor to what his run would look like and the future was epic.


11. Avengers Vol 1 154-156, Super-Villain Team-Up Vol 1 9: When Strikes Attuma?

 

This story is basically pure action all the way through and it works, bringing it Namor and Doctor Doom from their own Super-Villain Team-Up comic as the Avengers take on villain Attuma who wants to take over the surface world. Including recently resurrected hero Wonder Man and old Liberty Legion hero Whizzer, this story splits the Avengers up and throws them against some of their toughest foes as Attuma and his Atlantean troops infiltrate and enslave the team, forcing them to their side and having Doctor Doom and Namor save them. This story is a thrilling read with intense action from beginning to end and several twists along the way. However, it isn’t anything more than that which is why it doesn’t rise any further than this.


10. Avengers Annual Vol 1 10: By Friends…Betrayed

 

Chris Claremont comes in for a very special annual issue that closes out this decade of Avengers stories. Here, he introduces a mutant who will become essential to the X-Men though right now she’s a villain: Rogue. The woman manages to steal Carol Danvers’s power, leaving the hero half-dead, and goes on a rampage with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants leading to all-out brawl with the Avengers with some heavy, intense action sequences that highlight the Avengers’ teamwork, artist Michael Golden bringing the a-game here throughout. Rogue proves her worth by systematically taking down Avengers one-by-one but as soon as they recover, they quickly turn things around. Spider-Woman even comes in, proving to be a major player throughout who helps save the day and cements her as Carol’s best friend. However, what makes this story standout is the ending as the Avengers locate Carol Danvers and have a serious talk. This story was written by Claremont to fix the mess that is Avengers 200. That storyline is without a doubt a travesty that did Carol Danvers wrong and as the writer on her comic, Claremont felt it was necessary to come in and do his best to correct that mistake with Carol slamming the Avengers for what happened (really a dig at the writers behind it) and for abandoning her like that. Like I said, Avengers 200 is a revolting storyline that should never have been written. Thankfully, Claremont was able to make something of it, course correcting the whole mess. The final panels of this issue aren’t just important to the story but are a poignant message that still resonate to this day for all assaulted women.


9. Avengers Vol 1 141-144, 147-149: The Serpent Crown

 

Steve Englehart’s last main story arc on the title and he brings in the previously introduced Squadron Supreme from a parallel earth as well as the Brand Corporation with Buzz Baxter from his Beast solo title and the Serpent Crown from many different titles, juggling the different plot threads well and providing an exciting and action-packed tale as the Avengers are set upon by the Brand Corporation for control of the Serpent Crown and are forced to flee across dimensions as well as battle the power of the Serpent Crown itself. The crowning achievement (pun intended) though was the debut of hero Hellcat. Englehart brings back Patsy Walker from the Beast title and turning her from the love-struck teen idol she was before and into a full-fledged superhero. There is a lot happening in this story and it doesn’t always work but Englehart’s writing is always on point and he manages to bring it all together in the end in a satisfying and entertaining way.


8. Avengers Vol 1 113: Your Young Men Shall Slay Visions

 

This is the story that started to show off Englehart’s talents. Here, the relationship of the Vision and Scarlet Witch is made public and instantly, bigots take offense to it, seeing it as unnatural for a woman to love a machine. So, they decide to save her by killing the Vision with suicide bombs, giving their own lives to take him out. The first one only badly injures him, but then the Avengers have to defend him in the hospital as more bombers come. A poignant and tense tale of bigotry and the terrifying lengths some people will go for their misguided beliefs. It also helps set up Wanda and Vision’s tragic love story.


7. Avengers Annual 7, Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2: The Final Threat

 

Jim Starlin comes aboard for a two-part extra-sized epic where he wraps up the plotlines leftover from his work on Captain Marvel and Warlock as he has the Avengers official face-off against the Mad Titan Thanos. The villain has come to destroy the stars in order to appease death which, obviously, the Avengers don’t like. Teaming up with Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, and Moondragon as well as Spider-Man and the Thing, this is one of their greatest battles as Thanos proves why he is one of the most powerful villains of all, practically mopping the floor with the heroes and forcing them to last resorts to beat him. Starlin’s artwork is fantastic as always though his writing does falter at times with the sheer number of characters, a few sadly being pushed to the side. However, he does bring a satisfying conclusion to the main character he reinvigorated for Marvel which was Adam Warlock, allowing him to walk off into the sunset (until he reappears at least). Epic action, high stakes, and stellar artwork, this story has it all.


6. Avengers Vol 1 164-166: Nefaria Supreme

 

In this story, Jim Shooter asks the question, what if the Avengers fought Superman? Count Nefaria, tired of relying on others to fight for him and constantly fail, steals the powers of other supervillains and amplifies them a hundredfold to make him the most powerful man alive. He then singlehandedly wipes the floor with the Avengers, knocking an entire building into them. And then takes on Thor and Vision, standing toe-to-toe with the strongest Avengers. This story has a slow beginning but once it gets going, it’s basically non-stop action throughout, brought to life by John Byrne. And through it all, Shooter never forgets this is an Avengers comic, having the team dynamics and different troubles come up throughout which elevates the story even more.


5. Avengers Vol 1 161-162: The Bride of Ultron

 

The return of Ultron and Jim Shooter and George Perez shine in showing how powerful and threatening the villain is, taking out the Avengers single-handedly within a few minutes, with Perez’s artwork a true delight. But they don’t stop there, going deep into his psyche as they show him seeking true connection in trying to create a robotic bride for himself from his mother-figure Janet van Dyne’s brainwaves. An Oedipus complex, as Black Panther says. Shooter also continues the degradation of Hank Pym’s mind as he loses it even more, turning against the Avengers and his wife in his downward spiral. But where Shooter truly shines is his character work, allowing not only Hank and Janet their moments but character developments for Wonder Man, Thor, and Iron Man, Vision even getting a rage-filled panel at his father-figure. Action-packed and emotionally tense, Shooter and Perez make a truly great story here filled to the brim in just two issues.


4. Avengers Vol 1 129-135, Giant Size-Avengers 2-4: Celestial Madonna Saga

 

Saga is no joke as there are many things happening in this story but Englehart manages to juggle it all effortlessly here. The main thread is that a prophecy stating a Celestial Madonna has come and it is either Wanda or Mantis. Kang arrives, seeing to mate with the Madonna and bring about an all-powerful heir. When he captures the Avengers, only Hawkeye and Swordsman remain which sadly leads to Swordsman’s death as he sacrifices himself for Mantis. One of Englehart’s best character developments was transforming Swordsman from a villain to a hero and here his tale ends. Kang then brings a legion of soldiers from across time to help him such as Frankenstein, Baron Zemo, and the previous Human Torch. This then leads to the next two plot threads, the origin of the Vision himself, showing how he was created in the first place, and the tale of the Celestial Madonna, showing the creation of the Blue Side of the moon and the origins of the Kree-Skrull War and the tragedy of the Cotati people. Englehart crafts a massive story here, giving each Avenger their time to shine and giving each story enough room to breathe, making this one of the best stories.


3. Avengers Vol 1 115-118, Defenders Vol 1 8-11: Avengers/Defenders War

 

This was Englehart’s crowning achievement, combining both comics he was writing at the time into one massive crossover event over the summer. Dormammu and Loki team up to take down the Earth, pitting the Avengers against the Defenders as they seek the Evil Eye, an artifact of great power. The heroes are divided, each one going after a certain piece of the eye and forcing each team member to fight the other leading to some truly epic battles such as one of the best Thor and Hulk fights as well as a reunion between Namor and Captain America and a rematch between Swordsman and Hawkeye. This all leads to the confrontation with Dormammu as he attempts to conquer the world, showing off his power but also showing off Wanda’s power, making her a much stronger hero than she was originally presented. This story could have ended badly but with Englehart’s grasp on the characters and great storytelling, it rises to become one of the best stories for each title of this time.


2. Avengers Vol 1 89-97: Kree/Skrull War

 

This story was already listed among the 1961-1971 list but as this story crosses over through both time periods, it belongs on this list as well. This isn't just the greatest Avengers story of this era, but it’s one of the greatest of all time. Featuring not one but two different invasion forces coming to Earth as the Avengers are fighting on two fronts. If that wasn't enough, they're accused of betraying Earth by protecting rogue Kree soldier Captain Marvel and S.H.I.E.L.D. sends in Mandroids to attack them. Featuring lots of Skrull impersonations, making you guess who's who, fantastic artwork by Neal Adams (seriously, this dude was amazing as his work is drawn so beautifully and aesthetically that it makes you want to see more), and epic action as the Avengers take the battle to the stars above against an entire alien fleet. All that plus a sub-story of Ant-Man crawling through Vision's body at tiny size makes this a truly epic story from start to finish. The only problem: despite its grand size, you wish it could be longer.


1. Avengers Vol 1 167-168, 170-177: The Korvac Saga

 

The grand finale of Jim Shooter’s first run on Avengers as he brings everything he’s done so far together in a fitting conclusion, George Perez returning as well with his artwork fabulous as always. Here, a great threat has arrived on Earth and yet no one is aware of it, the threat hiding himself until it is time. Each issue ups the ante even more as Jim Shooter thickens the plot, adding more and more elements. Bringing in the Guardians of the Galaxy as well as previous Avengers Moondragon, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Hercules, and new hero Ms. Marvel as well as villains Tyrak, Ultron, and the Collector for the first half of the story, Shooter constantly keeps readers on their toes by leading them down one way only to twist them around by revealing a new wrinkle to the plot. Including a sequel to his Bride of Ultron arc that brings in new hero Jocasta as well as the government who have come to question the Avengers’ authority. There’s even an issue where Bill Mantlo steps in to have Hawkeye take center stage and faceoff against the Collector solo to save his teammates. And throughout it all, Shooter’s character work is always front and center with Wonder Man coming to terms with his fears, Iron Man dealing with his leadership of the team, a reunion with Wanda and Pietro, an end to the feud between Iron Man and Captain America with one of the best dialogue scenes written yet, and so much more. As well as that, Shooter brings some true depth to his villains of Korvac and Carina as they try and make a life for themselves and do some good with the power they have until the Avengers show up. All this build-up, one might think the finale wouldn’t live up to it. But it surpasses all expectations as every Avenger and Guardian attacks Korvac in their greatest battle yet. And here, they actually die as Korvac slaughters each and every one but the survivors keep coming back for more, refusing to give ground until the end when Korvac falters, seeing what he has done and reversing the deaths. And yet it is a hollow victory as all Korvac wanted to do was live his life and do some good in the world. Shooter packs a lot into this story and manages to wrap it all up in such a way that makes it the best Avengers story written yet and one of the greatest of all time.


That's it for the Avengers. A truly wild and amazing ride through the 70s. Time to see what the next decade has in store for them. Til next time!

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