October 13, 2007

The greatest of all Marvel epics

Don't be shanghaied into believing that wannabe comic "greats" like Mark Millar and/or Bryan Hitch and their Marvel works are some of the "best of all-time." Take Marvel's recent "Civil War" er, "epic." Great? Yuck. It wasn't even good. The only reason such "events" are dubbed "epics" is because they include virtually every title in the Marvel catalogue and they make a ton of dough as a result. The storytelling? Well, that's another matter. Hell, today's creative teams don't even have the term "deadline" to deal with anymore. You can wait months for an issue that used to take a mere 30 days. The only modern creator worth his salt is Kurt Busiek (more on him later), but he hasn't done anything for Marvel in a few years.

Ah, the halcyon days of the Marvel Comics Group. Take me back to ... the early 1970s ...

... and the truly epic "Kree-Skrull War." Written by longtime Marvel stalwart Roy Thomas and drawn by the phenomenal Neal Adams and John Buscema, the KSW featured the Marvel Universe's two biggest alien races "battlin' it out for the Earth" (to quote former Hulk and Capt. America sidekick Rick Jones). The issues have all been collected in what's known as a "trade paperback;" however, Marvel also put out a two-issue "special edition" back in 1983 (somewhat more streamlined than the modern trade paperback) and that's what I own. I actually prefer these two issues instead of the TPB because it features a perfect commentary by writer Alan Zelentz in the prologue. He says that the KSW "is an epic so grand, only the comics could bring it to you!" And back in 1983 (and for many years thereafter), he was right. (Today's relatively cheap CGI could probably do a nice version of it and go right to DVD. Hey ...!!!) You can read all of Zelentz's commentary here.

Smack dab in the middle of the Kree and Skrulls -- Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers! Actually, the very Earth itself is "smack dab in the middle" -- in the middle of the two intergalactic empires (um, that's the Kree Empire and the Skrull Empire, natch.) In true astronomical terms, this is highly improbable as the Kree Empire is located in the Greater Magellanic Cloud (approx. 160,000 light years distant), and the Skrulls are HQ'd in the Andromeda Galaxy (some two million light years away). But hey, why let such a piddly detail spoil all the fun? The KSW had been going on for untold millenia, and now that humans on Earth were evolving at a more advanced pace than either Kree or Skrull suspected, both races were determined to either possess our planet -- or destroy it.

Thomas' writing is utterly impeccable as he weaves through various [past] Marvel storylines with perfection. Adams' artwork is so realistic you feel as if you're actually a living witness to the events. Science fiction movie aspects abound with a hat tip to the classic "Fantastic Voyage" and a foreshadow to the then still-to-come "Star Wars." But perhaps best of all, it's one of Marvel's regular joes that saves the day. Rick Jones, teenage wannabe rock star, Incredible Hulk sidekick, and former Capt. America confidante, is abducted by a Kree soldier and taken back to their home planet. The Kree Supreme Intelligence -- a monstrous grotesque head composed of the greatest minds in Kree history -- awakens in Rick dormant mental powers which allow the Avengers -- and Earth, as a consequence -- to be victorious, and the Kree-Skrull scuffle to end (for the nonce).

The aforementioned Kurt Busiek added to this awesome epic almost three decades later in what is in my opinion the second greatest Marvel epic of all-time -- "Avengers Forever" (premiere issue at left). Busiek uses Jones' mental powers -- now dubbed the "Destiny Force" -- as a prize fought over by long-time Avengers foes Immortus and Kang the Conqueror. It helps if you're an Avengers fan to really enjoy Kurt's tale, but if not, Busiek's affection for continuity is sure to make you one. That, and artist Carlos Pacheco's pencils are truly spectacular.

"AF" plucks various Avengers from the Marvel timestream to deal with the threat of Immortus who, it turns out, has the means to erase whole timelines that he has deemed "dangerous." Again, Busiek meticulously weaves aspects of Marvel yore throughout the twelve-issue tale, including even lesser known "What If?" tales (most intriguingly for me, one that included an apocryphal 1950s Avengers team).

Both the "Kree-Skrull War" and "Avengers Forever" are available as mass market trade paperback collections and are easy to find. I highly recommend them.

Posted by Hube at October 13, 2007 01:00 PM | TrackBack

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I've also been enjoying a lot of Robert Kirkman's work as well. I don't know that he's done anything really comic-universe spanning that hasn't been off in it's own continuity somewhere.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at October 13, 2007 01:23 PM

One vote for "Dark Phoenix Saga" as well as the original "Secret War" arc.

Posted by: Duffy at October 13, 2007 02:22 PM

Duff: I agree -- the Dark Phoenix tale is in my top 5, I'd say. Can't say the same about the original Secret War, though. I just reread #12 last night (double-sized finale) and even though I think Jim Shooter is a terrific writer, this ending just plain blew. And Mike Zeck's art wasn't that impressive either, IMO.

Posted by: Hube at October 13, 2007 02:52 PM