Great Lakes Avengers #2

“Dismembership Drive”

Warning:  Spoilers throughout

This one nails it all: much-hyped Super-Hero deaths, Infinite Crisis, the Justice Department and its owners, the RIAA and MPAA, Batman…  Nothing is safe in the Great Lakes Avengers’ second issue.  We begin with another intro by Squirrel Girl, in which, in grand Lemony Snicket style, she warns us that this issue will be a downer.  She goes on to ask us if we, like her, miss the days when super-heroes fought super-gorillas on the Moon, and that.  She bemoans the coming of an age when comic book reality is something you want to escape FROM, not TO.

You go, Squirrel Girl!

Again, SG (who actually joins this issue!) reminds us not to mimic the actions of the suicidal Mister Immortal, “especially on page seven.  That’s where he downloads stuff from the Internet for free.”  Yeah, that’s much more dangerous than shooting yourself in the head or throwing yourself, weighted down, in a river, as he did last issue.  Sadly, our Justice Department would probably have us believe this is the case.  The slam against the Internet Gestapo is also subtle enough that it might be mistaken for a clever reminder that Marvel’s copyrights should be respected.

The GLA goes on a recruiting drive this time ’round, asking, well… everyone to join.  Some of the invitees get a whole sequence to themselves.  The new Swordsman:  “I’m not Clint Barton.”  “But I heard on the Internet…”; Moon Knight:  “the Moon Knight must remain an urban legend!”  (No mention is made that MK was a West Coast Avenger.); Spider / Wolverine / Daredevil “I’m a loner.”  The rest of the heroes (Including Awesome Andy and that Perez-drawn guy from FF in the 70s… Captain something or other) are shown in a montage of single panels, saying, “No!”  This is a beautiful copy of the recruitment sequence from Villains United #1, released the same week as GLA #2.  I don’t know if Slott knew this was coming, but the parody works very well, even if it’s not intentional.

Finally, with Flatman and Doorman announcing themselves as the (great lakes) AVENGERS, Squirrel Girl and Grasshopper join, Grasshopper to die only moments later, accidentally shot through the head.  Brilliantly reminiscent of the death of another colorful bug, but a lot less painful to watch, cause’ well… sorry, guy, you’re not a Ditko-created character with a forty-year history.

So we get the “death of an Avenger.”  I, personally, was sorry to see the grasshopper go.  He was no more of a shameless ripoff or a buffoon than any of the other GLA members, and I thought he really had that silly, old Marvel feel.  Like someone who really would wind up working security for one of the big corps of Marvel Land.  (I reference Guardsman working for Stark, Hawkeye working for Cross Security, the Squadron Supreme working for Roxxon.)  His intro and death in one issue work very well, though.  He was an Avenger for a matter of minutes, so the promise of last issue is filled on a mere technicality.  Another jibe, this one at the practice of slithering out of the  advance hype by killing someone we’ve never heard of.

An aside, just ’cause I like to pretend I’s a knowledgeable comics historian…  The concept of “One of these heroes will DIE!” goes back to Adventure Comics #353, dated February, 1967.  The Legion of Super Heroes story in this issue featured the death of Ferro Lad, quite possible the first death of a continuing comics character, and certainly of a costumed super-hero, ever.  (Steve Trevor, Larry Lance and the original Doom Patrol would not buy their respective farms for at least another year.)  If you can think of an earlier one, I’ll ask Stan Lee to send you a No-Prize.

This then-fresh concept was written by then-teenager Jim Shooter, later to become EIC at Marvel.  Of course, the death-eater-tempting verbiage on the cover probably came from editor Mort Weisinger.  Still, it’s interesting to note that Shooter appears to have touched off a rash of deaths in 1967.  John Byrne later apologized to comics fandom (no, not for being the godfather of Disassembled, for which he should apologize!) for touching off the rash of deaths by killing Phoenix.  But, while Byrne reportedly did want to kill Phoenix when X-Men 137 was plotted, the death didn’t actually get written and drawn until it was order by Marvel EIC… um… yeah… Jim Shooter.   Coincidence?  I think not.

Back to GLA, another death is promised for next issue, of course.  That seems to be the point of the series.

Overall, another fine job by Slott, Pelletier, Magyar and company, in the fine tradition of She-Hulk.  This issue is even a little step up from last issue, in which the Dark part of “Dark Comedy” occasionally outweighed the “Comedy” part.  This one is more fun, despite the untimely death of poor Grasshopper.  (Who, after all, could easily join the Unliving Legion and show up again.)  GLA is like one long in-joke for long-time and recent comics afficianados alike.  It’s almost a review in itself of the state of the comic industry, at least at the big two companies.  Gotta say, I’m enjoying this a lot more than I’ve enjoyed an Avengers comic since the first half of Busiek’s run.

Great Lakes Avengers, Volume One, Issue Two
“Dismembership Drive”
Rating: 4.75
Writer: Dan Slott
Pencils: Paul Pelletier
Inks: Rick Magyar
Colors: Will Quintana
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Cover Art: Pelletier, Magyar, & Quintana
Publisher: Marvel

Great Lakes Avengers #1

I will not say that Dan Slott has made comics fun again.

I won’t.

Because, if I did say it, it might mean that he’s taken characters we loved, squeezed them through an emotional and physical wringer, re-written their history as everyone understood it (into something no one ever will) and replaced the old concept with something highly marketable… this month.

Sorry, but every time someone writes an Identity Crisis, an Avengers Disassembled, an Infinite Crisis… there’s always a text page or an interview with the editor, saying “when we conceived this, we all sat down and asked ourselves, ‘what do we love about comics?’  And we’re going to use that information to make comics fun again!”  Not that there wasn’t some value for someone in all of those works.  Personally, I enjoyed Identity Crisis.  But I’ve learned to distrust the promise about making comics fun.  The stated intent to do so too often accompanies a product that gets your attention, but leaves you feeling doubtful about the benevolence of God at worst, the creative team at best.

So I will not tell you that, first with She-Hulk, then with Spidey/Human Torch, and now with GLA, Dan Slott is making Marvel comics fun again.  It’s a shame I can’t tell you, too.  Cause’s there’s quite a list of stuff that’s, well… mustn’t… use… f-word…

The “Misassembled” logo stamped across the cover, reminiscent of BMB and Joey Q’s excellent marketing campaign a few months back?  Fun?  I neither confirm nor deny.  But it does set a tone of parody for the whole project.

Squirrel Girl’s Laemmle-esque* appearance on the splash page, for instance, to tell us that she won’t appear in the story, and that kids shouldn’t try at home what the Great Lakes Avengers try on the printed page.  Not anything.  Can’t tell you it’s fun.

The “Monkey Joe Says” asides, cajoling fan-boys to write Marvel and protest being stereotyped as overweight, aging basement-dwellers, or reminding us that child-endangerment is never funny.  Would you say they were fun?  You probably would.  I can’t.  I took the oath.

Mr. Immortal’s completely inappropriate reaction to the news of Hawkeye’s Death?  (“This is awesome!” Don’t you get it?  This means from now on… we’re the Avengers!”)  Hawkeye’s death could never be funny for a longtime Avengers fan, but this at least gives it that hint of farce which says, “Hey, it’s comics!  Nothing is forever!”

Learning Mr. Immortal’s origin?  Okay, not fun a lot of the time.  Poor guy had a tragic life.  Dead Mom.  Dead Dad.  Dead girlfriend.  Death as an imaginary friend.  The key word, Mr. Spock, is d-d-death.  This tale really brings out the not-fun side of being immortal.  Sometimes you just want it all to end, and, for him, that ain’t gonna happen.

(And in the Not fun at all department?  The Cup O’ Joe column.  Seriously.  It’s like always being reminded who’s President.  Bipartisan slam, kids.  That’s been painful for me since about 1980.)

Actually, I don’t know if Dan Slott and company set out to make comics fun again.  Given the road-to-hell type examples above, it’s probably better if they didn’t.  But they have made a practice of  making their stories incorporate everything that was fun for me in the Marvel Comics of the pre-Shooter days.

Slott’s comics bring back the pleasure of discovery, or re-discovery.  He touches on all the characters, new and old, who make up the tapestry of the Marvel Universe.  Some of them are heavy hitters.  Some of them are second-rate.  Some of them are jokes.  Some of them are just downright bizarre.  They’re all colorful, though, ’cause it’s comics.  (Pre-eighties comics, I stress.  Isn’t it a crying shame that, as color printing has become more sophisticated, comics have gotten less colorful?)

The GLA are generally likable.  No, they don’t always like each other.  And sometimes they’re not always nice.  But even their fights are funny.  Like Johnny and Ben.  Cap and Hawkeye.  Spidey and Jonah.  The Hulk and… well… everyone.  Despite their flaws, we could love the characters.  I wouldn’t want to hang with Wolverine or the Punisher, ’cause they’d probably bring rope.  I wouldn’t want to date the White Queen, ’cause she’d probably burn my mind out before the evening got good.  And take my wallet.  I wouldn’t want Jarvis to serve me tea in the Avengers Mansion now, even if it weren’t still standing, ’cause it might blow up at any moment, and I’d be surrounded by death and dismemberment.

Don’t get the impression that GLA is all pretty, either.  [SPOILER ALERT]  Like I said, it parodies Disassembled, and has some of that epic’s elements.  There’s a lot of death.  The book begins and ends with Mr. I shooting himself in the head.  We see his whole family die in flashback, except for the foster father we despise and want to see die…   We see the tragic death of Dinah Soar, poor mute thing, right after she has found her voice and declared her undying love for Mr. I.

And, while taking some cues from AD, it doesn’t feel the need to deliver an explosion a minute, or make us cry “Game Over, Man!” with every third panel.  It does give the feeling, though, that change is in the air.  We get the sense that this whole team might just bite the big one, so Slott can create the New Great Lakes Avengers. 

But I bet Spidey and Wolverine won’t be invited to that party.  She-Hulk, though… now there’s a thought…

* Carl Laemmle, father of Universal Studios’ classic 1930’s horror films, including Dracula, Frankenstein and the Invisible Man, introduced his first horror outing by appearing “on stage” and warning viewers that the movie might actually scare the pants off them.  Who says this isn’t still the Marvel Age of the Fabulous Footnote?  — Not Stan Steve

GLA, Issue One

Rating: 4.5

Writer: Dan Slott

Penciler: Paul Pelletier

Inker: Rick Magyar

Colors: Will Quintana

Letterer: Dave Lanphear

Asst Editors: Schmidt, Moore & Lazer

Editor: Tom Brevoort

Editor-in-Chief: Joe Quesada

Publisher: Dan Buckley

June, 2005