First Published: October 2004
Contents: Avengers #69 (October 1969) to #97 (March 1972), and Incredible Hulk #140 (June 1971)
Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Neal Adams, and Harlan Ellison
Key First Appearances: Grandmaster, Squadron Sinister (Doctor Spectrum, Hyperion, Nighthawk, Whizzer), Zodiac (Aquarius, Aries, Cancer, Capricorn, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Sagittarius, Taurus, Virgo), Monica Lynne, Arkon, Lethal Legion, Red Wolf & Lobo, Lady Liberators, Valkyrie, Squadron Supreme (American Eagle, Doctor Spectrum, Golden Archer, Hyperion, Lady Lark, Nighthawk, Tom Thumb, Whizzer), Jarella
Story Continues From: Essential Avengers Vol. 3
Story Continues In: Essential Avengers Vol. 5
Overview: Hold onto your seats, faithful readers. This is a 29-issue run of Avengers that never lets off the gas, giving us non-stop action that crosses multiple universes.
Leading off, we meet the Grandmaster, one of the Elders of the Universe, who has challenged Kang to a game. Kang chooses the Avengers as his pawns, and the Grandmaster chooses from an alternate dimension the Squadron Sinister, whose four members bare a striking resemblance to DC’s Justice League. Later in this volume, the Avengers travel to another alternate dimension dubbed Earth-S, where they meet the Squadron Supreme. This team fights for the side of good, and again contains character analogs for the Justice League.
Next up would be the confrontation with the Zodiac, a crime cartel made up of 12 members representing the various astrological signs. In particular, Taurus (Cornelius Van Lunt) would be a constant thorn in the side of the Avengers for many years. During this period, we also learn more about Black Panther, getting his full origin and meeting a new romantic interest for him in Monica Lynne.
The concluding story in the volume is the Kree-Skrull War. While it officially begins with issue #92, hints of this looming confrontation had been dropped for months. The two alien races go to war against each other, and Earth finds itself literally in the middle of the battle. The Avengers intercede, leading to a ceasefire and letting both empires know that the Earth is off limits to territorial expansion by either the Kree or the Skrulls.
The creators of these issues are some of the all-time greats. This is some of Roy Thomas’ best writing in his long career. The art is alive, jumping off the page thanks to the Buscemas and Neal Adams. We are even treated to a rare comic appearance by legendary writer Harlan Ellison, whose plot concept was adapted into a two-issue story by Roy Thomas for Avengers #88 and Incredible Hulk #140.
What makes this Essential?: This is a must-own volume for so many reasons – the creative talent on these books, the introduction of the Squadrons Sinister and Supreme, a new Elder of the Universe, the Zodiac crime organization, the Lady Liberators, and, of course, the Kree-Skrull War! These comics are still influencing ongoing stories 40+ years later. Seriously, if you plan on not having this book in your collection, then I really need to question our friendship.
Welcome to Rutland: In Avengers #83, the Avengers and the Lady Liberators travel to Rutland, Vermont, where they take part in the annual Halloween parade. The parade began in 1960, with local resident Tom Fagan being the driving force behind the event. Fagan, a comic book fan, would encourage people to dress in superhero costumes for the parade, and he would wear a Batman costume for the event. Fagan developed friendships with many popular comic writers of the early 1970s, such as Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Len Wein, and others. These writers then started incorporating Fagan, Rutland, and the Halloween parade into various stories at both DC and Marvel. In Marvel books, many DC characters could be seen in the parade, and vice versa. In addition to this issue of Avengers, look for Tom Fagan and Rutland to appear in Batman #237, Thor #206-207 (Essential Thor Vol. 5) and #232 (Essential Thor Vol. 6), Avengers #119 (Essential Avengers Vol. 5), Justice League of America #103 (Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol. 5) and #145, Defenders #100 (Essential Defenders Vol. 5), and many other comics.
Footnotes: Avengers #88 and Incredible Hulk #140 were also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.
While 11 of the 12 members of the Zodiac debuted in Avengers #72, Scorpio (Jake Fury) made his first appearance in Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (June 1968).
If you like this volume, try: the Secret Invasion mini-series from 2008 from Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu. Following the events of the Kree-Skrull War, the Skrull empire has secretly been capturing various superheroes and replacing them with disguised Skrulls. The ruse comes to light when “Electra” is killed in battle and her body reverts to her true form. Distrust forms among the superhero community, as colleagues question if they have a Skrull in their midst. During a raid of the Skrull world, many longtime characters believed dead were revealed to alive as prisoners of the Skrulls. Battles ensue as the Skrulls make a full-blown of invasion when their plan is revealed. The Skrulls are defeated in a final battle in Central Park, as a long-time Avenger makes the ultimate sacrifice to stop the Skrull threat. This has been collected as both a hardcover and as a trade paperback.