Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review # 4: "Operation: Galactic Storm"

The early-to-mid 90s were a weird time for The Avengers. Thor was replaced with a human imbued with his power; Iron Man was possessed by a villain, died, and was replaced with a teenage version of himself; Wasp became half-woman, half-insect; then, in 1996, they were all "killed off" and handed over to the folks at Image Comics (Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld et al. who quit in order to theoretically make more money by having full control of their own characters) to rebuild their, well... image. The truth was the series just wasn't on the same level as the X-Men sales-wise and Marvel was pulling out all the stops to try to get people to buy in.

But let's backtrack to 1992. Considered by many to be the "last hurrah" for the original volume, "Operation: Galactic Storm" was originally considered as a story for the cosmic character Quasar, written at the time by Mark Gruenweld. But with "Avengers" writer Bob Harras and "Wonder Man" editor Fabian Nicieza wanting an Avengers crossover, it was expanded to encompass the entire franchise. Gruenweld at the time was in the midst of what was up-until-then probably the most well-received run in the history of "Captain America," which would help ease transitions from issue to issue. "Iron Man," "Thor" and "Avengers West Coast" were added to the lineup and they were off and running.

The story is a spiritual sequel to the Roy Thomas epic "Kree-Skrull War" which ran in 1971 and 1972 and is considered by many to be one of the first "comic events." To shake things up, Harras - who was editor at the X-Men at the time - borrowed the Shiar galactic empire from their series and set them against the alien Kree. Much like with the "Kree-Skrull War" there isn't very much of a war going on, as the story centres around how it affects earth and - more specifically - the Avengers.

What follows is a story that splits off into about five directions, interacting fairly seamlessly like a well-made TV show. Given that it's jumping between seven series and multiple writing and art teams, this creates some issues. There are some clear stylistic differences that pop up and the amount of talent from team-to-team varies. Gruenweld is by far the best writer of the bunch here as his issues with Cap and Quasar are stellar. Harras, Tom DeFalco ("Thor") and Len Kaminsky ("Iron Man") are also up to snuff. It's interesting reading a big story with the "Eric Masterson" Thor featured so prominently. It's odd, yet fascinating to have a Thunder God who doesn't use archaic expressions like "verily" and "Od's blood" and talks like a normal guy.

However, the issues of "Wonder Man" by Gerard Jones are not very good. Characters act out of step to put over Simon Williams, including a ridiculous scene with the the dehumanized Vision. The art is also terrible. While the body language is dynamic, the characters' facial expressions are laughable which takes away from the weight of a huge story moment. Also, the writing work of Roy Thomas and his wife Dann in "Avengers West Coast" is incredibly dated, like a 20-year-old relic then in something that is a 20-year-old relic now. How many times does Scarlet Witch have to say she's about to use her special HEX power?

Despite all that, like I said, the teams still manage to put together a cohesive narrative with a clear beginning, middle and an end. The Kree steal Shiar artifacts, the Shiar react by threatening to use a doomsday weapon, and they're manipulated into endangering both our solar system and the Kree Empire. The Avengers split off into three groups - one led by Cap, Iron Man and Hawkeye (becoming "Goliath" again in a nice nod to the "Kree-Skrull War"), one led by the black female Captain Marvel and Thor, and one left behind to hold the fort which results in the hothead USAgent clashing with She-Hulk and getting smacked around by Mockingbird. Truly a highlight issue for the extended prose-plagued Thomas. The best issues are the ones that follow Cap's team thanks to the writing prowess mainly of Gruenweld and Harras. Still, there are times that reading this felt like a slog.

Fortunately, the ending more than makes up for it. It's shocking, wide-eyed stuff. Twist after twist with a heavy - if slightly black-and-white - moral dilemma. Reading Cap and the rest of the team deal with the repercussions is compelling.

In all, it's a fine set, split into two trades by Marvel. It's practically out of print, but overdue for an Omnibus collection which will surely come out eventually. As a bonus, the second trade includes an excellent "What If?" two-parter, though the first issue is marred by some page-order mistakes. The incredible part two more than makes up for it. Again... holy s***, what an ending.

Rating: 7/10

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