By Archeologist X
A look at classic, obscure and weird and quirky comic book runs.
“Bob Harras’ Proto Bomber Jacket era” Avengers 334-344
This was the very first portion of Bob Harras’ run which was eventually interrupted by a few fill in issues and the 90s mega Avengers cross-over Operation: Galactic Storm before continuing…
Avengers 334 begins a six issue story arc, all written by Harras with Pencils by Andy Kubert and Inks by Tom Palmer. 335-339 are also written by Harras with Inks by Palmer, but Steve Epting starts his run as semi-regular penciler. The story starts with a strange crash on the blue area of the moon. Since this side of the moon is home to the Inhumans, they send a team to investigate, including Quicksilver. If you didn’t know, he’s married to the Inhuman princess, Crystal which makes them both liaisons between the Inhuman royal family and the Avengers.
Of course, since this is the world of comics, the crashed vessel was a prison ship and the escapees just happen to be alien conquerors who may or may not dress like gaudy 90s action figures. The action figure brigade is led by a warlord named Thane Ector which is one of the dumbest villain names in the long history of dumb villain names. “When your migraine makes life miserable, try doctor approved Thane Ector.”
Thane Ector and the action figure brigade beat the crap out of Quicksilver and the Inhumans. Crystal and the teleportin’ Inhuman dog, LockJaw arrive at the Avenger’s mansion and ask for their help. We quickly learn that Thane Ector’s captor was none other than that creepy old bastard, the Collector.
Thane and his crew apparently made short work of the old fogy and plan on taking over Earth. Within the six issues of Bob Harras’ first full length Avengers tale, there are twists, turns and inner turmoil within the team. All of these are factors that were the signature elements of the wildly popular X-Men books of the era.
After their first full storyline as a creative team, Bob Harras and Steve Epting are put on the side lines for a few fill issues. Issue 340 is written by David Michelinie (Co-creator of Venom) with Pencils by Paul Abrams and Inks by Chuck Barnette and R. Jones. The story must have been just sitting in a file somewhere, waiting to be plugged in during a lull in the schedule. It’s not engaging in the least and involves a crazed man in a compound that uses his own children as a private army. While that would sound intriguing in any other setting, this is the Avengers. They just fought ancient gods, Doctor Freaking Doom, alien warlords and the collector. Now…some rando dude and his kid compound?
While the overall issue is a snooze, it is more unsettling in this day and age to see children armed with assault rifles than it was back when this first saw print in 1991.
The next issue begins a two part storyline written by one of my favorite writers, Fabian Nicieza. Steve Epting and Tom Palmer return for the Pencils and Inks. This short story is incredibly topical both then and now and deals with racism and how characters in a world populated by super beings would handle such social injustices.
Copyright 2018 Marvel
In Avengers 343, the team of Harras, Epting and Palmer (Sounds like a 1970s soft rock band) return to give us what will be their signature look, style and story line for their tenure of the book…but there’s a slight hiccup in the beginning of their arc.
This issue sets up the Avengers roster that we will see for the duration of the impending “Bomber Jacket Era”. Crystal, the aforementioned Inhuman Princess joins the team, moving into Avengers Mansion with her child and her Inhuman nanny Marilla. The regular son of Odin has temporarily trusted his mantle to a human named Erik Masterson.
As Thor, Masterson continues his mentor’s Avengers duties, eventually becoming a sort of co-Thor called Thunderstrike. The team is attacked by some generic, battle droid looking robo bastards who are just part of a simulation Captain America and Black Widow whipped up as a test for the new team. Black Knight and Hercules beat the hell out of the droids and are joined in the battle by Thor and Crystal. I always like how these “tests” that super heroes compete in during training sessions always seem to cause so much damage and destruction yet no one is complaining that million dollar robo technology just went up in flames.
Harras and crew are very good at bringing human emotion into their super hero dramas. While many people may not have liked how similar the tone was to the X-men books of the era, that’s why I loved the Harras, Epting, Palmer run so much. There is a very good scene between Black Widow and Captain America which not only explains what happened to the other members of the team, but it goes a long way in showing Captain America as a real person who battles with doubts and regrets just like all of us.
Harras does what he is really good at by mixing in some marital drama between the estranged Quicksilver and Crystal. Despite being an android, Vision also has his fair share of emotional distress when memories of his late children begin to haunt him. This will end up being a teaser to what is in store for the team later.
The team get a distress call from Johnny Storm. It seems that a powerful maniac is ripping through New York and beat the crap out of the Fantastic Four. We find out that the mystery menace is none other than the long dead Swordsman and a mystery woman named Magdalene.
In issue 344 The alternate Swordsman battles it out with the Black Knight in one of this run’s coolest fight sequences.
We’re also greeted with an interlude depicting a Shi’ar space ship near the sun. When we return to the battle, the Black Knight defeats the Swordsman, but the false Avenger is rescued by the mysterious Magdalene. She whisks the Swordsman to the safety of their hideout where we meet the master mind with a stupid name, Proctor. After Proctor helps the Swordsman, we learn that someone else has his eye on the strange space ship…none other than Baldy McBalderson, the Watcher who is ready to warn the Avengers of a massive threat.
Now for the aforementioned hiccup in the Harras, Epting, Palmer run…Their story is put on hold momentarily for some cosmic shenanigans…that lead to a multi-title, money making cash cow event. It is a really great cash cow event, by the way. When the Shi’ar and the Kree become embroiled in a massive war that reaches the Earth, the Watcher warns the Avengers which leads to one of my favorite Avengers crossovers of the 1990s. While the name Operation: Galactic Storm will naturally illicit memories of the real life Operation: Desert Storm, there is no wacky Kree Saddam Hussein or shape shifting Skrull George H.W. Bush. Thankfully. This story is meant to be a spiritual successor to the classic Kree/Skrull War and it really nails the feeling of the original in vast and epic scope.