As someone introduced to comics in the era reprinted in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus - Volume 1 and Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus (among others) I was never quite sure how the early years of the Marvel Age would read. Sure, the Lee-Kirby 'Fantastic Four' and the Lee-Ditko 'Spider-Man' were certified classics, but what of the 'lesser' titles?
The new Avengers film could be this summer's biggest blockbuster, but, yes, the 'Avengers' *was* one of Marvel's 'lesser' titles when it started. 'Spider-Man' and even 'Daredevil' had their own comics but none of the first Avengers, bar Thor, had books to themselves, just shared features in other titles.
Actually, this bunch of stories holds up quite well. (Still not quite a Lee-Kirby F.F. or a Lee-Ditko Spider-Man, but what is?) Some may find both the stories and the art "crude" or "unsophisticated". I find them bursting with raw energy, myths in the making before they were set in stone. (Mjolnir does not always return to Thor's hand! Captain America's indestructible shield is, so he fears, destructible!)
But enough of the historical perspective, here is a rundown of the thirty comics in this tome. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)
'Avengers' 1: 'The Coming of the Avengers!' -- Loki tries to trap Thor, but only succeeds in drawing together the Hulk, Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp too. (The gist of the new film, perhaps?)
'Avengers' 2: 'The Space Phantom' -- A shapeshifting alien comes to Earth on a reconnaissance mission. He succeeds in creating just enough of a rift in the ranks for one of the founding members to resign. (And Thor offers fashion tips to the Hulk!)
'Avengers' 3: 'Sub-Mariner!' -- Prince Namor recruits the Hulk in his battle against the surface world.
'Avengers' 4: 'Captain America joins the Avengers' -- Continuing where the last issue left off, the Sub-Mariner succeeds in accidentally releasing the long-lost hero of World War II, and the pursuing Avengers then revive him. Rick Jones is invited to become Captain America's partner.
'Avengers' 5: 'The Invasion of the Lava Men!' -- Picking up from 'Fantastic Four' 26, the Avengers, with the Hulk's unwitting aid, take on Thor's old foe, the Lava Man, now accompanied by all his brothers. (Bonus: The letter columns begin, all reprinted in this Omnibus.)
'Avengers' 6: 'Masters of Evil' -- Baron Zemo emerges from the jungles of South America, and recruits the Radioactive Man, the Melter and the Black Knight to take on the Avengers. (And Thor gives readers a lesson in property rights!)
'Avengers' 7: 'Their Darkest Hour' -- The Avengers suspend Iron Man just as two exiled Asgardians, the Enchantress and the Executioner, join forces with Baron Zemo.
'Avengers' 8: 'Kang the Conqueror' -- The Avengers take a break from battling 20th century Nazis to take on the 40th century variety.
'Avengers' 9: 'The coming of the Wonder Man' -- Don Heck takes over from Jack Kirby as the penciller. The Masters of Evil empower a normal human, giving him superpowers to take on the Avengers.
'Avengers' 10: 'The Avengers break up!' -- Immortus comes out of Limbo to the assistance of the Masters of Evil.
'Avengers' 11: 'Spider-Man!' -- Kang returns in a story apparently designed to prove that only Ditko could draw Spider-Man...
'Avengers' 12: 'This Hostage Earth!' -- The Fantastic Four's first foe, the master of yet another subterranean race, emerges from the depths! The Fantastic Four's Communist foe joins him halfway through this issue! The Fantastic Four are *not* in this comic!
'Avengers' 13: 'The Castle of Count Nefaria!' -- The Maggia boss comes over from Europe, and tricks the U.S. into fighting the Avengers. (The Fantastic Four make a brief cameo.)
'Avengers' 14: 'Even Avengers can die!' -- Her fellow members race to rescue the Wasp, injured in the previous issue's battle, and end up meeting yet another mysterious alien race.
'Avengers' 15: 'Now, by my hand shall die a villain!' -- Captain America and Rick Jones confront Baron Zemo in the jungle, while his fellow Avengers take on the rest of the Masters of Evil back home.
'Avengers' 16: 'The old order changeth!' -- Jack Kirby returns to pencils for a single issue, as Marvel decides to change everything. The founding members leave, and are replaced by a trio of former villains.
'Avengers' 17: 'Four against the Minotaur!' -- Cap's Kooky Quartet try to find the Hulk, to add some raw power to a severely underpowered team, but succeed only in a second battle with the Mole Man.
'Avengers' 18: 'When the Commissar commands!' -- One of the more intriguing tales actually, as the Commissar sets out to prove "that the Reds are superior to Freedom's Champions".
'Avengers' 19: 'The coming of... the Swordsman!' -- Hawkeye's origin is revealed. Captain America jumps off a roof after S.H.I.E.L.D. does not recruit him... (Or something like that...)
'Avengers' 20: 'Vengeance is Ours!' -- The art improves by leaps and bounds as the great Wally Wood takes up the brushes! (Stan Lee was so excited he put it on the cover!) After failures by foes of the Fantastic Four and Thor, an old Iron Man signs up to take on the Avengers by using the Swordsman.
'Avengers' 21: 'The Bitter Taste of Defeat!' -- Erik Josten gets a new name, new clothes, and new powers courtesy of the Enchantress. They do a much better job than the old Masters of Evil...
'Avengers' 22: 'The Road Back!' -- The Avengers put Power Man and the Enchantress in their place, and still have enough panels to beat the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime! Captain America leaves the team! And Stan Lee gives reader David Mackidd a lesson on why comics should join the crusade against Communism...
'Avengers' 23 and 24: 'Once an Avenger...' and 'From the Ashes of Defeat' -- Kang draws the Avengers into his own time, to impress Princess Rowena. Then they all join hands as Kang's generals turn on him...
'Avengers' 25: 'Enter... Dr. Doom!' -- The Avengers apparently needed sales so badly that a blurb on the cover pleaded with fans not to miss a guest appearance by the Fantastic Four. Captain America forgets just who rules Latveria!
'Avengers' 26: 'The Voice of the Wasp!' -- Two of the original Avengers return, and the Wasp flies off towards New York to warn the city about an impending attack by the Sub-Mariner. All she can do, however, is to be captured by Attuma, then escape just long enough to warn the Avengers...
'Avengers' 27: 'Four against the Flood Tide' -- The Avengers wrap up the battle with Attuma, but where is the Wasp?
'Avengers' 28: 'Among us walks... a Goliath!' -- Another founding member returns to his costumed form, as the Avengers battle the Collector.
'Avengers' 29: 'This Power Unleashed!' -- Power Man, the Swordsman, and a brainwashed Black Widow join together to take on the Avengers at the bidding of the Communists.
'Avengers' 30: 'Frenzy in a Far-off Land!' -- The Avengers' mutant siblings take time off to recharge their waning powers, Goliath goes to South America to find a way to shrink, and the others snap the Black Widow out of her brainwashing... All this and the classic line, "You're not wearing a moustache... and you've got wavy hair... so you must be a *good* guy!"
All kidding aside, this is a marvelous (no pun intended!) collection. Rather to my own surprise, both story and art take a leap for the better following the grand shakeup in issue 16. The interplay between Captain America and Hawkeye, in particular, is beautifully sketched out across issues.
You can't buy the original comics -- issue 1 and issue 4 in particular -- without shelling out serious cash, individual issues going for far more than this one book. I have twelve of the thirty issues collected in this giant tome, and don't regret buying it one bit.
There is none of the horrible color registration that was the plague of Silver Age printing, and the Omnibus size is just a bit bigger than the original comics. You also get all the letter columns, plus a few extras (nice but not necessary to me.)
The one thing I do not like is the cover. John Romita Jr. is a fantastic artist but he has slipped up this once; Thor's face is so twisted that he actually looks more evil than Loki. But, eh, you do find all the covers inside the book.
One final point: Marvel follows a print-and-run policy with Omnibus volumes. Check out the prices for Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 1: Granov Variant (v. 1) or Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Variant Version) (v. 1), then buy this one before it too goes out of print.
Throughly recommended to all fans of Marvel Comics, and to all students of comic book history, and, above all, to anyone who just wants a good read!
N.B.: In classic Marvel fashion, this Omnibus ends on a cliffhanger. Bring on Volume 2. And an Omnibus for the Sub-Mariner. And one for Doctor Strange. And for Ant Man and the Wasp. And...