Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who's the Best... Avengers Writer?


Doug:  What a hall-of-fame!  Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, Kurt Busiek.  Glad you're making this call and not me!



 

18 comments:

dbutler16 said...

This is pretty tough, obviously. One of the reasons the Avengers is my all time favorite Marvel title is the fact that they've had so many great writers. I can't just point to one run and say that that's THE Avenger run.

Anyway, for me, Roy Thomas is #1. He brought the Avengers into the Bronze Age. He co-created Yellowjacket and (arguably) their greatest adversary, Ultron. He also wrote the Bronze Age classic, Kree-Skrull War. It ended with a bit of a fizzle, but such a grand epic was virtually unheard of at the time.

After Roy, I might actually put Jim Shooter second. I know his run was sporadic, but he did write two of my all time favorite Avengers stories (if not my top two) in The Korvac Saga and The Bride of Ultron. I first started collecting The Avengers during Shooter’s run. I also enjoyed Englehart’s run a lot (Avengers/Defenders War, Celestial Madonna, and The Serpent Crown) , and I think that Dave Michelenie is a very underrated Avengers scribe, who is probably in my top 5. I liked Roger Stern’s run a lot, too . Not only is Avengers Under Siege an all-time Avengers classic, but I loved his redemption of Hank Pym in #227-230, with its climax in #229. Of course, I have to mention Stan Lee, who wrote the first 34 issues and got the whole thing started. I think perhaps the best thing he did (other than getting things going in #1 and re-introducing Captain America in #4) is to dump the superstars and go in a daring new direction with Cap’s Kooky Quartet. I love the way Hawkeye gave Cap a hard time at first but Cap earned his respect and friendship over the years, though I think much of that development was in Roy Thomas’ run.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something or someone, but that’s what’s in my head at the moment.

david_b said...

Wow, dbutler16, you summed it up extremely well. Roy's never been given enough credit for his shaping of the team (and many other titles early on..).

Coming in under Englehart, I loved how he brought Swordsman back, then really layered in some nice internal tension with the relationships. Still sad he had to perish, but them's the breaks, I suppose.

Very much agreeing on Lee carving out a nice relationship between Cap and Hawkeye, making their relationship as satisfying to read as Spidey's background cast of characters (in terms of banter and overall growth). These relationships really grew on you over time. Glad Stan Lee thought to really challenge his writers to add dimension to our heroes especially in team titles (following the style of early FF stories..), adding personalities and vulnerabilities, ultimately pushing them away from the paper-thin banter of DC team titles at that time.

William said...

For me it's Jim Shooter all the way. He wrote what I consider to be the 5 best issues of the Avengers ever produced (#161, 162, 164, 165, 166). By far, my favorite issues of the Avengers.

Second for me, would be David Michelinie. He wrote all my other favorite Avengers books (that were all drawn my John Byrne), so I don't know how much that may have enhanced my appreciation for his writing.

Doug said...

We could turn this into a two-part question based off William's comment, which took dbutler's a step further:

For any of the writers on the Avengers, who was your favorite and what was, in your opinion, the zenith of their body of work?

Doug

Anonymous said...

Oh boy.

Stan really pushed the team dynamic. He took the bickering thing, which worked so well in the FF, and added some real grit, because where the FF were basically family and always going to kiss and make up, fights within the Avengers had the potential to be really serious and life threatening. I liked the fact that the kooky quartet really had to fight as a team or get the crap kicked out of them. The original team with Thor and Iron Man were virtually unstoppable except by a huge confederation super baddies like the Masters of Evil.

Roy added a lot of characterisation. Hank & Jan kind of became the heart of the team and then he removed them. Created the Vision and Ultron. Clint’s love of Natasha. Magneto re-asserting his power over Wanda & Pietro. Lots of back stories & character development.

Englehart – superb. Comic book as soap opera, but with galactic size battles, jumping about in time and ret conning all the way to Marvel Comics #1. He was the Tolkien of Avengers writers. Lots of complex love affairs and triangles (Vision – Wanda – Hawkeye – Mantis – Swordsman).

Shooter – hate the guy, but he wrote great stories. Actually, we talk about the plots (Korvac, Gyrich, Ultron, Nefaria) but it was his dialogue that was so good. Characters bantered and interacted, chatted, and even flirted.

Michelinie I’m not too sure about. His finest hour was surely the Wungadore story, but I think that had more to do with Gruenwald & Grant.

Mark Gruenwald, btw, died tragically young and had his ashes recycled as a comic book. You’ve got to hope it was the TPB of Deadman. He’d have liked that.

My final vote goes Stainless, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone. Those first 199 issues are virtually a continuous high.

Richard

Doug said...

I believe Gru's ashes went into the ink for the coloring of the Squadron Supreme tpb. Someone correct me if that's inaccurate information, please.

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, I think you're right about Gru's ashes.
I'm going to vote for Michelinie as the best writer, just because that run of issues from #181 to a little after #200 is my personal favorite period for the Avengers, which probably has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. With reference to the follow-up question, I think most of that phase was a zenith for Michelinie and all of the other writers (and artists) involved on the title, although I would say issue #200 itself was a nadir - nobody involved in the plotting and scripting of that issue, and besides Michelinie, this included Shooter, Perez and Bob Layton, can be proud of that mess, regardless of how pretty the art was.
In fact, with reference to that second question, I would say for Jim Shooter, the zenith was the "Bride of Ultron," Count Nefaria and Korvac stories, while his nadir was when he took over as main writer in issue #211 and proceeded to screw up Hank Pym, and also Tigra.

J.A. Morris said...

I'd say Englehart was the best, his issues were the first Avengers back issues I ever read.

Shooter is a very close 2nd, love me some Kovac saga & other stuff.

Doug said...

I need to re-read the Korvac Saga. I don't think I've read it since I bought the individual issues off the spinner racks!

Of course, a few years ago Bendis said none of that stuff "holds up"; funny, I didn't include his name in the original post and no one has yet brought his name up as their favorite. Wonder why?

Here's another question -- who ultimately did more harm to the franchise creatively (because you can't argue against Bendis sales-wise among the fanboys of today's market) -- Shooter or Bendis?

Doug

david_b said...

Hurt the franchise most..? The days of Layton and Milgrom art just prior to Stern\Buscema arriving. Those stories were just worthless..

Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Thomas and Englehart had great runs, but for me Stern's was the best. I loved the Masters of Evil fights and the issues (236, 237) where Spider-Man almost joined up.

(Also issue 258, the Amazing Spider-Man crossover where Spidey pounded Firelord.)

Mike W.

Dougie said...

I'll rank my favourites in terms of how entertaining I found both dialogue and plotting:

Englehart for the Celestial Madonna and the Wackos.
Thomas: for the Vision and the Kree/Skrull War
Shooter: I hated the fall of Hank Pym at the time but it's really daring, in retrospect.
Michelinie: for Hank and Simon and for Gyrich.
Stern: for Monica Rambeau and the Black Knight
Lee (sorry, Stan; I found the Kooky Quartet quite dull!)

Beyond the Bronze Age, I'd say: Busiek, Harras ( for Sersi/Dane/Crystal) then Bendis. I have enjoyed a lot of what BB's done since 2005. Much of it has been akin to the spirit of the Bronze Age, like making characters as disparate as Spidey and Squirrel Girl work as Avengers. Some of his other selections haven't convinced me, however, especially Dr. Strange, the Thing, Iron Fist and Daredevil.

Rip Jagger said...

"Rascally" Roy Thomas is Avengers writer A Number One.

"Stainless" Steve Englehart comes in a strong second.

Followed in third place by "Cavortin'" Kurt Busiek.

After that I give the fourth place finish to Roger "Sterno" Stern.

The fifth slot goes to "Big" Jim Shooter.

The rest can fight it out for the scraps.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Hmmm, david_b, the whole first part of Stern's run worthless? I agree the art was less than stellar (and I think you're mixing up Brett Breeding with Bob Layton), but I recall some of the stories were actually pretty good.

vancouver mark said...

I started reading marvels just after Englehart's run began, so he defined the Avengers for me, and is still my favorite. His final issues, with George Perez and the Squadron Supreme, were incredible.

Roy Thomas of course had an amazing run, and was graced with some excellent artists. I especially loved the three parter he did with Barry Smith, reuniting every past Avenger and going to Olympus.

Crimson Cowl said...

I'd find it virtually impossible to pick an absolute #1. My favourite era would be the so-called 'Shooter Years' where big Jim wrote the book, but continued to take a hand in it during David Micheline's run. Both would be amongst my favourite Avengers writers.

Roy Thomas is neck and neck there. As people have said, he contributed so much to making the Avengers what they are.

Second tier from here:

It's a contoversial choice but I love John Byrne's run on Avengers West Coast, so he's got to be in the running.

Like others have said, I felt the Stern era was solid enough but often mediocre when Milgrom was doing the art but it really reached a much higher level when John Buscema came back on board. Great stuff, although the destruction of Avengers Mansion wasn't a good move IMO. Rog definitely oversaw one of the best Avengers eras.

As for others:

Stan Lee's early work is important and there's some essential foundation work that did teams like this in a new way. Some of his later work on the title didn't always seem like his best though.

Kurt Busiek's run is okay but largely seems to be an exercise in nostalgia to me. It certainly did a good job in steadying the ship after many years of very poor writing though. Where he really wins points is with Avengers Forever which is one of the very best Avengers stories ever. Fantastic.

I've never been an Engelhart fan. The whole Celestial Madonna thing is just not The Avengers to me. I really dislike his run on West Coast Avengers too. His last stories on the Avengers, which were graced with Perez art with Kang in the wild west and the Squadron Supreme are outstanding though so he gets some kudos with me for those.

Matthew Bradley said...

Not going to upset the apple cart by disagreeing sharply with prior comments, but since AVENGERS is my long-term favorite book, I must weigh in. I'd certainly narrow it down to Lee, Thomas, and Englehart.

As with most of the major Marvel characters, you have to give Stan credit for co-creating the team, and when it comes to mixing up his own formula, you could hardly do better than adding Cap to the mix and then segueing pretty quickly into the Kooky Quartet, one of my favorite periods in Assemblers history. But I think it's worth noting that this and X-MEN were the first two books that Stan, who held on to some of his favorites well into the '70s, entrusted to his successor, Roy. Don't know if it's a coincidence that both were team books; maybe he preferred to focus on individual characters, aside from the FF.

Despite my great love for the book, I think AVENGERS took a little while to find its feet, and that the same was true of Roy's scripting therein. Conversely, I loved Stan's first dozen or so issues of X-MEN, with that epic feel of an ongoing war betwen good and evil mutants, rather than random stand-alone stories. When he took over, Roy was hampered by the rapidly deteriorating artwork that dragged the whole thing down, and quite frankly, his own efforts during that era were far from his best. The Friedrich/Drake period that followed was a disaster, and Roy only excelled when he returned with Neal Adams doing the artwork.

I point this out as a contrast to what happened in AVENGERS when Roy found his groove and John Buscema succeeded Don Heck (who admittedly defined the look of the team for some of us). I'm in the midst of re-reading Roy's run on the book now, c. 1969, and astounded at the high average level of quality. It also bears noting that Roy's was, I believe, one of the longer runs on any post-Stan book, and I think his introduction of the Vision alone just kicked it up to a whole new level. Other additions such as Ultron and Yellowjacket also help him lay claim to being perhaps the greatest Avengers writer of all. However...

...Englehart was at the helm when I became a serious reader, so his work has an incomparable nostalgia value for me. It goes without saying that any Marvel writer builds on the contributions of those who went before him, yet particularly in this case, I think that what Stainless did would not have been possible without Roy's efforts, so I love them both, perhaps equally. For me, the signature Englehart saga is not that of the Celestial Madonna (much as I admire that), but the Avengers/Defenders war. I also feel compelled to remind folks that Gerry Conway did what I consider some very fine work on the strip in between Englehart and the Shooter Apocalypse.

Won't bother beating the dead Jim Shooter horse here, but will say that after him, it's mostly a blur for me, especially since I have read many of those later issues far fewer times than the vintage stuff I grew up on. There seems to have been a profusion of fairly brief stints by others between and after his two tours of duty on the book, none of which stands out in my memory. I bowed out with #262 in 1985, during Stern's run, by which time I'd lost my enthusiasm for the whole thing, so I can't really comment on his work, either.

Tony Gunns (sevensoldiers@gmail.com) said...

Engelhart, no question. The body of his work speaks for itself. And in the modern era, its hard to beat Remender's Secret Avengers. Sensational, creative storytelling.

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