I read a lot of comics. Because of the availability of graphic novels at the public library, I read far more than I could ever afford to buy. Let me tell you, comics fans, the public library is your friend when it comes to comics. Whether you like American superheroes, Japanese manga, European sophistry, or the Independents, the Library is your best friend when it comes to getting an entertainment fix without breaking the bank. Of course, you could always just stand around the comics shop and browse through stuff on the rack, but really, who has time for that? And, it is hardly fair to your friendly local comics dealer.
I hardly ever buy Marvel, not because I don’t like Marvel comics–for the most part Marvel publishes high quality good stuff. It’s just that my finances are strained to the breaking point already in keeping up with the books inspired by Robert E . Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, and a few other notable purveyors of swords and sorcery, sword-and-planet, or jungle/lost worlds adventures. Conan, Kull, Tarzan, John Carter, Elric–these are the titles I must buy as they appear. Throw in the occasional Justice League or Green Lantern or Ka-Zar, and my finances are overstretched.
But, just as I love the Justice League, so do I also love the Avengers. And, last week I read the best Avengers tale ever. Here is a brief teaser for it:
They were friends, brothers and teammates through all of Marvel’s greatest adventures, but recent events turned them into the bitterest of enemies. In the wake of the siege of Asgard, Thor, Iron Man and Steve Rogers are brought together on the same side once more – but these great heroes can’t truly trust each other yet. They better start soon, because something only the Big Three can handle is tearing their world apart. This all-new, grand and dangerous adventure – uniting comics legend Alan Davis with Avengers scribe Brian Bendis for the first time – will catapult our heroes into the explosive Heroic Age! Collecting AVENGERS PRIME #1-5.
I’m going to sum up the story very quickly. The old Asgard is gone–I don’t know why–I’d better go catch up on Thor’s adventures at wikipedia.org. Thor has been rebuilding the Realm Not-So-Eternal in the boondocks of Oklahoma. Norman Osborn goes nuts and attacks it with his coalition of supervillains disguised as superheroes and government goons. The Avengers and other heroic types gather to defend it. That all takes place in other comics. Somehow, Thor, Iron Man, and Steve Rogers (not Captain America at the moment because Bucky Barnes–whose survival story is at least as strange as Cap’s–is wearing the wings and toting the shield) get transported to one of the other nine worlds–the world of elves, giants, trolls, and dragons. And none of them like Thor, or his friends–a fact that both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are a little slow to appreciate. Thus they meet with hostility wherever they go. Throw the ever-beguiling Enchantress and the Death Goddess incarnate, Hela, Queen of Hell, into the mix and our boys have women trouble. Big trouble!
I’m not going to go into the plot, the struggles, the heroics of the big three. They are heroes. You know they will prevail and make things right by the end of the book. Apparently, it was a 5 issue mini-series, but I like it better all collected into one graphic novel. How they do it makes for one of Bendis’s best stories ever.
Because, while most comics make me smile, sometimes even laugh, this one made me cry–or almost. I was so choked up at the end of it that it took me 10 minutes of walking to get my emotions back under control. You see, Bendis wrote a story of triumph, but it was shot through with sadness. A giant helps Tony Stark in his moment of need, and for that good deed, the giant is immolated by the dragon Fafnir. I identify with that giant who personifies the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” A beautiful Elf healer girl falls in love with Captain America. Without her help they would not have made it to the endgame. She is abandoned–her love was hopeless. No good deed goes unpunished. Thor has to shoulder the burden for every inequity ever commited by Odin and the gods of Asgard, and also take a sword thrust through the gut. He’s a god. He survives it. But it had to hurt a lot. No good deed goes unpunished!
Bendis might not have been trying to say “No good deed goes unpunished.” He was telling a story of the triumph of heroes over incredibly hellish difficulties and tremendous odds. He was talking about the renewal of friendship and the failure of evil to triumph. Those are noble themes, but my heart went out to the secondary characters who suffered in order to achieve the final triumph. Gods and heroes walked away happy. Lesser characters, mortals like you and me, suffered and died that the gods and heroes might triumph. I was left feeling incredibly sad, because I am not a god or a hero. It wasn’t my triumph. I know I would have been one of the dead ones in that story.
No good deed goes unpunished! Great story, Mr. Bendis. Terrific art, Mr. Davis.
If you have read The Avengers Prime, I’d love to see your comments on the story.