Marvel Adventures Avengers #14

Background

The Avengers-- Spider-Man, Captain America, Storm, Iron Man, Giant-Girl, Wolverine, and Hulk [sic]-- battle injustice in an all-ages format. Good for them! It's good for us readers, too.

Story 'The Avenging Seven'

  Marvel Adventures Avengers #14
Summary: Spider-Man appears
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Writer: Jeff Parker
Pencils: Leonard Kirk
Inker: Terry Pallot

It's an alien world, with giant lizards and strange architecture. But it's not completely foreign: the strong are still at the mercy of the weak. One farming village is preparing for the imminent arrival of a band of brigands. These brigands, led by one Gorg, come every year, extorting tribute from the villagers with the threat of genocide. The villagers are divided on the question of what to do about this: some advocate paying the tribute, while others reject this as appeasement. Kika, the Spunky Girl With a Daring Plan, hopes to use the village's magical artifact, the Hawkstone, to hire seven heroes from far away to save the village. Her Wise Old Grandfather isn't impressed with that plan, but Kika goes through it anyway, using the Hawkstone to travel through the village's magical gateway to New York.

Why does the village have a magical gateway and artifact? I don't know; it's a mystery.

Cut to the Museum of Natural History, where Kika has just tumbled through an ancient stone doorway, a counterpart to the magical gateway in her own village. The museum staff, unimpressed, assume she's a thief spinning them a tale, and try to confiscate the Hawkstone, but luckily for her Jarvis is browsing the exhibits and summons the Avengers to investigate. The Avengers arrive in about seventy seconds, which seems pretty fast; I'm guessing they broke some New York laws about speed limits. Either that or they parked the Quinjet in the handicapped spot. Moved by Kika's tearful pleas, the Avengers travel through the gateway to save her people from Gorg's bandits.

So: a poor farming village appeals to the compassion of seven mighty warriors to save them from an imminent bandit attack. Seems to me we've heard this story before. But, as has been observed of Woody Allen's appropriations of Ingmar Bergman, if you commit your thefts in plain sight, it's not stealing, it's homage.

Iron Man offers a novel strategy: with his technology it would be easy to find Gorg's band and launch a pre-emptive strike on it, eliminating the threat. It's an interesting proposal, especially as most superhero stories are about the heroes reacting to a threat rather than being proactive. But Wolverine makes the even-more-interesting counter-argument, namely that dispersing Gorg's band isn't enough, as it will just come back later, when the Avengers aren't around.

"Wolverine's right on this one," says Cap. ("Did your suit just record that?" Wolverine asks Iron Man. "Yeah. I'll email it to you.") The Avengers aren't going to save these people, but instead are going to help the villagers defend themselves. Cap, Wolverine, and Spider-Man begin teaching martial arts to the men, while Storm teaches them to the women (judo, apparently). Meanwhile Iron Man and Giant-Girl begin building fortifications around the village, most notably a gigantic stone wall. Hulk tries to help, but has so much fun he reverts back to his Banner-self, and (as Banner) pitches in by teaching the farmers all about improved irrigation, water filtration, and other agricultural techniques.

As Gorg's band approaches, the Avengers change into new costumes modeled on local fashion, so that the heroes seem to be cut from the same cloth, so to speak, as the people with whom they are fighting alongside. In a more radical departure from their usual practice, Cap informs his team that Wolverine will be field leader on this mission: Cap wants to do more than just beat Gorg's men, he wants to terrorize them so that they never return, and figures Wolverine is the man to make that happen. ("It.. it's... like some beautiful dream...!" rhapsodizes Logan.)

The battle is short but sweet. Giant-Girl and Banner, who Hulks out after Wolverine kicks him in the rear, make short work of the enemies' trolls. Storm demoralizes the human warriors with a fierce thunderstorm. And the remaining Avengers, leading a column of villagers, tears into the enemy. Once Wolverine punches Gorg in the crotch, the bandits lose their taste for battle and retreat, which will be a slog, as the Avengers confiscate their weapons and mounts before the bandits can escape.

"Huh. That wasn't so hard," says Iron Man.

"Sometimes it's easy," says Cap.

And with that the Avengers return to New York, bearing the reward the villagers insist they take: three tons of rice and beans. Zing!

General Comments

It's a cute story, more so if you're familiar with Kurosawa or any of the other homages that have been made to Seven Samurai. Interestingly, the fact that the Avengers handle this problem without breaking a sweat isn't unsatisfying; rather, it's a pleasant surprise, an upending of a comic-book trope that the struggle must always push the heroes to their limits (a subversion that the Iron Man--Cap exchange near the end highlights).

Memo to Mr. Parker, if you're reading this: this is a story that begs for a sequel. As the village seems to be in another world, there's nothing to stop the Avengers from returning in a few issues to find that years or decades have passed. It would be interesting to see what will have changed in the interim. Earth's history suggests that when you give agrarian peoples better agricultural yields, strong defensive fortifications, and ample weapons, the results are not always happy ones, especially for their neighbours. See any history of any Iron Age civilization in any place at any time for examples.

Overall Rating

It's a good story on its own, which would normally merit three webs. I'm granting a bonus of another web for the two surprises it offers: Cap's turning over command to Wolverine, and his reasons for doing so; and the fact that the Avengers face a problem that to them is not a life-or-death struggle, but a matter they can solve in a routine fashion.

Surprising the reader, in these jaded times, deserves a reward.

Footnote

I worried last time that Cap had been banished from these pages, in the light of his 616 counterpart's demise. I'm pleased to see that my fears were unfounded.