Issue(s): Avengers #334,Avengers #335, Avengers #336, Avengers #337, Avengers #338, Avengers #339
One thing is for sure. Bob Harras is putting his (or Marvel's) money where his mouth is. He didn't like stories about the X-Men dealing with space aliens, thinking that stuff like that was better suited to the FF or the Avengers. So this story is all about space aliens.
We start off with an explosion on the moon. Black Bolt sends an odd collection of Inhumans and Quicksilver to investigate. Odd because the group consists of Karnak (normal), Timberius (a former evil Inhuman), and an Alpha Primitive (who we have never seen being used for anything outside of slave labor before).
One thing you will notice about Andy Kubert's art is that people are always shouting, even when it doesn't make sense.
At the site of the explosion, the exploration party discover a smashed spaceship, and when they get close, they get trapped within a forcefield and find the invaders. Quicksilver gets out a partial transmission to the Avengers before getting cut off.
The three characters in the front are Thane Ector, Sybyl Dorn, and "Fool". Along with the bug-eyed monsters in the background, they are known as the Brethren.
The one called Fool theoretically plays a role like the fool in King Lear and the like, except that he's never ever funny or foolish. He gives sound advice or helpful information at all times, never mixed in riddles or anything like that.
The Avengers are currently at home working out...
...when they receive Quicksilver's broken signal, except that turns out to have been an unnecessary sequence because Crystal simultaneously shows up to alert the Avengers to the same problem.
Note Herc's yelling in both panels above, as well as Crystal's awkward brokeback position.
Crystal will become a member of the Avengers during this arc, so maybe Harras was already operating as regular writer at this point.
Crystal has come to the Avengers in part because she has issues with the Human Torch, and in part because Quicksilver is the Scarlet Witch's brother (not that she's around).
Is Quasar really the sort to call Crystal "pretty lady"?
The Avengers head to the moon, and Crystal reflects on the fact that both her marriage to Quicksilver, and the Vision's marriage to Scarlet Witch, have gone down the tubes. The Vision is not able to reciprocate.
When they arrive, the Avengers are greeted by a dour looking Black Bolt and Gorgon, and a very odd looking Medusa (and a regular looking Triton). These characters are not mind controlled.
More open mouths while the Inhumans try to bust through the Brethren's forcefield.
I guess it's more appropriate this time. But the overall impression from Kubert's issue is a bunch of people that are in a constant state of agitation.
While the heroes try to bust through the forcefield, the Brethren torture their captives inside. Quicksilver refuses to give up information, but Timberius directs their attention from the moon to Earth. The Brethren have heard of Earth, "the planet that first defeated Galactus".
Quasar and the Vision manage to combine their powers to break through the barrier, and the Avengers fight through the Brethren.
Thane Ector, Sybyl Dorn, and Fool leave for Earth, and it's noted that the rest of the Brethren suddenly become easier to fight after that, as if they are guided by a communal intelligence. After the fight, the Watcher shows up, being decidedly unfaithful to his vow of non-interference.
He shrinks down to human size and leads them into the ship that the Brethren came from.
And inside, they find the Collector.
So it turns out that the Brethren were captives of the Collector.
A final text page in issue #334 gives us a little background detail. An unusual touch.
Reservists Black Panther, Henry Pym, and Beast are called in to investigate the Collector's ship with Quasar while the rest of the team heads back to Earth to fight the Brethren. Here's some Epting art to compare to Kubert's.
Much more cartoony, but i think i like it better, especially in the second scan where Tom Palmer's inks are more obvious (Tony DeZuniga helped with the inks on this issue and may have done that first splash scan). Sybyl's vamping pose is a little silly, though.
It's been three days since the Brethren came to Earth, and they've been making "major forays against major population centers". Since we don't get to actually see that, it's unclear how much the Avengers have been fighting them, although it's said that the Avengers and SHIELD have been granted access to all countries under attack. But in the first confrontation (on Earth) that we actually see, Thane Ector takes an interest in Sersi.
Ok, some of this art is just not very good.
Steve Epting will go on to be one of my favorite artists during his Captain America run with Ed Brubaker. What we have here is obviously much earlier, but he had being doing stuff for First Comics, including Dreadstar, since 1989.
The art definitely veers into the cartoony. A major difference between inkers.
In what seems like a mismatch, Captain America fights Thane Ector and gets brutally beaten while Hercules is wasted fighting grunt Brethren. But the overall impression we're supposed to be getting is that the Brethren are unstoppable. Thane kidnaps Sersi, which upsets Sybl due to a combination of jealousy and the Brethren tradition of not keeping their foes alive.
Meanwhile, the science team and Quasar on the moon manage to revive the Collector.
But he's not entirely sane.
The Collector's collection is shrunken down into little canisters. To investigate the environment that the Brethren came from, Pym shrinks Black Panther, Beast, Quasar, and the Collector (Pym is unable to use his Particles on himself at this time) so that they can go on a Fantastic Voyage.
From issue #336 on, Tom Palmer is the sole inker, and sometimes the art looks like he's still inking John Buscema.
Back on Earth, the Brethren set up a giant device on the Twin Towers, an image that i assume was meant to evoke the majesty of the original Galactus story but just winds up making this story feel extra lame by comparison.
The Brethren send out giant soldiers to attack New York.
Captain America watches on a monitor and talks to the president (since he's injured, he is kind of sidelined, prompting a "those also serve who only stand and wait" line from Black Widow). It's said that the Fantastic Four are "doing all they can" and that some of the West Coast Avengers are also already in New York. And SHIELD is on "high alert" (not sure why they aren't actually deployed). Black Knight (who will also become a regular member going forward) has also been called in to bolster the Avengers' ranks.
And there is the team on the moon. Right now Black Panther is failing to be a good diplomat.
Which is ridiculous! Of all the characters there, he should be the best diplomat! (Also, those guys are totally lame and i have no idea why the Collector collected them.)
So the Avengers fight hopeless battles on Earth, the science team slowly investigate the Collector's ship, and Thane Ector woos Sersi, who is acting like a "shrinking violet" but happily that will turn out to be a ruse. There are also hints of a dark secret behind the Brethren. It becomes increasingly clear that the Brethren are actually super-intelligent bacteria, to the point where we're getting hints like Thane Ector going into the sewer to eat filth.
Meanwhile, here's where Crystal officially applies for membership. Note all the commentary about her potentially having been mind controlled without any definitive conclusion.
This is a continuation of a back and forth between Bob Harras (via X-Factor annual #2) and Steve Englehart regarding the heel turn that Quicksilver took during Steve Englehart's return, as well as Crystal's actions. Englehart is gone now, and Harras had an opportunity to rule it all out as mind control if he wanted to, but if anything he leans in the opposite direction.
Another membership related note: Rage is feeling inadequate.
There will be a few more scenes like that, and it reminds me a bit of when Captain Marvel was being pushed off the team. But it is much more subtly done than that.
Meanwhile, the Watcher gets a little more non-interfere-y, but only a little.
The science team eventually locate the canister where the Brethren were held and find an elderly Brethren that was left behind. When the Brethren find out that the Avengers have him (and their former captor, the Collector) they attack the Avengers.
The Black Widow is not really used properly in this book. She's left as the last line of defense against the Brethren, knowing that her firepower is not enough to hurt them.
As anyone who plays D&D knows, what she really ought to be doing is hiding in shadows and backstabbing when an opportunity presents itself.
But it's a moot point, because it turns out that the real threat of this story arc is not the Brethren, it's the Collector. That's probably not a surprise to anyone who has noted that the story is called the Collection Obsession, not Attack of the Brethren. But what is a surprise is the Collector's supposed true form.
What the Collector is really interested in is collecting humans from Earth. But he wants his collection to be exclusive, so he released the Brethren so that they could wipe out most of humanity, and he'd collect the rest.
But now that we're revealing things, we can also get the details on the Brethren's dark secret. They are indeed super-intelligent microbes. They were elevated by the Celestials.
In fact, supposedly, they were what the Celestials used to wipe out a planet when they found it unworthy.
But, according to the Collector, "that was all eons ago, and for some reason the Celestials lost interest" in the Brethren and just let them loose on the universe, where they rampaged until the Collector captured them. I don't like that idea (basically, i don't love the idea that the Celestials would have done something one way and then changed their minds; my vision of them is that they have been going about their mysterious business with methodological precision since the universe began). Luckily we're given an alternate interpretation at the end of this story, which is that the Celestials created the Brethren for the same reasons that they created Eternals and Deviants on other worlds, and the Brethren are essentially an Eternal strain of bacteria.
Before that, though, one more random observation. The Watcher non-interferes by reminding the Collector that he should know that humanity has a greater destiny than winding up as part of his collection.
In the entry for Fantastic Four #351, i wondered about a line saying that "the multiverse's higher powers have assigned a special destiny to the inhabitants of this world" as if it was already a given; at least this story is consistent with that idea.
Anyway, the Avengers fight the new and improved Collector for a bit and get nowhere, but Sersi eventually convinces the Brethren to accept their Eternal heritage and form a Uni-Mind to defeat the Collector.
I give a little more leeway to these bi-weekly summer events, treating them like big dumb summer blockbuster movies. And in that regard, this is a fine story. Not much in the way of characterization, but that's really fine. Where i get nervous is when a story like this starts looking like it's tampering with the origin of the Celestials, but that definitely seems like misdirection based on the ending. I also don't think much of the Collector's new form (which he retains at least long enough to appear that way in Marvel's 1992 trading card set). The Collector is a obsessive old guy, less an overt power threat than an eccentric cosmic weirdo that acts better behind the scenes. If he's secretly got this badass fighting form, why didn't he use it in the various times he's gone up against cosmic threats like Korvac, Galactus, or Thanos? But still, a one power up so that he can be the end boss is no big deal. I'd sum this up as mostly harmless, with a thumbs up for the Epting/Palmer art once it starts meshing.
One thing to note, though, is that the world is supposedly devastated after the Brethren attack. I mean, every major city on Earth attacked, lots of soldiers killed, etc.. And yet i don't think this story is so much as mentioned outside of this book. There's always a balance between acknowledging that you're working in a shared universe and not letting the stories in other books overwhelm your own, but i think writers need to be more careful about unleashing worldwide devastation if they know it's not going to be referenced elsewhere.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Quasar is wearing his Quasar #18 costume. That creates a little tangle of continuity. Quasar gets his new costume in Quasar #19-25, a story that takes place concurrently with Captain America #387-392. And Captain America #385-386 take place between Avengers West Coast #69-70 because of USAgent's guest appearance. So this story would seem to also take place between Avengers West Coast #69-70 (or at least before #70), and that also has ramifications for Henry Pym (even though he's called a reservist, which i guess was technically the case since he resigned in AWC #69 even though he stuck with the team through #74).There isn't supposed to be a lot of time between Avengers West Coast #69-70, but it seems like there has to be. On the other hand, there is the reservist comment, and there's also the fact that Captain America refers to Iron Man as one of the original Avengers, a cat that doesn't come out of the bag until Avengers West Coast #70-74 (although everyone knew it before that, and maybe Cap just doesn't feel like now is a time to play games; none of the other West Coast members are around when Cap says it). The Beast fits here after the Muir Island Saga (or any other break in his X-appearances). "Three days" pass between the first and second parts of this story, and the whole event probably takes place over the course of weeks.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
The Collector doesn't work as an action villain. He's just the kooky elder who collects things. Just because you're an ancient being doesn't mean you have to be "combatative" in your nature; that's probably one of the interesting things about the Elders in that they all have their past-times but are practically ancient beings who can get away with that sort of thing. (the Runner challenging others to races, the Grandmaster's games, the Champion's tournaments, the Gardener...gardening, etc.) Yeah the Collector can be a tad screwy but its sort of his thing. (plus...Benicio Del Toro's depiction of him is perfect: supremely powerful but just with a closet filled with who knows what that you don't want to mess with him)
Posted by: Ataru320 | September 30, 2015 1:29 PM
I had been away from Avengers since Byrne left and this arc brought me back and kept me interested for a minute. As soon as it was over, I dropped the title like a hot potato again. After this I probably bought three or four issues from here until The Crossing or whatever that garbage was a few years away.
Posted by: Robert | September 30, 2015 1:54 PM
Oh wow, early Epting art. Some of it isn't really that good, especially when it's inked in that cartoony style. But, of course, Epting will go on to become much better, even during his Avengers run. And what he does these days is absolutely beautiful.
BTW. Andy Kubert's art looks good, too - better than the stuff he'll be doing for UXM in a year or so. I wonder why?
Posted by: Piotr W | September 30, 2015 3:45 PM
I assume the storyarc is named after the Hall and Oates song "possession obsession."
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 30, 2015 4:27 PM
Fnord, a note regarding Quasar's costume- we were just discussing whether Subterranean Wars takes place before or after Infinity Gauntlet last week on the MCP:
Posted by: Michael | September 30, 2015 8:28 PM
I remember this series as the one that causing me to drop the title from my box at the comics store. Hated Epting's art. Also am I correct in recalling that the previous time we saw Collector, he was being bludgeoned to death by the Runner? I did not see how he got out of that.
Posted by: Grom | September 30, 2015 9:01 PM
I think the tree headed Inhuman is Timberius, not Tiberius like the Roman emperor. Probably your autocorrect messed it up. Thanks for all the updates! I read everything...
Posted by: Matt Posner | September 30, 2015 9:09 PM
@Grom: I assume the Runner eventually calmed down and stopped beating him to a pulp, or possibly some security system of the Collector's was able to separate them.
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 30, 2015 9:15 PM
Such daring cleavage from Sersi at that first scene of her participating in the fight against the Brethren. I don't think the character had ever been portrayed like that before. Nor does she seem to have a belly button cleavage in the later issues, either.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 30, 2015 9:51 PM
One other weird thing about this arc- the Collector claims that the Watcher is just as obsessed with watching and not interfering as the Collector is with collecting but the entire point of the Watcher is that he's from a race of observers but possesses an irrepresibly altruistic nature.
Posted by: Michael | September 30, 2015 11:29 PM
"One thing to note, though, is that the world is supposedly devastated after the Brethren attack. I mean, every major city on Earth attacked, lots of soldiers killed, etc.. And yet i don't think this story is so much as mentioned outside of this book."
I had a similar problem with events in the early 'aughts - all the major cities of the world as well as all major American super heroes being lifted into the air by Graviton, all the world capitals being shunted into another dimension by (a) Scorpio, and Kang gaining domination over the world - afaik, none of these events are referenced outside the books where they happened.
And wow, the cartoony art from Epting's first issue (which I never owned) - I would have thought it was a completely different artist from the next couple of issues that I did have.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | September 30, 2015 11:30 PM
@Fnord, Harras has said in an interview that at the time this was only a fill-in job. He had just been hired on as AVENGERS writer for this 6-part arc after Hama was off the book. But I guess they liked what he did, because after that they hired him on full time and his proper run begins after a few more fill-ins by other writers.
Posted by: Dermie | September 30, 2015 11:57 PM
and so begins the dawn of the ark ages on this title.
It's a long, long way to Busiek/Perez.
Posted by: Bob | September 30, 2015 11:57 PM
@Matt Posner, thanks for the correction and glad you enjoy the site!
@Dermie: Thanks for confirming that Harras was acting as a fill-in writer at this time. I wonder if they made the decision to make him the regular writer while he was writing this arc. I note in the entry for #340 that they sort-of talk about him as the regular writer at that point.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 1, 2015 8:06 AM
Oh and @Grom & Thanos6, clearly as soon as the camera looked away from the Collector and the Runner during Thanos Quest, the Collector transformed into his super-powerful attack form as seen in this arc and chased the Runner away.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 1, 2015 8:13 AM
I was liking the Larry Hama issues, but I hated this story. I don't think anyone ever brought the Brethren back, so this story is easy to ignore.
Posted by: Steven | October 1, 2015 10:50 AM
Hey fnord12, Marvel should hire you to write cos that reason you give flies more with me than most of the dreck that came out that month. :)
Posted by: Grom | October 1, 2015 1:03 PM
I was shocked to learn years later that the Epting who is so phenomenal today was the same guy drawing the book in the 90s dark ages.
Just goes to show that sticking to your craft and constantly striving to improve your game pays off.
Pity Liefeld and Portacio never tried it.
Posted by: Bob | October 1, 2015 3:47 PM
You don't approve of Portacio's Punisher run? I thought it was really good.
Posted by: Grom | October 1, 2015 8:37 PM
I thought this one started out with a bit of promise, the mystery of the brethern, the sexual tension between Ector and Sersi, reducing Rage to a background character,etc.
But the heel turn of the collector made no sense, instead of an old man trying to act as a cosmic Noah he was really just a generic conqueror? And the story petered out.
Posted by: kveto | October 4, 2015 7:59 AM
Looks like I dropped this title just in time. An Avengers team with Hercules, Sersi, Quasar and Crystal is not one I want to read.
Also, Kubert may draw open mouths, but at least, unlike Liefeld, he seems to know how many teeth a human being has. I'll really like his pseudo-Jim Lee art when he takes over X-Men.
Posted by: Erik Beck | December 28, 2015 8:27 AM
Wow, never would have recognized Steve Epting's work here if you hadn't said it was him. It's really amazing how much an artist's style can change from their early career.
Posted by: Red Comet | December 28, 2015 9:12 AM
Thane Ector literally EATS SEWAGE, and then later Sersi kisses him! Disgusting to the tenth degree.
Posted by: Urban Commando | April 29, 2017 2:12 AM
For a long time I'd only had 336 of this arc, which I held in high regard. The art was good, and the story seemed cool. I picked up the rest later and was disappointed. Deadlines must have got to Epting for The later parts, and the opening chapter from Kubert looked dreadful. Young Kubert was like an Image guy wannabe.
Posted by: MindlessOne | June 18, 2017 3:50 PM
"Statistically speaking the chances for a lifetime marriage between a synthezoid and a mutant are equally as low as that of an Inhuman and a mutant."
Uh, yeah, Vision. You have statistics to back that up, I assume? From all those previous marriages between a synthezoid and a mutant or an Inhuman and a mutant?
Posted by: Erik Beck | November 25, 2017 9:55 AM
Any idea about why She-Hulk is absent in this arc? I guess Rage is taking her place, she was a team member until last issue she even was in annual 20, but we don't hear about her and we don't have any kind of explanation about her absence.
Posted by: Alex | November 30, 2017 5:27 PM
I don't think Harras liked She-Hulk. She's similarly absent/dropped without acknowledgement for his entire run (barring a small role in Galactic Storm which still manages to dump her).
Posted by: AF | December 1, 2017 5:07 AM
I also missed She-Hulk. Her absence is one of the things I disliked about the Harras run, along with the way that Thor and Cap vanish.
Posted by: Steven | December 1, 2017 1:00 PM
I think fans deserved some sort of explanation, I would have accepted one simple line, anything...
Posted by: Alex | December 1, 2017 5:46 PM
Considering She-Hulk continues to show up as a member in some high profile guest appearances (I'm thinking Infinity War and Crusade), it is one of those things that annoys me too. She'd also been a presence since Stern's run, so getting rid of her with no mention is kinda insulting. But it's not the first time she's randomly absent - where was she in Avengers #314-318? The Crossing Line? Her, Namor and Quasar seemed to just dip in and out of the team and be there sometimes and not be there other times with no mention.
Posted by: AF | December 2, 2017 4:37 AM
And her being benched in Operation Galactic Storm has always been an enormous pet peeve of mine. Cap wanted experienced members and powerhouses on the Kree and Shi'ar teams - She-Hulk is both but got dumped waiting around on Earth doing nothing. I suppose you could say he wanted some heavyweights back on Earth incase they needed to go into action but, let's be honest, the Earth team were the members that Harras and the other writers didn't really want to bother having to write for.
Posted by: AF | December 2, 2017 4:41 AM
AF completely agree :(
Posted by: Alex | December 6, 2017 5:58 AM
Guessing The Avengers #305-318 followed Byrne's rule that anyone who shows up is part of the team and anyone who doesn't is not, and then there were the core members like Cap, Vision, Thor, Sersi... and others like Namor, She-Hulk, Quasar,... who appeared according to the writer liking.
Posted by: Alex | December 6, 2017 6:03 AM
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